Cleveland Schools Agree to Boost Hispanic Enrollment in STEM Programs

Very few Latino and Spanish-speaking students attend the Cleveland school district’s four science and math specialty high schools.

Indeed, only 130 Hispanic students attend the schools out of the district’s total Hispanic enrollment of 5,586 Hispanic students. The disparity was so extreme that it caught the eye of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR). This week, the office announced an agreement with the district to remedy the problem .

The specialty high schools have STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) programs.

As part of the agreement, the school district agreed to do the following:

– Form a committee of district and community members to determine the barriers to more Hispanics enrolling in the STEM program.
– Develop a plan to submit to the OCR by the end of the school year to ensure access, which will be implemented in 2014-15.
– Promote STEM programs to Latino families and students.
– Ensure that Spanish-language materials about the programs are available to families.
– Monitor Hispanic enrollment in STEM and adjust the plan as necessary to address any further discrepancies.
– Improve counseling services.

The Office of Civil Rights commended the district to cooperating. Hispanic community leader Jose Feliciano also told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that he had no ill will toward the district.

“I never had any sense that they were keeping kids out,” he said. “They just weren’t doing affirmative things to get kids in.”

Related Links:
“Cleveland School District Will Be Better Promote STEM Programs to Hispanic Students Under New Civil Rights Agreement,” Cleveland Plain Dealer.

“U.S. Department of Education and Cleveland Metropolitan School District Reach Agreement to Provide Equal Access to STEM Programs for Limited English Proficient (LEP) and Latino Students,” U.S. Department of Education.

New Federal Guidelines on Discipline Announced

Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Attorney General Eric Holder urged a major overhaul of school discipline policies on Wednesday.

In a joint announcement of new guidelines on the issue, they sharply criticized school districts that suspend minorities at disproportionately high rates and also punish students for minor infractions. They also were critical of infractions being handled as criminal matters. The announcement was a major takedown of so-called “zero tolerance” policies.

The Washington Post reported that Duncan said discrimination is “a real problem today — it’s not just an issue from 30 or 40 or 50 years ago.”

A number of civil rights organizations lauded the announcement.

“These much-needed guidelines send a strong message from the federal government that it takes seriously the criminalization of children, particularly children of color, in schools,” said NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund president Sherrilyn Ifill, Education Week reported. “It acknowledges that race plays an improper role in school discipline practices with long-term negative consequences for students’ educational outcomes.”

Education Week reported that school discipline policies may be in violation if they target certain student groups or that disproportionately impact a certain racial or ethnic group.

Are you familiar with your local school district’s discipline policy? How many students are being suspended and what are their ethnic backgrounds? How many students end up arrested? You can obtain this information to better inform your reporting. You may be surprised by how many students have been suspended at least once or how frequently students are arrested.

Related Links:
“New Federal School Discipline Guidance Addresses Discrimination, Suspensions,” Education Week.

“School Climate and Discipline,” U.S. Department of Education.

“Holder, Duncan Announce National Guidelines on School Discipline,” The Washington Post.

‘Children’s Report Card’ Grades California

A new report card grading the well-being of California’s children concludes the state has a long way to go if it wants to earn an “A.”

The advocacy group Children Now has released the “2014 California Children’s Report Card: How Kids are Doing in Our State and What Needs to Be Done About It,” which grades the state on 27 indicators. The grades are based around issues related to education, health and child welfare.

The majority of the state’s public school students are Latino.

Among the different grades assigned in the education section:

— The report gives the state a “C+” on preschool. It reports that 39 percent of Latino 3- and 4-year olds are enrolled in preschool, and recommends that the state provide access to high-quality preschool programs to all children. It finds that California lags other states in inspections of its preschool programs.

— The state receives a “B-” on transition to and readiness for kindergarten programs. The report recommends stronger ties between preschool and kindergarten programs that include aligning curriculum and joint professional development. It recommends a state kindergarten readiness assessment to better inform educators, policymakers, teachers and parents.

– The report assigns the state a “D” for K-12 investments, concluding that California schools are “chronically underfunded.” The report acknowledges progress is being made, as the 2013-14 budget will allow for a $2.8 billion or 5 percent increase in year over year funding.

– The report awards a “B-” on school finance reform, in reference to the state’s new local control funding formula (LCFF) that is intended to provide more equitable funding for students. The school funding reform change will provide more funding for English Language Learners, low-income and foster children.

– The study gives the state a “B-” on the state’s implementation of the Common Core State Standards.

– The state is given a “D+” on its Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) programs. The report points out that only 67 percent of the state’s eighth graders met state science standards in 2013, including 56 percent of Latino students.

– The state is given a “D” on teacher training and evaluation. It recommends that the state update its standards on awarding teaching credentials and establish stronger evaluation systems.

Related Links:
“2014 California Children’s Report Card,” Children Now.
“No More Excuses: As California rebounds, invest in kids,” EdSource.
“Well-Being of California Children Lags, According to New Study,” Contra Costa Times.

