Education Experts, Hispanic Elected Officials Discuss Strengthening Educational Pipeline

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by Michelle J. Nealy

Washington, D.C.

Strengthening the educational pipeline from prekindergarten through college is critical to the academic success of Hispanic students, educational researchers told policymakers gathered Wednesday at a forum convened by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund (NALEO)

The group, representing nearly 6,000 appointed and elected Latino officials, convened education experts to present research on the benefits of early childhood education and secondary and postsecondary collaboration models for pipeline success. The forum was called the 4th Annual NALEO Education Leadership Initiative National Summit on the State of Latino Education.

Hispanics are the fastest-growing ethnic minority group in the United States, and are projected to be the largest school-age population by 2050. “[Washington] must be reminded that the future of this country is dependent upon educating Latino children,” said Arturo Vargas, NALEO’s executive director. “The focus of our summit was to attack pipeline issues.”

Research has shown that access to high-quality early childhood education can have a positive impact on the educational careers of children from low-income households, but Hispanic children are less likely than their Black and White counterparts to participate in early childhood education programs, according to Head Start, the nation’s premier federally funded education program. Only 49 percent of Hispanic children — compared to 60 percent of White, Black, Asian and American Indian children — are enrolled in center-based early childhood care and education programs.

Forty-two percent of Hispanic children are found in the lowest quartile of performance on reading readiness, compared to just 18 percent of White children, upon entering kindergarten. By fourth grade, only 16 percent of Hispanic students are proficient in reading, according to the 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress, compared to 41 percent of White students. By eighth grade, only 15 percent of Hispanics are proficient in reading, compared to 39 percent of White students.

Dr. Eugene Garcia, former dean at Arizona State University’s College of Education, recommended legislators create more opportunities for families to participate in early-childhood education, create a pay scale that attracts and maintains high-quality educators for prekindergarten instruction, expand opportunities for professional development for prekindergarten instructors and develop more opportunities to engage parents of Hispanic students.

“Early intervention can close gaps in achievement for Latino students,” said Garcia, who now serves as vice president for education partnerships at Arizona State University. He added that full-year, full-day prekindergarten programs taught by fully certified instructors distinguishes good programs from mediocre ones.

In 2006, 22 percent of Hispanic students ages 16 to 24 dropped out of high schools, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. At 34 percent, Hispanics in the 12th grade composed the highest percentage of long-term absenteeism of any other racial group.

To stitch holes in the pipeline, experts recommended that school districts work to re-engage Hispanic students and parents in the education process. “It used to be that Latinos left school to go to work. Now they are leaving because they are bored. Educators must make real world applications to what students are learning,” said William Moreno, a spokesperson for the National Education Association.

Moreno advised legislators and school districts work to provide interventions for students with poor academic skills, provide mentors for at-risk students struggling to keep pace with the curriculum and develop work-based learning opportunities that prepare students for college and the work force.

As the nation’s demographics continue to shift, increasing the number of Hispanic students that participate in higher education has to be a national priority, experts said, if this country aims to maintain strong work force.

Statistics show that the children of Hispanic immigrants face tremendous odds in accessing higher education. Nationally, one in five won’t graduate from high school, said Richard Fry, a researcher with the Pew Hispanic Center, noting that statistics improve with each generation. Children of U.S.-born, U.S.-educated Hispanics are more likely to complete high school and attend college than children of foreign-born parents.

Among Hispanics nationwide, 47 percent do not attend college, 23 only go to a four-year school, 25 percent go to community college and 5 percent get some form of postsecondary education, according to data from the Pew Hispanic Center.

To ensure that Hispanic students are matriculating into colleges and universities, more programs like Compact for Success must be created, experts said.

Compact for Success is a partnership between a San Diego school district and San Diego State University in California. The university and the school district work to improve college readiness, access and completion of their students. Upon the completion of the program, which begins in the seventh grade, students are guaranteed admission into San Diego State University.

Students are required to maintain a 3.0 grade point average during high school and fulfill the minimum requirement to enter the California State University system.

“Our focus was to recruit more students from underrepresented groups to San Diego State University, said Lou Murillo, director of Compact for Success. “The program prepares students for the rigors of college. Students are provided with opportunities for mentoring, tutoring and internships.”

Since the program’s inception in 2000, the number of graduates who have been admitted to San Diego State University from the partnering school district has doubled between fall 2000 and fall 2006, growing from 639 to 1,406.

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