Arizona Education Chief Critical of University Mexican American Studies Programs

With the Tucson Public Schools’ Mexican American Studies program now dismantled, Arizona Superintendent of Schools John Huppenthal is considering a new battle.

Fox News Latino reports that Huppenthal blames Mexican American Studies programs at universities for educating the teachers who taught in the Tucson program. “I think that’s where this toxic thing starts from, the universities,” he said. “To me, the pervasive problem was the lack of balance going on in these classes.” He has said the Tucson classes encouraged students to resent whites, and he fought successfully for their removal from the curriculum.

Huppenthal is a member of Arizona’s Board of Regents, which oversees the state’s public universities. Professors are now concerned that he might target their courses next. For example, the University of Arizona in Tucson has a Mexican American Studies program. “It’s an affront to freedom of speech,” that program’s director, Antonio Estrada, told Fox News Latino. “We do not indoctrinate; we educate. Academic freedom will be lost if these programs are not sustained at the university level.”

The program’s website states that it is committed to public policy research on Mexican Americans. It was created in 1981, years after students first protested and demanded its creation in 1968. “As the leading public policy research center addressing issues of concerns to this minority group in Arizona, the Department works collaboratively with key community agencies in promoting leadership and empowerment of Mexican Americans within the state and nation,” the site says.

In your home communities, do school districts or universities offer similar courses, and are they being criticized as is the case in Arizona? What sort of curriculum do they use? What do students think of these courses? I’d like to learn more about what the students feel they gain from such programs. Especially for Hispanic students, how important is it to read literature written by authors who are of the same ethnic background?

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Study Evaluates How Well California School Districts Educate Latino Students

An annual report by The Education Trust-West that grades California school districts on how well they educate Latino, black and low-income students finds shortcomings in many districts.

The “district report cards” evaluated 147 districts for the 2010-11 school year and assigned letter grades in four separate areas: performance, improvement, achievement gaps and college-readiness. For the most part, districts received the same grades they had the previous year.  The measures were pretty tough: The highest overall average grade in 2011 for a district was a B+, with most districts receiving Cs and Ds.

The ratings were based in part on state testing data and the California Academic Performance Index (API). College-readiness was based on how many students completed coursework required for admission to the University of California and California State University systems.

There were some good scores in the subcategories, though. “Overall, ‘A’ grades are found in each indicator category and in high-poverty and low-poverty districts alike, dispelling the myth that poverty and low performance are inexorably connected,” the organization’s press release said. Four districts with enrollments that are more than 40 percent low-income and that serve a population that is more than 55 percent African-American or Latino ranked in the top ten: Corona-Norco Unified, Lake Elsinore Unified, Covina-Valley Unified and Baldwin Park Unified. Researchers point out that many wealthier districts ranked lower in the study.

In Southern California, about 15 percent of the districts earned an overall grade of “D,” while in Northern California about 72 percent of districts earned a “D.” You can look up specific reports here.

Education Trust-West Executive Director Arun Ramanathan said that many parents and other groups used last year’s grades as a resource. “Once again, the report cards reveal the important role that districts play in focusing attention on their highest need students and improving results,” he said.

Many media outlets covered the study. The San Jose Mercury News reported the surprising finding that the affluent Palo Alto Unified district in Silicon Valley scored next to last with a grade of “D.” “We need to teach differently,” the district’s school board president, Melissa Baten-Caswell, told the newspaper. “Just doing the same thing over and over isn’t going to change things.”

Palo Alto parent Ken Dauber, a Google software engineer and member of the group We Can Do Better Palo Alto, also told the paper the outside study is useful in highlighting the achievement gap. “Embarrassment is often a good impetus for change,” Dauber said.

The San Francisco Examiner wrote that the San Francisco schools earned “horrible” grades, including an overall grade of “D” and a “F” for the size of the achievement gap between Latino and white students. The district received a somewhat stronger “C” grade for college readiness of black and Latino students. “This just illustrates how much more work there is ahead of us,” SFUSD superintendent Carlos Garcia said in a statement.

Meanwhile, The Fresno Bee reported that the Fresno Unified district’s director of research, Dave Calhoun, called the study’s grades “somewhat arbitrary” and that large districts with high populations of English language learners such as Fresno struggle to score well on tests. The district received a grade of “D” overall.

Does your state or an outside organization offer similar report cards for the school districts you cover? If so, how do your schools measure up? If comparable report cards for your schools aren’t available now, would you or your publication be able to generate some using data and methodologies similar to Education Trust-West’s?

