December 14, 2007

Latino Students Lag Far Behind

By Irantzu Pujadas
Eastern Group Publications

The 2007 California Educational Opportunity Report, released at the end of November, shows that Latino students lag far behind white and Asian students on every indicator of school success. As a result, Latinos are dramatically underrepresented in California’s public institutions of higher education, in high paying jobs and in middle-class lives.

Latino students are behind in academic achievement, high school graduation and college preparation. According to the Latino Educational Opportunity Report, reasons for the underachievement can be found in their limited access to the resources and opportunities they need to graduate from high school ready to succeed in higher education and careers, and for significant participation in public life.

John Rogers Co, Director of UCLA/IDEA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, said during a media roundtable, that the racial achievement gap in California is part of the history of the state. “In the 40’s the levels of immigration were very similar to today’s levels, the sense that school should be an equalizer for all is still not working in California,” he said.

English Learners — 42 percent of students in the California public school system— are at a particular disadvantage, according to the report. Schools with high concentrations of English Learners require more specialized resources, such as teacher training, professional development and additional materials among others, than do other California schools, according to the report’s finding.

Education advocate and UCLA Graduate School Professor of Education, Patricia Gandara, says English Learner students do abysmally poor when compared to other students. She says this fact will have serious consequences for California’s future if reforms are not made soon.

“There is a huge infrastructure problem and a huge disconnect between our resources and the different political ideologies,” says Gandara. “If we don’t take care of these students the future of California is at stake.”

According to the new opportunity report, 35 percent of Latino students attend overcrowded schools (1.75 times as many students as recommended) compared to 17 percent of white students and 29 percent of Asian students.

Access to qualified teachers is disproportionately low among Latinos, 10 percent of whom attend high schools with severe shortages of qualified teachers compared to 4 percent of white students and 3 percent of Asian students.

The report also shows that Latino students are more likely than any other racial group to attend high schools without sufficient college preparatory courses, taught by qualified/credentialed teachers.

About 65 percent of Latino students attend high schools that do not offer the full range of college prep classes (commonly known as A-G courses) needed for college admission. Nor do they offer them in enough numbers to meet student demand for enrollment in these classes.

Many studies have documented the link between parent engagement and strong student achievement, but in Los Angeles County there are intractable barriers to genuine parent involvement, particularly in communities of color, according to speakers at the IDEA/NAM roundtable discussion. The Parent Organization Network (PON), a collaborative for independent parent organizations, believes that significant reform can happen in Los Angeles County to increase academic achievement and provide more equity and access for all students.

PON promotes parent engagement and getting parents meaningfully involved in their children’s education at home, in school and their communities. They support independent parent structures and steps to strengthen school and district accountability. PON works to help school staff understand the importance of embracing parent engagement as an essential part of their thinking, planning and implementation of programs, and as a way to bolster student performance.

“Parents haven’t been valued, we need to change the way schools look at parents,” said PON General Manager Goldie Buchanan.

The report concludes that Latino high school students experience severe inequalities in accessing education because California high schools are both racially stratified and unequal. Although resources are scarce for all, Latinos are more likely to attend schools with greater shortage of essential resources, according to the report.

Therefore, it’s not surprising that Latinos are underrepresented in California’s institutions of higher education.

“We have to work against institutional racism, stories need to be told about public schools and the obstacles suffered by parents who want to be involved in their children’s education,” concluded Maisie Chin, the director of CADRE (Community Asset Development Re-defining Education).

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