Demographic Change and Democratic Education


Hochschild JL, Scovronick N. Demographic Change and Democratic Education. In: The Public Schools. edited by Susan Fuhrman and Marvin Lazerson. New York: Oxford University Press ; 2005. pp. 302-322.

Full Text

Demographic Change and Democratic Education

Jennifer Hochschild

Nathan Scovronick


For Susan Fuhrman and Marvin Lazerson, eds., The Public Schools.  Oxford University Press, 2005.


NOTE: not quite final version.




<epi>The American Dream will succeed or fail in the twenty-first century in direct proportion to our commitment to educate every person in the United States of America.

—President Bill Clinton, 1995</epi>


<epi>Both parties have been talking about education for quite a while. It’s time to come together to get it done, so that we can truthfully say in America: No child will be left behind.

—President George W. Bush, 2001</epi>


The profile of Americans is changing. In the first few decades of the twenty-first century, the most dramatic demographic impact will come from the aging of the baby boomers and, absent major changes in immigration laws and birth rates, from increased racial and ethnic diversity in the population. The most diverse segment of the U.S. population will be school-aged children. While the new demography creates the potential for serious disagreements about public education, it also provides an opportunity for Americans to strengthen their commitment to the public schools.

The demographic change facing the United States increases the chances for polarization between young and old, wealthy and poor, immigrants and native-born Americans, cities and suburbs, and among ethnic and racial communities. School funding could become more contentious as a result, governance issues more difficult, testing more divisive, and multicultural policies more controversial. Groups that feel excluded from the American dream could become more likely to reject it rather than seek to participate in it. The privileged could become even more protective of their insulation and resources. 

In the new demographic context, however, the essential role of public education will also be clear. The American dream will continue to require an institution to teach and sustain it, and to provide the tools children need to pursue it. The public school system is the only American institution that reaches across all citizens for a large portion of their lives; no other institution plays such a central role in promoting the American dream. While much must be done to improve the schools, public education will remain the best lever Americans have to create a society in which the ideology of the American dream has a chance to thrive.

With the new demography, it should be possible to build a solid coalition in support of public education, one that includes immigrants who see public schooling as the vehicle for success in their new country as well as native-born Americans who see it as a way to incorporate immigrant children into the wider society. It should also be possible to build broad support for the kind of inclusive, fair-minded, and effective educational policies that are right for the new situation. Politically, in the long run, the large number of new Americans might appeal more to political actors as members of a forward-looking coalition than as targets of old-fashioned demagoguery.

This essay describes the demographic changes in the American population that were occurring in the early year of the twenty-first century, briefly comparing this period with the last great era of immigration. We then propose a framework for avoiding the worst problems and promoting the best results from rapid demographic change. That framework revolves around the  the American dream.


<h1>Ideology of the American Dream</h1>

 Underlying many of the tasks of public schools in the United States is the often-unstated goal of creating the conditions needed for people to believe in the American dream and to pursue its promise. Former president Bill Clinton described the conventional understanding of the dream in 1993: “The American dream that we were all raised on is a simple but powerful one—if you work hard and play by the rules you should be given a chance to go as far as your God-given ability will take you.” The dream is the unwritten promise that all residents of the United States have a reasonable chance to achieve success through their own efforts, talents, and hard work. Success is most often defined in material terms, but individuals can define success for themselves in any terms they choose.

This promise of opportunity also requires that residents of the United States acquire the habits and values needed to maintain democratic institutions and sustain the ideology of the American dream. Those values include belief in the rule of law, respect for people different from themselves, majority rule, minority rights, and the nonviolent, constitutional resolution of disputed national issues. Finally, the dream requires that public institutions provide the structures and resources that make it possible for everyone to succeed. In short, the American dream asks the public schools both to teach democratic values and to provide the tools for individual success. As President Clinton went on to say, “Most of all, we believe in individual responsibility and mutual obligation; that government must offer opportunity to all and expect something from all, and that whether we like it or not, we are all in this battle for the future together.”1  

Most Americans accept the framework that President Clinton laid out. When a 1995 Washington Post survey asked, “Do you believe in the American dream?” at least three-fourths of the population said yes. Slightly fewer blacks and Hispanics than whites and Asians endorsed theideology, but just as many poor as wealthy Americans did. In other surveys, ninety percent of Americans agree that “our society should do what is necessary to make sure that everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed.” [JLH: NEW CITE: In the decade from 1994 to 2004,  six national surveys asked questions using that wording, with the same results in each.  The surveys included Times Mirror, July 1994; American National Election Study, November 1994;  Pew Research Center, November 1997 (2 surveys), October 1999, and July 2003.]Just as many young as old stated their belief in the American dream, and those under fifty agreed slightly more than those over fifty that American society should ensure equal opportunity to succeed.

Most important, Americans want the educational system to help move the American dream from vision to reality. Campaign rhetoric, results from public opinion polls, and advertisements constantly make the connection. As President George W. Bush put it in 2000, “The quality of our public schools directly affects us all—as parents, as students, and as citizens. . . . If our country fails in its responsibility to educate every child, we’re likely to fail in many other areas. But if we succeed in educating our youth, many other successes will follow throughout our country and in the lives of our citizens.”  In surveys during the 1990s, Americans ranked “prepar[ing] people to become responsible citizens” and “help[ing] people to become economically self-sufficient” highest among various possible purposes of public schooling.2

The American dream is a brilliant ideological invention, but in practice it leaves much to be desired. It depends on the government to create the conditions in which it can work, but at the same time it makes failure seem personal even when that failure results from public policies, structural constraints, or inadequate resources. Through no fault of their own,  for much of American history, a majority of the population—those without property, women, African Americans, Asian immigrants, and the disabled—have all been denied participation in the dream and its benefits. In the early years of the twenty-first century too many poor people, including many recent immigrants, still lacked an equal chance to fulfill their promise, partly because of policies that determined the structure, content, and financing of public education. The American dream is thus a good yardstick for evaluating educational policies at a time of demographic transformation, and for suggesting ways that the United States can promote democratic citizenship as well as individual success.


