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How White Is Your School: The Most Diverse High Schools in RI

Saturday, June 01, 2013


With a balance of Asian, Black, Hispanic and White students, Classical High School is the No. 1 Most Diverse High School in Rhode Island.

From the busy streets of downtown Providence to the open country roads in the heart of Exeter, Rhode Island is a diverse state with many vibrant and unique communities comprised of blended families from all types of backgrounds, origins and experiences.

But how well is that diversity reflected in the Ocean State’s Schools? Not very.

According to Dennis Langley, President of the Urban League of Rhode Island, diversity is more than a buzz word and the results of the study show that the Ocean State has a long way to go if it wants to attain an ideal mix of students more reflective of RI’s culture as a whole.

“It’s not surprising because we’re kind of establishing de facto segregation by economics,” Langley said. “We try to isolate ourselves or insolate ourselves from others … and that will be a problem because if students are not taught at an early age how to relate to others, then when they get into the [business world], they won’t be able to associate and it will be a detriment to many of those young people.”

In the first review of its kind, GoLocalProv.com spent three months analyzing data with the Institute for Education Science's National Center for Education Statistics to determine which of Rhode Island’s public high schools had the most overall racial balance. The more balanced a school's enrollment was across the categories measured by the NCES, the higher it ranked. 

What we found was that while the state as a whole is a diverse mix of students from a number of races and ethnicities, those races tend to collect in large numbers percentages based on the school district itself, creating segregated pockets of White, Black, Hispanic and Asian student bodies.

So while some Providence and Pawtucket urban schools may have a strong mix of students from different races and ethnicities, by and large the state continues to struggle in the area.

SLIDESHOW: The Most and Least Diverse High Schools in Rhode Island

A Vital Tool

For years, officials both in Rhode Island and across the country had stressed the idea of diversity as one of the basic tenets of education and now, more than ever, the concept of a multi-cultural education system with a diverse and mixed student body has been lauded as a key in preparing the next generation of America’s students for life outside of the classroom.

“To have a diverse population is an asset to any state or any institution,” Langley said. “We learn about different cultures, we learn about the dos and the don’ts relative to different cultures and it prepares young people for doing business. It teaches them how to be cultured and how to enter into the corporate community and learn to see each other as equal.”

The basic demographics of the United States continue to evolve and, at some point in next 100 years, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that the country’s minority population will become the majority.

On top of that push, the very nature of the business world is shifting to a global economy made up of managers, department head and executives from every walk of life and every unique and diverse culture.

Jim Vincent, president of the NAACP's Providence chapter, says preparing students for life in this new and constantly-evolving world is key to their future success.

“I think diversity is crucial,” Vincent said. “We’re living in the 21st century where not only do you run into people with different backgrounds on a daily basis but we’re living in a global society, people are from all over the world so unless you interact with diverse populations, you’re severely handicapped in business dealings and dealings involving public service and other endeavors.”

Vincent goes even further and says he believes not being exposed to a diverse environment can have long-term ramifications for students as they enter the workplace.

“I would dare say that I would not want to have a manger or department head that had not had that kind of experience before because of the liability one may occur because of not understanding diverse populations,” he said.

Steven Brown of the ACLU calls diversity crucial to a student’s overall educational experience.

“Having a diverse range of students in a school can be very important in positive ways,” he said. “It can introduce and expose students to different cultures and, to some extent, different ways of seeing the world. It can clear up misconceptions and prejudices about ethnic groups other than one's own, and in that way promote more tolerance.”

For more on GoLocal's methodology and the rankings, click here.

Rhode Island's Most Diverse High School: Classical High School

The importance of diversity in today’s educational climate makes the result of this study more than disheartening.

At least, if you’re not Classical High School.

At the top of the list for most diverse high schools in Rhode Island was Providence’s public magnet school.

Classical has a total enrollment of 1,047 students spread out through all the racial categories analyzed. In all, the school has a student body that is 42.3 percent Hispanic, 26.5 percent White, 18.4 percent Black and 10.5 percent Asian.

But because the school has a select admissions policy which draws the top-performing students from across the city of Providence, its demographics are uniquely different than the rest of the city’s other public high schools.

No other school came that close to balance across the four test groups.

Langley says that Classical’s diversity, and its ability to draw a more integrated student body than the rest of the state’s public schools, comes down to three key factors.

“No. 1, many of those youngsters are tested to enter that institution so they’re getting the cream of the crop across the state or across the city,” he said. “No. 2, most of those youngsters are from middle to upper class communities within the city. No. 3, I think the parents have done an excellent job in preparing them to understand that their culture is not unique and obviously they must learn to appreciate other cultures.”

Providence, Pawtucket a mixed bag

As a whole, the cities of Providence and Pawtucket fared well in the study as seven of the top 10 most diverse schools were from one of the state’s two largest urban school districts.

