English Language Learners with More Educated Mothers Fare Better on Assessments

New longitudinal data released by the National Center for Education Statistics shows that regardless of whether a child begins kindergarten as an English language learner or not, children with the most highly educated mothers generally score best on math, reading and science assessments as eighth-graders.

In addition, children who spoke English as their dominant language or began kindergarten proficient in English despite the language spoken in their homes performed better as eighth-graders on the three subject tests than students who began kindergarten with limited English skills.

In the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, NCES tracked a sample of the kindergarten class of 1998-99 through eighth grade, and found that about 12 percent of the children surveyed spoke a language other than English at home. The majority –but not all–of ELLs in the study came from Spanish-speaking homes.

English language learners whose mothers had a bachelor’s degree or higher and who reached English proficiency by spring of their kindergarten year scored  better on math and reading exams as eighth-graders than children whose mothers had less than a high school education.

Hispanic children with limited English skills were more likely to be living in poverty with less-educated mothers. Those children took longer to reach English proficiency and struggled more with assessments.

According to the April report, about 59 percent of ELLs who were not English proficient by spring of their kindergarten year had a mother with less than a high school education. Just three percent of ELLS who were not proficient by kindergarten had a mother with a bachelor’s degree or higher.

For comparison, 35 percent of ELLS who were English proficient by spring had mothers with less than a high school education and 17 percent had mothers with a bachelor’s degree or higher.

The study defined English proficiency based on children’s scores on the Oral Language Development Scale, which measures listening comprehension, vocabulary and ability to understand and produce language. The report cautions that English proficiency as defined in the study may differ from how a school defines proficiency due to different methods used.

The report is pretty data-heavy; you can view it here.

The message is that a mother’s education level is very important to determining a child’s future educational success. What sorts of programs in your community are trying to better educate Spanish-speaking mothers so their children are more prepared for kindergarten?

Lawsuit Says Illinois School District Had Segregated Gifted Program for Hispanics

Parents in suburban Chicago have filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against the Elgin School District U-46, accusing the district of running a segregated gifted program that placed elementary students whose native language is Spanish in a separate program from native English speakers. A trial is currently under way.

Former English language learners who had been classified as proficient in English were placed in the gifted program for native Spanish speakers along with children still classified as English language learners, The Daily Herald reported. This gifted program was known as the Spanish English Transition School Within a School (SET SWAS). District officials said the students did not meet standards to qualify for the general education gifted programs.

The Daily Herald reports that both sides have put gifted education experts on the stand. University of Texas at Austin director of bilingual education Alba Ortiz audited the program and testified that the programs were “institutionalized discrimination.” “They are deemed English-proficient, so why segregate them from their English-language peers?” she asked.

But this week, University of Virginia professor Carolyn Callahan testified that the separate programs for native Spanish-speaking children were necessary because the children would fall behind in programs for native English speakers and needed bilingual support in Spanish and English.  The Courier-News reports that Callahan said programs were “language-based, not race-based.”

The Courier-News also reported that gifted teachers testified in support of the separate programs. Teacher Rachael Jackson said she would cry if the program ended. “The students need the support,” she said. “They need to be in a place where they feel safe, where they feel confident, where they’re with other kids like them.”

At one point during the trial, the Courier-News reported that Superintendent Jose Torres said that the separate programs helped students feel more confident because they were with other students who looked like them. “If that’s the case, we would have segregated schools,” U.S. district judge Robert Gettleman responded. “Brown vs. Board would have been wrongly decided.”

The Chicago Tribune reports that Latino students comprised about 27 percent of students in the gifted program in 2008-09, while they were 40 to 45 percent of the enrollment. The plaintiffs’ attorney said only 2 percent of gifted elementary students in the English-speaking program were Hispanic.

The lawsuit was filed in 2005, and also said that district boundary changes segregated black and Hispanic students into overcrowded classes and that black and Hispanic students didn’t have equal access to gifted programs.

