Cleveland Schools Agree to Boost Hispanic Enrollment in STEM Programs

Very few Latino and Spanish-speaking students attend the Cleveland school district’s four science and math specialty high schools.

Indeed, only 130 Hispanic students attend the schools out of the district’s total Hispanic enrollment of 5,586 Hispanic students. The disparity was so extreme that it caught the eye of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR). This week, the office announced an agreement with the district to remedy the problem .

The specialty high schools have STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) programs.

As part of the agreement, the school district agreed to do the following:

– Form a committee of district and community members to determine the barriers to more Hispanics enrolling in the STEM program.
– Develop a plan to submit to the OCR by the end of the school year to ensure access, which will be implemented in 2014-15.
– Promote STEM programs to Latino families and students.
– Ensure that Spanish-language materials about the programs are available to families.
– Monitor Hispanic enrollment in STEM and adjust the plan as necessary to address any further discrepancies.
– Improve counseling services.

The Office of Civil Rights commended the district to cooperating. Hispanic community leader Jose Feliciano also told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that he had no ill will toward the district.

“I never had any sense that they were keeping kids out,” he said. “They just weren’t doing affirmative things to get kids in.”

Related Links:
“Cleveland School District Will Be Better Promote STEM Programs to Hispanic Students Under New Civil Rights Agreement,” Cleveland Plain Dealer.

“U.S. Department of Education and Cleveland Metropolitan School District Reach Agreement to Provide Equal Access to STEM Programs for Limited English Proficient (LEP) and Latino Students,” U.S. Department of Education.

New Federal Guidelines on Discipline Announced

Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Attorney General Eric Holder urged a major overhaul of school discipline policies on Wednesday.

In a joint announcement of new guidelines on the issue, they sharply criticized school districts that suspend minorities at disproportionately high rates and also punish students for minor infractions. They also were critical of infractions being handled as criminal matters. The announcement was a major takedown of so-called “zero tolerance” policies.

The Washington Post reported that Duncan said discrimination is “a real problem today — it’s not just an issue from 30 or 40 or 50 years ago.”

A number of civil rights organizations lauded the announcement.

“These much-needed guidelines send a strong message from the federal government that it takes seriously the criminalization of children, particularly children of color, in schools,” said NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund president Sherrilyn Ifill, Education Week reported. “It acknowledges that race plays an improper role in school discipline practices with long-term negative consequences for students’ educational outcomes.”

Education Week reported that school discipline policies may be in violation if they target certain student groups or that disproportionately impact a certain racial or ethnic group.

Are you familiar with your local school district’s discipline policy? How many students are being suspended and what are their ethnic backgrounds? How many students end up arrested? You can obtain this information to better inform your reporting. You may be surprised by how many students have been suspended at least once or how frequently students are arrested.

Related Links:
“New Federal School Discipline Guidance Addresses Discrimination, Suspensions,” Education Week.

“School Climate and Discipline,” U.S. Department of Education.

“Holder, Duncan Announce National Guidelines on School Discipline,” The Washington Post.

Many Nevada Education Boards Lack Hispanic Representation

Hispanic leaders in Nevada are calling attention to an important education issue that takes place outside of the classroom — the lack of Hispanic representation on many of the state’s elected education boards.

Even in the Clark County School District, where about 44 percent of the students are Hispanic, there was no Hispanic member until recently. When a vacancy came open, the board voted to appoint a Hispanic to the seven-member board earlier this month.

“As a board we do not reflect the diversity of our district,” school board president Carolyn Edwards said according to a Las Vegas Sun story.  “Improving that ratio is important.”

Hispanic leaders are trying to encourage more Latinos to run for eduction boards.

Illustrating the importance of representation, the newspaper mentions how Hispanic state lawmakers helped push through $50 million in funding for English Language Learners.

Currently the Nevada Board of Education only has one Hispanic member and the Nevada Board of Regents has never had a Hispanic member. Both boards are elected.

Former Clark County board member Jose Solorio recalled how his Hispanic background helped offer insights into the community. He told the Sun that when the district wanted to use bond money in 1998 mostly on building schools and not on remodeling him, he persuaded them to use the funds more equitably. He argued that more low-income Hispanic children lived in the older schools that needed updates.

“It wasn’t the right thing to do to ignore the existing schools,” Solorio told the Sun. “That’s where the majority of Latinos and African Americans live.”

Related Links:

“Nevada’s Hispanics Work to Boost Representation on Education Boards,” Las Vegas Sun.

