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  • Writer's pictureJeffrey Hinton

Immigration, School's Changing Demographics, and the Achievement Gap

The nation is changing quickly as the country's population continues to grow in size and diversity. In 2020, the United States topped 331 million people becoming the 3rd most populous nation after China and India. Ten years from now, demographers predict the U.S. population will swell to over 350 million. As the population grows, it is becoming more diverse. The U.S. Census Bureau projects that by 2050 the nation will become "minority white." Caucasians will comprise 49.7 % of the population in contrast to 24.6% for Hispanics, 13.1% for Blacks, 7.9% for Asians, and 3.8% for multiracial people. A variety of factors have contributed to this demographic shift, but the most significant is immigration and the growth of minority groups. Combined racial minorities will grow by 74% while the white population will see a natural decrease as its population grows older and has fewer children. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, this shift's effects can be seen with younger citizens as White's under the age of 15 are already an ethnic minority in the United States.

Immigration continues to play a significant role in the nation's demographic change. As of 2017, 44 million foreign-born people live here, comprising 13.6% of the total population. Compare that to 1965, when immigrants were only 5% of the total population. Hispanics make up the largest block of ethnic minorities totaling over 59 million in 2017 or 17.8%. To illustrate how significant this demographic shift is, consider that in 1980 there were approximately 14.8 million Hispanics that made up only 6.5% of the population. The word Hispanic refers to the Spanish speaking people of Latin America. However, Mexicans continue to make up the largest subpopulation of immigrants, as 28% of all immigrants were born in Mexico. In one of the most massive demographic shifts in modern immigration history, however, Mexican immigration has seen a significant reversal. Between 2009 and 2015, more Mexicans have left the United States than arrived while undocumented immigration from Mexico has leveled off. While immigration from Mexico has decreased, immigration from Asia is growing. Asians are projected to become the largest immigration group by 2065, comprising 38% of all immigrants surpassing Hispanics who will make up 31% in the same period. Chinese, Filipinos, and Indians make up the largest Asian subgroups.

The changing demographics have had profound effects on all areas of American life to include the economy, politics, entertainment, and education. Public schools have witnessed dramatic changes as a result of the demographic shift. According to the 2010 U.S. census, primary and secondary schools' total enrollment reached 54.2 million and is expected to grow to 56.4 million students in 2020. Student populations reflect the nation's changing demographics and are becoming more linguistically and ethnically diverse than ever. According to James Woodworth, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), "between fall 2000 and fall 2017, the percentage of public-school students who were White decreased from 61 to 48 percent, and the percentage of students who were Black decreased from 17 to 15 percent. In contrast, the percentage of Hispanic public-school students increased from 16 to 27 percent during the same period." Despite the changing student demographics, our teaching force is overwhelmingly female and White. According to the NCES, women comprise 76% of all public-school teachers K-12 topping 89% in elementary schools. Further, 79% of teachers reported that they are White, 9% Hispanic, 7% Black, 2% Asian, 2% reported two or more races, and only 1% reported Native American ancestry.

Despite public education's mission to help each child realize their academic potential, there is a persistent achievement gap between Black and White, and Hispanic and White students. The achievement gap can be defined as a disparity in academic performance between groups of students. There are different ways that an achievement gap can manifest itself and includes grades, standardized test scores, course selection, dropout rates, and college completion rates. The National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP), also referred to as the nation's report card, is an assessment administered by the Department of Education that measures what students know and can do in various subjects, including mathematics, reading, writing, science, and history. The NAEP test given in 2009 revealed that despite overall rising scores for Black and Hispanic students, they still trail their White and Asian peers by over 20 test-score points on 4th and 8th-grade reading and math tests. This disparity is the equivalent of about two grade levels worth of learning. Proficiency in reading by the end of grade 3 is a strong predictor of future education success because by 4th-grade students are expected to read to learn other subjects.

The ACT, the nation's most widely used college entrance exam, illustrates the pernicious and persistent problem. The 2017 test scores show that only 9% of students from low-income families, whose parents did not go to college and identified as Black, Hispanic, American Indian, or Pacific Islander, were well prepared for college. Students not reflecting those characteristics were six times more prepared for higher education. Students of color are not graduating high school at the same rates as White students. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation's 2020 Kids Count Data Book in the 2017-18 school year, 11% of Whites did not finish high school on time. During that time, the rate for African Americans was 21%, Hispanics were 19%, and American Indians were 27%.

Various interconnected factors can be attributed to the achievement gap, but socioeconomic discrepancies may be the most significant. Among middle class househlds, Whites have four times as much wealth as Black families and three times as much wealth as Hispanic families. Unfortunately, the zip code in which a student lives is a significant predictor of future health, education, and economic success. A recent report from Georgetown University revealed that students from higher socioeconomic status (SES) have a safety net, If they slip academically, they can recover much more readily than those from lower SES. Further, students from higher SES are admitted to four-year universities at much higher rates (46%) than those at the bottom (14%). A student's SES plays a significant role in high school test scores and college attainment. According to the report, the students with the highest SES with bottom-half math scores are more likely to complete college than the lowest SES students with top-half math scores. This is fundamentally antithetical to the American Dream, the notion that with hard work, determination, and a little bit of luck, all people have an equal opportunity to succeed. In reality, public schools' failure to educate all students equitably, regardless of zip code, has led many to believe that what we are seeing is not an achievement gap but an opportunity gap.

The 21st-century mission of k-12 public schools' is to provide all students with a high-quality education that will prepare them to be successful in the worlds of college, career, and citizenship while helping them to discover and develop their passions and talents. In my next blog post, I will explore ways in which teachers can help their students realize their academic potential through culturally responsive pedagogy.


2020 Kids Count Data Book (Rep.). (2022, June 22). Retrieved September/October 2020, from

Achievement Gaps. (n.d.). Retrieved September 26, 2020, from

Achievement Gaps: How Hispanic and White Students in Public Schools Perform in Mathematics and Reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (Rep.). (2011, June 23). Retrieved September 25, 2020, from U.S. Department of Education website:

Ansell, S. (2011, July 7). Achievement Gap. Education Week. Retrieved Month Day, Year from Bureau, U. (2019, October 02). Population Estimates Show Aging Across Race Groups Differs. Retrieved September 26, 2020, from

Condition of College and Career Readiness 2017 (Rep.). (2017, September 8). Retrieved September 27, 2020, from

Frey, W. (2019, July 17). Less than half of U.S. children under 15 are white, the census shows. Retrieved September 26, 2020, from

Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, Born to Win, Schooled to Lose: Why Equally Talented Students Don't Get Equal Chances to Be All They Can Be, 2019.

School Composition and the Black White Achievement Gap (Rep.). (2015, September 24). Retrieved September 25, 2020, from

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