Do your local school districts have gifted bilingual classes? I’ve visited a gifted class in Texas solely for bilingual students, so I know they exist elsewhere. But in the class I visited, the students were all classified as limited English proficient. In Elgin’s case, children who recently had been classified as English proficient were then placed in the separate gifted program for native Spanish speakers.

Is this a case of the district making a “separate but equal” argument in defense of segregation? Or was the district just trying to meet the language-specific needs of the Hispanic children?

Broad Prize Finalists Include School Districts with Large Latino Populations

One of the distinctions most coveted by urban school superintendents is the Broad Prize for Urban Education. Awarded annually, it recognizes districts making progress with disadvantaged and minority students.

This year’s four finalists all have large Latino student enrollments. The finalists were announced earlier this month, but the lone winner will be named on Oct. 23 and will receive $550,000 designated for college scholarships for the graduating class of 2013. The other three districts will receive $150,000.

The organization notes that all of the finalists have increased the number of their Hispanic and African-American students taking the SAT, ACT or Advanced Placement tests; increased their graduation rates for those students and have ranked near the top of districts in their states in minority student achievement on standardized state tests.

In case you missed the announcement, here are the finalists and some of their achievements with Latino students:

Corona-Norco Unified School District, California (50 percent Latino):  Between 2008 and 2011, the number of Latino students taking the SAT increased by 11 percentage points, and the average score improved by 14 points. The number of Latino students taking Advanced Placement exams increased by 7 percentage points, and passing rates by 5 percentage points. Achievement gaps between Hispanic and white students in math and science also narrowed. Coverage by the ABC affiliate here.

Houston Independent School District (62 percent Latino): Between 2008 and 2011, the number of Latino students taking the SAT increased by 15 percentage points. The number of students taking Advanced Placement exams increased by 13 percentage points in the same time period. About 29 percent of Latino students took an AP exam in 2011. Coverage by the Houston Chronicle.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools (64 percent Latino): Hispanic graduation rates increased by 14 percentage points between 2006 and 2009. Between 2008 and 2011, SAT participation by Latino students increased by 6 percentage points and average scores by 15 points. Coverage by The Miami Herald here.

Palm Beach County, Florida (29 percent Latino): The district increased the proportion of Latino students performing at the highest level on middle school science exams by 9 percentage points. The Hispanic graduation rate increased by 13 percentage points. Coverage by The Miami Herald here.

The finalists were chosen by a 13-member board including education researchers, civil rights leaders and university leaders. The lone finalist will be determined at a four-day site visit conducted by the RMC Research Corporation that will include examining data and interviewing district administrators, teachers and parents. A jury will then select a winner based on achievement data and the visits.

Even if your district isn’t listed, has it made winning the prize a goal?

Durham Public Schools Reach Out to Latinos in Wake of Civil Rights Complaint

Almost a year ago, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights accusing the Durham Public Schools in North Carolina of discrimination against Latino and English language learner students and their parents.

The charges made by the Montgomery, Alabama, based civil rights organization were severe. In one example given, a high school teacher allegedly pushed a Hispanic student against the wall and told the student to “go back to your own country.” Another teacher was accused of using anti-Hispanic slurs. One district official was accused of asking a student for a passport and immigrant visa when the family tried to enroll.

The complaint also pointed to a larger problem with a lack of communication between the district and many Latino families: The district had only three Spanish interpreters, while more than 5,300 students spoke Spanish at home.

But now, The News & Observer reports that educators and community members are coming together to discuss how to better serve the district’s roughly 6,000 Hispanic students. A new Latino Parent Council helped arrange an event where teachers, principals and members of the Durham CAN (Congregations, Associations and Neighborhoods) group met to discuss how the district is serving its Hispanic students. The group also examined the need for more bilingual counselors, teachers and office staff.

