The Graduates/Los Graduados

The Graduates/Los Graduados on PBS’ Independent Lens looks at six Latino students who overcame challenges –including gang involvement, homelessness, teen pregnancy, undocumented status and homophobia — to succeed in school.

How black, Latino males succeed

Black and Latino males who are doing well in high school credit their parents’ high expectations, relationships with caring teachers, a respectful, college-going culture in their high schools and a desire to get out of poverty.

Succeeding in the City, a study by Penn Education Professor Shaun Harper, is based on interviews with New York City juniors and seniors with a B average or higher in college-prep classes. All were engaged in school activities and planning to enroll in college.

Two-thirds of the students’ mothers and three-quarters of their fathers lacked any college degree. However 45 percent lived with two parents, which is above average for low-income urban neighborhoods.

“Staying on track can mean staying indoors,” writes Emily Richmond in The Atlantic.

When asked how they avoided being drawn into gang activity in their neighborhoods, many of the students said their parents prohibited all outdoor activity after dark. Some students said that having a reputation as a serious scholar headed for college actually protected them from gang conscription. Many of the respondents also stayed on campus long after classes ended for the day in order to do their studying and hang out with friends, often as a means of avoiding the disruptive neighborhood environment.

Harper also tracked 90 young male black and Latino college students from the same high schools. “Students said they had difficulty with time management–in high school, teachers were careful not to overload students with competing assignments due on the same day, and a student who asked for an extension would likely get one.”

All the high school students could name a teacher who’d helped them succeed. None of the college students could name a supportive professor.

Rich student, poor student

“The higher education system is . . . a passive agent in the systematic reproduction of white racial privilege across generations,” concludes a new report. Latino and black students — even those with high grades — are more likely than whites to go to community colleges, where their odds of graduation are lower.

Linking financial aid to graduation rates will penalize colleges that enroll low-income students, two new research papers warn.

The AP/IB challenge gap

Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses could help close the “high-end achievement gap” —  if more low-income, black and Latino students take these rigorous courses, concludes Finding America’s Missing AP and IB Students. The report is by the Education Trust and Equal Opportunity Schools.

Low-income students are one-third as likely to enroll in AP as their middle and high-income classmates. While 25.1 percent of Asian-American students take at least one AP course, that drops to 11.9 percent for whites, 9 percent for Latinos and 6 percent for blacks.

Ninety-one percent of public high school students attend schools that offer AP courses.

. . .  preparation prior to high school is part of the problem, and the nation’s schools need to work hard on that. But a recent analysis of PSAT scores by the College Board suggests there are far more students who have the potential to be successful, but are not enrolling. The College Board found that 72 percent of black students and 66 percent of Hispanic students whose PSAT scores suggested they had the potential to be successful in an AP math course, as well as 69 percent of black students and 65 percent of Hispanic students whose scores suggested they had the potential to be successful in an AP science course, were left out of the program.

San Jose Unified has doubled AP participation rates for under-represented subgroups, the report finds.

In Washington state, the Federal Way went beyond open access to AP and IB courses. Now  automatically enroll students who scored proficient or better on the state exam are enrolled automatically in AP or IB.

Teachers found that some of the new AP/IB students didn’t need additional supports to be successful in AP/IB — they had been ready all along — but others did. Schools relied on the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program that was already in place . . . the district extended instructional coaching support to ensure teachers were capable of meeting the demands of their new classes, offering techniques and strategies for differentiating lessons to reach all their students.

The Road to Equity: Expanding AP Access and Success for African-American Students, a new report by the Broad Foundation, looks at six urban districts where more black students are passing AP exams.

Graduation rate nears 75%

The public school graduation rate is nearing 75 percent, according to Education Week‘s Diplomas Count 2013.   It hasn’t been this high since 1973.

While racial and ethnic achievement gaps are narrowing, Asian-Americans (81 percent) and whites (80 percent) do much better than Latinos (68 percent) and blacks (62 percent).

Diplomas Count also looks at dropout recovery programs.

Left behind in Silicon Valley

“When I came to this country, I saw the American dream. You get an education, go to college . . . Even American citizens can’t get the American dream now,” says Roberto Aguirrez, a parent group leader, in Broken Promises: The Children Left Behind in Silicon Valley Schools. I wrote the report for Innovate Public Schools.