<h1>Changing Demography of the United States</h1>

The first of the baby boomers will reach age sixty-five shortly after 2010. In 2000, about 13 percent of the American population was over sixty-five; by 2030, the aged will comprise roughly 20 percent, more than 70 million people. Only Florida had an elderly population approaching 20 percent at the turn of the twenty-first century, but a majority of states are expected to exceed that figure by 2030. At the same time, the Anglo population of the country will become a smaller proportion of the total, decreasing from 70 percent in 2000 to about 60 percent in 2020 and 50 percent in 2050. Forecasters expect the black population, about 13 percent of the total in 2000, to grow slowly, but the percentages of Hispanics (also 13 percent) and Asian Americans (4 percent) are both projected to almost double by 2050.3 

These trends will be felt most powerfully in California; by 2000 non-Anglos made up more than half of the state’s population, and the number of Latinos could exceed the number of whites by 2020. Other states will see major changes as well; in at least fifteen states, more than 40 percent of the school-aged population will be non-Anglo by 2015. In 2000 Latino children outnumbered black children by several million. Large cities will be especially affected; about 40 percent of the residents of New York City in 2000 were born outside of the United States, and over half of its children were immigrants or children of immigrants. They came from close to two hundred countries, and there were no indications that the influx was slowing. Los Angeles and Miami had even higher proportions of immigrants of the first or second generation than New York.

Because of the growth in the elderly population and the size of the school-aged population, the dependency ratio—the ratio of those of working age to the young and old—is likely to become much higher. The Census Bureau predicted in 2000, for example, that the dependency ratio in the United States will increase from about 63:100 in 1992 to about 83:100 in 2030. In addition, children will be more racially and ethnically diverse, while the aged will be disproportionately Anglo. In 2003 the Census Bureau reported that only 5 percent of Latinos in the nation were over sixty-five, compared with three times that number of Anglos; conversely, over one-third of Latinos were under age eighteen, compared with fewer than one-quarter of Anglos. In Los Angeles County, as the demographer William Frey has noted, the “elderly population is still majority white, its working-aged population is only about one-third white, and its child population is predominantly Hispanic and other racial and ethnic groups.” As these changes spread across the country, they “are going to have enormous implications. We’re looking down the road at a huge racial generation gap between the old, white baby boomers and these young, multiracial people.”4 This racial and ethnic generation gap could create considerable policy dilemmas. The need for schooling for the young will be great at the same time that the demand for health care and social services for the elderly will peak; at the least, we can expect severe competition for scarce public resources. In California, according to a survey by the Field Institute in 2002, the older the survey respondents, the more they reported being extremely concerned about health care costs and the less they were concerned about public schools or higher education. As the school finance expert James Poterba pointed out in the late 1990s, “an increase in the fraction of a jurisdiction’s population over the age of 65 tends to reduce per-child school spending.” The effect is strongest “when the elderly residents are from a different ethnic group than the school-age population.”5

The potential for social division is very high. Polarization by generation, by wealth, or by race or ethnicity could mean greater divisions with respect to how much should be spent on public education, how students should be placed in classrooms, and what they should be taught when they get there. It could lead to increased attempts by identity groups to attain separate education, and a greater movement toward education that denies the validity of democratic values or rejects the American dream entirely.

The key question is whether political leaders will enflame the social divisions or seek to ameliorate them, practice the politics of educational exclusion or inclusion, try to preserve the old social order of the schools or ease the entry of the new one. Of course, many policymakers, particularly elected officials, think little about the long run; the horizon until the next election is too short and the rewards for small symbolic actions too great. In the face of the new demography, some will no doubt yield to the temptation for demagoguery, especially in situations of volatile transition. Other political activists will concentrate on securing benefits for their group rather than on broader policy considerations.

But others might take a different stance. As the demographic and political situation changes, some ethnic group leaders will seek coalitions rather than focus on competition. And most importantly, some candidates for public office will decide it is best to try to lead all Americans by placing a priority on the democratic, collective values of participation, respect, inclusion, and opportunity. With the potential for political and social chaos so great, it is possible that more Americans will want their leaders on the high road rather than in the swamp.


<h1>Politics of Demographic Transformation</h1>

Political developments in California provide evidence that a commitment to inclusiveness is more than wishful thinking. Early in the 1990s, political debate in the state revolved around the conflict between native-born residents and undocumented immigrants, which blurred into a conflict between white and nonwhite Americans. In 1994 Governor Pete Wilson and the Republican Party sponsored Proposition 187 (initially known as “Save Our State”). It proposed that illegal immigrants be denied public services such as schools and hospitals, and it would have required public employees to report service-seekers presumed to be illegal. The proposition distinguished legal from illegal immigrants, but supporters and opponents alike frequently saw it as a signal of general opposition to immigration; as one coauthor claimed, “Those who care at all about our country will support this [proposition] to save our country from the immigration invasion.”6 The Mexican ambassador to the United States complained that “there is an equation now in California that goes: Illegal immigrants equal to Mexicans, equal to criminals, equal to someone who wants social services.”7 Proposition 187 passed overwhelmingly, supported by more than 60 percent of Anglo voters, almost 60 percent of Asian American voters, and over half of black voters. Latino voters opposed it two to one.

Proposition 187 was followed two years later by Proposition 209, which abolished affirmative action programs in public institutions in California. Opponents interpreted this measure also as an effort to protect white domination. It too passed, by a narrower but still persuasive margin of eight points. Whites again were most favorable (over 60 percent support), followed by Asian Americans (about 45 percent); again, few Latinos (about 30 percent) concurred. Three-quarters of African Americans opposed it.

In short, racial and ethnic tensions worsened during the early 1990s as the proportion of non-Anglos in California rose. In a 1993 Los Angeles Times poll, one-third of non-Hispanic whites agreed that Hispanics had a “negative impact” on life in southern California. A year later, a quarter of whites in Los Angeles County in another Times poll thought the influx of nonwhites had made their quality of life worse, and over one-third agreed that the government “paid too much attention” to minority groups.

