Study: Hispanic, ELL Students See Gains in Charter Schools

Hispanic students  who are economically disadvantaged and those who are English Language Learners are excelling in charter schools much more now than in past years, according to a study of charter schools conducted by Stanford University researchers.

The  2013 National Charter School Study by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes found that the number of high-performing charter schools is increasing as underperforming charters are being shut down.

The study of students in 26 states and New York City found that about 25 percent of the charter schools studied had stronger reading learning gains than traditional schools, while 19 percent were weaker. In math, 29 percent of charter schools were significantly stronger than traditional public schools and 31 percent were weaker. Researchers studied individual students’ performance and growth on state exams in both subjects.

In the new study, researchers found that low-income black and Hispanic students and Hispanic students who are ELLs had significantly greater learning advantages in charter school than compared with their peers in traditional public schools. According to the study, the advantage in reading for Hispanic ELLs added up to about 50 extra days of instruction and in math, it was 43 days.

However, for black and Hispanic children who were not economically disadvantaged or ELLs, those advantages did not exist, except for Hispanics in general in reading.

“The charter sector does seem to be posting better results, especially with disadvantaged students,” said Margaret Raymond, director of Stanford’s CREDO, told Bloomberg news. “The fact that they are moving the needle with this many students since 2009 is a pretty impressive finding.”

According to the study, about 4 percent of public school students nationwide attend charter schools, totaling about 2.3 million students.

In contrast, CREDO’s previous 2009 study of 16 states found that charter school students were not performing as well as those students attending traditional public schools. Researchers say that since that study, Hispanic, black, ELL, and poor charter school students in those students experienced academic gains in reading and math.

In addition, Hispanic students had greater gains in reading than traditional public school students, and ELLs performed better in reading and math.

Related Links:

– “Study: Poor, minority students see biggest advantages from charter schools; general gains seen,” Associated Press. 

– “Stanford Study Says Charter School Children Outperform,” Bloomberg. 

– National Charter School Study 2013, Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO)

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Report: Many Silicon Valley Latino Students Not Prepared for College

While Silicon Valley is world-renowned for its innovative high-tech industry, a new report says that only 20 percent of Latino students in the region are graduating high school within four years and are eligible for admission to the University of California and California State University systems.

The achievement gap is most glaring when compared with Asian students, 71 percent of whom graduate in four years and are eligible to enroll in the UC and CSU systems. For white students, it is 53 percent and for black students, 22 percent.

Innovate Public Schools produced the report, entitled “Broken Promises: The Children Left Behind in Silicon Valley Schools.” It examines student academic achievement in the Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, where about 38 percent of the students are Latino. The report breaks out the data by school district and–in some cases–individual campuses.

This is Innovate Public Schools’ first report. The organization’s formation was announced last year, supported by the Walton Family Foundation and the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. Innovate Public Schools was established in part with the intent of creating charter schools or new public school models that better serve minority and low-income students. So it’s important to consider that the group has a clear platform it is trying to advance with the report, which shows that traditional schools and school districts tend to do poorly with closing achievement gaps for Latinos. The group concludes that charter schools are more likely to do better with Latino students. The director of the group, Matt Hammer, is a former director of People Acting in Community Together (PACT), a group that successfully pushed area districts to open charter schools.

Innovate Public Schools highlights the average algebra proficiency rates at the seventh- and eighth-grade levels as early predictors of future success. Those proficiency rates are 23 percent for Latinos, 24 percent for African-Americans, 76 percent for Asians and 57 percent for white students. Silicon Valley Education Foundation president Mohammed Chaudhry is quoted as saying that Hispanic students are “slipping off the college track in elementary and middle school, signified by their inability to pass algebra in 8th grade and often in 9th.” Ninth grade is when students have traditionally been expected to take and pass algebra.

The report points out that in the Sunnyvale School District, 27 percent of Latino eighth graders take algebra, while 91 percent of Asians take the class. Grades, test scores and teacher recommendations determine who is able to take the class. The report points out that Latinos end up taking Algebra Concepts instead of algebra, which focuses on vocabulary and other skills.

But giving students access to classes doesn’t always close the gap. In the San Mateo-Foster City School District, 81 percent of Latino eighth-graders take algebra, but they end up with only 10 percent of students rated proficient.

The report highlights several charter and experimental schools serving mostly Latino students, such as the Rocketship Mateo Sheedy elementary school, as success stories for Latinos (who make up about 89 percent of that school’s enrollment). The students spend about a quarter of their time in a computer learning lab, attend school for eight hours, and do not receive art or music classes. The report also refers to the Renaissance School, a collaboration between the Alum Rock school district and PACT, as doing well with Latino middle school students.

