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Hispanic Group Issues Reform Proposal

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Arguing that national reports and state and local initiatives to upgrade education have overlooked "the serious underachievement problems confronted by minority students," a national network of Hispanic educators and advocates last week released a series of recommendations for policymakers to consider as they develop and implement school reforms.

The recommendations, proposed by the Denver-based Center for Hispanic Educa-tional Leadership (chel), mark a historic moment for Hispanic education because they represent "the first time that the national Hispanic community has pulled together to speak in one voice as to what the comprehensive educational needs are for Hispanics," said Gumecindo Salas, president of the Michigan State Board of Education and a member of the chel panel that formulated the recommendations.

"In the past, the announcement of Hispanic educational needs has been done
piecemeal," Mr. Salas said. "One group deals with bilingual education, another with migrant education. But until now, we have never had [a group or document] that dealt with real issues of educational achievement and performance."

Moreover, the issues that the platform presents are relevant to other minority groups, according to Mr. Salas, because the problems that affect Hispanic education are much the same as those affecting blacks and American Indians.

The recommendations were designed to "[inject] Hispanic issues and recommended solutions for action into the national discussion on excellence," said Nelsa Lopez-Colon, co-director of chel

The group's platform, entitled "Equity, Excellence, Involvement, and Pluralism: A New Day for America's Children" is intended "to serve as a guide for policymakers and others at the local level in their efforts to improve public education," according to Ms. Lopez-Colon. "We believe that we Hispanics have valuable contributions to make to the educational reform process," she said. "It is no longer acceptable for education to be a privilege for a few."

Lagging Achievement

While demographic statistics indicate that the young and growing Hispanic population already constitutes a significant proportion of school enrollments in many districts nationwide--making up more than half of the school-age population in Los Angeles and some 30 percent of the kindergarten enrollments in the states of California and Texas--Hispanics lag far behind whites in educational achievement, the group said in a press release.

Nationally, Hispanics have a lower median level of schooling (10.3 years) than whites, and Hispanic students in school are twice as likely as whites to be enrolled two grades below their expected level, according to chel

At the same time, the dropout rate for Hispanics is approximately 40 percent, while the rate for white students is less than half that, the group says. And only 26 percent of Hispanic students are enrolled in academic programs that prepare them for college, compared with 40 percent of white students.

'Equal Access' for Students

For Hispanics to reach national norms for student achievement, chel suggests a plan for educational improvement that focuses on four areas involving schooling--equity, standards, parental involvement, and cultural diversity.

"Children will have their fair chance only when they are guaranteed equal access to all educational resources and programs," the report says.

At the federal level, the platform statement recommends that the government "vigorously monitor and enforce current statutes that promote educational equity."

It calls on the Congress to establish a special oversight committee to monitor enforcement of educational equity by federal agencies; to reauthorize, strengthen, and increase funds for the Bilingual Education Act (Title VII of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act); and to increase funds for Head Start, Chapter I, Chapter II, Follow Through, special education, and programs for gifted and talented students.

It also recommends that the Congress provide additional funding to districts with high percentages of children from Hispanic and low-income families; amend Chapter I and special-education laws to assure that children are placed in regular classrooms as soon as they are ready; and reject tuition tax credits.

At the state and local levels, recommendations include developing and implementing school-finance formulas "that eliminate the great disparities in per-pupil expenditures between high- and low-wealth school districts"; ensuring equitable distribution of funds within districts; shelving tuition tax-credit proposals; enforcing state statutes that guarantee equity; and prohibiting routine "dead-end" tracking of Hispanic boys and girls into non-academic courses.

Setting High Standards

The Hispanic leaders assert that an excellent educational system must "expect," "assist," and "reward" outstanding achievement by its students.

To help "develop all students to their fullest potential," the report calls for federal funding of experimental education programs in predominantly Hispanic and low-income districts that promote excellence in mathematics, science, English, bilingual education, information technologies, and foreign-language acquisition.

