This story was originally published by the American Educational Research Association.
Latino children are likely to enter elementary schools this year with fewer white peers than a generation ago, judging by data reported in a new study recently published in Educational Researcher, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Educational Research Association.
However, as racial segregation has intensified, low-income students of all racial groups are likely to learn beside more middle-class pupils than before.
In 1998, on average, the nation’s Latino children attended elementary schools in which nearly 40 percent of their schoolmates were white. By 2010, that percentage fell to just 30 percent nationwide, according to the study by researchers from the University of California, Berkeley; the University of Maryland; and the University of California, Irvine. Overall, Latino children today make up more than one quarter of the 35.5 million students attending elementary schools.
Yet the researchers also found that low-income children, regardless of their race or ethnicity, increasingly attend schools with middle-class peers, a development that benefits Black and Asian-heritage students as well as Latinos.
“Set amidst high levels of racial segregation, the widening economic integration of students offers an unexpected surprise,” said study coauthor Bruce Fuller, a sociologist at the University of California, Berkeley.
The scholars tracked the racial composition of school enrollments across the nation’s more than 53,000 elementary schools between 1998 and 2015, then verified findings from nationally representative samples of more than 7,200 kindergartners drawn in 1998 and 2010.
The study details trends among elementary school students between 1998 and 2010. The authors recently supplemented those findings with national maps and local data through 2015 that detail wide between-district variation in Latino segregation for California, New York state, the Upper Midwest, and the Washington, D.C. area.
The odds that a randomly chosen poor child would attend school with a middle-class schoolmate climbed between 1998 and 2010, from about 40 percent to 50 percent. That is, about one half of all schoolmates a low-income pupil sees at school are now from a middle-class background.
“Prior research has found that the top 5 percent of income earners are moving farther from the rest of us,” said Fuller. “Our study does not address that, but finds increased integration between low- and middle-income elementary school students, especially in suburbs.”
The past half-century of research generally finds that students from low-income backgrounds benefit when learning beside middle-class peers.
Still, Latino children suffer from severe isolation in large urban school districts, the study shows. In 2010, in the nation’s 10 poorest districts, Latino elementary students attended, on average, schools that were just 5 percent white—down from 7 percent white in 1998.
This study stems from the Latino Contexts and Early Development Project, based at the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Maryland, and funded by the Packard and Spencer Foundations.