The Aspire East Palo Alto Phoenix Academy high school focuses on dual enrollment courses. But things aren’t all rosy. A recent Palo Alto Daily News article found that only 64 percent of the academy’s class of 2011-12 graduated, compared with the 83 percent average in San Mateo County. The principal said the rate was low because students were often taking five years to finish.

Related Links:

– “Broken Promises: The Children Left Behind in Silicon Valley Schools,” Innovate Public Schools.

– “Silicon Valley Community Foundation Announces New Education Reform Effort,” Philanthropy News Digest.

– “Report: Silicon Valley Schools Do Poor Job of Preparing Latinos for College,” NBC Bay Area.

Latino Children Hurt by Chicago Teachers’ Strike

With her two daughters kept out of school because of the Chicago teachers strike, Patricia Rodriguez was left with no other option than to take them with her to her job at a local laundromat this week. The Chicago teachers’ strike affected nearly 180,000 Latino children enrolled in the school district, many from disadvantaged families, Fox News Latino reports.

“I’m lucky that I can take them to work with me because they can sit in the chairs, but I know that families had to leave kids home alone today or stay home and miss work to be with them and that’s not fair,” Rodriguez told Fox, of her 8- and 13-year old daughters. “The teachers want more and more money and while they fight for that, it’s us, the parents, that are spending money today that we don’t have either. It’s not a big thing today but what about tomorrow and next week if they don’t go back?”

The news outlet reported that both girls said they’d prefer being at class to hanging out at the laundromat.

Many education policy experts are lamenting the negative impact on the mostly low-income Latino and black families missing out on school. Every day counts for such children.

Matthew Chingos of the Brookings Institution wrote that poor students couldn’t afford to miss class. He noted that research has shown that teacher absenteeism–leaving students with substitute teachers– has a negative impact on academic performance. Being out of the school during the summer can also put students behind.

“In other words, the consequence of being out of school is to increase the already unacceptable large achievement gap between low-income students and their affluent peers,” writes Chingos.

The Education Trust also released a statement from Vice President Amy Wilkins calling the effect on the district’s poor, mostly Latino and black students, “tragic.”

“This strike needs to end now,” she wrote. “And the agreement that ends it needs to be one that creates conditions to boost Chicago’s dismal achievement, particularly among its low-income students.”

An article in The Huffington Post noted that the strike could prompt more Latino families to consider enrolling their children in charter schools, which are still open during the strike.

However, up until this point not as many Hispanics have chosen charter schools, said Juan Rangel, the CEO of the United Neighborhood Organization. UNO runs a group of charter schools in Illinois, and serves more than half of Latino children attending Illinois charters. Many are English language learners.

“”I think part of the problem is charters across the country have not been able to attract a lot of Hispanic students and English language learners,” Rangel said.

Related Links:

– “Chicago Teachers Strike Hits Latino Families Hard.” Fox News Latino.

– “Charter School Options for Latinos Gain Attention Due to Chicago Teachers’ Strike.” The Huffington Post. 

– “In Chicago, Latino students and families brace for teachers’ strike.” NBC Latino.

Mitt Romney Talks Education with Latino Voters

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is talking about education–just after a recent survey found that it’s a top issue for Latino voters. He addressed the topic Wednesday in an appearance before a meeting of the Latino Coalition at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Romney spoke broadly about education issues, rather than identifying specific challenges for Hispanic students. He declared a “national education emergency” in the speech and said many kids are getting a “Third World education.” He promoted school choice and criticized teachers unions.

“This is the civil-rights issue of our era,” his speech noted. “It’s the greatest challenge of our time.”

But he avoided talking about immigration or the Dream Act, which would create a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants raised in the United States who attend college or join the military. Romney has said previously that he would veto the legislation.

The Atlantic reported that Lucia Allain, an undocumented immigrant and activist, began talking during the speech but was ushered out. “My main point was to ask him: You’re talking about dreams, the American dream, how every student deserves opportunity in this country. Why can’t I continue my dream?”

A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that Obama leads Romney at 71 percent to 27 percent among Latinos.

Reuters notes that some are wondering if Romney will consider softening his stance on the Dream Act and adopt a proposal from Republican Florida Senator Marco Rubio. Rubio’s proposal would grant visas to young people rather than provide a way to earn citizenship.

Read his speech here.

