May 23, 2008

Poll Reveals High Hopes Among Californians

By Carolyn Goossen
New America Media

Immigrant Latinos’ High Expectations For Public High Schools

In the poll released by Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) last week, the majority of Latino respondents said that they see college preparation as the main purpose of public school. A much smaller percentage of Blacks and Asians, 30%, and whites, 20%, see college that way. Fifty three percent of foreign-born residents also see college preparation as the ultimate goal of public schooling, versus 27% of American-born residents.

“A lot of immigrant families come here with the hope of getting a better future for their kids, so they believe that as long as their kids work hard, they will succeed,” says Luis Sanchez, a long time community organizer in East L.A., and currently the Chief of Staff to the Los Angeles Unified School District Board President, Monica Sanchez.

But there may be huge gulf between parent’s expectations and the reality of their children’s schools. “It’s great [Latino parents] have these high expectations, but the schools aren’t preparing [these] kids to graduate and go to college,” says John Affeldt, staff attorney with Public Advocates, a non-profit law firm that does litigation on educational equity issues. “Only 10% of Latinos are graduating and going on to college, so the system is clearly not meeting their expectations.”

Latino parents are more engaged at the elementary school level, where “you don’t see the problems of safety and drop out,” says Sanchez. “The perception there is there is that our kids are doing well- although the reality is different.”?

Sanchez also says that Latinos always emphasis the importance of college because of the cultural understanding that many Latino immigrants bring with them about the role of high school.

In Mexico, high school is called “preparatoria,” which translates into preparatory school. “There is an understanding in Mexico that you are preparing for the next level”, stresses Sanchez. “And then when [people] come here, to the richest country in the world, [they assume] that the purpose of high school here is also to go to college.”

Even with their high expectations, however, Latino respondents are very aware that schools in low-income areas usually have less resources.

“You don’t have to convince them how bad the schools are. They already see that we need to invest more money in our schools, but they also see that schools allow them more opportunity,” says Sanchez.

Poll Shows Huge Concern and Support for Students Not Passing the Exit Exam

Latinos are not alone in wanting to better finance low-income schools.

Even in a recession, when the California state government is facing a budget crisis, the majority of Californians want to target more resources to low-income and English learner students struggling to pass the state’s mandatory high school exit exam, reveals the 2008 PPIC Survey.

The California High School Exit Exam, became a graduation requirement for the first time in 2006. Since them, White and Asian American students have passed the exam at much higher rates than African American and Latino students.

A breakdown of those who passed (or failed) is telling.

According to research collected by Professor John Rogers at UCLA, overall graduation rates fell from 71% in 2005 to 67% in 2006, largely due to the exam. Of the total 21,072 students who did not graduate across the state due to the exam requirements, nearly 16,000 of them were Latino and African American students.

Looking at the numbers, it’s no surprise that within the African American and Latino community, people are concerned. But despite doing better on the exam, significant numbers of Asian and White respondents (42% each) are very concerned as well. Of the foreign born respondents, nearly eighty percent support this idea of extra support, as do 60% of American-born respondents.

Just over half of white respondents and strong majorities of African American, Latino and Asian respondents say that students who haven’t passed the exam should get access to smaller math and English classes taught by fully credentialed teachers, until they pass the test.

John Affeldt, staff attorney with Public Advocates, argues that if students had these kinds of resources in the first place, then they wouldn’t be failing the exit exam in such high numbers at all.

“The question I’d like them to ask is “should students be required to pass the exit exam if they haven’t had the curriculum and instruction from qualified teachers needed to pass the exam? I think people in large numbers would say no, not yet.”

Affeldt says that the willingness of so many respondents to put resources towards young people in their effort to pass the exam shows that Californians recognize that we need to “give kids the resources they need to pass the exam.”

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