By 1999, however, the politics of division no longer worked so well in California. The proportion of Anglos agreeing in a Times survey that Hispanics had a negative impact on life in Los Angeles declined by one-third, and the proportion saying the same about African Americans declined by over one-half. Only half as many whites in 1999 as in 1994 felt that the influx of immigrants had harmed their quality of life; one and a half times as many whites in 1999 as in 1994 felt that the new groups had improved it. A solid majority in a 1998 survey by the Public Policy Institute of California supported “outreach programs” and “special educational programs” to help minorities get jobs and a college education. In a follow-up survey a year later, almost three-fourths of non-Latino Californians agreed that illegal immigrants should not “be prevented from attending public schools.” In the three years ending in December 2001, again in a poll by the Public Policy Institute of California, the proportion of Californians who perceived immigrants to be a “benefit” to their state increased substantially while the proportion who saw them as a “burden” decreased.

There remains plenty of prejudice and discrimination in California.8 And  an economic  downturn could weaken the fragile acceptance of demographic change in evidence at the turn of the twenty-first century. Nevertheless, overall public opinion has moved toward a greater accommodation of diversity.

Electoral politics moved in the same direction during this period. A 1998 Los Angeles Times headline proclaimed, “In contests big and small, Latinos take [a] historic leap.  Hispanic candidates won the positions of lieutenant governor, sheriff of Los Angeles County, additional seats in the legislature, and the first major city mayoralty since statehood. The Democratic candidate for governor in 1998 ran on a platform of tolerance and accommodation, won, and was reelected four years later. In 2003 a Republican replaced him after a recall, but the new governor was an immigrant himself and at least during the first months of  his tenure gave no sign of launching broad attacks on immigrants. In the mid-1990s, said a Latino assemblyman, “[Hispanics] were scapegoated and used as political fodder. Now that era is over. Thank God.”   Many factors led to this change, but what matters most over the long run is that demographic transition was followed by political recalibration. In 1994 non-Anglos comprised about one-seventh of California’s registered voters; by 2001, that percentage had increased to almost one-third. Their proportions will continue to increase. Roughly one-third of the 35 million Hispanics in the United States are registered to vote; perhaps another one-quarter are eligible, and more will become so as Latinos become naturalized citizens or their children reach adulthood. As the director of the National Immigration Forum pointed out, “How they [immigrants] break to one party or another may well determine which party dominates in the next few decades. It’s a high-stakes battle.”

California is not the only state that has begun to accommodate rather than resist demographic change. Texas, in which 40 percent of public school students are Latino and 15 percent are black, pioneered the effort to call attention to the performance of low-achieving children. During the 1990s, educators there required that test scores be reported for groups of students defined by poverty, race, ethnicity, disability, and limited English proficiency so that the achievements of high-scoring students in a school would no longer mask the low scores of others. An expert on testing from Texas made clear the virtues of this approach: “Prior to . . . the accountability system, for many groups of kids no teaching had been going on. . . . [Now there are] fewer kids who fall through the cracks, fewer kids who are ignored, and fewer kids whose education is considered irrelevant.”9 The tests were controversial and their implementation faulty; excessive pressure for good results apparently has led many schools to focus predominantly on test preparation, and some to push low-achieving students out altogether. But at least in principle, leaders in Texas were trying to include immigrants in the pursuit of the American dream rather than to leave them out of the schools and society.

Between them, California and Texas were home to roughly half of all Hispanic Americans in 2000, making these states potential bellwethers for others in their treatment of immigrants and their children. Furthermore, at the national level both political parties made at least gestures toward inclusion. In a policy initiative widely interpreted as an attempt to win the crucial Hispanic vote in the 2004 national election (as well as the vote of Anglos repelled by xenophobic politics), a conservative Republican president proposed a program to improve the status of many illegal immigrants. “As a nation that values immigration and depends on immigration,” said President Bush, “we should have immigration laws that work and make us proud. . . . Our nation needs an immigration system that serves the American economy and reflects the American dream.”  Leading Democratic politicians concurred with the sentiment, while contesting the details.


<h1>Threshold Issue: Bilingual Education</h1>

Disputes about bilingual education are one of the clearest indicators of how immigrant children are being incorporated into American schools and society. These disputes were very sharp during the 1990s but have quieted down somewhat since then.

The extraordinarily rapid increase in the number of young English-language learners fueled the controversy. Roughly 4 million school-aged children in 2000 did not speak English  well; this number represents more than 7 percent of all students and an increase of more than 200 percent since the early 1980s. About three-quarters of English learners spoke Spanish, followed by Vietnamese, Hmong, and up to 150 other languages spoken by no more than a few percent of children with limited English proficiency (LEP). In the early 1990s, a substantial majority of these individuals lived in just six states (California, Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois, and New Jersey, in descending order) and were concentrated in a few school districts within them. Although the immigrant population has spread to many more states and districts, it remains the case that 40 percent of English learners live in California, comprising roughly one-quarter of the state’s students. Districts vary widely; among the fifteen largest school districts in the country, according to the National Center for Education Statistics,  43percent of the students in Los Angeles but only 7 percent in the state of Hawaii (all one school district), were being served in programs for English learners in 2000.

By the end of the 1990s, due to a combination of federal and state laws and court rulings, eight states mandated bilingual education—that is, programs that included teaching substantive courses in the native language of the LEP students. Twenty-six states required help for English learners but did not specify programmatic content; they therefore permitted everything from “immersion” programs, which typically have bilingual teachers providing instruction in English, to extended bilingual programs designed to maintain the native culture of the immigrants. Five states forbade all but short-term transitional programs; and eleven had no laws on the subject. The quality of these programs also varied enormously, from successful dual-immersion schools (in which English-speakers and non-English-speakers jointly learned one another’s language) to classrooms that were little more than warehouses for poor children whose parents had not yet learned how to navigate the educational bureaucracy.

