Public schools in the United States are “woefully unprepared to deal with the fastest growing ethnic group” in the nation, according to Andrew Rotherham, writing in 2011 in Time magazine (1). That group, now 16% of our population, is Hispanic (the preferred term, over “Latino/Latina”) and by 2050, the percentage will have grown to more than 30%. In the short period from 2001 to 2008, the population of public schools has grown from 17% Hispanic to 21% and in many districts across the nation, including the entire state of Texas, Hispanic origin students make up more than 50% already. States like Virginia, North Carolina and some western states seem “to have been caught flat-footed” by this population boom, even though we have known the forecasts for decades.
The list of areas in which Hispanic populations are underserved in the United States is long, and in the educational field, it is perhaps predictable. English language teaching for non-native speakers continues to languish in terms of both instructional research and practical pedagogy; college admissions for Hispanic students is far behind both their white and African-American counterparts; access to pre-school education lags far behind all other groups and, according to an article in Educational Leadership* in February, 2010, Hispanic children are likely to be among the “poorest of the poor”. This portrait is further contextualized by information about the parents of school-age children in the Hispanic community, where parents are likely to be under-educated and have less access to health care and further educational opportunities. For example, only about 10% of Hispanic mothers have a college degree, as opposed to roughly one-third for “white” mothers. Hispanic children are also more likely to attend “hyper-segregated schools”, those that are 90-100% children of color. Given other national statistics, this means that Hispanic children have less in terms of facilities, resources and high quality teachers.
Luis C. Moll, writing in Language Arts magazine, as far back as 1988, pointed out that the educational problems facing Hispanic students are also the problems linked to class, race and social status generally in the United States. (3) His research testified to the effectiveness of particular instructional techniques and the provision of adequate resources as a way to improve the standards for Hispanic children. Other research, such as that provided by CREDE (Center for Research on Education, Diversity and Excellence) in 2002, points out that education does not occur in a vacuum. (4) There are socio-historical forces at play and there is also considerable diversity amongst and across the catch-all terminology of “Hispanic". There is class difference, country of origin difference and economic background difference, all of which make it more difficult to offer solutions and programs. However, across these variations, educators continue to provide consistent advice as to what works with communities defined as “immigrant”, whether recently arrived or second/third generation. Of course, that term also covers arrivals from privileged economic and educational backgrounds, lured to the United States in order to take up prestigious jobs. The group we are most concerned with is that much larger population that arrived here seeking a better life, a better education and a better chance of secure housing, health care and employment.
There is another hurdle that we do not often discuss: immigrant communities compete with both African-American communities and the “white” world for increasingly scarce resources. While the research on Black male education is extensive, and the focus on providing better opportunities for the African-American community is decades old, the same cannot be said for Hispanic communities. The risk of an unhelpful competition amongst underserved groups for resources and the resultant tensions will not serve any community and certainly won’t improve overall educational standards across the country. We have to be able to provide a research and resource focus on every community that makes up the growing statistical group of those living in poverty, poverty of resources and poverty in terms of the opportunities to increase educational attainment.
Both CREDE and the Pew Hispanic Center provide similar conclusions in terms of how best to improve the educational provisions for Hispanic students. English language teaching of a high caliber; the right level of resources, the right training for teachers, particularly those in ESOL categories, and perhaps most vital, a clear sense that our students from whatever backgrounds and national origins, can achieve and have a right to be provided with the circumstances in which success is more, not less, likely. Recently published statistics indicate some growth in both college admissions rates and high school graduations rates for Hispanic students and we need to find out what has promoted this growth. For both statistical reasons, and for the sake of our national sense of what is right and moral, we need to do more and better.
- Rotherman, Andrew J. (2011). The Education Crisis No One Is Talking About. Time. Available: http://content.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,2070930,00.html
- Gándara, Patricia. (2010). Special Topic / The Latino Education Crisis. Educational
Leadership, 67 (5). Available: http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/feb10/vol67/num05/The-Latino-Education-Crisis.aspx
- Moll, L. C. (1988). Some key issue in teaching Latino students. Language Arts,
- Padrón, Yolanda N., Waxman, Hersh C. & Rivera, Héctor H. (2002). Educating HIspanic Students: Obstacles and avenues to Improved academic achievement. Santa Cruz, California: Center for Research on Education, Diversity & Excellence. Available: http://www.cal.org/crede/pdfs/epr8.pdf