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.

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,”
“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.

Report Measures Trends in Child Well-Being

The Annie E. Casey Foundation has released its annual Kids Count report evaluating child well-being in the United States.

The report delves into areas such as economic security, education, health, and family and community. The online resources are comprehensive — offering the national and state-by-state perspective, in addition to data broken out by race and ethnicity.

According to the report, small gains have been made in the areas of education and health. However, income inequality and high unemployment are hurting well-being.

The report stresses that high-quality preschool programs can improve academic outcomes for children. However, only about 46 percent of 3- and 4-year-olds are in preschool.

The child poverty rate was about 23 percent in 2011, with the youngest children being the poorest. The report defined the poverty line as $22,811 for two adults and two children.

According to the report, child well-being can be improved with more programs that teach parents how to be their child’s first teacher and offering more high-quality preschool programs.

The report reported further data, and here are some interesting statistics about Latino children:

– ABout 63 percent of Hispanic three- and four-year-old children were not attending preschool — more than any other group.

– About 34 percent of Hispanic children lived in poverty in 2011.

– About 39 percent of Hispanic children had parents lacking secure employment in 2011.

– About 11 percent of Hispanic teens were not in school or not working in 2011.

– About 29 percent of Hispanic high school students did not graduate on time in 2009-10.

– About 42 percent of Hispanic children were in single-parent homes in 2011.

The states were also ranked based on well-being, with New Mexico ranked last overall. Other states with significant Latino populations included Arizona (47), California (41), Florida (38), Illinois (23), New York (29) and Texas (42).

Related Links:

2013 Kids Count Data Book, Annie E. Casey Foundation

Latino Students Fuel Illinois Schools Toward a Tipping Point

Latino students now make up slightly more than 24 percent of all public school students in Illinois, and are pushing the state’s schools toward becoming a majority-minority.

The Chicago Tribune reports that Illinois has almost reached the tipping point, with minority students making up 49.4 percent of all students. The growing number of Hispanic students in the suburbs, and now solely in the Chicago Public Schools, is also fueling the growth.

The shifts have prompted school districts to search for more bilingual teachers, providing bilingual documents, and offering GED classes to parents. Additionally, seminars about the American education system are offered to parents.

“There’s a need for school districts to respond to their growing demographic,” Sylvia Puente, executive director of the Chicago-based Latino Policy Forum, told the Tribune. “We want quality education for all our students. It’s incumbent on school districts to understand who their student population is.”

White and black students have dropped in their share of the student population, while Latino and Asian enrollment is increasing.

Related Links:

“Minority Student Population in Illinois Schools to Surpass White Students,” Chicago Tribune.

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.

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.

Maryland Schools Experience Demographic Changes

Across the country, suburban school districts viewed as wealthy and white are rapidly changing and diversifying. As a result, perception is lagging reality.

To measure how rapidly the demographics of a school district are changing, a good place to start is examining the backgrounds of incoming kindergartners and comparing that against the averages for overall enrollment and upper grades.

The Washington Post reports that in the Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland, Hispanics now make up the largest ethnic or racial group among kindergartners and first-graders.

Hispanics make up about 31 percent of students in those grade levels, the article reports. The district enrolls more than 151,000 students and continues to grow quickly. When it comes to all grades combined, whites are still the largest group at 32 percent (with Hispanics at 27.4 percent). Meanwhile, only about 5.3 percent of teachers are Hispanic.

Despite those changes, Superintendent Joshua P. Starr told the Post that people erroneously perceive the area to be a “wealthy white enclave.”

The district is high-performing, but significant achievement gaps remain for Hispanic students. The articles notes that only 20 percent of Hispanic and black eighth-graders performed at advanced levels on 2012 Maryland math exams, compared with 60 percent of white and Asian students. Additionally, the Post reports that Hispanics saw a 32 point drop in SAT exam scores.

The demographic changes combined with the achievement gap are prompting Latino activists to challenge the superintendent to improve academic outcomes for Hispanics.

