Study Analyzes Suspension Rates by Race, Ethnicity and Disability

The Civil Rights Project at UCLA has released a study of nearly 7,000 school districts finding that about 7 percent of Latino students received out-of-school suspensions at least once during the 2009-10 school year.

The “Opportunities Suspended” report used federal data and also found that 5 percent of white students and 17 percent of black students received out-of-school suspensions. Male students with disabilities had particularly high suspension rates. The data represented about 85 percent of the nation’s public school students. The group warned that students who are suspended at high rates are more likely to drop out and end up in the juvenile justice system.

These averages obscure the fact that there are school districts and states with significantly higher suspension rates. In Connecticut, about 14 percent of Latino students had been suspended at least once–the highest average of any state in the nation. In the Hartford, Connecticut, schools about 44 percent of Latino students had been suspended. In the Thornton Township High School District in Illinois, about 42 percent of Latino students had been suspended.

The report warned that suspension rates among minority male students with disabilities were disturbingly high. This group of students was also likely to be suspended multiple times within the same year. In the Chicago Public Schools, about 29 percent of Latino male students with disabilities had been suspended at least once, compared with a shocking 73 percent of black students and 20 percent of white students.

However, some districts recorded lower suspension rates of Latino students than white students. In the Memphis City Schools, about 29 percent of Latino male students with disabilities had been suspended at least once. By comparison, about 53 percent of black students and 36 percent of white students had suspensions. However, in Memphis, the suspension rates among all racial and ethnic groups was disturbingly high.

Earlier in the summer, the project, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education against the Fall River Public Schools in Massachusetts for its high suspension rates of minority and disabled students. Data there revealed that 23 percent of Latino students, 26 percent of black students and 13 percent of white students had been suspended.

Education Week reporter Lesli Maxwell poses an interesting question on her Learning the Language blog: How often are English language learners suspended? It’s not a question that’s answered in the report, unfortunately.

You can mine these data to find out where your district or state stands compared with the national average.

Related Links:

– “Opportunities Suspended: The Disparate Impact of Disciplinary Exclusion from School.” The Civil Rights Project. 

– “Fall River Public Schools suspend black and Latino students, and students with disabilities, at unusually high rates.” The Civil Rights Project.

– “Researchers sound alarm over black student suspensions.” Education Week.

– “Disabled students almost twice as likely to be suspended, analysis finds.” The New York Times. 

– “Fall River schools facing scrutiny.” The Boston Globe.

XY-Zone Project Mentors Latino Male High School Students

Latino males are far less likely to graduate from high school and go on to college than their Latina counterparts. According to an analysis of 2011 Census survey data by Richard Fry of the Pew Hispanic Center, about 17 percent of Hispanic females ages 25 to 29 have at least a bachelor’s degree, compared with about 10 percent of Hispanic males.

One program trying to address this disparity is the XY-Zone Project, an effort of Communities in Schools of Central Texas. Half of the participants are Latino, and 41 percent are black. It serves 436 students in 10 Texas high schools.

Coordinators work with young men on 10 high school campuses in Texas who are at-risk of dropping out. The program’s core is focused on five key aspects: respect, responsibility, relationships, role modeling and reaching out.

The 2011-12 demographics of the young men in the program tell a rather consistent story: 98 percent have experienced some form of violence, 85 percent are economically disadvantaged, and 48 percent come from single-parent homes. In school, 16 percent are in special education and 15 percent are English language learners.

“The XY-Zone mission is to support and guide adolescent males as they journey into manhood,” said Robert Bachicha, the program’s Coordinator.

Bachicha said the outcomes for the young men in the program have been positive: 89 percent improved or maintained their grades, attendance or behavior and 97 percent stayed in school. The students perform volunteer work. Parents are also engaged through newsletters, phone calls and frequent home visits.

“Students who have participated are significantly more likely to believe ‘My life has purpose’ after completing the program,” Bachicha said.

XY-Zone mostly relies on family support and corporate foundation funding, with some federal money. He said the program was developed by looking at existing program models. They included service learning, Native American rites of passage, and the Fraternal Brotherhood model.

Bachicha spoke on Wednesday as part of a webinar focused on young men of color by the College Board’s Advocacy Arm. The board has a Young Men of Color Initiative. According to the College Board, in 2008, about 33.4 percent of Hispanic male high school graduates aged 15 to 24 were enrolled in postsecondary education.