Dual-Language Programs Grow in Popularity Nationally

Dual-language immersion programs are continuing to expand in schools across the country, Education Week’s Lesli A. Maxwell reports in a recent story. California, Texas, Utah and North Carolina are just a few of the states with popular programs. Maxwell reports that experts estimate that more than 2,000 programs exist nationwide.

Such programs give equal weight and time to English and Spanish. Instruction in each language is alternated, often by half-day or every other day. The classes can be comprised of all English language learners or “two-way” programs that mix ELLs with children who are fluent in English.

I find the popularity of such programs in California particularly interesting. While California voters approved ending bilingual education programs in 1998 and replacing them with English immersion, many districts are implementing dual-language programs. Because of the California law, parents must give permission for their children to take part in the dual programs. Maxwell interviewed Rosa Molina, the executive director of Two-Way CABE, a group that advocates for dual programs, about the positive impact on students.

“They preserve their primary language or their heritage language, they develop a broader worldview that they take into college and the work world, and they gain huge advantages in their cognitive development that translates into flexibility in their thinking and the ability to successfully tackle really rigorous coursework,” Molina said.

The article also mentions an ongoing research study of “two-way” programs in North Carolina conducted by Virginia Collier and Wayne Thomas. So far, the study has found the gaps between English language learners and white native English speakers in reading and math were smaller when the ELLs were enrolled in two-way programs than when they were enrolled in other programs.

Fundamentally, the two-way programs no longer segregate English language learners from native English-speaking children. And ideally, when those two groups come together they both benefit by helping each other become stronger in the second language.

“We are not talking about a remedial, separate program for English-learners or foreign-language programs just for students with picky parents,” Collier  told Education Week. “These are now mainstream programs where we’re seeing a lot of integration of native speakers of the second language with students who are native English-speakers.”

Colorado Early Learning Programs Receive Grant Assistance

The Mile High United Way in Colorado recently awarded grants to a number of early learning programs in the state. About $3.6 million in Social Innovation Grants were awarded to early literacy initiatives, and the programs awarded were selected through site visits and other data.

The grants are intended to help get more kids reading by age eight and have been promoted by Gov. John Hickenlooper’s administration. The projects included $400,000 set aside for the Early Steps to School Success program administered by the Save the Children Federation to be implemented in Costilla and Alamosa counties, the Alamosa Valley Courier reported. The program helps parents prepare children ages five and younger for school through home visits and other methods. Officials hope to help about 500 children, with an emphasis on reading and literacy.

Alamosa school board official Christine Haslett told the newspaper that the program is especially helpful in a rural area where resources are limited. “When a program like this is brought to us, the benefits are immense changes in the lives of students, parents and siblings,” she said. “It is far reaching.”

Elsewhere, the Clayton Early Learning Center in Denver also received funds, according to The Denver Post. The center encourages a method known as “diologic reading” with toddlers, with adults stopping periodically while reading to their toddlers to ask questions.

“For example, in a story for toddlers about a bunny stopping to find carrots, the adult would point to the bunny and ask, where do you think the bunny is going next?” Learning Center President Charlotte Brantley told the Post. “It gets the children really engaged, immerses them in the vocabulary of the book and increases their comprehension.”

The Colorado Parent and Child Foundation also received funds for its Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters–or HIPPY program–and Parents as Teachers.

The Mile High United Way estimates that funded programs could reach about 24,000 additional children with the grant assistance.

For English Language Learners, a Fast Exit Leads to Future Success

A new study by the Migration Policy Institute has found that English language learners who exit bilingual or English as a second language programs within three years perform better in meeting basic math and reading standards than students who spend five years or more in such programs.The study highlights the challenges of so-called long-term English language learners, who spend years in the system without reaching English proficiency and often are at high risk of dropping out of high school.

“The weaker academic performance evidenced by long-term ELLS raises important questions on how to address their literacy and linguistic needs,” said MPI senior vice president Michael Fix. “However, with much still unknown about the reasons why students remain in ELL status for many years, it would not be prudent to conclude that language acquisition instruction should be time-limited.”

The study analyzed data from Texas, looking at students who were first-graders in 1995 and high school seniors in 2006. In Texas, about 17 percent of public school students were classified as limited English proficient in 2011. Texas law requires bilingual education when a school district enrolls 20 or more ELL students in the same grade who share a language .

Of those students who exited within three years, 86 percent passed Texas’ 11th grade math exam, compared with 59 percent of students who were in bilingual or ESL programs for five years or more and 44 percent of students enrolled in such programs for seven or more years.

