Hispanic Magazine - December 2002 FEATURE - hispaniconline.com

The Crisis Among Hispanic Students

Many Hispanic children are not learning to read and write. Almost half do not graduate from high school or are below grade level. At best, the lack of education condemns people to a life of menial jobs and poverty. It can also sentence them to a life of welfare, unemployment, or crime. What can we do to correct the situation? Read “The Dropouts,” first in a series.

By Mayra Rodríguez Valladares
From HISPANIC Magazine


Part I: The Dropouts

By Mayra Rodríguez Valladares

The above dialogue comes from Los Desertores (The Dropouts), a bilingual musical written by Puerto Rican playwright Radamés Gavé about Latino high-school students. Gavé wrote much more than a play about Latinos dropping out. The play is art imitating Latino student reality across the United States. It is a haunting refrain of the plight Hispanic students face in schools all across the country.

Many Hispanic children are not learning to read and write. Almost half do not graduate from high school or are below grade level. At best, the lack of education condemns people to a life of menial jobs and poverty. It can also sentence them to a life of welfare, unemployment, or crime.

Statistics from the U.S. Department of Education tell the story. Thirty-seven percent of Hispanics do not finish high school, compared to 15 percent of the national average. The percentage of Hispanic teens who drop out of high school is and has been higher than that of African Americans and Caucasians each and every year for the last three decades. Even among those Hispanics who remain in high school, 34 percent are below grade level.

People who deal with children and educational issues everyday—the true experts—agree: The status of education for Hispanics in this country is in a state of crisis!

It will get worse before it gets better. The U.S. Census Bureau expects the number of Hispanics to almost double from 35 million to 63 million by 2030. Hispanics will make up 25 percent of the kindergarten–12th grade population by 2025. The economic consequences of poorly educated students are staggering for the country as a whole. Education should be a national priority, more so for Hispanics who are lagging the national average.

The process of improving educational standards begins with Hispanic parents. Those who do not care must be taught the importance of a good education. Those who lack the resources must be empowered to address their children’s needs. Politicians must accept reality and provide the resources to address our community’s greatest need—the education of our children.

The lesson for Hispanic parents and the nation is clear. The modern economy requires a well-educated labor force. If children are not well educated, where will companies find their productive employees tomorrow?

The Hispanic Scholarship Fund, a non-profit organization, has the admirable goal of raising the percentage of Hispanics who have a college degree from 9 to 18 percent of all U.S. Hispanics. Not only is the Fund challenged to raise funds, it must also hope that students graduate from high school. The Fund, in conjunction with Rand, one of the most influential think tanks in the country, conducted a study that analyzed the economic impact of Hispanics’ lack of education.

The analysis found that if the nation were to invest one dollar toward having Hispanics receive a college degree, the return on investment would be 4:1. This means that the benefit of having college-educated Hispanics in higher-paying jobs available only to college graduates would represent higher taxes, contributions to social security, and disposable income that Hispanics would be able to plow back into the economy. According to Sara Martínez Tucker, president and CEO of the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, many of her funders come to her and say, “If only Hispanics valued education like Asians.” She strongly disagrees: “We do, but [Hispanic] families also have other needs.”

“The stories from Los Desertores are based on real lives,” explains Manuel A. Morán, executive and artistic director of the Society of the Educational Arts (www.sea-ny.org). He says that Los Desertores poignantly conveys the message: when kids drop out of high school, they are dropping out of mainstream society. The story is much the same throughout the country.

The Dropouts

Usually, before students drop out, they start skipping classes, an obvious sign that they are at risk. Municipal Judge Ernest Aliseda, who hears truancy cases in the border town of McAllen, Texas, recites a litany of reasons why children skip classes and eventually drop out of school. He disguises the names of students who have come before him, but the cases are all too real. “María skipped class to go eat off campus. Juan did not do his homework in one or several classes and does not want to show up unprepared,” he says. “Sergio has to work at night and often does not wake up in time for first period. Clara’s parents are fighting all the time and are getting a divorce. Pedro’s parents use drugs and so does he. He is too stoned to go to class, and they are too drugged to know if he goes to school.” Once students miss classes, they begin to fall behind. Falling behind leads them to miss more classes and soon they drop out. The results are disastrous. They are faced with a life of:
• functional illiteracy;
• significantly lower earnings ;
• double the rate of unemployment than for graduates;
• four times the likelihood of ending up on welfare than for high school graduates; and
• being at higher risk of becoming a criminal. Fifty percent of state prison inmates are high-school dropouts.

Understanding the Causes

One cannot ignore economic reality. Almost 40 percent of Hispanic children are raised in families that are below the poverty line, a rate twice as high as that of Caucasian children.

Language proficiency is also a problem. Many immigrants to the U.S. are illiterate in Spanish, which makes learning English a daunting task. The problem turns into a vicious cycle.

“Uneducated parents are not in a good position to know what the best education for their kids should be despite the fact that they want a good education for their children,” says Mr. Ronald Blackburn-Moreno, president and CEO of ASPIRA Association, Inc, an organization dedicated to helping Hispanic students.

He adds that Latino children who enter school speaking only Spanish have the “double task of learning to speak and read English. Once students are in elementary, even in middle school, their inability to read causes them to drop out.”

The problem starts before children enter formal education programs. Latino children are seldom placed in pre-school programs. Head Start covers only one-third of children eligible nationwide. “This is especially a problem in inner city and immigrant areas,” says Blackbrun-Moreno. Less than 15 percent of all Hispanic American children participate in pre-school programs. Children who do not participate are already behind by the time they enter kindergarten. It is very difficult for them to ever catch up.

The fact that most Hispanic children are crammed into schools with few resources seals their fate. According to Charles García, chairman and CEO of My Sterling and a presidential appointee to the President’s Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans, “there are low expectations by school personnel, ill-prepared teachers and administrators, limited coordination among schools, parents and communities on behalf of students, and tracking into non-academic fields.” García also believes that “the active participation of parents in the education of their children is not facilitated, and the educational assessments, often in the form of tests in English, are incorrectly used to make decisions that negatively impact the student.” It all conspires “to discriminate against Hispanic children!”

“With all these problems students are often bored, unhappy, and feel isolated in school,” says García. “I will never forget when my little sister told me, ‘What is the point of going to school? It is a white man’s world anyway.’ Edgar’s song in Los Desertores brought back memories of her lament.”

How do we even try to solve this enormous problem? The need to provide Hispanics with a better education needs serious national attention. Leslie Sánchez, executive director of the White House on Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Education believes that President Bush has focused on the problem. The President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans has as its goal “to ensure progress is made in closing the academic achievement gap for Hispanic students. By raising expectations for Hispanic families and providing the tools needed to increase their educational attainment, we hope to achieve this goal.”

Work at a grassroots level, however, is more critical. Domestic and foreign non-profit organizations have tackled the task of improving education amongst Hispanics. ASPIRA has literacy and other educational programs for immigrants, adults and children, and in Puerto Rico it also has pre-school programs.

The Mexican Cultural Institute of Houston has launched a Hispanic Literacy Task Force with a mission to improve the education provided to Hispanic students in Texas. According to program director José-Pablo Fernández, the task force is especially interested in “raising the educational levels, literacy, and second language skills” among Hispanics.

Some private-sector firms realize they cannot afford to ignore the educational plight of the fastest-growing segment of the national workforce. Procter & Gamble addresses the issue by distributing a U.S. Department of Education video titled Vamos Juntos a la Escuela that looks at four areas: parent involvement, readiness to learn, reading and mathematics, and preparing young children for college.

