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.

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Many Nevada Education Boards Lack Hispanic Representation

Hispanic leaders in Nevada are calling attention to an important education issue that takes place outside of the classroom — the lack of Hispanic representation on many of the state’s elected education boards.

Even in the Clark County School District, where about 44 percent of the students are Hispanic, there was no Hispanic member until recently. When a vacancy came open, the board voted to appoint a Hispanic to the seven-member board earlier this month.

“As a board we do not reflect the diversity of our district,” school board president Carolyn Edwards said according to a Las Vegas Sun story.  “Improving that ratio is important.”

Hispanic leaders are trying to encourage more Latinos to run for eduction boards.

Illustrating the importance of representation, the newspaper mentions how Hispanic state lawmakers helped push through $50 million in funding for English Language Learners.

Currently the Nevada Board of Education only has one Hispanic member and the Nevada Board of Regents has never had a Hispanic member. Both boards are elected.

Former Clark County board member Jose Solorio recalled how his Hispanic background helped offer insights into the community. He told the Sun that when the district wanted to use bond money in 1998 mostly on building schools and not on remodeling him, he persuaded them to use the funds more equitably. He argued that more low-income Hispanic children lived in the older schools that needed updates.

“It wasn’t the right thing to do to ignore the existing schools,” Solorio told the Sun. “That’s where the majority of Latinos and African Americans live.”

Related Links:

“Nevada’s Hispanics Work to Boost Representation on Education Boards,” Las Vegas Sun.

“CCSD Board Chooses State BOE Member to Fill Vacancy,” Las Vegas Sun.

Hispanic Students Fuel Las Vegas Schools’ Record Growth

The Hispanic student population is soaring in the Clark County School District in Las Vegas, where Hispanics are fueling much of the record jump in enrollment this year.

According to the Las Vegas Sun, the student enrollment increased this year by 3,707 students to 315,087 total students. The growth exceeded the district’s expectations.

About 44 percent of Clark County students are Hispanic, while 29 percent are white.

The district is struggling with the growth, and its elementary schools in particular are overenrolled and crowded. Some 30,000 elementary school children attend school in portables. Despite the dire situation, voters in November rejected a tax initiative that would have funded renovations, two new elementary schools and other upgrades.

The Sun reports that three district elementary schools have more than 1,200 students enrolled. Those schools are now operating year-round, so that not all the students are attending at the same time.

Nevada faces significant challenges in its education system. This year, the annual 2013 Kids Count Report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation rated the state last in the nation in education for the second year in a row.

Related Links:

– “Clark County School District Enrollment Grows, With Hispanics Leading the Trend,” Las Vegas Review-Journal.

– “Record Number of Students Packing Clark County Schools,” Las Vegas Sun News.

Clark County School District

The Challenge for Latino Children in Illinois

The Chicago Public Schools have faced numerous difficulties in the past year: school closures, neighborhood violence and persistently high dropout rates. Latino children make up about 44 percent of the district’s enrollment.

On the Huffington Post Latino Voices blog, Latino Policy Forum Executive Director Sylvia Puente writes about the conditions in Chicago and Illinois, noting last year’s struggles.

“The eyes of the nation were fixed on our corner of Illinois — not just to follow the controversy, but also because as one of the country’s global, diverse cities, Chicago is [a] litmus test of educational realities across the country,” she writes.

Puente writes that improving outcomes for Latino children depends on increasing access to quality preschool programs. Additionally, as Illinois phases in required bilingual education for English Language Learners in preschool, more training is needed for teachers. Lastly, Latino students need access to quality teachers and more Latino teachers.

“Understanding the issues is step one,” Puente writes. “But action — in the form of investments in increased access to quality early care and education in Latino neighborhoods, resources for teachers to pursue linguistic credentials, and strong teacher preparation programs that encourage diverse talent in the profession — is critical, in Chicago, in Illinois, and across the country.”

