NCES Report Shows High School Course Gains for Latinos

A new report released by the National Center for Education Statistics sheds some light on the course-taking practices of Latino high school students. In particular, greater numbers of students are taking math and science coursework.

The courses taken changed considerably between 1990 and 2009. For example, the percentage of Hispanic graduates those years who took a calculus course grew from 4 percent to 9 percent.

However, gaps persisted between groups. In 2009, about 42 percent of Asian graduates, 18 percent of white graduates and 6 percent of black graduates had taken calculus.

In addition, the percentage of Hispanics who completed algebra II/trigonometry increased from 40 percent to 71 percent between 1990 and 2009.

In the area of science, Hispanic graduates who had completed a chemistry course increased from 38 to 66 percent.

Programs are working to promote even greater participation in math and science courses by Hispanics. The AP STEM Access Program funded in part by Google intends to expand Advanced Placement courses in hundreds of high schools.

Latinos are underrepresented in AP math and science courses. Latinos in the Class of 2012 made up only about 13 percent of the students who took the AB Calculus exam, for example.

The report, “The Condition of Education 2013,” is a treasure trove of data spanning other areas as well, including test performance, child poverty and postgraduate income.

Try to delve into what courses Latino students are taking in your local school district. If you have STEM magnet programs, how diverse is the enrollment? I expect that promoting STEM among minority students will continue to be a hot topic in the coming years.

Related Links:

– “The Condition of Education 2013,” National Center for Education Statistics.

– “High School Students Taking More Math and Science Courses,” College Bound Blog, Education Week.

– “Grant Expands Access to STEM Courses for Minority Students,” Latino Ed Beat.

– “College Board Reveals Advanced Placement Data on Latinos,” Latino Ed Beat.

SHPE Promotes Science Awareness Among Latino Parents

College-educated Latino professionals are working to promote STEM education through the Noche de Ciencias (Science Night) program.

In 2008, the Society for Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) Foundation launched a national campaign, encouraging its student and professional chapters throughout the nation to reach out to K-12 students. The programming is typically held during Hispanic Heritage Month every year and emphasizes the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics education.

The program provides hands-on learning activities, promotes awareness about college programs, and provides Spanish and English language parent workshops. The organization provides resources online for organizing a science night, complete with presentations and lesson plans.

An event was recently held at Dunbar High School in the Fayette County Public Schools in Lexington, Kentucky. The professional and student chapter worked together on the program.

“The main goal is for them to learn as much as they can while also having fun,” said high school junior Erika Nunez, a member of the SHPE student chapter, in a story published on the district’s web site. “It’s a lot of help to have the parents and students on the same page, and we can answer all their questions in one night.”

Should more professional organizations be involved in the public schools? In particular, what are Hispanic professional organizations doing to reach out to young people? Do your districts partner with any similar organizations?

Related Links:

– “‘Noche de Ciencias’ promotes STEM, college routes.” Fayette County Public Schools. Lexington, Kentucky. 

– “Noche de Ciencias (Science Night).” SHPE Foundation. 

Researchers to Create Science Curriculum for Latino Pre-K Students

Researchers at the University of California Santa Barbara are working on creating a health and biology curriculum for Latino preschool students with the help of a $1.2 million award from the National Institutes of Health.

The university reports that the curriculum’s goal will be to teach low-income Hispanic 4- and 5-year olds who are English language learners. The children will learn about topics such as food and nutrition. They will also learn about cold and flu prevention, and practices such as the importance of washing hands to prevent illness.

The university said the children will also learn about how to approach science through questioning, developing explanations and also making predictions.

“With the project, we’re also trying to develop information-seeking and explanatory discourse skills so when the preschool children get to kindergarten, they’re comparable to their peers,” lead investigator Laura Romo said in a press release.

Romo is an associate professor in the department of education at UCSB and is director of the university’s Chicano Studies Institute. She will work on the curriculum with the Santa Barbara Head Start program.

Beyond concepts, the researchers hope to learn what sort of language support the preschool ELLs need to develop their academic language and also learn content at the same time.

Related Links:

– “UCSB Receives $1.2 million NIH Grant for Preschool Health, Biology Curriculum.” UCSB.

