DOJ Reaches Settlement with Florida School District

The U.S. Department of Justice and the Palm Beach County School District in Florida have reached a settlement agreement following complaints that the school district discriminated against immigrant families.

The department had been investigating complaints that the school system failed to enroll children based on their immigration status and that its disciplinary actions discriminated against students based on their immigrant status or limited English proficiency.

The Palm Beach County Legal Aid Society and the Florida Equal Justice Center filed the complaints against the district in August 2011, the Florida Sun Sentinel reported, saying that two teenagers were not able to register at Boca Raton High School because they lacked documents. The department had also investigated complaints that immigrant children and ELLs were suspended and arrested for offenses that were minor and not violent.

About 20,000 ELLs are district students.

In a statement, Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the civil rights division, said that the agreement would remove barriers to student enrollment, and promote an inclusive environment.

The district must agree to enroll all students, no matter their immigration status. The district must provide translation services during the enrollment and disciplinary process.

The Justice Department has previously cautioned school districts that they must enroll undocumented immigrant children who reside within their boundaries, due to the Supreme Court’s Plyler v. Doe decision.

School district spokesman Nat Harrington told the Palm Beach Post that the district was happy to reach an agreement.

“We remain committed to treating all of our students fairly regardless of their language, backgrounds or their parents’ status,” he said.

Related Links:

– “Palm Beach County schools settle with feds on immigrant policies,” South Florida Sun Sentinel.

– “Justice department finalizes pact with PBC School District to end bias in discipline, registration policies,” The Palm Beach Post. 

– “Justice Department Reaches Settlement with School District of Palm Beach County, Fla.,” U.S. Department of Justice.

– Plyler v. Doe Video History.

Latino Students Need Help to Overcome “Stereotype Threat”

Teachers can use positive intervention strategies to help overcome the “stereotype threat” that Latino students often feel, a recent Stanford University study found.

The study was published in February in the Journal of Personality and School Psychology.

The researchers found that positive affirmations can help battle the “stereotype threat” of feeling stigmatized as a member of an ethnic group that is perceived as inferior. Past research has found that the stress of this threat can hurt students’ academic performance.

The Latino middle school students participating in the study practiced certain affirmative activities. They were given a list of values such as being good at art, religious, or being humorous. They were then asked to writes about the values they viewed as the most important.

In another assignment, they were asked to reflect on the things in their lives that were most important. In yet another, they wrote a brief essay about how the things they valued would play a role in the coming months.

Students worked on such exercises through the year during important moments that can prove stressful, such as before taking tests and right as they were starting the school year.

According to the researchers, Latino students who went through the affirmative activities had higher grades than those in the control group, and that the positive impact lasted for three year. The activities did not appear to impact white students.

“Self-affirmation exercises provide adolescents from minority groups with a psychological time out,” Stanford professor Geoffrey Cohen said, according to a new release. “Latino Americans are under a more consistent and chronic sense of psychological threat in the educational setting than their white counterparts on average. They constantly face negative stereotypes about their ability to succeed, so they are the ones to benefit the most from affirmations that help them to maintain a positive self-image.”

Related Links:

– “Simple efforts bridge achievement gap between Latino, white students, Stanford researcher finds,” Stanford University.

– “Interventions Help Latino Students Beat ‘Stereotype Threat,” Study Says,” Learning the Language Blog, Education Week.

– “Study finds intervention can close achievement gap,” The Bakersfield Californian.

Latino Test Performance Varies Significantly by State

It’s often said that the zip code a child is born into is a strong predictor of their future academic performance and the quality of education that they will receive. But perhaps the same can be said about the state where a child is born.

The New York Times recently reported on an analysis by the National Center for Education Statistics of the five states with the largest populations, showing the different performance levels of Latino students on the National Assessment of Educational Progress exam.

Those “mega-states” studied are California, Florida, Illinois, New York and Texas. Th five states enroll more than half of the country’s English language learners, a total of 2.9 million–nearly 1.5 million of whom are in California. They also enroll about 40 percent of the nation’s public school students, or 18.7 million students.

NAEP scores are seen as the best tool by which to compare academic performance across state lines.

One notable headline: California Latino students struggled considerably across the board, while Florida and Texas were strong-performers. While the analysis also shows that Latino students continue to lag white students considerably in performance on the tests (full report here), there was considerable variation in Latino performance between states.

The percentage of Latino eighth-graders performing at the proficient level or above in math in 2011 are below, with Texas leading the nation:

California: 13%, Florida: 22%; Illinois: 19%; New York: 13%; Texas: 31%; Nation: 20%.

