Report Analyzes Impact of Texas’s Graduation Requirements on Latinos

A policy brief from University of Texas researchers concludes that new legislation cutting back the emphasis on testing in the state’s high school graduation requirements will help Latino and black students.

The reported was released by the Institute for Urban Policy Research & Analysis at UT. The new legislation cuts back the number of state tests students must pass in order to graduate from high school.

The brief notes that the legislation came about because during the session “there was a widespread view that students were being over-tested.”

While “end of course” exams were cut that students were required to pass in order to graduate, five still remain. The remaining exams are Algebra I, English I, English II, biology, and U.S. History. The 10 exams cut included Algebra II, geometry, English III, chemistry, physics, world geography and world history.

Even with the change, many students will still struggle with the existing “end of course” exams.

Such tests linked to graduation often disproportionately negatively impact minority students. Several years ago, I wrote a story for The Dallas Morning News pabout a Hispanic girl who learned English as a second language and was struggling to pass the Texas science exit exam, after failing it four times, so she could graduate from high school. I met with her family and followed her as she participated in Teen Court and attended after-school test prep sessions.The scientific words were one of her biggest challenges.

“I haven’t failed any classes in high school,” she told me. “It’s killing me, the stupid test.”

She eventually passed, on her fifth attempt.

If your state requires passing a graduation test to graduate, consider following a student who is retaking the exam and the steps they take to try to pass. This puts a human face on the challenges students face.

Related Links:

“Policy Report: High School Graduation Requirements Show Promise for African American, Latino Students,” Institute for Urban Policy Research & Analysis at The University of Texas at Austin.

“Pass TAKS – or Pass on Diploma,” The Dallas Morning News.

Documentary Tells Story of Latino Teens

The first part of a compelling new documentary chronicling the lives of six young Latino teens premieres tonight (Monday) on PBS.

The documentary, created by filmmakers from the Quiet Pictures production company, will be shown on the program Independent Lens and will be broadcast at 10/9 CT. You can check your local listings to confirm the time.  (As a disclaimer, I was asked for some feedback related to the discussion guides that accompany the documentary, but did not participate in editing or creating the documentary.)

Each young person profiled in the film experiences a personal challenge that endangers their chances of graduating from high school, yet overcomes them. Those issues include teen pregnancy, homelessness, and undocumented immigrant status, among other challenges.

Tonight, the viewers meet three young women in the “Girls Hour” of the program — Chastity, Darlene and Stephanie.

On Tuesday, the program will be rebroadcast online and will also feature a live chat with filmmaker Katia Maguire and a student from the film, Chastity Salas. Damary Bonilla-Rodriguez from the nonprofit Girls Inc. will moderate.

Related Links:

– “The Graduates/Los Graduados,” Independent Lens.

Tucson Schools Lift Ban on Latino-Oriented Books

The Tucson, Arizona, school board has reversed a ban on seven books related to Latinos that were once used to teach a now dismantled Mexican American Studies program.

The state of Arizona had previously banned any courses that allegedly have promoted the overthrow of the government or encouraged ethnic resentment and solidarity. Despite the ban on the MAS program, this year the Tucson schools were ordered to enforce a “culturally relevant” curriculum as part of a desegregation lawsuit.

The Huffington Post reports that the Arizona Department of Education already has said it is concerned about the change.

The following books are impacted:

– “Occupied America: A History of Chicanos,” Rodolfo Acuna.
– “500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures,” Elizabeth Martinez.
– “Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” Paulo Freire.
– “Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years,” Bill Bigelow.
– “Critical Race Theory,” Richard Delgado.
– “Message to Aztlan: Selected Writings of Rodolfo ‘Corky’ Gonzalez”
– “Chicano! The History of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement,” Arturo Rosales.

Related Links:

“Mexican American Studies Books Un-Banned in Arizona,” The Huffington Post.
“Arizona Education Dept. Liked it Better When These Books Were Banned,” The Huffington Post.

English Language Learner Instruction Change Stirs Debate

A decision by the Los Angeles Unified School District to group limited English proficient children into classes together rather than blending them into mainstream classes has sparked protests and petition drives.

Over and over, the word “segregation” has popped up during debate over the plan.

The district intends to move some ELL children into different classes even though the school year is well underway. Protestors say that children limited in English can benefit from being in classes with English proficient children, from whom they can learn. Supporters of the policy say academic studies show that ELL children will flourish in classes where their special needs are met and will develop stronger academic English in such settings.

