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Study Notes Historic Demographic Shifts in Southern Schools

The South has become the first region in the country where poor students and students who are members of minority groups account for more than half of all students in the public schools, says a report released today.

In its report, the Southern Education Foundation says the demographic shift was fueled by an influx of Latinos and other ethnic groups, the return of blacks to the South and higher birth rates among both blacks and Latinos. The report says students from low-income families became a majority in the region's public schools back in 2007 for the first time in half a century and the trend has continued to accelerate.

The minority-to-majority shift, in comparison, has been more recent. Four of the 15 Southern states in this study—Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Georgia—now have a majority of both students of color and low-income students. Only Virginia does not have a majority of either group in its public schools.

The question is: Is this evidence of a trend toward increasing isolation and inequitable treatment for disadvantaged students or just a glimpse of the future for the nation as a whole? The report seems to argue for the former. "If urgent measures are not taken to enhance public education inputs and outcomes," the report says, "the South and the nation will have an underclass the likes of which it has not yet seen."

Already, the report notes, the region lags behind the rest of the country in per pupil spending on education and, despite some progress in recent years, Southern states have the nation's smallest percentages of students performing at proficient levels and higher on the 4th and 8th grade tests administered by the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Look for a more detailed story on this important report in the next print edition of Education Week. In the meantime, you can download the full report, "A New Diverse Majority," for free at the foundation's Web site. See the NYT's take on the report here.

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