But a deeper looking into the numbers reveal some key points of concern as schools like Central and Mt. Pleasant fared well when looked at percentages of minority students but also had some of the lowest percentages of white students in the state.

Langley says the results are reflective of the communities as a whole.

“I think the educational institution is quite diverse within the city of Providence,” he said. “We have individuals from all walks of life, individuals from a variety of cultures.”

For Vincent, though, the results show a startling trend when compared to the rest of the state.

“I think Rhode Island is a very diverse state so it has a very diverse student population as a whole but it’s not evenly-distributed,” he said. “A lot of the minority populations tend to be concentrated in the cities and there are suburban areas that are virtually all White.”

The Difference is Clear

The top nine schools in this study all had three or more racial groups comprise at least 10 percent of their overall student body.

The top schools—Classical, the Jacqueline M. Walsh School for the Performing and Visual Arts, the Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center, Tolman and Shea—all also shared another distinction in how they’re viewed.

“First of all, with the exception of Shea High school, these are all the "flagship" schools of urban systems,” said Rick Richards, a former employee in the Testing Department at the Rhode Island Department of Education. “They are perceived as providing good educations and have maintained their traditional White, middle class enrollments along with adding Black and Latino enrollments. Shea's diversity is a tribute to its own hard work.”

All it takes is an analysis of the most diverse schools to see why the least diverse ones struggle.

The bottom 15 schools in this study all had a white population of at least 90 percent and many, if not most, were in suburban areas of the state with a much smaller minority demographic.

Richards says it’s a matter of economics.

“In some cases high property values keep diverse populations from moving in,” he explained. “In other cases, the towns are pretty far from urban centers where most minorities find jobs. None of these towns has the readily available low rent housing in large quantities that is needed to accommodate in-migration.”

The five least diverse schools in Rhode Island are Barrington High School (94.5 % White), Narragansett High School (95.1%), Coventry High School (95.9%), Scituate High School (96.9%) and Ponaganset High School (99.5%).

What Can Be Done?

Apart from a seismic shift in the racial composition of the suburban communities listed above, most experts believe there are no short-term solutions to the diversity problems plaguing many RI schools.

“I think it's hard or individual schools to tackle the issue of diversity, but for starters, schools need to assure parents that they provide a safe environment and that they promote high quality learning,” Richard said. “That attracts parents from all stations of life.”

But even if the schools themselves can’t change the numbers, they can still encourage diversity within their walls.

“It is encouraging to see that schools like Classical and the Walsh School, which are not neighborhood schools, are among the more diverse ones in the state,” Brown said. “Most other schools are likely to reflect the makeup of the neighborhoods in which they are located. The most important thing that cities and towns can do to promote diversity is to draw school boundary lines in ways that do not further ensconce or perpetuate segregation in their districts.”

RIDE Commissioner Deborah Gist says the state pays close attention to the issue of diversity and wants its students to receive the same level of education regardless of their “race, ethnicity, religion, gender or gender identity, national origin, or disability.”

“As an agency, our performance goals are to cut in half over a five-year span the achievement gaps that affect students of color, students with disabilities, and economically disadvantaged students,” she said. “We have also made closing these achievement gaps one of the two most heavily-weighted factors in our classification system, by which we hold schools accountable for results and provide schools with support to advance student achievement.”

Gist says there’s also another issue with diversity that hasn’t quite been looked at yet.

“I have been struck from the time of my arrival in Rhode Island by the lack of diversity among our teachers and school leaders,” she said. “To rectify this lack of diversity, our strategic plan, Transforming Education in Rhode Island, includes the goal of developing a more diverse corps of great teachers and school leaders.

To that end, we have expanded opportunities for entry into the teaching profession through nontraditional pathways and we have established an Academy for Transformative Leadership, which trains aspiring principals for leadership roles in persistently low-achieving schools in our urban communities.”

The results of those initiatives and the future makeup and diversity of school districts both urban and suburban remain to be seen. 

To see the full chart of the Most and Least Diverse High Schools in RI, click here.


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When I went to school, we had maybe 1 or 2 minorities in the whole school. Also we only had 1 kid that was fat in school, everyone else was skinny, how times change.

Comment #1 by anthony sionni on 2013 02 19

this article makes it quite evident that GoLocal plays to a certain demographic..just the headline is a joke?

Comment #2 by frank bentley on 2013 02 19

Hey Paul, This article is full of shit. It is one thing to write a lame controversial article, it is another to try to pass it off as real reporting. One school in in the Blackstone Valley you have listed as having no blacks. That's funny because there are several on the sports teams there. How does your crack news team explain that? And oh yeah, these students are not freshman, they have been in this school system for years. VERY LAME ATTEMPT.