The Los Angeles Times reports that the school district is only just now beginning to enforce a policy that has been on the books since 2000 because of an agreement to settle a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights over accusations that the district was not providing adequate services to ELLs.

Meanwhile, the Times reports that 17 principals wrote a letter expressing opposition to the policy. They wrote that separating students creates a “chasm” between groups and that fluent English-speaking children can be models for ELL children.

In a letter to the Times, Stephen Krashen, an education professor emeritus at the University of Southern California and supporter of bilingual education, wrote that both sides are right.

“A solution is to provide English as a second language classes for beginners, while including these students in classes that are highly comprehensible (art and music, for example),” he wrote. “Subjects that are harder to make comprehensible for beginners are taught in the first language. Students are moved to classes that require higher levels of English as their English improves, first participating in classes that require less abstract language (science and math) and later in those that demand more abstract language.”

Language wars over how to best teach ELLs don’t appear to be going away any time soon.

Related Links:

“L.A. Unified’s English Learner Action Upsets Parents, Teachers,” Los Angeles Times.
“Segregating English Learners in Schools,” Los Angeles Times.
“Los Angeles Schools’ Plan for Non-English Speakers: Segregation or Solution?” Christian Science Monitor.
“Letters: Learning English in LA Unified,” Los Angeles Times.

Research Shows Poor Children Lag Early in Language Skills

A new study shows that as early as 18 months old, children from poor families understand words much more slowly than those from affluent families. Previous studies have had similar findings in children of older ages.

The study by Stanford University psychologists was recently published in the journal Developmental Science. The psychologists tested a group of 20 babies at 18 months old by how they identified objects based on language. They were evaluated on accuracy and time. They were then retested six months later.

The language activities included being shown pictures of a dog and a ball and then being directed to “look at the ball.” Less affluent children were slower to look at the ball. The speed at which the children identified objects reflected an achievement gap that persisted later. Children who recognized words more quickly had larger vocabularies and scored higher on standardized tests once they reached school age.

According to researchers, parent surveys showed that between 18 months and 2 years old, the affluent children added 260 words to their vocabulary, while poorer children lagged by 30 percent.

“By 2 years of age, these disparities are equivalent to a six-month gap between infants from rich and poor families in both language processing skills and vocabulary knowledge,” Stanford psychology professor Anne Fernald said in Stanford Today. “What we’re seeing here is the beginning of a developmental cascade, a growing disparity between kids that has enormous implications for their later educational success and career opportunities.”

Fernald is also involved in research related to development of Hispanic infants who are learning Spanish and English.

Related Links:

“Language-Gap Study Bolsters a Push for Pre-K,” The New York Times.

“Language Gap Between Rich and Poor Children Begins in Infancy, Stanford Psychologists Find,” Stanford Report.

Guest Post: How Newsrooms Can Better Cover U.S. Latinos

The Online News Association held its annual conference in Atlanta last week, drawing more than 1,500 digital journalists, reporters, editors, and entrepreneurs. Today’s guest blogger, Mikhail Zinshteyn of EWA, reported on the event’s “Disrupt Diversity” session. 

As the U.S. Latino population rises, news outlets are struggling to tailor their coverage to the many national and socioeconomic backgrounds that make up this large minority group.

Already, nearly one in five Americans is Latino and a quarter of newborns in the United States come from such households. Nevertheless, many non-Hispanic Americans harbor misconceptions about what that broad cultural term ‘Latino’ means—and media organizations might bear part of the blame. News media organizations also might be failing to distribute their content in ways that sync with the news consumption habits of Latinos.

These volleys of criticism were central to a presentation by three Latino media leaders who spoke last week at the Online News Association annual conference in Atlanta.

Of the roughly 53 million Latinos currently living in the United States, two-thirds are natural born citizens. And though 65 percent of Latinos have Mexican backgrounds, millions do not: Puerto Rico, El Salvador, Cuba and the Dominican Republic round out the top five U.S. territories and countries of origin for U.S. Latinos.

These differences in backgrounds can play out locally in ways that run counter to national trends. In Washington, D.C., three in 10 Latinos identify with El Salvador—double the share of those with Mexican heritage. Nearly one in 10 Washingtonians is Latino, according to city data collected in 2011. Individuals who identify with Mexico comprise 78 percent of the Los Angeles area’s large Latino population, according to Pew Charitable Trust research. However, that ethnic group represents a much smaller percentage of the New York City area Latino population—just 12 percent. The dominant Latino group in that region is Puerto Ricans at 28 percent, followed by Dominicans at 21 percent.

