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Report Urges Policies To Improve Schooling For Hispanic Students

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WASHINGTON--If the nation's rapidly growing Hispanic population is to be well educated, a report released here last week asserts, the number of Latino teachers must be dramatically increased and teachers of all ethnic backgrounds must be better prepared to meet the needs of Latino students.

The report by the TomÀas Rivera Center, a national institute for policy studies based in Claremont, Calif., calls on federal and state governments to develop policies that encourage Latinos to succeed in school and pursue teaching careers, and to remove obstacles that prevent them from doing so.

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Henry G. Cisneros, a former chairman of the center's board of trustees, unveiled the report's findings at a briefing that included members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

Officials from the Rivera Center said they released the report in the nation's capital to underscore the need for more federal attention to Latino issues.

By 2014, the officials emphasized, Hispanics are expected to be the largest minority group in the United States.

Despite this demographic trend, "Washington has not been aware of the nation's Latino population,'' contended Harry P. Pachon, the president of the Rivera Center.

Noting that 12 percent of Latino students do not complete the 5th grade and that almost half do not finish high school, Secretary Cisneros called for the recruitment of more Latino teachers as a first step toward improving Hispanics' educational attainment.

"America cannot afford to allow the education system to continue to fail its youngest and fastest-growing ethnic community,'' he said.

Beyond Role Models

In 1991, Hispanics made up 11.8 percent of the K-12 students in the United States, but only 3.7 percent of the teaching force was Hispanic, the report, entitled "Resolving a Crisis in Education, Latino Teachers for Tomorrow's Classrooms,'' points out.

In states with large Latino populations, it says, there are even larger disparities between the numbers of Latino students and teachers. In California, for example, where 33 percent of the students are Latino, only 7 percent of the teachers are from that ethnic heritage.

Currently, the report says, fewer than 2 percent of the students in teacher education programs are Latino.

In highlighting the need for more Hispanic teachers, officials stressed that they were not talking about simply creating role models for students.

Recent research has shown that the presence of Latino teachers correlates positively with increased academic performance by such students, Mr. Pachon said. Teachers of the same ethnic heritage, for example, are less likely than other teachers to place Latino students in remedial programs, and are more likely to identify them as gifted than non-Hispanic teachers are.

"I started 1st grade not knowing English and was placed in an educably-mentally-retarded class,'' Mr. Pachon recalled. "Two postdoctoral degrees later, my experience shows that the assessment of individuals is critical.''

The center's report makes 18 recommendations for improving the education of Latino students, investing in Latino teacher candidates and helping insure their success in higher education, removing policy barriers to producing Latino teachers, and developing Latino paraprofessionals as teachers. (See box, this page.)

'Learning Communities'

The report incorporates findings from a two-year project that sought to create "learning communities'' of Latino students in schools of education in major universities in California and Texas.

The four demonstration sites were California State University at San Bernardino, San Diego State University, Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos, and the University of Texas at El Paso. All four schools enrolled significant numbers of Hispanics.

Such learning communities integrate comprehensive student advising, basic-skills development, and supportive environments that are intended help students reach their top level of performance. For the Rivera Center's project, they also included the recruitment of high school students interested in becoming teachers and the establishment of professional-development programs that linked Latino students with practicing Latino teachers.

The project was developed using the results of a survey conducted by the Rivera Center of 46 colleges and universities in the Southwest. The research identified barriers Hispanics faced in entering and completing teacher education programs, as well as promising strategies for increasing the number of well-prepared Latino teachers.

Each site had wide latitude in designing and implementing its project and deciding which students to target. Southwest Texas State, for example, worked with teacher aides in public schools who were interested in becoming classroom teachers. Two of the sites also targeted students transferring from community colleges.

The study found that "when you pay good attention to students with lots of potential, they succeed,'' said Raymond E. Castro, one of the project's directors. "It doesn't take a lot of money.''

Need To Track Progress

Drawing on these findings, the Rivera Center's report recommends that the Education Department target resources to community and four-year colleges serving Latino students to support the creation of learning communities. The report also suggests that similar programs be funded by the department in predominantly Hispanic school districts, beginning at the middle school level.

Because many Latino students come from low-income families, it also calls on the department to provide financial support to Latino teacher candidates.

According to the report, "little effort'' is now made to track the enrollment, achievement, and attainment patterns of Latino students. It calls for more federal research to track these data in states with large Hispanic populations.

The report chides state teacher-certification agencies and teacher education programs for what it sees as a failure to monitor the effectiveness of teacher education programs.

It recommends that states develop ways to "monitor the relationship of teacher education programs on the demonstrated ability of teachers to meet the needs of Latinos in public schools.''

Since 1988, grants of nearly $1 million from the Exxon Education Foundation have supported the center's research on recruiting and training Latino teachers.

Copies of the report are available from the TomÀas Rivera Center, 710 North College Ave., Claremont, Calif. 91711; (909) 625-6607.

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