Related links:


– “The Educational Experience of Young Men of Color” College Board Advocacy & Policy Center. 

– “XY-Zone: Preparing Boys to Become Men.” 

– Project MALES. The University of Texas at Austin.

Federal Officials Say Alabama’s Immigration Law Hurt Hispanic Students

A U.S. Department of Justice official recently warned the superintendent of Alabama’s public schools that the state’s immigration law has hindered the ability of Latino children to obtain a quality education.

Thomas Perez, the U.S. assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division, sent a letter to State Superintendent of Education Thomas Bice on May 1. Perez wrote that the Justice Department investigated attendance data and conducted interviews with students, parents, teachers and administrators that confirmed the department’s concerns.

“They confirm that H.B. 56 diminished access to and quality of education for many of Alabama’s Hispanic children, resulted in missed school days, chilled or prevented the participation of parents in their children’s education, and transformed the climates of some schools into less safe and welcoming spaces for Hispanic students,” he wrote.

The immigration law known as HB 56 that went into effect last September required Alabama schools to check the immigration status of public school students, though it didn’t bar undocumented students from enrolling. A federal judge blocked the piece of the law that required asking children’s status in October.

Perez wrote that an analysis of attendance data concluded that absences of Hispanic students tripled immediately after the law was passed because of fear among immigrant families. The data also showed that between the beginning of the school year and February, about 13.4 percent of the state’s Latino school children withdrew from school–an increase compared with past years.

Although the fear has faded somewhat since that part of the law regarding children’s status was blocked, Perez said the investigation found the legislation has had “continuing and lasting consequences.”

Also alarming, he added that Hispanic children reported that the law hurt their ability to focus on their education. “Hispanic children reported increased anxiety and diminished concentration in school, deteriorating grades, and increased hostility, bullying and intimidation,” he wrote. “Teachers and administrators reported the detrimental impacts on students, from student absences to precipitous drops in academic engagement and performance.”

The letter reminds the state that the 1982 Supreme Court decision Plyler v. Doe ensures all students access to the public schools, regardless of immigration status.

Even if you don’t work in Alabama, the U.S. Department of Education raised concerns last year that some districts are not properly enforcing Plyler and have enrollment practices that discourage illegal immigrant children from attending. For example, a district may ask for a birth certificate, but can’t deny enrollment if a foreign certificate is presented. A district also can’t require a social security number.

Have you heard of complaints in your state about enrollment practices? Have you checked your district’s enrollment requirements recently?

Read the letter here.

Lawsuit Says Illinois School District Had Segregated Gifted Program for Hispanics

Parents in suburban Chicago have filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against the Elgin School District U-46, accusing the district of running a segregated gifted program that placed elementary students whose native language is Spanish in a separate program from native English speakers. A trial is currently under way.

Former English language learners who had been classified as proficient in English were placed in the gifted program for native Spanish speakers along with children still classified as English language learners, The Daily Herald reported. This gifted program was known as the Spanish English Transition School Within a School (SET SWAS). District officials said the students did not meet standards to qualify for the general education gifted programs.

The Daily Herald reports that both sides have put gifted education experts on the stand. University of Texas at Austin director of bilingual education Alba Ortiz audited the program and testified that the programs were “institutionalized discrimination.” “They are deemed English-proficient, so why segregate them from their English-language peers?” she asked.

But this week, University of Virginia professor Carolyn Callahan testified that the separate programs for native Spanish-speaking children were necessary because the children would fall behind in programs for native English speakers and needed bilingual support in Spanish and English.  The Courier-News reports that Callahan said programs were “language-based, not race-based.”

The Courier-News also reported that gifted teachers testified in support of the separate programs. Teacher Rachael Jackson said she would cry if the program ended. “The students need the support,” she said. “They need to be in a place where they feel safe, where they feel confident, where they’re with other kids like them.”

At one point during the trial, the Courier-News reported that Superintendent Jose Torres said that the separate programs helped students feel more confident because they were with other students who looked like them. “If that’s the case, we would have segregated schools,” U.S. district judge Robert Gettleman responded. “Brown vs. Board would have been wrongly decided.”

The Chicago Tribune reports that Latino students comprised about 27 percent of students in the gifted program in 2008-09, while they were 40 to 45 percent of the enrollment. The plaintiffs’ attorney said only 2 percent of gifted elementary students in the English-speaking program were Hispanic.