Read more here.

Related Links:

– “Chicago’s Next Education Crisis Isn’t Limited to Chicago — Here’s Why,” The Huffington Post Latino Voices.

– Latino Policy Forum.

Texas Study Finds ELL Students Face “Triple Segregation”

In Texas, poor Hispanic children who are English language learners often attend intensely segregated schools, a new study has found.

Such children face “triple segregation” because they are isolated by virtue of their ethnicity, socioeconomic background and language skills. The trend is found in both urban and suburban settings.

Education professors Julian Vasquez Heilig and Jennifer Jellison Holme from the University of Texas at Austin examined 2011 demographic data from the Texas Education Agency to make their findings in their study, “Nearly 50 Years Post-Jim Crow: Persisting and Expansive School Segregation for African American, Latina/o and ELL Students in Texas.”

The AP reports that in 2012, about 838,000 limited proficient children attended Texas schools. They made up about 16.2 percent of the total enrollment. In 2011, about 9 percent of Texas schools were found to be majority ELL, with most of those being elementary schools. The study reveals that of Texas schools with a majority ELL enrollment, 89 percent have a study body that is majority economically disadvantaged.

However, the study found a bright spot. Majority-ELL elementary schools were more likely to earn the state’s top ranking of “exemplary” than to be rated low-performing. The researchers found 72 “exemplary” and 15 low-performing majority-ELL elementary schools in Texas, noting that “the state should be applauded for these numbers.”

However, the researchers cautioned that those same children tend to go on to attend low-performing middle and high schools. And ELLs have very high dropout rates in Texas.

Researchers point out that Texas has a long history of segregating its Hispanic children. At first, this was accomplished by placing them in separate schools. Texas schools were targeted with lawsuits because of such practices long before the Brown v. Board case. Later, the state segregated children by placing them in separate classes within a school.

As a reporter, I visited many schools that had “triple segregation.” In Texas, bilingual education is required for ELLs when there is a large enough population and by nature of the program these children are placed in separate classes. Do bilingual programs inherently segregate? Are there benefits at all to this, however? The study acknowledges that this question has come up in debates over the instructional program.

“As the first-generation cases were resolved, the friction between bilingual education and desegregation became more apparent, as courts and districts sought to balance the need, on the one hand, to offer linguistically appropriate instruction for subgroups of students who do not yet speak English, and the danger, on the other hand, that such practices could result in racial and linguistic isolation of those students,” the study says.

Lastly, segregation has increased as overall districts and communities have become residentially segregated. Much of the residential segregation growth is happening in the suburbs.

This study is fascinating because it goes a step beyond racial segregation and examines a new type of segregation that has arisen based on linguistic isolation. It’s conversation worth having. It also raises the question, how does attending a segregated school impact how children learn English? And in a majority minority state such as Texas, are these trends just part of the demographic shift?

Related Links:

– “Study Shows Texas Segregated By Language,” Associated Press/Fox News Latino.

– “Study Shows Triple Segregation Persists in Texas Schools,” News Release, The University of Texas at Austin College of Education.

– “Nearly 50 Years Post-Jim Crow: Persisting and Expansive School Segregation for African American, Latina/o, and ELL Students in Texas.”

– “Cloaking Inequality” Blog (By Julian Vasquez Heilig)

Librarians Create Bilingual Reading List

In the Dallas school district, a group of librarians meets every year to create a special reading list for Hispanic children. The librarians strive to identify 20 of the best bilingual books for Spanish-speaking elementary school children.

The librarians call themselves the luminarias (lights used to guide the way), because of how they view their role as shepherding young readers. In Dallas ISD, this is especially critical since almost 70 percent of the district’s students are Latino, and nearly 40 percent are classified limited English proficient.

Reporter Stella M. Chavez of KERA radio reported on the group, and observed as children flipped through some of the books on the list at a local library. There is more than just an educational value to the list.