Spanish language television networks Univisión and Telemundo also help. They have conducted a broad-based television campaign of public service announcements titled Education Matters. All public service announcements displayed the U.S. Department of Education 800 number so that viewers could request Spanish language publications in the areas of reading, math, college access, and parent involvement. García also highlights the efforts of the Mott Foundation and the Macarthur Foundation, which have made extraordinary investments in after-school programs for Hispanic Americans.

Extremely important, programs must target parents concurrently with children. Fernández always tells parents: “Keep your children motivated to study and read to them starting at the earliest date possible. Parents are the key to the educational success of Hispanic children.” Sánchez agrees: “Parents must demand that their school system provide the components of quality instruction, including qualified teachers who meet the demands of their state.” Yet, often parents are so overwhelmed with one or two concurrent jobs, that they don’t have the time nor the knowledge to help their children. Children’s academic success depends on everybody. They are tomorrow. It is imperative to enter the fray to stop the haunting motif of Los Desertores.

Latinos in Higher Education: Many Enroll, Too Few Graduate
A Pew Hispanic Center Report in PDF (Adobe Acrobat) format:

Ten percent of all U.S. Latino high school graduates enrolled in institutions of higher education during the late 1990s, enrolling at a higher rate than their white peers and at a rate second only to their Asian peers, according to a new report by the Pew Hispanic Center. Yet despite finishing secondary school and enrolling in college in large numbers, Latinos lag every other population group in attaining college degrees. The following tables show annual college enrollment levels and characteristics, from 1997 to 2000, in California, Florida, Illinois, New York, and Texas.


Hispanic Magazine_com - January-February 2003 - Crisis in Education Part II


Part II: From the Beginning…There Needs to be Light!
By Mayra Rodríguez Valladares

Aurora Valladares, a south Texas mother of six, remembers trying to raise her kids in the late 60s and 70s. “Pre-school?” she asks, her dark eyes widening, “I did not know English. I spent all day cooking and cleaning. Where would I find the time to find out about early education programs? How could we afford it?”

The experience of this petite and energetic Mexican immigrant is not one that has improved with time. It repeats itself today among other Latino immigrant parents, in Texas and all across the nation. Lack of knowledge or money prevents thousands of Latino children from ever attending early education programs.

Statistics are staggering. Almost one in five children under the age of 5 in the United States is Latino. And one in three of those Latinos lives under the poverty line. Teachers, experts and community leaders agree that it is almost impossible for Latino children to break the cycle of poverty unless their education starts at a very early age. If it does not, they are already at risk of dropping out of school and destined for a life of low-paying menial jobs. While efforts exist to provide children with early education through
programs such as Head Start, the majority of Latino children often do not enter schools until kindergarten or even first grade. By then, they are behind their peers; more so, if they do not speak English.

Economics cannot be ignored

According to research by Bowling Green State University’s professors Jenny van Hook and Kelly Stamper Balistreri, Hispanics in California present a clear example of what happens to Latino children all across the country. Because “they are the largest immigrant group and tend to be poor and to be residentially segregated ... it is nearly impossible for school districts in Hispanic areas not to be mostly poor, mostly minority, and mostly non-English-speaking.”
They add that these problems have led scholars in the field of education of immigrants to argue that schools in these poor and residentially segregated neighborhoods “produce inequality rather than equalize opportunity.” This is particularly grave for small children. The authors found that
California children who attend “low-status, high-minority schools learn less than children who attend integrated schools,” particularly in schools where the concentration of minority students is prevalent.

Education has to begin early

“At pre-school age is when children can learn the most. They are like sponges!” explains Sugatha Alladi, an experienced teacher of children between the ages of 2 to 6 at a Montessori school in Somerset, New Jersey.

Ynez Cruz, who taught kindergarten to eighth grade students for 34 years in Dade County in Florida, contends that in kindergarten it was immediately evident who had been to pre-school or not. “Children who went to pre-school had an advantage,” recalls Cruz. “They came with English, had the ability to manage pencils and paper, and were already adapted to a school environment.”

She found that the children who had not been in pre-school programs took a long time to adjust to being in the kindergarten. “The difference was still noticeable in the first grade. If a child had a high IQ and had a rich learning environment at home, then they could catch up. Most of the time, however, this does not take place. About 75 percent of the children who had not attended pre-school carried that disadvantage for a long time.”

According to Early Child Initiative Foundation’s Chief Operating Officer Ana Sejeck, “if a kid has a good caregiver who is dedicated to taking them to all sorts of things, like libraries, music programs, and settings for children to interact with each other, then the child will probably succeed as well as his/her peers who have been to a pre-school program. Unfortunately, reality is that most parents have to work and hence cannot give children structured education and stimulus.” Consequently, “a child with no early education is already at a disadvantage in the first grade. Parents need to understand that children have to be read to, that they have to play with other children, be fed properly, and they have to have health care.”

Parents’ education and financial status are critical

The reasons why Latino children do not attend early education programs are numerous. “Pre-school (in Florida) is usually not free,” Cruz says. “In Dade County, some of these programs can cost $65–$100 a week. For some families, especially if they have more than one child of pre-school age, those fees are unaffordable.” When it comes to private school pre-school education, the cost can be prohibitive. In New York, Alicia Meléndez, a Puerto Rican mother, paid over $8,000 a year, or $211 a week, for her son Paulo to attend a private school for a 38 week, four hours a day program. “Had I wanted to send him more hours,” explains Meléndez, “it would have been even costlier.”

Significant lack of knowledge about early education also exists. Parents often confuse daycare centers for pre-school. “Child care is not necessarily pre-school, and even some pre-schools are not teaching children anything,” says Alladi. “A good pre-school in one with a solid curriculum.” Sejeck agrees. “Often child-care centers are not accredited. In Dade County, there are 1,400 licensed day care centers, but only 106 are accredited.” Sejeck explained. “I did not know when I was putting my kids in day care, that there is a big difference (between programs). Now I say to parents, ‘Do not just warehouse your children in a center.’”

Cultural issues also affect parental attitudes about such programs. Dr. Linda Espinosa, co-director of the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) in New Brunswick, New Jersey, contends that early education programs “need to make a concerted effort to make families comfortable; otherwise, families feel alienated.” Word of mouth reputation is what sells or destroys a program. “We made our program family friendly.” The program now has a long waiting list.

According to Espinosa, Latino families have a very difficult time “letting go of their 3-year-olds to strangers who often speak another language and come from a different culture. Anglo middle-class families, on the other hand, accept that kids need to go to pre-school to get socialized.” There is much to be done to convince the parents of Hispanic children of the benefits of pre-school programs and of the adverse consequences of a late start in school.

Head Start makes a good effort, but the majority of Latinos are not covered

Head Start, a national program created in 1965, provides early education to children under 5. Dr. Wade Horn, Director of the Administration for Children and Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, explains that each of his department’s programs “help provide services to the most vulnerable children. Clearly economic disadvantage causes vulnerability. Disproportionately, Hispanic children are poor, so as a matter of course we provide services to them.” He also stated that “in some areas we have specific outreach (programs) for Hispanic children. In others,
we cover them through our regular programs that target lower income families and children.”