These variations have significant ramifications for what news content might connect better with local audiences, the panelists note. A national tragedy in Mexico may resonate more with readers in Los Angeles than in New York. Likewise, Cuban coverage might not capture the large Latino readership in Houston as it might in Miami. I can think of several more: For education reporters, a natural disaster in one Latin American country may explain an uptick in cases of distraught or absent students who are grieving over harmed relatives.

Despite the many “shades of brown” as Robert Hernandez, a professor of media at University of Southern California and one of the speakers at the ONA session, called the Latino population, enough similarities exist for newsmakers to take notice. Latinos are the youngest demographic group in the United States, with an average age of 27 compared with 42 for whites. And many more Latinos than whites ages 18-35 live at home, the panelists said.

I see several takeaways from these figures: Education reporters, for example, may want to highlight not only the average household income of Latino students but the size of the household, as well. Another wrinkle to consider when writing about education and Latinos: The multigenerational setup prevalent in Latino households might explain lower rates of pre-K enrollment. As “under-matching” becomes a larger theme in higher education reporting, how much do the family dynamics integral to many Latino households impel talented students to attend a local university rather than a highly competitive institution hundreds of miles away?

Minding the relative juvenescence of Latinos might also change some of the content delivery models of news outlets use to reach these groups, said panelist Charo Henriquez, who’s the innovation editor at a Puerto Rico media group. While fewer Latino households (62 percent) possess internet connectivity at home than the rest of the U.S. population (76 percent), Latinos are more likely than whites to connect to the internet via mobile phones. News sites with smartphone adaptability are better geared to reach Latino readers, the panelists note.

The Latino audience also contains diverse sensibilities in their choices of preferred language when consuming media. On local matters, there’s a tendency among Latino consumers to choose content in Spanish, the panelists said. However, one-third of Latinos consume news in English only; eight in 10 absorb the news in both languages.

The local angle is important, the panelists say. In many Latino communities, a Spanish media organization already exists that has brand recognition and trust among the community. English-language outlets should partner with those under-the-radar Spanish outlets to expand coverage and generate buy-in from the Latino audience, the panelists said.

How not to go about it: Hernandez skewered the Hartford Courant for running a Spanish-language version of its site that merely consisted of its English copy filtered through Google Translate.

Another takeaway from the session: While having minorities in the newsroom might expand and improve coverage important to Latino audiences, outlets might still overlook key stories because of insignificant interaction with low-income Latinos. One social media commenter who followed the panel wrote, “I take public transit every day (I live in LA!) You get story ideas on buses you can’t get otherwise! Meet sources too.”

Cross-posted at The Educated Reporter.

Report: Preschool is Worth the Investment

A new policy brief from 10 researchers aims to bolster the assertion that preschool education has a myriad of positive attributes.

The researchers reviewed research studies on preschool to compile their report. They concluded:

  • Preschool can help children with literacy, language and math development.
  • Socio-emotional development is achieved. For example, one study found children had less behavior problems such as hyperactivity after participating in Head Start programs. They also became less timid and appeared to be more engaged in learning.
  • Head Start has been shown to increase immunization rates and makes families and children more aware of dental care.
  • Children show larger gains with two years of preschool.
  • Studies have found long term effects such as lower rates of criminal behavior and teen pregnancy. The positive outcome on behavior is what researchers highlight more than impact on test scores.
  • High quality preschool has the greatest impact on children from poor families and English language learners.

Take note of the 10 researchers who compiled this report, as they may prove to be good contacts on early education issues.

Related Links:
“Investing in Our Future: The Evidence Base on Preschool Education,” Society for Research in Child Development, Foundation for Child Development.
“Preschool Works, New Analysis of Research Concludes,” EdSource.

Study Examines Latino Youth Mental Health

A new study seeks to uncover what sorts of discrimination Latino youth and their families may face when seeking mental health treatment.

The Elkhart Truth reports that the study is funded by the National Institute for Mental Health and will focus on northern Indiana. According to Census figures, the city of Elkhart, Indiana, is about 15 percent Latino, compared with 6 percent statewide.

“When a Latino individual is trying to seek [mental health] services, there may be different barriers,” Indiana University School of Medicine professor Irene Park told the Truth. “The care provider may not know about their culture of origin, and there may be a language barrier or different cultural values.”

She hopes the findings will help mental health professionals provide better care to Latino children ideally ages 12 to 17. She is particularly interested in immigrant families.

Researchers plan on studying about 270 families over the next two years. They will go through a series of three interviews. The target completion date is September 2015.

Related Links:

“Nationally Funded Study will look at Mental Health of Latino Children in Elkhart,” The Elkhart Truth.