Latino Voters Rank Education as a Top Issue

A poll released this week found that Latino voters place improving K-12 education above immigration as a top issue of concern in the upcoming presidential election.

According to the poll by the Federation for Children and the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options, 58 percent of Latinos agree that “we need to hear more from the presidential candidates on how they will improve education.” In comparison, 49 percent of all voters agreed with the statement.

The majority of Hispanics also agreed that improving education is central to improving the economy.

The organizations that conducted the survey support school choice, and asked many questions about related issues. The survey found 60 percent of Latinos agreed that “giving parents more choices of schools will improve the education system.” It also found that Latinos strongly support higher pay for higher performing teachers.

The poll included 750 likely voters in English and Spanish in Arizona, Florida, Nevada, New Jersey, and New Mexico.

Read the complete results here. 

More Latino and Black Students Admitted to New York City’s Top High Schools

The number of Latino and black students accepted to New York City’s academically selective public high schools increased this year, according to the city’s education department. What’s shocking is that The New York Times reports that the percentage of black and Latino students admitted to the top eight specialized high schools had previously been declining for years.

How does that happen? Admission is based on a single test. The Times reports that 730 black and Hispanic students qualified for entrance to the elite schools, an increase over the previous year. A total of 5,360 students systemwide were offered spots this year based on their performance on the exam out of 28,000 test-takers. Latinos received 8 percent of the offers and blacks got 6 percent. Those numbers are still low compared with the percentages of Latino and black students enrolled in New York’s public schools; Latinos account for 40.3 percent of the district’s overall enrollment, blacks are 32 percent. Last year, the paper reported that 6 percent  of the students admitted to selective schools were Hispanic and 4 percent were black. According to the paper, just 51 black and Latino students were admitted to Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan, up from 36 students in 2009.

In many urban districts, admission to a magnet high school offers students the opportunity to experience a more rigorous college preparatory program. But how much do these schools’ demographics reflect the district’s overall enrollment? In many cases, the profiles differ dramatically not only in the racial and ethnic breakdowns but also socioeconomically. While the majority of New York City students are Hispanic and black, enrollment in the elite high schools is predominantly Asian and white.

It’s worth a story to analyze how your region’s academically selective schools’ demographics match up with the overall district. If Hispanic or other students are not proportionately represented, is your district trying to address this gap in any way? Have they figured out the reasons why are more students not being enrolled? And if the numbers  are comparable, how has the district achieved that?

In Miami, a Closer Look at One Charter School

Charter schools are often touted as the great hope for public education. President Obama has called for the expansion of charter schools, and a bill under consideration that would rewrite No Child Left Behind possibly could increase the number of charter schools, which are funded by taxpayer money but run independently.

For many low-income and minority families, charter schools are seen as the best opportunity for a better education. (Just think of the countless stories of parents camping out at charter school lotteries just for a chance at admission.) According to the Annual Survey of America’s Charter Schools, about 49 percent of charter schools serve a free/reduced lunch population of more than 60 percent and about 43 percent serve a minority population of more than 60 percent.

But are charter schools living up to their potential?

A Miami Herald investigation found that the operators of one Dade County charter school, the Academy of Arts and Minds, may have used several questionable —  possibly illegal — practices, including charging students for basic classes such as English, social studies and math. The classes are supposed to be provided free of charge.

Parents have also raised questions about the school founder’s financial ties with the school. According to the Herald story, Manuel Alonso-Poch is “the school’s landlord, its spokesman, its food-service provider, its most generous donor and — thanks to a recent $90,000-a-year no-bid contract — its financial manager.”

The Miami New Times also looked at the troubles plaguing the Academy of Arts and Minds in this June 9, 2011 piece.

Both pieces are good reminders that stories about charter schools, which draw significant numbers of Latino students, should not be limited to profiles of successes. There are also stories to be told about how the schools are financed, where the funding goes, how the schools are run, and what the curriculum includes.

In addition, many charter schools do not require that teachers be certified, only that they can be considered “highly qualified.” What does that mean in terms of who is teaching and what is being taught?

Is there a parent board for the charter schools in your area? It would pay off to cultivate sources among the parents, who might be the first people to spot possible problems.

School Choice in San Diego Leads to School Segregation

In one San Diego neighborhood, white families are choosing to send their children to private school rather than to the neighborhood elementary school. Latino families from other neighborhoods, in contrast, are going out of their way to choose that school for their children.

The result? Self segregation.

In a piece posted this week, the voiceofsandiego.org offers a fascinating look at the dynamics that have reshaped the school–and go against the theory that school choice will lead to more diversity within schools.

