Hispanic students: Growing numbers, growing expectations
May. 27, 2003 04:39 PM
CHICAGO - To make sense of a line graph, Gila Hernandez's third-graders must
know more than how to connect the dots. They
must know how to connect in English.
"Make sure you remember that word we use. What is that really cool word?"
"Data!" shouts the gifted bilingual class at Jose Clemente Orozco Community
Academy, a south Chicago public school where 99
percent of students are Hispanic.
Looking on, acting principal Leticia Gonzalez whispers that these students soon
will face their first city reading and math tests in
"Watch her," Gonzalez says proudly of the teacher. "She's getting them ready."
The nation's schools must get ready, too, to serve students who are changing the
face of public education. Hispanic youths are
growing in number faster than whites or blacks, mirroring an overall population
surge that has made Hispanics the nation's largest
One in six children in the United States is Hispanic, and by 2020 the number is
expected to be almost one in four. Hispanics
outnumber any other demographic group in the country's largest school districts,
and their enrollment is booming in American
This growth comes as the federal government is requiring schools to improve
English fluency and achievement among Hispanics. Without such gains, Hispanic
advocates warn, the country will be saddled with more undereducated workers and
greater demands for costly social services.
More than one in three Hispanics - 36 percent - drops out of high school,
although those born in the United States do better. About 16 percent of blacks
and 8 percent of whites don't finish high school.
On test scores, 75 percent of whites score better than Hispanic students in
reading, math and science. Just one in 10 Hispanics graduates from a four-year
college or university.
No longer just an inner-city issue, the challenge of educating Spanish-speaking
students is spreading, from Sarasota, Fla., and Nashville, Tenn., to
Indianapolis and Providence, R.I., according to the Brookings Institution and
the Pew Hispanic Center.
Hispanic populations in those areas have grown by more than 300 percent, or
twice the national average, since 1980 as Hispanics move to areas they perceive
as offering good work opportunities, education and affordable housing.
"The school systems that are not used to this - that's where there's going to be
a substantial sense of surprise and confusion about how to work with these
youths," said Richard Fry, an economist with the center, a nonpartisan research
group based in Washington.
Not only must Hispanics be better prepared for college, Fry said, but their
largely working-class parents must understand the benefits of a bachelor's
A presidential commission agrees, calling for a national campaign to raise
achievement among Hispanic students and help parents understand how to navigate
Chicago already knows this. The city's school system, the third largest in the
nation, has seen its Hispanic enrollment double to 36 percent over two decades.
At largely Hispanic James Monroe Elementary on the northwest side, parents are
School officials train some parents to visit the homes of youngsters to help get
them ready for school by teaching them the alphabet and colors through songs and
Other parents serve as mentors, assisting students and teachers in the
classroom. After school, as students take English training or accelerated
reading, parents get their own courses in adult literacy, computers or other
subjects based on their requests.
"The educational agenda becomes stronger because it's reinforced in the family,"
said Carlos Azcoitia, a deputy education chief for the Chicago school system.
"The aspiration for high school completion is greater. The aspiration for a
college degree is greater."
That reinforcement works better when everyone speaks the same language. Only
half of Hispanic adults can carry on a conversation in
English well, according to a Pew Hispanic Center survey. Leticia Barrera, a
Mexican immigrant, used to have that problem.
But a few years ago, when she enrolled her son in kindergarten at Monroe,
Barrera noticed streams of parents heading in to help out in the school. She
joined them. Since then, she's become a parent mentor and a bilingual
"The experience is wonderful," Barrera said as another parent helped
kindergartners sprinkle glitter onto paper fish. "You can impact the children,
and then you practice in your home."
Monroe is one of Chicago's 20 community schools, which work with neighborhood
associations to offer extra hours and courses. The school system wants 100
within five years.
The outreach pays dividends, Monroe Principal James Menconi said. Almost all of
the school's math and reading scores on national
achievement tests have risen steadily in grades three to eight.
Such progress is expected under No Child Left Behind, the 2001 law that lets
students transfer or receive tutoring if their low-performing schools don't show
Schools must show yearly progress among English learners, both in language
fluency and achievement in general, and those scores are
counted toward school performance. High-poverty districts that spend aid on
English-learning programs must tell parents how the language is taught, how it
will support other academic subjects and what other options are available.
The law also says any student who's been in a U.S. school for three consecutive
years must take that state's reading test in English, although a school district
can waive the requirement for a student for up to two years.
Chicago, for example, steers students to make the English transition in three
years but offers extra time and help. Spanish is not shunned as students enter
"When a student relies on what they bring for subsequent learning, it doesn't
make a lot of sense to say 'We're not going to build on this,' or 'We're going
to erase this,' " said Azcoitia, the Chicago deputy chief and a former teacher.
On the Net:
Chicago Public Schools site:
White House Hispanic Initiative:
Pew Hispanic Center: