Background/Context: Trends in district and metropolitan school segregation over the past several decades have been well documented, but less attention has focused on the racial/ethnic composition changes at individual schools that generate aggregate trends. These shortcomings limit our ability to understand complex and dynamic patterns of racial/ethnic change within schools, which may in turn prevent policy interventions that could increase school diversity and direct needed educational resources to schools.
Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: This study identifies distinct trajectories of racial/ethnic change occurring in public elementary schools between 2000 and 2015 and describes the characteristics and prevalence of each trajectory. In addition, the study examines how initial levels of school poverty are associated with membership in different trajectories.
Research Design: This secondary data analysis relies on data from the National Center for Education Statistics Common Core of Data (CCD) and employs latent class growth analysis.
Findings/Results: Despite the rapidly changing demographics of the overall student population, approximately 45% of all public elementary schools in the sample had stable racial compositions between 2000 and 2015. Close to half of the remaining schools, about 25% overall, experienced racial change at such a pace that they will be completely minority isolated within the next several decades if the pace continues. In the remaining schools, the pace of racial change is sufficiently slow to maintain diverse schools for many decades. Schools experiencing rapid Hispanic growth tend to have initially higher proportions of low-income students, indicating where racial change may likely occur and where schools will become racially and socioeconomically isolated without proactive policies in place.
Conclusions/Recommendations: Results suggest that absent intentional interventions that target the type of change trajectories being experienced at the school level, the overall increasing diversity of the student population will not likely lead to sustainably diverse schools for the majority of students. Providing the benefits of a non-racially isolated education for all children is possible, but we must first identify the school trajectories of change and stability, then determine the most appropriate strategy for improving school diversity, and finally provide the resources and policies needed to foster and maintain diverse schools that are inclusive of all students.