Head Start also runs a program for migrants, which covers 37,000. Many, if not most of them, are Latino. Providing for migrants is a “unique challenge because families are moving according to agricultural cycles.” Head Start has made an effort to model some programs to try to serve these children. “One is a program that moves with families as they move for agricultural opportunities. The other model is one where centers (are placed) in areas where migrant families might live.”

The Administration for Families and Children recognizes the need to carry out specific outreach for Hispanics. Horn states that the Administration is involved “in public education and invariably in English and Spanish public service announcements.” The Administration has also had Hispanic forums about child support issues and has tried to reach out to Hispanic media. He admits, however, that despite the Administration’s best intentions, more effort needs to focus on reaching Latino families and children.

While the Latinos served by Head Start constitute 30 percent of all the children in the program, they only represent 19 percent of the 1.2 million poor Latino children who need to be covered. This means that 80 percent of Latino children who also cannot afford any other kind of early education programs are not going to school until they are 5 or 6 years old, by which time their peers have had exposure to the English language, engaging in educational activities, and interacting with children outside their families.

Copyright 2003 by Hispanic Magazine. All Rights Reserved.
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Why the Music Stopped

This is the story of Ricky, a victim of a bad neighborhood in south Texas. His story plays out in Latino barrios across the U.S. His story is real; the names are not.
By Mayra Rodríguez Valladares

Ricky was a thin 13-year old kid with incredibly straight jet-black hair and very mischievous eyes. Teresa remembers him “as a C student the whole time he was in junior high.” Yet, Ricky was also a very good clarinet player. He would sit on the gravel in front of a neighbor’s house and play the school-borrowed instrument for hours. The woman’s two huge German shepherds would stop their barking and whimpering when Ricky would serenade them most evenings. Even Teresa, who had better grades, was a little envious. “How could such a bad student be such a good clarinet player?” she would ask herself.

Weapon-Carrying students in High School
Percentage of students grades 9-12 carrying a weapon in the past 30 days:


non-Latino whites








source: IUPLR

“¡Ricky, ven a comer!” his mother would shout. And just like that, the beginner’s level of Mozart’s clarinet concerto would stop abruptly and Ricky’s lanky legs would carry him off. He would always try to eat with his mother and sister. The father had been absent all of Ricky’s life and one of his brothers had been in jail longer than Ricky could remember.
Teresa’s and the dogs’ ears, for that matter, would be left wanting for more of those comforting clarinet sounds that momentarily would almost cover up the barrio’s sounds: the fights, crying children, and police car sirens.

Suddenly one day, no one heard Ricky play again, nor did anyone see him running to and from home. Rumor had it that he had been in a fight with some teenage drug dealers. A shot in the back confined him to a wheel chair the rest of his life. No one in the barrio was ever willing to testify as to who had shot him. Ricky had become very depressed and did not want anyone seeing him in a wheelchair. He dropped out of school and refused to receive any special tutoring or to go to a special school.

If Ricky’s tragic story were a rare exception in the Latino community, it would be easier to walk away. Ricky was a victim of circumstances. His mother worked hard to make ends meet. He was left alone and unsupervised too frequently.

Unfortunately, examples of other Rickys abound in the Hispanic community. Many Latino students come from broken homes or homes where parents are working endless hours to make ends meet. They are seldom home when classes end in the afternoon. And they are left unsupervised for long and dangerous hours from 3 to 6 p.m., when many teen crimes are committed.

By the time parents, counselors or teachers realize that the students are falling behind or are in trouble, it is almost impossible to steer them back onto the right course.

When students have a lot of unsupervised free time, they fall easily into temptations that can ensnare children and teenagers forever. Some turn to drugs for the seemingly easy money or because of peer pressure. Others get mired in violence due to drugs or because that is what they see at home. And still others get pregnant because of lack of sex education or because they want to have children in the hopes of receiving unconditional love.

One of the biggest problems that influence young Latino students to drop out of school is their involvement in taking or selling drugs or facilitating deals for drug dealers.

According to Inter-University Program for Latino Research (IUPLR), a nationwide research organization, 15 percent of Latino eighth graders had used illicit drugs in the 30 days prior to being interviewed. By 12th grade, 27 percent of Latino students had used drugs.

Violence often follows. It is often drug-related activities, and is not limited to the neighborhood where the teens live. Teresa, a petite and bookish girl, remembers riding the same school bus that Ricky used to ride to the nearby junior high school. One day, through a cloud of marijuana smoke, she saw that two teenagers were fighting each other; some later said it was over drugs, others said it was due to jealousy over a girl. When the bus arrived at the school, a group of kids fell out the door, some fighting and others just egging on the fighters. Eventually, principals, teachers and older boys disbanded the mob.

Community Involvement

Eva Maldonado is not only a vibrant and energetic woman, president of the Stamford, Connecticut, Chamber of Commerce and a policewoman. She is also a dedicated member of the Latino community who spends a lot of her time trying to rescue at-risk Hispanic teens. Through her work as a police officer and as a civic volunteer, she sees first-hand the many problems besieging Latino youth. Teen pregnancies and drug-related violence are the two top enemies of any attempt to try to improve the education of young Hispanics.

“The problems that I encounter are separated by gender,” says Maldonado. “For example, the girls are involved in unprotected sex (which is another problem in itself), and they are getting pregnant at an earlier age.” When she speaks to young Hispanic girls, Maldonado gets the sense that “they are having sex just to be accepted.” Many do not quite understand the enormous responsibility of a baby, and often times once the baby arrives there is an end to any thought about school. “The boys then behave like they are on the track team,” she says. “They run far away from their responsibility, yet go to another girl; and the pattern continues.”

Maldonado also gets to see first-hand how many Latino boys are involved in drugs and violence. “They often start with a little drinking then proceed with smoking marijuana. They always think that they are in control … that they could always function.” However, these small problems usually lead to other bigger problems such as dropping out, crimes and violence.

Maldonado’s experiences have led her to support two community organizations that try to rescue young Latinos. One organization is called SAVE (Students Against Violence Everywhere). The organization tries to set up peer mediators who then try to get the teens to work out their problems on their own. “The No. 1 complaint of young people is that no one understands them,” observes Maldonado. “By allowing them to speak out on issues that they believe to be true, they become stronger and get confidence in dealing with their problems. “Maldonado encourages positive “peer to peer empowerment.”

The group has been successful because Latino youth are involved in a “hands-on manner.” Maldonado has found that the students “are harder on themselves when they fail.”

The second organization is RAICES. This group was formed by young people with a clear and defined objective: undertaking community service projects in which Latino culture is the focus. “Our current project is to create a directory of Quién es Quién (Who’s Who) [for the Hispanic community]. In our community there are many hidden treasures,” Maldonado adds.

RAICES also tries to teach skills such as writing, photographing, interviewing, and some selling and marketing. Maldonado says that RAICES also helps teenagers “uncover role models and be encouraged by the struggles” of others like them who have been successful. “The ultimate objective is to have these hidden treasures give back to our young people,” Maldonado says. “The success of the project depends on the entire community. “


On the pavement lay a teenage boy. His enormous dark eyes seemed to want to escape from his chiseled, high-cheekbone face. His chest was heaving frantically as if he wanted by the force of his will to extricate the knife sticking out of his body. His pristine white T-shirt became red all too quickly. By the time an ambulance arrived, his chest had stopped moving and his eyes were closed as if simply taking a respite from the horrors of that morning. Teresa got out of the bus, stunned, “not knowing whether this was real or a grade B television show.” Teachers frantically pulled everyone away, hoping that this could somehow help the students forget this scene. Unfortunately, for many it would not be the last.

