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Latina Lista: News from the Latinx perspective > Life Issues > Children > Arne Duncan has a bigger challenge with Latino students succeeding in school

Arne Duncan has a bigger challenge with Latino students succeeding in school

LatinaLista — Today’s nomination by President-elect Obama of Arne Duncan, the CEO of Chicago Public Schools, as Secretary of Education has been met with moderate approval ratings from several professional educational organizations in the city that knows him best, Chicago.

Education Secretary-designate Arne Duncan, flanked by President-elect Barack Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden, speaks at the Dodge Renaissance Academy in Chicago, Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2008. (AP Photo)
According to President-elect Obama, Duncan already has a proven track record:

In just seven years, he’s boosted elementary test scores here in Chicago from 38 percent of students meeting the standards to 67 percent. The dropout rate has gone down every year he’s been in charge. And on the ACT, the gains of Chicago students have been twice as big as those for students in the rest of the state.

That’s good to hear since a new report on the status of Latinos’ education released today by Excelencia in Education outlines the full extent of the challenges he’s going to face in working with Latino families across the country so that tomorrow’s majority won’t be undereducated.


In Factbook: The Condition of Latinos in Education 2008, it becomes increasingly clear that Duncan and other educators must be innovative if they want to reverse the current educational trends among Latino students.

While building upon what Duncan has already been able to implement in Chicago by opening up schools to afterschool programs and making the public schools centers for involvement by the local community, educational strategies must also take in the cultural nuances that keep students from being fully prepared when they enter school to “enlightening” them to see the value of an education that involves receiving a high school diploma, a Bachelor’s degree and higher.
There are several initiatives to get teachers to recognize when a student is struggling and how to intervene but the bottom line is that students and their families have to want an education. For many Latino families who live in poverty, learning about history and science are considered a waste of time if the students can be helping out the family.
That’s why new innovative approaches, like those proposed by Harvard economist Roland Fryer, who advocates that students should be paid for good grades, are catching the imagination of both students and educators who see that working towards good grades and being monetarily rewarded is not any different than putting in a good day’s work and receiving a salary.
However, this is only one idea. It’s clear that any future innovations in education will have to extend beyond the walls of the classroom and the boundaries of the school campus. It has gotten to the point where it must be a community-wide initiative to underscore the seriousness of what it means to this country to have a majority population that will be undereducated if current trends continue.
Today’s Factbook acts like a crystal ball for the Latino community and our national educational leaders in that it clearly shows a path that should be avoided at all costs.
Some of the findings about the state of Latinos and education are:

Hispanic children under age five were less likely to be enrolled in early childhood education programs than other groups. In 2005-06, about half of Hispanic children under five (49%) were in a center-based setting as their primary type of early education and care, compared to 60% or more of their white, black, Asian, or American Indian/Alaska Native peers.
Hispanic children 4 to 5 years of age had lower average scores in language knowledge and skills than white, black, or Asian children in 2005-06.
Hispanic students consistently perform below some of their peers in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). In both fourth and eighth grades, Hispanic students lag behind white peers in reading (fourth grade: 205 vs. 231; eighth grade: 247 vs. 272) and mathematics (fourth grade: 227 vs. 248; eighth grade: 265 vs. 291).
The average reading scores for Hispanic high school seniors has decreased. In 1992, the average reading score for Hispanic seniors was 279; in 2005, it was 272.
While the status dropout rate for Hispanics has decreased from 32% in 1990 to 22% in 2006, it is still higher than that of other groups: 11% for blacks, 6% for whites, and 4% for Asians/Pacific Islanders.
Latinos represented 12% of SAT test-takers for 2008 college-bound seniors, but had lower mean scores in all areas of the SAT reasoning test than did white, Asian/Pacific Islander, or American Indians/Alaska Native students.
Hispanics of traditional college-age are less likely to be enrolled in college. In 2006, 24% of Hispanics 18-24 years old were enrolled in degree-granting institutions, compared to 33% of black, and 41% of white students.

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Comment(27)

  • Avatar
    Grandma
    December 16, 2008 at 7:58 pm

    Might help to speak and understand English.

  • Avatar
    Sandra
    December 17, 2008 at 7:34 am

    Right on, Grandma. Many of these examples of poor performances in school is due to the fact that many Hispanic students are here illegally in our country or they are anchor babies. Their parents don’t speak English. The kids learn only Spanish at home and therefore are handicapped when they enter our schools. I see many Hispanic families out in public where the parents are only speaking to their kids in Spanish.