California School Transitions ELLs to Common Core

Even though Laurel Elementary School in Los Angeles faces considerable challenges, it boasts an impressive list of accolades.

Most Laurel students come from low-income backgrounds, and about 60 percent are English Language Learners. The students have tended to perform better on math than language arts on California standardized tests, according to The Hechinger Report.

The Hechinger Report article discusses how educators at the school are preparing for the transition toward common core standards, which will be more rigorous and demand more advanced language skills from students.

In response, educators at the school are infusing more language development into math classes. Third-grade teacher Alejandra Monroy, who is from Chile, is teaching vocabulary as she explains math concepts.

While teaching students the concept that “3 X 4 = 12” she explained that the first two numbers are “factors” and the entire series a “multiplication sentence.”

Then she explained the concept of patterns through numbers.

“A pattern can be something like red/blue/red/blue right?” Monroy asked. “A sequence that repeats. When you count by skipping numbers — 2-4-6 — you’re doing a pattern.”

If you speak with teachers, how are they preparing to phase in the common core for ELLs? How are their teaching methods changing? When elementary school teachers teach math, how are they changing their approach?

Related Links:

“With new standards, will California’s youngest English learners lose their edge in math?” The Hechinger Report.

“Miami Prepares for Impact of Common Core Standards on ELLs,” Latino Ed Beat.

Teacher uses Hispanic Comic Hero to Inspire Students

Latino characters are often lacking in the books that students read. A Dallas bilingual teacher is working to fill that void by creating a Latino comic book superhero.

Dallas Independent School District second-grade teacher Hector Rodriguez created “El Peso Hero” to offer a positive Hispanic character who champions immigrants and fights crime.

Some of the themes addressed are those that students and their families may be familiar with. The superhero speaks in Spanish, but other characters speak English.

The Dallas Morning News reported that Rodriguez shares the comics with his students. Andrea Delgado, 7, told the newspaper that she likes the character and how he helps people with his special powers.

“I was like, ‘Wow, how can he do that’?” she said “I want to be a writer like my teacher, and I want to draw.”

If you speak with teachers or librarians in your area, do they include diverse characters in the classes and librarians at school?

Related Links:

“Dallas teacher creates comic hero to fight wrongs against immigrants,” The Dallas Morning News.

“Young Latino Students Don’t See Themselves in Books,” The New York Times.

“Librarians Create Bilingual Reading List,” Latino Ed Beat.

College Recruiters Often Avoid Low-Income Schools

When Los Angeles Times reporters surveyed California high schools about how many college recruiters visited the campuses this fall, they found glaring disparities between rich and poor.

While the private The Webb Schools in Claremont was visited by 113 colleges and universities, the public Jefferson High School in South Los Angeles was visited by just eight recruiters. The newspaper found that schools with higher numbers of low-income, Latino and black students received the most visitors.

University officials often justify the disparity by saying that recruiters visit high schools that many of their current students graduated from. But that can set universities up for repetition of their past enrollments. Elite schools often prioritize visiting schools where the most students meet their academic requirements.

One principal said that low-income schools often lack the counselors necessary to arrange visits.

Gregory Wolniak, director of New York University’s Center for Research on Higher Education Outcomes, said visits can help encourage students to pursue higher education who come from families without a college education.

Student Javier Evangelista is applying to study engineering at competitive universities includign Stanford and said that colleges make the mistake of not visiting public schools because they don’t believe “there could be a student in this school who has the potential to win the next Nobel Prize, come up with a new technology or change the world.”

Related Links:

“College Recruiters Give Low-Income Public Campuses Fewer Visits,” Los Angeles Times.

Missouri College Cuts Tuition for Undocumented Students

The state of Missouri does not provide in-state tuition to undocumented immigrant students by law at its public higher education institutions — but that isn’t stopping one college from taking action on its own.

The St. Louis Post Dispatch reports that St. Louis Community College has decided to offer in-state tuition to undocumented immigrant students. That will cut the tuition rate from the international rate of $209 to $98 for students local to the college’s area and $144 for other Missouri residents.

Since community colleges have much lower tuition than universities they are often the only place affordable for undocumented students. Undocumented students are still not eligible for federal financial aid.

“The door is cracked open a little bit for some students,” Faith Sandler, executive director of the Scholarship Foundation of St. Louis, told the newspaper. “It’s a great move on the part of the community college. Hopefully, others will follow.”

The University of Missouri-St. Louis is also considering cutting tuition rates for undocumented students. College officials said that it was rare that any undocumented student was able to pay out-of-state tuition to attend the college.

Students who were granted “deferred action childhood arrival,” or deferred action, will benefit from the change. It will be interesting to see if other states or colleges make similar action due to the deferred action policy, which will allow qualified students to stay in the United States for work and study.

The program, “Universidad Ya!/College Now!” based in St. Louis, supported the decision by the community college. The organization’s president, Washington Spanish professor Virginia Braxs, told the Riverfront Times that the move is a step forward. She noted that many of her students must support themselves by working through college.

