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

Plaintiff in Historic Texas School Finance Case Remembered

Demetrio Rodriguez played a pivotal role in the creation of what is known as the “Robin Hood” school funding system in Texas. He was the lead plaintiff in the Rodriguez v. San Antonio ISD case, which was first brought in 1968.

In part, the case centered on inequality and whether children children had a constitutional right to an education.

The issue arose when students attending the poor, almost totally Mexican American Edgewood Independent School District in San Antonio walked out of class, demanding better teachers and resources. They marched to the district’s administration building.

Rodriguez was a veteran and a sheet metal worker who became involved in the Edgewood Concerned Parents Association in San Antonio. According to the Texas State Historical Association, because of the area’s poverty and property tax based funding, the district was only receiving $37 per student, while wealthy children in neighboring Alamo Heights received $413 per child.

In Rodriguez, a federal district judge found the system unconstitutional, but the U.S. Supreme Court later overturned that decision. According to the historical association, Rodriguez responded by saying that “the poor people have lost again.”

However, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund tried another challenge with Edgewood ISD v. Kirby in 1984, and Rodriguez once again joined as a plaintiff. This time, in 1989, Edgewood won, and the funding plan known as “Robin Hood,” in which property-rich districts must send funds to poor districts, was born.

Rodriguez died this week at the age of 87, the San Antonio Express-News reported.

“He was my hero,” said his daughter Patricia Rodriguez, now a third grade bilingual teacher in Edgewood ISD, told the Express-News. “I would like for other people to remember him as a great warrior. Even though he wasn’t well educated, he didn’t let that stop him. It didn’t keep him from fighting for what he thought was right.”

To this day, inequalities between the communities persist. Edgewood ISD is about 98% Hispanic and 97% economically disadvantaged, and Alamo Heights is about 38% Hispanic and 21% economically disadvantaged.

In the 2011-12 school year, the academic performance gap was stark. According to the Texas Education Agency, of 10th graders initially taking the English Language Arts, Math, Science and Social Studies exams, 80% of Alamo Heights students passed all the exams, compared with 40% of Edgewood students. Keep in mind, there are many other students who dropped out and of course were not tested.

The same year Edgewood had 506 high school seniors enrolled and 791 ninth-graders—quite a gap. Meanwhile, Alamo Heights had 353 seniors and 388 ninth-graders.

And the fight over adequate funding for Texas schools continues to rage on. Hundreds of school districts representing more than one million children have once again sued the state for inadequately funding schools. In February, a judge ruled once again that the school finance system is unconstitutional. According to the Dallas Morning News, the ruling centered on schools being inadequately funded, unequally funded and limitations on districts’ taxing levels. The state has planned to appeal.

During the trial, former Texas state demographer Steve Murdoch testified that more funding is needed, particularly because of the growing number of Hispanic and poor children in the state. Texas’ student enrollment is now about 51% Hispanic and 60% economically disadvantaged.

The Texas Legislature cut more than $5 billion in public education funding in 2011 to balance the budget.

“The debt all of Texas owes to Rodriguez can be best repaid by properly funding the state’s public schools,” wrote the editorial board of the San Antonio Express-News.

Clearly, Rodriguez’s battle is not over.

Related Links:

– “Rodriguez, who fought for equality, dies at 87,” San Antonio Express News.

– “Rodriguez was a warrior for equity,” San Antonio Express-News

– Rodriguez v. San Antonio ISD, The Handbook of Texas Online.

– “Judge: Texas school finance system ruled unconstitutional,” The Dallas Morning News.

– “Latino-Majority Texas School System Faces Funding Challenge,” Latino Ed Beat.

Initiatives Target Improving Education in South Texas

The predominantly Latino communities along the border between Texas and Mexico in the Rio Grande Valley are some of the most impoverished in the nation. The Valley’s residents have long struggled with low educational attainment.

According to a fact sheet from the advocacy group Excelencia in Education, only about 16% of Latino adults ages 25 to 64 in the region hold an associate’s degree or higher–compared with 37% of white, non-Hispanic, adults. About 95% of the K-12 students in the Valley are Latino.

But the higher education institutions in the region are working on major reform initiatives that aim to reverse the trend.

At the University of Texas-Pan American, freshmen with ACT scores of 18 or less or who are not in the top 25% of their graduating class must enroll in course that helps them focus on learning and transitioning into college. About 77% of freshman take the course, which was first created in 2008.