  • Avatar
    Marisa Treviño
    December 17, 2008 at 9:03 am

    Sandra, Your assumptions are false. Speaking Spanish at home has no bearing on a child’s success in school. I know this from firsthand experience. If you cared to really read the data rather than pass off your assumptions as fact, you would know that being bilingual actually exemplifies a greater brain process going on than just speaking one language. Children who only speak Spanish when they enter school, depending on their ages, learn English quickly more from recess time when they’re interacting with their peers than reading from a book. There are other reasons for poor performances by Latino students and it’s a shared fault between educators and parents but speaking Spanish out in public is not an indicator that children will do badly in school.

  • Avatar
    Sandra
    December 17, 2008 at 9:29 am

    Marisa,
    Speaking “exclusively” in Spanish at home and out in public IS a hinderance to these kids in school especially if the parents speak no English at all. That is just a common sense, truthful statement.

  • Avatar
    Michaela
    December 17, 2008 at 4:54 pm

    Marisa:
    “There are other reasons for poor performances by Latino students and it’s a shared fault between educators and parents but speaking Spanish out in public is not an indicator that children will do badly in school.”
    There is nothing wrong with speaking Spanish at home and in public Marisa. But, I would like to get your take on why Hispanics do so poorly in school. You cannot blame educators, that is not fair. Whose fault is it then?

  • Avatar
    Marisa Treviño
    December 18, 2008 at 9:27 am

    Michaela, It’s a combination of factors and yes, educators, not all but enough, share in the responsibility of poor student performance. That would be true even if we were talking about students across the board and not just singling out Latino students. What I think is that this whole public education system has to be reinvented. The fact is that Latino students and other low-income students have different needs than the average middle-class suburban student. These kids are anxious to work to either help their families or buy themselves things their parents can’t afford. We need to have an educational system that is flexible and reflective of what today’s students needs are. I’ll be posting a column I wrote on this soon where I talk about it more in-depth. Suffice it to say that forcing the old-school methods of teaching and learning onto students just doesn’t work for some student populations.

  • Avatar
    Marisa Treviño
    December 18, 2008 at 9:31 am

    Sandra, I’m going to take a leap here and say you are not a fluent speaker of a second language. Otherwise, you would see that what you are saying is only reflective of your narrow views and not the reality that has existed in this country among hundreds of different immigrant families where the parents didn’t speak English but their children went on to become accomplished professionals. Don’t fear hearing another language, embrace it. I think you’ll discover a new world out there!

  • Avatar
    Michaela
    December 18, 2008 at 11:46 am

    Marisa, I find it very offensive that you would blame “educators” for the problems Hispanics have in school. My brother and sister are both teachers and have expressed frustration at the lack of parental involvement that they feel holds many Hispanic students back. My parents told me I had better do well in school and I had darn well better study. This is not happening now to many of these students and I blame their parents.

  • Avatar
    Sandra
    December 18, 2008 at 1:39 pm

    I don’t “fear” hearing another language but when I see entire families of Latinos speaking exclusively in Spanish all the time out in public that is a non-assimilation sign.

  • Avatar
    Marisa Treviño
    December 18, 2008 at 9:58 pm

    Michaela, before you get all your feathers ruffled you should reread the post and see what I actually wrote — and not what you wanted to read.
    And for the record, I have many members of my family and friends who are educators and didn’t take offense at that post.

  • Avatar
    Michaela
    December 19, 2008 at 3:42 pm

    Marisa, my feathers are not all in a ruffle. Yours appear to be though as is typical of many Hispanics in our society, everyone ELSE is to blame but THEM. It is not the teachers faults that many children of Latino origin are not motivated to learn the language of our country and thus are holding themselves back. Their parents do not care and make little attempt to motivate their kids. It is pathetic and I am tired of everyone else being blamed but the true culprits!!

  • Avatar
    Texano78704
    December 19, 2008 at 9:16 pm

    I don’t “fear” hearing another language but when I see entire families of Latinos speaking exclusively in Spanish all the time out in public that is a non-assimilation sign.
    Hmm, why do I think that Sandra’s anecdotal evidence is more bias than fact? Probably because it is contrary to scientific evidence. Although her statement certainly reveals a lot about her.

  • Avatar
    Sandra
    December 20, 2008 at 4:11 pm

    Anecdotal evidence? LOL! I live in Calif. honey and that is all we hear out in public anymore. You call that assimilation?
    Yes, my statement reveals that I care about our national language being respected and for immigrants to assimilate to us and not the other way around. But I am sure most of the Spanish I am hearing are from Latino illegal aliens because most Latino citizens are at least bi-lingual. I don’t want them to assimilate though I just want them to go back to their homeland as our immigration laws demand.

