Poll: Language a Barrier for Latinos in Schools

Hope Yen and Christine Armario, Google News, August 5, 2010

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With Hispanic enrollment surging in schools, many Spanish-speaking parents are having trouble helping their children with homework or communicating with U.S. teachers as English-immersion classes proliferate in K-12.

An Associated Press-Univision poll highlights the language and cultural obstacles for the nation’s Latinos, who lag behind others when it comes to graduating from high school.

The findings also raise questions about whether English-immersion does more to assimilate or isolate–a heated debate that has divided states, academics and even the U.S. Supreme Court. {snip}

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The nationwide poll, also sponsored by The Nielsen Company and Stanford University, found the vast majority of Hispanics–78 percent–had children enrolled in K-12 classes that were taught mostly in English, compared with 3 percent in Spanish.

Just 20 percent of mainly Spanish-speaking parents say they were able to communicate “extremely well” with their child’s school, compared with 35 percent of Hispanics who speak English fluently.

About 42 percent of the Spanish speakers said it was easy for them to help with their children’s schoolwork, compared with 59 percent of the Hispanics who speak English well.

Children of Spanish-dominant parents also were less likely to seek help with homework from their families. Fifty-seven percent of those parents said their children came to them with school questions. That’s compared with 80 percent for mainly English-speaking Hispanic parents, who also were more likely to send their children to relatives or friends for answers.

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Roughly 1 in 5 people in the U.S. speaks a language other than English at home, with Hispanics representing the largest share, according to 2009 census data. Hispanics also now make up one-fourth of the nation’s kindergartners, part of a historic trend in which minorities are projected to become the new U.S. majority by midcentury.

Still, Hispanics are nearly three times as likely than the general U.S. population to drop out of high school, and half as likely to earn a bachelor’s degree.

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The Education Department also wants to devote an additional $50 million next year to promote English learning. Part of that will be used for research and development of “dual-language immersion,” a bilingual approach gaining favor among many linguists.

Dual-immersion is a shift from the direction of states such as California, Arizona and Massachusetts, where voters have largely banned bilingual classes. On a broader level, some 30 states and numerous localities have passed laws making English the official language, a move that critics say will lead to more cuts in bilingual programs.

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