California’s Latinos Now a Majority, Lagging in Academic Achievement

Fox News, December 22, 2013

As Hispanics surpass white Californians in population next year, the state becomes a potential model for the rest of the country, which is going through a slower but similar demographic shift.

But when it comes to how California is educating students of color, many say the state serves as a model of what not to do.

In California, 52 percent of the state’s 6 million school children are Hispanic, just 26 percent are white. And Hispanic students in general are getting worse educations than their white peers. Their class sizes are larger, course offerings are fewer and funding is lower.

The consequence is obvious: lower achievement.

Just 33 percent of Hispanic students are proficient in reading in third grade, compared with 64 percent of white students. By high school, one in four Hispanic 10th graders in California cannot pass the high school math exit exam, compared with 1 out of 10 white students.

And while overall test scores across the state have gone up in the past decade, the achievement gap hasn’t changed.

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Nationally, an achievement gap is also showing up as Latino enrollment has soared from one out of 20 U.S. students in 1970 to nearly one out of four, and white students account for just 52 percent of U.S. first graders.

“We’re falling behind,” said Antioch University Los Angeles provost Luis Pedraja. “Ultimately we will face a crisis where a majority of the U.S. population will be economically disadvantaged, which will reduce their spending power and contribution to taxes and Social Security, impacting all segments of society and our country’s economic health.”

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Jackie Medina, a 4th and 5th grade teacher who has been teaching for nine years in Watsonville, said test scores may also not reflect actual achievement if they’re requiring native Spanish speakers to test in English. A local leader in the California Association of Bilingual Educators, she teaches about topics like immigration in her classroom so her students get relevant curriculum that relates to them, in both English and Spanish.

“All educators want high achievement of all of our students,” she said. “We need to have a paradigm shift and look at how we’re educating this large population, incorporating their native language.”

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Gov. Jerry Brown hopes to flip what he calls “a funding system that is overly complex, bureaucratically driven and deeply inequitable” with a budget change phased in over several years that will funnel more money to low income and non-English students.

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All too often, black and Latino students are disproportionally taught easier material than white or Asian kids, said Alan A. Aja, who teaches Latino studies at Brooklyn College.

“No one wants to see themselves as racist,” Aja said, “but educators have this ingrained belief that black and Latino kids are cognitively inferior and they lower expectations. It’s racialized tracking. So if they assume these kids are going to underachieve, if they assume they don’t have capacity to tackle hard topics, well, no wonder there’s an achievement gap.”

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