U.S. Education Secretary Promotes Pre-K for Latinos

This week during a meeting with journalists, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan raised concerns about the low enrollment rates of Latino children in preschool.

“Less than half of Hispanic children attend any kind of preschool — that’s kind of staggering,” Duncan said Wednesday, according to an article in The Washington Post. “This is the fastest-growing population and a lower-than-average participation rate.”

According to The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s annual Kids Count report, about 63 percent of Hispanics who were three and four year olds between 2008 and 2010 did not attend preschool. That’s a lower rate than the 53 percent average of students not attending preschool. It also was the lowest rate when compared with Asian, white, black, and Native American children.

Duncan said the roots of the problem can be attributed to challenges such as a lack of access to preschool, but also because Latino families are reluctant to enroll their children.

According to the Learning the Language blog, Duncan shared that when he led the Chicago Public Schools, evening kindergarten classes between 3-6 p.m. were offered in Latino communities where there were waiting lists for earlier classes.

“People thought we were crazy,” Duncan said, according to the blog. “But we had a huge take-up on that. You have to be creative about how you provide the opportunities.”

Duncan’s comments come as President Obama pushes for universal preschool for 4-year-olds. In his proposed budget, he wants the federal government to help pay for preschool for the states by increasing the federal tobacco tax. According to the Post, that could generate $75 billion over ten years.

A separate Washington Post article reported that several hundred business leaders sent a letter to Congress and the White House supporting more federal spending on preschool.

Related Links:

– “Duncan: More Hispanic children need to enroll in preschool,” The Washington Post .

– “Business community shows support for preschool expansion in letter for Obama,” The Washington Post.

– “Education secretary says preschool is key for Latino success,” NBC Latino.

– “Arne Duncan Touts Advantages of Bilingualism,” Learning the Language Blog/Education Week.

– “Report: Fewer than Half of U.S. Children Attend Preschool,” Early Years Blog.

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Complaint Alleges Pre-K Program Requires Proof of U.S. Citizenship

The Southern Poverty Law Center has sent a complaint letter to the administrator of the Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, Head Start program, alleging that the organization has illegally demanded proof of U.S. citizenship from Latino families seeking to register their 3-year-olds in the program.

The letter addressed to the Jefferson Parish Community Action Program (JEFFCAP) alleges that  immigrant families were either denied the opportunity to apply for the program or discouraged from applying. It said parents should have been able to enroll their children by showing proof of their residency on utility and other bills.

The SPLC emphasizes that Head Start is run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which defines eligibility as being a child of three years old, living in the area served, and meeting an income limit.

The complaint also attached a flyer about Head Start registration listing a checklist including a child’s social security card and cards for family members over age 21 who are the household breadwinners

The Times-Picayune reported that Parish representatives said they would not comment, but are reviewing the complaint. According to the newspaper, the program serves about 930 children from ages three to five.

“Just because I don’t have papers doesn’t mean our kids can’t have access to these services,” one undocumented immigrant mother told the newspaper.

Related Links:

– “Jefferson Parish Head Start programs unfairly exclude Latino families, complaint alleges,” The Times-Picayune.

– Southern Poverty Law Center Complaint

– Southern Poverty Law Center Homepage

Report: Many Silicon Valley Latino Students Not Prepared for College

While Silicon Valley is world-renowned for its innovative high-tech industry, a new report says that only 20 percent of Latino students in the region are graduating high school within four years and are eligible for admission to the University of California and California State University systems.

The achievement gap is most glaring when compared with Asian students, 71 percent of whom graduate in four years and are eligible to enroll in the UC and CSU systems. For white students, it is 53 percent and for black students, 22 percent.

Innovate Public Schools produced the report, entitled “Broken Promises: The Children Left Behind in Silicon Valley Schools.” It examines student academic achievement in the Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, where about 38 percent of the students are Latino. The report breaks out the data by school district and–in some cases–individual campuses.

