In most communities, access to schools is determined by the neighborhood in which a youth resides. Hispanics do not live in the same communities as blacks and whites and do not attend the same high schools. The most recent enrollment data reveal that Hispanics not only attend different schools than other youths, they attend high schools with different structural characteristics as well. The most glaring structural difference is high school size. The average enrollment in the nation’s public high schools is 754 students but the largest 10 percent of schools have enrollment in excess of 1,838 students. Whether in rural areas, suburbs or central cities, Hispanic teens are much more likely than their white or black counterparts to attend high schools with more than 1,838 students.
Some of the size difference reflects the fact that Hispanic high schools students are disproportionately educated in states with large high schools. Even so, within every one of the seven Hispanic states, Hispanic youths are more likely than white youths to go a school with relatively large enrollment, and in six of the states Hispanics are more likely than blacks to go a relatively large school. Thus, the concentration of Hispanic students in seven states with large public high schools is not the sole reason that Hispanics attend larger high schools than their white or black counterparts.
The research literature suggests that in addition to the size of a school’s student body, the economic status of those students is also an important structural characteristic that helps to shape educational outcomes. “Our findings suggest size is much more important for learning in schools with high concentrations of disadvantaged students” (Lee and Smith, 1997). Assuming that eligibility for the school lunch program is an adequate proxy for economic disadvantage, Hispanic youths are much more likely than white or black youths to be educated in a relatively large high school with a high percentage of poor students. Nearly 300 of the nation’s public high schools enroll more than 1,838 students and have more than 45 percent of their student body qualifying for the lunch program. These 300 large high schools with concentrated poverty educate nearly 25 percent of Latinos, but only 8 percent of blacks and 1 percent of whites.