At the University of Texas at Brownsville, high school students can enroll in dual-enrollment courses. The program has grown so popular that about one-third of the university’s students are participants in the dual enrollment program. According to the university, retention rates are higher for college students who were once in the program than for those who did not participate in the program.

State education officials and legislators also are paying attention to the region. Plans are also underfoot to merge the two universities, and to create a medical school in the region at the resulting larger university. Recently, the merger legislation passed the Texas House and Senate higher education committees. The presidents of both universities also support the proposal.

In January, Texas Gov. Rick Perry called on lawmakers lawmakers to approve the merger, therefore allowing the two South Texas universities to be able to access more funds known as the Permanent University Fund. The huge pot of money currently is available to the University of Texas and Texas A&M University systems, but not UTPA and UTB.

“I can’t speak for the legislature, but this vision is so compelling, the need is so great, that it can’t help but make sense,” said Francisco Cigarroa, chancellor of the University of Texas System, in an Inside Higher Ed article.

Related Links:

– “Latino College Completion: Rio Grande Valley,” Excelencia in Education.

– “Perry: Let South Texas access permanent university fund,” The Texas Tribune.

– “UT System Planning New Rio Grande University,” The Texas Tribune.

– “Everything’s Getting Bigger in Texas,” Inside Higher Ed.

Latino Test Performance Varies Significantly by State

It’s often said that the zip code a child is born into is a strong predictor of their future academic performance and the quality of education that they will receive. But perhaps the same can be said about the state where a child is born.

The New York Times recently reported on an analysis by the National Center for Education Statistics of the five states with the largest populations, showing the different performance levels of Latino students on the National Assessment of Educational Progress exam.

Those “mega-states” studied are California, Florida, Illinois, New York and Texas. Th five states enroll more than half of the country’s English language learners, a total of 2.9 million–nearly 1.5 million of whom are in California. They also enroll about 40 percent of the nation’s public school students, or 18.7 million students.

NAEP scores are seen as the best tool by which to compare academic performance across state lines.

One notable headline: California Latino students struggled considerably across the board, while Florida and Texas were strong-performers. While the analysis also shows that Latino students continue to lag white students considerably in performance on the tests (full report here), there was considerable variation in Latino performance between states.

The percentage of Latino eighth-graders performing at the proficient level or above in math in 2011 are below, with Texas leading the nation:

California: 13%, Florida: 22%; Illinois: 19%; New York: 13%; Texas: 31%; Nation: 20%.

And the performance of Latino eighth-graders proficient or higher in reading in 2011, in which Florida and Illinois led the nation:

California: 14%; Florida: 27%; Illinois: 23%; New York: 20%; Texas: 17%; Nation: 18%.

The performance of fourth-graders proficient or higher in math, in which Florida and Texas leading:

California: 17%; Florida: 31%; Illinois: 20%; New York: 20%; Texas: 29%. Nation: 24%.

The performance of  Latino fourth-graders proficient or higher in reading was as follows in 2011, with Florida leading:

California: 12%;  Florida: 30%Illinois: 18%; New York: 20%; Texas: 19%; Nation: 18%.

And here is the performance of Latino fourth-graders proficient or higher in science in 2009, with Texas and Florida leading:

California: 8%; Florida: 23%; Illinois: 10%; New York: 13%; Texas: 16%; Nation: 13%

And the performance of Latino eighth-graders proficient or higher in science, with Texas leading the nation:

California: 11%; Florida: 24%; Illinois: 11%; New York: 12%; Texas: 23%; Nation: 16%.

Jack Buckley, commissioner of the NCES, said there was no “consistent pattern among these states,” The Times reported. And that, “each state seems to have areas where it shines and others where they lag behind its counterparts.”

The analysis includes the data broken out by other racial/ethnic categories and factors such as income and ELL status.

Learn more about the analysis of performance in the top five largest states here.

Related Links:

– “Test Scores of Hispanics Vary Widely Across 5 Most Populous States, Analysis Shows,” The New York Times. 

– Mega-States: An Analysis of Student Performance in the Five Most Heavily Populated States in the Nation. 









New Latino Education Coalition Forms in Texas

Members of the newly formed Latino Coalition for Educational Equality announced the creation of their group outside the Texas Senate chambers on Tuesday. They want to ensure that Latino voices are taken into consideration as important school reform legislation is considered this year.