“CCSD Board Chooses State BOE Member to Fill Vacancy,” Las Vegas Sun.

Texas Principal Allegedly Tells Students Not to Speak Spanish

A small Texas town is embroiled in debate after a middle school principal allegedly told students over a public address system that they would not be allowed to speak Spanish in class.

Hempstead Middle School Principal Amy Lacey is now on paid administrative leave while the Hempstead Independent School District investigates the incident, KHOU reported. According to the Texas Education Agency, about 53 percent of the school’s 206 students were Hispanic in the 2011-12 school year.

The district released a statement saying that it does not have any policy that bars the speaking of Spanish. KHOU reported that some students felt that the principal’s announcement resulted in discriminatory comments by their peers and teachers.

Hempstead ISD has 1,482 students. About 51 percent of students are Hispanic and 21 percent are limited English proficient. The small city is located north of Houston.

At a school board meeting this week, parents and students spoke out on both sides of the issue.

KHOU reported that one parent said she supported the principal because her children don’t know if their Spanish-speaking peers are making fun of them when they speak Spanish. Another speaker said the policy would help students by pushing them to speak in English, therefore better preparing them for being tested in English.

Meanwhile, parent Cynthia Zamora said the policy would hurt Hispanic students.

“You’re handicapping our children,” she told KHOU. “You’re telling them you can’t speak Spanish, and you can’t have anyone translating for you.”

NBC Latino reported that the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund sent the district’s superintendent a letter on November 21 saying legal action would be taken if such a Spanish policy were instituted.

“The anti-Spanish policy also invites potential challenges under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which protects ‘pure speech’ of prisoners, employees and, of course, students,” wrote MALDEF attorney David Hinojosa.

Related Links:

“Hempstead Students Say Principal Tried to Ban Them From Speaking Spanish,” KHOU.
“Hempstead ISD continues to debate ‘no Spanish’ Policy,” KHOU.
“TX Principal Accused of Banning Students from Speaking Spanish in Classroom,” NBC Latino.

Eva Longoria Funds UCLA Study on Latinas and Education

Latina teens who are bilingual, have Hispanic teachers and counselors, and are involved in extracurricular activities have a stronger likelihood of attending college, a new study has found.

The report, “Making Education Work for Latinas in the U.S.,” was conducted by The Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles at the University of California, Los Angeles, and commissioned by the actress Eva Longoria and her foundation.

Longoria’s foundation focuses on boosting education and entrepreneurship among Latinas. She hopes to use the report’s findings to better help Latinas.

Civil Rights Project co-director and education professor Patricia Gandara highlighted the importance of raising the education levels of Hispanic women.

“Latinas are the linchpin of the next generation — how a child fares in school is highly correlated with their mother’s education,” Gándara said in a news release. “If the cycle of under-education is to be broken for the Latino population, it will depend to a large extent on changing the fortunes of young women.”

Latinas benefit from involvement in extracurricular activities, which promote increased self-esteem. However, they face barriers to being more involved at school that include money, transportation issues, family needs and not feeling included.

The study shares that many Latinas enroll in non-selective two-year colleges because they are not aware of the greater opportunities at more selective four-year universities. Students who enroll in community college are less likely to graduate with degrees.

The paper includes the success stories of seven young Latinas. One of the young women recalled the influence of a Hispanic counselor.

“She was a person who really influenced me to want something more with my 
life because she would tell me that because I was a Latina that I would be stereotyped..you don’t want to prove people right,you want to prove them wrong! You want to be able to say ‘I’m Latina and I’m going to college and I’m furthering my education!”

Related Links:

“UCLA Study Funded by Eva Longoria IDs Factors That Improve Educational Outcomes for Latinas,” UCLA Newsroom.

“Making Education Work for Latinas in the U.S.,” The Civil Rights Project at UCLA.

The Eva Longoria Foundation

New Report: High Suspension Rates for Pennsylvania’s Hispanic Students

Study after study shows that Latino and black students tend to be suspended at much higher rates than white students.

Yet another study recently grabbed news headlines making the same findings. In “Beyond Zero Tolerance,” the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania found that ten of every 100 Latino students in the state have received out-of-school suspensions at least once.

Latino students are three times more likely than white students to be suspended. Researchers concluded that Pennsylvania has one of the highest out-of-school suspension rates in the nation.

Although Latino students are about 8.4 percent of students in the state’s public schools they made of 14.5 percent of students receiving out-of-school suspensions.

