How Are School Districts Handling ‘Deferred Action’ Records Requests?

School districts play a key role in providing the records necessary for undocumented immigrant young people to apply for the federal government’s deferred action program. The program will protect qualified applicants from deportation for two years and allows them to work.

Because students need to prove they have attended and completed their education in U.S. schools, many districts are seeing requests for high school transcripts and other documents spike. Some are struggling to keep up with the pace of requests.

The Associated Press reports that the school district in Yakima, Wash., is taking almost a month to provide transcripts and San Diego schools have added employees to keep up with the pace of requests.

The Los Angeles Times recently reported how such requests are placing a strain on the Los Angeles Unified School District. As many as 200,000 current and former students could be eligible for the program. In addition, the labor and postage associated with all the requests could result in about $200,000 in costs to the district.

Are your school districts seeing an increase in document requests? How quickly are they responding to the requests? Are counselors also working with students to make them aware of organizations that can help them apply for deferred action?

Related Links:

– “Requests for records for deferred action applications strain consulates, schools.” The Huffington Post/Associated Press.

– “Deferred action program puts strain on L.A. Unified.” The Los Angeles Times. 

– Deferred Action. USCIS.

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NAACP Says Entry Exam Bars Blacks, Latinos from Top N.Y. Schools

Several civil rights organizations  filed a complaint on Thursday with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights arguing that the exam determining admissions to the most elite New York City public high schools effectively discriminates against black and Latino students.

The complaint filed by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund focuses on eight competitive admissions high schools. The most prominent and nationally known schools among the group are Stuyvesant High School and Bronx Science.

The NAACP press release notes that the Latino Justice PRLDEF also joined in the complaint. A number of other organizations also support the complaint.

Reuters reports that even though blacks and Latinos make up more than half of New York City residents, at Stuyvesant High, Latinos represent only about 2.4 percent of  the enrollment and black students, 1.2 percent. Asians make up more than two-thirds of the students at Stuyvesant.

The complaint places the blame on the multiple-choice Specialized High School Admissions test, which is alone what admissions are based on. Reuters reports that the group wants the schools to base admissions on more than just a test–expanding considerations to grades, attendance, recommendations, interviews and writing samples.

The NAACP press release says that of 967 eighth-graders offered admission to Stuyvesant this year, 19 (2 percent) were black and 32 (3.3 percent) were Latino.

“Without a predictive validity study, there is no way that the NYCDOE can know whether the test provides useful information,” said Damon Hewitt, director of the education practice group at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc, in the NAACP press release.  “And education experts agree that using a test as the only factor to make a high stakes decision is bad educational policy. It also defies common sense. Even elite institutions like Harvard do not misuse tests in this way.”

This is not the first time that disparities in the city’s elite schools have been in the spotlight.

Related Links:

– “Civil rights group to file complaint over entry test for elite New York high schools.” Reuters. 

– NAACP press release

Report: Less than 6 Percent of Illinois Pre-K Teachers Trained to Teach ELLs

A new study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, found that very few pre-K teachers in Illinois have been trained to teach English language learners. The study also raised further concerns with its survey results, which found that few of those educators are interested in acquiring that training.

English language learners account for one-third of Hispanic schoolchildren in the state. About 20 percent of the Illinois kindergartners are ELLs–most of whom are Spanish-speaking.

The state has made a big push for expansion of bilingual education. By 2014, the state wants state-funded, school district-based, pre-k classes with 20 or more English learners to be led by a teacher certified in either bilingual instruction or English as a second language, in addition to being trained to work with pre-K students.

The UC-Berkeley researchers surveyed 354 preschool programs and 307 educators representing  about 2,600 teachers. It encompassed programs serving nearly 65,000 students, 27 percent of whom are ELLs.

Their results show that the state’s goals have yet to match up with reality. Currently, in predominantly Latino communities, the ratio of English language learner students to trained bilingual teachers is 50 students per every one teacher.

Fewer than 6 percent of all pre-K teachers surveyed are currently are dually endorsed with bilingual/ESL and early childhood certifications, compared with about 9 percent of teachers in high-Latino communities.  The researchers conclude that this disparity raises concerns about teacher quality.