“This community of young people is graduating from high school,” she said. “They face huge barriers. They make great sacrifices — all my students work part time through high school and college to contribute to their families.”

Related Links:

“St. Louis Community College Slashes Tuition Rates for Undocumented Students,” St. Louis Post Dispatch.

“STLCC: Undocumented Students with U.S. High School Diplomas Can Pay In-State Tuition,” Riverfront Times Blog.

Universidad YA! College NOW!

“Immigrant Students Seek Va. In-State Tuition Rate,” Diverse Issues in Higher Education.

Achivement Gap Persists in California

While Latinos make up the majority of California’s public school students, they continue to lag white students on academic achievement measures.

California may have more experience working with Latino students than other states, but that hasn’t translated into better academic returns. The Associated Press points out that Hispanic students often attend poorly funded schools with larger class sizes and fewer academic courses.

The article notes that only about one out of every four Hispanic sophomores don’t pass the state’s high school exit exam, compared with one in 10 white students.

But there are some success stories. The AP reports that the agricultural area where the Sanger Unified School District is located is making progress with the children of migrant farmworkers are improving. The article notes that Sanger was once a failing district.

A report by the Bay Area Research Group found that the district began to improve after spending time on changing its culture — offering more teacher training, for example. The district created its own testing system to analyze the effectiveness of its instruction.

The study detailed how Sanger changed its culture, including going from following textbooks to addressing student needs and from professional isolation to collaboration.

What can we learn from California about what works for Latino students and what doesn’t?

Related Links:

“Latino Academic Achievement Gap Persists,” Associated Press.

“Farm Town Develops Education Success Formula,” Associated Press.

“Turning Around a High-Poverty School District: Learning from Sanger Unified’s Success,” Bay Area Research Group and Stanford University.

New Jersey to Offer In-State Tuition to Undocumented Immigrants

New Jersey will finally move forward with allowing some undocumented immigrants raised in the United States to pay in-state tuition at public colleges and universities, following a long tussle back and forth about the legislation.

However, Governor Chris Christie is nixing an important piece of the legislation that would have awarded state financial aid to undocumented immigrants. Democrats had fought for the state financial aid to be included but lost, the Star-Ledger reported. Some states with similar in-state tuition laws do award state financial aid. Undocumented immigrants cannot qualify for federal aid.

The legislation would give the in-state tuition benefit to those immigrants who are graduates of New Jersey high schools and attended school in the state for at least three years, the Star-Ledger reported.

Christie said that he was committed to “tuition equality,” the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. Despite making that statement, he had been criticized previously when it appeared that he would not support the legislation.

“”These young men and women of our state – whom we have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in their K-12 education – we’re now going to give them an opportunity in an affordable way to be able to continue their education,” he said.

The Inquirer reported that of the 15 other states offering in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants, the states of Texas, California and New Mexico offer state financial aid.

Upon the news, activist Giancarlo Tello — an undocumented immigrant from Peru — said he could now afford to attend college. He said he would “begrudgingly” accept an agreement without financial aid.

Related Links:

“Chris Christie and N.J. Democrats Reach Agreement on DREAM Act,” Star-Ledger.

“Deal Clears Way for N.J. ‘Dream Act,” Philadelphia Inquirer.

“North Jersey Student Living in U.S. Illegally pushes for tuition bill,” North

Urban School Districts Make Progress on National Exam

Students enrolled in school districts in some of the nation’s largest cities are making significant academic gains that sometimes even outpaced their peers elsewhere in the nation, according to new data.

Since 2002, the Trial Urban District Assessment has tracked student achievement on the National Assessment of Educational Progress — known as America’s report card. The program has grown to encompass 21 urban school districts and tracks the performance of fourth- and eighth-graders in math and reading. The large districts surveyed volunteer to take part in testing.

According to the most recent data, between 2011 and 2013, fourth-graders from Chicago, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and Atlanta recorded larger increases in scores in math than the national average. In L.A., Hispanic, black and white fourth-graders all saw improvements. However, L.A. lags other urban districts in overall performance.

Not all the news was positive. Fourth-graders in Houston schools experienced lower scores in reading. This was notable in a year that Houston was awarded the coveted Broad Prize for Urban Education.

The data may offer some telling information about your local school district. The districts profiled include many with large Hispanic populations, such as Albuquerque, Austin, Dallas, Fresno, Miami-Dade, Houston, New York City and others.

“The 2013 TUDA results show student performance in large cities continues to both improve overall and that large-city schools nationwide are improving at a faster pace than the nation as a whole,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement. “While we still have a lot of work to do to close achievement gaps in our largest cities, this progress is encouraging. It means that in 2013, tens of thousands of additional students in large cities are proficient or above in math and reading than was the case four years earlier.”

Related Links:

Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA), National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)
“Urban Schools Improving Faster Than Rest of US,” Associated Press.
“NAEP Gains in D.C., Los Angeles Outpace Other Big Cities,” Education Week.