Comment #3 by tom brady on 2013 02 19

OMG!! The new editor then goes on to look at private/Catholic schools in another article. He writes that Ocean Tides a school for juvenile delinquents is the most diverse of these. It is more diverse than LaSalle, Hendricken, etc... can't make this up. Why didn't you add in the training school you dope.

Comment #4 by tom brady on 2013 02 19

Lets be honest, this whole diversity thing is a joke. Designed to make liberals sleep better, and help certain politicians get elected. In the real world results matter not whether you're diverse enough to keep the liberals happy. Compare graduation rates and overall academic achievment with diversity and you'll see the worst go to first.

Comment #5 by David Beagle on 2013 02 19

go local is a joke.

Comment #6 by pearl fanch on 2013 02 19

Like so many bad reports on diversity, this one makes the same mistake. It blends an ethnic category with racial categories. Hispanic is not a race. Among the ethnic Hispanic population are whites, blacks, and multi-racial people.

If this report is to have any meaning, it must redo the data to classify the Hispanic group into whatever racial group they belong. Then it could compare that result to the racial make-up of the the community to see if the school population is consistent with that result.

Then maybe GoLocalProv could do something meaningful, like compare course offerings, class sizes, extra-curricular activity availability, and others to see how the more diverse schools stack up against the less diverse.

Comment #7 by John Ward on 2013 02 19

This article is awful. How white is your school? Are you kidding? I view this article as being intentionally incediary. Kids, of all types, go to the school that is located in the school district in which they live. The parents of the child decide where the family is going to live, no one else. Last time I checked, there were no restrictions as to where (what RI city or town) a family chooses to live. Just more PC BS. Political Correctness is the cause of many of our societies' problems, it is the solution to none.

Comment #8 by Michael Gorman on 2013 02 19

the real question is how white is your town?

i would think the school demographics would follow.

and last i heard there were no laws that minorities could not move to ponagansett.

Comment #9 by jon paycheck on 2013 02 19

HEY GO LOCAL, Did you ever think that if Rhode Island were not ranked at the top for unemployment and last for business that there would be more diversity in our rural communities? How about researching some real solutions instead of attempting to further divide the community. It appears you are attempting to make the Providence Journal look like a right wing propaganda tabloid in comparison.

Of course passing all of those social liberal agenda items at the Statehouse by the dominant democrats should have changed all of this no? Time to look in the mirror!

Comment #10 by Scott Dickerson on 2013 02 19

The Title of this article is offensive. The article is offensive. To the writer... diversity is more that the number of ethnic groups that share a community. The notion that a person will not be able to function completely in society because they don't attend a racially diverse high school is obscene.

Comment #11 by Ronald Syper on 2013 02 19

Diversity and inclusion is a poor substitute for quality education. It's time to get back to the reality that some children will excel and others will not. The lowered expectations instituted so that everyone gets a prize severely handicaps the brightest of our children who will be the real leaders of our country and companies in the future. Expecting that inclusion will give a student with an IQ of 90 the opportunity to run General Motors is mental masturbation. There will always be top level executives and there will always be janitors. Accept reality.

Comment #12 by Bill Healy on 2013 02 19

What's your point Go Local. What a dumb-ass subject, get real will you!

Comment #13 by Mark St. Pierre on 2013 02 19

I have to agree with the majority of the posters. This is a pretty lame article. All it does is explain the composition of public high schools based upon the ethnic/racial composition of the state's communities. Wouldn't it follow that if a community (Providence/Pawtucket) had a large ethnic/minority population, that the public schools would reflect this fact. Like many of GoLocal's article's this seems to be an attempt to create an issue where none exists. FYI, there are many charter and private parochial schools with significant minority populations because the parents believe they offer a better education for their child.

Comment #14 by Harold Stassen on 2013 02 19

I am glad you are focusing on this. Your article is thorough and well written. I am old enough to remember the "white flight" that commenced in the late sixties leaving the cities in ruin. Most cities have risen from the ashes, though. This is a different world than the one of 49-45 years ago.

The Barrington High School statistics speak volumes. I feel bad for kids like that who grow up in insulated communities. There is no way they will not come of age with a warped world view.

The right wing political commenting one sees on these pages is so ideologically bankrupt. Most of the sentiment expressed can only be understood as strained attempts to obscure blatant racism. It so sad. The world is changing very fast. Such people are not going to be able to keep up with the inevitable change that is on the way, everywhere.

Comment #15 by edith pilkingoton on 2013 02 19

Thanks Edith--of all the people commenting, you are the only one to find it worthwhile--as if skin color had anything to do with true diversity--intellectual diversity. Perhaps your ideology is bankrupt?