In addition, the survey shows that about 45 percent of administrators see little need for teachers to have ESL training. In heavily Latino communities, about 42 percent of administrators saw a significant need for the training. In both cases, they were reluctant because of the costs associated and the time commitment that would be required.

“…Preschool itself isn’t a silver bullet,” Margaret Bridges, a senior researcher at UC-Berkeley’s Institute of Human Development, said in a press announcement about the study. “Quality matters. And as classrooms become more diverse, the cultural and linguistic competencies of  teachers are very real factors in a child’s academic success.”

The study is part of the New Journalism on Latino Children project based at UC-Berkeley, and produced in partnership with the Illinois Early Learning Council and the Chicago-based Latino Policy Forum.

Related Links:

– “Who Will Teach Our Children? Building a Qualified Early Childhood Workforce to Teach English-Language Learners” 

Education Trust identifies Top Colleges for Latino Students

Improving college graduation rates is a significant challenge facing Latinos. But the news isn’t all bad. Some universities are exhibiting more success than others with Hispanic students.

“Advancing to Completion”, a new report by the Education Trust, identifies some of the top colleges that are most successful at graduating Latinos. The report uses six-year graduation rates.

Stony Brook University in New York increased its Hispanic graduation rate from 41.8 to 58.1 percent between 2004 and 2010. Stony Brook’s Educational Opportunity Program provides support for entering students whose high schools didn’t offer strong college preparatory opportunities. The program includes  a summer boot camp and support services such as academic advising and study skill workshops.

“The counselors are always there for support,” one EOP participant said in the report. “It’s not like I’m a number… Each advisor knows you by your first, middle and last name. They call me on my birthday. Stony Brook wouldn’t be the same experience without it.”

Texas Tech University increased Latino graduation rates from 40.5 percent in 2004 to 58.7 in 2010. The university placed a focus on diversity in the highest ranks of administrators. In the last few years, a division of institutional diversity, equity and community engagement was created.

“Supporting the values of equity, diversity and the success of underrepresented students is embedded in the strategic plan of the institution as a whole,” said Jose Munoz, vice president of the diversity division and the vice provost for undergraduate education and student affairs. “It’s not a compensatory program. We do this to help the institution, the state, and the country. It’s not a zero-sum game; it benefits all.”

The report seeks to highlight those universities that are bright spots and are models of success.

“Thankfully, some institutions are showing us that the status quo is not inevitable,” said Jose Cruz, vice president of the Education Trust, in a news release. ““The lessons are clear: What institutions of higher education do—and don’t do—for students directly and powerfully impacts student success.  The schools we’ve identified provide vivid sign posts on the road to boosting graduation rates at colleges and universities across the country.”

Related Links:

– “Advancing to Completion: Increasing degree attainment by improving graduation rates and closing gaps for Hispanic students.” Education Trust. 

California Eyes Tracking Long-Term English Language Learners

A common misconception about English language learners is that they are new immigrants. In fact, many middle and high school students who carry the label have been attending American schools for years without reaching English proficiency. In some cases, they are even U.S.-born.

The academic struggles of these students raises plenty of questions, including this one: Why are they stuck in the system? But in order to find solutions, schools must first acknowledge that the problem exists, instead of insisting these limited English proficient students are newcomers. In Texas, I found that many school administrators adhered to the new immigrant theory. In some cases, as one bilingual education program director told me, they were just unaware of the reality in their own schools.

However, a growing number of researchers are addressing a population known as long-term English language learners. These students speak English, but have not picked up the academic skills necessary to be considered proficient.

Lesli Maxwell of Education Week reports that California may soon become the first state to truly acknowledge that they have a problem. The California Legislature approved requiring school districts to report annual data on the long-term students, in addition to identifying students at-risk of falling into the category. Gov. Jerry Brown will consider signing the bill on Sept. 28.

Because the state has such a large population, it could spur other states to take similar actions.

Part of this action was prompted by a two-year-old report, “Reparable Harm,” by the group Californians Together. The organization found that about 59 percent of ELLs in grades 6-12 had been enrolled in U.S. schools more than six years, had been at the same English proficiency level two or more years, and performed at low levels on the state’s English language arts exam.

