Activists Protest Philadelphia School Closings

Plans to close 37 Philadelphia schools have set off an emotional firestorm and allegations of discrimination.

This week, the U.S. Department of Education confirmed that it was looking into complaints that school closings in Philadelphia, Detroit and Newark discriminate against Latino and black students, the New York Times reported. Officials are also looking into the impact on students with disabilities. About 19 percent of the school district’s students are Latino and 55 percent are black.

The Philadelphia plan aims to rid the system of a $1.1 billion deficit and cut the number of underused and low-performing schools. Final approval on the closures is scheduled for March.

The situation is complicated. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that there are about 53,000 empty seats in schools in the city, most heavily in the north and west part of the city. Meanwhile, the schools with greater numbers of white students are more likely to be at or over capacity.

If the activists are able to win over the U.S. Department of Education, that would be a big change. The Huffington Post reports that the Office of Civil Rights has investigated 27 school closings between October 2010 and January 2013, but found no violations in any of the cases. The office has 33 open cases in 22 states.

How much do school closings impact children’s education? If your district is considering closing schools, what are the demographics of that campus versus the entire district?

Related Links:

– “Education Dept. to Hear School Closing Complaints,” The New York Times. 

– “City school closings target vulnerable students, critics say,” The Philadelphia Inquirer.

– “School Closures Violate Civil Rights, Protestors Tell Arne Duncan,” The Huffington Post. 

Analysis Challenges Calif. School District’s Touted Achievements

The San Jose Unified School District set a lofty goal 11 years ago. The district announced that all students would be required to pass the classes needed to be admitted to California’s public universities.

At first, the majority-Latino school district earned accolades for its seemingly miraculous success. Other districts wanted to emulate San Jose.

But an analysis of data by The Los Angeles Times and The Hechinger Report casts doubt on the district’s much-touted achievements.

The news outlets found that the majority of the district’s students are not qualifying to attend a state university–and that the percentage of students qualifying has barely budged in all the years since the policy change.

In 2000, prior to the program’s implementation, about 40% of students met requirements to enter the University of California or California State university system. By 2011, despite the program’s implementation, only about 40.3% of students qualified.

Even worse, the analysis found that only about one out of five Latino and black students who began high school in 2007 were eligible to apply to state colleges after four years.  (During the 2011-12 school year, about 52% of the students were Latino.)

So how did it come to pass that the district was able to claim so many students were graduating that were qualified to be admitted to college? The article mentions that the number of qualified students was overestimated because the district misreported data by counting seniors who had not yet completed their college-level coursework as having done so.

Two loopholes also played a role. Students could meet requirements by earned just a “D” in their classes, even though universities required a “C.” In addition, students were allowed to transfer to alternative schools with less challenging coursework  if they were struggling in school.

Latino students, in particular, struggled. As a result, many ended up pushed out of the regular high schools and attending less-demanding alternative schools. The story notes that alternative programs enrolled about 50% more Latinos than regular high schools.

“The ethnic imbalance is ironic given that San Jose’s college-prep program grew out of concern that far too many Latino students, the largest group in the district, were not on track for college,” the article notes.

The Contra Costa Times reported that school district officials defended the program.

“We are clearly in a better place than we were,” Superintendent Vincent Matthews told the newspaper. “However, clearly, we still have a long way to go.”

The paper notes that the district places in the middle of the pack among the 11 districts in Santa Clara County, in terms of the percentage of Hispanic graduates meeting requirements for entering state universities. For the class of 2011, the percentage was 26.6%, compared to a high of 44.1% in Palo Alto Unified School District.

The Los Angeles Unified School District is moving toward new standards that will require this year’s freshmen to pass a certain number of college-prep courses with a D or better to graduate, and eventually move toward requiring a C or better for next year’s freshmen. It remains to be seen what sort of impact that may have on the district’s students, and in particular, the Latino majority.

Related Links:

– “L.A. school district’s college-prep push is based on false data,” The Hechinger Report/Los Angeles Times.

– “San Jose Unified defends 40 percent college-preparation rate,” Contra Costa Times.

– San Jose Unified School District

Latino Preschoolers Show Social Strengths

Latino children may tend to begin preschool with a smaller vocabulary than white children, but some researchers say that doesn’t necessarily mean they lack social and emotional skills.

