Educating Hispanic students

How Can Schools Best Educate Hispanic Students? On Education Next, Harvard Education Professor Nonie Lesaux calls for teaching higher-order literacy skills, while Juan Rangel, president of Chicago’s UNO Charter School Network, stresses civic responsibility and good citizenship.

It’s not enough to teach basic conversational and reading skills, writes Lesaux. Students learning English — and their classmates — need to be “in strong and supportive language- and content-rich classrooms” that build academic vocabulary and knowledge.

Schools have done a good job teaching most students the basic skills necessary to be proficient readers in the early grades, decoding and comprehending the conversational language that conveys ideas and topics in beginner books.

But in higher grades, many Hispanic students don’t have the vocabulary and knowledge to comprehend the “academic language of print,” learn academic concepts and “generate ideas and questions,” Lesaux writes.

Immigrants are chasing the American dream, but public schools no longer teach them how to become Americans, Rangel writes. “A quality public school that emphasizes civic responsibility and good citizenship” will . . .  “transition immigrant families into the American way of life, into making American values, culture, norms, and language their own.”

Schools in the UNO network are 95 percent Hispanic in enrollment and 93 percent low-income, but are “classic American schools,” writes Rangel. Instead of special programs, immigrant students — and others — need  “a great teacher, a core curriculum, a disciplined school culture, and strong accountability.” UNO uses Structured English Language Immersion for its students rather than bilingual classes and offers a longer school day and year.

 

‘I am the first’

In her college admissions essay, Sara recalled her disastrous start as a counselor in the summer bridge program for new students at her San Jose charter school, Downtown College Prep. An incoming 12th grader, she couldn’t control her group of new ninth graders. She wanted to quit — but she didn’t. Sara and her fellow counselors stuck with it, took control and turned their rowdy crew into winners of the spirit award.

When Sara started at Santa Clara University, she felt that she didn’t belong. But she stuck with it, joined clubs and made a place for herself. She had to leave for a year when the money ran out. She worked, saved, came back to finish her bachelor’s degree and now works at a high-tech company.

I met Sara when I was reporting and writing Our School, a book about DCP’s struggles to prepare disadvantaged students for college. I saw her last week at DCP’s event promoting their college success report, I Am the First. The school spent two years surveying its graduates — successful and struggling — to determine what influences college success for low-income, first-generation college students.

At the event, students and graduates held up signs: “I am the first in my family to learn English . . . I am the first in my family to go to high school . . . I am the first in my family to join a college fraternity . . . I am the first to study law.”

DCP is 90 percent low-income and 96 percent Latino; 80 percent of students enter with below-grade-level skills in reading and math. Forty-one percent of parents haven’t completed high school (or, often, started it).

Nearly 500 students have graduated since the first graduating class of ’04. The graduation rate for the first three classes is 40 percent — more than four times the rate for low-income students nationwide.

Those who drop out can talk to a school counselor about how to return to college. One graduate worked for three years in a factory, tightening screws, before going back to community college. He’s been accepted at a University of California at Santa Cruz. He wants to be a history teacher.

What leads to success?

“Empowered” students who take responsibility for their education are more likely to “advocate for themselves” and earn a degree, the survey found. DCP will encourage students to take leadership roles, such as Sara’s stint as a summer bridge counselor.

College counseling should include career counseling: For first-generation students, job one is qualifying for a job.

Teachers are the most important influence on students’ college plans, so DCP plans to make “every teacher a college counselor.”

The school also will devote more energy to helping parents handle the college transition. Sixty percent of DCP students live at home while attending college to save money.

“A college plan must include a financial plan,” the college counselor stressed. Two-thirds of students who leave college do so for financial reasons.

Finally, “college is an inside game.” Students need to be taught the unwritten rules. What do you do about a dreadful roommate? How do you form a study group?  When should you ask a professor for help? DCP will “teach college as a second language.”

