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How School Leaders Respond to Demographic Change

Communities across the United States have experienced significant demographic shifts over the past several decades and the country is becoming more racially and ethnically diverse. While the country’s population is still comprised of a majority of white individuals, the share of the white population is declining as other populations, primarily Latinxs, are growing. Indeed, the Pew Research Center projects that the Latinx population will be the largest racial or ethnic majority eligible voting group in the 2020 U.S. presidential election, surpassing Black voters for the first time (Cilluffo & Cohn, 2019).

When we look at where Americans are living across the country, we can see that the majority (175 million) live in small metropolitan areas or suburbs while 98 million live in urban areas and 46 million call rural areas home (Parker et al., 2018). The population growth occurring in suburban and small metropolitan areas is due in larger part to the shifts in demographics. Suburban areas are more racially diverse and are home to a growing number of low-income individuals (Frey, 2011; Kneebone & Garr, 2010). Residents from urban and rural areas are also moving into these areas, as well as immigrants from outside of the United States (Frey, Berube, Singer, & Wilson, 2009; Parker et al., 2018). The majority of the population growth that has occurred across the U.S. over the last 55 years has been a result of immigrants who tend to live more in cities and suburbs. In fact, there are fewer U.S. born individuals living in rural areas today as compared to 20 years ago, and more people are leaving rural areas than moving in (Cilluffo & Cohn, 2019; Parker et al., 2018).

The growing gentrification occurring across U.S. metropolitan areas is also playing a role in changes to the demographic make-up of central cities. As more white individuals move to central cities, low-income people of color are displaced from communities they have long called home (Maciag, 2015). While recent gentrification is still relatively confined to a select group of large U.S. cities, some of whom began experiencing gentrification decades ago, it is still important to monitor as research shows that gentrification is related to demographic changes occurring in schools (Billingham, 2019). Indeed, Frankenberg and colleagues (2019) note that gentrifying cities along with suburban areas are on the frontlines of racial change and, as such, are areas of critical importance when it comes to policy addressing demographic change and diversity within schools.

When we look at the current make-up of public schools, we can also see a shifting demographic landscape. Public school enrollment in the U.S. is not only growing in size but it is also serving a more racially diverse and multiracial student population. From 2000-2016, the number of students attending public schools increased by 7%, surpassing an enrollment number of 50 million (de Bray et al., 2019). In the 2014-15 school year, white students made up less than 50% of the population for the first time in U.S. public schools (McFarland et al., 2019), although they have been the minority for quite some time in schools in the western and southern regions of the country (Frankenberg et al., 2019). At the same time, the number of Latinx students has been steadily increasing while the number of Black, Asian, American Indian/Alaska Native, and multiracial students has remained relatively the same (McFarland et al., 2019) (see Table 2.1).

Despite the demographic shifts occurring and the increase in student racial diversity, schools are growing increasingly segregated across all communities. White and Latinx students are the most racially segregated groups in schools. White students are more likely to attend schools where 69% of the population is white while Latinx students are likely to attend schools where 55% of the population is Latinx. Black students attend schools where almost half of the population is Black, and Asian students are in schools where about a quarter of the population is Asian (Frankenberg et al., 2019).

School segregation is also evident in suburban schools. Black and Latinx students in the suburbs are likely to attend a school that is about 75% nonwhite while white students in suburban schools are likely to attend schools that are 67% white (Frankenberg et al., 2019).

Table 2.1 Number and percentage of students enrolled in PK-12 grade by race, fall 2000-2027



2022 (projected)


28,878,000 (61%)

24,644,000 (49%)

23,274,000 (45%)


8,100,000 (17%)

7,784,000 (15%)

7,888,000 (15%)


7,726,000 (16%)

  • 13,080,000
  • (26%)
  • 15,209,000
  • (29%)


















Two or More Races


  • 1,723,000
  • (3%)
  • 1,960,000
  • (4%)

Source. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data (2017)

Rural schools are also highly segregated. White students in rural areas are likely to attend schools that are 80% white while Black and Latinx students in rural areas attend schools that are 57% nonwhite (Frankenberg et al., 2019).

Schools that are racially segregated also tend to be economically segregated. Although an imperfect measure of poverty (Harwell & LeBeau, 2010), eligibility for free/reduced price lunch shows us that Black and Latinx students are more likely to attend schools with more low-income students (Frankenberg et al., 2019).

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