The South is the first region with more than 50 percent of minority and low-income students in the public school system, according to a January 2010 report released by the Southern Education Foundation.
The South, which has a history of racial segregation and civil rights movements, was once the only section in the Unied States that lawfully permitted segregation in schools.
Despite strides toward equality since the Civil Rights movement, many southern schools still face the same dilemmas. Educators require new curricula and restructured teaching methods to meet the needs of more diverse classrooms.
“In terms of minorities, I don’t know that it would change education, but I do think that it challenges us to think about how to teach children from different cultures,” Amy Harper-Wallace, Elon Elementary School principal, said. “In terms of poverty, that changes a lot because (low-income students’) knowledge base is different.”
Students from low-income families often encounter difficulties learning at the same level as other students. This is due to non-English speaking parents and family members who did not complete an education. Various backgrounds often contribute to different learning levels.
The Southern Education Foundation stressed the challenges involved with the shifting of minorities to majorities in the coming years. Southerners must overcome existing prejudice and racism for non-white groups, urge the writers of the report.
“I think we are willing to pay attention to (the poverty level) more now than in the past,” assistant professor of education Terry Tomasek said.
“I think we were less able to pay attention to differences in the past. We wanted to make everyone the same. We’re now more willing to allow differences.”
Another concern from the report is academic performance and attendance levels of poor and minority students. On average poor and minority students score lower on tests and on the federal National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which is the only national performance examination for students K-12.
Minority and low-income students drop out of school more frequently and are less likely to graduate from high school, according to the report.
“What was the type of student 50 years ago is no longer the norm now,” Tomasek said.
Tomasek and Harper-Wallace agree education must be broadened and tweaked for the new student majority. Teachers must be prepared at the undergraduate level to recognize the diverse needs of children in the classroom and address those needs in methods that best fit the individual student.
Tomasek also said students need to learn how to be problem-solvers, especially low-income students who could be the first in their families to attend college.
“Hopefully (the changes) will make education better because it will help us teach to wider, broader audiences,” Harper-Wallace said. “We need to be culturally neutral so we can reach children in any type of culture.”