And the performance of Latino eighth-graders proficient or higher in reading in 2011, in which Florida and Illinois led the nation:

California: 14%; Florida: 27%; Illinois: 23%; New York: 20%; Texas: 17%; Nation: 18%.

The performance of fourth-graders proficient or higher in math, in which Florida and Texas leading:

California: 17%; Florida: 31%; Illinois: 20%; New York: 20%; Texas: 29%. Nation: 24%.

The performance of  Latino fourth-graders proficient or higher in reading was as follows in 2011, with Florida leading:

California: 12%;  Florida: 30%Illinois: 18%; New York: 20%; Texas: 19%; Nation: 18%.

And here is the performance of Latino fourth-graders proficient or higher in science in 2009, with Texas and Florida leading:

California: 8%; Florida: 23%; Illinois: 10%; New York: 13%; Texas: 16%; Nation: 13%

And the performance of Latino eighth-graders proficient or higher in science, with Texas leading the nation:

California: 11%; Florida: 24%; Illinois: 11%; New York: 12%; Texas: 23%; Nation: 16%.

Jack Buckley, commissioner of the NCES, said there was no “consistent pattern among these states,” The Times reported. And that, “each state seems to have areas where it shines and others where they lag behind its counterparts.”

The analysis includes the data broken out by other racial/ethnic categories and factors such as income and ELL status.

Learn more about the analysis of performance in the top five largest states here.

Related Links:

– “Test Scores of Hispanics Vary Widely Across 5 Most Populous States, Analysis Shows,” The New York Times. 

– Mega-States: An Analysis of Student Performance in the Five Most Heavily Populated States in the Nation. 









Latino Group Reaches Agreement with Denver Schools, Police

A Latino advocacy group has reached an agreement with the Denver Public Schools and Denver Police Department that limits the role of scope of police in schools primarily to criminal threats to school safety–and not routine discipline matters.

Padres & Jovenes Unidos (Parents & Youth United) has worked for several years to combat what it refers to as the school-to-prison pipeline, which it partially blames on harsh discipline and zero tolerance policies.

The intergovernmental agreement seeks to define the role of police in schools, provide due process protections to students and families, requires input on the policing process, and mandates training prior to police being assigned to schools, Ricardo Martinez, the group’s leader, wrote in a commentary for The Denver Post.

He wrote that instead of the police ticketing or arresting students for non-criminal incidents such as talking back to teachers or swearing, the students should be referred to school administrators for disciplinary action.

The agreement seeks to solve discipline problems without using criminal punishment.

The Denver Post reports that Denver Police Chief Robert White said that “our job is to deal with serious violations of the law, and that’s what we’re going to do.” There are 15 Denver police officers working in 16 schools currently.

Superintendent Tom Boasberg told the newspaper that he expects the agreement to result in lower numbers of suspensions, expulsions and referrals to law enforcement.

The timing of the agreement is interesting, since it seems to go against the increased national discussion about the need for greater police presence on campus following the Sandy Hook Elementary incident.

Related Links:

– “Agreement keeps Denver police out of most school discipline problems,” The Denver Post.

– “As School-To-Prison Pipeline Continues to Swallow Students, Denver Works to Stem Flow,” The Huffington Post. 

– “Guest Commentary: Limiting the role of police in our schools,” The Denver Post. 

– Padres & Jovenes Unidos (Parents & Youth United)

College Board Reveals Advanced Placement Data on Latinos

Every year, the College Board releases its Advanced Placement Report to the Nation. It’s a virtual treasure trove of data on the college preparatory course exams, with information broken out by race and ethnicity, economic status, state and subject area.

According to the College Board’s recently released report, Latinos made up about 18% of AP-exam takers in the Class of 2012.

Among the graduating class of 2012, there were 169,521 Latino graduates who took an AP exam during high school. About 41% of the exams taken by Latinos earned a three or higher, typically considered passing. In comparison, about 63% of exams taken by white students resulted in scores of three or higher.

While Latino participation in AP courses is growing by leaps and bounds, they still are not well represented in math and science coursework.

The Spanish Language exam remained the most popular exam among Latinos in the graduating class of 2012–63,329 students took the course. That means that about 37% of graduating Latinos who took at least one AP exam, had taken an AP Spanish course.

And Latinos made up about 64% of all the Class of 2012 students who took the AP Language Exam. Meanwhile, Latinos made up about 13% of the students who took AB Calculus.

Many educators argue that the class is a gateway to other AP classes for Hispanic students–once they perform well, they tend to go on to enroll in other classes. Students often take the class in middle school and pass the exam. But there are others who are critical of the fact that many of the students already speak Spanish when they are tested.

The four courses behind Spanish in popularity among Latino students were English Language and Composition (59,597), United States History (52,740), English Literature and Composition (50,028), and United States Government and Politics (32,410).