Part of that could possibly be traced back to the often warm and nurturing home environments that they come from. NPR reporter Claudio Sanchez recently reported on a University of California, Berkeley, and UCLA study  that examined 4,700 Latino children when they were between the ages of two and five years old.

“We found that Latino kids bring to school strong emotional skills and strong social skills, which means they know how to share with their peers,” said Claudia Galindo, a sociologist at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, about the report‘s findings. “They know how to follow instructions. They know how to listen. And one other thing that we found is that these kids are being raised in very supportive and warm family environments.”

Bruce Fuller, one of the authors and an education professor at the University of California, Berkeley, said that it’s a mistake to view Latino children as slow or deficient. Education policy-makers mistakenly believe that the issue is “we need to fix the parenting skills,” he told NPR

In a commentary piece in The Next America written by study authors Fuller, Galindo and Alma Guerrero, the three described the childrens’ strengths. They observed that Mexican-American kindergartners “display robust cooperative skills, respect adults, and eagerly participate in classroom tasks, whether their behavior is judged by parents or teachers.”

Despite the parents’ nurturing skills, the children lagged. The researchers noted that Mexican mothers did not read as often to their children, which held back the children’s language and cognitive skills.

Related Links:

– “Study: Latino Children Make Up for Academic Shortcomings with Strong Social Skills,” NPR.

– “Study: Mexican American Children Don’t Lag in Social Skills,” Latino Ed Beat.

– “Opinion: Mexican-American Kids Have Better Social Skills, Misunderstood by Institution,” National Journal, The Next America.

– “Mexican American toddlers lag in pre-literacy skills, but not in their social skills, new study shows,” UC Berkeley News Center.

Utah Program Encourages Latino Teens to Tutor Younger Children

The Utah high school students participating in the Latinos in Action program are working toward achieving their goal of graduating from high school–while at the same time tutoring younger students to work toward that same goal.

The Standard-Examiner newspaper recently reported on the program’s work in the Davis School District in Farmington, Utah.  Students attending Northridge High School visit Hill Field Elementary School twice weekly to tutor children in literacy and math. Within the district, there are five high schools and six junior high schools participating.

The LIA program works primarily in Utah schools, along with a few sites in Idaho and Washington. LIA teachers instruct the high school students on tutoring strategies.

“It’s a really good program in two ways,” Hill Field Elementary principal Paul Bryner told the newspaper. “It’s a great opportunity for the teens to work with kids, because there is no better way to learn than to teach. Also, it helps our teachers in that it gives them the resources to have one-on-one tutoring for the kids.”

While the high school students are helping the elementary students, the LIA teachers also mentor the teens.

“They encourage you to keep your grades up,” student Liam Torres, 18, told the newspaper. “[Our teacher] talks to us about our grades and tells us where to go to get help with our assignments or tests….They care about us graduating, and they make sure we do well in school.”

Have you heard of similar programs in your schools that work to connect older students with mentoring younger children?

Related Links:

– “Latino students learn leadership by tutoring young children,” Standard-Examiner.” 

– Latinos in Action

– Davis School District

Latino High School Graduation Rate Sees Large Increase

The National Center for Education Statistics has released a new report showing a huge increase in Latino high school graduation rates. The rate increased to 71.4% in 2010, up from 61.4% in 2006.

The report shows more positive outcomes for all students. About 78.2% of students graduated on time within four years in 2010. The report also breaks out data by state.

Jack Buckley, director of the NCES, told The Huffington Post that the last time the country had a similarly high graduation rate was in 1968. The NCES put out its first such report in 2005, but made estimates dating back to the 1970s.

“This is the highest estimated rate of on-time graduation,” Buckley said.

Despite those gains, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, said while there has been much progress, still more is needed.

“…Our high school dropout rate is still unsustainably high for a knowledge-based economy and still unacceptably high in our African-American, Latino and Native American communities,” he said in a statement.

Nevada reported the worst rate for Latinos in 2010, at 47.2%. Meanwhile among the states with the nation’s two largest Latino populations, Texas reported a significantly higher graduation rate than California. Texas reported 77.4%, and California, 71.7%.

Some of the 2010 rates for Latinos in other states with large Latino populations included Arizona, 70.6%; Colorado, 65.9%; Florida, 71.1%; Illinois, 76%; New Mexico, 65.3%; and New York, 60.7%.

Related Links:

– “Graduation Rate Hits Record High for High School Students: Government Report,” The Huffington Post. 