Evidence on the effectiveness of different forms of bilingual education was equally varied. So far as can be determined from the voluminous literature on evaluation, measurable outcomes of bilingual education depend more on the quality of teaching in any given program, or on the fit between the details of the program and the particular children in it, than on its form or duration. Programs help students if they are carefully designed, enthusiastically and knowledgeably supported by parents and teachers, based on high expectations for achievement, balanced in curriculum, open to student participation, and appropriately assessed and revised. In other words (and not surprisingly), good programs work and bad programs do not. Dual immersion seems to have the best results, but its application is limited because of the difficulty of finding enough students whose first language is English in schools where immigrant children are concentrated.10

After a period of intense, polarized, and sometimes racially offensive debate over bilingual education through the early 1990s, Californians in 1998 voted on Proposition 227, which proposed to restrict special programs for most English learners to one year. Over 60 percent of Hispanic voters opposed it, while half of black, two-thirds of white, and almost three-fifths of Asian American voters supported it. The proposition passed overwhelmingly, as did a similar one in Arizona in 2000 and in Massachusetts in 2002. ( In Colorado, however, the equivalent proposition  lost in 2002). Although anti-immigrant sentiment contributed to support for these referenda, they were also favored by those who thought it generally best for immigrants and the nation to bring English learners into mainstream classes more quickly. In the words of Wilfredo Laboy, the superintendent of the Lawrence, Massachusetts, school district, “What we know from the evidence is that even though there are pockets of success, children in bilingual education fall further and further behind. That painful experience has moved me to say that after 29 years [of supporting such programs], we have to change it.”11 Many supported the propositions only because they were appalled at the poor quality of so many bilingual programs; even the California Association of Bilingual Educators (CABE) conceded that “perhaps 10 percent or fewer of the state’s bilingual programs are well implemented.”12  By the beginning of the twenty-first century, even in California disputes over bilingual education focused more on pedagogy than on identity politics or hostility to immigrants. In the 2000 electoral campaign the presidential candidates pursued a bland middle ground; as candidate George W. Bush put it, “If a good immersion program works, I say fine. If a good bilingual program works to teach children English, we should applaud it.”  Then-vice president Al Gore supported bilingual education more strongly and urged more funding, but he focused mainly on improving the quality of teachers’ training to help children learn English quickly. Finally, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 gave parents greater influence and more information about their children’s assignment to bilingual classes, and changed the financial and regulatory incentives that had favored the bilingual approach during the Clinton administration. Democratic as well as Republican members of Congress strongly supported the new law. By this time, concern about public schooling had largely shifted to issues of class size, teacher quality, overcrowding, and test scores. These issues are not easy to resolve, but they need not divide Americans by identity group.

Despite the fact that nativist sentiment sometimes underlies support for eliminating bilingual-education programs, the inclusionary position on this issue is proving to be the right general policy. Bilingual education can be an effective academic approach, but as actually practiced it too often creates obstacles to the achievement of the American dream. Immigrant children in bilingual classes frequently suffer from overidentification and stigmatization, as well as from adjustment problems when they move into conventional classes. They are too often victims of poor teaching, and there are no grounds for believing that the federal government will ever provide funds to generate the additional training and higher salaries needed to improve teaching in the field. States show little inclination to fill the gap; if they did not do so during the booming 1990s, they are unlikely to do so in more stringent times. In this case, as in others, separate education too easily turns into second-class education.

In addition, if bilingual programs are of extended duration they do little to promote training for democratic citizenship. By the late 1990s, most white and African American students attended schools in which fewer than 5 percent of their peers  were English learners; conversely, nearly half of LEP students were in schools in which one-third or more of their schoolmates did not speak English fluently. Separating students with limited English proficiency for extended periods reduces diversity in classrooms and creates an obstacle to the acquisition by all students of democratic values through direct, daily contact. Mixing students from different backgrounds does not always lead to real integration—but not mixing students guarantees that integration will not occur.


<h1>Central Issue: Inequalities in Public Schooling</h1>

Beyond bilingual education, the ideology of the American dream provides a particularly effective framework for evaluating issues of inequality in American education. While the ideology is widely shared, the context for pursuing one’s dreams is not. Some schools provide a first-rate education; some .   STET “are terrible.”  Some schools are blessed with well-fed children; others struggle to teach children who lack basic amenities. Some districts have their pick of the best teachers; others count themselves lucky to have any warm body in front of the classrooms come September. Huge disparities in education spending persist, and some states or districts spend twice as much as others. Well-off parents usually manage to ensure that their children are in decent if not excellent schools; poor parents have a much harder time doing so.

Class disparities among schoolchildren and their parents are closely linked with, although not identical to, differences in immigration status and in race or ethnicity. According to the Census Bureau, 17 percent of foreign-born Americans lived below the poverty line in 2002, compared with only 12 percent of native-born Americans. [Current Population Reports , Poverty in the United States: 2002.  Washington D.C.: U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2003: table 2).  Among the foreign born, those from Europe and most nations in Asia have poverty rates similar to Anglo Americans, but up to twice as many immigrants from Latin America are poor (and Latin Americans have represented over half of new immigrants since the 1970s. From a different angle, only 8 percent of non-Hispanic white and 10 percent of Asian and Pacific Islander families lived below the poverty line in 2002; that compares with fully 22 percent of Hispanics and 24 percent of African Americans. [CITE: same cite as above -- Poverty in US: 2002:  table  1).Problems in schools that are associated with student poverty are therefore also disproportionately associated with the nation’s rapid demographic change (along with the persistent problem of black inequality).

Not surprisingly, the worst problems occur in schools in large, poor central cities (and in some small rural schools as well). According to the Department of Education, in the one hundred largest school districts in 2000,  almost 70 percent of the students were non-Anglo, compared with 40 percent of students nationally; over half were poor or near poor, compared with about 40 percent nationally. There were more Hispanic than African American students in 7 of the ten largest school districts..Poor, non-Anglo students were concentrated; more than six in ten black and Latino students, compared with fewer than three in ten Asian and Anglo students, attended schools in which at least half of their peers were poor. Three-quarters of Hispanics, almost as many blacks, and more than half of Asian Americans attended schools in which at least half of the students were non-Anglo.

