What Does the Classroom Look Like Today?

Home » What Does the Classroom Look Like Today?
by Nilofer Ali, Resources Manager

diverse classroomIn the first article in this series, I outlined what diversity, equity, and inclusion mean to Westchester Education Services. In the next few articles, I’ll explore why DEI in educational publishing is important. To establish the context for those upcoming discussions, let’s start by taking a peek at the demographics present inside classrooms around the nation, and what research is finding that students need to succeed.

The United States Census Bureau data obtained from the Current Population Survey gives the following 2019 statistics on broad racial/ethnic categories for U.S. schools (K-12 and college):

Non-Hispanic White: 52%
Hispanic: 24%
Black (alone): 15%
Asian (alone): 6%

Additional 2019 data indicates that approximately 6% of students are foreign-born, 27% are children of foreign-born parents, 4% of students are from two or more races, and 1% of students are from indigenous (American Indian and Alaska Native) populations.

Students with disabilities add another layer of diversity to today’s US classrooms. The 2017-2018 school year saw special education enrollment in public schools rise to 14%. This broad demographic includes students with specific learning disabilities, speech or language impairments, health impairments, autism/neurodiversity, developmental delays, intellectual disabilities, emotional disturbances, multiple disabilities, hearing, orthopedic or visual impairments, deaf-blindness, and traumatic brain injuries. More research is also being conducted on the numbers of students with non-binary gender and sexual identities.

School enrollment population trends show the percentage of white non-Hispanic populations decreasing as the percentage of black, Hispanic, Asian, and students of two or more races increases. This is reflective of the changing demographics of the country. Mirroring these changes is increased attention to equity in learning outcomes across populations.

In addition to identifying the impact of socio-economic and other factors on student success, researchers have found that students whose racial/ethnic identities are affirmed in school experience better learning outcomes, particularly those impacted by social-emotional well-being. How, then, are students’ identities affirmed in school? Having a teacher from the same or similar background as the student can have a significant impact, but data around teacher demographics indicates a disproportionate representation of white, middle-class women, with other populations being far less represented. While there are distinct efforts nationwide toward increasing training, hiring, and retention of teachers from diverse backgrounds (particularly teachers of color), there is also increased attention to another avenue of student identity affirmation: positive and realistic representation in educational material.

Here is where the publishing and ed tech industries come in. In order for students to see themselves in their materials, those who create educational programs must take seriously the responsibility to provide mirrors for students to see themselves and their stories in the material they interact with in school. In my next post in this series, I’ll explore the data around diverse representation in children’s literature and educational material.

Further Reading:

Census Bureau Reports Nearly 77 Million Students Enrolled in U.S. Schools
K-12 School Enrollment and Student Population Statistics
School Enrollment in the United States: October 2018
Special Education: Definition, Statistics and Trends
Children and Youth with Disabilities
The Many Ways Teacher Diversity May Benefit Students
Characters in Textbooks: A Review of the Literature (1980)
Research on the Factors for School Success
Teachers of Color: In High Demand and Short Supply
Supporting Transgender and Gender Diverse Students in Schools
Teachers Push for Books with More Diversity, Fewer Stereotypes

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