“No excuses’ students struggle in college

“No excuses” charter schools send most or all of their low-income, minority students to college. But do “no excuses” students graduate from college? In Education Next, Robert Pondiscio looks at what charter schools are doing to improve their graduates’ college graduation rates.

KIPP is the largest and best known of a class of charter-management organizations (CMOs) that includes Achievement First, YES Prep, Uncommon Schools, Mastery, Aspire, and others. This group shares a set of familiar characteristics: more and longer school days, with a college preparatory curriculum for all students; strict behavioral and disciplinary codes; and a strong focus on building a common, high-intensity school culture. Classrooms and halls are awash in motivational quotations and college banners, typically from the alma maters of the inevitably young, hard-charging teachers who staff the schools. The signature feature is high behavioral and academic expectations for all students, the vast majority of whom are low-income, urban black and Hispanic kids.

Both KIPP and YES Prep track their graduates and report on how well they’re doing. One third of former KIPP middle schoolers have graduated college within six years — four times the average for disadvantaged students, but way below KIPP’s goals.

Black graduates of YES Prep average 1556 in reading, writing and math on the SAT, “far above the national average of 1273 for African Americans, and significantly higher than the 1500 national average for all students.” All graduates have passed at least one AP class. Less than 5 percent of YES Prep grads require remediation in college. Yet the six-year graduation rate is only 41 percent .

 “It wasn’t the academic piece that was holding our kids back,” notes senior director of college initiatives at YES Prep Donald Kamentz. “What we found hands down was it was the noncognitive piece—that tenacity, that grit—that allowed kids to harness those skills and persist when they faced difficulty.”

“What we’ve found with the ‘whatever it takes’ or ‘no excuses’ mentality is that it was very teacher-driven and less student-driven,” says Kametz, acknowledging this is a controversial line of thought in his own halls. A typical No Excuses approach might involve giving demerits or detention for missed assignments or turning in work that’s not “neat and complete.” Kamentz questions whether this tough-love approach helps create the self-advocacy in students they will need to be successful in college. “It’s the largest gaping hole with our kids in college,” he says. “They will constantly say, ‘You structured my life so much that I had to do very little thinking and structuring myself.’”

The no-excuses charters are trying to develop ways to strengthen students’ perseverance, “growth mindset” and grit. Some send  “posses” of students to “right-match” colleges that provide mentoring to first-generation-to-college students. (I love Pondiscio’s phrase: “in helicopter parentis.”)

KIPP, which started with middle schools, is adding elementary and high schools to strengthen academic preparation. The network also is following its alumni through college to help them cope with academic and social challenges. Now there are 1,000 KIPP graduates in college. In a few years, there will be 10,000. KIPP hopes to raise the college graduation rate to 75 percent, as high as students from upper-income families. The short-term goal is a 50 percent graduation rate.

Hispanic kids lag in language, not social skills

Mexican-American preschoolers fall behind white children in language and preliteracy skills, but do just as well in social skills, according to a Berkeley-UCLA study.

Mexican American toddlers between ages 2 and 3 displayed language and cognitive skills about eight months behind those of their white peers, whether assessed in English or Spanish. This gap persisted through ages 4 and 5, with Mexican American children entering kindergarten already behind.

. . . “The slight schooling of Mexican-heritage mothers, juggling more young children at home, and weak traditions of reading with one’s child, conspire to suppress early language and cognitive growth,” (UCLA pediatrician Alma) Guerrero said.

Mexican-American parents are much less likely to read to their children regularly. But, in other ways, they were warm, supportive parents, said Berkeley sociologist and study co-author Bruce Fuller. “We find robust cultural strengths in Mexican American homes when it comes to raising eager and socially mature preschoolers.”

In search of STEM students

Universities are turning to community colleges in the search for potential STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) students who are black, Hispanic and/or female.

