Teacher uses Hispanic Comic Hero to Inspire Students

Latino characters are often lacking in the books that students read. A Dallas bilingual teacher is working to fill that void by creating a Latino comic book superhero.

Dallas Independent School District second-grade teacher Hector Rodriguez created “El Peso Hero” to offer a positive Hispanic character who champions immigrants and fights crime.

Some of the themes addressed are those that students and their families may be familiar with. The superhero speaks in Spanish, but other characters speak English.

The Dallas Morning News reported that Rodriguez shares the comics with his students. Andrea Delgado, 7, told the newspaper that she likes the character and how he helps people with his special powers.

“I was like, ‘Wow, how can he do that’?” she said “I want to be a writer like my teacher, and I want to draw.”

If you speak with teachers or librarians in your area, do they include diverse characters in the classes and librarians at school?

Related Links:

“Dallas teacher creates comic hero to fight wrongs against immigrants,” The Dallas Morning News.

“Young Latino Students Don’t See Themselves in Books,” The New York Times.

“Librarians Create Bilingual Reading List,” Latino Ed Beat.

Urban School Districts Make Progress on National Exam

Students enrolled in school districts in some of the nation’s largest cities are making significant academic gains that sometimes even outpaced their peers elsewhere in the nation, according to new data.

Since 2002, the Trial Urban District Assessment has tracked student achievement on the National Assessment of Educational Progress — known as America’s report card. The program has grown to encompass 21 urban school districts and tracks the performance of fourth- and eighth-graders in math and reading. The large districts surveyed volunteer to take part in testing.

According to the most recent data, between 2011 and 2013, fourth-graders from Chicago, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and Atlanta recorded larger increases in scores in math than the national average. In L.A., Hispanic, black and white fourth-graders all saw improvements. However, L.A. lags other urban districts in overall performance.

Not all the news was positive. Fourth-graders in Houston schools experienced lower scores in reading. This was notable in a year that Houston was awarded the coveted Broad Prize for Urban Education.

The data may offer some telling information about your local school district. The districts profiled include many with large Hispanic populations, such as Albuquerque, Austin, Dallas, Fresno, Miami-Dade, Houston, New York City and others.

“The 2013 TUDA results show student performance in large cities continues to both improve overall and that large-city schools nationwide are improving at a faster pace than the nation as a whole,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement. “While we still have a lot of work to do to close achievement gaps in our largest cities, this progress is encouraging. It means that in 2013, tens of thousands of additional students in large cities are proficient or above in math and reading than was the case four years earlier.”

Related Links:

Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA), National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)
“Urban Schools Improving Faster Than Rest of US,” Associated Press.
“NAEP Gains in D.C., Los Angeles Outpace Other Big Cities,” Education Week.

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,” 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.

NAEP Scores Detail Hispanic Student Performance

Hispanic fourth- and eighth-graders made small gains in math and reading on the National Achievement of Educational Progress — known as the “Nation’s Report Card” — but achievement gaps remain a persistent problem.

The latest data released measured growth between 2011 and 2013.

Hispanic and black children still have not caught up to white children. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said the achievement gaps are troubling, The Dallas Morning News reported. He used the opportunity to promote the expansion of preschool programs.

“The only way to significantly close the achievement gap is to stop playing catch-up (after students start regular classes) and increase access to early childhood education,” he said. “Why don’t we try fixing the problem before it begins?”

Hispanic fourth- and eighth-graders made progress in math on the National Assessment of Educational Progress between 2011 and 2013, according to new data. Additionally, Hispanic eighth-graders scored higher in reading in 2013 than two years earlier.

You can access online data for more detailed performance data by state.

Related Links:

“U.S. Reading and Math Scores Show Slight Gains,” The New York Times.

“U.S. Students Show Incremental Progress on National Test,” The Washington Post.

“Texas Hispanic Students Lag in ‘Nation’s Report Card,'” The Dallas Morning News.

National Assessment of Educational Progress

Report Emphasizes Importance of Latino College Completion in California

Latinos in California have “unacceptably low rates” of college completion that must improve in order for the state to have a strong future, a new report says.

The report, “The State of Latinos in Higher Education in California,” was conducted by the nonprofit group The Campaign for College Opportunity.

The most stark fact illustrating the challenge is that in 2011, only about 11 percent of Latino adults ages 25 or older held a bachelor’s degree in the state, compared with 39 percent of white adults.

On the positive side, Diverse Issues in Higher Education reported that Michele Siqueiros, executive director of the campaign, noted that “surveys continue to confirm that Latinos have very high aspirations. Latino parents are very supportive of their children getting a college education. In fact, 92 percent of them believe that a college education is very important.”

While more Latinos are graduating high school, that isn’t necessarily leading them to graduate from college.

While many Latinos feel attending college is important, the study points out several factors that hinder their chance of finishing. Among those potential barriers, Latinos are less likely to enroll in a four-year university, less likely to attend a selective college, less likely to enroll full-time, or to complete a bachelor’s degree.

The group makes a number of recommendations for improving outcomes for Latino students. The list includes creating a statewide plan for higher education, investing in student services, increasing funding for higher education, strengthening the state’s financial aid program, and improving the relationship between K12 and higher education entities.

The report also suggests that the state create benchmarks based on Latino enrollment and publicize progress made toward those goals.

According to the study, about 94 percent of California’s Latinos under the age of 18 were born in the United States. When Latinos attend college, they are more likely to attend community colleges. According to state data, of the state’s freshman Latino students in fall 2012, there were 118,727 enrolled in community colleges, 23,046 enrolled in the California State University system, and 8,747 in the University of California system.

Many Latino students who enroll in community colleges must take remedial courses in order to be college-ready, and studies show those students are less likely to finish college. According to California state data, only about four in 10 Latino students complete community colleges in six years. Additionally, of those Latinos who complete community college and enroll in the California State University system only about 63 percent earn a bachelor’s degree within four years.

Meanwhile, well-prepared Latino students attending the UC system fare better: almost 74 percent graduate within six years, and 46 percent in four years. Additionally, almost 82 percent of Latino community college transfers to the UC system graduate in four years.

Related Links:

– “The State of Latinos in Higher Education in California,” The Campaign for College Opportunity.

“California’s Low Latino College Completion Rate Imperils State’s Future,” Diverse Issues in Higher Education.

“For Economy’s Sake, Latinos Need College Push,” San Diego Union Tribune.

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 (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.