The announcement of the group came on a day when education topics such as graduation and testing were discussed in the Texas Legislature. The coalition members said they planned on testifying on education issues during Texas House and Senate education committee hearings.

Latinos now make up about 53 percent of Texas public school students, but the coalition says they are excluded from deciding important policy.

“I’m just amazed by the lack of Latino experts in the process,” said Joey Cardenas, of Texas HOPE, as reported by the Texas Observer. “I think you’re leaving a significant part of the equation out.”

He added that Latino leaders must “not be an afterthought, but as decision makers in that process.”

Members of the group include representatives of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the National Latino/a Education Research and Policy Project and the Texas Association of Bilingual Education.

Earlier in February a judge ruled that the Texas school funding system is unconstitutional and is not adequately funding schools. The state is expected to appeal the decision to the Texas Supreme Court.

As I reported earlier on this blog, when the case went to trial, former state demographer Steve Murdock testified that the significant challenges facing Latino children required a greater investment from the state.

“Our future is increasingly tied to the minority population–how well they do in terms of education will determine how well Texas does in the future,” Murdock said, according to The Dallas Morning News.

He estimated that by 2050, Texas public school students will be about 64 percent Latino and 15.5 percent white. ABout 27 percent of Latinos live below the poverty line–compared with 9.5 percent of whites.

Related Links:

– “Latino coalition pushing for educational equality,” San Antonio Express-News. 

– “Advocates Worry Latino Voices are Being Sidelined in Texas School Reform Debate,” Texas Observer. 

– “Students Play Pivotal Role in Texas School Funding Case,” Latino Ed Beat. 

– “Judge rules Texas school finance system unconstitutional; appeal expected to Supreme Court,” The Dallas Morning News. 

San Antonio Moves Forward With Pre-K 4 SA initiative

San Antonio is moving forward with plans to dramatically expand access to pre-K for low-income children, in hopes that the investment will result in raising the city’s education levels over time.

Last week, voters approved a one-eighth cent sales tax increase to fund the Pre-K 4 SA  initiative.

The measure is a passion project of Mayor Julián Castro. He campaigned hard for its passage, even mentioning the importance of pre-K as a smart investment in a keynote speech he gave at the Democratic National Convention. Castro proposed the initiative after a city-commissioned task force recommended that expanding early learning would have the greatest positive impact on improving education levels in the city.

According to the mayor’s office, there are about 5,700 4-year-olds in San Antonio who are eligible for state-funded pre-K but are not enrolled in full-day programs. Some are not enrolled in any programs and others are in half-day programs. Officials estimate that the funding raised by the tax increase could provide full-day classes to more than 22,000 children over the next eight years. The city plans to open four education centers of excellence with classrooms, rooms for use by parents and teacher training space.

The San Antonio Express-News reported that the tax should generate about $31 million a year, which could serve about 3,700 children each year.

The San Antonio initiative represents a substantial commitment to improving access that Hispanic children have to pre-K classes. Hispanic children lag other groups in participation rates in preschool.

Latinos comprised about 91 percent of the roughly 55,000 students attending the San Antonio Independent School District in 2011. About 93 percent of the district’s students are classified as economically disadvantaged.  The district plans on working with the city on carrying out the plan.

The Express-News reported that voters in more heavily Latino and black precincts tended to favor the measure far more than those living in areas with mostly white voters. Voters from low through middle income levels supported the measure more than those in affluent areas. The measure passed with about 54 percent of the vote.

“Folks from across the city made a great decision to invest in education today so that we can be more economically prosperous tomorrow,” Castro told the newspaper. “I am proud of the broad coalition behind the effort. It showed that in San Antonio, we’re working well together to accomplish important things for our city.”

Related Links:

Pre-K 4 San Antonio

“Pre-K wheels are turning in election’s wake.” San Antonio Express-News.

“Pre-K plan stimulated important decision.” San Antonio Express-News. 

“Pre-K support was tied to income.” San Antonio Express-News. 

Latino Students Play Pivotal Role in Texas School Funding Case

As Texas’ school funding system went on trial this week, former state demographer Steve Murdock testified in court on Tuesday that the significant challenges ahead facing Latino children require a greater investment from the state.