According to IUPLR in the same survey, almost 30 percent of Latino males carried some kind of weapon in the 30 days before being interviewed, a figure very close to white male students; Latina female students were twice as likely to carry weapons as their Caucasian female peers.

As if drugs and violence were not enough danger to teenagers, other seductions lurk in the barrios and schools. Sitting in a wheelchair gave Ricky plenty of time to sit and watch the comings and goings of his neighbors in this ironically named barrio, La Colonia Hermosa (Beautiful Neighborhood). He saw many of the other problems that Latino teens encounter. Next door to him lived the Garcías, whose three-bedroom brick house was the best house, the mansion of the neighborhood. Mrs. García ran a brothel near the Mexican border, while the husband trafficked in drugs and contraband. Police arrested him and, while out on parole, he fled to Mexico and now cannot return to the United States. The couple’s children had very independent lives. Two dropped out of school before they even reached high school. They were married and divorced by 18 and left their young junior high school dropout wives to raise their children.

Ricky would also talk to another neighbor, Socorro, a 50-year-old toothless and tired woman who had three children from three different fathers. Her eldest girl, Linda, became pregnant at 13. After Socorro finished beating her up, she went to school to pick up her belongings and never returned. By the time she was 18, Linda also had three children with three different men.

Linda tried to work as a waitress, but she was often fired because she had to miss work to take care of her kids if they were sick or if she could not find a relative to care for them. Linda’s younger sisters, who already had two children each, were on welfare and spent most of their time in unemployment lines. Their young children often were left unsupervised. Conditions were ripe for the vicious cycle to continue. The children of unwed mothers grow up to become unwed mothers themselves. They then drop out of school as teens. For them, life will be full of menial jobs and poor pay, and they will have little time to care for their own children.

According to the National Latina Institute of Reproductive Health, in many Latino communities teenage pregnancies have as their root the belief that “motherhood is the biggest goal a woman can aspire to.” Their life is filled with a feeling of loneliness and despair. Few get sex education classes. Three out of every five Latina girls become pregnant at least once during their teen years. The rate is 50 percent higher than the national average. And because Latinas are less likely to have abortions, the birth rate among them is now higher than that of African-American and white women.

Schools are left with the de facto responsibility of serving as surrogate parents, counselors, therapists, and of course as disciplinarians. John Cavazos, director of student support services in the McAllen, Texas, Independent School District, explains that “disciplining students is not an easy task and finding the qualified personnel to do so is a challenge.” His truant officers “have to be trained in education, criminal justice, psychology and social science.” In areas where many of the kids they encounter either use or sell drugs or are in one way or another working with drug dealers, truant officers must be trained to face all types of problems. These are the issues that first lead to truancy and then to students dropping out of school.

All these problems explain why Latinos still have dropout rates that are consistently 2.5 times higher than those of African Americans and almost 4 times those of white non-Latinos.

Even before Ricky’s dolce clarinet tones had ceased, there was little beauty in La Colonia Hermosa. There is even less beauty in knowing that many Latino kids live in neighborhoods like that—or worse.

Corporate Involvement

Trying to resolve the education crisis amongst Hispanics is not just for educators or government agencies.

Companies from different sectors and of different sizes are also involved. One example is Washington, D.C.-based public relations company Widmeyer Communications. The company manages several national education, anti-bullying, and minority outreach campaigns. Cristina Miranda, for example, works with the Partnership for Reading consortium of organizations that includes the U.S. Department of Education, The National Institute for Literacy, National Child Health and Human Development, and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

She has developed research to help teach Hispanics how to read, from infancy to adulthood. Another part of her efforts include a campaign designed to stop bullies from imposing their will by force in the schools. Schools must provide a safe environment in order for teens to learn.
Jason Smith, also of Widmeyer Communications, is working with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on a National Media Campaign. The goal is to develop messages encouraging healthy lifestyles for youth aged 9-13. It will focus on health and fitness, underage alcohol use, media literacy (helping youth to understand that not everything that they read in or hear from the media encourages healthy living), and how to avoid violence.

According to Smith, the “media is paying a lot of attention to bullying and the National Media Campaign will focus on adults as well as health workers.” The initiative will focus on Latino students. Widmeyer’s work with Hispanic students found that bullying patterns among Latinos are not different from those of the general population. Males tend to conduct physical bullying, while girls tend to use rumors or exclusionary behavior as their instruments of bullying other girls.

“Adults will be critical for the anti-bullying campaign,” Smith emphasizes. In conjunction with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Widmeyer will work on having Spanish language information distributed through the Web, and importantly through partnerships with existing non-profit organizations that cater to Latinos. Hispanic teens will also be reached through building superintendents, pediatrician offices and faith-based entities.


Part IV: The COllege Years (May 2003 Issue)


Getting Past Enrollment
Many Latino students are entering college. But few graduate.
By Mayra Rodríguez Valladares

Gonzalo Mario and Aurora Rodríguez always encouraged their five children to go to the university. “If you don’t go to college, you will end up killing yourself for minimum wage,” was always their mantra. Three of the five children listened. Rommel has a bachelor of arts in music; Teresa also obtained a B.A., as well as two masters from Ivy League universities; and Lorena obtained a B.A. and an M.B.A.

Celina took a few college courses. Ruby did too, as well as a stint in the U.S. Navy. Neither, however, finished college. The Rodríguez family, a southern Texas Mexican American family, typifies many of the choices that Hispanic students face when they graduate from high school: They can enter the work force directly.

Enroll in the military. Enter a technical or vocational school. Go to junior college or into a four-year university program. It is a difficult choice to make, and many education experts agree that many Latino students face another large obstacle: Few believe that that they can control their destiny.

While Latinos are entering college at a comparable rate to non-Hispanic whites and to African Americans, only about 16 percent of Latino high school graduates ages 25 to 29 had earned at least a bachelor’s degree by 2001. Scholars agree the challenge is not only to get high school students to enroll in college, but to increase their graduation rate. Few education scholars have focused on the college graduation rate of Hispanics. Most have done work on primary education and high school dropout rates.

As baby boomers retire from the labor force between now and 2025, the number of working non-Hispanic whites will decline by five million. The U.S. Census Bureau forecasts that the number of working-age Latinos will grow by 18 million. Experts say it is not hard to predict that the jobs Hispanics get in the future will depend upon the education and training they receive today.

Some of the problems can be traced to lack of adequate funding.

Eduardo Padrón, president of Miami-Dade Community College and a leading Hispanic educator, believes that “the steady erosion of need-based financial aid is a national trend that has a significant impact on low-income Hispanics and other minorities. Last year, in Florida, $140 million was devoted to merit-based aid, which has been shown ultimately to favor the middle class; by contrast, only roughly $40 million was allocated to need-based aid,” he added.

Lack of money to pursue college, vocational, or technical training is one of the main reasons why most Hispanics are forced to work after high school, or to attend school on a part-time basis.

At the Rodríguez household, in McAllen, Texas, they talk about the importance of role models and proper counseling in getting more Hispanics into college. Lorena, one of the daughters who graduated from college, credits a high school counselor and her family for her achievements. “I had a wonderful counselor at McAllen Memorial High School named Virginia Lindville. I can’t give her enough credit for her support during difficult times. She really encouraged me to do well in high school and go to college. My parents and oldest sister were also very pro-education and counseled me to go to college.”