As reporter Emily Alpert notes: “If every public schooler in the neighborhood went to Jefferson, the school would almost mirror San Diego Unified as a whole — roughly half Latino, about a fourth white, a sixth African-American, the rest a mix of other races.” Instead, the school is mostly Latino and African-American, with most students qualifying for free lunch.

This piece is a follow-up to a story Alpert did earlier this year that examined how school choice has actually worsened segregation in San Diego.

Alpert’s reporting is a good example of staying on top of an issue by starting with an overview of a problem, then zooming in on individual facets. By looking at how one neighborhood–and the families there–are affected, Alpert is able to delve deeper into the questions she uncovered in her earlier reporting, humanize the issue and till ground for more stories.

Educating Immigrant Students

As school districts search for ways to accommodate growing immigrant populations, one trend seems to be emerging: separate schools for newcomers.

In Massachusetts, one group has proposed the Somerville Progressive Charter School, which would serve “the needs of children in Somerville whose first language is not English, the children of fairly recent immigrants,’’ according to this Boston Globe story. The student population in Somerville, a city adjacent to Cambridge, is more than 50 percent immigrant, the group says.

Other similar schools have popped up across the country. In New York City, as this New York Times story shows, there is the Ellis Preparatory School in the South Bronx for students arriving with little or no formal schooling and the Internationals Network for Public Schools for immigrants of all educational levels. In Colorado, The New America School system serves English Language Learners and their families.

These schools offer smaller settings and more focused instruction. It is unclear, however, if this approach is more effective than including new immigrants in mainstream schools.

But, as the Times story notes, “the system over all generally does not serve these immigrants well.” Too often, schools can shuttle new immigrants into special education programs or keep them in classrooms where work stagnates at a basic levels. The range of learning levels is also challenging for teachers, who may have some newcomer students who are unable to read a picture book, while others can produce three-page essays.

How does your district educate recently arrived immigrants? Are they funneled into the general student population, or is there a separate program designed specifically for the needs of newcomers? Have new charter schools serving this population started to pop up?

Most importantly, what are the educational outcomes for immigrant students? Does your district or state track this group?

A quick story could take a look at a day in such a school or a program, telling the stories of the students. (They are often compelling, sometimes heartbreaking). For a more in-depth analysis, examine the student population, the curriculum, graduation rates, and the number of immigrants in special education.

The Role of Catholic Schools in Latino Education

Catholic schools have long been a foothold for the children of immigrants. For my parents, the products of Catholic education in Ecuador, these schools were a natural first choice for their children.

But in recent years, the growth of charter schools, rising tuition costs and the increasing number of Latinos joining evangelical Protestant churches has threatened the survival of Catholic schools across the country. Schools in urban or low-income areas, where Latino students often make up the majority of students, are among those most in danger of closing.

In this Philadelphia Inquirer story, reporter Claudia Vargas looks at a New Jersey bill that would allow private and parochial schools to receive public funds if they agree to strip the school of its religious identity. According to Vargas, several schools in Washington recently agreed to such a conversion.

The story quotes Monsignor Michael Doyle, pastor at Sacred Heart Catholic School and Church in Camden, N.J., an economically distressed city near Philadelphia. Latinos make up the majority of the student body at three of the city’s four Catholic schools. About 93 percent of those students qualify for free- or reduced-price lunch.

“Catholic schools are ‘in a desperate situation’ financially,” Doyle told the paper, noting that many families cannot afford the tuition of $1,100 for one child.

I covered Camden for many years as a reporter at The Philadelphia Inquirer, where I saw the integral role Catholic schools and churches played in the Latino community. This story got me thinking about the larger issue of the struggle to keep Catholic schools open and the effect that is having on Latino families.

According to the National Catholic Education Association, the percentage of minorities enrolled in Catholic schools has gone up significantly in the last 40 years, rising from 10.8 percent in 1970 to 30.3 percent in 2011. Latinos make up about 13 percent of Catholic school students.

In addition, Catholic schools around the country are staging campaigns to attract more Latino students, according to this story in U.S. Catholic magazine. One issue confronted by many schools, according to the article, is their slowness to recognize and accommodate the cultural differences between European immigrants and Latin American immigrants.

What role do Catholic schools play in the Latino communities in your area? Are they competing with charter schools for students? Are they on the verge of closure? If they are, what would happen to the schools’ students? Have they kept up with the changes in demographics and cultural traditions?

Why do Latino families choose Catholic schools and  what sacrifices do they make in order to do so? How do Catholic school leaders view their place in Latino communities?