October 17, 2003

Poverty is cause of Hispanic students’ poor achievement, report says

By Laura Withers
Scripps Howard Foundation Wire

WASHINGTON — A lack of educational choices is to blame for Hispanic public school students’ below-par performance on standardized tests and low high school graduation rates, according to a report released Thursday.

“No Exit,” a report created for the Hispanic Council for Reform and Education Options by the Manhattan Institute, examines the state of education for Hispanic students in the United States and finds that they trail white students in achievement levels.

According to the report, 60 percent of Hispanic eighth grade students performed below the basic level in the math portion of the National Assessment of Educational Progress test, compared to 23 percent of white students.

In literacy, 43 percent of Hispanic and 16 percent of white eighth graders performed below the basic level.

A little over half of Hispanic public high school students graduate, compared to 72 percent of white students. Only 16 percent of Hispanic high school graduates meet the minimum requirements to apply to a four-year college. In contrast, 37 percent of white high school graduates are ready for college.

“The statistics are simply alarming,” said Dr. Jay Greene, senior fellow of the Manhattan Institute and the report’s author. He said he drew most data in the report from the Department of Education.

A large portion of the problem has to do with where Hispanic families live, Greene said. Hispanic students fall behind because many low-income Hispanic families cannot afford to live in areas with good public schools.

“This is why the problems we’re having in education are primarily urban problems… because these are the places where people are trapped economically in certain housing,” he said. “Because they’re trapped there, the school district doesn’t have the proper incentives to tend to their needs.

“Wealthier, lighter-skinned people have access to greater school choice… because they can purchase it, either by moving to areas with desired schools or by paying the prep school tuition themselves,” he said.

According to the report, Hispanics have a median family income of $34,397, compared to $54,698 for non-Hispanic white families.

The report also found that increased spending on public education hasn’t helped Hispanic students. Although spending per pupil, adjusted for inflation, more than doubled from 1969 to 1999, Hispanics continue to be neglected, Greene said.

“We believe that a clear and daring Latino voice must speak out,” said Robert Aguirre, chairman of Hispanic CREO.

The group was founded two years ago by 10 Latino activists to address what they said was a crisis in education for Hispanics. The group’s acronym means “I believe” in Spanish.

Instead of pumping more money into the problem, members of Hispanic CREO are urging public officials to give Hispanic students more educational options by allowing them to transfer to more desirable schools and by making drastic curriculum changes.

Changes in public policy will be the most important mechanism in solving the problem, Aguirre said.

“That will help all schools get better,” he said.

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