Saturday, December 24, 2011
Helping our Hispanic Students Succeed
I am often torn about how to best help my Hispanic students be successful, especially those still learning English, often traveling back to their home countries, and whom have little to no support at home. The following article offers some valuable insight and ideas on how to better engage our Hispanic students:
Bridging the Hispanic Achievement Gap
English-Only Policies and Cultural Isolation Add Difficulties for Growing Hispanic Student Population
By Rick Allen
A recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) report shows that the achievement gap between Hispanic and non-Hispanic white students has been dishearteningly static for 20 years. The failure to narrow the gap comes despite a decade of No Child Left Behind and state legislation to promote English learning among immigrants, the majority of whom are Spanish speakers.
The NAEP study examined the score differences between Hispanic and white students from 1990 to 2009, and the report compared NAEP reading and math scores for 4th graders and 8th graders over time, finding national gaps of between 21 and 26 points.
Gap Differences Among Newly Settled and Long-Standing Hispanic Communities
Interestingly, some states with relatively recent but increasing numbers of Hispanic immigrant students, such as Kentucky, fell well below the national average for NAEP score differences between Hispanic and white students. On the other hand, states with long-standing Latino populations and steady immigration from nearby Mexico, such as California, Texas, and Arizona, had gaps wider than the national average, according to the study.
On the surface, it seems that the longer Hispanic families live in the United States, as would often be the case in California, the worse they do in school. But do NAEP numbers really show that some states are better supporting Hispanic achievement than others? And what accounts for the differences?
"I'd like to be able to say that Kentucky is doing something amazing to bring up the achievement levels of our Hispanic students," says Lisa Gross, a spokesperson for the Kentucky Department of Education. "But while we are focused on high achievement for all children, this data may be a bit misleading."
Gross suggested that the NAEP ultimately tests a small sample of Hispanic students in Kentucky, where a decade of recent immigration has increased the Hispanic population to 4 percent of the state's K–12 students.
Kentucky, however, has managed to narrow the gap in high school graduation rates between Hispanics and white students, Gross points out. From 2008 to 2010, the graduation rate difference decreased from 5 percent to 2 percent. In 2010, about 79 percent of Hispanics graduated, compared to 81 percent of whites.
Richard Fry, a senior research associate at the Pew Hispanic Center, offers some theories about why Hispanic immigrants may be doing better in some states than others. In states where Hispanic immigration is recent, students often enroll in schools where the vast majority are native English speakers, he says.
"In the new settlement areas, Hispanic students are often not in the inner cities," Fry notes. "They're often out in the suburban fringes. And even when they are in the cities, they're much more likely to be in majority white schools. They are not going to the same kinds of schools as Hispanics in California."
Lower academic achievement and high dropout rates among Hispanics in California result from a number of contributing factors, Fry says: "First, relative to white students, Hispanics in California are much more socioeconomically disadvantaged. More qualify for free and reduced-price lunches.
"In California, Hispanics tend not to go to the same schools as white children. Nor do they go to the same schools as black children. Many Hispanic students are educated in Los Angeles Unified and other large, urban school districts. A much smaller share of white students and African American students are educated in the same schools." Fry also points out that schools reflect residential segregation patterns.
In addition, those large, urban districts tend to have big schools, "which are usually associated with poor academic performance and higher dropout rates," he says.
Generational Discouragement Creates Dropouts
Although students drop out of high school for a constellation of reasons, which could be related to family life, personal attitudes toward school, or a desire to enter the workforce, low academic achievement doesn't bode well for any student's retention in high school. This is especially true for Hispanic students, who have the highest dropout rates in the nation.
Currently, the dropout rate for Hispanics is about 18 percent, nearly three times the rate of white students and 8 percent higher than black students, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Native-born Hispanics have a 10 percent dropout rate, but the dropout rates are even higher for Hispanic students in urban schools across the nation, often approaching 35 percent in Los Angeles schools, for example.
A 2008 review, by Russell Rumberger and Sun Ah Lim, of 25 years of studies about dropouts found that the process of dropping out begins in early elementary school, with poor academic achievement being one of the strongest predictors. Some studies also showed that second-generation Latino students have higher graduation rates than both their first-generation (foreign-born) and third-generation (U.S.-born youth with U.S.-born parents) counterparts, according to the review.
In the multigenerational study of Mexican American families, Generations of Exclusion: Mexican American, Assimilation, and Race, authors Edward Telles and Vilma Ortiz found that "Mexican Americans, three or four generations removed from their immigrant ancestors, are less likely than the Mexican American second generation of similar characteristics to have completed either high school or college."
Mexican Americans have lower levels of schooling than any other racial-ethnic group, a trait that tends to transmit across generations because of ethnic and cultural isolation, the authors say. The lack of education, in turn, inhibits the upwardly mobile assimilation into the wider society, which was the more typical experience of European immigrants of the last century.
"In the third generation, many of those hopeful parents didn't see their dream realized, and their children are now living in isolated barrios where there is little optimism and a lot of dysfunction, like street gangs, related to the conditions of poverty in which they live," explains Patricia Gándara, a University of California–Los Angeles education professor and codirector of the The Civil Rights Project. "They are no longer 'protected' by the traditions of the old country, and they live in a culture of low mobility, so the dropout rate goes up."
A Failure of Language Policy?
Part of the problem of supporting students from bilingual households comes from curriculums that downplay the vital interaction of the two languages, English and Spanish, in the brains of students who live in predominantly Spanish-speaking or bilingual households.
"Programs and curriculums often do not take into consideration the fact that the children speak a language other than English; that they need to acquire high levels of academic vocabulary, discourse, and inquiry in English to succeed in content areas; and that their own cultural and linguistic contexts are crucial ingredients in developing understanding of academic concepts," write Eugene Garcia and Bryant Jensen in the 2007 Educational Leadership article "Helping Young Hispanic Learners."
Gándara insists that the inability to properly educate Hispanic students in California and other states is clearly a failure of state education policy.
In California, where 40 percent of the population is Hispanic, only about 5 percent of California school-age children are in a primary language program that uses Spanish (or other languages) as well as varying amounts of English to instruct children academically. "Research converges around this being a good practice because it allows children to access the core curriculum—science, social studies, history, math—while they are learning English," Gándara explains.
But California, like many other states with high Hispanic populations, has "statewide laws that have regulated bilingual education out of existence," Gándara says.
In Forbidden Language: English Learners and Restrictive Language Policies, a book Gándara coauthored with Megan Hopkins, they examine the failure of English-only policies instituted in California, Arizona, and Massachusetts with the intention of closing the achievement gap. Their book points to evidence that such policies have only further marginalized English language learners, a majority of whom are Hispanic, in an education landscape of high-stakes academic testing. The authors call for states to foster multilingual programs in the schools that can build on the language and cultural capital of English language learners.
Indeed, the inability of Massachusetts to adequately fulfill its 2002 English-only law by providing teachers properly trained in English language teaching was recently deemed a violation of students' civil rights by the U.S. Department of Justice. Massachusetts must now develop a plan to train teachers to instruct English language learners in academic content by next June.
Will the next generations of Hispanic students in new settlement areas, like Kentucky or Louisiana, be able to continue to close the achievement gap? Or will immigrant optimism be enough to propel second- and third-generation Hispanics to better assimilate into the U.S. mainstream school culture? When will states and schools adopt language policies that reflect the needs of their students? Considering the growing demographic shift of the Hispanic population in U.S. schools, these are crucial questions that need to be answered sooner rather than later.