Accountability shock is wearing off

Math scores rose dramatically in the “consequential accountability” era, but the accountability shock is wearing off, writes Mark Schneider, a former National Center for Education Statistics commissioner  now at American Institutes for Research. Texas, an early accountability adopter, saw an early rise in math scores and now a plateau, he writes. Progress is leveling off nationwide as well.

A graph of NAEP fourth-grade math scores show a “remarkable” growth in performance in Texas and the U.S.

Using the very rough rule of thumb that a 10-point change in NAEP scores equals about one year of learning, in 2011 our fourth graders are about two years ahead of where they were in 1992.

Texas improved first. The national average caught up when No Child Left Behind forced accountability on all states, Schneider writes.

Compared to the nation as a whole, Texas has more disadvantaged students. The state’s Hispanic, black and low-income students outperform the national average for similar students.

Reading scores did not improve in Texas or elsewhere in the accountability era, perhaps because reading “is far more dependent on what happens early in children’s lives,” Schneider writes.

What could provide the next shock? Schneider suggests the Common Core and the better measurement of teacher performance as possibilities.


Immigrants seek education, but hit wait lists

Second-generation Hispanic women are leading a surge in college enrollment, but graduation rates remain low for Hispanics from immigrant families.

Few immigrants succeed without learning English, but many are on wait lists to get classes, writes Gail Mellow, president of LaGuardia Community College.

New York City’s community colleges will work with museums to teach immigrants English through art.

Is the college push working?

More students — including many more Hispanics and somewhat more blacks — are enrolling in college, reports the Pew Research Center. Enrollment is outpacing population growth because more minority students are graduating from high school.

What are we doing right? asks National Journal. What more can we do?

Black and Hispanic student achievement is rising, writes Sandy Kress, one of the architects of No Child Left Behind.

Tom Vander Ark credits the movement to prepare all students for college and careers.

I’d like to see how many of these college students earn a certificate, associate degree or bachelor’s degree.

Hispanic college enrollment surges

Hispanic college enrollment surged by 24 percent from 2009 to 2010 according to a Pew Hispanic Center analysis of Census data. Population growth is only part of the story: The high school graduation rate for young Hispanics soared from 59 percent in 2000 to 72 percent in 2010.

Hispanic students aren't catching up

Hispanic fourth and eighth graders didn’t catch up in math and reading from 1990 to 2009, concludes Achievement Gaps, a National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) report issued yesterday. Hispanic students improved, but so did non-Hispanic whites.

Nationwide, the average Hispanic student is working two or more grade levels below the average white student, notes the Christian Science Monitor.  (Ten points on NAEP is the equivalent of one grade level.)

In fourth-grade math in 2009, the average Hispanic score of 227 corresponds with the “basic” skill level, and it indicates that students can make a pictograph of given information, and can determine, in a multiple-choice question, how many given pieces cover a shape.

The white average score of 248, on the other hand, is just one point shy of reaching the “proficient” skill level, and it indicates that these students can subtract a two-digit number from a three-digit number and solve a word problem involving quarts and cups.

Hispanic school enrollment in grades 4 and 8 tripled in the last two decades, growing from 7 percent to 22 percent by 2009.  Some 77 percent of Hispanic students come from low-income families.

Thirty-seven percent in fourth grade and 21 percent in eighth grade are not fully proficient in reading English. Not surprisingly, Hispanic students who’ve achieved proficiency — which is measured by scoring well on tests — do much better than those who aren’t proficient.

For Hispanics who already know English, the gaps with whites have narrowed. That gap was 15 points in Grade 8 reading, for instance, while ELL Hispanics scored 39 points lower than non-ELL Hispanics.

Among low-income students, the gaps between Hispanics and whites have narrowed in reading and eighth-grade math since 2003.

Florida boasts a significantly smaller Hispanic-white achievement gap. Other school systems with smaller-than-average gaps are Kentucky, Missouri, Wyoming and the Department of Defense schools. California, sadly, has a larger-than-average achievement gap.