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.

L.A. Parents Use “Parent Trigger” To Create Unusual New School Plan

Empowered by California’s “parent trigger” law, the parents at one elementary school cast their votes Tuesday in an unusual election.

They were deciding whether the struggling 24th Street Elementary School in Los Angeles should remain in the L.A. Unified School District, break away and be run by a charter school operator–or opt for an unusual combination of the two.

While public school districts and charter schools often compete to enroll the same students, the parents took the unusual step, and 80% opted for merging both models together.

The Los Angeles Times reported that the parents voted for L.A. Unified to handle the kindergarten through fourth grades, and the charter school to handle grades five through eight. Parents will also participating in the hiring process for new staff.

The majority of the children at the school are Latino, and the vote gave voice to many of the Spanish-speaking immigrant parents. That was reflected during the vote. However, they did not work alone. The campaign was largely organized by the group Parent Revolution.

The Times reported that the vote, which took place in a park, had a festive atmosphere and included face painting, piñata and tamales.

“I’ve seen the struggle of some parents here that they’ve gone through so many problems with their children,” parent Esmerelda Chacon told the Los Angeles Times. “I’m very , very happy with the results we got.”

The California law allows a majority of parents at a failing school to petition seeking reforms, including replacing the principal and much of the staff to closing the school.

So far, the parent trigger concept has proved to be controversial. In Florida, for example, the debate has raged over whether the law reflects an effort to privatize education by converting public schools into charter schools run by companies.

It remains to be seen whether putting parents in charge of a school can be an effective turnaround model. But it’s an experiment many are setting their hopes on.

Related Links:

– “Parents choose LAUSD, charter school to run Jefferson Park campus,” The Los Angeles Times.

– “Parents choose unique school takeover model in ‘trigger’ vote,” Hechinger Report. 

– “Florida Senate revises ‘parent trigger’ proposal,” The Tampa Tribune. April 11. 

Parents Rally in Support of ‘Parent Trigger’ at Calif. Elementary School

At the predominantly Latino 24th Street Elementary School in the Los Angeles Unified School District, frustrated parents are rallying to take over the failing campus and turn it around.

They are seeking to use California’s new and controversial “parent trigger” law passed in 2010. The law empowers parents to petition to make major campuses at campuses, which they can achieve by getting the signatures of at least 50 percent of parents of students enrolled. Changes include turnaround models such as staff changes or converting to charter schools.

Parent Amabilia Villeda began attending protests about the poor quality of education at the 24th Street school three years ago and is among those trying to gather enough parent signatures.

“We have the opportunity to make a change at this school because now we have the right support to do it,” she said in Spanish, reported The Hechinger Report. “They weren’t listening to us before, and with the law, now they’re listening.”

The school serves a population that is 80 percent Latino, with many of the students from low-income households. The campus has failed to meet state standards. Hechinger reports that more than 80 percent of third-graders and 71 percent of fifth-graders are not reading on grade level, and the campus has the second highest suspension rate among elementary schools in the L.A. school district.

After a long battle, parents at Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto, Calif., recently became the first to use the law, and plan to turn the campus into a charter school. By state standards, 24th Street is actually lower performing.

Members of the group Parent Revolution are organizing the 24th Street parents.

On the web site GreatSchools, the school is rated a one out of 10. Many of the parent online reviews are highly critical of the principal.

The school’s website lists a positive vision very different from the one that parents see: “24th Street Elementary is committed to creating a healthy, safe and positive environment that develops lifelong learners who will become socially responsible, global citizens.” According to the site, the school has a parent center that provides workshops and a parent representative.

We hear so much about the lack of Latino parent involvement. But in this case, parents are actively protesting and mobilizing around the issue of education reform. It should be interesting to see how well known the law is among Hispanic parents in California, and how many of those parents plan to pursue it.

Related Links:

– “One week after ‘parent trigger’s’ first success, new campaign announced at Los Angeles school.” The Hechinger Report.

– “Parent Trigger Law at LAUSD: 24th Street Elementary School the Target of New Parent Petition.” Reuters.

– 24th Street Elementary School, Los Angeles Unified School District. 

– Parent Revolution.

Miami Prepares For Impact Of Common Core Standards On ELLs

School districts around the country are scrambling to phase in the Common Core State Standards. The consensus seems to be that more teacher training and professional development is needed, especially because the new standards are much more rigorous.

But are districts considering their English language learner population as they phase in the changes?