This is Innovate Public Schools’ first report. The organization’s formation was announced last year, supported by the Walton Family Foundation and the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. Innovate Public Schools was established in part with the intent of creating charter schools or new public school models that better serve minority and low-income students. So it’s important to consider that the group has a clear platform it is trying to advance with the report, which shows that traditional schools and school districts tend to do poorly with closing achievement gaps for Latinos. The group concludes that charter schools are more likely to do better with Latino students. The director of the group, Matt Hammer, is a former director of People Acting in Community Together (PACT), a group that successfully pushed area districts to open charter schools.

Innovate Public Schools highlights the average algebra proficiency rates at the seventh- and eighth-grade levels as early predictors of future success. Those proficiency rates are 23 percent for Latinos, 24 percent for African-Americans, 76 percent for Asians and 57 percent for white students. Silicon Valley Education Foundation president Mohammed Chaudhry is quoted as saying that Hispanic students are “slipping off the college track in elementary and middle school, signified by their inability to pass algebra in 8th grade and often in 9th.” Ninth grade is when students have traditionally been expected to take and pass algebra.

The report points out that in the Sunnyvale School District, 27 percent of Latino eighth graders take algebra, while 91 percent of Asians take the class. Grades, test scores and teacher recommendations determine who is able to take the class. The report points out that Latinos end up taking Algebra Concepts instead of algebra, which focuses on vocabulary and other skills.

But giving students access to classes doesn’t always close the gap. In the San Mateo-Foster City School District, 81 percent of Latino eighth-graders take algebra, but they end up with only 10 percent of students rated proficient.

The report highlights several charter and experimental schools serving mostly Latino students, such as the Rocketship Mateo Sheedy elementary school, as success stories for Latinos (who make up about 89 percent of that school’s enrollment). The students spend about a quarter of their time in a computer learning lab, attend school for eight hours, and do not receive art or music classes. The report also refers to the Renaissance School, a collaboration between the Alum Rock school district and PACT, as doing well with Latino middle school students.

The Aspire East Palo Alto Phoenix Academy high school focuses on dual enrollment courses. But things aren’t all rosy. A recent Palo Alto Daily News article found that only 64 percent of the academy’s class of 2011-12 graduated, compared with the 83 percent average in San Mateo County. The principal said the rate was low because students were often taking five years to finish.

Related Links:

– “Broken Promises: The Children Left Behind in Silicon Valley Schools,” Innovate Public Schools.

– “Silicon Valley Community Foundation Announces New Education Reform Effort,” Philanthropy News Digest.

– “Report: Silicon Valley Schools Do Poor Job of Preparing Latinos for College,” NBC Bay Area.

NCES Report Shows High School Course Gains for Latinos

A new report released by the National Center for Education Statistics sheds some light on the course-taking practices of Latino high school students. In particular, greater numbers of students are taking math and science coursework.

The courses taken changed considerably between 1990 and 2009. For example, the percentage of Hispanic graduates those years who took a calculus course grew from 4 percent to 9 percent.

However, gaps persisted between groups. In 2009, about 42 percent of Asian graduates, 18 percent of white graduates and 6 percent of black graduates had taken calculus.

In addition, the percentage of Hispanics who completed algebra II/trigonometry increased from 40 percent to 71 percent between 1990 and 2009.

In the area of science, Hispanic graduates who had completed a chemistry course increased from 38 to 66 percent.

Programs are working to promote even greater participation in math and science courses by Hispanics. The AP STEM Access Program funded in part by Google intends to expand Advanced Placement courses in hundreds of high schools.

Latinos are underrepresented in AP math and science courses. Latinos in the Class of 2012 made up only about 13 percent of the students who took the AB Calculus exam, for example.

The report, “The Condition of Education 2013,” is a treasure trove of data spanning other areas as well, including test performance, child poverty and postgraduate income.

Try to delve into what courses Latino students are taking in your local school district. If you have STEM magnet programs, how diverse is the enrollment? I expect that promoting STEM among minority students will continue to be a hot topic in the coming years.

Related Links:

– “The Condition of Education 2013,” National Center for Education Statistics.

– “High School Students Taking More Math and Science Courses,” College Bound Blog, Education Week.