Not all are that lucky. Even with good counseling and family support, some fall through the cracks. Celina Rodríguez, who lives in Austin, Texas, and Ruby, who is in St. Helen, Michigan, are two who do not have university degrees. Celina recalls that she “didn’t know how to listen to reason.” She believes that “both parents continued to try to guide me into a better life through discipline and education” but “... it fell on deaf ears.” Ruby remarked that she took college preparatory courses in high school and that she received excellent counseling in high school. She “attended college right after high school” and then realized that she “lacked the discipline to stay there.” She “joined the Navy instead.” By the time she had finished her tour of duty, she was married, had kids, and never went back to college. The number of Latinos enrolled in postsecondary education is actually high, according to Richard Fry, senior research associate at Pew Hispanic Center. His study, ‘‘Latinos in Higher Education: Many Enroll, Too Few Graduate,” shows that “by some measures, a greater share of Latinos are attending college classes than non-Hispanic whites. However, most are pursuing paths associated with lower chances of attaining a bachelor’s degree.” Fry found that many Latinos “are enrolled in community colleges, many also only attend school part-time, and others delay or prolong their college education into their mid-20s and beyond.”

Latinos are more likely than students of other ethnicities to be part-time students. Nearly 85 percent of white non-Hispanic 18- to 24-year-old college students are enrolled full-time, compared to 75 percent of Latino students in that age group. The U.S. Department of Education considers part-time college enrollment to be a “risk factor” for dropping out before completing a degree. In the most recent DOE study, researchers followed a group of university part-time students for three years after initial enrollment and found that, after three years, one quarter of the students who initially attended full-time had no degree and were no longer enrolled.

Among students who initially attended part-time, nearly half had no degree after three years and had dropped out. The DOE report found that, “no matter what postsecondary course of study a college student is pursuing, and regardless of whether it is at a two-year or a four-year institution, part-time college enrollment is associated with a greater risk of racking up college credits with no degree to show for the effort.”

Two-year colleges
Hispanics are far more likely to be enrolled in two-year colleges than any other group. This includes technical and vocational schools such as nursing, dental hygiene, etc. About 40 percent of Latino 18- to 24-year-old college students attend two-year institutions compared to about 25 percent of non-Hispanic white and African American students in that age group. Traditional college-age Latinos are not the only ones to rely on two-year schools. Latino college students over the age of 24 years old, also, are more likely than their peers of any other racial/ethnic group to be enrolled at two-year institutions.

According to Fry, “the percentage of Hispanic students who attend two-year schools grows as the students get older. More than 55 percent of Latino undergraduates over the age of 35 years old attend two-year colleges.” Attachment to family and community as well as economic need appear to be factors in Latinos’ exceptionally high rate of enrollment in two-year colleges.

There are benefits to two-year community colleges. According to Padrón, community colleges can provide “a truly outstanding opportunity for Hispanics—as well as others—who might otherwise be excluded from higher education, not for want of individual drive, but for want of finance. Rather than being relegated to low-skill, low-wage jobs, community colleges offer such students the occasion to pursue worthwhile careers. “

Padrón enumerates specific advantages to community colleges. “On entering, students who require assistance in bridging the gap between high school and college are given a strong preparatory foundation on which to build. Students—Hispanics and non-Hispanics—are given excellent training that is effectively targeted at existing and expanding job markets. They are offered schedules that are more flexible, in a setting that is more in tune with the various responsibilities they shoulder, at considerably lower cost. Often, class sizes at community colleges are smaller, giving the student more individualized attention. Finally, many community colleges have honors programs as demanding as the strongest academic programs in the nation.” Also, community colleges often have agreements in place to help students at community colleges to attend four-year universities.

Fry’s Pew findings show that large numbers of Latinos try to extend their education beyond part-time or community colleges, but still fall short of earning a university degree. According to The National Center on Education Statistics, despite benefits at two-year colleges, Latinos’ predilection for these schools may adversely affect Latinos’ chances of finishing with a degree. Agreeing with this assessment is the recent U.S. Department of Education report that suggests that Latino students are more likely to drop out if they begin their college studies at two-year colleges.

University completions rates
Almost 36 percent of white non-Hispanic high school graduates ages 25 to 29 earned at least a bachelor’s degree by 2001, compared with 20.6 percent of African Americans and only 16.4 percent of Hispanics. Students drop out for many reasons. Padrón cites “inadequate preparation for the transition from high school to college. Nationally, about 50 percent of incoming students require remedial training in basic skills such as math, reading and composition.” Also, “the pressures that students experienced in the K-12 system do not disappear upon entry into college.” Moreover, there are cultural expectations. Latinos are often “expected to stay near the family.”

Often, students find the adjustment from high school to college a difficult one to make. Lorena Rodríguez, one who graduated, admits that in college “the main difficulty was adjusting to a different environment far away from home. I missed my family and friends. I also had difficulty imposing discipline on myself and was caught up in the ‘fun’ side of college.”

Undeniably, Latinos also lag behind in the pursuit of graduate and professional degrees. Among 25- to 34-year-old high school graduates, approximately 4 percent of non-Hispanic whites are enrolled in graduate school. Only slightly less than 2 percent of similarly aged Latino high school graduates are pursuing post-baccalaureate studies. Only individuals with at least a college degree can hope to enter the mid-ranges of the labor force, much less of attaining anything higher.

Breaking the Cycle
Education experts fear that children of Hispanics who do not have a college degree are likely to perpetuate the cycle. Yet some do learn from their mistakes. Celina sees the economic benefits of obtaining a university degree. If she were to have children she would say: “Learn from my mistakes. Obtain a degree because, whether you use what you learn in school or not, the fact that you endured those years of college and obtained that piece of paper seems to mean the world of difference when it comes to prosperity.” Her sister, Ruby, a mother of two pre-teen daughters, has also learned from the fact that she chose not to go to college.

“I have regrets about not acquiring a college degree,” she says. “ I encourage my children regularly to do well in school and eventually get a higher education.”

Lorena, who has a B.A. and M.B.A. from St. Edward’s University, says that she would tell her kids and nieces and nephews “that going to college is the best decision for any high school student to make. College is more than English and history. It’s about opening your mind to other worlds. It’s an amazing experience in and of itself.”

Lending a Helping Hand
The Hispanic Scholarship Fund Helps Hispanic Families Afford College

Lack of resources often is the cause why many Latinos do not go to college. Some organizations, such as The Hispanic Scholarship Fund (www.hsf.net), a non-profit headquartered in San Francisco, help students with funding. HSF has dedicated itself since the 1970s to the goal of doubling the number of Latinos graduating from universities. HSF has expanded its operations in southern and central California, the Northeast, Southwest and Midwest to provide the Latino community more college scholarships and educational outreach support. During its 27-year history, HSF has awarded more than 54,000 scholarships in excess of $89 million to Hispanics from all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands; these students have attended more than 1,300 colleges and universities.

As Sarah Tucker-Martínez, HSF’s president, explains, “We work at getting families to support the desire to go to college. At our meetings, families bring not only the college-age kid but also other younger children. Even if they are wandering around or crawling, they too are hearing the message about the need to go to college.”

HSF works at encouraging students to attend college and obtain the monies they need to enter and stay in college. According to Tucker-Martínez, HSF has mentor programs with “a message about the importance of college—that college will better people’s lives. We cannot accomplish HSF’s goals if we cannot get students to stay in college.”