“It’s recognizing that any kind of change really requires the input from the people who are doing the work with the kids,” said Durham CAN organizer Ivan Parra.

Some change is evident from the district’s web site, which promotes a partnership with the LaMega Radio Station for a Spanish-language monthly talk show where district officials will share information with Hispanic families. Families are welcome to call in with questions. There’s also a Spanish-language information section on the district’s web site home page.

Last November, the district reached an agreement with the U.S. Department of Education to make several changes:

  • Make the anti-discrimination policy stronger;
  • Make sure that policies don’t discourage students who are undocumented immigrants from enrolling and that students are not asked about immigration status;
  • Distribute documents such as registration forms, field trip permission forms and requests for parent conferences (and letters to parents);
  • Develop a plan to ensure effective communication with limited-English parents;
  • Make interpreters available to help parents (a district spokesperson now says there are eight full-time interpreters).

Have you seen similar tensions or problems arise in your own communities? Here are the full changes that the district agreed to make. 

New York City’s Schools Are “A Rotting Apple” for Latinos and Blacks, Report Says

The New York City public school system is a “rotting apple” that is failing Latino and black students, says a new report by the Massachusetts-based Schott Foundation for Public Education. These strong words come as Mayor Michael Bloomberg has tried to make education a priority.

New York University education professor Pedro Noguera wrote the study’s foreword and said the disparities are “tantamount to apartheid-like separations.”

The foundation concluded black or Hispanic students are four times as likely as Asian or white students to be enrolled in one of the city’s lowest-performing high schools. Students from low-income families also have little chance of being tested for gifted and talented programs.

The researchers looked at 500 middle schools across the city’s 32 Community School Districts and found substantial inequities. The study sorted middle schools into four groups based on the results of the 8th grade math and English language arts test. School districts that had no middle schools performing in the top quartile were found in the city’s poorest areas such as Harlem, the South Bronx and central Brooklyn. The report used this information to calculate an “opportunity to learn” index.

Some of the other conclusions found:

  • While 46 percent of white students and 47 percent of Asian students are enrolled in top quartile high schools (where students were most likely to graduate with Regents diplomas), only 18 percent of black students and 16 percent of Latino students are enrolled in those schools;
  • In some districts, 70 percent of kindergartners were tested for gifted programs; in others, as few as seven percent were tested;
  • In some districts, 30 percent of the kindergartners tested were eligible for programs for gifted students; while in others, just one percent were;
  • There were also inequalities in the number of students who began the ninth grade in 2005 and later graduated with Regents diplomas, which are given when students have a passing score of 65 or higher on the five regents exams in English, Algebra, global history, U.S. History and science. For example, 63 percent of Asian students graduated with Regents diplomas, 55 percent of white students and 28 percent of black students. Latino students were the least likely to receive Regents diplomas at 26 percent.

The authors make a number of recommendations, including mandatory testing for the gifted and talented program for all kindergartners, restoration of school funding that has been cut and the requirement that all middle schools offer the courses necessary for the specialized high schools admission test plus free tutoring for free to low-income students.

GothamSchools reported that Department of Education spokesman Frank Thomas said the study’s recommendations for solving the problems are impractical. “While there is much more work to do, the reality is that black and Hispanic students in New York City are graduating at their highest rates ever, and continue to narrow the achievement gap year after year,” he said in a statement. “A report that fails to acknowledge this progress is shortsighted and overlooks the gains made by thousands of students during that time.”

Read the full report here. 

Do you think such a harsh assessment is fair? In your own local districts, you can also look at disparities that exist in admissions to gifted and magnet high school programs. Ask for the information broken out by race and ethnicity.

In California, Latino and Black Students Are Suspended Disproportionately

A new report by the UCLA Civil Rights Project on the high suspension rates of students in California is generating buzz among legislators and educators alike. The study estimated that more than 400,000 students were removed from class at least once in the 2009-10 school year–“enough to fill every seat in all the professional baseball and football stadiums in the state.”