– “Grant Expands Access to STEM Courses for Minority Students,” Latino Ed Beat.

– “College Board Reveals Advanced Placement Data on Latinos,” Latino Ed Beat.

Ads Promote Autism Awareness Among Latinos

A new ad campaign from the group Autism Speaks is reaching out to Latino and African-American parents to generate greater awareness about autism and encourage earlier identification.

The “Maybe”  PSA campaign includes TV and print ads in both English and Spanish. The ads outline key warning signs and behaviors a child with autism may exhibit, such as a preoccupation with objects and avoiding eye contact.

Last year, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released a study showing large increases in the number of Latino and black children identified as autistic. The CDC estimated that there were about 7.9 diagnosed cases of autism per 1,000 Latino children, an increase of 110% over 2002. Despite that increase, prevalence is much higher among white (12.0) and black (10.2) children. The report noted that the wide variation between groups could be attributed to awareness levels in the communities.

The average age of diagnosis is four to five years. But the average age of diagnosis is higher among Latino, black and low-income children.

“Earlier diagnosis [is] so important because if we can get a child by 2 years old, in most cases, with help that child can go to regular kindergarten,” Liz Feld, president of Autism Speaks, told NBC Latino. “The window between 2-5 years old is the most important time to deal with treatment.”

Related Links:

– “Aiming Autism Ads at Hispanic and African-American Parents,” The New York Times.

– “Autism Cases Identified Among Hispanic Children on the Rise, CDC Says,” Latino Ed Beat.

– “Autism Speaks launches new campaign to reach Latino, black parents,” NBC Latino.

– “Prevalence of Austin Spectrum DIsorders in Hispanic and non-Hispanic White Children,” Pediatrics.

– Autism Speaks

Harvard Criticized Over Dissertation on Hispanics’ IQ

Harvard University students have gathered 1,200 signatures protesting the John F. Kennedy School of Government’s approval of a dissertation asserting that Latinos have low IQs.

The Boston Globe reports that the petition calls on the university to investigate how the dissertation by doctoral candidate Jason Richwine was approved. “Academic freedom and a reasoned debate are essential to our academic community,” the petition said. “However, the Harvard Kennedy School cannot ethically stand behind academic work advocating a national policy of exclusion and advancing an agenda of discrimination.”

Richwine’s thesis argued that Hispanic children attending U.S. schools will not improve past their immigrant parents. “No one knows whether Hispanics will ever reach IQ parity with whites, but the prediction that new Hispanic immigrants will have low IQ children and grandchildren is difficult to argue against,” Richwine wrote in the paper.

He also called the average IQ of Hispanics “effectively permanent.”

Richwine’s thesis, “IQ and Immigration Policy,” came to light and stirred controversy this month after he co-authored a Heritage Foundation report asserting that the effective cost of immigration reform would be $6.3 trillion. Richwine has since resigned from his position at the foundation.

George Borjas, chair of the Kennedy School’s Standing Committee on Public Policy, which accepted the work, said the dissertation was sound. Borjas, who was born in Cuba, is an economist and professor who also has promoted reducing immigration to the United States.

So far, Richwine has stood by his conclusions, in which he says immigration policy should be based on IQ. “The dissertation shows that recent immigrants score lower than U.S.-born whites on many different types of IQ tests,” he wrote in the National Review online. “Using statistical analysis, it suggests that the test-score differential is due primarily to a real cognitive gap rather than to culture or language bias.”

Petition spokesman Berdion Del Valle, who is Hispanic, said that it is important that research be academically rigorous and ethical.“If Harvard doesn’t apply rigorous academic standards for its research, how can we guarantee our policy discussions are not affected by irresponsible scholarship?” he told NBC Latino.

This debate reminds me of difficult issues that we have faced since the implementation of No Child Left Behind testing began. Speaking in support of the passage of that law, President Bush referred to the “soft bigotry in low expectations” that blocks progress in closing achievement gaps from happening. This debate exposes the unfortunate truth that there are many people out there, even those with advanced degrees, who still do not expect much of minority children.

What is being done to change these attitudes?

