‘Spanish Learners’ struggle in Mexico


Anthony David Martinez raises his hand in class at the Escuela 20 Noviembre school in Tijuana, Mexico. Photo: Sandy Huffaker/NPR

When Mexican immigrants return to their homeland, their U.S.-born children struggle in Mexican schools, reports Claudio Sanchez for NPR.

Most were labeled English Language Learners in U.S. schools because they don’t read or write proficiently in English. But they’re not literate in Spanish either.

In the last eight years, nearly 500,000 children — 90 percent American born — have returned to Mexico with their families, estimates UCLA’s Civil Rights Project. Some immigrants left because of the economic downturn. Others were deported.

Patricia Gandara, co-chair of the Civil Rights Project, thinks Mexican educators should learn from the U.S. experience with English-only and bilingual education.

In Mexican schools, the goal is to transition children as quickly as possible to Spanish fluency — because it’s the only language that matters. We’ve tried to estimate the percentage of classroom teachers in Mexico who speak English at a level that they can communicate with these [U.S.-born] kids, and found that fewer than 5 percent in public schools across [Mexico] can communicate with these children.

U.S. educators build on children’s “primary language,” says Gandara. She wants Mexican schools to assess U.S. returnees in their primary language, English.

In the U.S., these students were treated as though Spanish was their primary language.

The children of poorly educated parents often lack well-developed skills and vocabulary in any language; they’re also weak on general knowledge about the world. No es el lenguaje estúpido.  You can figure out what that means because you’re educated readers.

OECD: U.S. lags in college completion

Fifty-two percent of U.S. students who start postsecondary education go on to graduate, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Education at a Glance 2013. The OECD average graduation rate is 70 percent with Japan leading the pack at 90 percent.

On average, OECD countries employ one teacher for every 14 students in upper-secondary school. Portugal hires one teacher for every eight students, while “Mexico breaks the scales at 28” students per teacher, notes Education Gadfly.

Mexican teachers strike to block reforms

Teachers in rural Mexico are striking to block education reforms pushed by President Enrique Peña Nieto.

Peña Nieto’s first major legislative victory after taking office in December was a constitutional amendment eliminating Mexico’s decades-old practice of buying and selling teaching jobs, and replacing it with a standardized national teaching test. That’s heresy to a radical splinter union of elementary and high school teachers in Guerrero, one of the country’s poorest and worst-educated states. The teachers claim the test is a plot to fire them en masse as a step toward privatizing education, although there is little evidence the government plans that.

Reform advocates say the dissidents simply fear losing control over the state education system and the income it provides, despite the need to reform a system that eats up more of the budget and produces worse results than virtually any other in the world’s largest economies.

Armed vigilante groups have blocked highways and shut down store entrances in support of the teachers.

The head of the teachers union, Elba Esther Gordillo, is in jail charged with embezzling $200 million.

Parents are “plan to start giving their own lessons in parks, public squares and even restaurants,” reports the Wall Street Journal.  However, the parents association is afraid of  “reprisals from striking teachers.”

Korea’s worry: too many college grads

The U.S. trails much of the developed world in young adults with college degrees. South Korea is number one, but 40 percent of new college graduates can’t find jobs. The government is trying to push vocational education.

Also on Community College Spotlight: More unprepared students are enrolling at New York City’s community colleges:  74 percent of city high school graduates require at least one remedial class and 22.6 percent require remediation in reading and writing and math.

Brill v. Ravitch

Class Warfare author Steven Brill debated Diane Ravitch on C-SPAN. Ravitch blamed poverty for low U.S. scores compared to rival countries, saying affluent U.S. students do as well as Finns and Koreans.

Big deal, responds Matthew Ladner on Jay Greene’s blog. Our best students do as well as the average for all of their students.

No mention of how the very wealthiest schools in America compare to the very wealthiest schools in Finland and South Korea, or that our African-American kids score closer to the average score in Mexico than that in Finland.

The gap between high-scoring and low-scoring U.S. students is wide compared to most of our high-scoring competitors.

As bullets fly, teacher sings

As narcos battled near an elementary school in Monterrey, Mexico, kindergarten teacher Martha Rivera Alanis led her class in a duck-and-cover drill and sing-along.

The Nuevo Leon state government honored Rivera a 33-year-old mother of two, for “outstanding civic courage” for keeping the children from panicking.

Five people were killed in the gun battle at a taxi stand.

The teacher posted the video, made on her cell phone, to her Facebook account. It was reproduced on YouTube and went viral.