High school rankings portend a more diverse Georgia

By Tom Baxter

Speaking to the Georgia Republicans at their state convention Saturday about the  need to bring minorities into the party, Gov. Nathan Deal cited what he called a “shocking” statistic: 56 percent of students in the state’s public schools aren’t white.

Actually, you would have to live in a very lily-white enclave to be very shocked. Considering the dramatic demographic shifts which have taken place in recent years and the fact that whites comprise by far the highest percentage of students attending private schools in the state, it’s no surprise non-white students make up the majority in public schools.

But there’s another statistic that many in the state might really be shocked by. In the recent U.S. News and World Report ranking of the nation’s public high schools, the top three schools in the state, and seven of the top 10, have student bodies in which whites aren’t in the majority.

Not only are the top-ranked schools in this survey very diverse, there’s a lot of diversity in their diversity.
The school ranked first in the state — and third in the nation — is the Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology. Asians are 40 percent of the student body, followed by whites with 29 percent and African-American students at 18 percent.

At the DeKalb School of the Arts, the second-ranked school, African-Americans are 65 percent of the student body and whites 30 percent. At the third-ranked school, Davidson Fine Arts in Augusta, there are slightly more white students — 44 percent — than African-Americans — 42 percent.  That school has 4 percent Asian and 3 percent Hispanic students.

The subject being education, there are caveats.  SchoolDigger.com, another outfit which ranks public schools, has a different list in which nine of the top ten schools are majority white, including the three that were ranked in the top 10 by U.S. News and World Report. (However, the school which ranked 2nd on this list, Early College High School at Carver in Atlanta, has a student body which is 97 percent African-American, and according to the site, no white students.)

One difference in the two rankings is that SchoolDigger.com only considers what are now called “regular” or “traditional” schools, while U.S. News and World Report includes magnet and charter schools.
But U.S. News and World Report also includes “regular” schools like No. 8 Norcross High School, where the balance is 32 percent Hispanic, 32 percent African-American, 24 percent white and 8 percent Asian. And No. 9 Duluth High School, with 26 percent Hispanic, 25 percent white, 23 percent African-American and 21 percent Asian. Another difference is that U.S. News and World Report considers whether disadvantaged students, either low-income or minority families, are doing better than the average students in those categories. But the first criterion is how they compare to the overall average in their states.

Among the “traditional” public high schools, majority-white schools like Lambert High,which was featured in a recent AJC article, still hold most of the top places in the state Department of Education’s College and Career Ready Performance Index. But the rapid rise of schools like the Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology point toward in which there will be a much wider diversity among those who will get the top college and graduate school placements, and go on from there to the best business and professional opportunities.
Any way you shake those numbers, they amount to a sea change in the way in which performance in secondary education would have been assessed in this state 15, or 10, or even five years ago.And that has major implications for the state’s economic and political future.

“If you want to know what the future electorate of Georgia looks like, look at those who are in the schools right now,” Deal told the Republicans last weekend.

By the same token, if you want to know who’s going to be making the biggest campaign contributions, who’s going to have the biggest influence in their communities and who’s most likely to be tapped for the most important appointed and elected positions, look at who’s attending those schools performing at the highest level.  That profile is changing in a way that will surprise a lot of Georgians.

Tom Baxter has written about politics and the South for more than four decades. He was national editor and chief political correspondent at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and later edited The Southern Political Report, an online publication, for four years. Tom was the consultant for the 2008 election night coverage sponsored jointly by Current TV, Digg and Twitter, and a 2011 fellow at the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas. He has written about the impact of Georgia’s and Alabama's immigration laws in reports for the Center for American Progress. Tom and his wife, Lili, have three adult children and seven grandchildren.

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