Reporting requirements will inspire more efforts to close the gaps, said Laurie Olsen, the researcher who wrote “Reparable  Harm.”

“That’s why the legislation is important, because right now what’s happening is haphazard, and it’s not of the quality and coherence we need in order to see real, systemic improvement,” she told Education Week.

The publication reports that the causes are a lack of academic language and students not being engaged in school. But school officials in Tracy, Calif., already are taking action. They created the Academic and Language Support Program, which offers an elective to long-term students in addition to their English classes focused on academic English.

For now, California is in the position of setting an example for the nation.

Related Links:

– “Calif. poised to spotlight ELLs stalled in Schools.” Education Week. 

– “Study finds ELL students languising in Calif. Schools.” Education Week. 

– “Reparable Harm: Fulfilling the unkept promise of educational opportunity for California’s Long Term English Learners.” Californians Together.

– Research Reports: Long-term ELLs. Colorin Colorado. 

English Language Learners Struggle on NAEP Writing Exam

English language learners in the eighth and 12th grades scored significantly lower than English-proficient speakers on the latest results from the  2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress–known as the “Nation’s Report Card.”

Even proficient speakers struggled on the exam. Only about a quarter of all students taking the exam scored at or above the proficient level. The exams were scored out of a total possible score of 300.

– In the eighth grade, ELLs scored a 108, versus 152 for students who were not ELLs . Hispanic eighth-graders scored an average of 136 on the exam, while white students scored a 158. The average score for all students combined was a 150.

– In the twelfth grade, ELLs scored an average of 96, compared with a score of 152 for non-ELLs. Hispanic twelfth-graders scored an average of 134, compared with an average of 159 for white students. The average score of all students combined was a 150.

– In the eighth grade, about 1 percent of ELLs performed at or above the proficient level, compared with 14 percent of Hispanic students and 34 percent of white students.

– In the twelfth grade, 1 percent of ELLs performed at or above the proficient level, compared with 11 percent of Hispanic students and 35 percent of white students.

For the first time, students were able to take the exam on laptops that provided basic word processing functions. ELLs were less likely to use the thesaurus function than the English proficient students. Moreover, students who used the thesaurus tool scored higher on the writing tests than those who did not.

Related Links:

– NAEP: 2011 Writing Results.

– “The Nation’s Report Card Releases Results from an Innovative, Interactive Computer-Based Writing Assessment.” National Assessment Governing Board. 

– “ELLs Trail Significantly on National Writing Exam.” Learning the Language. Education Week. 

– “NAEP Shows Most Students Lack Writing Proficiency.” Education Week. 

Latino Children Hurt by Chicago Teachers’ Strike

With her two daughters kept out of school because of the Chicago teachers strike, Patricia Rodriguez was left with no other option than to take them with her to her job at a local laundromat this week. The Chicago teachers’ strike affected nearly 180,000 Latino children enrolled in the school district, many from disadvantaged families, Fox News Latino reports.

“I’m lucky that I can take them to work with me because they can sit in the chairs, but I know that families had to leave kids home alone today or stay home and miss work to be with them and that’s not fair,” Rodriguez told Fox, of her 8- and 13-year old daughters. “The teachers want more and more money and while they fight for that, it’s us, the parents, that are spending money today that we don’t have either. It’s not a big thing today but what about tomorrow and next week if they don’t go back?”

The news outlet reported that both girls said they’d prefer being at class to hanging out at the laundromat.

Many education policy experts are lamenting the negative impact on the mostly low-income Latino and black families missing out on school. Every day counts for such children.

Matthew Chingos of the Brookings Institution wrote that poor students couldn’t afford to miss class. He noted that research has shown that teacher absenteeism–leaving students with substitute teachers– has a negative impact on academic performance. Being out of the school during the summer can also put students behind.

“In other words, the consequence of being out of school is to increase the already unacceptable large achievement gap between low-income students and their affluent peers,” writes Chingos.