The lesson here is, don’t just ask your school district for an overall passing rate by ethnicity.

If your district is touting that more Latino students are taking AP courses–what courses are they taking and are they passing the exams? Also, what AP courses do the campuses even offer?

Enjoy digging through the data!

Related Links:

– Advanced Placement Report to the Nation.

– “More Latinos taking AP courses, but numbers are still low,” NBC Latino.

New Latino Education Coalition Forms in Texas

Members of the newly formed Latino Coalition for Educational Equality announced the creation of their group outside the Texas Senate chambers on Tuesday. They want to ensure that Latino voices are taken into consideration as important school reform legislation is considered this year.

The announcement of the group came on a day when education topics such as graduation and testing were discussed in the Texas Legislature. The coalition members said they planned on testifying on education issues during Texas House and Senate education committee hearings.

Latinos now make up about 53 percent of Texas public school students, but the coalition says they are excluded from deciding important policy.

“I’m just amazed by the lack of Latino experts in the process,” said Joey Cardenas, of Texas HOPE, as reported by the Texas Observer. “I think you’re leaving a significant part of the equation out.”

He added that Latino leaders must “not be an afterthought, but as decision makers in that process.”

Members of the group include representatives of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the National Latino/a Education Research and Policy Project and the Texas Association of Bilingual Education.

Earlier in February a judge ruled that the Texas school funding system is unconstitutional and is not adequately funding schools. The state is expected to appeal the decision to the Texas Supreme Court.

As I reported earlier on this blog, when the case went to trial, former state demographer Steve Murdock testified that the significant challenges facing Latino children required a greater investment from the state.

“Our future is increasingly tied to the minority population–how well they do in terms of education will determine how well Texas does in the future,” Murdock said, according to The Dallas Morning News.

He estimated that by 2050, Texas public school students will be about 64 percent Latino and 15.5 percent white. ABout 27 percent of Latinos live below the poverty line–compared with 9.5 percent of whites.

Related Links:

– “Latino coalition pushing for educational equality,” San Antonio Express-News. 

– “Advocates Worry Latino Voices are Being Sidelined in Texas School Reform Debate,” Texas Observer. 

– “Students Play Pivotal Role in Texas School Funding Case,” Latino Ed Beat. 

– “Judge rules Texas school finance system unconstitutional; appeal expected to Supreme Court,” The Dallas Morning News. 

Report: Consider Latinos When Redesigning Federal Financial Aid

The advocacy group Excelencia in Education has released a new report focused on the importance of taking the Latino college student experience into consideration if and when the federal financial aid system in the United States is redesigned.

“Using a Latino Lens to Reimagine Aid Design and Delivery” was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. While Latinos certainly should not be viewed as a monolithic group, Excelencia finds that certain scenarios are more common among Hispanic students.

For example, they are more likely to attend community colleges, take courses part-time while working, study online and at multiple colleges, live off campus with family and take more than four years to complete their degree.

“Using the profile of America’s young and growing Latino population as the baseline, rather than the footnote, to define the post-traditional student, we are providing a fresh perspective on financial aid policy for all students,” said Deborah Santiago, Excelencia’s vice president for policy and research, in a news release.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reported on some of the more significant recommendations in the paper. One controversial example is recommending that students be required to complete a Free Application for Federal Student AID (FAFSA) form when they apply to college. The publication said Santiago argued in favor of such a stance because too many Latino students are not receiving grants or loans because they don’t complete their forms.

In addition, the white paper pushes for increased investment in college preparation and work study programs, making Pell grants an entitlement that guarantees support to low-income students, and revising the expected family contribution formula and what “sufficient” funds are.

 The Chronicle also points out that the government programs giving out aid (Perkins loans, supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, and Federal Work Study) benefit colleges that joined back in the 1970s when the programs were launched–large public universities and private colleges in the North.

But Santiago points out that Latinos are flooding colleges in the Southwest United States, which need more aid.

The organization also shared four student profiles in their report, to humanize the issue. As reporters, profiling students in similar situations would be a way to make this story resonate more with readers.

For example, Excelencia cites one example of a 24-year-old Mexican-American woman named Yuridia. She works full-time, holds a GED and has children. She applied to only one college, because it was close to her home. She was not well-informed about financial aid, so she did not apply during her first year.

Clearly, many students face more than one challenge to completing their degrees.

Looking for these stories of such students can be illuminating.

Related Links:

– “Using a Latino Lens to Re-imagine Aid Design and Delivery,” Excelencia in Education. 

– “Aid System Could Better Serve Latino Students, Says Report Calling for Reforms,” The Chronicle of Higher Education. 

