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California has the largest and most diverse student population in America. Over 6 million students attend California public K-12 schools. Another half a million or so attend private schools. In rough terms, our state has about half a million students in each grade level. To provide for their education, more than 300,000 teachers work in about 10,000 schools in about 1,000 districts across the state.
Just over half of California’s students are Latino. In about 30 years, the state’s K-12 schools added about 3 million Latino students, accounting for virtually all of the growth in California enrollment.
Non-Latino white students make up about a quarter of the state student body. Most of the remaining students are Asian (9%), African-American (6%), or Filipino (3%). About 3% of California students associate themselves with none of the above. California’s large urban districts educate students from virtually every culture and linguistic background on the planet.
In about 30 years, the state’s K-12 schools added about 3 million Latino students, accounting for virtually all of the growth in California enrollment.
California's student body is much different than that of the United States as a whole, as this chart from the California LAO shows nicely:
Demographers measure ethnic diversity using a statistical index that evaluates the odds that two people selected at random will be of the same ethnicity. In total, California's student body is very diverse, but people tend to live in clusters. For example, only a tiny percentage of California's total student body is Armenian, but at Glendale High School nearly a fifth of students learning English speak Armenian at home. In Pacifica, many students speak Tagalog. In Westminster, many students speak Vietnamese. San Francisco Unified School District has a diverse student body, in total, but many of its schools don't reflect that diversity. California's statewide diversity index is 47 -- you can check the diversity index of your school and district on Ed-Data.org.
Nearly half of California’s students speak a language other than English at home. Many of them have been very successful at learning English; less than a quarter of California’s students are “English Language Learners” (abbreviated EL or ELL), which means that they speak another language and have not yet achieved functional fluency in English.
Statistics regarding the immigration status of California’s students and their families are imprecise. The biggest changes in California demographics have been driven by immigration from Mexico and Latin America. Undocumented students make up perhaps one in every 30 students enrolled in a California public school.
In 1982 the US Supreme Court ruled in Pyler vs. Doe that immigration status cannot serve as a condition for enrollment in American public schools. Access to public education is open to all resident students, regardless of immigration status. This right of access includes higher education; Assembly Bill 540 extended in-state tuition benefits to all residents. After about a decade of litigation, in 2010 this policy was upheld by a unanimous ruling of the state Supreme Court.
California's diversity of religion reflects the history of immigration to the state. Catholics are the largest single group, reflecting the strong history of immigration from Mexico and Latin America. For more information about religious diversity in California, visit the Pew Research Center.
California has played a leading role in moving American public opinion toward acceptance of another kind of diversity: sexual orientation and gender identity. The history of gay rights in California is a topic beyond the scope of this lesson, but it is worth at least noting that a lot has changed in a few decades. For most young people, the struggle for marriage equality is mostly history, perhaps worthy as a topic for a term paper. "Coming out" no longer carries the degree of stigma or risk that it once did, and students are reasonably likely to know teachers or other adults that don't conceal their orientation.
Measurement of changing public attitudes about sexual orientation is a key long-term priority of the Williams Institute, a think tank at the UCLA School of Law. Researchers have struggled to provide journalists and policymakers with good data. What percentage of adults are gay or bisexual? What percentage of children will grow up to be gay or bisexual?
The short answer, as usual, is that it depends on how you define your terms. According to Williams Distinguished Scholar Gary J Gates "An estimated 19 million Americans (8.2%) report that they have engaged in same-sex sexual behavior" but a lower percentage, about 3.5% of adults, identify themselves as lesbian, gay or bisexual.
Getting a sense of the prevalence of transgender persons is even harder. In 2017 the Williams School team assembled available data to develop estimates. They found that the number of people identifying as transgender varies dramatically among the states and by age. In California, they estimate that 0.85% of young people age 13-24 identify themselves as transgender.
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