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Get to Know Your Public Schools: 7 Revealing Numbers About America’s Education System, From Diversity to Safety, Absenteeism & More

By The 74 | September 10, 2018

Updated Sept. 12 

This is the latest article in The 74’s ongoing ‘Big Picture’ series, bringing American education into sharper focus through new numbers, research, and reporting. Get the latest stats, charts, and analysis delivered straight your inbox by signing up for The 74 Newsletter.

All summer long at The 74, we’ve been using our “Big Picture” series to offer parents a richer understanding of the nation’s public school system — maps and charts that look at specific aspects of district policy and classroom behavior.

Even if it wasn’t a complete sampling of every single issue facing families, teachers, principals, and policymakers, the series offered a revealing breakdown of just who’s going to school (and teaching) each day in America’s classrooms and some of the key issues confronting those charged with running your local school district.

Here are seven of the more notable numbers that surfaced through our reports:

1 50.3 percent students of color

As Laura Fay reported, the 2014-15 school year was the tipping point for the racial makeup of America’s classrooms. Based on the most recent federal projections available, which should be verified by hard data soon, it was in the fall of 2014 that 50.3 percent of the country’s student population was composed of students of color. Here’s a state-by-state breakdown of the actual stats from the previous 2013-14 school year:

Read Laura Fay’s article: “What’s the Racial Breakdown of America’s Public School System?

2 80.1 percent white teachers

Even as America’s school system has become majority-minority, however, the U.S. teaching force has failed to keep pace. As we reported in August, 80.1 percent of teachers in 2015 were white:

There’s potential harm in this racial mismatch of student and teacher.

One recent study of a group of black North Carolina students in the early 2000s found that having just one black teacher in grade 3, 4, or 5 decreased the dropout rate by nearly a third and also made students more likely to say they planned to go to college. The benefits were even stronger for boys and students living in poverty, and there were no negative effects for students of other races.

Read our full report: “The State of America’s Student-Teacher Racial Gap: Our Public School System Has Been Majority-Minority for Years, but 80 Percent of Teachers Are Still White

3 1.2 million homeless students

The number of homeless students in the U.S. totaled 1.2 million in the 2014-15 school year, according to the most recent data made available by the U.S. Department of Education.

While California has the largest number of homeless students, at nearly 236,000, Oklahoma has the highest rate in relation to its population, with nearly 7 homeless students per 1,000 residents. Read our feature to see the full breakdown of homeless students by state.

4 Five states spending $50M+ more on security

A majority of states have increased their spending on school security since the mass school shooting in Parkland, Florida, in February. Five states have led the way, increasing their security spending by more than $50 million: California, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin:

As Carolyn Phenicie reports, this overall calculation, based on a search of news articles and state budget documents, is a rough estimate that may have missed some grants and may include funding that can be used for higher education or other public buildings. Some states also would require matching grants from school districts.

And still more funding could be coming: Massachusetts lawmakers, after hurriedly passing a delayed budget in late July, didn’t take up Republican Gov. Charlie Baker’s proposal to add $72 million in new safety spending, though they could consider it later this year. And in New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy in late August approved the legislature’s proposal to ask voters to approved a $500 billion bond, mostly for school safety upgrades. It was originally proposed for $1 billion. If approved, $350 million would be used for school security measures and district career and technical education programs. Read our full report: “Here’s How States Have Poured $900 Million Into Student Safety Since the Parkland Shooting

529 percent of Maryland students are chronically absent

Every school day, teachers across the country take attendance. And every year, about 16 percent of students miss at least 15 of those days.

So-called chronic absenteeism has festered into what the U.S. Department of Education has branded a national crisis. Nearly 8 million K-12 students missed 15 or more days of school in 2015-16 — a marked increase from the 6.8 million estimated in 2013-14, when the federal Office for Civil Rights began tracking the data. Here’s the rate of chronic absenteeism by state:

As Taylor Swaak reports, about 16 percent of students nationwide were chronically absent in 2015-16, up from about 14 percent in 2013-14, according to federal data. But the national average masks a huge degree of variance across states.

North Dakota has the lowest reported absenteeism rate — 9.5 percent — followed by about 11 percent in Vermont, South Carolina, and Nebraska. Washington, D.C., Maryland, and the state of Washington, conversely, sit more than 10 percent above average, with estimated 31 percent, 29 percent, and 27 percent absenteeism rates, respectively. Read our full report: “With Nearly 8 Million Students Chronically Absent From School Each Year, 36 States Set Out to Tackle the Problem in New Federal Education Plans. Will It Make a Difference?”

6 430,000 children in foster care

Transportation is just one of many challenges the more than 430,000 U.S. children in foster care face as they struggle to get an education.

As Kate Stringer reports, about one-third of foster care students change schools at least five times before they reach adulthood, and for each school change, they tend to fall four to six months behind. Meanwhile, they are coping with the trauma of being separated from their families. By the time these students are adults, they reach only an average seventh-grade reading level and have been three times as likely as their peers to get expelled, according to data collected by the Legal Center for Foster Care and Education. Only 11 percent obtain a bachelor’s degree. Here are the current stats on the number of foster care students by state:

Recent changes in federal law are aimed at addressing this. The Every Student Succeeds Act requires state departments of education to collaborate with child welfare agencies so education leaders can begin tracking which students are in the foster care system and how they’re doing academically. ESSA also mandates that states arrange transportation for foster care students to their original school if they move between homes, to minimize disruption to their education.

This winter, for the first time, states will also be expected to include data on the educational outcomes of foster care students on their state report cards, as they already do for student subgroups like English learners and migrants. Read our full report: “How the Every Student Succeeds Act Is Designed to Better Understand and Support These 430,000 Kids

7 11 “fifth indicators” in Arkansas’s ESSA plan

Academic achievement has typically been the gold standard for tracking student gains and school progress. But policymakers hoped recent changes to federal education law would spur a more innovative approach. Under the 2015 Every Students Succeeds Act, states submitted education plans last year to the U.S. Department of Education outlining at least five indicators. These indicators, when weighted and combined, should produce school scores that help states identify their lowest performers, schools requiring improvement plans and eligible for federal funds.

The first four were explicitly academic: achievement, growth, graduation rates, and English language proficiency. The fifth indicator, however, was a true blank slate. (The law did suggest non-academic benchmarks such as student engagement and school climate and safety.)

An in-depth review by The 74 of plans from 49 states and Washington, D.C., revealed that many fifth indicators are flooded with numerous, complex measures that, according to some critics, risk diluting educators’ focus and muddying improvement goals. And while the vast majority of plans use the fifth indicator to track chronic absenteeism, a smattering of other measures — from college and career readiness to science achievement — remain largely focused on academics. Arkansas leads the nation, in setting 11 measures to track among its high schoolers:

States needed only one fifth-indicator measure to satisfy the law. But at least 20 plans pack in four or more. This is especially notable at the high school level: 19 plans lay out four or more fifth-indicator measures for high school students, compared with only seven plans that do so for those in grades K-8. Experts largely attributed the variance to the added focus on college and career readiness in the later grades. Read our full analysis: “Educators Hoped ESSA’s ‘5th Indicator’ Would Paint a Clearer Picture of Student Success. But With Some States Now Choosing Up to 11 Different Measures, Experts Worry Results Are a ‘Hodgepodge’

Go Deeper: This is the latest article in The 74’s ongoing ‘Big Picture’ series, bringing American education into sharper focus through new numbers, research, and reporting. Get the latest stats, charts, and analysis delivered straight your inbox by signing up for The 74 Newsletter.

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