– “Public School Graduates and Dropouts from the Common Core of Data: School Year 2009-10,” National Center for Education Statistics. 

– “Latino High School Graduation Rates up 10%,” Fox News Latino. 

CDC Study Finds Obesity Common Among L.A. Preschoolers

A new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds that between 2003 and 2011, obesity rates among poor preschool-aged children in Los Angeles rose at one point to a high of 21 percent, according to a story by the Associated Press.

The study found that at the same time obesity rates among children in New York fell from 19 percent to 16 percent.

Sadly, the reason given for the higher rates in Los Angeles is that obesity rates among Mexican-American children are particularly high when compared with other groups, the AP reports.

The study found the obesity rate in LA was initially 17 percent, peaked to 21 percent in 2009, and then dropped to 20 percent.

The AP reported that researchers focused on three- and four-year olds who were enrolled in the WIC government program, which provides food vouchers to low income families. About 85 percent of children in the L.A. study were Hispanic, most of whom were Mexican-American. In New York, just 46 percent of the children studied were Hispanic, including not many Mexican-Americans.

According to the CDC, about 12 percent of all preschool-aged children are obese.

Related Links:

– “NYC Childhood Obesity Rate Lowers, As Los Angeles Numbers Rise: Study,” The Associated Press. 

Parents Rally in Support of ‘Parent Trigger’ at Calif. Elementary School

At the predominantly Latino 24th Street Elementary School in the Los Angeles Unified School District, frustrated parents are rallying to take over the failing campus and turn it around.

They are seeking to use California’s new and controversial “parent trigger” law passed in 2010. The law empowers parents to petition to make major campuses at campuses, which they can achieve by getting the signatures of at least 50 percent of parents of students enrolled. Changes include turnaround models such as staff changes or converting to charter schools.

Parent Amabilia Villeda began attending protests about the poor quality of education at the 24th Street school three years ago and is among those trying to gather enough parent signatures.

“We have the opportunity to make a change at this school because now we have the right support to do it,” she said in Spanish, reported The Hechinger Report. “They weren’t listening to us before, and with the law, now they’re listening.”

The school serves a population that is 80 percent Latino, with many of the students from low-income households. The campus has failed to meet state standards. Hechinger reports that more than 80 percent of third-graders and 71 percent of fifth-graders are not reading on grade level, and the campus has the second highest suspension rate among elementary schools in the L.A. school district.

After a long battle, parents at Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto, Calif., recently became the first to use the law, and plan to turn the campus into a charter school. By state standards, 24th Street is actually lower performing.

Members of the group Parent Revolution are organizing the 24th Street parents.

On the web site GreatSchools, the school is rated a one out of 10. Many of the parent online reviews are highly critical of the principal.

The school’s website lists a positive vision very different from the one that parents see: “24th Street Elementary is committed to creating a healthy, safe and positive environment that develops lifelong learners who will become socially responsible, global citizens.” According to the site, the school has a parent center that provides workshops and a parent representative.

We hear so much about the lack of Latino parent involvement. But in this case, parents are actively protesting and mobilizing around the issue of education reform. It should be interesting to see how well known the law is among Hispanic parents in California, and how many of those parents plan to pursue it.

Related Links:

– “One week after ‘parent trigger’s’ first success, new campaign announced at Los Angeles school.” The Hechinger Report.

– “Parent Trigger Law at LAUSD: 24th Street Elementary School the Target of New Parent Petition.” Reuters.

– 24th Street Elementary School, Los Angeles Unified School District. 

– Parent Revolution.

Colorado Considers In-State Tuition For Undocumented College Students

For the seventh consecutive year, activists are fighting for passage of legislation that would provide in-state tuition to undocumented immigrant students attending Colorado’s public colleges and universities.

Much like the long-debated federal Dream Act, the measure has repeatedly failed. But this year, Democrats are hopeful that the legislation, dubbed ASSET (Advancing Students for a Stronger Economy Tomorrow) will finally pass, since the party now controls both the House and Senate. Supporters of the bill held a press conference Tuesday, announcing its introduction in the state Senate. Students, educators and elected officials attended the event. Supporters include Denver Mayor Michael Hancock.

If ASSET passed, Colorado would join other states providing in-state rates to immigrants, including Texas and California. In November, voters approved a Maryland ‘Dream Act’ law. The bill would provide in-state tuition to students who attended  high school in the state for at least three years before graduating or earning a GED. The proposal does not include providing state financial aid.

