University of Texas Launches Initiative To Help Latino Males

A recently launched initiative in Texas will bring together school districts, community colleges and universities in an effort to improve education outcomes for Latino and black male students.

The Texas Education Consortium for Male Students of Color will be based at the University of Texas at Austin and seeks to encourage Texas higher education institutions to create “male-focused student programs” that address state goals in increasing the success of minority male students.

The group is pursuing several objectives. It will work to hold meetings and student summits around the issue. The program also hopes to identify and build successful male mentoring programs. The group also hopes to serve as a resource center through which best practices can be shared.

The consortium will be led by UT education professor Victor Saenz. He is also the executive director of Project MALES (Mentoring to Achieve Latino Educational Success), which I have blogged about before.

The consortium is supported in part by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating  Board, which has a “Closing the Gaps” initiative that aims to increase college enrollment in the state. and close gaps by 2015. In the latest 2013 spring progress report, the board found that there is a growing gender gap in college enrollment and Hispanic males in particular have the lowest participation rate.

According to the report, in fall 2012, only about 4.1 percent of the Hispanic male population Texas participated in higher education, which was 1.7 percent below the rate of female Hispanics. It would take about 88,000 more male Hispanic students to enroll to catch up to female Hispanic students.

Additionally, the report finds that about 47 percent of Hispanic males who graduated from high school in 2012 went directly to college the following fall, compared with 56 percent of Hispanic females.

Related Links:

– “UT Austin Launches Texas Consortium to Improve Outcomes for Male Minority Students,” Press Release.

– Project MALES (Mentoring to Achieve Latino Educational Success). 

– “Researchers Call Attention to the Educational ‘State of Crisis’ Facing Latino Males,” Latino Ed Beat.

– “Closing the Gaps Spring 2013 Progress Report,” Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

Most Colorado Latino College Students Need Remediation

A new report by Colorado higher education officials finds that in 2012, almost 78% of Latino students enrolled in the state’s two-year colleges need remedial education. Latino students  fared better at four-year colleges, where 40% need remedial courses.

By comparison, 57% of white students needed remediation at two-year colleges and 19% at four-year colleges. African-American students fared the worst, with 90% needing remedial coursework at two-year schools and 56% at four-year schools.

The report by the Colorado Department of Higher Education breaks out the rates and numbers of students by college and university. The state also tracks the figures by school district and high school. THe highest rate was found to be 95% at Emily Griffith Opportunity School in Denver Public Schools, and the lowest at just 2% at D’Evelyn Senior High School in the Jefferson County School District.

About 51% of all students needed remediation in math, 31% in writing and 18% in reading.

Even if you’re not a reporter in Colorado, find out how your state tracks remediation rates. Examining which high schools graduate the most students requiring remedial courses can often be just as illuminating as looking at the graduation rates.

Related Links:

2012 Remedial Education Report, Colorado Department of Higher Education. 

“40% of Colorado high school grads need remediation before college,” The Denver Post.

Initiatives Target Improving Education in South Texas

The predominantly Latino communities along the border between Texas and Mexico in the Rio Grande Valley are some of the most impoverished in the nation. The Valley’s residents have long struggled with low educational attainment.

According to a fact sheet from the advocacy group Excelencia in Education, only about 16% of Latino adults ages 25 to 64 in the region hold an associate’s degree or higher–compared with 37% of white, non-Hispanic, adults. About 95% of the K-12 students in the Valley are Latino.

But the higher education institutions in the region are working on major reform initiatives that aim to reverse the trend.

At the University of Texas-Pan American, freshmen with ACT scores of 18 or less or who are not in the top 25% of their graduating class must enroll in course that helps them focus on learning and transitioning into college. About 77% of freshman take the course, which was first created in 2008.

At the University of Texas at Brownsville, high school students can enroll in dual-enrollment courses. The program has grown so popular that about one-third of the university’s students are participants in the dual enrollment program. According to the university, retention rates are higher for college students who were once in the program than for those who did not participate in the program.

State education officials and legislators also are paying attention to the region. Plans are also underfoot to merge the two universities, and to create a medical school in the region at the resulting larger university. Recently, the merger legislation passed the Texas House and Senate higher education committees. The presidents of both universities also support the proposal.

In January, Texas Gov. Rick Perry called on lawmakers lawmakers to approve the merger, therefore allowing the two South Texas universities to be able to access more funds known as the Permanent University Fund. The huge pot of money currently is available to the University of Texas and Texas A&M University systems, but not UTPA and UTB.