National Institute of Mental Health.

Silicon Valley Development Sparks Education Debate

The impending closure of the Buena Vista Mobile Park in affluent Palo Alto, Calif. has touched off passionate discussion about a somewhat unexpected topic: school quality.

The mostly Latino and low-income residents can’t otherwise afford to live in the city, and attend the well-regarded public schools there. Developers plan to raze the park to make room for upscale apartments. Residents have begged the City Council to take into account children’s access to a quality school district.

The Palo Alto Weekly reports that the park’s owners say that while a city ordinance requires any displaced residents be moved to a comparable park in “a community similar to that in which the park that is being closed is located and has similar access to community amenities such as shopping, medical services, recreational facilities and transportation” — no mention is made of education.

“There is absolutely no right to a Palo Alto education under the [city] ordinance for converting a mobile home park,” the owner’s attorney, Margaret Nanda, told NPR. “The ordinance says they are to be relocated to comparable housing. And then the ordinance references a number of things, but education is not one of them.”

The city is known for top-notch education — after all, it is home to Stanford University. In August, Palo Alto Weekly reported that the school district ranked sixth among all California districts on the state’s standardized test performance. Hispanic students in Palo Alto outperformed the statewide average for Hispanics.

Former Palo Alto school board member and Stanford education professor Amado Padilla says that students should not be displaced to other districts where they may not receive the same attention.

“There’s just a lot of resources going into the schools in Palo Alto that most of the surrounding school districts cannot match,” he told Palo Alto Weekly.

NPR reported that at one City Council meeting, a civil rights attorney helping the residents said that one mother said she worked cleaning peoples homes and felt her daughter would never have to take such a job if she attended the school district.

As a side note, despite the parents’ pleas to remain in the city’s public schools, a report in May by the group Innovate Public Schools found that Latino students often still struggle in Silicon Valley districts.

For the sake of economic development and gentrification, lower income housing is often removed to make way for new developments intended to draw in more affluent residents. If this is happening in your away, examine the impact on children and families.

Related Links:

“Silicon Valley Trailer Park Residents Fight to Stay,” NPR.

“Report: Many Silicon Valley Latino Students Not Prepared for College,” Latino Ed Beat.

“Buena Vista Conversion Prompts Debate About Local Schools,” Palo Alto Weekly.

– “Palo Alto School District Ranks Sixth in State,” Palo Alto Weekly.

New Jersey Schools Accused of “Apartheid” in Report

A new report takes aim at New Jersey’s public schools, describing the segregation of black and Latino students into certain schools as an “apartheid” system.

The Institute on Education Law and Policy at Rutgers University released the report making that characterization, along with another report issued by the Civil Rights Project at UCLA on segregation in New Jersey schools.

The Record ( reports that the Rutgers report found that 13 percent of Hispanic students attend schools where 1 percent or less of students are white, and that an additional 29 percent of Latinos attend schools where 10 percent or fewer of students are white. Students also experience double segregation because of separation by poverty (and for Hispanics, even triple, when language is involved.)

The study notes that New Jersey became one of the first states to bar racially segregated schooling by race, in 1881, and then barred segregation in public schools in 1947. But that doesn’t mean that residential segregation doesn’t still persist.

Attorney Paul Trachtenberg, who brought many education civil rights cases before the New Jersey Supreme Court, led the Rutgers study and decided to use the controversial terminology.

“I find it extremely depressing that New Jersey has what I believe is the strongest state constitution requiring racial balance in the schools, and we have done pretty much zero with that,” he told the Record.

The report suggests integration strategies such as school district mergers, more magnet schools, diversity goals for charter schools, and allowing students to transfer from one public school system to another.

Trachtenberg was an attorney in the years-long Abbott v. Burke case, which has resulted in allocating more funding to poor districts and preschool programs in poorer districts.

Experts do credit that case for improving funding for poorer districts. But money is not a remedy for segregation.

“On the one hand, New Jersey is at the forefront of equity because of the Abbott case,” Richard Kahlenberg of The Century Foundation told the newspaper. “More than any other state, it has poured enormous resources into high-poverty schools. But there is this huge issue of economic segregation that New Jersey has yet to address.”

The Civil Rights Project points out that not all the news is negative, and that the number of diverse schools is rising.

Related Links:

“Rutgers Study Compares Racial Divide in N.J. Schools to ‘Apartheid,'”

– “A Status Quo of Segregation: Racial and Economic Imbalance in New Jersey Schools, 1989-2010,” Civil Rights Project/Institute on Education Law and Policy.