  • Avatar
    Texano78704
    December 21, 2008 at 10:11 am

    Yes, anecdotal, honey. And I live it Texas. I call it “part of the local culture for at least the last couple hundred years.”
    Interesting… you care more about a “national language” than you do people.

  • Avatar
    Sandra
    December 22, 2008 at 7:35 am

    People? You mean illegal aliens speaking Spanish, don’t you? If they weren’t here in the first place we wouldn’t have to listen to it all day long. As I said, most Latino citizens are bi-lingual.

  • Avatar
    Sandra
    December 22, 2008 at 6:51 pm

    Interesting that you care more about illegal aliens than you do our laws and the citizens of this country.

  • Avatar
    Texano78704
    December 23, 2008 at 10:35 am

    No, I do not mean “illegals speaking Spanish.” Even if “they” weren’t here, I would still hear Spanish all day long. Not being paranoid means it does not bother me what language I hear, whether it be Spanish, Vietnamese, Arabic or Swahili (some of the more common languages heard locally).
    As for what I care about, I care more about humans and their dignity than I do about laws that have their basis in bigotry.

  • Avatar
    Sandra
    December 23, 2008 at 8:10 pm

    And what is wrong with speaking the langauge of this country out in public then? I don’t care what language anyone speaks at home. And just what laws are based on bigotry?

  • Avatar
    Texano78704
    December 24, 2008 at 1:47 pm

    And what is wrong with speaking the langauge of this country out in public then?
    Nothing whatsoever, but that was never your argument. What is wrong with speaking any language out in public?

  • Avatar
    Sandra
    December 25, 2008 at 9:46 pm

    Nothing if they are a tourist or a newly arrived immigrant who hasn’t learned English yet. But I am talking about people who have lived in this country for years, some who are even citizens. Why not speak the language of the country you adopted out in public then?

  • Avatar
    Texano78704
    December 27, 2008 at 8:30 am

    Because the US does not have a “national” language. Please also see the First Amendment.

  • Avatar
    Sandra
    December 27, 2008 at 3:54 pm

    Oh yes we do have a national language and it is English! Note, I didn’t say “official language” but on the record English has been declared our national language.
    This isn’t about the First Amendment rights. It is about assimilation and respect for our language out in public. Sorry, you don’t know the difference.

  • Avatar
    Michaela
    December 27, 2008 at 7:19 pm

    My building has very nice “custodial” personnel. Hopefully they aren’t illegal as I work in law enforcement. However, what is annoying is that after TWO years of knowing and greeting these people, they still greet me in Spanish. I find that very offensive and frankly, lazy on their part. How can one be so ignorant and/or lazy that the effort required to learn a couple simple phrases in English is apparently asking too much. This is why Americans have difficulty “liking” these people.

  • Avatar
    Sandra
    December 27, 2008 at 8:48 pm

    I can relate, Michaela. Where I work, those of Hispanic descent speak exclusively in Spanish unless they have to do otherwise. Yet they are U.S. citizens and know how to speak English. English should be spoken at work at least.

  • Avatar
    Texano78704
    December 28, 2008 at 8:45 am

    Okay, Sandra, a national language. Of course, that does not mean jack except to certain, fringe groups that believe speaking a language other than English in public is a concerted effort to avoid assimilation and disrespect the “national language.”
    Everyone still has the right to vote using a ballot in whichever language they choose. When I go to vote, ballots in English, Spanish and Vietnamese are always available. I suppose this means you oppose voters rights in addition to the First Amendment.
    I had a feeling that there was some totalitarianism lurking about. The irony is particularly biting when it comes from Reagan era conservatives who continue to claim that “government is the problem,” yet profess the need for the government to control what language you must speak in public.

  • Avatar
    Sandra
    December 29, 2008 at 8:04 am

    El Guapo,
    Since only citizens can vote and to become a citizen an immigrant has to know English, why would there be a need for ballots printed in anything other than English? One of the benefits of making English our “official” language is that the government would no longer have to print any documents in any other language other than English. It is a huge tax savings for one thing. It isn’t a “right” and does not violate the 1st Amendment for this country or any others to not print documents in several different languages.

  • Avatar
    Texano78704
    December 31, 2008 at 8:42 pm

    It isn’t a right to have a ballot printed in your native language? Have you ever heard of the National Voting Rights Act of 1965? And since when have nativists ever cared about tax savings? Their promotion of a border wall is but one example of frivolous waste.

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