“I can’t speak for the legislature, but this vision is so compelling, the need is so great, that it can’t help but make sense,” said Francisco Cigarroa, chancellor of the University of Texas System, in an Inside Higher Ed article.

Related Links:

– “Latino College Completion: Rio Grande Valley,” Excelencia in Education.

– “Perry: Let South Texas access permanent university fund,” The Texas Tribune.

– “UT System Planning New Rio Grande University,” The Texas Tribune.

– “Everything’s Getting Bigger in Texas,” Inside Higher Ed.

Puente Project Improves Latino Student Outcomes in California

The California-based Puente Project has worked to bridge the gaps between Latino youth and college enrollment since 1981. The program’s goal is to increase the number of Latinos graduating from four-year colleges, and then to urge those graduates to return to their communities and give back as mentors.

The program’s success was highlighted in a webinar Thursday hosted by the College Board Advocacy & Policy Center discussing college readiness programs for young men of color. The discussion was the third in a series discussing the challenges young men face.

Counseling, mentoring and teaching are the three main components of the organization. The program trains high school and community college educators to work with students and guide them toward transferring to four-year colleges. Students have the same counselor consistently through their high school career and then again in community college.

Once enrolled in community college, they take a class together on Latino and multicultural literature. “The shared experience gives them buy-in into the program,” Puente program trainer and coordinator Martin De Mucha Flores said during the webinar. “They become critical thinkers.”

De Mucha Flores speaks from personal experience: He was a Puente program student himself.

The project’s work addresses solving a significant problem in California– the poor transfer rates of Latino, black and low-income students from community colleges to universities. Earlier this year, The Civil Rights Project at UCLA noted that just 20 percent of transfer students in 2010 were Latino or black.

The program serves thousands of students, and operates at 61 community colleges and 34 high schools in California. This year, it opened sites at South Texas community colleges in El Paso, McAllen and San Antonio.

The Puente Project was also recently highlighted as a successful program with young men in a policy brief appearing in Perspectives: Issues in Higher Education Policy and Practice. The policy advocacy group Excelencia in Education also named the group as one that’s successfully working to improve Latino graduation rates.

“We’re a tried-and-true program,” said De Mucha Flores, who noted that academic journals have vetted and proved that the model works.

Related Links:

Puente Project Web Site

– “Webinar Series-  Young Men of Color: Charting a  Way for Educational Success.” College Board Advocacy & Policy Center. (Video and presentation links)

Texas District Brings Dropouts Back to School with College Courses

Pharr-San Juan-Alamo School District Superintendent Daniel King makes an unusual pitch to high school dropouts to get them to re-enroll in the district: He offers them the option to start college while they are finishing high school.

“It’s kind of an oxymoron, but we used an early college philosophy for dropouts,” King told PBS NewsHour. “We brought them back in. Our message was, you didn’t finish high school. Start college today.”

He opened the College, Career, and Technology Academy (CC&T Academy) in 2007. Volunteers go door-to-door to recruit dropouts to attend the school, which now serves students between the ages of 18 to 26. They are able to take dual enrollment courses to earn college credits. This year, there were  70 graduates of the academy , and about 60 percent of them will go on to college.

The South Texas district on the U.S.-Mexico border serves about 32,000 students, 99 percent  of whom are Latino and 89 percent are economically disadvantaged.

The college focus also extends to regular students: The district opened up the T-STEM Early College High School to meet the needs of juniors and seniors. Many of the graduates finished school with a two-year degree from South Texas College, a community college, and a high school diploma.

By numerous accounts, the strategy has worked.  Education Week recently reported that about 2,000 of the district’s 8,000 high school students are enrolled in a college course each semester, and the four-year graduation rate has increased from 62 percent to 87 percent over the past three years.

The Texas Education Agency featured the district in a best practices guide for school districts.

One student helped by the PSJA district initiative is Jonathan Sanchez, who says he dropped out when he got involved in drugs. He enrolled in the program in January, and takes courses including business computer systems.

“There’s, like, so much going on, it feels like my brain is being occupied the whole time,” he told PBS.

The story was featured on PBS NewsHour as part of the American Graduate project, reported on by John Merrow of Learning Matters. A second story on the school district will air tonight on NewsHour.

Related Links:

– “In South Texas, Luring Dropouts back by Sending them to College.” PBS NewsHour.

– “I have Seen the Future.” Learning Matters.

– American Graduate Project. Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

– “For many Latino Students, College Seems Out of Reach.” Diplomas Count 2012. Education Week.