Last June, the board of trustees of the Metropolitan State University of Denver, a public institution, decided to establish a non-resident, Colorado graduate tuition rate last year benefiting undocumented immigrants. The university’s decision was controversial, and even spurred critics to accuse leaders of defying state law. The Denver Post reported that 237 students enrolled under the new rate last fall.

Related Links:

“ASSET backers upbeat, confident.” EdNews Colorado.

“ASSET Bill is Reintroduced in Colorado Senate to Give In-State Tuition for Undocumented Students.” The Huffington Post.  

– “Supporters of in-state tuition for illegal immigrants hope 7th time is the charm.” The Denver Post.

– “A College Lifts a Hurdle for Illegal Immigrants.” The New York Times.

Report Projects Rapid Diversification of College Campuses

A new report takes a sweeping look at the “new normal” coming soon to college campuses across America.

The Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education’s study, Knocking at the College Door, predicts that while the number of high school graduates in the United States is expected to decline in the coming years after peaking in 2010-11 at 3.4 million, the diversity of graduates will rapidly increase.

The study urges policymakers to address the change by better serving students who have not been served well in the past.

The report also breaks down its predictions on a state-by-state basis. Just three states are expected to see swift expansion in high school graduates–Colorado, Texas and Utah.

The study predicts that by 2019-20, about 45 percent of public high school graduates will not be white, driven in large part by growth in the Latino population. Between 2008-09 and 2019-20, the report projects that white high school graduates will drop by 228,000 as Hispanic graduates increase by 197,000. Asian graduates are expected to increase, and black graduates are projected to decrease.

The report also predicts that by that year graduating high school classes will become majority-minority in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Maryland and Nevada. Currently, California, Hawaii, Mississippi, New Mexico and Texas are majority-minority.

Detailed data on a state-by-state basis can be found here.

WICHE has 15 states that are members and works on public policy research and expanding educational access. The report was also backed by the ACT and College Board.

Related Links:

– “New Report Projects High School Graduating Classes will be Smaller, More Diverse.” Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education. 

– “College admission may get easier as ranks of high school graduates drop.” The Los Angeles Times. 

– “Wave of Diverse College Applicants Will Rise Rapidly.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. 

Spanish Signs Spark Controversy at Elementary School

School officials should consider the following story a cautionary tale about what happens when a message becomes lost in translation. It also illustrates the importance of educators having adequate Spanish translation services.

The Milford School District in Delaware came under fire recently for several signs posted outside two elementary school playgrounds. In English, they warned that parent or guardian supervision was required for use of the playground equipment and to “play at your own risk.”

In Spanish, they carried a more intimidating message. They informed parents that “un permiso”–a permit–was required to play on the site and warned that violators would be subject to police action.

The signs have been posted for the past year. But they only drew attention when a local radio talk show Dan Gaffney host posted photos of them on his Facebook page.

“I think Milford schools are trying to keep ‘certain ethnic’ people away,” he wrote. “Shame.”

The post stirred up online outrage. As a result, Milford schools superintendent Phyllis Kohel and her husband personally removed them last Sunday.

Kohel called the signs inappropriate and that she understood why people were upset.

“We expect people to use our playgrounds anytime, without any special permission,” she told the Milford Beacon. “That’s what they’re here for.”

Kohel added that at the district’s middle and high school athletic fields, signs in English and Spanish warn that permits are required and violators could be subject to police action. There are no such signs in English at the elementary campuses, however.

“Those signs make sense at soccer sites,” Kohel told The Daily Times. “They don’t make sense at a playground.”

Some residents were disturbed by the incident and worried about the impact on the schools’ relationship with the Hispanic community. About 16 percent of the city’s residents are Latino.

“In that year, I wonder how many Spanish-speaking parents brought their kids to that park, then turned around and left with the feeling that they weren’t wanted,” resident Margaret Reyes told The Daily Times.

How does your school district handle translating information to English to Spanish? Do they use professional translators or bilingual staff?

Related Links:

– “Spanish Signs with Intimidating Message Removed from Delaware Playgrounds.” Fox News Latino. 

– “Controversial Milford school playground signs removed.” Milford Beacon. 

– “Delaware: ‘Threatening’ signs removed at Milford schools.” The Daily Times.