Teach the children

Latino students in San Diego County are underachieving in school, a report finds. “Latino students have disproportionately higher dropout rates, lower test scores and less preparation for college than their white and Asian peers.”

About half of Latino students are not fluent in English.

Latino students have a graduation rate of 66 percent, compared with an average of 79 percent for all students. Dropout rates are higher for males than females.

Latino students are less likely to pass the standardized tests used to assess a school’s academic performance. Likewise, they score consistently lower than their white and Asian peers on college admissions tests . . .

When it comes to meeting the prerequisites for admission to California’s public colleges, about 20 percent of Latino students complete all of the required courses, compared with 44.5 percent of whites and 55 percent of Asians. Similarly, Latino students are less likely to be enrolled in programs for advanced students.

So what are educators going to do about it?

Much of the discussion focused on improving bilingual education and ensuring equal access to educational opportunities from kindergarten through college.

(Oscar) Medina, the county (bilingual education) coordinator, said preserving a student’s native language strikes at the heart of promoting success.

“It’s an issue of identity that has to do with a student’s notion of self-worth and self-esteem,” Medina said. “It also allows access to grade-level curriculum and helps guarantee academic success.”

It hasn’t guaranteed success so far, points out Kimberly Swygert, who thinks it might help if schools taught children in English.

If half of all Latino students in San Diego can’t speak English, I’d say the schools are doing a bang-up job of helping them “preserve” their native language — but I also think that’s part of the problem.”

Then there’s self-esteem. Gotta have that.

“We have to move one step beyond that and mentor, and counsel and encourage them,” said Carol Herrera, a trustee of the Vista Unified School District. “We know that for any child, praise and encouragement is a big factor in academic success.”

The barriers to college admissions for these students are quite clear: They don’t need more Spanish, more cultural hoopla, more hugs or more empty praise. They need to be taught the reading, writing and math skills that will enable them to pass college-prep classes.

About Joanne


  1. Have these educators ever thought that these children’s homes would be preserving their native language for them rather nicely? You gotta figure here that if the kid only speaks Spanish, that the family only speaks Spanish as well. (Unless of course, this is one of those weird families where the parents speak perfect English at home and the kid comes to school only knowing Spanish, and we all know how many families like that there are.) The school’s job is to make sure these kids learn English, and to make sure they’re fluent in it quickly so they can join regular classes for their other subjects.

    As for self-esteem, SELF-ESTEEM COMES FROM SUCCESS!!! Get these kids competent in English, and they will be confident learners in the American school system. Focus on self-esteem rather than competence, and you set these kids up for failure when reality kicks them hard in the rear. “You sure are confident, but we won’t accept you because you can only read English at a 4th grade level.” What exactly do you think is going to happen to that kid’s self-esteem then?!

  2. I would agree with most of the above except because, very simply, it makes sense.

    However, my school is taking a cold, hard look at our underachieving hispanic males and it just isn’t that simple.

    Self-esteem does not come from academic success. It can, over time, but not right off the bat.

    I know enough about this to know there are no easy answers.

  3. Robert – I’m not saying it always comes from academic success, but success in general. What I am saying is that people who think self-esteem has to be built up by constant praise and coddling before students can be successful are doing students a disservice, since their self-esteem is disconnected from their actual academic preparedness, and that’s setting them up for a cruel kick in the rear later on down the road.

    Self-esteem is something which comes from within, it cannot be taught by schools, no matter how much they try. On the other hand, academic skills and knowledge can and should be taught by schools. It’s possible to set these kids up to do well by giving them the academic grounding they need, mainly by getting them to English fluency as quickly as possible. Praise and encouragement can (and should) be used to aid this process, but it’s no substitue for it.

    Build the skills, encourage them to stay the course, and give them mentors so that they can see what’s possible, and you will have successful students. But you can’t have the last two without the first one and expect it to work. That appears to be San Diego’s mistake.

  4. superdestroyer says:

    Anyone who thinks these kids are bilingual is a fool. Every few, if any, of the families can read and write at the 6th grade level in Spanish. Most of them actually speak a bastard form of Spanish that would probably never be understood in South America.

    Also, most families do not know the real words for things like body parts but just the slang vulgar words. Why teach a hispanic kid in Spanish when the parents cannot read the spanish language book and do not know the proper words in Spanih.

    What the educators are really trying to avoid saying is that Hispanic culture in the US does not value learning the same as the dominate white or asian culture. I wonder how many books are in the homes of those Spanish speaking homes? Yet, I wonder how many English language DVD’s are there?

  5. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Machismo, like its black counterpart of push, has long been a block to Mexican intellectual development.

  6. Adrian, Super and Walter. You all make excellent points.

  7. Adrian, Super and Walter. You all make excellent points.

  8. I thought California passed some sort of referendum demanding that students be taught in English YEARS AGO. Good grief.

  9. Mike in Texas says:

    I thought California passed some sort of referendum demanding that students be taught in English YEARS AGO.

    I imagine the federal money is too hard to pass up.

    Bilingual education is a perfect example of why the federal govt. shouldn’t be involved in education. The feds dangle the dollar, the school districts snap it up no matter what strings are attached and no matter how bad it is for the students (NCLB).

  10. We have a large number of migrant families in our area, and bilingual education has been a hot button for a long time. We offer these kids both traditional and bilingual education in the primary grades – families where the parents speak little to no English are taught bilingually; families where English is spoken along with Spanish are encouraged to enroll their kids in regular classrooms with ESL supplementation. They have discovered that if the kids do not have parents that can assist them in English at home, the regular classrooom curriculum, especially learning to read, can be overwhelming. All kids are in regular classes with ESL supplementation by the 3rd grade.

    At the high school where I teach, we have developed an “immersion” class for those who are straight across the border. They are put into a self-contained classroom for 9 weeks, then moved into a schedule like the rest of the student body. They take many of their core courses in “sheltered” classes, where all of the students are ESL and the teacher is trained in how to best help these limited English speakers learn the curriculum. Since I am certified in both math and Spanish, I taught one of these sheltered courses a few years ago. I believe it was a benefit for the kids, especially the ones who really wanted to learn. You will still have the kids who plan to go build houses with their dads and don’t think they need a high school education, but for the rest of them, I believe our program really works.

  11. San Diego under Alan Bersin and Tony Alvarado systematically avoided implementation of any of the good things California put in place since 1997: English emersion, solid (not fuzzy) math, phonics based reading, knowledge based science. Of course, they tried to hide what they were doing so as to keep snatching the money.

    It is no surprise that San Diego improve less than the state, less than bigger urban districts like LA, and less than poorer, higher non-white and Asian districts like nearby Oceanside. Hard nosed application of bad educational principles and anti-teacher attitudes is not the way to succeed.