LatinaLista — It’s long been known and accepted as historical fact that “white-flight to the suburbs” took hold in every major city in the country. Left behind in the shadows of the city’s skylines were families of low-income and usually of color who were left with little of the infrastructure their suburban counterparts enjoyed — convenient grocery stores, gas stations, shopping malls, good roads, etc.
But the most important difference between urban and suburban families was the schools.
Suburban schools were newer, better equipped and had decent student-teacher ratios.
Urban schools were the opposite in every way — especially when it came to the number of students enrolled in the schools.
It’s now accepted among educators and researchers that class size can directly impact a student’s performance in school.
Given the high drop out rate among Latino students, it has always been assumed by educators and critics that Latino students and their families lacked the motivation to go to school. We now know that is false and two reports, coincidentally released about the same time, show that Latino students, for the most part, are set up for failure at urban schools.
The nonprofit America’s Promise Alliance released a report titled Cities in Crisis 2009: Closing the Graduation Gap.
The report, a follow-up to a 2008 analysis of national high school graduation rates, found that while some cities have improved in closing the graduation gap between students of urban and their respective suburban school districts, the “average graduation rate of the 50 largest cities is well below the national average of 71%, and there remains an 18 percentage point urban suburban gap.”
On top of that, “only about half (53%) of all young people in the nation’s 50 largest cities are graduating from high school on time.”
In reviewing the Cities in Crisis 2009 paper, I found that the paper only analyzes the differences in graduation rates and makes a rather bold conclusion:
As this report and other research have shown, two very different worlds exist within American public schooling. In one, earning a diploma is the norm, something expected of every student; in the other, it is not.
There has always been an assumption that Latino and black children have been subjected to low expectations. While that may be true from the educators in their lives, I argue that it’s not necessarily true of the children themselves or their families.
As one young dropout told me once in the course of conducting research on teenage dropout moms, “it’s not like I went to school every day thinking this was the day I was going to make myself flunk out. It’s just that nobody cared about me. The teacher didn’t even know my name.”
A separate report issued this week by the Chicago-based United Neighborhood Organization or UNO, School Overcrowding: Limiting Hispanic Potential validates, in part, this student’s feelings by illustrating how the overcrowding problems of Chicago’s urban school system adversely affects Latino students.
What’s true in Chicago can be found in every major metropolitan city school system where there is a sizeable student of color population.
Total enrollment in overcrowded schools (adjusted by subtracting students not belonging to the school’s attendance area) consists of 62,978 students. Of these, 77.5% are Hispanic.
The shortage of “seats” (i.e. the capacity needed to bring utilization rates to 80%) is 16,552, the equivalent of 552 classrooms, or approximately 28 schools. When this shortage is distributed proportionally to the ethnic make-up of students enrolled at these schools, the Hispanic share is 79.4%.
Recognizing that the overcrowded conditions are playing a huge part in enabling Latino children to fall within the cracks of Chicago’s educational system, local Latino leaders plan to travel to their state capitol frequently this legislative session and talk to legislators about getting more financial aid to build schools that are needed to accommodate their growing student population.
Anecdotally speaking, whenever I speak to Latino students who have dropped out of school, the same reasons surface:
“Nobody notices if I’m not there.”
“Nobody takes time to talk to me.”
“None of my teachers care about me.”
While some will argue that teachers are burdened enough with job responsibilities to get personally involved or take a personal interest in students, we know, via every success story of an at-risk student, that it was that one teacher who took the time to notice and encourage that student, that made all the difference in the world in the life and future of that student.
Latino parents do not send their children to school with the expectation for failure.
Latino students do not start school with the expectation of becoming dropouts.
However, some Latino students never finish school because they have a natural need to be recognized for who they are and not just another face in a brown crowd. Without the simple recognition that they matter — a hi from a teacher, praise for something — there’s little encouragement for them to stick around.
And encouragement can go a long way to changing how a person sees him/herself.