Undocumented Immigrant College Student Runs for Student Body President

College student Jose Luis Zelaya is open about his status as an undocumented immigrant, and he’s drawing attention for the campaign he ran for student body president at Texas A&M University. Although he lost on Tuesday night, he’s still making headlines for speaking openly about his immigration status.

The Houston Chronicle reported on his campaign and how his residency status has become an issue in the election. At one candidates’ forum, a student asked how his legal status would influence his decisions if he were elected president. “I’m not running because I’m undocumented,” he told the Chronicle. “I’m running because I’m an Aggie.”

Some student groups at the university have protested against Texas’ policy of granting in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants. The Texas Aggies Conservatives organization has petitioned Governor Rick Perry to end in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants. In 2010, the university’s student senate voted to oppose in-state tuition.

Last April, Zelaya, 24, spoke on the university’s plaza about coming to the United States from Honduras illegally at age 14 with his mother to flee from an abusive father. He has been a vocal supporter of the national DREAM Act. Zelaya already has earned a bachelor’s degree from the university and is an aspiring teacher now pursuing a master’s degree in education. He sells crocheted beanies to make money to pay for college.

In addition to student movements against in-state tuition at the university, there also are A&M students who are accepting of Zelaya’s background. The Chronicle reported that at the same debate where he was asked about his status, fellow candidate Brody Smith came to his defense. “He has an Aggie ring on his finger,” Smith told the audience. “And we all bleed maroon.”

If you find a compelling undocumented immigrant student willing to tell their story openly, it may be worth an article. However, always be careful that the student understands the possible repercussions about speaking out. A number of student-run organizations in various states have openly campaigned for the DREAM act, and the students involved in such movements may be more open to speaking with the media.

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Dual-language Programs Expanding Rapidly in Texas

Schools that offer dual-language programs rather than traditional transitional bilingual programs are increasing rapidly in Texas. Dianne Solís of The Dallas Morning News reports on the growing phenomenon, which includes suburban districts as well as urban ones.

It isn’t surprising that Texas has seen such dramatic growth. Texas law requires that bilingual programs be offered when 20 or more children who are limited English proficient in a grade level share a language. In 2011, about 17 percent of children enrolled in Texas public schools were classified limited English proficient, most of them native Spanish speakers.

In the past, transitional bilingual programs often operated on a model where children entered school and were taught mostly in Spanish then transitioned over the years into mostly English. Dual programs give equal time to learning Spanish and English, across all grades using the program.

Texas schools using dual programs were highlighted during the recent National Association for Bilingual Education conference in Dallas. The article reports that conference speakers said Texas leads the nation with about 700 schools using dual-language programs.

Particularly popular are “two-way” programs, in which native English and native Spanish speakers are enrolled together.

As the children age, programs are being expanded through middle school and even high school. The paper reports that in the suburban Carrollton-Farmers Branch Independent School District, parents of children in one elementary school’s two-way dual program have asked that it be extended. “My opinion: It will only grow as people understand the value of it,” says Bobby Burns, Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD superintendent. “By far, it is the right thing to do for students. For Texas, we need to be a bilingual state.”

Read the full story here.

If you are reporting on dual-language programs in your own area, be sure to ask about the exact structure of the program:

  • Is the dual program offered one-way or two-way?
  • How are the languages split–by half day, every other day, or every other week?
  • Is every subject taught in English and Spanish, or are some subjects designated as taught in Spanish only and others in English only?
  • Are there two teachers who alternate and specialize in each language, or is there just one teacher who teaches in both languages?

It’s important to note that not every dual-language program is structured the same way.

California Community Colleges Have Poor Transfer Rates for Latino, Black Students

Researchers at The Civil Rights Project at UCLA released a trio of studies this month showing that while community colleges are the gateway to higher education for most Latinos and blacks in California, few of those students end up transferring to four-year colleges and earning bachelor’s degrees. According to the studies, about 75 percent of Hispanic students and two-thirds of black students who pursue a higher education in California choose the community college route. Many of those students needed intense remedial courses when they entered the system. In 2010, just 20 percent of transfer students from community colleges to four-year universities were Latino or black.

“Either we make bold changes in the system or we consign the majority of our students of color to a life with few prospects and we condemn the state to a future in decline,” said project co-director Patricia Gandara, in a press release.