– “High-Yield Dropout Prevention/Recovery Program-Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD.” Best Practices. Texas Education Agency.

– College, Career & Technology Academy. Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District.

Prepárate Conference: Miami Dade College and FIU Emphasize Partnership

Miami Dade College and Florida International University are two of the most successful colleges in the country when it comes to graduating Latino students. A recent study by the group Excelencia in Education, found that in 2009-10 Miami Dade College awarded 5,893 associate degrees to Latinos and FIU awarded 3,918 bachelor’s degrees and 1,014 master’s degrees to Latinos.

The two institutions are working together to build a seamless pipeline for students who earn an associate degree at Miami Dade and then want to move on to earn a bachelor’s degree at FIU. Administrators from the colleges presented at the College Board’s “Prepárate: Educating Latinos for the Future of America” conference in Miami to explain their dual admission program and their work as partners.

Promising Miami Dade College students who are not admitted to FIU outright because of academic or capacity issues are invited into the dual degree program, and about 30 percent of those approached so far have chosen to participate . If they earn an associate degree within three years, they can move on to the university.

About 84 percent of students in the dual admission program require remedial courses.  Their average high school GPA is about 2.8 and their math or verbal SAT scores average around 450 in each area, so they do require further coursework to be prepared for the university.

“The basic promise that the university makes in the letter is we’re not admitting you but if you go to community college and get the two-year degree, we’ll hold a seat for you,” said assistant professor Glenda Musoba.

To encourage the bond, orientation for the participating Miami Dade students is held at FIU. “There’s a lot of buy-in right away for students to feel they’re FIU students,” said Douglas Wartzok, the university’s provost and executive president.  “We really try to build the affinity to FIU as they’re starting as Miami Dade students.”

Students are also issued FIU ID  and library cards, so they can participate in campus activities. That stresses to students that “this is your home as well,” said FIU vice provost Elizabeth Bejar.

They also go through workshops at certain points on topics such as choosing a major with the help of a dual degree bridge advisor.

The program still is young and administrators are closely watching the results. Since 2006, 5,203 students have accepted the offer  to participate and 141 of those participants have graduated from FIU. Most of the students joined the program recently, so long-term data is still needed to gage future success.

English Language Learners with More Educated Mothers Fare Better on Assessments

New longitudinal data released by the National Center for Education Statistics shows that regardless of whether a child begins kindergarten as an English language learner or not, children with the most highly educated mothers generally score best on math, reading and science assessments as eighth-graders.

In addition, children who spoke English as their dominant language or began kindergarten proficient in English despite the language spoken in their homes performed better as eighth-graders on the three subject tests than students who began kindergarten with limited English skills.

In the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, NCES tracked a sample of the kindergarten class of 1998-99 through eighth grade, and found that about 12 percent of the children surveyed spoke a language other than English at home. The majority –but not all–of ELLs in the study came from Spanish-speaking homes.

English language learners whose mothers had a bachelor’s degree or higher and who reached English proficiency by spring of their kindergarten year scored  better on math and reading exams as eighth-graders than children whose mothers had less than a high school education.

Hispanic children with limited English skills were more likely to be living in poverty with less-educated mothers. Those children took longer to reach English proficiency and struggled more with assessments.

According to the April report, about 59 percent of ELLs who were not English proficient by spring of their kindergarten year had a mother with less than a high school education. Just three percent of ELLS who were not proficient by kindergarten had a mother with a bachelor’s degree or higher.

For comparison, 35 percent of ELLS who were English proficient by spring had mothers with less than a high school education and 17 percent had mothers with a bachelor’s degree or higher.

The study defined English proficiency based on children’s scores on the Oral Language Development Scale, which measures listening comprehension, vocabulary and ability to understand and produce language. The report cautions that English proficiency as defined in the study may differ from how a school defines proficiency due to different methods used.

The report is pretty data-heavy; you can view it here.

The message is that a mother’s education level is very important to determining a child’s future educational success. What sorts of programs in your community are trying to better educate Spanish-speaking mothers so their children are more prepared for kindergarten?

Initiative Seeks to Improve Latino College Participation Rate

One way to cover the achievement gap between Latinos and other students is to look at programs seeking to close the gap. One such initiative was launched this week by the Lumina Foundation, which is awarding $7.2 million in grants toward efforts to increase Latino participation in postsecondary education. The money will be distributed over a four-year period to nonprofit organizations in 10 states.

“Through these partnerships, we aim to build bridges among leadership groups already working to improve Latino college student success,” Lumina President and CEO Jamie Merisotis said in a release posted on the organization’s website.

