Just as the feds have long predicted, the 50 million-plus students enrolled in the country’s public K-12 schools this fall are more racially diverse than ever. Students of color now outnumber their white peers, largely thanks to striking growth in America’s Latino and Asian youth populations. Times sure have changed: Fewer than one in five Americans ages 85 or older was a minority in 2013, versus half of children under 5.
Taken as a whole, these statistics suggest that it may be time to revisit the word “minorities” when talking about students who aren’t white. Then again, the statistics probably shouldn’t be taken as a whole.
A close analysis of the U.S. Department of Education’s actual and projected demographic data suggests that the trends for students identified as “American Indian” or “Alaska Native” tend to deviate from the overall student body. These discrepancies are often so subtle that they seem negligible; the data is so tenuous that the subject seems moot. But these nuances are important to highlight—if only because America’s indigenous children are so often left out of conversations about closing the “achievement gap.”
Indigenous children in America sometimes attend separate schools whose pedagogy and curricula are tailored to indigenous worldviews and learning needs. These institutions can be charter schools, language-immersion schools, Indian-reservation schools, or even private schools. (In my home state of Hawaii, Kamehameha Schools—a private institution whose endowment is valued at a whopping $11 billion—generally restricts admission to students of Native Hawaiian descent, a policy that’s been challenged in federal court a number of times to little avail.) The idea is that emphasizing “Native Ways of Knowing”—on top of the earmarked funding and regulatory waivers designed to offset legacies of institutionalized discrimination—will help improve their outcomes.