Although their students are needier, cities often have fewer resources to help them than do wealthier suburbs. Cities have larger schools and larger classes, as well as less adequate buildings, classrooms, and technology. Compared with suburban districts, teachers in urban schools are less likely to be certified or to have studied in the areas that they teach, and they have less experience; they are also more likely to leave before the end of the school year. These schools suffer from much more administrative and behavioral turmoil and have higher levels of disruption, violence, and anxiety about safety. All of the districts with high dropout rates are in large cities. Urban children have much lower test scores than others, and they perform less well on measures of civic training.13

Urban or not, schools with many non-Anglo students also typically offer education of a poorer quality. For example, the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning reports that throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s, in schools in California with more than 90 percent minority students, as in those with high proportions of poor or low-achieving children or English learners, one in four teachers lacked teaching credentials; in schools with the most Anglo, affluent, or high-achieving students, only one in twenty teachers lacked the proper credentials.  Formal certification is not sufficient to ensure a good teacher, but if schools with many resources desire credentialed teachers,  schools with few resources would presumably also benefit from their presence.

In short, the worst-off students and schools have a completely different educational experience from the best off, and the outcomes are predictably very different. The National Center for Education Statistics reported in 2003 that among adults, almost 30 percent of Hispanics, compared with 11 percent of blacks, 7 percent of Anglos, and 4 percent of Asian/Pacific Islanders had not completed high school by age twenty-four. The problem is most acute among Latino immigrants, of whom 43 percent leave high school without finishing. (Only 6 percent of non-Hispanic immigrants drop out.) In all three grades (four, eight, and twelve) tested in math, science, and reading by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), Hispanic and black students score notably lower than Anglo and Asian students. Black and Hispanic students are much less likely than Anglos and Asians to take advanced mathematics and science courses—at least partly because poor inner-city schools offer many fewer such courses, can accommodate fewer students in them, and have insufficient equipment. (All data in this paragraph are in National Center for Education Statistics, The Condition of Education 2003. Washington D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, 2003).

Given this background, it is no surprise that fewer immigrants, fewer students of color (with the exception of Asians), and fewer poor students attend or complete college compared with well-off, native, or Anglo students. Fully 60 percent of young adults in the wealthiest quartile of the population had a bachelor’s or higher degree in 2000, compared with only 24 percent of the middle two quartiles and a shockingly low 7 percent of the poorest quartile.

The pattern is clear. Those segments of the population that are growing most rapidly—Latinos, and immigrants and their children—are likely to live in school districts that can offer them only the poorest quality of education. Usually excepting Asian Americans, who comprise less than 5 percent of the American population, non-Anglos from these districts have poor test scores and low levels of attainment.14

Americans generally understand all of this, and residents of states that faced the demographic transition earliest, such as California and Texas, began to change their practices to confront it. They are moving, even if haltingly, from policies based on fear and antagonism to those that seek accommodation, incorporation, and the amelioration of educational disadvantage. But there is a long way to go in these states and elsewhere, and the demographic changes are continuing.


<h1>Education in the New America</h1>

 If leaders really believe that no child should or need be left behind, or even if they think that it is in their best interests to act as though they believed it, the huge demographic and political changes shaping the United States presents an opportunity to create education policies that can make the American dream work for more people. As in the early decades of the twentieth century, a large group of immigrants combine an experience of exclusion with a strong desire to realize the American dream. 

            Poor and non-Anglo residents of the United States are especially likely to see schools as the route to achieving their dreams. In a survey conducted for the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning in 2002, a plurality of Californians agreed that improving education is the highest priority for their state government, and that the state should spend “a lot more” on K–12 education—but blacks and Hispanics were most likely to hold those views.  Latinos and African Americans appropriately expressed the most criticism of the quality of teaching in the public schools, but more people in all three minority groups, compared with Anglos, agreed that all students should be held to the same standards of achievement. . Also in this survey, low-income respondents were more enthusiastic than those with higher incomes when asked to evaluate a wide range of proposed reforms to improve educational quality; Latinos and blacks always showed the highest level of support. In a California referendum in 2002, non-Anglo voters, especially Hispanics, strongly endorsed before- and after-school programs; Anglo voters were less enthusiastic. In short, the most disadvantaged residents of the most demographically transformed state are committed to schooling as the route to success, recognize schooling inequities, and support measures to improve its quality.

            National surveys show the same pattern.In a 2002 national survey by the Pew Hispanic Center, more Hispanic and African American than Anglo parents reported that it was “very” important to them that their child receive a college education. In another 2002 Pew survey, more registered voters said that a political candidate’s views on education would affect their vote than chose any other issue—and support was strongest among African Americans and (especially) Latinos. Such sentiments provide a strong platform from which to move the nation toward adaptation to demographic change rather than polarization.

