Children from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Backgrounds
Increasing numbers of children from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds are enrolling in U.S. public elementary and secondary schools. Currently, these children comprise more than 36 percent of the total school population. The National Center for Education Statistics (2000) has compiled distributions of the U.S. public school enrollment by race or ethnicity, most currently for fall 1997. It found that whites (non-Hispanic) comprised 63.5 percent, blacks (non-Hispanic) comprised 17 percent, Hispanics comprised 14.4 percent, Asians or Pacific Islanders comprised 3.9 percent, and American Indian or Alaskan natives comprised 1.2 percent of the enrollment in public elementary and secondary schools (Table 45, page 60).
Demographically, the largest group of people of color in the United States are African Americans. This group includes descendants from Africans, West Indians, and Haitians. The number of Latino children in schools has shown a steady increase over the last decade. The three largest Latino groups in the United States are Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, and Cubans. Other Latino groups are from Caribbean countries and Central American countries, but their numbers are not as large. In addition to the many dialects of Spanish spoken by individuals, there are differences in religion, class, and geography.
Trueba, Cheng, and Ima (1993) have identified three distinct Asian Pacific Islander groups in America: 1) Pacific Islanders, mostly Hawaiians, Samoans, and Guamanians; 2) Southeast Asians, largely comprised of Indochinese (from Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Burma), and Filipinos; and 3) East Asians, including Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans. As with all cultural groups in the United States, it is important to note their type of entry into the country, whether voluntary or involuntary (Ogbu, 1987), as well as their educational history prior to entry. In the case of Asian Pacific Islanders, for instance, recent immigrants differ significantly in their levels of education and literacy, social class, religion, and geographical homeland. These groups may have differences in communication patterns, expectations, and sense of time (Haung, 1993).
According to Tharp and Yamauchi (1994), the Native American school population represents about 280 different tribal groups. They note that "tribes vary on a number of linguistic, cultural, social, political, and economic dimensions."
Garcia and Willis (in press) observe, "Differences between and within 'panethnic' categories, such as Latina/Latinos or Hispanics, Asians or Asian-Americans, Native Americans, and African-Americans are very important to acknowledge." Berry (1986) also notes the importance of understanding the distinction between cultural group and individual identity: "Not every individual participates to the same extent in the general acculturation being experienced by his group" (p. 38).
In addition, growing numbers of biracial and multiracial children are entering the schools. These children are from homes where each parent is from a different racial background (biracial) or where generational intermarriages among different races (multiracial) have occurred.