Many of the long-term students speak English proficiently but have poor literacy skills in English that hold them back. These findings are an important reminder that reporters should not assume that high-school students designated as ELLs are all new immigrants. I’ve often heard school administrators say recent immigrants limited in English are the ones who are drop out. A Texas ELL program director once told me she was frustrated that administrators in her district held this misconception that all older ELLs are recent immigrants. The uncomfortable truth is many of these ELLs have been in the system for a long time and are American-born. In the past, many of these Texas students didn’t graduate from high school because they had to pass 11th grade exams to get a diploma. Soon, students will also be required to pass end-of-course exams to move forward a grade.

In the MPI study, the top-performing students exited within three years and also attended Texas schools for all 12 grades. On the other end of the spectrum, researchers found that Hispanic ELLs whose parents refuse ESL/bilingual education programs were less likely to go to college. The study also found that students who worked while attending high school were more likely to enroll in college.

Read the complete study here. Vanderbilt University assistant professor Stella M. Flores obtained and analyzed the Texas data, and authored the report with Fix and policy analyst Jeanne Batalova. It raises a lot of questions: Are high student mobility and poorly constructed language acquisition programs to blame?

Budget Cuts in Los Angeles Could Affect Teachers, Early Ed and Adult Ed

The Los Angeles Unified School District school board has approved a budget that would eliminate thousands of jobs, make cuts to early education programs and also close adult education campuses. In 2010, about 73% of the school district’s 677,538 students were Latino.

The Los Angeles Times reported that there were many protesters at the board’s meeting on Tuesday when the vote occurred. Many of them were adult ed students. The district provided English as a second language and citizenship preparation courses to thousands of immigrant parents. Many districts regard adult basic education classes as a way to encourage more parent involvement in their children’s education.

Evans Community Adult School English teacher Marc Yablonka told the newspaper that such cuts would make immigrants’ transition more difficult. “There will be limited places where they can learn the language that will propel them to a more solid place in our society,” he said. “Learning English is the vehicle for that.”

The Times also reported that early education programs would face deep cuts as well and would have to operate based on the revenue they generate.

The $6 billion dollar budget approved by board members isn’t final, and district officials are hopeful they can find money others ways to fund programs, for example if voters approve a tax initiative and furlough agreements can be made with teacher unions.

Chants at High School Basketball Game Prompt Racism Accusations

In San Antonio, the chants of “U-S-A, U-S-A” by student fans of a predominantly white high school’s basketball team directed at an opposing squad from a mostly Latino high school have touched off accusations of racism and drawn national media attention. The incident on March 3 stirred up tension in the city, which has a sizable Mexican-American non-immigrant population.

The chants happened after Alamo Heights High School defeated Thomas A. Edison High School in a playoff game. Alamo Heights is a wealthier school where about 63 percent of students are white (about 33 percent of its students are Hispanic). By contrast, about 95 percent of Edison students are Latino and around 90 percent qualify for free or reduced lunch.

I’m a little late posting this story, but it does highlight ethnic tensions among teens. It also shows how Hispanic students might be regarded as  non-citizen immigrants based on their ethnicity, despite their actual citizenship status. Have such incidents occurred among the schools you cover?

In this case, the Alamo Heights coach stopped the chant. Nevertheless, the San Antonio Independent School District filed a complaint with the state’s University Interscholastic League, which oversees sports activities in the state. SAISD’s athletic director Gil Garza told Kens5 that the chants were insensitive. “To be attacked about your ethnicity and being made to feel that you don’t belong in this country is terrible,” he said. “Why can’t people just applaud our kids? It just gets old and I’m sick of it.”

Alamo Heights Independent School District school superintendent Kevin Brown said the behavior was unacceptable, adding that teen-agers make mistakes. “Obviously, we were disappointed that this happened,” he told the news station. “That’s not who we are as a community and that’s not who we are as a school.”

Still others argue that the chants were celebratory rather than racist and that the criticism takes political correctness too far. FOX Nation spoke with some students and parents from each high school. The program spoke with Latino students from Alamo Heights who defended their school. “People often kind of over-scrutinize something and look for some hateful meaning for something that isn’t actually there,” said Alamo Heights student Luciano Vizza.

Edison student Mercedes Menchaca disagreed. “They need to think before they do their actions because a lot of people did get hurt by it,” she said.

Study Names Colleges Graduating the Most Latino Students

The nonprofit group Excelencia in Education recently named the top colleges graduating Latinos in 2009-10 in a new report, Finding Your Workforce: The Top 25 Institutions Graduating Latinos.

Colleges and universities in California, Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico showed up the most often on the lists, which broke out the top 25 institutions by certificates and degree level. Almost all of the schools tops in awarding bachelor’s degree are public, and many Hispanics earning certificates are doing so at for-profit schools.

