In Schools Across U.S., the Melting Pot Overflows

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Sun Aug 27 17:12:15 UTC 2006

>>From the NYTimes, August 27, 2006

In Schools Across U.S., the Melting Pot Overflows


STERLING, Va., Aug. 25 Some 55 million youngsters are enrolling for
classes in the nations schools this fall, making this the largest group of
students in Americas history and, in ethnic terms, the most dazzlingly
diverse since waves of European immigrants washed through the public
schools a century ago. Millions of baby boomers and foreign-born parents
are enrolling their children, sending a demographic bulge through the
schools that is driving a surge in classroom construction.

It is also causing thousands of districts to hire additional qualified
teachers at a time when the Bush administration is trying to increase
teacher qualifications across the board. Many school systems have begun
recruiting overseas for instructors in hard-to-staff subjects like special
education and advanced math. The rising enrollments are most obvious in
districts like this one west of Washington, in Loudoun County, one of the
nations fastest-growing school systems.

Thousands of government, technology and construction workers, many of them
Hispanic, Asian and African-American, are streaming into new subdivisions
within commuting distance of the Pentagon and the headquarters of America
Online. They are transforming a school system that was once small and
overwhelmingly white into one that is sprawling and increasingly
cosmopolitan. Thuy Nguyen, a 16-year-old junior at Park View High School
in Sterling, has watched the recent transformation. She moved with her
family to Virginia from Vietnam when she was 9 years old, and recalls that
most of her fifth-grade classmates were white.

I was new, afraid, and I didnt speak very well English, Ms. Nguyen said. I
didnt talk to anybody. Six years later she says making friends is easier.
What I like about a diverse school is that you dont feel intimidated if
there are other races, she said. Im jumping around, talking to the
Caucasian clique and the Middle Eastern clique. I have friends from El
Salvador, Mexico, Peru one girl is half Korean and half Puerto Rican, shes
cool and from India, Pakistan, Afghanistan.

Theres a girl from Bangladesh; we tell each other everything. I also knew
a Swedish guy. He happened to be very hot. So I talk to all the different
groups. I dont want it to be, like, Youre just in the Asian clique. Kathy
Hackney is Ms. Nguyens tennis coach. My team looks like the League of
Nations, Ms. Hackney said. The Loudoun County Public Schools, where annual
pay for starting teachers is $40,986, has hired almost all the 650 new
teachers it needs to fill its classrooms when school begins on Sept. 5,
scores of them through agencies that recruit teachers in foreign
countries, the superintendent, Edgar B.  Hatrick, said.

But some rapidly growing districts across the nation are having trouble.
The Clark County School District in Las Vegas, for instance, where
teachers starting salary is $33,000, has hired 2,000 teachers. But with
classes scheduled to start Wednesday, the district was still looking for
400 others, mostly to teach special education and math, said Pat Nelson, a
spokeswoman. The Plainfield Community Consolidated School District west of
Chicago, which has grown to 26,000 students from 8,700 in 1998, had
already hired 300 new teachers this year, said John Harper, the
superintendent. But in one 36-hour period just days before the fall term
resumed this past Wednesday, 500 new students enrolled for classes, Mr.
Harper said, forcing the district to rearrange student schedules and hire
more teachers.

A summers planning can fall apart when we suddenly have hundreds of new
students, he said. Most districts eventually find the teachers they need,
but in extreme cases, some increase class sizes or call on substitutes
until they hire a permanent teacher.

In projections published last year, the federal Department of Education
said the nations elementary and secondary enrollments would grow, on
average, by about 200,000 students annually, reaching 56.7 million in
2014. Demographers say the current bulge moving through the nations school
systems owes to the children of the baby boom generation, which lasted
from about 1946 to 1964, as well as to the children of immigrants. The
enrollment trends would be uneven, regionally, with schools in the
Northeast and Midwest losing students, on average, and those in the South
and West growing, the department said. The projections showed New York
States public school enrollment dropping 6 percent from 2002 to 2014,
Connecticuts enrollment falling by 1 percent in the same period, and New
Jerseys rising by 3.5 percent.

The department outlined the most spectacular growth for Nevada, where 2002
enrollment was projected to rise 28 percent by 2014, and for Texas, where
it was charted to increase 16 percent in the same period. The Frisco
Independent School District, north of Dallas, has seen spectacular growth.
In 1998, the system had eight schools with 4,500 students. When classes
began Aug. 15, the district had 23,200 students in 34 schools.

