Let's look closer at something that is occasionally missed in education, the role of diversity. While there are benefits associated with diversity in school, students' outcomes depend on how diversity is acknowledged in a classroom setting. Of course, examples of diversity go beyond race, including religion, gender, economic background, and even learning styles. An inclusive classroom means having lesson plans that account for addressing all forms of diversity. For now, let's hone in on racial and ethnic differences.
The University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) and the University of Groningen in the Netherlands released a study that found students with friends from a variety of ethnic backgrounds felt safer and less bullied. In Charlotte, Queens University mentioned how "diversity in staffing also enables students from different backgrounds to identify with teachers, effectively enhancing their trust in a learning environment." Finally, the Century Foundation shared how racial diversity helps build cognitive and critical thinking skills. Reading through this data shines a light on the immediate benefits of building racial diversity into the classroom setting.
The excellent news: Diversity, especially ethnic diversity, is growing in the U.S. In 2016, the New York Times published data showing how immigration led to an uptick in Hispanic and Asian students in American schools. For the first time in U.S. history, data shows that most public school K–12 pupils are students of color (mostly Blacks and Hispanics). However, many of these schools are missing the attendance of white families. The benefits of diversity in the classroom have indeed reached white, affluent families, and the majority support ethnically diverse schools for their kids. The caveat, when wealthy white families are looking to enroll their children in schools, they want their child to be in a safe location and in a school that has high academic profiles, above it being racially diverse.
Experts suggest a few ways parents can keep building diversity in education around the U.S.:
- Look beyond the test scores. Often a school's average test scores do not offer the most accurate academic ratings for a school. If test scores are the only thing keeping parents from enrolling their child in a school, experts urge these parents to re-evaluate.
- Talk with teachers, other parents, and families about what the school is like before deciding. As humans, we often formulate opinions before we know all the facts. The more information parents have from individuals who experience education first-hand, the better able they are to make an informed decision.
- Live in a diverse area. If no school meets the wants/needs, then do the second-best thing for a child's education and live in an ethnically diverse neighborhood.
These are just a starting point. Giving a child a diverse education starts with looking at the people that surround their lives. Allowing children to learn about diversity from an early age will benefit not only their cognitive growth but the collective intelligence we as a society bring to the topic of diversity.