Hispanic student numbers rising
Percentage of Hispanic teachers lags far behind
Six years ago, more Hispanic students attended K-12 public schools in Wichita, Kan., than students of any other race for the first time. That year, 34 percent of Wichita students were Hispanic, with 33 percent Caucasian and 19 percent black. This semester, Hispanic students continue to lead at 37 percent enrollment, despite census estimates that put Wichita’s total Hispanic percentage at about 17 percent in 2021. Caucasian students make up 29.7 percent of the student body, while black students comprise 19.5 percent.
Miguel Sabas-Perez remembers knowing little to no English when he entered U.S. public schools. He immigrated to the United States with his family when he was in fourth grade.
His wife, Mallela Sabas, is also an immigrant. In a video for Wichita Public Schools, she said she knew two words, “teacher” and “ice cream,” when she started school. Eleven years ago, Sabas started teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) and Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) in the Wichita school district. Sabas-Perez worked in business until about four years ago, when he also began working in the district as a high school counselor. “I decided to apply … because I think right now it’s where I can do the most good,” he said, citing his school’s large population of Hispanic families.
Other districts across the country also are seeing growth in their Hispanic populations. The National Center for Education Statistics projects that Hispanic students will make up 29.7 percent of public K-12 students by 2030, up from 13.5 percent in 1995. Since 2000, the percentage has inched upward by a fraction of a percent annually.
The Hispanic population in the United States is younger, with nearly a third of Hispanic Americans under 18. A higher birth rate among Hispanic families contributes to much of this growth, though that number has fallen in more recent years.
Roxanne Garza is the senior policy adviser at the Education Policy Project at UnidosUS, a Latino civil rights and advocacy organization. She said the higher number of Hispanic students creates two K-12 education challenges: representation among teachers and support for English language learners.
Hispanic students make up 28 percent of the national student population, but only 9 percent of K-12 teachers are Hispanic. “As our classrooms get more diverse and more Latino, we want to make sure that there is good representation in the teacher and … the leadership workforce, as well,” Garza said.
As of 2019, one-tenth of all K-12 public students are English language learners. A few years earlier, at least 75 percent of English language learner students were Hispanic. Garza said UnidosUS has seen more need for school-based support for these students. In March, the U.S. Department of Education identified bilingual education as a specific area of concern in teacher shortages. Garza said more teachers need to be trained in how to work with students who are learning English: “It’s very likely that English learners are part of classrooms across the country that may or may not have a teacher that is trained in that area.”
Recently released National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores show especially troubling drops among Hispanic students in fourth grade math and reading and eighth grade math. Garza pointed to internet and device access challenges during remote learning and communication barriers between teachers who taught remotely and parents attempting to help their children complete their work. “Coupled with all of those different barriers, it’s not really a big surprise, what we’re seeing in terms of the data that’s coming out,” she said.
Students struggling in school now may face greater challenges preparing for postsecondary education. “We also know that the majority of Latino students are the first in their families to go to college,” Garza said. Hispanic enrollment in higher education has skyrocketed since 2000 but decreased slightly during the pandemic. Research in 2021 showed 32 percent of 18- to 24-year-old Hispanic adults pursuing postsecondary education.
According to 2017-18 statistics, only about 2 percent of teachers are Hispanic males. As a high school counselor, Miguel Sabas-Perez sees the importance of his role. His former co-workers asked why he would leave his job to teach. “I’m going to help kids get into college,” he said.