The lawsuit was filed in 2005, and also said that district boundary changes segregated black and Hispanic students into overcrowded classes and that black and Hispanic students didn’t have equal access to gifted programs.

Do your local school districts have gifted bilingual classes? I’ve visited a gifted class in Texas solely for bilingual students, so I know they exist elsewhere. But in the class I visited, the students were all classified as limited English proficient. In Elgin’s case, children who recently had been classified as English proficient were then placed in the separate gifted program for native Spanish speakers.

Is this a case of the district making a “separate but equal” argument in defense of segregation? Or was the district just trying to meet the language-specific needs of the Hispanic children?

Undocumented Immigrant College Student Runs for Student Body President

College student Jose Luis Zelaya is open about his status as an undocumented immigrant, and he’s drawing attention for the campaign he ran for student body president at Texas A&M University. Although he lost on Tuesday night, he’s still making headlines for speaking openly about his immigration status.

The Houston Chronicle reported on his campaign and how his residency status has become an issue in the election. At one candidates’ forum, a student asked how his legal status would influence his decisions if he were elected president. “I’m not running because I’m undocumented,” he told the Chronicle. “I’m running because I’m an Aggie.”

Some student groups at the university have protested against Texas’ policy of granting in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants. The Texas Aggies Conservatives organization has petitioned Governor Rick Perry to end in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants. In 2010, the university’s student senate voted to oppose in-state tuition.

Last April, Zelaya, 24, spoke on the university’s plaza about coming to the United States from Honduras illegally at age 14 with his mother to flee from an abusive father. He has been a vocal supporter of the national DREAM Act. Zelaya already has earned a bachelor’s degree from the university and is an aspiring teacher now pursuing a master’s degree in education. He sells crocheted beanies to make money to pay for college.

In addition to student movements against in-state tuition at the university, there also are A&M students who are accepting of Zelaya’s background. The Chronicle reported that at the same debate where he was asked about his status, fellow candidate Brody Smith came to his defense. “He has an Aggie ring on his finger,” Smith told the audience. “And we all bleed maroon.”

If you find a compelling undocumented immigrant student willing to tell their story openly, it may be worth an article. However, always be careful that the student understands the possible repercussions about speaking out. A number of student-run organizations in various states have openly campaigned for the DREAM act, and the students involved in such movements may be more open to speaking with the media.

Achievement of Latino Boys Continues to Lag Behind Girls

We often hear about the achievement gaps between Latino students and their non-Hispanic peers, but a significant achievement gap also exists among Latino students themselves: Boys trail significantly behind girls. Boys tend to be more likely to drop out of high school and less likely to graduate from college, for example.

New York University professor Pedro Noguera recently addressed the challenges faced by Latino and African-American boys in an opinion piece that appeared in Education Week. He also pointed out that boys are more likely to be placed in special education programs and less likely to be enrolled in gifted programs than girls. “These patterns have become so common and widespread that a recitation of the dismal statistics no longer generates surprise or even alarm,” Noguera writes.

He notes that many communities are turning toward single-sex classes and schools as one possible solution, but research about these practices doesn’t clearly demonstrate that they are effective remedies. Noguera calls for more research regarding what does (and does not) work.

Are there programs specifically targeting improving the performance of Latino boys in your community? What seems to be effective?

Academy Award Nomination Highlights Challenges Immigrant Families Face

Perhaps the biggest surprise Oscar nomination on Tuesday was Demián Bichir in the best actor category for his portrayal of a Mexican undocumented immigrant.

In the film “A Better Life,” Bichir plays Carlos Galindo, a single father and gardener in Los Angeles struggling to build a brighter future for his American-born teen-aged son Luis. Carlos works long hours, hoping to save money to move to a neighborhood with a better school, so he isn’t around much to parent his son. Luis is losing interest in school and begins to skip classes and hang around gang members.

The movie traces the pursuit of the American dream, and shows how difficult it can be to obtain. It also addresses the emotional drama that unfolds when undocumented immigrant parents are deported and their children are left behind in the United States. This is a very timely issue since deportations reached the highest level in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement history in fiscal year 2011.

Like the characters Carlos and Luis, many immigrants live in “mixed-status” families. Researchers at  the Pew Hispanic Center estimate that about 9 million people are in families that include at least one undocumented immigrant adult and at least one American-born child. The center estimates that the number of children with at least one undocumented parent has doubled since 2000.