A Learning Crisis

Hispanic students are making strides, but experts say it may not be enough to avoid a dramatic negative impact on the economy

While recent studies show that Latin students have made big strides in narrowing the education gap, they continue to lag behind their non-Hispanic white peers in nearly every achievement indicator. Indeed, with Hispanic Americans expected to comprise 17 percent of the U.S. population by 2015, experts say it’s critical to begin closing this gap now—otherwise it could leave a dent in every American’s pocket.

“Unless we see a dramatic increase in educational attainment—particularly college completion—we’re going to see a dramatic negative impact on the economy, especially in states with large Hispanic populations,” says Leslie Sanchez, executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans.

“This is not just a problem for the parent or school, it’s in everyone’s interest.”

A continuing disparity in Hispanic educational achievement could impact everything from our tax revenues to community outreach, shrinking the pool of skilled labor force and thereby reducing the nation’s middle class. Such a learning divide would also lead to lower consumer spending, reduced savings and higher social costs. While a recent Pew Hispanic Center study found that Hispanic immigrants have started catching up to native-born Americans—doubling their high school completion rate since 1970 to 41 percent in 2000—Hispanic students who were born abroad continue to be plagued by the highest high school dropout rate and a significantly lower college graduation rate. That’s a critical statistic, since Hispanic immigrants make up the largest group of all foreign-born residents, and represent 40 percent of Hispanic Americans.

Today, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, 30 percent of all Hispanic students drop out of high school, four times the rate of non-Hispanic whites. And only about 17 percent of Hispanic students hold a higher education degree, compared to 47 percent of non-Hispanics. The problem is attributed to everything from poor English skills and ill-prepared teachers to insufficient parental education and poverty.

The figures are particularly troubling because Latins are the nation’s largest and fastest-growing minority, and more than a third are under age 18. When you consider that Hispanic youth perform below their non-Hispanic white classmates in areas that are widely considered necessary to succeed—math, reading and science—some would call this under-achievement a crisis.

The numbers tell the story
Recently, the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, the largest Hispanic scholarship organization, sponsored an independent study to determine what would happen if the Hispanic college graduation rate doubled by 2010. The results were staggering. Not only would it increase public revenues by a whopping $13 billion, but it would also boost consumer spending by roughly $14 billion.

“You’d have more people contributing tax dollars and less people requiring social welfare programs such as food stamps,” explains Sara Martinez Tucker, HSF president. “And the business sector would benefit a great deal because they’d see an increased rate of Latinos buying their products.”

Researchers in Texas—home of one of the largest Hispanic communities in the country—came to a similar conclusion. They found that if college graduation rates for Latin students in Texas remained low, by 2030 the average household in that state would be $4,000 poorer than it was in 1990.

“This would lead to a 3 percent increase in the poverty rate,” says Dr. Steve Murdock, a state demographer who was part of a study dubbed Closing the Gaps by 2015. Moreover, Murdock and researchers at the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board determined that closing the education gaps completely by 2040 would increase Texas’ aggregate income by more than $300 billion annually.

That education affects consumer spending, and therefore the economy, is nothing new. Researchers have long known that an educated populace equals more buying power. “We know that if you increase educational level, you’re likely to increase income and as a result, you strengthen [spending] and the marketplace,” Murdock says. Hispanic purchasing power already exceeds $580 billion.

Let’s not forget the benefits Hispanic individuals would reap from a better education. Research from the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) shows that as many as one-third of low-income Hispanics would be lifted out of poverty if Hispanic and non-Hispanic students had equal educational outcomes. Latin students who earn bachelor’s degrees would make between $400,000 and $500,000 more over their lifetime, says NCLR.

Why the gap?
Educators say that one of the reasons Latin students under-perform in school is because many immigrant or poor parents never completed high school themselves. Because two out of three Hispanic children live in families where neither parent has a high school diploma, many Latin children are raised not believing they will attend college, says Sanchez, of the White House Initiative.

“They grow up without a role model for college,” she says. The problem is confounded by parents’ poor English skills. Some may not speak English proficiently so they have difficulty navigating their way through college information.

The Bush administration recently attempted to ease this problem by creating a bilingual website—Yosipuedo.gov (or YesIcan.gov in English)—to help Latin families prepare their children for pre-kindergarten through post-secondary education, and encourage young students to move on to college. The site contains everything from reading assistance to college funding sources.

The move is applauded by Linda Chavez, president of the Center for Equal Opportunity, a conservative think tank, who believes that lack of money is not the real root of the education gap.

While it’s true that scarce financial resources contribute, the bigger problem lies in inherent cultural values, she says. “Hispanics have an extremely strong work ethic, but that works against them in higher education,” Chavez argues. “The push is toward contributing to the household earnings instead of obtaining a higher education.

ontributing to the family welfare has traditionally been the way immigrants have succeeded.” The real solution, she says, is encouraging Hispanic parents to send their children off to a college or university.

But others say socioeconomic factors are mostly to blame; they want the government to put more money and resources into the problem. Sonia Perez, NCLR’s deputy vice president for research, points out that many Hispanic children attend schools in low-income neighborhoods—schools that lack the best teachers. “Latino children tend to be in classes where teachers aren’t well-trained and the classes are overcrowded,” she says. “We need to give the same thing to Latino children that we expect an average middle-class child in the United States to receive. The fact is, this is not occurring right now.” Some educators have suggested that the most effective way to narrow the gap is to ensure Latin children get a head start on school so they can cement their reading skills early on. NCES figures show that Latin children have the lowest enrollment in early childhood development programs. Much of their low educational achievement, experts say, stems from an inadequate beginning in school, especially in reading. Says NCLR’s Perez: “We need to look at where there are educational disparities in earlier years.”

President Bush’s comprehensive No Child Left Behind legislation addresses the “reading readiness” of pre-school age kids in poor neighborhoods, among other areas of need. Signed into law in January 2001, it requires states to make sure that within a dozen years, all students in grades three through eight meet standards in reading and math. Limited English proficient (LEP) children, migrant and low-income children must be included in the states’ assessments.

And in what some believe will ensure Hispanic students aren’t left behind, schools will now have to separate test results by educational area, including LEP students. States are also required to develop benchmarks and assessments to measure the progress of LEP and immigrant students in learning English and meeting other academic standards.

Greater choice
No Child Left Behind also requires school districts to give parents the option of switching their child to another public school if the one he or she is attending is an under-performing school—the law’s most controversial mandate because it involves the oft-debated issue of school choice.

A 2002 study by Harvard University, Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. and the University of Wisconsin concluded that giving parents scholarship or tax money to send their children to parochial and other private schools yields impressive results, especially for low-income students. Indeed, there’s strong support for school choice among low-income parents, especially Hispanics; a 2001 poll of Latin adults conducted for the Republican-leaning Latino Coalition found 73 percent agreeing that “the government should provide taxpayer funded vouchers to help low-income families send their children to a better public, private, or church-run school.”

Still, while the Supreme Court has given its blessing to vouchers, many states have provisions barring tax dollars from going to religious schools and there’s a lack of consensus on the best approach—if any—to taxpayer-financed educational choice.

So far, only three states offer publicly sponsored, comprehensive school choice programs, only two have non-religious school choice, and nine offer public school choice. The bright side for pro-educational choice advocates: There are 79 private-sector scholarship programs that provide school options to 60,000 children and their parents; and 38 states permit the establishment of charter schools—independent public schools designed and operated by educators, parents, community leaders and others—according to the Center for Education Reform.