– “At Capitol Hill briefing, Excelencia in Education urges policy makers to apply Latino student experience to revamp of federal financial aid.” 

Spanish Immersion Popular in Minnesota Schools

Dual language immersion and bilingual programs are not limited to border states with large Latino populations such as Texas and California. They are gradually growing in number in states with much smaller Latino populations, such as Minnesota.

According to the Minnesota Department of Education, in 2011-12 there were 56,751 Latino students enrolled in grades K-12 — or about 7 percent of the state’s public school students.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that demographic changes in some communities are contributing toward the trend. In Hopkins, Minn., the number of Latino students has doubled in the last decade. Districts with growing diversity such as Hopkins, Richfield and Roseville are starting two-way dual language programs that serve both English language learners  dominant in Spanish and English proficient students.

But they also are growing because of demand among parents and a desire to equip students with the skills to compete in a global society.

The newspaper reports that of about 85 immersion programs in the state more than half are Spanish-language, and most are based in elementary schools. The Minnesota Advocates for Immersion Networks keeps a list of language immersion programs in the state. The Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA) at the University of Minnesota conducts research on programs. It is one of the U.S. Department of Education’s National Language Resource Centers.

Parent Nelson Peralta, an immigration attorney who is bilingual, said the Minneapolis immersion program helps his sixth-grade son.

“It would be great to see these options across the state,” Peralta told the Star Tribune. “It would make Minnesota stronger.”

When writing about dual language programs, consider thinking outside the box. Explore dual languages programs in suburbs and smaller cities, and not only in the inner city. You may be surprised to discover which schools and school districts are more likely to embrace such programs.

Related Links:

– “Surge in immersion programs spreads,” Minneapolis Star Tribune. 

– University of Minnesota Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA)

– Minnesota Advocates for Immersion Network

– “Little Canada Elementary dual-language aim: smarter, bilingual kids,” St. Paul Pioneer Press. 

Philadelphia Program Builds Bridges With Latino Youth

A Philadelphia after-school program known as Puentes Hacia El Futuro (bridges toward the future) is targeting working with Latino children who are English Language Learners in kindergarten through sixth-grade, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

The program was created in 2010 through the nonprofit group Puentes de Salud, which operates a medical clinic and promotes health and wellness in South Philadelphia’s Latino immigrant community.

College and graduate students mentor and tutor students three times a week at the Southwark School in the Philadelphia school district. Many of the students are from Temple University. There are 57 students and 100 volunteers. Parents are also offered the opportunity to take English classes on campus.

This year the school has about 545 students, about 27 percent of whom are Latino.

Steven Larson, a doctor at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School who is one of the founders of Puentes de Salud, believes that the education program plays a role in improving public health. He points out that there are “social determinants of health,” such as language, that can impact wellness.

The program began when a medical student approached him with the idea.

“A lot of doctors say, ‘It’s not my problem,'” he told the Inquirer. “I beg to differ. It certainly is.”

What role do you think that healthcare organizations can play in helping school districts?

Related Links:

– “Nonprofit helping Latino youngsters with academic, cultural and social needs,” 

– Puentes Hacia el Futuro 

– Puentes de Salud 

– Southwark School Profile

Tucson Schools Ordered to Offer “Culturally Relevant” Courses

A federal judge on Wednesday ordered the Tucson Unified School District to offer “culturally relevant” courses that reflect the lives and history of Latino and black students. The ruling is part of the district’s desegregation plan, reports the Arizona Daily Star.

The decision is significant because the district was previously forced to eliminate its Mexican American Studies program because it violated Arizona state law banning ethnic studies.

However, in January, the TUSD board by a 3-2 vote  approved offering the courses for credit beginning next year.

The courses are a part of the Unitary Status Plan, which the judge approved.

“The plan focuses on eliminating vestiges of past discrimination to the extent practicable in the areas of discipline, student assignment, school operations–which includes faculty, staff, transportation, extracurricular activities and facilities–and the quality of education being offered to minority students,” the Daily Star reports.

The newspaper reported that Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne, the former state superintendent of public instruction who led opposition to the MAS program and determined it was unlawful, was not supportive of the latest decision. He called it “erroneous.”

However, leaders of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund have previously stressed that the coursework could play a role in increasing graduation rates and closing achievement gaps.

Related Links:

– “Judge orders TUSD to offer culturally relevant courses,” Arizona Daily Star.

– “TUSD backs core credit for ‘culturally relevant’ work,” Arizona Daily Star.

– “New TUSD Board members re-energize MAS debate,” KVOA News.

– “Will Tucson’s Desegregation Plan Bring Ethnic Studies Back?”