The Education Trust also released a statement from Vice President Amy Wilkins calling the effect on the district’s poor, mostly Latino and black students, “tragic.”

“This strike needs to end now,” she wrote. “And the agreement that ends it needs to be one that creates conditions to boost Chicago’s dismal achievement, particularly among its low-income students.”

An article in The Huffington Post noted that the strike could prompt more Latino families to consider enrolling their children in charter schools, which are still open during the strike.

However, up until this point not as many Hispanics have chosen charter schools, said Juan Rangel, the CEO of the United Neighborhood Organization. UNO runs a group of charter schools in Illinois, and serves more than half of Latino children attending Illinois charters. Many are English language learners.

“”I think part of the problem is charters across the country have not been able to attract a lot of Hispanic students and English language learners,” Rangel said.

Related Links:

– “Chicago Teachers Strike Hits Latino Families Hard.” Fox News Latino.

– “Charter School Options for Latinos Gain Attention Due to Chicago Teachers’ Strike.” The Huffington Post. 

– “In Chicago, Latino students and families brace for teachers’ strike.” NBC Latino.

Study Finds Mexican Mothers Nurturing, but Less Likely to Emphasize Education

A study released this week shed some positive light on the nurturing nature of Mexican immigrant mothers, while at the same time confirming that a warm home environment doesn’t necessarily translate to educational success.

First, the positive findings on Hispanic culture. The researchers found that on average Mexican mothers established warmer home environments, had fewer fights with their spouses and were in stronger mental health than their white and Chinese counterparts.

Study leader Bruce Fuller, a Berkeley professor and sociologist, said the “robust social relations” inside of Mexican immigrant homes was the biggest surprise. These positives occurred even though Hispanics are significantly more likely to be poor.

“Until now, little national evidence has been available to distinguish the home settings of major immigrant groups,” study coauthor Claudia Galindo, a  University of Maryland sociology professor, said in a press release. “And many policy makers have assumed that poverty necessarily leads to poor parenting.”

But the study’s findings weren’t  all good news. Researchers observed that Mexican women read to their toddlers infrequently and also did not organize many educational activities. Early learning opportunities make children to more likely to succeed in school. In comparison, Chinese mothers provided their children many learning opportunities, but had more conflict in the home.

So how did the researchers make these conclusions? The research team tracked more than 5,300  Mexican, white and Chinese mothers from across the United States.  They conducted two home visits over the course of the three-year study, asking the women about their home lives. Researchers also observed the mothers interacting with their children and spouses.

A statistic raising particular concern: Mexican mothers read to their toddlers about 71 percent less often than the U.S.-born white mothers. Chinese mothers read to their toddlers 12 percent more often than white mothers.

The study notes that Mexican mothers reported that they had 21 percent fewer arguments than their U.S.-born white peers and 39 percent fewer arguments than Chinese peers.

The notion that Mexican mothers are more nurturing than white mothers is causing a stir over on The Huffington Post comments section, where the study was also highlighted.

The research was published this week in the scientific journal, Child Development.

Related Links:

– “Mexican moms are more nurturing than white ones, study says.” The Huffington Post.

– “Family functioning and early learning practices in immigrant homes.” Child Development

– “English language learners with more educated mothers fare better on assessments.” Latino Ed Beat.

N.M. Schools Welcome Students Living in Mexico

Many school districts along the U.S.-Mexico border put forth great efforts to ensure that students live within their boundaries–on the American side of the border.

While it’s common for Mexican-American children living in Mexico to attend U.S. schools in border districts across California and Texas, they usually try to keep it a secret so they are not kicked out of school.

However, Public Radio International recently reported  on a town where that’s not the case. School officials in Deming, New Mexico, welcome with open arms U.S.-born who are living across the border in Palomas, Mexico. The district even sends school buses to the border to pick them up. About 400 children from Mexico attend Deming schools.

It appears that some educators believe the American-born children will one day choose to live in the United States, where they will contribute to the economy. But for the time being, many of their parents are not paying the taxes that support the public schools.

“If they are educated, they have the opportunity to give back to society, they can become hardworking taxpayers, they will be creating the jobs of the future,” Deming Superintendent Harvielee Moore told PRI.