The York City School District, which has a considerable Puerto Rican and Mexican student population, had the highest suspension rate in the state. The district was found to issue 91 suspensions for every 100 students. About 27 percent of Latino students there had been suspended at least once.

The ACLU criticized zero tolerance policies and the increasing reliance by school districts of police officers on campuses.

“Part of the problem is that under zero tolerance, a wide range of behaviors, from dress code violations to talking back, are now being punished as disorderly conduct, disruption, and defiant behavior,” Harold Jordan, author of the report, told Fox News Latino. “Those districts that have moved away from zero tolerance practices have found that other types of interventions can make a positive difference.”

The report makes a number of recommendations, including taking students out of class only if they pose a threat to school safety and examining policies for dealing with discipline for students with disabilities.

Researchers suggested that districts look at the “suspension gap,” or differences in suspension rates between groups. Just like the academic “achievement gap,” they feel that the discipline gap must also be closed.

Related Links:

“Beyond Zero Tolerance: Discipline and Policing in Pennsylvania Public Schools,” ACLU of Pennsylvania.
“ACLU: 1 in 10 Pa. Public School Students Given Suspensions,” Philly.com.
“High Number of Latino Students Suspended in Pennsylvania, ACLU Report Says,” Fox News Latino.
“ACLU: York City Has Highest Number of Out-of-School Suspensions in Pa.,” York Dispatch.

Latino Studies Programs Grow on College Campuses

Latino Studies programs are popping up in unexpected places.

Just this fall, Vanderbilt University announced the creation of a Latino and Latina Studies program. This occurred even though only about 8 percent of Vanderbilt students are Latino.

Community colleges are also considering such programs.

“In the last couple of years, there have been a number of community colleges asking for help in setting up programs,” Lourdes Torres, professor of Latin American and Latino studies at DePaul University, told Fox News Latino. “It’s not just four-year colleges, it’s two-year programs reaching out asking for help.”

Such programs can sometimes be a long time coming.

When I was an undergraduate student at Northwestern in 2000, some Hispanic students organized a protest calling on the university to create a Latino Studies program. It took nine years for the program to become reality.

Time likely will determine the direction that these programs will take.

Some programs are struggling. In March, KPBS — San Diego Public Radio — reported that the Chicano Studies program at San Diego State University in California was falling short of its course enrollment goals. That occurred despite the fact that the university is defined as a Hispanic Serving Institution.

The KPBS article noted that the “Chicano” label is no longer as popular with Mexican American students, and can have a negative connotation that may impact enrollment. Many Chicano Studies programs were born out of protests by activists in the 1960s and 1970s.

“Identifying as Chicano symbolized solidarity with a proud, sometimes even militant, struggle against second-class status — a struggle by Mexican-Americans to be recognized by politicians, employers, and by academia,” the article noted.

However, the article noted that in contrast, the nearby San Diego City College has more demand than space for its Chicano Studies courses.

So is it that important to replace Chicano with Latino or Hispanic? And what sorts of careers are students who earn degrees in these majors pursuing?

Related Links:

“Latino Studies Programs Taking Off In Colleges Across the Country,” Fox News Latino.
“New Vanderbilt Latino and Latina Studies Program Launched,” Vanderbilt University.
“Declining Interest in ‘Chicano Studies’ Reflects a Latino Identity Shift,” KPBS.

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 (NorthJersey.com) 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,'” NJ.com

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

Texas Study Finds ELL Students Face “Triple Segregation”

In Texas, poor Hispanic children who are English language learners often attend intensely segregated schools, a new study has found.

Such children face “triple segregation” because they are isolated by virtue of their ethnicity, socioeconomic background and language skills. The trend is found in both urban and suburban settings.

Education professors Julian Vasquez Heilig and Jennifer Jellison Holme from the University of Texas at Austin examined 2011 demographic data from the Texas Education Agency to make their findings in their study, “Nearly 50 Years Post-Jim Crow: Persisting and Expansive School Segregation for African American, Latina/o and ELL Students in Texas.”

The AP reports that in 2012, about 838,000 limited proficient children attended Texas schools. They made up about 16.2 percent of the total enrollment. In 2011, about 9 percent of Texas schools were found to be majority ELL, with most of those being elementary schools. The study reveals that of Texas schools with a majority ELL enrollment, 89 percent have a study body that is majority economically disadvantaged.

However, the study found a bright spot. Majority-ELL elementary schools were more likely to earn the state’s top ranking of “exemplary” than to be rated low-performing. The researchers found 72 “exemplary” and 15 low-performing majority-ELL elementary schools in Texas, noting that “the state should be applauded for these numbers.”