Looking at southern California, researchers found that low-performing segregated high schools sent students to community colleges that also largely serve poor, black and Hispanic students and from which few students transferred to four-year institutions. The community colleges with the strongest transfer rates served larger numbers of white, Asian and middle class students.

Researchers recommended that:

  • dual enrollment programs be promoted to high school students;
  • the transfer process be streamlined with a statewide articulation agreement;
  • successful colleges be recognized and rewarded;
  •  students be informed about the most successful programs;
  • and funding be increased.

The researchers also proposed that the strongest community colleges be given authority to award bachelor’s degrees.

According to the press release, among the community colleges that have been successful with minority and low-income students:

“The study finds that a core of personnel in these colleges have lived the experiences of these students and dedicated themselves to the goal of transferring them… To a great extent, these staff rely on the college’s outreach efforts to prepare the students even before they arrive on the campus.”

Community colleges are seen as playing an important role in the educational future of Latinos, given that they’re a more common entry point into higher education than universities. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis just wrote an op-ed for The Huffington Post calling community colleges the frontlines of higher education in America. She was promoting President Obama’s proposed $8 billion Community College to Career Fund, which among other things promotes job-training programs.

Solis writes:

“The first elected office I ever held was as a trustee on the Rio Hondo Community College Board in California. So I know well the value these colleges have for Latinos. In so many ways, they’re a perfect fit. Community colleges are local and flexible. They provide accelerated and translatable degree programs. And they provide training that sets people up for jobs in their community — all at very low costs.”

But by The Civil Rights Project’s assessment, these colleges will need to improve in order to live up to the high expectations. The Los Angeles Times wrote about how the Los Angeles Community College District is trying to address its problems with new programs focused on tutoring and helping students adjust to college.

Even if you don’t live in California, it’s possible for you to examine the transfer rates for community colleges in your state or city.

California Senate to Examine Performance of English Language Learners

A newly established California Senate committee will examine how to improve the academic performance of the state’s roughly 1.5 million children who are English language learners.

State Senator Alex Padilla announced in a press release that the committee’s goal is to reform a “broken system” in which only one in 10 students is reclassified as English proficient annually. Padilla, who represents most of the San Fernando Valley, will chair the effort. Many children stay classified as ELLs for years without moving into English proficiency, eventually dropping out of school.

“It has become painfully obvious that we are failing to adequately teach English to the vast majority of these students,” Padilla said in the press release. “I’m appalled that nearly half of all English learners never graduate from high school. This committee will raise awareness and focus policy on how best to help California students learn English and be college and career ready.”

The new Senate Select Committee on English Learners will meet for the first time on March 28.

Padilla also introduced three bills to the Legislature aimed at reforming the system:

Senate Bill 1109 would create a state master plan for ELLs. The bill’s text notes that current law calls for instruction conforming with federal requirements. This is kind of vague, so I’m not sure what exactly that entails.

Senate Bill 1108 would adjust the standards for transitioning ELLs to mainstream classrooms. It would base reclassification of students on three criteria, instead of the current four required. According to the text: “[T]his bill would instead require the reclassification procedures to use only 3 of 4 specified criteria and would no longer require the comparison of the pupil’s basic skills performance against an empirically established range of basic skills performance based on the performance of English proficient pupils of the same age.” That’s pretty confusing language, but it seems like an attempt to make it easier for students to exit the ELL category.

Senate Bill 754 would focus attention on long-term English language learners– those students who are still not English proficient after years of instruction. It defines a long-term student as any one in grades 6-12 who has been an ELL for five or more years. It also calls for the state to provide information on students who fall into the long-term category. I’m curious what he means by information. Breaking out those students’ performance would help shine a light on how much this category of students is struggling and would also acknowledge that they are a much different group than new immigrants who also are classified as ELLs.

Thanks go to Education Week’s Learning the Language blog for drawing my attention to this news. The publication recently reported on how the state’s chief of schools, Tom Torlakson, has assigned a new team of experts to focus on ELLs. He named Karen Cadiero-Kaplan, a San Diego State University education professor who has trained teachers on how to work with ELLs, as head of the English Learner Support Division.

Coping With ‘Sea Change’ in Chicago Suburbs

Catalyst Chicago looks at the curriculum and budget challenges arising from an ELL boom in the city’s suburbs:

Since 2005, a quarter of suburban school districts have seen their numbers of English-language learners double. In Plainfield School District 202, they have tripled.