            Americans should begin by reaffirming their commitment to public education. Many new immigrants will be interested in parochial education and some will want to separate themselves by identity group (as some native-born Americans may want to further separate themselves from immigrants). But that does not mean that vouchers will be a sufficient or appropriate policy for the new context. Publicly and privately financed programs to provide private education through vouchers together involve only a tiny fraction of students—fewer than 1 percent in 2004. There is disagreement on whether voucher programs improve schooling outcomes for African Americans, and general agreement that they do not help Latino and Anglo children. Some analysts also fear that if such programs were expanded they could harm the quality of schooling of the many remaining behind. [JLH: why were these citations dropped – they should be added back in]

            The public has consistently favored the idea of more options, especially for children in underperforming schools; a majority of Latinos, African Americans, poor people, and urban residents frequently support the idea of vouchers in surveys. Nevertheless, when confronted with a direct choice, a larger majority prefers investment in school reform to spending on vouchers for private schools. When asked in 1999 what the next president should do to improve education in the United States, for example, almost two-fifths of respondents endorsed increases in public school funding, and only 2 percent chose vouchers. By 2004, proposals for public support of private schooling had suffered definitive losses all ten times that they had been put to a popular vote in various states. Two-thirds of voters opposed the propositions for vouchers in California and Michigan in 2000, and no demographic group came close to giving vouchers majority support in either state.             Voucher programs challenge the very publicness of education. They undermine the only U.S. institution in which people of different groups and classes at least have the chance of coming together for an important part of their lives, and they threaten the central democratic institution for promoting the American dream. In a new demographic context where finding common ground will be more important than ever, vouchers could lead to a high level of educational fragmentation by affinity and ethnic group.        More generally, immigrant students were separated from others in the public schools for too long in too many places in American history, and public policies should not begin once again to encourage separation. “Guard well the doors of our public schools that they do not enter,” said the San Francisco Board of Examiners in an 1885 report on Chinese immigration. “For however stern it may sound, it is but the enforcement of the law of self preservation, the inculcation of the doctrine of true humanity, an integral part of the iron rule of right by which we hope presently to prove that we can justly and practically defend ourselves from this invasion of Mongolian barbarism.”15 (By 1906, Asians in San Francisco received public education, but only at the segregated Oriental Public School) Similarly, immigrants from Mexico were often given a separate and generally inferior education; in 1931, a survey by California’s state government found that a large majority of Mexicans were relegated to separate classes or schools.16  

Separated or not, immigrant children also faced a particularly narrow form of Americanization in the early twentieth century. “In their demands for total assimilation, for Anglo-conformity,” wrote the historian David Tyack,

<ex>Nothing less would satisfy [many educators] than assaulting all forms of cultural difference. There is no reason to suppose that the Americanizers were being hypocritical in talking of opportunity or in preaching Anglo-conformity and middle class standards. They were mostly true believers and perhaps were accurate in believing that in an opportunity structure dominated by WASPS, the immigrant youth would find success easier.[through assimilation]. 17  </ex>

Regardless of good intentions, this approach could take a toll. “Too often,” wrote the American social reformer Jane Addams in 1897, “the teacher’s conception of her duty is to transform him [the student] into an American of a somewhat smug and comfortable type. . . . She fails . . . not only in knowledge of, but also in respect for, the child and his parents.” In a 1904 article titled “How It Feels to Be a Problem,” Gino Speranza echoed Addams, pointing out that “too often . . . does the American of common schooling interpret differences from his own standards and habits of life as necessarily signs of inferiority.”18  

Attitudes have changed since the early decades of the twentieth century, along with institutions and laws. In 1994 and again in 2000, for example, only one-third of respondents to the national General Social Survey (GSS) agreed that “groups should change so that they blend into the larger society,” rather than being neutral on the point (another one-third) or agreeing that “racial and ethnic groups should maintain their distinct cultures” (the final one-third). Over three-quarters agreed that increased immigration will “make the country more open to new ideas and cultures.” Americans are more aware, even if grudgingly, that immigrants come to a nation powerfully shaped by the groups that came before and continually shaped by new values, cultures, and desires. Although current residents in the United States seldom support increased levels of immigration and fear a loss of jobs to newcomers, half of the GSS respondents agreed in 2000 that more immigrants to the United States would lead to “higher economic growth,” up from one-third in 1994. Pluralities see immigrants as “hard-working”; large majorities see Hispanics and Asian Americans as “committed to strong families.” More respondents agree than disagree that changes in American demography over the next twenty-five years “will be a good thing for the country.”19

Furthermore, in the 2000 GSS, a large majority concurred that American children should learn a second language fluently before finishing high school. Three-quarters of respondents in a national survey in 1997 endorsed teaching “the diverse cultural traditions of the different population groups in America” along with the “common, predominant cultural tradition,” rather than the common tradition alone. In the same year in a different survey, half even reported willingness to support reductions in “the amount of information [taught] on traditional subjects in U.S. . . . history” in favor of increasing “information on non-Western cultures and on women and minorities in the U.S.”20

In this new demographic and social context, public schools not only should but also have a broad mandate to refine their efforts to inculcate appreciation for the culture and history of a wide spectrum of groups without trivializing the curriculum. Students should learn that different cultures have different norms, that cultural differences are legitimate, and that most such differences occur within a common framework of values.

At the same time, although not in the same way as at the turn of the twentieth century, public schools should transmit a common American culture, rooted in the history of the United States and based on English. English will remain the shared language of public discourse in the United States as well as the language required for individual economic success. But it need not be the only language children learn, or learn to respect. How well children are taught English and other languages, not how they are taught a language, should be the focus of attention for parents and educators; various methods may be appropriate so long as they aim to bring children together and do not separate them into first- and second-class citizens. Most immigrant children are eager to succeed in American society, and immigrant parents, like all others, want the best for their children. In the long run, this kind of motivation should help schools to overcome inevitable disagreements about the best means to a shared end, and should help reduce the volatility of these issues.

This approach to the issues raised by diversity will displease members of racial, ethnic, or religious groups who want a longer or different exposure in the public schools to their particular views, values, or culture. Since opposition to these preferences can be taken for discrimination or at the very least insensitivity, it can become political dynamite.21 Opposition need not, however, imply a failure to recognize persistent discrimination or a rejection of distinctive cultures. American society has many arenas in which groups can legitimately work to maintain their language, culture, values, and distinctive perspectives. Americans have always done that in their homes, churches, and community organizations; a liberal democracy permits and even encourages group self-definition, and the nation is richer for it. Private and parochial schools can help fulfill this function as well.

But it should not be part of the mission of public schools to help groups define themselves separately from the rest of American society. Public schools certainly have an obligation to teach critical thinking, so that students can assist the society in adjusting to new conditions (including a changing population), preserve what is best about American institutions, and attend to what must be changed. That must include questioning the ideology and practice of the American dream. Public schools cannot, however, take on the responsibility of maintaining the culture of any particular ethnic group; they simply would not be able to deal with the hundreds of legitimate claims that would result.