The Legislature cut more than $5.4 billion from the education budget last year, representing a cut of $500 per student, reported the Dallas Morning News. At the same time, the state has phased in more rigorous standards and tougher exams.  Hundreds of districts sued the state, demanding more adequate funding.

About 53 percent of Texas public school children are now Latino. They also are much more likely to come from poor families, requiring greater investment from the state, Murdock argued.

“Our future is increasingly tied to the minority population–how well they do in terms of education will determine how well Texas does in the future” Murdock said, according to a report in the Morning News.

Murdock listed off the demographic changes the state is experiencing: over the last decade the white student population dropped by 10 percent and the Hispanic population increased by 50 percent. By 2050, he estimates that Texas public school students will be about 64 percent Latino and 15.5 percent white.

As Texas students become more Hispanic, they also are becoming poorer and more in need of academic and financial support. About 27 percent of Texas Latinos live below the poverty line–compared with 9.5 percent of whites.

Murdock has played a key role in Texas for years as a figure who has called attention to the fact that the educational outcomes for Latinos must improve for the state to stay economically strong in the future. He once told the Texas Tribune that given the state’s demographics, “the Texas of today is the U.S. of tomorrow.”

Related Links:

– “Educating Hispanics crucial for state, demographer testifies in lawsuit.” The Houston Chronicle.

– “Demographer warns of increasing education costs as Latino population rises.” Austin American-Statesman.

– “Texas public schools require more funding to serve Hispanics, expert testifies in finance trial.” The Dallas Morning News.

– “Texas, school districts square off in finance trial.” The Dallas Morning News.

Laredo, Texas Named Least Diverse Metropolitan Area in the U.S.

South Texas cities with large Latino populations are some of the least diverse communities in America, according to a US2010 Project study of Census data.

The Brown University research study considered the most diverse cities to be those where the major ethnic or racial categories are the most evenly spread–whites, Hispanics, blacks, Asians and another category mostly of Native Americans. As a result, cities where no one group is in the majority are defined as the most diverse. Those cities are rapidly increasing in number, fueled by a growing Latino population.

So why do I mention this study on an education blog? Because these trends are reflected in local schools as well. If your community is one of those changing the most rapidly, how are school leaders responding? As reporters, we often focus on the large urban districts. But it’s important to tell the story beyond the big cities and in the suburbs and rural areas, where the most striking changes are taking place.

While California accounts for the most diverse cities and places in the country, you may be surprised to see how many Texas cities land on the least-diverse list. Those Texas cities are all in South Texas, near the U.S. border with Mexico. In both California and Texas, the majority of public school students are not white.

Laredo, Texas, where Hispanics make up 96 percent of the metropolitan area, is the least diverse area in the United States. In 2011, of the 24,680 students in Laredo schools, 99.5 percent were Latino and 97 percent were economically disadvantaged. McAllen-Edinburg-Mission is also is in the top 25 least diverse areas in the U.S., with 91 percent of the population identified as Hispanic.

Texas again tops the list of the top 25 least diverse places in the U.S. The border town of Muniz, Texas, with a population of 1,370, is the least diverse place in the country. A total of eight South Texas cities make the least diverse list. Many of them are small towns.

Many of these border and South Texas cities have high poverty rates and the schools face significant challenges. What can other cities with growing Latino populations learn from both their successes–and failures?

South Texas has some of the first cities where dual-language programs became popular and widespread. A recent documentary, Mariachi High, showed how mariachi programs popular in South Texas schools have been successful in engaging more Hispanic students in school.

Elsewhere in the country, American cities of all population levels are rapidly growing in diversity and the Latino population is contributing significantly to the shift. The Wall Street Journal highlighted Sioux City, Iowa, a heartland city, as one of the examples of diversity’s expansion. Many Latinos work in the meat-processing plants and dairy farms in the area.

College recruiter Norma Azpeitia, 34, said she and her four siblings all attended college after her father moved the family from California to the Iowa city.

“We wanted to pursue a higher education and move beyond meat-processing work,” she told the Journal.

The researchers found that communities with populations between 25,000 and 250,000 saw the greatest gains in diversity. Cities where no one ethnic or racial group is in the majority are rapidly growing. Many of the most diverse cities have a large military presence.