Suburban districts are trying out different strategies, with varying degrees of success, to help these students become proficient in English and also teach higher-level academic content. Plainfield School District 202, for example, still hasn’t trained all of its teachers in its middle-grades strategy. And many districts still have difficulty finding certified bilingual teachers, although the long-standing statewide shortage has eased in recent years.

Supreme Court to Consider Affirmative Action in College Admissions

The U.S. Supreme Court will take up a case involving the use of race in admissions decisions at the University of Texas. Affirmative action has long been a hot-button issue.

UT currently admits the top 10 percent of high school graduates. However, the state uses race and ethnicity as a factor when considering whether to admit students who are not in the top 10 percent. In 2010, among undergraduates accepted 49 percent were white, 22.5 percent Latino, 5 percent black with Asian students accounting for most of the remainder.

The Houston Chronicle reports that Louisiana State University senior Abigail Noel Fisher, who is white, sued after she was rejected by UT, who graduated in the top 12 percent of her high school class with a 3.59 GPA. “I hope the court will decide that all future UT applicants will be allowed to compete for admission without their race or ethnicity being a factor,” Fisher said in a statement released by the Project on Fair Representation.

 A representative of the American Council on Education spoke in defense of using race as an admissions factor. “We hope we will be able to continue to apply the institutional mission that includes diversity as one of the features that a school values,” Ada Meloy of the council told the Chronicle.
The newspaper points out that the university has actually increased minority enrollment since it began using the top 10% rule, which doesn’t weigh race.

Labor Department Takes Educational Snapshot of Hispanics at Age 24

The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently released a report showing that by age 24, Latinos in the United States significantly lag in educational attainment levels and the overwhelming majority have not earned a bachelor’s degree.

The U.S. Department of Labor study is based on data collected as part of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997. About 9,000 young people were interviewed 13 times beginning when they were ages 12 to 17 and ending at the age of 24 to 30. The last interview was conducted in 2009-10. Subjects were asked for information on schooling, work, income and other topics.

I’m highlighting the findings pertaining to Hispanic young adults, but you can review more comprehensive information online, including lots of informative charts. Here are some points that stood out to me:

— Latinos lagged both white and black young adults in college completion. Non-Hispanic whites were almost three times as likely as Latinos to have received a bachelor’s degree by age 24. About 28 percent of whites, 11 percent of blacks and 10 percent of Latinos had earned a bachelor’s degree by 24.

—  Blacks and Hispanics were about twice as likely as whites to be high school dropouts by age 24. About 16 percent of Latinos were high school dropouts, compared with eight percent of non-Hispanic whites.

—  Young people with the lowest educational attainment were more prone to long periods of unemployment. Between the ages of 18 and 24, Latino high school dropouts were employed about 61 percent of weeks, Latino high school graduates about 75 percent of weeks and Latinos with a bachelor’s degree about 72 percent of weeks.

Many Suburban Chicago Schools Fail to Provide Bilingual Programs

Many suburban Chicago school districts are failing to provide bilingual education programs as required by state law, a recent Catalyst Chicago analysis shows.

Illinois law requires that schools with 20 or more students sharing the same native language must offer a bilingual education program to qualified students. Catalyst found that between 2009 and 2011, of 58 suburban districts visited by monitors, about 40 percent–or 22 districts– failed to provide a bilingual program. None met all requirements for serving English language learners. These results are important because the majority of the state’s Latinos now live in the suburbs.

According to coverage by the Chicago News Cooperative:

Compliance problems included bilingual courses taught by teachers who lacked required language or subject-matter certification, classes with substandard content, and failure to make yearly assessments of how well students are learning English.

Many of the suburbs struggle to find enough certified bilingual teachers. Some have turned to sheltered English instruction for English language learners. There are some successful dual-language instruction programs, but teacher shortages limit the expansion of those.

“There is a lot of hardship on some districts to comply where there are newer populations” of English-language learners, Reyna Hernandez told the Chicago News Cooperative. She is assistant superintendent of the Center for Language and Early Childhood Development at the Illinois State Board of Education.

Catalyst reports that the state is considering changes that could reduce the number of schools requiring certified bilingual teachers and that would reduce instruction in the native language taking place in bilingual programs.

If you’d like to learn more about the state of bilingual education in Illinois, Catalyst has posted a series of articles on the topic online. The stories point out issues with bilingual programs in the Chicago Public Schools. Namely, that some children aren’t becoming English proficient even after spending years in the program. So even when bilingual education programs are offered as required by law, they’re not necessarily without flaws.

