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Number of Hispanics in public schools almost doubles

The number of Hispanic students in U.S. public schools almost doubled between 1990 and 2006, with the ratio of Hispanic students going from one in eight to one in five, according to a study released today.

The Pew Hispanic Center used U.S. Census figures to examine trends in Hispanic student growth. It says Texas is one of four states where the Latino or Hispanic public school population is more than 40 percent of total students.

About 10 million Hispanic students attend public schools, according to researchers.

Researchers also noted that census predictions call for continued growth. By 2050, Hispanic school-age children are expected to outnumber non-Hispanic white school-age children in the United States.

The results included in the report, "One-in-Five and Growing Fast: A profile of Hispanic public school students," are in line with numbers in some local school districts, especially large districts such as Fort Worth and Arlington.

Hispanic students became the largest student ethnic group in Arlington schools for the first time in 2006, making up 35.7 percent of the student population. In Fort Worth, the percentage of Latino students grew from 28.9 percent in 1990 to 56.8 percent in 2006.

In Hurst-Euless-Bedford and Birdville schools, the change was even greater. Percentages of Hispanic students there tripled from 1990 to 2006, according to Texas Education Agency numbers.

Arlington schools Interim Superintendent Jerry McCullough said increased diversity in schools helps prepare students of all races for life beyond the classroom.

"We live in a very diverse world," he said. "That's what they're going to step into. That's the advantage of it. Our economy, everything in the nation and the world is very diverse. So, it's just training."

The Hispanic student population growth stems in part from a slightly higher fertility rate among Latinos, said Richard Fry, senior research associate for the Pew Hispanic Center. Immigration is the other major factor, he said.

The report focuses mainly on the numbers. But Fry said other research highlights the biggest educational challenge for Hispanic students.

"It's not that they're not staying in school. It's that when you look at the basic achievement indicators ... on average Hispanic public school students are well behind their white peers in both math and reading," Fry said. "They're behind in elementary school and the gap slightly widens when they get into middle school and it widens slightly further by high school."

He said several issues contribute to the gap, including that Hispanic students are more likely to come from poor homes than their white counterparts and that they are less likely than whites to have parents who have graduated from high school.

The fact that Hispanic students are often clustered in urban schools also puts them at a disadvantage, Fry said.

The study's findings weren't all discouraging. Fry pointed out that, despite some public perception to the contrary, Hispanic public school students are overwhelmingly proficient in English.

Thirty percent said English was the only language spoken in their homes and another 52 percent reported speaking English "very well."

Other key findings from the report:

  • 84 percent of Hispanic public school students were born in the United States.
  • 69 percent of Hispanic students in public schools are of Mexican origin. Puerto Ricans are the second-largest group, with 9 percent.
  • 52 percent of all Hispanic students in the United States live in Texas and California.

  • Hispanic student populations

    Fort Worth: 28.9 percent (1990-1991) to 56.8 percent (2006-2007)

    Arlington: 9.5 percent (1990-1991) to 35.7 percent (2006-2007)

    HEB: 6.2 percent (1990-1991) to 21.8 percent (2006-2007)

    Birdville: 7.7 percent (1990-1991) to 28.8 percent (2006-2007)

    Source: Texas Education Agency

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