Of the students in all of the state’s districts, about 7 percent of Latino students, 6 percent of white students, 18 percent of black students, and 3 percent of Asian students had been suspended. The study found that in the 10 districts where suspension rates were highest, nearly one in four students had been suspended. In those 10 districts, suspension rates were 21 percent for Latinos, 21 percent for whites, 41 percent for blacks and 14 percent for Asians. The highest rates for Latino and black males were in the Stockton City United district, where 38 percent of black males and 19 percent of Latino males had been suspended at least once.

Co-author Daniel Losen said many of the removals are for vague infractions such as disrespect, defiance and dress code violations. “The numbers in our report indicate an absolute crisis in many California districts since suspending students out of school–with no guarantee of adult supervision–greatly increases the risk for dropping out and involvement in the juvenile justice system,” Losen said.

The Sacramento Bee reports that the report that six bills aimed at lowering the suspension rates are being considered by the state’s lawmakers. The study found, for example, that at Roseville Joint Union High School District near Sacramento, 7.1 percent of Latino students had been suspended compared with 3.7 percent of white students.

But in some districts, white students were actually more likely than Latinos to be suspended, although rates among all students were high. The Los Angeles Times pointed out that in the Manteca Unified District south of Stockton 30 percent of Latinos, 33 percent of whites and 60 percent of black students had been suspended. In the Los Angeles Unified district, whites (6 percent) and Latinos (7 percent) were disciplined at somewhat similar rates.

Racial imbalances have been found in other states as well; have you examined the numbers in your state recently? That information should be available by district and even by school. Is your school district using “zero tolerance” policies or are they instituting efforts to address the racial imbalances?

How do teachers feel about the imbalances? I have often found that reports such as this make teachers feel as if they are being accused of being racist, making it tougher to deal with disciplinary issues. What can be done to intervene with the families of these students to change their children’s behavior? Many districts now use behavior interventions and are training teachers on such techniques.

Finally, the study cites a six-year Texas study of middle and high schools that found that suspensions have no academic benefits.

California reporters–or others interested–can find the report, along with more detailed data broken out by district, here.

Illinois Aims to Help English Language Learners Get an Early Start

Illinois is working to ensure that English language learners start bilingual education classes even before they enter kindergarten. A new report by the New America Foundation details how the state is working to provide special services for ELLs beginning in its pre-K program.

The state plans to implement the new regulations fully by 2014. The requirements include training teachers on how to instruct ELLs, determining how to evaluate such children and developing instruction models specifically targeting ELL students.

But many critics believe that the requirements might be impossible to meet. The report  by policy analyst Maggie Severns notes that the changes have been controversial. Previously, bilingual education wasn’t offered until kindergarten. “Debates are erupting among advocates and opponents of the regulations alike over whether Illinois’ bilingual pre-K regulations are developmentally appropriate, whether the state will be able to fund the programs using the existing state bilingual budget, and whether Illinois can successfully recruit a qualified workforce for bilingual/ESL classrooms,” she writes.

A shortage of certified bilingual and ESL teachers who also are trained in early childhood education is an additional challenge. However, some universities in the state are now offering specialized training in the area. Many districts still are finding it difficult to comply with regulations.

In 2010, there were 183,522 ELLs attending Illinois schools in grades PK-12.

The study notes that developing an English proficiency screening program for children so young has also prompted debate. Currently, the preschool programs use the pre-IPT, a 20-minute listening and speaking exam given by a teacher.

While critics question whether the expectations are realistic, the report ends on a hopeful note–that early investment may mean less cost later. “Illinois may be making a shrewd investment by focusing on ELLs during their early years, gaining savings from students spending fewer years in bilingual/ESL programs, needing less remediation in the later grades, and achieving long-term gains from increased graduation rates in high school and a better-educated workforce,” the report concludes.