You can check in your state whether districts are meeting all requirements for serving English language learners. The state department of education should have this information.

Also, if your state offers bilingual classes, is there a shortage of qualified teachers and–if so–how is the shortage being addressed? Some districts have been known to bring teachers from Puerto Rico, Mexico or Spain to teach students. Others offer pay stipends of several thousand dollars to entice applicants.

Were Immigrant Parents Afraid to Report Sex Abuse Allegations at California School?

The children attending the Los Angeles elementary school where two teachers were recently charged with sexual abuse largely fit a certain profile–they are Latino, poor and have immigrant parents. In 2011, 98 percent of the 1,471 students at Miramonte Elementary School were Hispanic.

Those factors might make the children there particularly vulnerable because such families often avoid contact with police.

Police recently arrested teachers Mark Berndt, 61, and Martin Springer, 49, on suspicion of committing lewd acts on children. The Associated Press, as well as other Spanish and English media, reports that some undocumented immigrant parents of students there are afraid of talking to police.

“We are afraid of talking with the police department and then being deported,” parent Alejandra Manuel told the Associated Press in Spanish. She is the mother of a nine-year-old student whose teacher was Berndt. “We don’t even want to go to the school meetings because they are full of police.”

Language could also be a barrier for parents who don’t speak English. On Fox News Latino, Geraldo Rivera went so far as calling it “a case of silence of the lambs.”

The situation raises the question: Did these two teachers feel that students and parents wouldn’t speak out because they were afraid the investigations might expose their residency status?

Some lawyers apparently have advised parents to be careful about speaking with police. The Los Angeles Times reported that attorney Jessica Dominguez also raised the issue in a press conference and even introduced a father who said he didn’t report alleged abuse by Berndt because he was afraid of deportation.

Los Angeles’ County Sheriff’s Department is a strong supporter of the Secure Communities program, in which police share fingerprints of people arrested with FBI and  Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to identify suspected undocumented immigrants with criminal records. But  police say that the Miramonte parents’ immigration status will not be questioned and that they need to speak with them to complete the investigation.

Immigrant activists have also spoken out on the matter.

“The parents and children of Miramonte are going through an unspeakable nightmare,” Lynn Tramonte, deputy director of America’s Voice Education Fund, said in a statement, MSNBC reported. “The fact that many of them are afraid to work with law enforcement only adds to their tragedy.”

Not only in cases of alleged abuse, but also in general, do you think fear of deportation negatively affects parental involvement at schools with large immigrant populations? In this era of increased deportations, this is an issue I’ve heard come up in other school districts.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan Holds ‘Twitter Town Hall’ on Latino Education

The DREAM Act, parent involvement and early education were just a few of the issues touched on in an online question and answer session addressing Hispanic education issues that U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan participated in on Wednesday. Duncan and Jose Rico, the director of the White House Initiative on Education Excellence for Hispanics, answered questions posted on Facebook and Twitter.

The DREAM Act. Duncan voiced strong support for passage of the act and spoke favorably about states with laws providing in-state tuition to undocumented immigrant students. “Either we’re going to keep young people on the margins of society not being productive or we’re going to have them in the mainstream helping make our country strong and great,” Duncan said.

Parent engagement. Civil rights leader Dolores Huerta asked about this issue. Duncan said the department has asked Congress to double the budget for parent engagement programs from about $135 million a year to about $280 million. “Historically, our department has been part of the problem,” he said. “We have not invested enough in parental engagement.” He also said that schools should be community centers and hearts of neighborhoods, holding events like ESL/GED classes, family literacy nights and potluck dinners.

Early education: Duncan stressed the importance of quality programs that go beyond “glorified baby-sitting.” He also said that while access to pre-school programs needs to be increased, more Latino parents need to be convinced to enroll their children in them. “We still see a very low level of participation,” Rico added.

Tucson Mexican-American Studies program. Many people asked whether the department had taken a stand on the dismantling of the program and the removal of a number of books by Latino authors from teachers’ classrooms. Rico said that the department is looking into allegations of a book ban and other concerns. “The president takes this issue very seriously and the secretary sees education as the civil rights issue of our day,” Rico said. “We’re looking into the issue now. It takes time for the process to go through.”

Other concerns raised by people posing questions included high college costs and debt and plus the need to increase access in Hispanic communities to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs.

The town hall was moderated by LATISM, a non-profit social media group organized to advance the Latino community.