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Rural Hispanics Trail Other Groups in Literacy

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Rural Hispanics trail urban Hispanics in rates of high-school graduation and functional literacy. But both Hispanic groups trail whites, and their relative positions worsened during the 1970's.

These are among the findings of a new statistical study of the nation's "nonmetro Hispanics, a population of two million people concentrated primarily in Texas, Colorado, California, New Mexico, and Arizona.

The report was prepared by Frank A. Fratoe, a sociologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's economic research service.

Here are some of its other conclusions:

Barely one-third of the Hispanic population in rural areas held high-school diplomas as of 1979, compared to 42 percent of urban Hispanics, more than half of all urban blacks, and three-quarters of all suburban whites.

Some 27 percent of rural Hispanics are functionally illiterate, compared to 16 percent of urban Hispanics.

For Hispanics living on farms, the rate was as high as 40 percent.

Illiteracy rates have remained steady for both groups, but educators had assumed the rate would naturally decline for rural Hispanics as their school-enrollment rate increased. But their illiteracy rate has remained high, apparently because of the recent influx into this country of older Hispanic people with little schooling, according to Mr. Fratoe.

Functional illiteracy is defined in the report as "the failure to complete at least five years of elementary school."

As of 1978, 36 percent of rural Hispanic youths between 16 and 24 years old were high- school dropouts--more than twice the percentage of rural whites.

Despite "absolute gains, rural Hispanics fell further behind suburban whites in measures of educational-attainment levels (for example, high-school graduation percentages). That is, their rates of increase did not match the corresponding rates for the white population.

The rural Hispanics, the second-largest rural minority group after blacks, are defined in the report as "persons self-identified as Mexican-American, Chicano, Mexican, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Central or South American, or 'other Spanish'.

They live outside of the large metropolitan areas in which three-quarters of all Americans reside. Together with the Hispanic urban population, the rural Hispanics constitute the fastest-growing minority in the United States.

Mr. Fratoe suggests several reasons for the statistics, including the pressure on Hispanic youths to leave school early to earn income, limited opportunites to achieve fluency in English (about four out of five of all Hispanics live in Spanish-speaking households), inadequate programs to help Hispanic students who have limited proficiency in English, and the constant influx of new Hispanic immigrants into the U.S.

To help alleviate the problems, the government researcher recommends establishment of more special programs like California's "Migrant Teacher Assistant Mini-Corps, designed to train increasing numbers of bilingual teachers for the children of Hispanic migrant workers.

Mr. Fratoe's report may be obtained from the Economic Research Service Publications Office, Room 0054-S, Department of Agriculture, Washington, D.C. 20250.

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