As we embark on a new school year, it’s important to look backward to think forward.  An important area to examine is the changing landscape of our nation’s schools.  Looking back at the nation’s students provides us with helpful information. Figure 1 provides a snapshot of the 2010-2011 school year.  What does it tell us in relation to our work?

Figure 1: 2010-2011 U.S. student characteristics (Source: US Dept. of Education)

As seen in Figure 1, in 2010-2011, over half of the nation’s students were White and slightly less than half, 48%, were living in poverty.  We also see the percentage who were Hispanic, Black, with Disabilities, English Learners, Asian and Pacific Islander, American Indian and Alaskan Native during the time period. How does this data inform us about our classrooms, schools, districts, and communities?  What else would we want to know?

Along with this information, it’s helpful to look historically at our nation’s growth patterns to think about what is likely to occur in the future.  The U.S. Census Bureau’s 2000-2010 findings provides us with information about our changing landscape.  Look at Figure 2.  What does it tell us about what is likely to occur?

Figure 2: U.S. Growth Patterns between 2000-2010 (Source, US Census Bureau)


Between 2000-2010, the nation’s minority populations grew at a rapid rate with the largest growth in its Hispanic/Latino and Asian populations—at 43%.  The Census Bureau’s analysis of the data also found that California, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, New Mexico, and Texas have “majority-minority” populations (U.S. Census Data).

While growth of various populations is very important to consider, what else is essential for us to know as we look backward to look ahead?


We (students, families, school communities and the community-at-large) understand the importance of accountability standards.  One measure that we know is important is the rate of student graduation.  If we look closely at the nation, we see that certain groups are graduating at or above the 80th percentile (Asian and White) while other groups are graduating well below this rate.  Of particular note are Latino-Hispanic, African-American, Alaskan Native, American Indian, and English Learners.  While these groups are growing rapidly across our nation, a large percentage are not graduating high school (Swanson, 2011).

Historically, our nation has implemented a variety of regulations and activities to remedy these disparities.  The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, the Charter School Movement of the 1980s, the No Child Left Behind Act of the 1990s, Race to the Top initiative of 2000, and the Common Core State Standards initiative (that has been adopted by 45 states, the District of Columbia, 4 territories, and counting) have all focused on equalizing educational opportunities and outcomes for all learners (Zacarian, 2013).  Unfortunately, these remedies have worked for some but not all of the nation’s students including most minority groups.

While it is critical to look at these outcomes, it is important to look at the students (across all groups) who are doing well.  This can greatly support us in discerning what is needed to close the achievement gap.  One means for doing this, as we go forward, is to look at the communication skills that are needed to be successful in school.  The next newsletter will focus on this area.



Swanson, C.B. (2011).  Analysis finds graduation rates moving up.  Diplomas Count: Beyond high school, before baccalaureate.  Education Week, 30(34), 23-29.

US Census Bureau.  Retrieved August 16, 2013: https://www.census.gov/prod/cen2010/briefs/c2010br-02.pdf

US Department of Education.  Retrieved August 16, 2013: https://eddataexpress.ed.gov/state-report.cfm?state=US&submit.x=53&submit.y=12&submit=View ).

Zacarian, D. (2013).  Mastering academic language: a framework for supporting student achievement.  Thousand Oaks, CA:  Corwin Press.

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