Monday, December 1, 2008

La(tin@) Mala Educación

Fernando Romero

The Latino Education Forum was presented inside the University Student Union Ballrooms on Tuesday, Nov. 18 to address the concerns regarding Latinos and education.

The forum was organized in part by the Chicano and Latino Studies Dept. (CHLS) at Cal State Long Beach. The event included a discussion panel, followed by a question-and-answer session with audience members. The five-person panel was comprised of CSULB faculty, a "social critic", area educators and local politicians. The event provided the opportunity for students, educators, community leaders, and those who work for and on behalf of Latino students to engage in a dialogue that would proactively address the needs of all Latino students.

The panel discussion focused on issues of critical interest, especially those related to student participation, parental involvement, higher education opportunities, cultural awareness and dropout prevention.

The panelists talked about the possible problems and the reasons why Latinos continue to underachieve in education across different measures. The latter part of the forum was spent discussing the viable solutions to combat educational issues which persistently afflict Latino students such as excessive high school dropout rates, low enrollment in post-secondary institutions and the low attainment of baccalaureate and master’s degrees.

CHLS professor José Moreno served as one of the facilitators of the event. Moreno said that the idea for putting together the Latino Education Forum was to bring together an array of viewpoints and have a serious discussion about the problems Latino students are facing in the nation’s educational system.

"The idea for coming together tonight was to be able to engage these folks [panelists] with our ideas and to provide a forum to talk openly about the problems and solutions relating to Latinos and education," Moreno said.

The Latino education gap was exemplified in literature provided to the audience made up primarily of CSULB students. The statistics and numbers attributed to the 2000 U.S. Census cited that for every 100 Latino elementary school students, 48 drop out of high school and only 52 graduate from high school. Of the 52 who graduate from high school, 31 enroll in college. And of the 31 who enroll in college, 20 go to a community college and 11 to a four-year institution. Of the 20 who go to a community college, 2 transfer to a 4-year college. Overall, of the 31 who enrolled in college, either community or four-year, only 10 will graduate with a bachelor’s degree.

When compared to other demographics, Latinos trail in every category of educational achievement. Of the four major ethnic/racial demographics in the U.S., Latinos trailed last substantially. The Latino high school graduation rate stood at 52 percent, compared to African Americans at 72, Asian Americans at 80 and Whites at 84. Post-secondary enrollment had similar statistics for the disparity in Latino achievement. Latinos graduated with a bachelor’s degree at a rate of 10 percent, while African Americans at 14, Asian Americans at 44 and Whites at 26 percent.

The panelists cited different causes for the persistent underachievement of Latinos across different educational measures. Panelist Olga Rubio, professor at CSULB in the Teacher Education Dept. said that factors such as lack of preparation of teachers as well as a "subtractive environment" in the K-12 school system contribute to the underachievement of Latinos in education.

"Some of the critical issues that I see are student and school disconnection. There also seems to be a lack of preparation of the majority of teachers in schools who can help Latino students confront cultural differences," Rubio said.

Social critic Ernesto Caravantes, author of Clipping Their Own Wings: The Incompatibility Between Latino Culture and American Education said cultural differences have played a definite role in Latino underachievement in education. The author cited the disconnection between "Hispanic culture" and the requirements the American education system demands. Caravantes said that the cultural differences of Latinos have not placed education as a priority and have accounted for the educational underachievement.

"Hispanics have put other things before education. Not that they don’t value education, but they have put other things before education," Caravantes said. "Hispanics have primarily placed other things such as family, traditions, solidarity before education."

Caravantes did not present any evidence for his findings, but asserted that his book did not posit a "blame-the-victim" approach toward the underachievement of Latinos in education.

Caravantes said, "I think the discussion could be greatly improved if the word ‘victim’ isn’t used. I’m not trying to blame them, but to simply state that Hispanics as a culture have a list of principle values and education is not at the top."

Former deputy superintendent Rubén Barrón of the Anaheim and Hesperia School Districts, said the educational crisis afflicting Latinos requires more attention.

"The system is not working," Barrón said. "It’s not a national priority. We need to make it a national priority."
Lorena Moreno, Assistant Principal at Demille Middle School in Long Beach said some of the most pragmatic solutions included a wider involvement of Latino parents in schools.

"We need to continue to develop community relations to parents and teachers," she said. "Schools that reach out to parents do better."Rubio said that there also existed a lack of information and of programs designed specifically to alleviate some of the cultural differences Latino parents have, such as language barriers.

The panelists agreed that the underachievement of Latinos in the education system is a complex issue. The cultural and language differences coupled with socioeconomic factors has placed Latinos at the bottom of the secondary and post-secondary educational ladder. The five-person panel agreed that access to information and the change of the institutional education climate through outreach to parents and students will alleviate Latino underachievement in education.

Latinos in postsecondary education have not been keeping pace proportionate with their growth among the general population. Latinos currently make up 15 percent of the U.S. population. The population growth and contribution to the economy makes the improvement of Latino achievement in education vital to the nation’s workforce. ¶

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