Related Links:

– “Harvard students erupt at scholar Jason Richwine’s claim in thesis,” Boston Globe.

– “Harvard students demand investigation into Jason Richwine immigration thesis,” NBC Latino.

– “IQ and Immigration Policy,” Jason Richwine.

Los Angeles Schools Ban ‘Willful Defiance’ Suspensions

The Los Angeles Unified School District will stop using “willful defiance” as a justification for suspension, a sweeping change that eliminates the broad category as an option for teachers and administrators.

The school board voted 5-2 to end the practice in large part due to concerns raised that the punishments disproportionately affected black and Latino students and disrupted their education. The change was part of a “School Climate Bill of Rights” adopted by the board. The change comes as school districts across the nation feel more pressure to avoid removing children from classroom instruction. In many districts, “zero tolerance” is giving way to positive behavior reinforcement strategies.

Defiance could range from swearing at teachers to not complying with a teacher’s orders. The Wall Street Journal reports that in 2011-12, willful defiance accounted for nearly half of the suspensions in California schools and about 30 percent of Los Angeles’ out-of-school suspensions.

The Center on Public Integrity has reported on other criticisms related to the ticketing and arrests of students. The group reported that L.A. board president Monica Garcia said she sponsored the “bill of rights” because the suspensions were not helping academic achievement. “What I expect to happen now is more graduation in Los Angeles,” Garcia told the center. She said she wants to stop the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

A study released last August by The Civil Rights Project at UCLA examining nearly 7,000 school districts found that about 7 percent of Latino students received out-of-school suspensions at least once during the 2009-10 school year, in addition to 17 percent of black students and 5 percent of white students. The group warned that suspending students places them at higher risk of dropping out or ending up in the juvenile justice system. Suspension rates varied by geographic region, however.

The Los Angeles Times reported that the vote drew a large crowd.

“Now we’ll have a better chance to stay in school and become something,” Luis Quintero, 14, told the Times.

NPR visited with Jose Huerta, principal of the predominantly Latino Garfield High School in Los Angeles. He strongly supports eliminating suspensions and feels that not using them has helped the school’s graduation rate. “Suspensions are off the table at Garfield High School,” he told NPR. “I can’t teach a kid if he’s not in school.”

Related Links:

– “L.A. Schools Will No Longer Suspend a Student for Being Defiant,” The Los Angeles Times.

– “LA Schools Throw Out Suspensions for ‘Willful Defiance,'” NPR.

– “Schools Rethink Suspension,” The Wall Street Journal.

– “Study Analyzes Suspension Rates by Race, Ethnicity and Disability,” Latino Ed Beat.

– “Los Angeles school board cracks down on suspensions for minor infractions,” The Center for Public Integrity.

Judge: Group Can’t Block DC School Closures

A federal judge has ruled against a community group that sought to block Washington, D.C., public school closures by arguing that they disproportionately hurt black and Latino children.

The Washington Post reports that U.S. District Judge James Boasberg wrote that school officials were not intentionally discriminating against the students.

“In this case, there is no evidence whatsoever of any intent to discriminate on the part of defendants, who are actually transferring children out of weaker, more segregated, and under-enrolled schools,” the judge wrote. “The remedy plaintiffs seek — i.e., to remain in such schools — seems curious, given that these are the conditions most people typically endeavor to escape.”

According to the Washington, D.C., public schools web site this year about 69 percent of students enrolled are black and 16 percent are Hispanic. Additionally, about 77 percent of D.C. students qualify for free or reduced lunch.

According to the Post, the schools the district wants to close in June would affect only two children who are not black or Hispanic out of 2,700 children. According to the ruling, the schools on the closure list are about 94 percent black and 6 percent Hispanic.

Similar charges of school closures hurting minority children have been risen in Chicago.

The judge also noted that community members were given enough notice of the plan. The suit was brought by the group Empower DC.

Related Links:

– “Judge declines to block D.C. school closures,” The Washington Post. 

– “Activists file lawsuit to stop D.C. school closures,” The Washington Post.

