Hispanics and U.S. Schools: Problems, Puzzles and Possibilities

January 2011
Frontiers in Sociology of Education

In 2003, the US Census Bureau announced that Hispanics surpassed blacks as the largest US minority group. If this historic milestone is prologue to the future, its social significance is an unfolding, yet uncertain narrative, with the main chapters being scripted in the schools. That fertility, not immigration, currently drives Hispanic population growth has two important implications for US schools and the future contours of educational stratification. First, the youthful age structure of Hispanics will keep demand for education high. Second, four decades of mass migration from Latin America set in motion an unprecedented generational transition that will define the contours of social inequality, depending greatly on the educational attainments of the swelling second generation. In this essay I argue that the success of US schools in closing achievement gaps will determine not only the pace of Hispanic social mobility, but also whether the nation garners a productivity boost by harnessing the Hispanic demographic dividend.