If you’re not in Illinois, does your state offer bilingual and/or ESL pre-K courses? What sort of program requirements exist?

Study Examines Latino College Completion Rates in Every State

Latino students continue to struggle with lower college graduation rates when compared with other groups, according to a new study by the group Excelencia in Education that examines rates in all 50 states. The study also lists programs in each state that are working to close the gap.

The report highlights several points:

  • Nationally, in 2011 about 21 percent of Latino adults had associate’s degrees or higher, compared with 57 percent of Asians, 44 percent of whites and 30 percent of blacks.
  • In 2010, the gap in degree attainment between Latino and white students averaged about 14 percent. Illinois, which has a K-12 public school Hispanic enrollment of 21 percent, had one of the largest gaps at 15 percent.
  • In California and Texas, the two states with the nation’s largest K-12 Latino enrollments, graduation rates for Latinos are below the national average for the group.  In California, about 16 percent of Latino adults hold an associate degree or higher; in Texas, about 17 percent of Latino adults hold an associate’s or higher.
  • In 2010, there were nine states where more than 25 percent of Latino adults had degrees. In Florida, which has a K-12 public school Hispanic enrollment of 26 percent, about 31 percent of Latino adults have degrees. The other states have much smaller overall Hispanic populations.

The study calls attention to the fact that states’ future economies are dependent on the success of the growing Latino population.

“The state-level data on Latino college completion show that today’s investment, or lack thereof, in Latino academic preparation and degree attainment can have a compounding effect on state populations, economies, and communities in the near future,” said Deborah Santiago, the group’s co-founder.

The state-specific fact sheets are useful resources for reporters. I like that the state-specific breakdowns highlight programs that are working to improve the graduation rates. It’s worth considering a localized story in your community. This gives a good opportunity to discuss possible solutions and not just the problem.

For example, The Puente Project at the University of California works to increase the number of disadvantaged students who enroll in universities and then return to their home communities as mentors. The Achieving a College Education Program (ACE)  at Maricopa Community Colleges in Arizona targets helping students who don’t consider going to college possible. The Dual Enrollment Program at Eastern Connecticut State University works to recruit students in Hartford’s inner city schools to enroll in college and then transfer to the university.

Report: States Cut Pre-K Funding as Need Grows

As states search for budget cuts, preschool has apparently become a target.

A new report by the National Institute for Early Education Research has found that inflation-adjusted state funding for pre-kindergarten programs decreased by about $60 million in 2010-11. Per-pupil spending dropped by $145 per child to $4,151. The decrease happened even as $127 million in federal funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) were distributed.

According to NIEER, there were about 1.3 million children enrolled in state programs in 31 states in 2010-11. Nationwide, about 28 percent of four-year-olds were enrolled in the programs. About 600,000 more children were enrolled than a decade ago–while per-pupil funding dropped more than $700 per child over that time span. The organization points out that Hispanics have the lowest enrollment rates of major ethnic groups. They are somewhat less likely to attend preschool at age four but far less likely to attend at age three.

The report gives a state-by-state breakdown that can help you localize the story to your community. The charts include information such as funding levels, quality and access.

You can also take a look at states that are heavily Hispanic. Of those, Arizona completely eliminated its early childhood block grant in 2010 and has no program.

As per-pupil funding is cut, quality is also threatened, according to the group. The study judges state programs on quality with 10 as the highest score. States are judged on benchmarks including teacher education levels, teacher training, class size and whether there are site visits to monitor quality. On the lower end, California and Florida only earned a three and Texas a four, for example. On the higher end, Illinois earned a nine and New Mexico an eight.

While Florida’s program quality ranked low, it topped the list in access. About 76 percent of 4-year-olds in the state are enrolled in state-funded pre-kindergarten. In Texas, about 52 percent of 4-year-olds are enrolled. At the lower end, in California about 19 percent of 4-year-olds are enrolled; in New Mexico, 15 percent are in programs.

