Spanish For Native Speakers College Classes Increase

Latinos raised in Spanish-speaking homes but not formally schooled in Spanish are often caught in a bind when they want to strengthen their language schools in college.

Spanish classes for non-native speakers may not be the best fit, so programs that address the needs of “heritage” speakers are increasingly popping up. As the Latino student population ages, Spanish for Spanish speakers classes could grow in popularity throughout the country.

The Associated Press reports on the trend, noting that it is still developing. Such students may have strong conversation skills, but experience challenges with reading and writing in Spanish, for example.

Harvard and the University of Miami are two examples of institutions that have special classes for such “heritage” speakers.

The AP article describes one student, Dorothy Villarreal, who realized the gaps in her Spanish when she studied abroad in Mexico.

“We were talking about the presidential election, and there was so much I wanted to explain,” Villarreal told the AP. “We’d end up playing a guessing game where I’d speak in English, and my friends, they’d speak back in Spanish to guess what I was saying.”

She is now enrolled in the Harvard heritage language class.

Additionally, the National Heritage Language Resource Center at the University of California, Los Angeles, tracks research on such programs and works on developing effective ways to teach heritage learners. The U.S. Department of Education funds the center. The center could be a possible resource for reporters.

There already are signs of the future demand for such courses. Growing numbers of school districts are using AP Spanish and Language classes with native Spanish-speaking students beginning as early as middle school.

The number of Spanish speakers residing within the United States isn’t dropping any time soon. A recent study by the Pew Research Center found that Spanish is the most common language other than in English spoken in homes, even among people who are not Hispanic.

Pew said that according to 2011 American Community Survey Census figures, about 37.6 million people ages five and older speak Spanish in the home.

Related Links:

– “Heritage language programs on the rise,” Associated Press.

– National Heritage Language Resource Center at UCLA.
– “Speaking Spanish Declining Among Latinos in the U.S.” CNN.

– “Spanish is the Most Spoken non-English Language in U.S. Homes, Even Among non-Hispanics,” Pew Research Center.

Harvard Criticized Over Dissertation on Hispanics’ IQ

Harvard University students have gathered 1,200 signatures protesting the John F. Kennedy School of Government’s approval of a dissertation asserting that Latinos have low IQs.

The Boston Globe reports that the petition calls on the university to investigate how the dissertation by doctoral candidate Jason Richwine was approved. “Academic freedom and a reasoned debate are essential to our academic community,” the petition said. “However, the Harvard Kennedy School cannot ethically stand behind academic work advocating a national policy of exclusion and advancing an agenda of discrimination.”

Richwine’s thesis argued that Hispanic children attending U.S. schools will not improve past their immigrant parents. “No one knows whether Hispanics will ever reach IQ parity with whites, but the prediction that new Hispanic immigrants will have low IQ children and grandchildren is difficult to argue against,” Richwine wrote in the paper.

He also called the average IQ of Hispanics “effectively permanent.”

Richwine’s thesis, “IQ and Immigration Policy,” came to light and stirred controversy this month after he co-authored a Heritage Foundation report asserting that the effective cost of immigration reform would be $6.3 trillion. Richwine has since resigned from his position at the foundation.

George Borjas, chair of the Kennedy School’s Standing Committee on Public Policy, which accepted the work, said the dissertation was sound. Borjas, who was born in Cuba, is an economist and professor who also has promoted reducing immigration to the United States.

So far, Richwine has stood by his conclusions, in which he says immigration policy should be based on IQ. “The dissertation shows that recent immigrants score lower than U.S.-born whites on many different types of IQ tests,” he wrote in the National Review online. “Using statistical analysis, it suggests that the test-score differential is due primarily to a real cognitive gap rather than to culture or language bias.”

Petition spokesman Berdion Del Valle, who is Hispanic, said that it is important that research be academically rigorous and ethical.“If Harvard doesn’t apply rigorous academic standards for its research, how can we guarantee our policy discussions are not affected by irresponsible scholarship?” he told NBC Latino.

This debate reminds me of difficult issues that we have faced since the implementation of No Child Left Behind testing began. Speaking in support of the passage of that law, President Bush referred to the “soft bigotry in low expectations” that blocks progress in closing achievement gaps from happening. This debate exposes the unfortunate truth that there are many people out there, even those with advanced degrees, who still do not expect much of minority children.

What is being done to change these attitudes?

Related Links:

– “Harvard students erupt at scholar Jason Richwine’s claim in thesis,” Boston Globe.

– “Harvard students demand investigation into Jason Richwine immigration thesis,” NBC Latino.

– “IQ and Immigration Policy,” Jason Richwine.