Student Diversity in Public Schools

Feb 17, 2017 by

Multicultural education concerns us all.

School leaders understand that the education landscape is shifting in the direction of diverse populations. The National Center for Education Statistics explains that the educational environment is changing for the number of White students enrolled in public schools is projected to continue decreasing between fall 2014 and fall 2025, from 25.0 million to 23.5 million, and to account for 46 percent of total enrollment in 2025. The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development provides ways for teachers to increase diverse students’ academic achievement.

Diversity literally means difference. The term cultural diversity refers to differences in culture, race, ethnicity, language, class, religion, gender, and socioeconomic status. Today, educators use the term to refer to differences between students of color and mainstream American students. Common designations for different groups are low-income students, economically disadvantaged students, language minority students, English language learners (ELL), limited English-proficient students (LEP), fluent English-proficient students (FEP), students with special needs (SSN), exceptional students, majority students, and minority students.

In some schools, classroom teachers who had not previously seen such diversity are now asking for assistance in curricular areas as well as multicultural resources to address the opportunities and challenges that student diversity brings to the schools.  Currently approximately 5.2 million English Language Learners or LEP students are enrolled in the public school system; 1 in 10 children is not fluent in English. Menken (2000) noted that limited English proficient students make up the fastest growing student group in the American educational system; their number has increased 104% in the last 10 years. That the number of English Language Learners has been growing at an average annual rate five times that of the total enrollment.

The figure below shows that the student is connected to home, the school, the community, and the nation. When students encounter conflicts between the values, practices, and expectations of the different environments, they become confused. The values they learn in school may not necessarily be the same as the values in their home or their community. Students have difficulty when there is a discontinuity between home and school, incongruence between school and community, or a mismatch between community and the nation. Perhaps, multicultural education could be the common thread weaving all four spheres together. See Figure 1. As the educational environmental landscape is rapidly changing, educators can create healthy school environments for all students.

Figure 1. Environment of the Student


Keywords: diversity, multicultural, inclusion, school leaders

Comment below as to how demographics are changing in your school or school district. How does this affect the environment of the student?


Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. (2008).  How To Use Students’ Diverse Cultural Backgrounds to Enhance Academic Achievement. Alexandria, VA: ASCD. Retrieved from:

Hozien, W. (2017). Creating Safe School Environments. Education News. Retrieved from:

Krogstad, J. and Fry, R. (2014). Dept. of Ed. projects public schools will be ‘majority-minority’ this fall. Retrieved from:

Menken, Kate. (2000). Ensuring English Language Learners’ Success: Balancing Teacher Quantity with Quality. Framing Effective Practice: NCBE.

Retrieved from:

National Center for Education Statistics. (May 2016). Racial/ethnic enrollment in public schools. Retrieved from:

Note: Figure 1 was created by Gail Stone, Graphics Expert, Central Michigan University.

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