An English-language trend?
Another perennial, if controversial, solution may lie in bilingual education, although critics claim it slows students’ assimilation into mainstream classes and overall acquisition of English-language skills. Interestingly, some surveys of Hispanic American parents show that many support English-only classes for their kids. That fact—and contradictory evidence concerning the effectiveness of these programs —helped propel passage of California’s Proposition 227 in 1998, which mandated immersion in English to speed language development.

Parents in Arizona and Massachusetts have since followed, passing initiatives that replace bilingual education with English immersion programs. A similar initiative in Colorado failed in November, however. CEO’s Chavez and other bilingual education foes say the evidence continues to mount that, with the proper support, students learn best when they’re immersed in English-language classes. For the third year in a row, Chavez notes, California’s English learners—the term the state uses to describe children who enter school with limited proficiency in English—have improved their scores at a higher rate than their peers.

Maria Hernandez Ferrier, director of the Education Department’s Office of English Language Acquisition, counters that while “you absolutely need to be able to speak English to do well academically … at the same time we understand the importance of speaking more than one language.”

She points out that No Child Left Behind allows English-language learners to take English improvement tests in their native tongue for the first three years of living in the United States. After that, they take the assessment in English. But if the teacher determines that the child still has not acquired enough English, they can obtain a waiver to take the exam in their native language.

The legislation allocates $665 million in 2002 toward English-language learning programs.

Financial keys
The HSF’s Martinez Tucker says it’s also important for businesses, charities and others to provide greater scholarship opportunities for Latin students. “Money is the No. 1 reason Latino youth drop out of school,” she contends, adding that community leaders also need to come up with incentives to help Hispanic youth transfer from community colleges to four-year institutions. Latin students disproportionately attend community colleges, rather than four-year universities.

Businesses, government, teachers, citizens—everyone should play a role in closing the education gap, says NCLR’s Perez. And many possible solutions need to be explored with vigor.

“It’s in all of our interests to make sure our future workforce receives a good education,” she says. “Not doing so could affect all of our pockets.”

Natalia Martinez is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C. Reach her at nmartinezmail@yahoo.com.

Copyright 2003 by Hispanic Publishing Group/HispanicOnline.com. All Rights Reserved.
Any comments? Please write to webmaster@hisp.com


Dividing the Nation: Affirmative Action
By Mayra Rodríguez-Valladares

Those who oppose the way in which the University of Michigan admits students say that racial preferences or quotas are unfair, unconstitutional and “perpetuate our divisions,” as President Bush recently put it. That is why they have taken their case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Those who support the University of Michigan admissions policies favor the use of Affirmative Action programs to promote diversity. They are believers in the benefits of a multi-ethnic, multi-color student body for the university, its
students, and society as a whole.

The one thing both sides agree on is the importance raised by the two cases, Gratz and Grutter vs. the University of Michigan’s undergraduate and law schools, respectively. The Supreme Court will decide whether prospective students may receive preferential treatment based on ethnicity or race—in other words: whether the university can maintain its Affirmative Action policy.

But it is much more. This is the first time in 25 years that the Court will address the constitutionality of Affirmative Action in higher education admissions. Its decision will determine the legality of Affirmative Action at universities across the country and influence efforts to bring greater diversity to those campuses.

The case targets the university’s College of Literature, Science and the Arts admission criteria, which are based on a 150-point system that awards students points for certain accomplishments and/or characteristics. In it, underrepresented minorities receive 20 extra points toward their total admissions evaluation, whereas a perfect SAT score only adds 12 points, as critics are quick to point out.  But Thomas Sáenz, vice president of litigation at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), defends the system, arguing that Affirmative Action is essential, because “there are still tremendous inequalities in our nation’s high schools and middle schools. Affirmative Action permits colleges to recognize that Latinos and other minorities often have great potential to succeed—but unequal opportunity has limited their traditional credentials.”

Most universities, he says, use standardized test scores and preferences for children of alumni—criteria that “have a demonstrated racial bias against minorities, and [which] have little or no connection to likelihood of success in college.” Sáenz believes that so long as such biased criteria are used, Affirmative Action is a necessary adjustment mechanism.

The University of Michigan and those who defend its admission policies argue its selection process does not use quotas, as opponents charge. Further, Foster Maer, acting legal director of the Puerto Rican Legal and Education Defense Fund (PRLEDF) maintains that “the Bush administration is misstating the issue before the Court. The Michigan case is not about quotas, nor does the application process exclude anyone. By casting it in these terms, the Bush administration is being disingenuous and divisive. Michigan’s system is not impossible to administer. Hundreds, if not thousands, of colleges and universities in the U.S. use formulas like the Michigan one, with many variations. There is no magic formula.”

Theirs is a view backed by numerous civil rights organizations that have filed amicus briefs on behalf of the university. They include the New Mexico Hispanic Bar Association, the Black Lawyers Association and the Indian Bar Association.

On the other side, Linda Chávez, president of The Center for Equal Opportunity, a non-profit research and educational organization in Virginia, says that she hopes the Supreme Court uses the Michigan Grutter and Gratz cases to ban the use of racial and ethnic preferences in university admissions. She believes such a ban “is essential for the continued progress of racial relations in the United States. If preferences are ended, all races will win. If they aren’t, we will all lose ... African Americans and Latinos are now being told that they cannot be expected to succeed unless they are held to a lower standard than whites and Asians. That is insulting, and undermines the mutual respect that is essential in an increasingly multiethnic, multiracial America.”

U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige agrees: “Admissions quotas and double standards are not the answer,” he said recently at a National Center for Educational Accountability conference. He believes that “fixing the problem at the front end, where it can do the most good, is the answer.” The goal of President Bush’s No Child Left Behind law, he says, is to transform American education “from a system that does a good job educating some children to a system that does a good job educating all children, from all walks of life.”
On one point, both sides of the Affirmative Action debate agree: Diversity at the college level is a good thing. “Americans overwhelmingly agree that diversity in our schools, neighborhoods, workplaces and community organizations is enormously positive,” says Gerald Reynolds, assistant secretary for civil rights at the Department of Education.

Still, the Bush administration argues that alternatives to existing affirmative action programs must be developed. “Policies granting preferences on the basis of race and ethnicity raise constitutional questions and are increasingly being overturned in the courts,” Reynolds says. Further, “voters in various jurisdictions have passed state and local initiatives restricting the use of racial preferences. These legal and policy trends mean that we must work together to look for new solutions.”

Maer disagrees. “The Supreme Court has already held that race can be a legitimate consideration in admissions policies in its decision on Bakke v. University of California in the 1970s.”

According to the U.S. Department of Education’s report on this issue, Race-Neutral Alternatives in Postseconday Education: Innovative Approaches to Diversity, some higher education institutions are finding ways to provide equal access without resorting to racial preferences. “Many colleges and universities are investing in nearby elementary and secondary schools, [recognizing] that helping to better educate young people who attend traditionally low-performing schools will broaden the pool of students who can qualify for admission to college.”

Professor Margaret Montoya, of the University of New Mexico Law School, has a different perspective. “There are no race-neutral alternatives. Only a limited use of race-conscious criteria will result in racially diverse student bodies in colleges and universities,” she maintains.
A decision from the Supreme Court is expected this fall. Just what the court will say is difficult to predict. “Everyone generally believes that four justices will vote to support the continued consideration of race in admissions, while four other justices are generally believed to take the opposite view,” says Sáenz.