California also saw larger spending cuts, with a $532 decrease in per-child spending over the prior year to $4,986 per child. Texas saw a $138 per student decrease to $3,761 per child; Florida cut $142 per student bringing funding to $2,422 per child; and Colorado cut $324 bringing the state to $2,044 per child.

Even as states decrease funding, the Obama administration has made early learning a key issue. The U.S. Department of Education announced Monday that five states will compete for $133 million in early learning grants: Colorado, Illinois, New Mexico, Oregon and Wisconsin. It will be interesting to see the impact on quality the winning states sees once the money is awarded.

Although the study doesn’t specifically breakdown access by race and ethnicity, you can still relate the cuts back to Hispanics. Many low-income Latino children are affected by the quality and access to these programs.

Autism Cases Identified Among Hispanic Children on the Rise, CDC Says

The Centers for Disease Control recently released a new study showing large increases in the number of Latino and black children identified with autism spectrum disorders. The study’s release coincided with Autism Awareness Month.

The CDC estimated that in 2008, about  1 in 88 American children had been diagnosed with autism, with boys five times as likely to be identified as girls. There were about 7.9 diagnosed cases per 1,000 Latino children. That’s still significantly less than the 12.0 cases per 1,000 of white children and 10.2 per 1,000 black children. But identification is increasing within the Hispanic community. Autism prevalence among Latino children (the number of 8-year-olds identified) increased by 110% between 2002 and 2008, compared with a 70% increase for white children.

Public schools are addressing the increase in different ways. In the past, many of these students would have attended private schools with public school district covering much of those costs. But now, to save money and comply with federal requirements that students be placed in the “least restrictive” environment, some of the students are placed in mainstream classrooms in public schools.  Teachers are also being trained on how to instruct such students.

The report notes that wide variation in prevalence among groups could be attributed to the level of awareness in communities and access to help, in addition to how the numbers are counted. Which raises the question, how much do Latino parents know about autism–especially those who don’t speak English? Does that contribute to a lower rate of identified cases within the group? The CDC urges that children need to be identified earlier, before they are even school-aged.

There are some efforts to increase early identification of Latino children. The Drexel Autism Center Hispanic Program in Philadelphia uses bilingual clinical psychology doctoral students to reach out to Hispanic families and conduct assessments. The program features testimonials on its web sites from families who are thankful for the Spanish-language help and discussions about the children’s condition.

The CDC study data is from the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network. It is from 2008 data from 14 communities. In the study, Florida was the only location of the 14 sites where there was higher prevalence of autism among Hispanics compared with the other two groups. It would be interesting to further examine the differences in the Latino population in Florida versus other states that could explain the variation. In addition, New Jersey was the only site studied where prevalence was about the same among all three groups of children.

You can read the CDC community report  here, and if you scroll down you can see breakdown by the states studied.

In addition, a second study recently released in the journal Pediatrics examined more than 6,000 children with autism who are enrolled in California’s Department of Developmental Services. The study (reported on by The Huffington Post here) concluded that low-functioning children were more likely to have mothers who are not white, are foreign-born, less-educated, and who are on Medi-Cal (Medicaid). The high-functioning children with autism had mothers who were white, educated, and not on Medicaid.

“This is real social justice problem,” pediatrician Claire McCarthy of the Children’s Hospital Boston at Harvard Medical School wrote in the Huffington Post. “The researchers didn’t have information on what kinds of services or treatments the kids go, so they couldn’t give an explanation for what they found. But they guessed, as all of us might, that children with more educated and affluent mothers not only had better homes and neighborhood environments, but access to more and better services–and parents who were able to fight for those services.”

Reporters can gather a few questions from these studies. What are your local schools or districts doing to educate Latino parents about autism and how to screen their children? Does that outreach include Spanish-language efforts? The researchers are urging early identification, so it’s especially important to direct efforts at pre-school programs. So do those programs offer services for autistic students?