To look at the problem of high school education and Hispanic students, we need to identify who we are talking about, because different writers use different terms. Some writers mean people of Mexican heritage when they say "Latinos." The United States also has many residents of Puerto Rican or Cuban heritage, and many others come from other central or South-American countries.
The United States Census indicates that overall, Americans are better-educated than ever (Chavez, 2000), with more students graduating from high school, and more going on to vocational training or college educations, than ever before. However, certain subgroups lag significantly behind. Hispanics are the fastest-growing minority in the United States, and currently as a group, Hispanics graduate from high school at significantly lower rates than their white counterparts (Chavez, 2000). Even in school districts where all students have shown significant academic improvement, minorities still lag behind by over 30% (Clough, 1998).
It's not surprising that Hispanic students might have difficulty in school. Many don't speak or understand English well, enter in grades below their age peers, and then are measured on standardized tests administered in English. Educational systems too often shuffle them into vocational tracks or special education, and the cultural differences can be significant (DeBlassie, 1996). As a result, Mexican-American students show a 40% dropout rate from high school, and at least 10% never enter high school to begin with (DeBlassie, 1996).
Ethnic differences within the group called "Hispanic" aren't the only significant division of subgroups. The population of Mexican-American (also called Latino in some research) students is heterogeneous, not homogeneous, with differences that can significantly affect educational outcome. The amount of acculturation, or understanding of the larger culture, varies greatly among these students. Some have lived only in traditional Mexican cultures, and some move easily in Anglo culture. Some speak very little English and some have good mastery of that language. Most, however, have probably experienced discrimination, and many have lived largely segregated from Anglo culture. Many will be less affluent than non-minority students. Language problems and the difficulties inherent in belonging to a minority can all bring psychological pressures (5). Two thirds of Latino students live in large cities (DeBlassie, 1996), and that can bring additional pressures.
The result of all these disparate pressures is a population of high school students, many of whom do not complete high school. The 1991 census showed that only 50% of Latino students graduate from high school while for non-Latinos, 84% graduated, including 77% of Blacks. College outcomes were also out of balance: 26% of non-Hispanics completed four years of college, but only 11% of Hispanics did so (Chavez, 2000).
There is no doubt that many Hispanic students face difficulties not faced by either most Whites or most Blacks: many were born in another country, and many began their education there. In order to provide the best possible education for Hispanic students, it's important to recognize the differences that exist within that larger group. The effects of language differences may be a significant factor complicating school completion: 80% of Hispanics born in the United States finished high school (Chavez, 2000).
Inadequate education has a significant long-term financial effect. Most Hispanic immigrants (over 70%) work hard to stay employed regardless of graduation from high school or not. This isn't too surprising, as it is the promise of jobs that cause many Hispanics to immigrate to the United States (Chavez, 2000). By comparison, 60% of non-Hispanic dropouts neither work nor are looking for a job. The Hispanic work ethic works in the favor in spite of no high school diploma. However, it is counter-productive. The average high school graduate makes about $23,000,and with a college degree, the average income rises to around $40,000 (Chavez, 2000).
It is possible that a high worth ethic may also work against Hispanic students when it encourages them to get a job instead of completing high school or going on to vocational training or college. However, cultural respect for those who work is not the only explanation for this pattern.
In the Hispanic community, it's not uncommon for people to lack a high school diploma. Less than half of young Hispanic immigrant adults have a high school diploma, and the number is even higher for older representatives (Chavez, 2000). Partly because of the pervasive lack of high school diplomas, a requirement for many better-paying jobs, Hispanics constitute one of the poorest groups in the United States. As many as 25% Hispanics live below the poverty line (DeBlassie, 1996). In a family where the parents have not had much education, especially if there is a language barrier as well, it will be hard for these parents to advocate for their child at school or help them with their homework. Hispanic adults traditionally put great importance on getting a high school diploma, but the students see many people they know, love and respect around them who do not have high school diplomas and yet manage to live happy and fulfilling lives.
Hispanic parents, even those who insist that their children complete high school, often do not expect their children to go on to college. Lauro Cavazos, when he was Education Secretary, was criticized widely for saying that Hispanic parents were partly to blame for the achievement problems of Hispanic students. He said that many Hispanic parents were too quick to encourage their children to work after high school and not go on to higher education. Sometimes those wages were supposed to be used to help support the family, so a student who wanted to leave home and go to college might be torn beside a desire for higher education and a feeling of obligation to his or her family (Chavez, 2000).
Research demonstrates that parental involvement improves school achievement, but Hispanic parents face barriers that can interfere with being involved in their children's school progress. There is no doubt that Hispanic parents understand the importance of education. They recognize it accurately as a necessary tool if their children are to achieve any upward mobility (DeBlassie, 1996). However, when parental attendance to parent conferences was examined, researchers found that Mexican-American parents were markedly more likely to attend when their children were doing well academically than when they were struggling (DeBlassie, 1996). While participation in conferences is always important, when a child is struggling, it's important for parents and teachers to work together.
In another study, successful, professional Hispanics were interviewed about the factors that helped them achieve what they had achieved. 93% cited educational support from their parents as the most important influence (DeBlassie, 1996).
Some school districts are making specific efforts to meet the extra educational needs of Hispanic students. Texas uses the "Texas Assessment of Academic Skills," or TAAS, to track student progress. The Texas department of Education has found that when individual schools focus on meeting the educational needs of students, achievement rises. In Arlington, Texas, Mexican-American students gained up to 23.5% on some parts of the test. Researchers have examined the literature and research on teaching Hispanic students and have found that some things can make a significant difference. The Arlington school board found that their Hispanic students progressed because the schools looked carefully at what skills were lacking and worked systematically to improve those skills (Clough, 1998). They gave credit to the improvement to both teachers and students
Researchers have found that three factors particularly help Hispanic students: 1) proficiency with spoken English as well as with reading of English; 2) selection of curriculum appropriate for the students, and 3) the use of teaching strategies that address a variety of learning styles (DeBlassie, 1996). These "best practices" are things all schools can do to help their Hispanic students achieve.
However, in addition to improved instruction, researchers have noted that non-instructional…