School districts don’t ask students’ immigration status and undocumented immigrant children are granted the right to a free public education in the U.S., due to the 1982 Plyler v. Doe Supreme Court decision. In this case, however, the children are U.S. citizens but not residing in the country.

There are drawbacks to allowing the students in. One Tea Party activist pointed out that many of the marijuana seizures along the border are cases where children are used as mules to smuggle drugs in the U.S.

Related Links:

– “The Drug War and Cross-Border Education in New Mexico. PRI’s The World. 

– “Students Living in Mexico Cross Border to Attend U.S. Schools.” Latino Ed Beat.

– “Young U.S. Citizens in Mexico Up Early to Learn in the U.S.” The New York Times.

– “Tyler case opened schools to illegal immigrants.” The Dallas Morning News.

Laredo, Texas Named Least Diverse Metropolitan Area in the U.S.

South Texas cities with large Latino populations are some of the least diverse communities in America, according to a US2010 Project study of Census data.

The Brown University research study considered the most diverse cities to be those where the major ethnic or racial categories are the most evenly spread–whites, Hispanics, blacks, Asians and another category mostly of Native Americans. As a result, cities where no one group is in the majority are defined as the most diverse. Those cities are rapidly increasing in number, fueled by a growing Latino population.

So why do I mention this study on an education blog? Because these trends are reflected in local schools as well. If your community is one of those changing the most rapidly, how are school leaders responding? As reporters, we often focus on the large urban districts. But it’s important to tell the story beyond the big cities and in the suburbs and rural areas, where the most striking changes are taking place.

While California accounts for the most diverse cities and places in the country, you may be surprised to see how many Texas cities land on the least-diverse list. Those Texas cities are all in South Texas, near the U.S. border with Mexico. In both California and Texas, the majority of public school students are not white.

Laredo, Texas, where Hispanics make up 96 percent of the metropolitan area, is the least diverse area in the United States. In 2011, of the 24,680 students in Laredo schools, 99.5 percent were Latino and 97 percent were economically disadvantaged. McAllen-Edinburg-Mission is also is in the top 25 least diverse areas in the U.S., with 91 percent of the population identified as Hispanic.

Texas again tops the list of the top 25 least diverse places in the U.S. The border town of Muniz, Texas, with a population of 1,370, is the least diverse place in the country. A total of eight South Texas cities make the least diverse list. Many of them are small towns.

Many of these border and South Texas cities have high poverty rates and the schools face significant challenges. What can other cities with growing Latino populations learn from both their successes–and failures?

South Texas has some of the first cities where dual-language programs became popular and widespread. A recent documentary, Mariachi High, showed how mariachi programs popular in South Texas schools have been successful in engaging more Hispanic students in school.

Elsewhere in the country, American cities of all population levels are rapidly growing in diversity and the Latino population is contributing significantly to the shift. The Wall Street Journal highlighted Sioux City, Iowa, a heartland city, as one of the examples of diversity’s expansion. Many Latinos work in the meat-processing plants and dairy farms in the area.

College recruiter Norma Azpeitia, 34, said she and her four siblings all attended college after her father moved the family from California to the Iowa city.

“We wanted to pursue a higher education and move beyond meat-processing work,” she told the Journal.

The researchers found that communities with populations between 25,000 and 250,000 saw the greatest gains in diversity. Cities where no one ethnic or racial group is in the majority are rapidly growing. Many of the most diverse cities have a large military presence.

California cities make up ten of the top 25 most diverse metropolitan areas. The cities of Vallejo and Fairfield, California, ranks as the most diverse area in the country and San Francisco/Oakland/Fremont as the second most diverse. But other cities have also grown, including the Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta metropolitan area, Washington, D.C./Alexandria and Arlington, Va., and Las Vegas/Paradise Nev..

Related Links:

– “Racial and Ethnic Diversity goes Local: Charting Change in American Communities over Three Decades.” 2010 Project.

– “Stirring up the Melting Pot.” The Wall Street Journal.

– “Diversity spreads to all corners of the U.S.” USA Today.

– US2010 Project.