As a matter of practicality, then, as well as purpose in a diverse country, public education must focus on what residents have in common. As the law professor Alexander Aleinikoff puts it, “What the unum has a right to ask of the pluribus, . . . is that groups identify themselves as American. To be sure, there may be significant disagreement over what it means to see oneself as an ‘American.’ But the central idea is that a person be committed to this country’s continued flourishing and see himself or herself as part of that ongoing project.”22 Democratic debate also requires some level of identification with others in the conversation; as Alan Patten contends, “Fellow citizens must be willing to tolerate and trust, defer to the requirements of public reason, and accept certain burdens and sacrifices for the sake of the common good.”23 Identification of this kind can only happen if well-off Anglos abandon their complacency and sense of entitlement, and if new immigrants accept the challenges of moving into a new society. Both groups must change, and each will do so in part because the other does.

As the twenty-first century proceeds, education will be more costly, more important for success, and more central to the national well-being than ever before. To make the American dream work as it should and to avoid wasting human resources that the country will need, communities with a large number of poor or immigrant children will require extra help. They will, at a minimum, need as much financial support per student as districts with a disproportionate number of affluent or native-born families. For both political and substantive reasons, this is best done through state-financed increases to poor and non-Anglo districts rather than decreases in expenditures in wealthy or white ones. Beyond equality of resources and for the same reasons, all students should be funded well enough to receive an adequate education, in the new, substantively robust, sense of that word. This new understanding of adequacy provides more flexibility than does financial equity alone and keeps the focus where it ought to be, on the quality of education that is provided.  These cites should be put back into the reference list.

It will be hard to pay for all needed reforms, but it can be done. To build support, it will be essential to invest resources in programs with demonstrated success, such as quality preschool, small classes in the early grades for poor or minority students, and professional development for teachers. Americans in fact have endorsed a wide range of school reforms and provided substantial increases in funding for them since the 1970s; they claim in a multitude of surveys to be willing to provide funds for even more.24 The votes of younger Americans can help offset the resistance of some senior citizens. And advocates can continue to push the courts to maintain pressure on state legislatures for financial reform.

For all the difficulties involved in school finance reform and in the wise use of the money it generates, it will remain necessary to equalize educational opportunities and to  promote policies that give poor and non-Anglo children a chance to achieve their dreams. It is easier to move money than to move state borders, district boundaries, or people. Inequalities among states, districts, schools, and classrooms will not disappear, and people will often sort themselves by race or ethnicity and class. Racial desegregation has met its limits, and privileged parents have shown that they are no more enthusiastic about bringing low-income children of any race into their schools than white parents have been about mixing races.25 This reluctance is part of the reason that choice programs will probably not do much to break down racial and class barriers. The United States will have to rely on more funding, and its more effective use, if poor Americans and new immigrants are to have a better chance of participating in the American dream.

 Even with greater and more wisely used resources, however, first-class schooling will always be more available on the right side of the tracks. Because the education of children depends to a large extent on the social class and origins of their peers, it remains important to do whatever possible to educate poor and immigrant children with middle class and Anglo or Asian children, rather than simply like them.  Cite should go back into reference listEven though such programs are likely to remain too limited to have a dramatic impact on the structure of education, public officials should do what they can to promote magnet schools and interdistrict plans that permit disadvantaged children to leave their neighborhoods to find a better education; they should also promote dual-immersion programs. These actions will not solve the problems of the worst urban schools, but they will give some children a greater chance for success and more contact with students from different backgrounds. The residential separation embedded in the current structure of education will continue to severely limit the amount of interaction across racial or ethnic, and class, lines. But within those limitations it will be increasingly important to take steps for students to be educated together as much as possible.

Class issues will remain the most difficult, and ethnic and racial issues will not go away. But for all of its flaws, public education remains the United States’ most accessible and democratic political institution with national scope. Public action around schooling will provide the best chance for the liberating side of the American dream to take effect; schools can help to meet the challenges of a new economy and to realize the opportunities of the new demography. But if poor and non-Anglo children continue to lack sufficient resources, good teachers, decent facilities, and real connections with other Americans, the ideology of the American dream will be just a cover for systematic injustice, and the promise that “no child will be left behind” will be just another lie. Public education can help make the American dream work for everyone, and that will be more important than ever in the new America.



1. See Jennifer L.  Hochschild, Facing Up to the American Dream,: Race, Class, and the Soul of the Nation (Princeton University Press, 1995) chapter 1, for more on the virtues and defects of the ideology. [JLH: the Clinton quote is an epigraph within that chap.1, cited only as “President Bill Clinton, speech to Democratic Leadership Council, 1993.”  If you need the full cite for the Clinton quote, here it is:  Clinton, William, Remarks by the President to the Annual Conference of the Democratic Leadership Council, White House, Dec. 3, 1993.

2. Survey results come from  Phi Delta Kappa, 1996 and 2000. They vary little according to race and ethnicity, levels of education, or income.

3. These figures assume that the racial and ethnic categories in use in 2000 will remain meaningful over the twenty-first century. If intermarriage continues to grow at the rate that it has since the 1970s, adjustment in the categories will be necessary. Nationally, at least 8 percent of children had parents of two races or ethnicities in 2000. On “nationally...”, see 

and    ... interactab5.txt.   At the same time, almost twice that proportion of births in California were multiracial or multiethnic  

4. William H. Frey, “The New Urban Demographics: Race, Space, and Boomer Aging,” Brookings Review 18 (summer 2000), 23.

5. James Poterba, “Demographic Structure and the Political Economy of Public Education.” Journal of Policy Analysis and Management 16, no. 1 (1997), 60–61. Field Poll,  “California Opinion Index: How Concerned Californians Are about Major Issues Facing the State,” San Francisco: Field Institute, 2002.  Another study has shown that older African Americans and Latinos continue to support high levels of school funding: Kent L. Tedin, Richard E. Matland, and Gregory R. Weiher, “Age, Race, Self-Interest, and Financing Public Schools through Referenda,” Journal of Politics 63, no. 1 (2001), 270–94.

