Economist draws the wrong conclusion between Latino students and failure in online courses

LatinaLista — Over the last few years, whenever there has been talk about immigration or undocumented immigrants, there has been a blurring between Hispanic immigrants and Latino citizens. People talk as if it is all one group.
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Some will argue that this “blurring” between the two groups is deliberate by conservative extremists who want to use a broad brush to paint the picture of who deserves to be in this country and who doesn’t.
At this point, it doesn’t much matter who is responsible because the harm has been done. People, politicians and even researchers tend to equate the terms “Hispanic” or “Latinos” with undocumented and/or English-as-a-Second-Language immigrants.
The point was underscored when Sen. Reid famously misspoke about how he couldn’t understand why there would be any Hispanics who belonged to the Republican Party. The notion that Latinos would solely identify with Democrats, or see them as saviors against a political landscape that has the GOP as the arch enemy reflects a common misperception that all Latinos share the same gratitude towards Democrats for championing immigration.
The fact is there are two sets of Latinos — recent immigrants and native-born. Yet, time and time again, the national Latino community is treated as a group of one mind, one origin and one language — Spanish!
It’s a misperception that is reinforced every day in the corporate world with more advertisers pouring money into Spanish-language media as opposed to splitting the money with English-language Latino-centric sites.
The popular misperception that Latinos don’t speak English has now taken root among a group that should know better and whose misperceptions could do a great disservice to all English-speaking Latinos.


Research was conducted recently about the value of online learning. It yielded some unsurprising results. Yet, it was the interpretation of those results that were more than surprising.
The research published by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that online classes just aren’t for every student.

The research was a head-to-head experiment, comparing the grades achieved in the same introductory economics class by students — one group online, and one in classroom lectures. The 312 students were undergraduates at a major state university (unnamed, at the university’s request). The research was funded by the National Science Foundation and the Education Department.

The results were that grades suffered among male students, low-achievers and Latino students. In fact, Latino students fared the worst when it came to grades from the online class — a whole grade point lower than their Latino peers in the classroom.
In trying to explain the results, David Figlio, an economist at Northwestern University and co-author of the paper, attributed the poor showing among males and low-achievers to the opportunity for these students to procrastinate and put off studying for online tests or assignments until the last minute when they would cram. As a result, these students fared badly on tests.
Explaining the poor results from the Latino students, Figlio said:

The lower performance by Hispanic students online, Mr. Figlio said, might be attributable to missing the body language of the lecturer and other classroom cues, which could be more important to a student whose first language is not English. Online, he added, students lose the ability to ask an immediate question in class, during breaks or right after the lecture.

Considering that this was an Economics class and the fact that while it’s not said, so I’m assuming, nativity was never a question among these students, the idea that these particular students didn’t do well because English may not have been their first language seems a stretch — a long ignorant stretch of the academic imagination.
For any student to be admitted into college and taking an economics class tends to imply that these students have a good grasp of the English language to begin with, unless they are international students and have not been living in the United States.
From the way it was phrased, Mr. Figlio’s assumption seems less drawn on actually understanding the reason for the poor performance by these students and more as an easy resort to connecting the popular dots — hmmm, Hispanics – English – don’t speak it – don’t do well in school.
There are three other much more plausible explanations, among several, that Mr. Figlio conveniently overlooked. But then again, he would have had to know the study characteristics of Latino students.
For starters, while it’s true that most Latinos are visual learners, it has less to do with picking up body language signals from the instructor and more with seeing the charts, pictures, diagrams in person and hearing firsthand the explanations rather than seeing it online.
Secondly, in an online course, reading comprehension is a must-have skill. In tests from grade school through high school, it’s been measured that reading comprehension is one area that continues to challenge Latino students.
And thirdly, Latino students, especially males, are just as notorious for procrastinating. Without the threat of public embarrassment for not being prepared for class, students won’t make the extra effort to be prepared until the last minute.
While others, who are educators, may come up with other plausible explanations, the fact remains that it cannot be said, nor should it be so readily accepted, that the reason why the majority of Latino students didn’t do well in this online class, in this particular study, has anything to do with language.
It has everything to do with knowing who are those Latinos.

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