I recently wrote a piece about how the Miami-Dade Public Schools are trying to address how the changes will impact ELLs. The district held training about the common core and ELLs for 200 teachers in the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program over the summer. In addition, the school district has developed pacing guides for teachers that include notes on how lessons can be adapted for ELLs.

“We are modeling for the teachers how to make the instruction very explicit and very concrete,” said Beatriz Pereira, executive director of bilingual education and world languages at Miami-Dade. “The standards are extremely high.”

In Miami, the common core standards have been implemented in kindergarten through third grade. Miami-Dade has about 70,000 ELL students district wide.

Some teachers feel there needs to be more training on how to teach ELLs–not just for ESOL teachers, but also for core subject area teachers and teachers who are not solely dedicated to teaching ELLs.

“The common core standards for ELLs sound great,” said Gustavo Rivera, a history teacher at Miami Springs High School and member of the Hispanic Educators Committee of the United Teachers of Dade. “It’s all very nice until you get to the area of application. How do you apply them? That, to me, is the most worrisome.”

You should ask your local district about the training they are offering to teachers on the common core–and if any time is spent addressing how the standards impact ELLs. Is the school district putting time into addressing the group?

EWA hosted a conference  last week about the impact of the common core on ELLs along with the University of California, Berkeley, and Stanford University’s “Understanding Language” initiative.  Click here to view videos from the seminar. To read tweets from the conference, look up the hashtag #ewaell.

Related Links:

– “Common Core and ELLs: Lessons from Miami.” Education Writers Association.

Understanding Language. Stanford University.

– Colorin Colorado

– Council of the Great City Schools.

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.

Report Outlines Education Agenda for Latino Students in Illinois

Nearly one in four Illinois public school students is Latino. And their story is no longer confined to the Chicago Public Schools, where Hispanics are 43 percent of the enrollment. Most of the  state’s Latino student population is now in the suburbs and rural areas.

new report by the Latino Policy Forum lays out the challenges facing the population. Only one in three Latinos are enrolled in preschool. By the time they reach the third grade, these Latino students lag white students by 31 percentage points in reading scores.  English Language Learners, 86 percent of whom speak Spanish, lag 48 points in reading by third grade.

“Such statistics are alarming, and these trends left unchecked will have devastating implications for Illinois: ensuring positive outcomes for their community is no longer simply a Latino issue,” the Shaping Our Future report says. “The well-being of Latinos–whose population has increased by nearly 500,000 over the last decade–is inextricably linked to the well-being of all of Illinois?”

So, what can be done?

The report identifies areas of interest and specific action items to be taken on:

Raising Academic and Instructional Standards:

The report suggests providing linguistically appropriate tests for students, such as increasing students’ time to take tests and allowing students to respond in Spanish. In addition, it advises that students complete college prep coursework and be provided programs such as dual-language instruction.

Preparing Teachers and Academic Leadership:

The Forum urges racial diversity among the teacher and administrator workforce. It urges that bilingual and mainstream teachers have proper training to deal with the diverse student population. In addition, it seeks to promote Latino students’ access to highly qualified teachers.

Addressing Funding and Facility Concerns.

The state’s heavy dependency on property taxes to fund schools has perpetuated continued unequal funding districts, with high-minority districts receiving about $1,595 less per student than low-minority districts. The Forum promotes advocating for increased funding and new strategies for distributing funds. In addition, it suggests building schools to be able to prevent overcrowding and increasing students’ access to technology.

Fostering Partners in Education.

The organization has planned the Acuerdo group geared at bringing Latino organizations and leaders together to advocate for the community’s needs and push initiatives forward.

Partners with schools, classrooms and school districts can include community-based organizations, foundations, businesses, faith-based organizations, health organizations and families. They can provide resources for issues such as funding support and providing support such as gang prevention programs.

The report also stresses the importance of family involvement initiatives, such as sharing with parents school information such as the benefits of preschool. Schools can also be educated themselves about how to go back to school and learn English. In addition, the report points out that suburbs often have fewer community organizations that provide services than Chicago, and are in need of more partners.


The Latino Policy Forum also hosted a discussion today along with leaders from the National Council of La Raza, Chicago Public Schools and Illinois State Board of Education in conjunction with the report’s release. WestEd’s Aida Walqui, an expert on ELLs, also spoke about the common core standards.

Related Links:

– “Shaping Our Future: Building a Collective Latino K-12 Education Agenda.” Latino Policy Forum. 

– Education Acuerdo

Latino Policy Forum

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.