6. Quoted in Martin Wisckol, “GOP Distances Itself from ‘Son of 187’,” Orange County Register, December 12, 1999.

7. Quoted in Karen Rosenblum, “Rights at Risk: California’s Proposition 187,” in Illegal Immigration in America: A Reference Handbook, edited by David W. Haines and Karen E. Rosenblum (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1999).

8. In 1999 almost half of Anglos and almost three-fifths of African Americans living in Los Angeles still saw “too many immigrants in Los Angeles today.” More than two-fifths of Anglos, more than one-third of blacks, and even one-quarter of Latinos in the same survey agreed that immigrants have had a negative impact on the public schools of their city. (Both proportions had declined since 1993, substantially for Anglos.) About 40 percent of Latinos concurred that Los Angeles had too many immigrants; in 1993, almost two-thirds had done so. All of these results come from polls by the Los Angeles Times in 1993 and 1999.  

9. Quoted in Debra Viadero, “Testing System in Texas Yet to Get Final Grade,” Education Week 19, no. 38 (2000), 20.

10. For more on bilingual education, see Diane August and Kenji Hakuta, eds., Improving Schooling for Language-Minority Children,Washington D.C: National Academy Press, 1997; and Jennifer L. Hochschild and Nathan Scovronick, The American Dream and the Public Schools (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003),  148–159 and 176–181.

11. Quoted in Scott S. Greenberger, “Bilingual Ed Loses Favor with Some Educators,” Boston Globe, August 5, 2001, A1.

12. Quoted in Gregory Rodriguez, “English Lesson in California,” The Nation (April 20, 1998), 16.

13. Evidence on these points comes from “Quality Counts ’98: The Urban Challenge” (Washington, D.C.: Education Week and Pew Charitable Trusts, 1998), the National Center for Education Statistics, the General Accounting Office, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. See also Hochschild and Scovronick, The American Dream and the Public Schools, chapters 1 and 4.

14. Jorge Ruiz-de-Velasco and Michael Fix, with Beatrice Chu Clewell, “Overlooked and Underserved: Immigrant Students in U.S. Secondary Schools” (Washington, D.C.: Urban Institute, 2000). (JLH: note that this has now been previously cited, given my added cites)

15. Quoted in Charles Wollenberg, “Yellow Peril in the Schools (1),” in The Asian American Educational Experience: A Source Book for Teachers and Students, edited by Don T. Nakanishi and Tina Yamano Nishida (New York: Routledge, 1995), 3.

16. Rubén Donato, Martha Menchaca, and Richard R. Valencia, “Segregation, Desegregation, and Integration of Chicano Students: Problems and Prospects,” in Chicano School Failure and Success: Past, Present, and Future, edited by Richard R. Valencia, 2nd ed. (London and New York: Routledge/Falmer, 2002), 35.

17. David Tyack, The One Best System, I assume that you need the rest of the citation here: Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1974:  235–36.

18. Addams and Speranzo essays can be found in The Ordeal of Assimilation: A Documentary History of the White Working Class, edited by Stanley Feldstein and Lawrence Costello (Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor, 1974), 251–55 and 187–94.

19. Survey data  are from the General Social Survey for 1994 and 2000, by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago.

20..Phi Delta Kappa, Attitudes toward the Public Schools, 1994.  Bloomington IN: Phi Delta Kappa; Time, CNN, survey, June 12, 1997.

21. See L. Delpit, “Education in a Multicultural Society: Our Future’s Greatest Challenge,” Journal of Negro Education 61, no. 3 (1992), 237–49.

22. T. Alexander Aleinikoff, “a Multicultural Nationalism?” American Prospect 9, no. 36 (1998), 80–86, quote on p. 85 

23. Alan Patten, “Political Theory and Language Policy,” Political Theory 29, no. 5 (2001), 701.

24. See Jennifer Hochschild and Bridget Scott, “The Poll Trends: Governance and Reform of Public Education in the United States,” Public Opinion Quarterly 62, no. 1 (1998), 79–120.

25. See David Rusk, “Trends in School Segregation.”




August, Diane, and Kenji Hakuta, eds. Improving Schooling for Language-Minority Children: A Research Agenda. Washington, D.C.: National Academy, 1997.

Burtless, Gary, ed. Does Money Matter?: The Effect of School Resources on Student Achievement and Adult Success. Washington, D.C. Brookings Institution Press, 1996.

Gill, Brian P., et al. Rhetoric versus Reality: What We Know and What We Need to Know about Vouchers and Charter Schools. Santa Monica, Calif.: Rand Education, 2001.

Henig, Jeffrey R. Rethinking School Choice: Limits of the Market Metaphor. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1994.

Hochschild, Jennifer L. Facing Up to the American Dream: Race, Class, and the Soul of the Nation. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1995.

Hochschild, Jennifer L., and Nathan Scovronick. The American Dream and the Public Schools. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Howell, William G., and Paul E. Peterson. The Education Gap: Vouchers and Urban Schools. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2002.

Kahlenberg, Richard D. All Together Now: Creating Middle-Class Schools through Public School Choice. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2001.

Ladd, Helen F., Rosemary Chalk, and Janet S. Hansen. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington D.C.: National Academy Press, 1999.

Levin, Henry M., ed. Privatizing Education: Can the Marketplace Deliver Choice, Efficiency, Equity, and Social Cohesion? Boulder, Colo.: Westview, 2001.

Rusk, David. “Trends in School Segregation.” In Divided We Fail: Coming Together through Public School Choice, pp. 61–85. Report of the Century Foundation Task Force on the Common School. New York: Century Foundation Press, 2002.

Tyack, David B. The One Best System: A History of American Urban Education. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1974.