“They also love to see characters that are Hispanic and that’s starting to be more and more predominant but it’s far from where it needs to be,” Dallas elementary school librarian Maryam Mathis told KERA.

The books include El Fandango de Lola, about a Spanish girl who learns how to dance the fandango. The book La Hermosa Señora  is about the legend of Our Lady of Guadalupe. And Cuento de Noche is a bedtime story.

Have you seen efforts to compile similar reading lists?  

Related Links:

– “Librarians In Search of Books for Latino Kids,” KERA (NPR). 

– Library Programs, Dallas ISD (Scroll down for Luminarias Reading List)

– “For Young Latino Readers, an Image is Missing,” The New York Times.

Latinas 4 Latino Literature.

The Return of Mexican American Studies to Tucson

Arizona state law dismantled the Mexican American Studies program offered by the Tucson Unified School District with a ban on ethnic studies courses passed three years ago. But due to a judge’s desegregation order, the program appears to be headed for a resurrection.

The course was removed due to the ban– but a judge’s order for “culturally relevant” classes appears to be enough to revive it. According to an NPR report, the Mexican American Studies courses were originally created due to a desegregation order.

Classes haven’t resumed and apparently district officials are working to ensure that they offer a program that is acceptable to the state. The program had been criticized by critics who said it fostered anger toward Anglos.

Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal has also commented on the difficulty of bringing back classes that he would deem acceptable.

“Do you cover those injustices in a way in which we say these are profound things that we should be aware of and we have to work in this country to make this country a better place? Or do you use those injustices to create racial division, and do you use those injustices to create hatred?” asked Huppenthal, according to NPR.

Related Links:

– “Tucson Revives Mexican-American Studies Program,” NPR. 

– Mexican American Studies May Return to Tucson, Arizona, Kind Of. The Huffington Post. 

– “Rift in Arizona as Latino Class is Found Illegal,” The New York Times. 

Study: NYC Latino Male Students Lag in College Readiness

First, the good news: High school graduation rates are improving for Latino and black male students in New York City. The bad news? Many of those new graduates are not ready for college coursework.

Those are the key findings of a new report by the Research Alliance for New York City,  based at New York University.  The report, “Moving the Needle: Exploring Key Levers to Boost College Readiness Among Black and Latino Males in New York City”, shows that getting minority students to the high school finish line isn’t enough. Schools must look beyond graduation, and also focus on whether they are preparing young men for future college success.

Between 2002 and 2010, the graduation rate for Latino males in New York City improved from 45 percent to 59 percent. For black males, the rate improved from 45 to 57 percent. However, the study  found that just 11 percent of Latino males and 9 percent of black males are ready for college.

Male minority students are falling behind females. To address the achievement gap, Mayor Michael Bloomberg launched the “Young Men’s Initiative” two years ago. The Expanded Success Initiative (ESI) was also created to assist 40 schools with improving outcomes for male students.

Adriana Villavicencio, the study’s co-author, told Diverse Issues in Higher Education that the study is meant to support and evaluate the city’s efforts. “ESI is really focused on college and career readiness of black and Latino males,” she told the publication. “And we thought it would be important to ask what does that look like in New York City?”

The report points to the challenges facing young minority male students. Those issues include the overrepresentation of black and Latino boys in special education courses, high suspension rates, and limited access to advanced courses. The report recommends that the ESI program focus its resources on the ninth grade first, before expanding to the upper grades. It also establishes goals such as increasing the number of males taking honors courses, and offering mentoring and freshmen seminars to boys.

For the purposes of the report, college readiness is defined by the New York State Education Department’s “Aspirational Performance Measure.” Readiness is defined as equivalent to a Regents diploma, and a score of 80 or higher on the Regents math exam and 75 or higher on the English exam.

Related Links:

– “Study Calls Attention to NYC Effort on Black and Latino Male College Readiness,” Diverse Issues in Higher Education.

