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.

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.

The Return of Mexican American Studies to Tucson

Arizona state law dismantled the Mexican American Studies program offered by the Tucson Unified School District with a ban on ethnic studies courses passed three years ago. But due to a judge’s desegregation order, the program appears to be headed for a resurrection.

The course was removed due to the ban– but a judge’s order for “culturally relevant” classes appears to be enough to revive it. According to an NPR report, the Mexican American Studies courses were originally created due to a desegregation order.

Classes haven’t resumed and apparently district officials are working to ensure that they offer a program that is acceptable to the state. The program had been criticized by critics who said it fostered anger toward Anglos.

Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal has also commented on the difficulty of bringing back classes that he would deem acceptable.

“Do you cover those injustices in a way in which we say these are profound things that we should be aware of and we have to work in this country to make this country a better place? Or do you use those injustices to create racial division, and do you use those injustices to create hatred?” asked Huppenthal, according to NPR.

Related Links:

– “Tucson Revives Mexican-American Studies Program,” NPR. 

– Mexican American Studies May Return to Tucson, Arizona, Kind Of. The Huffington Post. 

– “Rift in Arizona as Latino Class is Found Illegal,” The New York Times. 

States Vary in Preparedness for Common Core Standards’ Impact on Latinos

Sates have widely varying degrees of preparedness for the implementation of common core standards — and in particular their impact on low-income, Latino and black students.

A new report by the Education Trust, “Uneven at the Start,” identifies the best- and least-prepared states at  phasing in the more rigorous reading and math standards to serve different student populations. The group used performance data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress exam to predict how states will fare. It examines both improvement and performance of each state on NAEP exams, including in fourth- and eighth- grade reading and math performance, compared against the national average.

With Latino students, Texas and Massachusetts performed best. Florida also performed well.

Meanwhile, Oregon  and California had the weakest record with Hispanic students. The two states are improving slowly when compared against other states, and have performed worse than the national average across several subject areas and age levels. According to the analysis, neither state in any category is above the national average for Hispanics.

The analysis found that no state had above average performance and improvement for Hispanic students across all the subject and grade levels.

“…Instead of just pretending that the same amount of effort will be required everywhere to get children to the new standards, we need to make sure that the lessons from states that have improved the most for all groups of children inform implementation work more broadly and ensure that struggling states have the extra help they will need to build the forward momentum that is already present elsewhere,” said Kati Haycock, president of the Education Trust, in a news release.

The report has charts that break out where each state falls within the spectrum of performance.

Related Links:

– “Uneven at the Start: Differences in State Track Records Foreshadow Challenges and Opportunities for Common Core,” The Education Trust. 

– “New Analyses Examine State Track Records in Performance and Improvement,” The Education Trust.

Study Examines Teacher Assignment Inequalities Within Schools

We often hear about disparities in teacher quality between rich and poor schools. But what about the inequality that takes place within schools?

Every school has a mix of teachers of varying levels of talent and experience. School principals wield the power to determine which students they will be assigned. Experienced teachers may seek to handpick their students. Well-informed, affluent parents may also demand specific teachers.

A new study by Stanford University researchers published in Sociology of Education examined teacher assignments within the Miami-Dade County Public Schools system between the 2003-04 through 2010-11 school years. (Last school year, about 66% of Miami-Dade students were Hispanic.)

Researchers found that low-performing students were more likely be assigned to teachers with less experience, those from less-competitive colleges, female teachers and black and Hispanic teachers.

According to the study, teachers with 10 or more years of experience and those in leadership were more likely to have high-performing students in their classrooms. Teachers who are white, male or attended more competitive universities also tended to be assigned more high-performing students.

There was one interesting exception, however. Those schools under strong accountability pressure were less likely to place the high-achieving students with veteran teachers. But in most cases, campuses are assigning struggling children to less experienced teachers, and the achievement gap persists.

The study cautions that efforts within districts to lure more veteran teachers with financial incentives to certain difficult-to-staff campuses can backfire.

“Within-school sorting may prevent the most effective teachers from being matched to students who need them most even if the sorting of teachers between schools is minimized,” the study says.

According to the study’s survey of principals in Miami-Dade, about 28% of principals said they rewarded strong teachers with the class assignments they wanted. Their motivation was to retain the strong teachers.

In addition, the study notes that “If white principals tend to develop better relationships with white teachers in their school than they develop with black or Hispanic teachers, then a desire to reward their friends with desired classes may contribute to the racial differences in class assignments we observe in schools led by white principals.”

While researchers were critical of assigning students to less-experienced teachers, they were not as critical of the practice of assigning black and Hispanic students to black and Hispanic teachers. They point out that minority teachers may desire these assignments and may have a more powerful impact on their students’ achievement, prompting principals to support making such assignments as well.

This begs the question–is it bad to match students with teachers of the same race or ethnicity? And is some of this happening in regards to Hispanic students because of language issues as well?

In addition, how can the teacher assignment process be reformed?

Related Links:

“Stanford study finds troubling patterns of teacher assignments within schools,” Stanford Report.

“Systematic Sorting: Teacher Characteristics and Class Assignments,” Sociology of Education.

Hartford, Conn., Schools Reach Agreement On ELLs

Years after concerns were first raised about how the Hartford Public Schools in Connecticut were instructing English Language Learners, the district has entered into an agreement with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, pledging to make a number of changes to address the needs of the population.

The Center for Children’s Advocacy first filed a complaint with the OCR in April 2007. The student population includes many Spanish-speaking students, in addition to refugees from various countries.

The February 2013 agreement includes ensuring that ELL students receive at least 45-60 minutes a day of ESL instruction from an ESL-certified teacher (or bilingual) and that ELL students receive support in learning core content. It also required the district to actively recruit qualified ESL- and bilingual-certified staff, and offer professional development on ELL instruction to general education teachers.

In addition, when administrators meet to review school performance data they also will review ELL data, including examining the students’ academic progress and graduation rates. In addition, the district will make interpreting services available to parents–but agreed to avoid using students as interpreters.

The district also must provide certain information to the Office of Civil Rights by October 2013, including the numbers and types of ELL staff at each school, a description of professional development opportunities, and a copy of its plan for communication with non-English speaking parents.

By December 2013, the district must provide information including a list of all ELL students and their proficiency levels, the schedules of ELL teachers, and a description of support services in core content for ELL students.

According to the Learning the Language blog, attorney Stacey Violante Cote with the Center for Children’s Advocacy said that the group became concerned about a lack of services for ELL and immigrant students.

“That’s why this agreement with OCR is so necessary,” she said. “We need something that is going to outlast any administrative turnover or changes in the district’s reform agenda.”

Meanwhile, the blog reported that Mary Beth Russo, the school system’s lead facilitator for ELL services, said the district began implementing changes far before the agreement was signed. Those changes included offering school choice to ELLs. Hartford also began publishing a guide providing information about ELLs at every school, including their academic performance and the staff working with the population.

ELL students face considerable hurdles to overcome. According to the Hartford Courant, only 49% of ELL students in the district graduated in four years in 2010, compared with 62% of non-ELLs.

Related Links:

– “Hartford Schools, Civil Rights Officials Agree on Services for ELLs,” Learning the Language Blog/Education Week. April 9. 

– “After Federal Probe, Hartford Schools Agree to Improve Services for ‘English Language Learners,'” The Hartford Courant.

– Hartford Board of Education Resolution Agreement

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.

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. 

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?” 

Analysis Challenges Calif. School District’s Touted Achievements

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Links:

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

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

– San Jose Unified School District