However, the researchers cautioned that those same children tend to go on to attend low-performing middle and high schools. And ELLs have very high dropout rates in Texas.

Researchers point out that Texas has a long history of segregating its Hispanic children. At first, this was accomplished by placing them in separate schools. Texas schools were targeted with lawsuits because of such practices long before the Brown v. Board case. Later, the state segregated children by placing them in separate classes within a school.

As a reporter, I visited many schools that had “triple segregation.” In Texas, bilingual education is required for ELLs when there is a large enough population and by nature of the program these children are placed in separate classes. Do bilingual programs inherently segregate? Are there benefits at all to this, however? The study acknowledges that this question has come up in debates over the instructional program.

“As the first-generation cases were resolved, the friction between bilingual education and desegregation became more apparent, as courts and districts sought to balance the need, on the one hand, to offer linguistically appropriate instruction for subgroups of students who do not yet speak English, and the danger, on the other hand, that such practices could result in racial and linguistic isolation of those students,” the study says.

Lastly, segregation has increased as overall districts and communities have become residentially segregated. Much of the residential segregation growth is happening in the suburbs.

This study is fascinating because it goes a step beyond racial segregation and examines a new type of segregation that has arisen based on linguistic isolation. It’s conversation worth having. It also raises the question, how does attending a segregated school impact how children learn English? And in a majority minority state such as Texas, are these trends just part of the demographic shift?

Related Links:

– “Study Shows Texas Segregated By Language,” Associated Press/Fox News Latino.

– “Study Shows Triple Segregation Persists in Texas Schools,” News Release, The University of Texas at Austin College of Education.

– “Nearly 50 Years Post-Jim Crow: Persisting and Expansive School Segregation for African American, Latina/o, and ELL Students in Texas.”

– “Cloaking Inequality” Blog (By Julian Vasquez Heilig)

Florida Race-Based Standards Prompt Complaint

Florida education officials are being challenged on their plan to evaluate Latino and black students based on much lower math and reading achievement goals than those set for white and Asian students.

Educators have long advocated for judging students based on growth, rather than a set cut score. A significant achievement gap still persists. But does that mean standards should be set lower for black and Hispanic children as a result?

When the standards were approved last October, a Florida Department of Education spokesperson said that officials felt they needed to take into account the groups’ “starting point.” The goals are set to go into effect in the 2013-14 school year.

The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a federal complaint with the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice on Friday against the state’s race-based plan.

“The research is clear: Low expectations result in low achievement,” said Jerri Katzerman, SPLC deputy legal director, in a news release. “By setting lower expectations for black and Hispanic students, Florida is telling these students that it is their skin color – not their hard work and perseverance – that will determine their success in school. This plan will only widen the achievement gap in Florida classrooms.”

In reading, the passing goals set by 2018 are 74 percent for black students, 81 percent for Hispanic students, 88 percent for white students and 90 percent for Asian students. In math, the goals are 74 percent for black students, 80 percent for Hispanic students, 86 percent for white students and 92 percent for Asian students.

The Orlando Sentinel reports that one of the parties to the complaint, 14-year-old Robert Burns, who is black and has excelled on state exams, believes the goals should be 100 percent for all students.

“If you expect 60, I’ll give you 60. If you shoot for the moon, I’ll land on the stars,” he told the newspaper. “I’m more than what statistics or Florida thinks of me. When I found out they were going to set lower standards for me based on the color of my skin, I felt devastated. I don’t think it’s fair. I don’t think it’s right.”

The 100 percent proficiency goal cited by Robert has been viewed as the hallmark of No Child Left Behind. Indeed , the complaint cites former President George W. Bush’s now famous quote condemning the “soft bigotry of low expectations.”

However, Florida has performed well on performance standards with its Hispanic students. For example, an evaluation of student performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) found that Florida students were strong-performers, when compared with students from other large states.

Additionally, a report from the National Center for Education Statistics also recently found that the Latino high school graduation rate was about 72 percent in Florida in 2010.

Related Links:

– “SPLC Files Complaint WIth DOJ Over Florida’s Race-Based Education Goals,” Orlando Sentinel.

– “Florida’s Race-Based Education Goals Discriminate, Complaint Alleges,” South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

– “Civil Rights Complaint Lodged Against Florida’s Student Achievement Plan,” Southern Poverty Law Center. 

– “Florida Sets Lower Achievement Goals for Latinos Than White Students,” Latino Ed Beat.