Our challenge has been to build schools fast enough, said Rick Reedy, the
superintendent. The first years of the 21st century have seen tremendous
new classroom construction in many regions, with school districts spending
some $20 billion annually on capital projects, said Paul Abramson, who
wrote a nationwide survey of school construction, published earlier this

Construction crews completed work on three schools just days before
students reported to classes on Aug. 7 in the Flagler County School
District north of Daytona Beach, Fla., where enrollment has doubled to
12,000 students since 1998. Bill Delbrugge, the superintendent, said he
had e-mailed a plea for help in completing the work. Peter Palmer, a
former teacher, said he and scores of other volunteers had assembled
desks, hauled books and carried chairs for three days in a somewhat
chaotic, but eventually triumphant, sprint to ready the new buildings for

The explosive recent growth has forced school officials into last-minute
improvisations in Loudoun County, too. In 15 years, enrollment in the
district has tripled, to 47,361 in 2005 from 14,633 in 1990; the number of
Asian students has multiplied twelvefold and Hispanics seventeenfold. The
district has built 38 schools since 1995, including Legacy Elementary in
Ashburn, Va., which opened a year ago on a landscape that bulldozers were
rapidly transforming from soybeans to suburbia. As of last Tuesday the
school had enrolled nearly 200 students beyond the 875 it was designed to

Were in an overflow situation, unfortunately, so well have to put you on a
waiting list, Corinne Mirch, a school secretary, told Luis Bermejo, a
Mexican-born stonemason who said he moved to the district in 1996, and had
come to the school office to enroll his 5-year-old daughter, Sofia, for
kindergarten. Sofia would probably be assigned to another elementary
school in Ashburn, Ms. Mirch said. One of Legacys special education
teachers for the fall term was recruited in the Philippines through a
search firm based in Delaware, said Legacys principal, Robert. W.
Duckworth. The district recruited a Spanish teacher and an English as a
Second Language teacher for Legacy in Colombia, through Visiting
International Faculty, a group based in North Carolina.

The group is sponsoring about 95 foreign teachers in Loudoun County
schools, as well as about 1,600 teachers in 1,000 other American schools.
The State Department issues the foreign teachers three-year cultural
exchange visas, said Ned Glascock, a spokesman for the group. Because of
its voracious demand for qualified new teachers and to broaden staff
diversity, the Loudoun district has established a carefully orchestrated,
year-round teacher recruiting effort. When the district identified a
talented Navajo Indian teaching candidate, Melissa Wright, who was to
graduate from college in Hawaii this past spring, several Loudoun County
officials got a nice assignment: a February recruiting trip to Honolulu.

I think youre amazing I want to offer you a job right now, Ms. Wright
quoted one district official as telling her. In the weeks thereafter,
former principals and others working for the district as candidate care
ambassadors sent Ms. Wright dozens of e-mail messages encouraging her to
sign on and offering her help with buying a car, finding a residence and
other advice, she said.

Ms. Wright, who signed with the district in April, said she had been
attracted to descriptions of Loudoun County as a magnet for international
families and a place that nurtured cultural differences as schools across
America are rapidly becoming more diverse. Three decades ago, in 1973, 78
percent of the students attending the nations public schools were white
and 22 percent were minorities, a category including blacks, Hispanics,
Asians and Pacific Islanders, and other, according to Education Department
statistics. In 2004, the last year for which numbers were available, 57
percent of all public school students were white, while 43 percent were

The department does not project student racial and ethnic data for
elementary and secondary schools, said Val Plisko, an associate
commissioner at the National Center for Education Statistics. But if
trends continue as they have for 30 years, minority students appear likely
to outnumber white students within a decade or so. In six states
California, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico and Texas they
already do.

The nations public schools also brought together an extraordinary mix of
students in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when they first earned
their reputation as melting pots, said William J. Reese, a history
professor at the University of Wisconsin. Early in the last century,
Senator William P. Dillingham, a Vermont Republican, tried to measure
diversity. He led a commission that studied the public schools during the
1908-9 year as part of his campaign to restrict the immigration of
Catholics and Jews from Central and Southern Europe, categorizing students
as native-born or foreign-born.

The commission found that in the few dozen largest cities, 42 percent of
students were native-born, while 58 percent were foreign-born, Dr. Reese
said. The commission made no effort to count students outside cities, he
said. Making comparisons between 21st-century schools and those operating
in Senator Dillinghams time is difficult because reporting practices have
changed drastically. But, Dr. Reese said, we can say that todays students
are the most ethnically and racially diverse that the nations schools have
educated in nearly a century.


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