“The swing justice is Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Her vote will likely determine the outcome.”



Copyright 2003 by Hispanic Magazine. All Rights Reserved.
For comments, please write to webmaster@hisp.com


Rising to the Challenge
Finding solutions to the Hispanic education crisis.
By Mayra Rodríguez Valladares

Hispanic Magazine.com - July/August 2003 - Feature - Education - Rising to the Challenge

Recent U.S. Census Bureau data confirms that education pays off. According to a recent Census Bureau study, full-time workers who hold degrees in law, medicine or business make about $110,000 a year; those who have a bachelor’s degree make $52,000; those who graduated from high school earn $30,000; and those who dropped out make $23,000—if that. Only 65 percent of high school drop-outs have full-time jobs.

A case in point is Isabel Rodríguez, who was 11 years old when she left Cuba to come to the United States. She was alone. Her parents were unable to join her for two years. Even when they came, the family was not together for long: Her father died two years after he arrived; her mother died two years later.

Rodríguez was 17 and alone, except for her older brothers. “I went on automatic and moved ahead—not much else I could do, except take advantage” of the opportunities that came up, she remembers.

A job at the Catholic high school for girls she attended helped her pay the tuition. Many nights, she worked as a baby-sitter to earn extra cash. Later, financial aid enabled her to attend Loyola University of the South in New Orleans. Family members also pitched in.

“I was lucky that I had two older brothers and a very involved sister-in-law,” Rodríguez says.

Then she met a couple—both lawyers—and they encouraged her to apply to Tulane Law School. “They paid for my LSAT, had the application fee waived at Tulane and, when I was accepted, offered me a home during the three years of law school.

“[There was] only one condition: I was not to work during school so that I could concentrate [on my studies].” Her experience highlights the benefits of a tight-knit Hispanic family and the generosity of the people in the United States, she says. Rodríguez became a successful lawyer and now works as president of Fairfield Learning, LLC, in Connecticut.

And she’s not alone. Education has opened the path to a better life for many. Along the way, most are supported by family and/or businesses, community organizations and the government. Educators say that all must work together if Hispanic Americans are going to overcome high dropout rates.

The President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans recently completed an 18-month study that arrived at similar conclusions. After speaking to 1,600 parents, educators, leaders of faith-based groups and business people, the commission recommended steps such as setting new and high expectations for Hispanic American children; helping Latino parents better understand the U.S. educational system; training teachers to meet the needs of students with poor English-language skills; doing more educational research; and improving the accountability and coordination of educational programs within the federal government to better serve Hispanic families.

The commission found a number of significant problems that contribute to the educational crisis. First, the problem begins at home, it found. “It’s not the kids’ fault; it is our fault and that of our teachers, administrators and others. The kids can learn,” says Charles García, who is a member of the commission and sits on the Florida State Board of Education.

Iris Zucker, principal and founder of Marble Hill School for International Studies in the Bronx, New York, believes the “way to solve the educational problem among Latinos is to engage the parents in the education of their children.” But the Puerto Rican educator says Hispanic parents are usually intimidated by the system.

María Rodríguez, president of Vanguard Communications in Washington, D.C., which is involved in several projects to help children get a college education, can testify to that. “My parents came from very humble beginnings,” she says. “They grew up in rural villages” in northern Spain, raised in houses without running water. Neither attended high school; “they worked the land.”

Remembering her school years, Rodríguez says her greatest obstacle “was that my parents couldn’t help me with any of my school work. Neither of them had finished high school, but more importantly, neither of them spoke English.”

In addition, “I didn’t have many college-grad role models in my life; most of my parents’ friends and family members shared their type of background and education,” she says. Her experience led her to conclude, as many educators have, that providing role models for children at a young age is essential. “It’s important for them to see that people who walked in their shoes have succeeded.”

Counselors are also critical, says Virginia Valdez, director of the Chicagoland Latino Educational Research Institute (CLERI) at Aspira Inc. in Chicago. Her research suggests that counseling services have a significant impact on whether students fall through the cracks and drop out of school or successfully graduate from high school and go on to college.

Valdez studied counseling services at four high schools with large Hispanic student bodies in Chicago and found that Hispanic students met with their counselors far less often than did their peers. Often, students don’t understand the role counselors play or are afraid of being seen as problem kids if they speak to them, she says.

Reducing class sizes and creating small, specialized schools are another effective way to improve graduation rates, say educators. Zucker has sought and obtained foundation monies from the likes of Microsoft’s Bill Gates for her specialized school, which offers a personalized approach to education.

She is convinced that smaller classes and schools are more effective, not only for students, but also for families. “I see the difference when parents are free to call or visit us. It sends a different message to the child who, in turn, becomes more responsive,” she says.

As principal, Zucker works closely with her teachers to design a “global curriculum” for the 100 students who come from regions as diverse as Latin America, Kosovo, Pakistan and western Africa. Getting personal attention from the faculty—mostly former Peace Corp volunteers—gives the kids a sense of pride in their school and encourages them to dare to dream, she says.

Another way to help children succeed and stay in school is to provide after-school tutoring and training programs. One such effort is led by KnowledgePoints, Inc. (www.knowledgepoints.org), founded four years ago and implemented through strategic associations with local sponsors and nonprofit organizations such as the Boys and Girls Clubs and YMCAs. To date, 84 centers are operating in 23 states.

In Isabel Rodríguez’s tutoring program, instructors focus on teaching children the basics, tailoring the program to students’ needs. Teachers test the children and tackle their specific needs.

“We find that child’s level for each skill: He may be at a certain grade level in phonics, but for example, his failure to infer meaning from what he reads may put him at a lower level in comprehension.”

The system builds self-esteem, she adds. Children start at a level that they can easily master and move up as their abilities improve. Further, tutors talk to parents at regular intervals and encourage communication with the classroom teacher.

“The student cannot hide,” she says. In an age of budget cuts, companies such as Rodríguez’s, educators, non-profit organizations, corporate leaders and families can’t wait for the federal government to solve the education problem, says García of the White House Commission: “They all need to take a more active role.”

Hispanic students also need to take advantage of the opportunities that exist. When finances are a problem, for example, a growing number of Hispanics are turning to the U.S. armed forces as a way to serve their country and also receive money for their college education.

According to the Pentagon, about 8.7 percent of the total force is Hispanic, or 122,500 soldiers, with nearly half being of Mexican descent.

The number of Hispanics in the military has increased dramatically in recent years. Twenty years ago, only about 4 percent of new recruits were Hispanic; today, that figure is 11 percent.

But ultimately, says García, all education is local. Last year’s passage of the No Child Left Behind law, which introduced tests in reading and math for all students in grades three through eight, among other educational reforms, is an important step forward, he says. “But the state has to implement the program.”

García recalls visiting L.A.’s schools after former Colorado Governor Roy Romer became that district’s superintendent. In just 18 months, Latino children in that school district had risen from the 32nd to the 66th percentile.

“These are often kids who come from poor families and who do not speak English as a first language,” he says. “Romer raised expectations and kids realized that they would be judged by the standards for all other kids.”

One factor that should positively influence Hispanic educational achievement in the future, some say, is the ongoing acculturation of Latinos into mainstream American culture. The more that Hispanics understand the American educational system and the strong connection between remuneration and education, the more likely they will be to strive for educational success.

Indeed, understanding this reality might, in the long run, make the biggest difference of all.


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