California cities make up ten of the top 25 most diverse metropolitan areas. The cities of Vallejo and Fairfield, California, ranks as the most diverse area in the country and San Francisco/Oakland/Fremont as the second most diverse. But other cities have also grown, including the Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta metropolitan area, Washington, D.C./Alexandria and Arlington, Va., and Las Vegas/Paradise Nev..

Related Links:

– “Racial and Ethnic Diversity goes Local: Charting Change in American Communities over Three Decades.” 2010 Project.

– “Stirring up the Melting Pot.” The Wall Street Journal.

– “Diversity spreads to all corners of the U.S.” USA Today.

– US2010 Project.

Latino-Majority Texas School System Faces Funding Challenge

The Texas Tribune reports that the Lone Star State reached two milestones in 2011–public school students became majority Latino, and the state did not fund enrollment growth in schools.

Amidst a massive demographic shift, the schools face more challenges than ever before on a tight budget. Latino children in Texas are more likely to come from poor backgrounds than other children, requiring more investment in educating them.

Texas legislators cut more than $5 billion in public education financing to balance the state budget last year, the Tribune added. Many school districts resorted to teacher layoffs, resulting in increased class sizes.

The Texas State Teachers Association called the growing class sizes “a serious erosion of educational quality standards,” reported The Dallas Morning News.

Former state demographer Steve Murdock has warned state leaders for years that educational outcomes for Latino children must improve for Texas to have a strong economic future. Gaps in achievement between white and Latino students are narrowing–but not by enough, he says.

“It says I need to run fairly quickly from here to the finish line or maybe I won’t get to the finish line,” Murdock told the Tribune.

Related Links:

– “For some Texas schools, demographic future is now.” The Texas Tribune. 

– “Waiver to Texas class size law triple, thanks to funding cuts.” The Dallas Morning News.

– “Hispanics now majority of Texas public school students.” The Dallas Morning News.

School Mariachi Programs Engage and Inspire Latino Students

At Zapata High School in south Texas, competition is fierce to earn one of 24 spots on the two-time state-champion varsity mariachi ensemble.

The upcoming PBS documentary “Mariachi High,” airing on June 29 at 9 p.m. ET (also check local listings), tells the story of the award-winning musical group and shows students going through the audition process and then competing. Zapata High School’s enrollment is about 99 percent Latino and 76 percent economically disadvantaged.

In response to the growing popularity of such programs, in 2008 Texas added a varsity mariachi competition category to its statewide  University Interscholastic League music competitions. Ensembles must include violins, trumpets, armonia (such as vihuela ,guitarrón and guitar) and vocals.

The Huffington Post spoke with Mariachi Halcon band leader Adrian Padilla about the students, all of whom from the most recent team have gone on to college. He recalled how one student decided to study music in college. “When I heard that I was just like, wow,” Padilla told the Post. “I remember when (this student) first came to me and said he’d felt neglected and left behind. I told him that I guarantee by the time you’re a senior, you’re going to be top dog.”

The program has also spurred parent involvement in preparation for the competitions. Teen-ager Eloy Martinez first fell in love with the music when he heard the band playing six years ago, as a fifth-grader.

“The first day I just sat there watching, listening,” he said in The Huffington Post. “I didn’t play any instrument and I thought, I don’t know what it is, but I like it.”

Texas isn’t the only state that encourages such programs. They are popping up in hundreds of schools all over the country, from Las Vegas to towns in rural Iowa. Many educators hope that getting more minority and low-income students involved in arts education will push them forward toward higher education.

““At a time when Latinos have the highest dropout rate in the country and when arts education continues to be under attack, we found a story of teens who pursue excellence through their cultural heritage despite some very real challenges,” Ilana Trachtman, the show’s producer and director, said in a PBS press release. “This is an exuberant story about ambitious and talented Mexican-American teenagers — whom you hardly ever see on screen.”

You can localize this story by checking to see if your local schools are offering similar programs. School systems with thriving programs include the Clark County School District in Las Vegas, Pasco School District in eastern Washington, and the Garland Independent School District outside of Dallas. The University of North Texas also offers a summer mariachi camp for middle and high school students.

Related Links:

– “High School Mariachi Band Inspires Documentary, enlivens community in Zapata, Texas.” The Huffington Post.

-“Mariachi High” Facebook Page. 

– Mariachi USA Foundation

– “Mariachi has changed my life’: Mexican music grabs US students.” 

– “Mariachi band growing roots in Denison middle school.”  The Globe Gazette (Iowa).