Aguirrez is working to bring a charter K-8 school to Morgan Hill, the San Jose suburb where he lives. But it won’t happen soon enough for his fifth-grade daughter. If he can’t get her into a good charter middle school — there are wait lists at all the high-performing charters — he’ll pay for private school.

“You know that movie? I’m not waiting for Superman,” he says.

Aguirrez and his wife earned college degrees. They were able to help their daughter with homework when she fell behind. They could afford to hire a tutor. When teachers said their kids were doing “OK,” they could read the report card and see that wasn’t true. Most Latino parents don’t know their children are scoring below basic, says Aguirrez.

Silicon Valley draws talented people from around the world. In 2011, 64 percent of the valley’s college-educated, high-tech professionals were born outside the U.S.

Only about one in five Latino and black students in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties is on track to complete high school in four years and go on to college, and even fewer will qualify for a high-tech job.

It’s not hopeless. The Alum Rock elementary district, which serves a low-income, heavily immigrant neighborhood in east San Jose, used to have dreadful schools. PACT, a church-based parent group, demanded the district authorize charter schools and start new, small autonomous schools (a bit like Boston’s “pilot” schools). The new schools are doing very well and the traditional district schools are improving. Alum Rock parents have real choices now.

Charters and Alum Rock’s autonomous schools dominate the top-ranked schools for Latino success, notes the  San Jose Mercury News. (Innovate ranked schools with at least 38 percent Latino enrollment, the region average.)

The top five middle schools for Latino algebra proficiency are KIPP Heartwood charter in Alum Rock at 81 percent; Renaissance Academy at 59 percent and Adelante at 53 percent, both in Alum Rock; Solorsano Middle in Gilroy at 48 percent and ACE Charter in San Jose at 47 percent.

At Jefferson High in Daly City, 78 percent of Latino students graduate UC/CSU ready — the highest percentage among comprehensive high schools. Other schools with high percentages of college-ready Latino grads are six charters: Summit Preparatory in Redwood City at 90 percent; KIPP San Jose Collegiate at 83 percent, Aspire East Palo Alto Phoenix at 62 percent, Downtown College Preparatory at 49 percent, Leadership Public Schools-San Jose at 46 percent and Latino College Preparatory at 39 percent.

In Morgan Hill, where Aguirrez and his wife are raising their children, 9 percent of Latino high school graduates qualify for state universities. (Update: The district says the number is off because one of its high schools was left out of state data.) Right next door in Gilroy, which has more Latino and low-income students, 20 percent are college eligible. Gilroy also has two elementary schools that make the top 10 list for Latino success in reading and math. Why can’t Morgan Hill do as well as Gilroy?

Educating the children of poorly educated, low-income, immigrant parents is very difficult. But some schools are showing it’s possible.

Latino kids don’t see themselves in books

Young Latino Students Don’t See Themselves in Books, according to the New York Times.  Hispanic students make up nearly a quarter of public school students, but only a small fraction of characters in books for elementary students.

The main characters in the most popular books are white with African-American, Asian or Hispanic characters more likely to appear in supporting roles.

“Kids do have a different kind of connection when they see a character that looks like them or they experience a plot or a theme that relates to something they’ve experienced in their lives,” said Jane Fleming, an assistant professor at the Erikson Institute, a graduate school in early childhood development in Chicago.

She and Sandy Ruvalcaba Carrillo, an elementary school teacher in Chicago who works with students who speak languages other than English at home, reviewed 250 book series aimed at second to fourth graders and found just two that featured a Latino main character.

The Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Education, which compiles statistics about the race of authors and characters in children’s books published each year, found that in 2011, just over 3 percent of the 3,400 books reviewed were written by or about Latinos, a proportion that has not changed much in a decade.

Common Core State Standards’ list of suggested books for early elementary students contains black characters and authors, but few Latinos. More will be added, said Susan Pimentel, one of the lead writers. “We are determined to make this right.”

“Research on a direct link between cultural relevance in books and reading achievement at young ages is so far scant,” reports the Times. I think that means there is no evidence. But that doesn’t stop academics from worrying that kids will feel alienated “if all they read is Judy Blume or characters in the Magic Treehouse series who are white and go on adventures.” (What about white kids who don’t have a magic treehouse that provides adventures?)