As reporters, our goal should not just be to write about policy or test scores. Placing a human face on issues is also important. Admittedly, immigration is a tough topic to write about when so many immigrants are afraid to have their names printed in the newspaper.

How does a young person cope when their parent is deported? And when a parent is deported, how is it decided whether the children should remain in the United States or leave? If they stay, what is the impact on their emotional state and schooling?

I watched the movie just last weekend. Be forewarned, it’s a tearjerker.

Introducing New Blogger Katherine Leal Unmuth

I am an education reporter by profession, but my passion for Latino education issues is fueled by my family history.

In the first half of the twentieth century, Mexican-American children in Texas faced many challenges when it came to obtaining a quality education. My grandmother Dahlia was born in an era when Mexican-Americans like herself were segregated from whites in many settings and often attended substandard schools. At age 14, she dropped out of the public San Antonio high school she attended, and soon after that she married my grandfather Alonzo, who never completed elementary school.

Her educational narrative was not unusual for Latinos during this era. Those significant challenges persisted when my mother was a child in the 1950s. She was lucky enough to receive a scholarship to attend the private Catholic Incarnate Word High School in San Antonio, and she later earned a degree in medical record administration from Incarnate Word College. My mother still marvels at the fact she earned a college degree when few other Mexican-Americans in her generation did so.

The fact that my mother overcame challenges to obtain a higher education also has influenced my sister Natalie, a third-grade teacher. My mother likes to say that I report the war, while my sister fights on the front lines!

Because my mother’s family was able to overcome poverty to receive an education, I have hope that today’s generation of young Hispanic children can do the same. I believe that education is the greatest civil rights issue of our generation.

I worked for six years as an education reporter at The Dallas Morning News and two years covering higher education at The Wichita Eagle. I have written about bilingual and English language learner education. In Kansas and Texas, I wrote about controversies over state laws granting in-state tuition to illegal immigrants. I profiled a young man who moved to the United States from El Salvador as a child and went on to attend Harvard University.

I am dedicated to chronicling the Hispanic-American experience.

Washington Post Series Tracks a Class of Dreamers

Take some time to read this series in the Washington Post, which tracks the lives of the “Seat Pleasant 59,” who were fifth-graders in 1988 when they received a gift from two wealthy businessmen. The men promised to pay for the students’ college educations.

The series  looks at the paths taken by the students, some of whom went on to success and some of whom did not. As the first story notes:

“More than 20 years later, the answers are sometimes surprising, sometimes satisfying and sometimes heart-rending. One would become a doctor. One would become a cellist. One would become a UPS driver. One would kill herself. One would kill his father. One would become a politician. One would become a cop. One would become a drug dealer.”

For education reporters, the story is worth examining as a look at the complexity of factors that often stand between low-income, minority students and success in school, college and life. Solving those problems takes more than the offer of a free scholarship or standardized testing.

Do Older Siblings Help Preschoolers Learn English?

Last week I received a press release announcing that two researchers from the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education had won a $40,000 grant from the Spencer Foundation to study language acquisition in Latino preschoolers. The study is already under way, and the researchers were willing to share some preliminary findings from their work via email.

The study is tracking more than 100 Latino families with young children in central Virginia. The researchers, Amanda Kibler and Natalia Palacios, are using observations, interviews and standard tests of early language development to assess the youngsters’ language progress in both English and Spanish. The Spencer grant will support more home observations plus at least one year of school observations once the children start kindergarten.

A key aspect of the home observations will focus on how young children with older siblings (school-age and using English) acquire and use language, Kibler said via email. Kibler says currently very little research exists to document how older siblings affect language acquisition and use among Latino children. I’m glad to see researchers tackling this questions. Just observationally, around my neighborhood it seems pretty clear to me that Latino children with school-age siblings who speak English acquire and use English more rapidly than those without,  but I’m not a researcher.

Another preliminary finding shows a link between children sleeping an extra hour at night and having bedtime stories read to them in Spanish by their mothers. So far, the same association is not apparent with English reading. Kibler says the finding suggests some Spanish-speaking recent immigrants are using night-time routines as an opportunity for structured reading but couldn’t say more.  Though I know correlation doesn’t equal causation, I’m tempted to stress Spanish language stories at bedtime (usually we read in both languages) and see if my son will sleep longer!