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States Warned on Minority Needs

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Unless five Southwestern states do a better job of educating their rapidly expanding minority populations, the overall level of education in the region will drop dramatically, warns a new report by an interstate education organization.

Such a decline, the report notes, would occur just as the changing regional economy needs a more highly skilled and educated workforce.

With minority populations that in the foreseeable future will constitute a statewide majority, the five states--Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas--"stand at a crossroads," according to the report, prepared by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education.

"If education is not made more effective for minorities than it has been," it states, "we will fall behind in achieving our goals of social justice and in meeting our needs for economic growth."

The report, "From Minority to Majority: Education and the Future of the Southwest," urges educators and policymakers at all levels to "rethink and redefine the meaning of education in a truly multicultural society."

Because of the complex nature of the problem of minority underrepresentation and underachievement in education, the report says, "isolated action will not be as effective as sys4tematic actions aimed at all sectors of education."

It recommends, for example, that school districts and schools of education work together in an effort to generate an adequate supply of minority teachers to serve as role models for black, Hispanic, and other minority pupils.

'Self-Interest'

Wiche is a regional 14-state compact formed in 1953 to help meet the educational needs of the West through interstate programs and other cooperative efforts.

Last year, the compact formed a 31-member "policy committee on minorities in higher education," comprising leaders from education, business, and government, to examine demographic trends and how they relate to the educational needs of the Southwest.

Higher education, the report notes, has a "self-interest" in helping a greater percentage of minority youths succeed at the precollegiate level.

"If the necessary changes and improvements are not made" throughout the educational system, it states, college "enrollments will drop, programs or institutions may be forced to close, and public support will be diminished."

Minority Majority Ahead

The committee's report presents a detailed picture of the region's8changing demography and offers a comprehensive "plan of action" that includes broad goals and dozens of recommendations.

Currently, nearly one-third of the people living in the five states studied are members of minority groups, according to the report. For children under the age of 5, it says, the proportion jumps to 45 percent.

If current trends continue, it predicts, minorities will constitute the majority of people under age 30 around the turn of the century, and will become the majority of the Southwest's total population shortly thereafter.

Of the minority groups in the region, blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians are particularly underrepresented in education at all levels, the report says, adding that they face very limited economic opportunities as a result.

"The convergence of these conditions--continued minority population growth and limited minority participation in education and the economy--portends a disheartening future for a growing proportion of the population and for the region as a whole," it argues, "unless appropriate actions are taken soon."

Role Models Needed

A critical problem discussed in the report is lagging minority representation in the teaching force and in education-leadership positions.

The problem, it says, is that minority children need minority role models, but have few in the public schools. One of the stated goals of the report is to bring more members of minority groups into teaching and school administration.

Already, it notes, minority representation in teaching lags behind the proportion of minorities within the population as a whole.

And as the Southwest's minority student population grows, it continues, "this imbalance threatens to get worse before it gets better."

The report suggests that any hasty imposition of tougher new certification standards "will further reduce" the number of minority teachers. Adequate resources and sufficient preparation time must accompany any modifications in certification requirements, the report argues.

The wiche panel urges school districts to cooperate with schools of education to find ways of boosting the supply of minority teachers.

In addition, it argues that admission to undergraduate and graduate teacher-training programs should be based on criteria that include more than scores on standardized tests, which minorities tend to fail at a disproportionately higher rate than whites.

But efforts should also be made, it adds, to improve minority performance on such tests.

In light of the Southwest's large immigrant population, another concern for the region is the scarcity of qualified teachers for bilingual-education programs, the reports says.

It notes that the percentage of college graduates certified to teach bilingual education nationwide has dropped by more than one-half over the past decade.

Recommendations

The wiche panel also urges that:

Schools ensure that all students become proficient speakers of the English language "at the earliest possible point," but recognize "the value of multilingualism for individuals and society."

Schools not "track" students in ways that preclude solid academic preparation for college.

States continue to promote greater equality in per-student resources, and provide the resources necessary to eliminate the disadvantages minority students face.

Copies of the 38-page report can be ordered for $5 each from wiche, P.O. Drawer P, Boulder, Colo. 80301-9752.

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