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Published in Print: January 5, 2005, as Report Faults Immigrant Instruction in 3 States

Report Faults Immigrant Instruction in 3 States

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School districts in three Southern states with fast-growing Latino populations have not done a good job overall in teaching immigrant children, according to a study by the Tomás Rivera Policy Institute in Los Angeles.

“The lack of resources devoted to educating Latinos in emerging immigrant communities is generating negative educational outcomes and de facto educational segregation in the South,” Andrew Wainer, a research associate at the policy institute, writes in the report released last month.

As proof, “The New Latino South and the Challenge to Public Education” cites data indicating lackluster Latino academic achievement in Arkansas, Georgia, and North Carolina. For example, during the 2002-03 school year, almost two out of three Hispanic 8th graders in Arkansas had “below basic” scores in mathematics. The report also quotes educators who say districts haven’t known what to do with influxes of English-language learners.

At the same time, the study highlights effective education practices used by some schools or community-based organizations that could be carried out in other states with emerging immigrant populations. Those practices include hiring parent liaisons to work for schools and operating family-literacy programs.

“The first thing we have always said is that the dispersal of immigrants was going to take them to communities that had very little infrastructure or capacity to settle newcomers,” said Michael E. Fix, the director of immigration studies at the Washington-based Urban Institute. “This report tends to bear that out.”

The report warns that as immigration continues to spread, school systems in the South could become partly responsible for creating a social underclass.

“If the educational environment for Latinos in new communities does not improve, they will take their place as a permanent laboring class that is not expected to go to college, wield political power, or enter ‘white-collar’ professions,” the report says.

No Answers

The 42-page report identifies four problematic areas for educators and immigrant families: parent involvement, teacher training, immigration status, and discrimination.

The people in charge of programs for English-language learners in the state departments of education in Arkansas, Georgia, and North Carolina didn’t challenge the report’s main message: School districts in their states haven’t done enough to educate such students.

“It isn’t a perfect system, God knows. We’re all kind of muddling through this together,” said Andre Guerrero, the director of programs for language-minority students for Arkansas. When the Arkansas Department of Education hired Mr. Guerrero as its first director of programs for English-language learners 12 years ago, school districts in Arkansas had identified 300 English-language learners. The number has since risen to 15,000.

Mr. Guerrero, who participated in a focus group for the report, quibbled, however, with its implication that states with new immigrant growth haven’t picked up on lessons learned from states that traditionally have received immigrants.

“I don’t know what those lessons would be that we haven’t learned. Give me a list of them,” he said.

His counterpart in North Carolina felt pretty much the same way. “Nobody has the answer. We’re all striving and trying different things,” said Fran S. Hoch, who heads that state’s programs for English-language learners. “It’s not as if the Latino student is one kind of student.”

Evelyne S. Barker, who is in charge of programs for English-language learners in Georgia, noted that her state has just drawn up a plan for monitoring services to English-language learners required by the U.S. Department of Education’s office for civil rights. In the late 1990s, a half-dozen Georgia school districts—typically with small numbers of English-language learners—were failing to meet their obligations to identify, test, and serve such students, she said.

Ms. Barker wondered why the report didn’t mention the impact of new accountability requirements for the instruction of English-language learners under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

“It’s a good thing under the No Child Left Behind Act that this particular population is benefiting—if for nothing else—from the school districts’ awareness of their existence,” she said.

Mr. Wainer, with the Tomás Rivera Policy Institute, said the researchers decided not to evaluate the impact of the federal law on instruction for English-language learners because the law was so new. The report is based on interviews and focus groups conducted during the 2002-03 school year.

Vol. 24, Issue 16, Page 12

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