Comment #16 by Mike Govern on 2013 02 19

This article is a joke. One day, the liberal idiots will get off of this diversity nonsense bandwagon, and start focusing on uniting us as one population. Liberals just want to focus on things that make us different and push us apart - but then again, divide and conquer is the liberal strategy to attempt to dismantle this country. True Americans don't give a crap about what makes everyone different, they focus on being one united country and living together as one harmonious society.

Comment #17 by Russ Hryzan on 2013 02 19

Diversity is a weakness.
Why would you celebrate weakness ?

Comment #18 by John Waddington on 2013 02 19

Diversity does not equal quality.
When you buy a bag of apples, do you check to make sure some are ripe, some are not, some are large and some are small, some have dents and bruises, some have worms and some don't? That's what diversity is.
What ever happened to striving for excellence?

Comment #19 by Bill Healy on 2013 02 19

Thank you, John. You get it.

Comment #20 by Bill Healy on 2013 02 19

"How White is Your School?" What is the purpose of asking such an inflammatory and irrelevant question? As if happening to have more children of a certain ethniticy is an objectively good or bad thing for an institution of learning. It's intellectual diversity that is important. Reorganizing schools to meet some arbitrary racial quota set by the central planners of the state is racist and morally wrong. This website is such a progressive joke. The state is drowning in unemployment and GoLocal is worried about the "whiteness" of schools. It's indicative of the broader problem.

Comment #21 by Right Work on 2013 02 19

How Black is Your School?

How Brown is Your School?

Very strange bias here. Certainly, diversity is one small factor that may affect students, but I'm not sure what the point of this headline is.

Does the author mean that being white is the standard, and everything else is compared to that standard? What is the point?

I am a teacher in a Providence Middle School, and I am much more concerned about the students who come to school without breakfast, without a home, without the comfort of being read to that makes reading such a chore for them. Some of these students are white, some black, and some are brown. Why don't we focus on helping these innocent kids?

Comment #22 by Elizabeth Finneran on 2013 02 19

I think this whole diversity quota system is ridiculous, but the article is interesting. I was pleased to see my Alma Mater be #1. I graduated from Classical in the 1960's, and in my 200 + graduating class we had one Afrian American student, and two Asian students. That was it. I think the new ranking proves that students of color can compete, and gain entrance to a school that will point them directly toward college. Perhaps Mr. Langley should reconsider his remarks. The entrance exam is the entrance exam, and where one grew up in Providence does not seem to be a predictor of success.

Comment #23 by Michael Trenn on 2013 02 20

You're playing the race card? Seriously? This is so lame, you should be embarrassed to print this crap!

Comment #24 by Joyce Bryant on 2013 02 20

Didn't Buddy Cianci use "nontraditional pathways" in giving jobs to people? What exactly does this mean? Are we no longer require certain standards to be met for teaching positions?

Bill Healy has it right we need to strive for excellence, no matter what community you live in.

Comment #25 by Wuggly Ump on 2013 02 20

The word "diversity" is value neutral. Diversity in itself is neither "good" nor is it "bad"--it can be either.

Even the word diversity is misused in this article as it equates "diversity" with "percentage of minority students". But are these schools ideologically diverse, representing the viewpoints of liberals and conservatives alike? Are they religiously diverse? Are they economically diverse? The list goes on.

I can look at this list and say with a high degree of confidence that several of the "least diverse" schools will provide a better education and prepare kids for life better than some of the "most diverse" schools.

Comment #26 by Todd B on 2013 02 20

@Bill Healy: "Expecting that inclusion will give a student with an IQ of 90 the opportunity to run General Motors is mental masturbation"

It should be the mission of the public school system to educate each student to the best of his or her potential. The reality is that the vast, vast majority of RI's high school valedictorians will never run a Fortune 500 company. Yet a kid with attention deficit disorder grew up to found JetBlue--creating jobs that no doubt allowed several former high school valedictorians to provide for their families.

A kid with a IQ of 90 is no more or less deserving of an education as a kid with a IQ of 140. The parents of the kid with a 90 IQ pays taxes just as the parents of the kid with a 140 IQ.

Comment #27 by Todd B on 2013 02 20

Edith, you should feel bad for kids who do not get a good education whether they come from Barrington or Providence or Foster. What kind of warped world will the Barrington students have? We should judge people by the content of their character not the color of their skin. It might be much more productive if you were to expend your energy on improving the quality of education in our state rather than ranting about blatant racism that does not exist.

Comment #28 by Michael Byrnes on 2013 02 20

Gist, whose white said,

“I have been struck from the time of my arrival in Rhode Island by the lack of diversity among our teachers and school leaders,” she said. “To rectify this lack of diversity, our strategic plan, Transforming Education in Rhode Island, includes the goal of developing a more diverse corps of great teachers and school leaders."

Too bad I can't print this article on toilet paper.

Comment #29 by John LeMasters on 2013 02 21

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.