Report Profiles College Faculty Working to Increase Latino STEM Participation

The Center for Urban Education at the University of Southern California has been releasing a series of reports about the need to increase the number of Latinos in STEM careers. The studies are supported by the National Science Foundation, which wants to spur more Hispanics to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The most recent report, “Developing the Capacity of Faculty to Become Institutional Agents for Latinos in STEM,”  emphasizes that beyond special programs targeting Latinos, individual university leaders or faculty often make the difference in increasing enrollments. Researchers interviewed 60 representatives of two- and four- year Hispanic-Serving Institutions.

The report profiles two faculty members. The first is a university college of engineering dean who wanted to boost the number of Latino transfers from the local community college. He understood the students’ backgrounds because he, too was a first-generation Latino college student. He worked to bring together STEM faculty from the college and university to create a STEM curriculum and transfer agreement.

“Rather than focus solely upon fostering change at his own institution, [the dean] used his influence and authority to create a formal curriculum relationship between the two schools for the benefit of Latino students in the area,” the CUE report notes. “Curricular articulation agreements are notoriously difficult to draft because of academic governance practices and the sheer number of stakeholders involved; they thus require substantial commitment on the part of institutional leaders who must mobilize others to reach agreements and complete the necessary work.”

In a second case, the study mentions a mathematics professor and department chair at a four-year Hispanic-Serving Institution in the Southwest. He noticed fellow faculty were frustrated dealing with Latino students who struggled with lab work. He created a “Summer Lab Boot Camp,” to expose Latinos to computer science, biology, chemistry and physics labs. In addition to preparing them for lab classes before they enrolled, the program also created a sense of community.

“[He] understands that not all faculty members may have the patience, awareness, or interest to assist students who need the extra support,” the report says. “The program initiated students into the culture of science and gives them a headstart.”

The center makes a number of recommendations for program administrators including that faculty be rewarded who support Latino students, faculty be diverse, and that faculty include Latino students in undergraduate research opportunities or conference presentations; and that student data be disaggregated by ethnicity.

The science foundation is pushing forward its agenda to push more students into these majors. But The Washington Post recently highlighted that pushing them into PhD programs in these areas may not be the best idea, since there aren’t necessary jobs there. Not all STEM careers are created equal, and some tracks can be more lucrative than others, such as engineering.

Related Links:

– “Developing the Capacity of Faculty to Become Institutional Agents for Latinos in STEM.” Center for Urban Education. 

National Science Foundation Funds Research on Teaching Science to English Language Learners

The National Science Foundation has stepped forward to assist with efforts to close the achievement gap for English language learners in science and math by funding 32 active research projects in the area.

Julio López-Ferrao, program director of the education and human resources directorate at the National Science Foundation, spoke about the issue at the recent “Prepárate: Educating Latinos for the Future of America” conference sponsored by the College Board. He noted that the NSF’s ELL focus has only developed in the past five years. “How do we do better with English language learners?” Lopez-Ferrao asked. “The National Science Foundation has a mission to promote research of high quality. There is a national problem and other agencies need to jump in the pool.”

So far, the majority of projects focus on Spanish-speaking students, more than half focus on middle-school grades, and the projects usually collect data from at least two school districts. The issues addressed include student learning, assessment, curriculum and professional development.

Lopez-Ferrao said the largest and most successful project so far has been the five-year Promoting Science among English Language Learners, or P-SELL project in Florida led in part by  Okhee Lee. The P-SELL, which offers a elementary school curriculum and teacher professional development, is being used in the Miami-Dade County Public Schools. Lopez-Ferrao said that students in the program performed better on assessments than those not in the program and the achievement gap also shrank.

Another NSF project–this time in Texas– the Middle School Science for English Language Learners or Project MSSELL, led by Rafael Lara-Alecio and Fuhui Tong of Texas A&M University, is examining middle school performance.

The latest results of the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) of eighth-graders showed that English language learners performed far below other student groups in science and have not made progress over the past couple years. ELLs averaged a score of 106 out of 300 points, compared with 137 for all Latino students, 163 for white students and 129 for black students. Proficient is considered a 170.

Are you curious whether there is research under way in your area? The NSF has a searchable database of active research projects  online. If you search under the key words “English language learners”  you’ll find some hits.

Related Links:

– “Grim NAEP Science Results for English Learners.” Learning the Language blog, Education Week.

– Promoting Science among English Language Learners (P-SELL) (Florida)

– Project Middle School Science for English Language Learners (MSSELL) (Texas)

– National Science Foundation: Directorate for Education and Human Resources. 

– The Nation’s Report Card: Science 2011 (NAEP).