The platform calls on the Congress to expand the 10-percent corporate-income-tax deduction to include "lending of personnel and equipment to public schools in districts that have high concentrations of low-income or Hispanic children." The proposals also call for strict enforcement of P.L. 94-311, the law that requires regular federal collection and publication of data indicating the social, health, and economic status of Hispanic Americans.

The Hispanic leaders urge that "states require a core curriculum of mathematics, science, language arts, and social science," but stress that the mandated work should "be accompanied by academic support programs that close the gap between Hispanic and Anglo students."

Qualified Personnel

One way to promote Hispanic achievement is to hire qualified Hispanic personnel in all programs, the report argues.

(Nationally, only 2.3 percent of all elementary-school teachers and 1.8 percent of secondary-school teachers are Hispanic, according to chel)

The Hispanic leaders said that standards for all personnel should be raised. Teacher-competence requirements should include competence in methodology and course content, knowledge of the cultures in the state in which they teach, and a demonstrated ability to work with students and parents, according to the platform statement.

It also urges that states adopt rigorous recertification standards and appoint Hispanics to all education advisory committees. It argues that states should ensure that standards for administrators include demonstrated competence in leadership, management, and goal-setting as measured in performance evalua-tions and that administrators should be rated, in part, on their ability to deal satisfactorily with teachers, parents, and the community.

Parental Involvement

"The success of educational reform ultimately rests on parents acting at the local level to ensure local commitment to issues important to them and to their children," the document states, adding that parents from the Hispanic community have often been "excluded from the educational decision-making process."

To increase parental involvement, the Hispanic group asks the federal government and the states to "systematically [identify] and [utilize] Hispanic parent volunteers, [train] parents on educational and leadership issues, and [encourage] involvement of Hispanics on school committees and boards."

It recommends that all mandatory educational programs contain statements that call for "formal, continued, and substantive" involvement of Hispanic parents in review-ing grant applications, hiring educational staff, setting goals, and evaluating programs. In addition, states should "mandate the establishment of local parent/community school-accountability committees that include Hispanic parents," and state leaders should ensure that there is active Hispanic parent involvement on all state-level advisory committees, the platform contends.

Cultural Diversity

Because "the vision of the Spanish throne led to the discovery of this country" and Hispanic culture and the Spanish language have played an integral role in the growth and development of America, pluralism and cultural diversity in education must be fostered, the report asserts.

The Hispanic group calls on the federal government to encourage the acquisition of a second language by all citizens and to "finance programs that recognize bilingual education as a sound and effective method of instruction, which can develop language proficiency and academic competence in two languages."

It recommends that the Congress re-establish categorical aid for desegregation and that federal education programs "earmark funds for Hispanic and limited-English-proficient children."

The report is available at no cost by writing to the Center for Hispanic Educational Leadership at 1444 Stuart St., Denver, Colo. 80204 or calling (303) 825-7364.

Hispanic leaders on the panel that drafted the report included: Rose Calvillo, parent advocate, Milpitas, Calif.; Norma Cantu, Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, San Francisco; Alicia Cardona, Women's Division, Governor's Office, New York City; Tomas Castillo, school-board member, Tucson, Ariz.; Antonio Flores, Office of Hispanic Education, Michigan State Department of Education, Lansing, Mich.; Roberto Fuentes, member, State Board of Education, Connecticut; Raul Grijalava, school-board member, Tucscon, Ariz.; Nelsa Lopez-Colon, co-director, chel, Denver; Alfonso Martinez, school-board member, Colorado Springs; Jose Monserrat, writer, New York City; Lori Orum, National Council of La Raza, Washington, D.C.

Also: Alicia Rodriguez, chairman, Bilingual Parent Advisory Committee, Rochester; Bill Rossner, president, Chicano Education Project, Denver; Gumecindo Salas; president, State Board of Education, Lansing, Mich.; Adeline Sanchez, school-board member, Center, Colo.; Jennie Sanchez, executive director, Chicano Education Project, Center, Colo.; Manuel Solano, maldef, Denver; Norma Stanton, Hispanic Women's Center, New York City; Dale Vigil, co-director, chel, Denver.

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