– Court opinion on D.C. School Closures

Researchers Examine Dual Language Early Ed Learners

Researchers from the Center for Early Care and Early Education Research – Dual Language Learners at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, recently reviewed many studies to drawn conclusions about English language learners. The center’s research is funded in part by the Administration for Children and Families in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Researchers examined children ages zero to five who are learning two languages.

They found that dual language learners are not hurt by being exposed to two languages as they develop. However, their ability in each of the languages will vary based on when they were exposed to each and how often they are able to use the language.

Additionally, the dual language learners are behind other children in phonological skills as infants, but progress during preschool, and then catch up to other children.

Researchers also noted that while the bilingual childrens’ vocabulary in each separate language was smaller than that of children who spoke only one language, when the vocabularies of both languages are combined they become equal. Evidence also suggested that the dual language children began preschool with fewer literacy skills in English than the monolingual children.

Further research has shown that children who learn literacy at home in their first language are more successful in acquiring a second language. They also concluded that successful children are taught by teachers proficient in the child’s first language.

“Problems with DLLs’ development arise when they are not provided sufficient language learning opportunities and support for both languages,” the study says. “When [early childhood education] classrooms place emphasis solely on English development, DLLs’ development in their first language can decline and their abilities in English continue to fall behind those of their English speaking grade level peers.”

Researchers also concluded that bilingual children have many strengths as well, including an ability to focus more while working on nonverbal tasks such as math problems. They also found that bilingual children gain problem solving and memory skills because they must face the challenge of navigating between two languages.

Related Links:

– “Dual Language in Early Education Best for Youngest ELLs, Report Says,” Learning the Language Blog. Education Week.

– “Dual Language Learners: Research Informing Policy” Report, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

– Center for Early Care and Education Research – Dual Language Learners

Pew: Latinos Making Dramatic Gains in College Enrollment

Latino high school graduates in the Class of 2012 were more likely to enroll in college than their white counterparts, a new Pew Hispanic Center study has found.

About 69% of Hispanic high school graduates enrolled in college the following fall, compared with 67% of their white peers. The data used for the study comes from the U.S. Census Bureau.

“This is the maturation of a big second generation among Latinos — native born, and educated in American schools,” Richard Fry, the report’s author, told The New York Times.

The Pew report also suggests that the struggling economy and the availability of fewer jobs could make college seem like a more appealing choice to young Latinos.

The announcement comes after the release of other reports in recent months showing that the educational outcomes for Latinos are looking brighter. More Hispanics are graduating from high school, although there is still plenty of room for growth and an achievement gap with whites persists.

In January, the National Center for Education Statistics released a report finding that the Latino high school graduation rate increased to 71.4% in 2010, up from 61.4% in 2006.

Similarly, an analysis by the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center found that the Latino graduation rate for the Class of 2009 was 63%, representing a 5.5% increase from the previous year.

We should not minimize the fact that too many Latinos are still not making it to the high school graduation finish line, and they are not being factored into the Pew Hispanic Center’s percentages. Pew measured the college-going rates of the actual graduates, and does not include the students who started high school the same year but dropped out.

According to the Pew Hispanic Center, in 2011 about 14% of Latino 16- to 24-year-olds were high school dropouts, down from 28% in 2000. The white high school dropout rate in 2011 was 5%, in comparison.

Pew has a few other caveats, as well. Just 56% of Hispanic college students are enrolled in four-year colleges and universities, compared with 72% of white students. Hispanic students are therefore more likely to attend community college, less selective schools, and are more likely to be part-time students — all factors that contribute to the fact that they are less likely to complete a bachelor’s degree.

But certainly, strides are being made and justifiably, celebrated.

Related Links:

– “Hispanic High School Graduates Pass Whites in Rate of College Enrollment,” Pew Hispanic Center.

– “Record rate of Hispanic students heading to college,” USA Today.

– “As Latinos Make Gains in Education, Gaps Remain,” The New York Times.

– “Latino High School Graduation Rate Sees Large Increase,” Latino Ed Beat.

– Diplomas Count, Editorial Projects in Education Research Center.