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Collaboration Needed to Improve Hispanics' Education

A new report by the President's Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans advises that groups need to work together to help Hispanic students close the achievement gap with students of other ethnic groups. Included: Descriptions of programs that are working and ways in which parents, schools, communities, businesses, and the government can come together to help Hispanic students achieve.

Academic performance among Hispanic students will improve only when schools, parents, government, and businesses work together to ensure student success, according to Creating the Will: Hispanics Achieving Educational Excellence, the final report of the President's Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans.

Programs That Help Hispanic Students

The new report cites about a dozen local programs that support Hispanic students and families. Following are three examples of those programs:

* Parents As First Teachers This program in Chicago pairs trained parents from a local Head Start program with Hispanic families that have children between three and five years old. The program helps those families prepare their children for school. The Chicago Public Schools and El Valor, an organization that provides early childhood education and support programs for parents, sponsor this program.

* Parent Leadership Program of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund
This Los Angeles program offers a free 16-lesson training course for parents that teaches them how they can inform themselves about their children's education. It also teaches them how to participate in their children's schools and how to exercise their rights as parents. The program is free to schools with a need for greater parental involvement, high percentages of low-income students, and below-average test scores.

* Industrial Areas Foundation's Alliance Schools More than 120 schools in Texas are part of this program that develops constituencies of parents, community leaders, and educators to improve student achievement in low-income communities. Similar networks are being created in California, Arizona, and New Mexico.

"It's the whole idea of partnering," said Debbie Montoya, assistant to the executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans, which worked with the commission on the report. "We know how to fix this. So let's do it."

The commission calls for raising the level of achievement of Hispanic students to that of the general student population by 2010, by getting all segments of society -- schools, parents, communities, government, and businesses -- to work together and set high standards and provide support for Hispanic students.


Although the report said that Hispanics continue to lag behind other ethnic groups in academic achievement, it also contains a lot of positive information, Deborah Santiago, deputy director of the White House Initiative and one of the co-authors of the report, told Education World. Hispanic students were at least three times as likely as white students to take advanced-placement tests in a foreign language in high school, according to the report. They are also more likely to score 3 out of 5 or higher, which qualifies them for college credit. Hispanic students also earn more high school credits in computer science, foreign languages, and English than any other ethnic group.

"We tried to put into the report examples of what is working. Too often, we don't hear those stories," Santiago told Education World. "In a lot of reports on education, when people try to capture the image of Latinos in education, they focus on the deficits. It was nice to see there are some improvements. We do have more kids going to college, but we need more."


The report highlights what parents, community groups, the private sector, the federal government, and local schools need to do to close the achievement gap:

  • Parents need to become more involved with children's education, both at home and at school. They should set high expectations for their children.
  • Schools should mandate that all students take college-preparatory courses, encourage Hispanic students to take the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) or the ACT Assessment, communicate better with Hispanic parents, and set high expectations for Hispanic students.
  • Community organizations need to work with schools to encourage more outreach to the Hispanic community, and to provide after-school and summer mentoring and tutoring programs.
  • The private sector can develop career education programs, provide scholarship money for students, and provide flexible work schedules so parents can attend school events.
  • The federal government should develop and circulate information about the best ways to improve Hispanic students' educational achievement, provide financial support for Hispanic college students studying education, and ensure that Hispanic families are aware of federal programs that can benefit them.


More progress is needed, and as the Hispanic population continues to grow, ensuring Hispanic children are well educated should be a national concern, according to the report. By 2025, the report estimates, Hispanic children will compose up to 25 percent of the school-age population.

"The academic success of the new wave of students entering our classrooms is vital to the nation's economic well-being and enriches our cultural and linguistic resources as a nation," the report states. "As school improvement efforts continue to focus on increasing achievement for all our young people, to fail a growing percentage of our students would be to undermine these efforts to improve education as a whole."

According to the report, the gap begins to develop with the preparation for preschoolers, and widens as Latino youngsters progress through school: In 1998, only 20 percent of three-year-old Hispanic children were enrolled in early-childhood programs, versus 42 percent of white and 44 percent of African American three-year-olds.

Currently, only 55 percent of Latinos ages 25 and older have completed high school or additional education, compared with 84 percent of whites and 76 percent of African Americans. About 50 percent of Hispanic students are placed in general-level high school courses that do not prepare students for college or technical school, as opposed to 39 percent of white students and 40 percent of African American students.


The report cites a variety of reasons that Hispanic students lag behind other students, including the following:

  • low attendance by Hispanics in early childhood programs;
  • poverty;
  • limited English proficiency;
  • minimal coordination among parents, schools, and community organizations on behalf of students;
  • isolation in resource-poor schools;
  • low expectations for Hispanic students by teachers;
  • tracking of Hispanic students into less rigorous classes.

Santiago considers the biggest obstacles to Hispanics' academic success are not enough parental involvement and schools with limited resources that don't offer the most demanding courses.

She also considers that teachers with low expectations for Hispanic students also play a role in their low achievement. "[Educators] don't expect Hispanics to do well, so they don't push them," she said. "And we need more parental involvement."


Some states are already working on programs in keeping with the goals in the Creating the Will report. The Massachusetts Education Initiative for Latino Students, which is in its second year, plans to set an agenda for improving education for Hispanic students, according to Rev. Wesley Williams, executive director of the United Methodist Urban Services of Boston, the lead agency in implementing the Massachusetts plan.

"We want to reverse the trends of the largest minority having the highest dropout rate and involve parents more," Williams said. Hispanic students compose about 10.2 percent of the state's total school population in kindergarten through 14th grade, including two years of vocational training.

A coalition of 13 groups from around the state that is advocating for improved education for Hispanics plans to develop a list of goals to promote greater academic success, Williams added.

Santiago commented that those are the kinds of efforts members of the White House Initiative would like to see for a larger population. "We have to find a way to bring things that are working to scale," she said. "We know what works -- we just have to do it."


Commission and White House Initiative members have been busy for the past several weeks discussing the report at press conferences around the country.

Reaction so far has been positive, according to Santiago. "I've been encouraged that when we talked to corporations and businesses, they wanted to help," she said.

Members of the business community in Miami, for example, have offered funding for programs, according to Montoya of the White House who worked on the report.

President Bill Clinton appointed the 23-member commission in 1994; he extended an executive order establishing the commission originally issued by President George Bush. The report also recommends that the next president issue another executive order to continue the commission and the White House Initiative.

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