What steps are rapidly changing districts in your area taking to better serve Hispanic students?

Related Links:

“Hispanic Students Outnumber Other Groups in Montgomery County’s Early Grades,” The Washington Post.
Montgomery County Public Schools

SAT Scores Show Hispanics Lag in College Readiness

The SAT college entrance exam picture for Hispanic students is mixed, based on 2013 data released Thursday by the College Board.

Hispanics have increased to 17 percent of test takers. Yet only about 23.5 percent of Latino students were deemed college ready based on their scores, a slight increase over the prior year.

The overall national average is also frustrating. For the past five years, the overall average college readiness of test takers has hovered at 43 percent.

The board set a benchmark score of 1550 as the score, the score they say at which there is a 65 percent likelihood that a student will have a college freshman year GPA of B- or higher. The overall average score was 1498 out of a possible 2400.

Students who tested ready for college were more likely to have taken a core curriculum, AP courses, high-level math courses such as calculus, and be in the top 10 percent of their graduating class.

Hispanics tended to lag in being academically prepared for the SAT exam. Among Hispanics who took the SAT exam, about 70 percent took a core curriculum, 56 percent reported taking AP courses, and 36 percent reported that they had “A” average grades.

College Board officials continue to push to increase the participation rates of minority students. Their efforts are not without criticism. Bob Schaeffer of Fair Test told National Public Radio that the board’s efforts are a marketing ploy.

Reflecting the country’s shifting demographics, the Texas Education Agency reported that more Hispanic public school students took the exam than white students. There were 59,294 Hispanic students taking the exam and 58,307 white students. Hispanics already make up the majority of students attending Texas schools.

Also on Thursday, The New York Times reported on a new program being launched by the College Board that is seeking to motivate more minority and low-income students to apply to elite colleges and universities.

The board is sending information packets including application fee waivers to six colleges to 28,000 high school seniors with an SAT or PSAT score in the top 15 percent of people tested but the bottom quarter of income distribution.

Recent studies have shown that even high-performing Latino, black and low-income students do not apply to the competitive admission colleges that they are qualified to attend. The Times reported that a recent study by University of Virginia researchers found that providing more college information in mailed packets to low-income students influences college application decisions.

At the time, College Board President David Coleman told the Times, ““We can’t stand by as students, particularly low-income students, go off track and don’t pursue the opportunities they have earned.”

Related Links:

“2013 SAT Report on College & Career Readiness”
“College Board ‘Concerned’ About Low SAT Scores,” NPR.
“Record Number of Minorities Take SAT But Lag in College Readiness.”
“A Nudge to Poorer Students to Aim High on Colleges,” The New York Times.
“A Simple Way to Send Poor Kids to Top Colleges,” The New York Times.

Hispanic Students Fuel Las Vegas Schools’ Record Growth

The Hispanic student population is soaring in the Clark County School District in Las Vegas, where Hispanics are fueling much of the record jump in enrollment this year.

According to the Las Vegas Sun, the student enrollment increased this year by 3,707 students to 315,087 total students. The growth exceeded the district’s expectations.

About 44 percent of Clark County students are Hispanic, while 29 percent are white.

The district is struggling with the growth, and its elementary schools in particular are overenrolled and crowded. Some 30,000 elementary school children attend school in portables. Despite the dire situation, voters in November rejected a tax initiative that would have funded renovations, two new elementary schools and other upgrades.

The Sun reports that three district elementary schools have more than 1,200 students enrolled. Those schools are now operating year-round, so that not all the students are attending at the same time.

Nevada faces significant challenges in its education system. This year, the annual 2013 Kids Count Report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation rated the state last in the nation in education for the second year in a row.

Related Links:

– “Clark County School District Enrollment Grows, With Hispanics Leading the Trend,” Las Vegas Review-Journal.

– “Record Number of Students Packing Clark County Schools,” Las Vegas Sun News.

Clark County School District