According to the study, Miami Dade College awarded the most associate’s degrees to Latinos (5,893) and Florida International University awarded the most bachelor’s (3,918) and master’s degrees (1,014). “We’re proud of our accomplishments in graduating Hispanic students ready to make their mark in a global economy,” FIU president Mark Rosenberg told the organization.

El Paso Community College awarded the second highest number of associate’s degrees to Latinos (2,666) and its neighbor the University of Texas at El Paso also was the second highest in awarding bachelor’s degrees (2,382).

At the doctoral level, the University of Puerto Rico-Rio Piedras Campus is at the top with 67 graduates. If you scan down the list, Harvard University places at #18, and awarded 26 doctoral degrees to Latinos, making up just 4 percent of the total awarded.

The study is the first part of a series accompanying the Finding Your Workforce project, which will focus on helping employers and recruiters identify top-producing schools of Latino graduates in certain sectors. “Corporate leaders have expressed both their desire to hire more Latinos and their frustration at not knowing where to find Latinos with the necessary educational credentials in their sectors,” Excelencia in Education’s president Sarita Brown said. “Therefore, we are using our unique analytical focus to provide practical information to address this need and make the direct connection between Latino college completion and America’s future workforce.”

The data cited in the report came from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), Institutional Characteristics and Completions Survey, 2009-10, from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), U.S. Department of Education.

To learn more, you can read the study here.

Report: Hispanic and Black Students Account for Majority of School Arrests

A new report from the U.S. Department of Education found that almost three-quarters of students involved in arrests or other incidents handled by police are Latino or black, The Washington Post reports. “The sad fact is that minority students across America face much harsher discipline than non-minorities, even in the same school,” the paper quoted Education Secretary Arne Duncan as saying.

Why? Is punishment more severe for Hispanic and black students than white students for the same behavior? Or are Hispanic and black students committing more infractions than white students?

Duncan added that the department doesn’t allege “overt discrimination” in all of the cases. Some civil rights groups blame the “zero tolerance” behavior policies in place at many schools. The study noted that 29 percent of referrals to police were Hispanic and 37 percent of students arrested were Hispanic. The data were from 2009-10 and included a sample of 72,000 schools.

Do your schools have a racial gap in discipline and, if so, what are they doing to address it? In several districts I’ve covered, administrators have emphasized to teachers that they should keep misbehaving students in the classroom as much as possible and deal with the issues there instead of referring them to the principal’s office or an alternative school. In some cases, teachers–once told about racial inequalities–complained that they felt accused of racism if they referred minority students for discipline issues.

Meanwhile, The Post cites several civil rights groups who point the finger at schools. Raul Gonzalez, legislative director at the National Council of La Raza, said removing children from classrooms puts them in the pipeline toward prison and argued that less severe discipline should be meted out. “We’ve lost control of all judgment here, and it’s almost always a black kid or Hispanic kid” affected, Gonzalez told the Post.

You can find resources on the study here.

High School Valedictorian Fights Deportation

A Miami high school valedictorian ordered deported to her native Colombia is inspiring a groundswell of community support, protests and media coverage.

Daniela Pelaez, 18, who is enrolled in the international baccalaureate program at North Miami High School, dreams of becoming a heart surgeon. But that dream is now threatened: A judge recently ordered that she and her sister to be deported on March 28. Daniela was brought to the United States when she was four years old and overstayed a tourist visa.

The case once again puts the spotlight on the DREAM Act, and the many undocumented immigrant students who would benefit from a path to legal status if they pursue a postsecondary degree.

NBC Miami reported that last Friday, several thousand people–including students and teachers–joined a walkout protest at North Miami High School. Miami-Dade Superintendent of Schools Alberto Carvalho left the school holding Daniela’s hand. “Over my dead body will this child be deported,” he told the crowd, the station reported.

Daniela also has spoken out regarding her case, saying she doesn’t remember Colombia. “I’ve been asked the question before: ‘Do I feel American?’ or ‘Do I believe I am?'” Pelaez told NBC. “And I don’t think it’s a question. I’m American. I know the national anthem. I know the laws. I know what it is to be an American.”

Tampa Bay Online reports that local politicians have spoken out in support of her case. Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Florida, wants Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to reverse the decision. Even Senator Marco Rubio, R-Florida, who has spoken out against the DREAM Act, supports Daniela’s cause

President Obama has repeatedly spoken in support of the DREAM Act and last summer announced a policy intended to lessen deportations of undocumented immigrants who are not criminals. The policy was intended to help minors brought to the U.S. as children. But The New York Times has reported that the policy has been applied unevenly, with some deportations halted and others proceeding forward. It’s unclear whether federal officials will reverse the decision in Daniela’s case.