Student Debt Discourages Latinos from Enrolling in STEM Programs

The urgent need to increase the number of young people pursuing degrees in STEM areas–science, technology, engineering and math–is a hot topic in education circles. Especially during the current economic slump, having a bachelor’s and graduate degrees in these disciplines can have a better return on investment than other areas of study.

But how can you collect that return, if you can’t even afford to invest in a degree ? A recent report, Reducing Undergraduate Debt to Increase Latina and Latino Participation in STEM Professions, by the Center for Urban Education at the University of Southern California calls for changes in financial aid policy  that could increase the numbers of Latinos going into STEM careers. The study is the fourth in a series of reports funded by the National Science Foundation as part of an effort to increase Latinos’ access to STEM fields.

“We’ve seen some good news with the number of Latinos completing master’s and doctoral degrees but this critical demographic is still severely underrepresented among all STEM master’s and doctoral degree recipients,” said Lindsey E. Malcom, the report’s co-author.

The study’s authors say that Latino students’ tendency to borrow at high rates for their undergraduate education limits their ability to pursue a graduate education. The researchers found that Latinos graduating with high undergraduate debt when compared with others in their graduating class are 17 percent less likely than graduates with no debt to pursue further higher education within two years. The impact of debt on Latino students’ aspirations appears more severe than on other groups. Researchers say that in comparison, white, Asian or black students with high debt are 5-6 percent less likely to pursue graduate education. In addition, Latinos with low debt are also about 13.8 percent less likely to pursue higher-level degrees.

“For Latino students, who average higher levels of financial need than any other racial-ethnic group, a recurring concern has been that debt aversion, or a reluctance to borrow, constrains college choices and limits access to institutions with higher sticker prices, like privates and highly selective colleges and universities,” the study notes. “This is a particular concern because these same highly selective institutions often have more extensive and wide-ranging academic programs in STEM fields.”

The authors’ recommendations include expanding research assistant and work-study opportunities in STEM areas at colleges and universities serving large Latino enrollments, such as Hispanic serving institutions.

HSI’s that are granted federal Title V STEM funds also must be monitored to make sure they are successful in their efforts to promote Latino students’ success in the disciplines. The funding is partially meant to improve transfer rates from community colleges to four-year universities.

A previous report by the center found that very few Hispanics who hold bachelor’s degrees in STEM career areas had first earned an associate’s degree and then transferred. But the benefits of starting at a community college include lower student debt.

The report’s co-authors also urged the need to grow the federal Pell grant program, keep interest rates steady and disaggregate student loan debt data by race and ethnicity.

When you report on the issue, request data on the number of Latinos enrolled in undergraduate and graduate-level STEM programs from your local colleges and universities. Then ask the institutions if they have any initiatives to increase the numbers of Hispanics enrolled in the programs.

You can also turn to organizations such as the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering as resources and The National Math and Science Initiative.

Related Links:

“Reducing Undergraduate Debt to Increase Latina and Latino Participation in STEM Professions.” Center for Urban Education.

“Are Hispanics America’s Next Great STEM Innovators?” Forbes. 

“Grant to Promote STEM fields for Hispanic/Latino K-12 students.” Georgia Tech Newsroom and The Goizueta Foundation.

“Increasing Access of Underrepresented Groups to High-Quality, Career-Readying Science, Technology and Mathematics Education.” Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute. 

Hispanic Students Narrow Science Achievement Gap on NAEP Exam

The achievement gap between Latino and white eighth-graders in science is narrowing, according to  National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) data released on Thursday.

Between 2009 and 2011, average science scores among Hispanic students increased by five points, compared with a three-point increase for black students and one point increase for white students.

A proficient score is a 170 out of a 300-point scale. Hispanic students’ scores grew to 137, compared with an average 163 for white students and 129 for black students. The average score for English language learners was 106. While the improvement is a bright spot, American students still struggle with science. Only about 32 percent of students scored “proficient” or higher on exams.

The interim head of the National Science Teachers Association, Gerry Wheeler, called the gains “miniscule,” the Associated Press reported. “When you consider the importance of being scientifically literate in today’s global economy, these scores are simply unacceptable,” Wheeler said.

The exam, known as “the nation’s report card,” is based on a sample of 122,000 eighth-graders from across the country.

Read the full report here. Some states performed better with Latinos than others. Florida, with an average score for Latino students of 144, and Texas, with 146, performed better than the national average. California, with an average of 128, and Arizona, with 132, were below the national average.

You can delve into state-level data here.