At Bayard Taylor Elementary in Philadelphia, a school where three-quarters of the students are Latino, Kimberly Blake, a third-grade bilingual teacher, said she struggles to find books about Latino children that are “about normal, everyday people.” The few that are available tend to focus on stereotypes of migrant workers or on special holidays. “Our students look the way they look every single day of the year,” Ms. Blake said, “not just on Cinco de Mayo or Puerto Rican Day.”

On a recent morning, Ms. Blake read from “Amelia’s Road” by Linda Jacobs Altman, about a daughter of migrant workers. Of all the children sitting cross-legged on the rug, only Mario said that his mother had worked on farms.

However, a book that colors every fourth child brown may be accused of tokenism.

As a reading tutor, I see a lot of books for young children that feature animals — especially cats, bats and rats. They sit on mats and try on hats. Humans are named Nan, Fran, Pam, Sam, Tam, Tim and Sim. It’s not a rich cultural milieu for children of any background. I can tell you what little girls of all colors and creeds long to read: the Pinkalicious series. Sadly, my kids can only handle “tan” and “red.”

A good book is a good book is a good book,” writes author Nikki Grimes in Color Me Perplexed. “The single most important question we should ask when considering a book for our classroom or library shelves is, is the book any good?”

When I was researching Our School (which makes a lovely holiday gift), I saw students from Mexican immigrant families fall in love with Harry Potter books. The kids weren’t British or pale skinned. They weren’t wizards either. They liked the story.

California: Black boys expect to fail

By kindergarten, 1 out of 4 African American boys in California is convinced he will fail in school, reports the San Francisco Chronicle, citing a report by an Assembly select committee. By fourth grade, 60 percent of black and Latino children score below proficient on reading tests; by eighth grade, 1 in 4 are chronically absent.

Oakland Unified is implementing many of the report’s recommendations, including “full-service schools with health centers, discipline policies that keep students in school and programs to support at-risk youth,” reports the Chronicle.

For example, the district has an Office of African-American Male Achievement, which supports manhood development classes at middle and high schools and other programs for black males.

The manhood classes offer black male students positive African American male role models who encourage the young men to focus on their education and future and offer a curriculum that includes everything from how to tie a tie to an analysis of historical black figures.

So far, black male students are doing very, very badly in Oakland Unified.

CREDO: New Jersey charters do well

Children in New Jersey charter schools gained an average of three additional months of learning per year in math, and two additional months of learning in reading compared to students in traditional public schools,” according to a new study by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford.

Using a “virtual control record” methodology, CREDO compared students in third through eighth grade with similar students in traditional public schools from 2007 to 2011. It found 30 percent of New Jersey charters outperformed regular public schools in reading, while 11 percent of charter did worse. In math, 40 percent of charters did significantly better than traditional schools, while 13 percent fared worse.

Special ed students do about the same in charters as in traditional public schools, the study found.  English Language Learners in charter schools — a small group — have similar gains in reading and significantly better results in math.

Compared to neighboring schools, New Jersey charter schools enroll nearly twice as many blacks, half as many whites and Asians and somewhat fewer Latinos. The poverty numbers are almost identical.

Urban charters did very well, suburban charters did somewhat better and rural charters did worse. Newark’s charter students gained an additional seven and a half months in reading and nine months in math.

Newark’s school district is trying to improve, pushed by its high-performing charter schools, writes Andy Smarick. But if the reforms don’t work, “chartering can replace the district,” he argues.

 

On-time high school grad rate is 72%

Only 72 percent of students in the class of 2011 earned a diploma in four years, according to the U.S. Education Department.

Iowa had the highest graduation rate at 88 percent with Wisconsin and Vermont at 87 percent and Indiana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Tennessee and Texas at 86 percent.

The District of Columbia’s four-year graduation rate was 59 percent, the lowest in the country, notes Dropout Nation. Only 60 percent of black, Latino, and Native American students graduated on time. In Nevada, the black on-time graduation rate was 43 percent, the worst in the nation. Montana and Texas are “the only states in which four out of every five black freshmen in their respective Classes of 20111 graduated on time.” Minnesota had the largest racial achievement gap with a 49 percent on-time graduation rate for blacks and 84 percent of whites

Nationwide, 79 percent of Asian-American students and 76 percent of non-Hispanic whites finished high school in four years.

If a student needs five years to earn a high school diploma — and really earns it — that’s OK by me. I worry that “portfolio review” and “credit recovery” scams will pump up graduation rates.