The organization is running a national “Goal 2025 movement,” with the aim of boosting the number of Americans with postsecondary degrees to 60 percent by the year 2025.

Organizations in the following states are set to receive the grants: Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas. The Latino grant program will include financial literacy training, efforts to improve the transition from K-12 to college and developmental classes for students not ready for college-level work.

Tackling the Dropout Problem

More Latino students are completing high school these days, but dropout rates continue to be a major issue for this community.

According to a report from the National Center for Education Statistics, among those who were 18 to  24 years of age and not currently enrolled in high school, 75.5 percent of Latinos had completed high school in 2008, compared to 95.5 percent for Asian/Pacific Islanders, 94.2 percent for whites and 86.9 percent for blacks. The numbers were even lower for foreign-born Latinos, only 59.8 percent of whom had completed high school.

In addition, Latino males had lower completion rates than their female counterparts, with 78 percent of Latina girls completing high school compared to only 73 percent of boys.

So, what are schools doing to stem the dropout rate?

A new report from the National Center for Education Statistics offers a good place for reporters exploring that question.

According to the report, which surveyed schools about dropout prevention services offered in the 2010-2011 school year, high schools offer more dropout prevention services and programs than elementary or middle school. For example, 67 percent of high schools offer tutoring services, compared to 75 percent of elementary schools and 79 percent of middle schools. The numbers drop even farther for guided study hall or academic support, with 70 percent of high schools offering those services, compared to only 36 percent of elementary and 63 percent of middle schools.

In addition, only 20 percent of elementary schools and 44 percent of middle schools offer alternative programs, compared to 76 percent of high schools.

Since research shows that early achievement in lower grades is often a predictor of long-term student success, lack of services for struggling students in elementary and middle school years could be a factor in dropout rates.

The report also found that few districts offer students help in transitioning from one level to another. For example, only 10 percent of districts offer an assigned student mentor to help students move between elementary and middle school, and only 20 percent offer a student mentor to help in the jump between middle school and high school. Only 24 percent of districts offer advisement classes for the elementary-to-middle school shift, and only 40 percent have advisement classes to help with the middle-to-high school adjustment.

Districts may also be falling short in trying to identify potential dropouts, with more than one-third of districts relying mainly on three factors: academic failure, truancy or excessive absences, and behavior that leads to suspension or expulsion. Far fewer districts look at learning disabilities, teen pregnancy, involvement with the criminal justice or children protective systems as warning signs.

What are your school districts doing to address the dropout problem? How do they determine which students are at risk and what services do they offer those students? Take a look at the success rate of the dropout prevention programs in your district. Do they match the needs of the students?


The Tie Between Funding and Achievement Gaps

Two recent U.S. Department of Education reports point out the continuing gaps in education for Latino and low-income students.

Achievement Gaps,” from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), showed that Latino students continue to lag behind white students in math and reading by about two grade levels – a rate virtually unchanged since the 1990s.

Similarly, data released by the Office of Civil Rights, showed that significant disparities still exist between low-income and more affluent school districts. Among the findings, 3,000 schools do not offer Algebra 2 classes, schools with a mostly African-American student body were more likely have teachers with one or two years of experience than schools serving white students.

That brings me to the bottom line — and a new brief released by the Center for American Progress, a public policy research and advocacy organization.

In “The Still be Dragons: Racial Disparity in School Funding is No Joke,” researchers seek to debunk the idea that public education funding is equitable across racial lines. To the contrary, the authors point out, “the student poverty rate tends to increase, on average, with the percentage of African American, Hispanic, or Native American students in a district while it tends to decrease with the percentage of white or Asian students.” And, since school serving low-income students are often poorly funded, the result is a racial disparity in funding.

The brief focuses on non-federal funding, which researchers say holds the greatest disparity, and includes a table breaking down funding levels by state.

Some states, including California, Colorado,Florida, and Idaho, distribute funding fairly equitably; while Illinois, New York, and Pennsylvania spend less on black and Hispanic students than on white students.

For education reporters examining achievement gaps in their districts, the brief provides a good jumping-off point for a key question: how does achievement correlate with funding?

Look at the schools with low scores or those that lack resources, then compare their funding with higher-achieving or better-equipped schools. Is there a difference in funding? In demographics? In student income levels?

A good place to start is this searchable database created by ProPublica, using the data from the Office of Civil Rights.

In addition to writing about schools falling short, try to find schools that are closing the gap. Looking at what those districts do right can make a meaningful story.