– “Moving the Needle: Exploring Key Levers to Boost College Readiness,” NYU Steinhardt.

– Young Men’s Initiative. 

– Expanded Success Initiative (ESI)

Schools Reach Parents With Spanish Radio Broadcasts

Several years ago, Denver Public Schools officials recognized the enormous popularity of Spanish-language radio among Hispanic parents and turned that knowledge into a successful new vehicle for community outreach.

Under the leadership of the then-director of multicultural outreach Alex Sanchez, the district launched the Educa Radio broadcast on local radio stations. The stations already had a built in loyal audience of Spanish-language music fans. Sanchez told The Denver Post that immigrant parents often listed to radio while at work, whether it be in a restaurant or  on a construction site.

“We are getting information to parents in a medium they are comfortable with,” he told the newspaper.

Educa Radio broadcasts have tackled thorny topics including high teen pregnancy rates among Latinas, bilingualism,  discipline,  bullying of gays and lesbian students and how to apply for federal financial aid. A weekly segment profiles schools doing particularly well with Hispanic students.

The radio programs also increased Hispanic parent involvement. The web site Take Part reports that after the radio station launched, the district saw an increase in parent calls to the district and attendance at school district-related events promoted on the radio.

The radio station broadcasts three hourly shows a week.  The initiative also has a web site with blog posts, podcasts and internet broadcasts. The show has been so successful that it has attracted Colorado state senators as guests.

The broadcast’s goals include informing parents about their rights and responsibilities, teaching them how to support their children in the home and at school, encourage involvement in parent meetings and familiarizing themselves with the Denver Public Schools.

The original host of the  Denver program, Alex Sanchez,  has now created a similar Sunday-morning program in the Austin Independent School District in Texas, known as Educa Austin. Sanchez is a Mexican immigrant, and is the district’s director of public relations and multicultural outreach.

“What I recognize is that if parents don’t participate in the education system in this country, it’s not because they don’t care about their kids, it’s because they don’t know how,” he told Take Part. “Active parents can demand services and programs that will help their kids graduate from high school on time, go to college, and have a better shot at the American dream. And who doesn’t want that?”

Related Links:

– “Parental Involvement: Radio Keeps Latino Parents in Tune With Their Kids’ Education,” Take Part.

– Educa Radio (Una iniciativa de las Escuelas Publicas de Denver)

– Radio helps Latinos, DPS stay tuned in to each other. The Denver Post.

– AISD to pilot Spanish radio program on weekend mornings, Austin American Statesman.

– Educa Austin

Graduation Rates of ELLs Decline in NYC Schools

New York City Department of Education officials say that the graduation rate for English Language Learners fell by almost 5 percent for the Class of 2012, in part because of tougher accountability standards. Latinos make up a large part of the  city’s ELL student population.

The overall graduation rate for June graduates declined slightly to 60.4 percent for the Class of 2012, down from 60.4 percent the previous year. According to WNYC, the ELL graduation rate was about 35.4 percent.

Officials in part said it was due to requiring a higher passing rate of a 65 on the English Regents exam. Previously, a 55 was required to graduate.

According to a press release from the department and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, additional funding of more than $4 million will be provided to 25 schools to help provide teachers training on ELLs and also will pair the schools with those who have a track record of strong performance with ELLs. Other efforts could include extended day options, more bilingual programs and new special materials.

New York University education professor Pedro Noguera told NBC Latino that the extra support is encouraging, given the achievement gaps that exist.

“There are still a large number of schools in the city’s poorest neighborhoods where the most disadvantaged ELLs are concentrated,” Noguera said.. “What we know is that when you segregate kids, you deny them access to English language speakers and with that, the resources that they need.”

Related Links:

– “Bloomberg Defends Lower Graduation Rates,” WNYC.

– “NY graduation rates stable,” The Wall Street Journal.

– New Release on Graduation Rates, New York City Department of Education.