Education Corner

Commentary

The Latino Nation: An Educational Vision
By Manuel Hernández

According to the United States Census, Latinos are the fastest growing minority population projected to increase from 39 million to 63 million by 2030. By 2025, 25 percent of the K-12 grades will be Latinos, though in some regions they already make up a far greater percentage. Because of its size and peculiar needs and challenges, many have taken to call Latinos a nation within the nation.
In many states within the nation, Latinos have the highest dropout rate and the lowest test scores, and many are not prepared to enter institutions of higher learning. At the present, only 17 percent of Latino fourth-graders at the national level read at their grade level, and the percentage is even lower in mathematics. As a consequence, the Latino nation has become aware that the educational empowerment of their community is intrinsically related to their struggles to achieve economic, social and political justice in the nation. The educational development of the Latino nation will depend on the enhancement of these conditions and the ability to meet their needs in the classroom and have a positive influx on both the individual and the United States. An educational vision for Latinos must examine its jump off point to design and create a path for others to follow.
First, approximately 40 percent of the Latino children in the United States are below the poverty level. Less financial resources mean fewer opportunities for quality education.
Second, teenage pregnancy rate is extremely high making the next generation of Latino teens more likely to have less parental support. Latinos accounted for 31 percent of total births under 15 years of age in the year 2000; and 27.6 percent of the total births from mothers between 15 and 19 years of age.
Third, language proficiency is a problem. Many Latino immigrants enter the nation having limited proficiency in Spanish and as a consequence the teaching of English becomes a monumental task. With the dismantling of ESL and High School Bilingual Programs across the nation, Latinos have fewer opportunities to make a transition to mainstream academic courses.
Fourth, research on class size reveals that while reductions by just a few students (for example from 27 to 24 students) may not result in dramatic differences in student achievement, when class size is reduced to 15 to 20 students, Latino children achieved academically on par with and often better than those in larger schools. They have stronger academic and general self-esteem; lower drop-out rates and higher attendance and graduation rates.
Fifth, the highest high school dropout rate amongst minorities is preventing Latinos to attain a higher education degree. Although Latinos are 13% of the total nation population, they represent merely 6% in graduate programs.
Finally, Latino teens are scoring poorly in city, state and national testing requirements. Teens have difficulties reacting and responding to literature that is far away from their modern day American experience. There is no bridge to facilitate the literary analysis of the classics. With this jump off point, how do we design a vision to impact education?
The process of improving educational standards begins with Latino parents. City, state and government must provide parents with information, give parents a voice and encourage parental partnerships with schools. Sexual education must be an integral part of school curriculum. Research shows that teenagers who receive sexual education that includes discussion of abstinence and contraception are more likely to delay sexual activity, use contraceptives when they do become sexually active, and have fewer partners than those who receive abstinence-only messages. (National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, 2001).
Let us get back to basics. An age/grade-appropriate transitional bilingual education program, with a strong ESL component, to new and recent arrivals is a must - develop strict identification and placement procedures and implement reliable diagnostic and assessment measures. Ensure a rigorous, content-enriched academic program across disciplines with authentic and practical young adult literature in English and continue to provide linguistic/academic support for at least one year after mainstreaming to ensure a successful transition.
Funding for ESL training is required across all disciplines so that educators may incorporate ESL strategies and methodologies into their daily instruction when faced with numbers of ELL students in their mainstream classes.
The No Child Left Behind demands more testing, improved teacher quality, and higher achievement scores that in turn require better-trained teachers and principals, new and improved textbooks and assessments. However, according to the House Appropriations Committee, the 2004 budget under funds the act by $9.7 billion, leaving local communities many of which are already facing severe budget gaps to make up the difference. Educators know that these types of programs can close the education gap: highly qualified teachers and para-educators; sound professional development; early childhood programs; all-day kindergarten; small class sizes in the primary grades; highly involved parents, guardians and community; mentoring and tutoring; and quality summer programs. These services and programs will make a difference in a child's ability to meet and exceed NCLB and establish state and national achievement standards; but adequate funding is necessary in order to achieve this.
An educational vision examines causes and effects and fosters effective strategies to teach the Latino nation to meet the challenges and peculiar needs of the 21st century. With the united efforts of Latino leaders of all walks of life, we the Latino nation will help our community to become successful today, tomorrow and forever.

Manny Hernandez regularly contributes articles about education issues to Puerto Rico Sun. He may be reached at 787-355-0099 or HC-01, Box 7717, Luquillo, PR 00773.
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