Shocking Waste of Youths Cited in Study of Hispanic Schooling

By Lynn Olson — December 12, 1984 8 min read

Concluding that “a shocking proportion of this generation of Hispanic young people is being wasted,” a national commission created to “find out why so many inner-city public high schools are not more successful in educating Hispanics,” recommends that schools substantially upgrade the academic training of such students.

In a report scheduled for release this week, the National Commission on Secondary Schooling for Hispanics contends that Hispanic students are disproportionately tracked into vocational and general-education programs; that too many Hispanic students are doing poorly while in school and dropping out before graduation; that many Hispanic parents have been made to feel “unwelcome” in schools; and that an excessive focus on the language issues surrounding Hispanic students’ education has “overshadowed” other, important features of their schooling.

To reverse that situation, the commission urges schools to eliminate tracking and require all students to complete a core academic program. “Excellence must be a national goal and all students should be assisted to achieve steady improvement in the core curriculum at their levels of competency,” the commission states. It also recommends improved instruction in both English and Spanish for Hispanic students, and increased links between home, school, and work.

The 16-member commission of leaders in education, business, and community affairs was created by the Hispanic Policy Development Project, a private nonprofit organization that focuses on public policies that affect Hispanic employment and education. The commission’s core-corriculum recommendation appears to counter one made earlier this month by the National Commission on Excellence in Vocational Education. That group’s federally sponsored study contends that vocational education should play a prominent role in the schools.

High Drop-Out Rate

In its report, “Make Something Happen: Hispanics and Urban High School Reform,” the National Commission on Secondary Schooling for Hispanics notes that:

Over one-third of Hispanic 18- to 19-year-olds lack high-school diplomas;

40 percent of Hispanic students who leave school do so before reaching the 10th grade;

25 percent of Hispanics who enter high school are over-age; and

45 percent of Mexican-American and Puerto-Rican students who enter high school never finish.

“Logic and common sense argue that society must make determined efforts to halt and reverse the wasting of generations of young Hispanics,” the commission states. “Indeed, as more Anglos reach social security age, their support will depend on social security taxes paid by our increasingly Hispanic and Black work force.”

Site Visits, Analyses

Over the past year, the commission has visited schools and held meetings with students, parents, educators, and businessmen in New York, Miami, Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Antonio; reviewed the literature on Hispanic education and analyzed major recent reports on secondary education; visited and heard about successful programs for Hispanic students; and analyzed data on Hispanics from the U.S. Education Department’s longitudinal study of high-school students, “High School and Beyond.”

The commission reports that more than two-thirds of Hispanics attend schools with student bodies that are more than 50 percent minority. Schools that Hispanics attend usually are overcrowded and poorly equipped, the commission writes, or have lower per-pupil budgets than other schools in adjacent areas.

Hispanics, who are the youngest and fastest growing population group in the nation, will be the majority population in key areas of the United States by the year 2000, according to the commission.

Crisis ‘Doubly Severe’

The commission argues that “the curriculum crisis in American secondary schooling that affects all American youth is doubly severe for Hispanic students.” It cites these statistics:

By their senior year, Hispanics had taken the least number of academic courses of any group, according to 1982 analyses by the National Center for Education Statistics.

More than three-quarters of the Hispanics who took the “High School and Beyond” achievement tests in 1980 and 1982 scored in the bottom half nationally of those tested.

Some 40 percent of Hispanic high-school students in the 1980 “High School and Beyond” study were in a general-education track as opposed to a strong academic course of study. Thirty-five percent were in the vocational-education track.

“Few Hispanics,” the commission found, “were attending the top-rated vocational schools in their cities. They were enrolled in the programs that did not have state-of-the-art equipment, and therefore were less likely to feed them into the better jobs after graduation.”

Moreover, the percentage of Hispanic high-school graduates who enrolled in college following graduation decreased between 1972 and 1982, the commission found, from 46 percent to 43 percent. In contrast, 52 percent of white students in 1982 enrolled in college following graduation.

Core Curriculum Advocated

To address these problems, the commission recommends eliminating tracking in favor of a core curriculum for all students that would include: four years of English, three years of mathematics, three years of science, three years of social studies, one-half year of computer science, and two years of foreign-language study.

“These courses should have clearly defined academic content and should emphasize the development of analytical skills,” the report states.

“All students need to be introduced to the world of work and should be encouraged to acquire skills while in high school, regardless of their post-secondary plans,” the commission says. But it notes that the “acquisition of vocational skills must not be a substitute for the required core curriculum.” And it urges that vocational skills “be tied to the needs of business and industry and that the training be based on state-of-the-art equipment.”

It also recommends the development of a “personalized education contract for each student.”

The commission argues, however, that improving secondary schooling may not be enough. Because many Hispanic students are already failing academically by the time they reach that level, reforms are needed at the elementary and early secondary levels as well, the panel states.

‘Acrimonious Debate’

The commission sharply criticizes the focus of national debate over bilingual instruction, arguing that “in the minds of the general public, a deep concern over language overshadowed other educational issues’’ for Hispanic students. Although it acknowledges that there is a “deep cleavage” between those who believe that no language other than English should be used in school instruction and those who believe that any method other than bilingual education is a threat to the survival of Spanish, the commission nonetheless contends that “both sides are wrong.”

“Their convictions have evolved into intransigence which inhibits any movement forward in the service of children,” according to the report.

The commission cautions educators against “focusing on language to the exclusion of other skills and experiences” when addressing the needs of Hispanics. It also notes that, contrary to popular belief, most Hispanic students and parents recognize the importance of learning English.

Improved English Instruction

The commission makes two different sets of recommendations to improve English instruction for Hispanics.

For Hispanic students who are English-speaking but not fully proficient in English, it recommends that:

The English proficiency of all students be formally assessed before they go to high school, and that a pre-high-school summer term and an intensive freshman-year supplementary program be provided for students who are deficient in the use of English;

Hispanic high-school students complete a basic English course with an emphasis on writing, and that writing be made an integral part of all subject courses; and

The high-school curriculum include a study of public speaking, the spoken word, and listening.

For Hispanic students who do not speak English, the commission recommends a combination of the following strategies:

Intensive English-as-a-second-language instruction;

Provision of core-curriculum classes in Spanish if the number of non-English-speaking students makes that option practical, or, at minimum, provision of classroom materials in Spanish in conjunction with Spanish-speaking tutors;

Allowing Spanish-speaking students to audit selected content courses in English early on “to provide maximum opportunity to adjust to the sounds and cadences of many different English speakers and eventually to begin to pick up substance and meaning;"

An option for 17- and 18-year-olds who arrive in the United States late in their high-school careers to take graduation examinations in their first language.

“Additionally,” the commission writes, “those students would be required to pass an English-language examination which would be graded on the basis of how long they had been enrolled in English-as-a-second-language classes.”

The commission further recommends that every high school establish a volunteer corps of tutors and teaching assistants from the student body and local community to foster English literacy in school and in the community.

Illiterate in Spanish

In addition to their problems with English, “the majority of Hispanic students are not literate in the Spanish language, and on their own do not elect to study it in high school,” the commission contends. “Although many Hispanic high-school students speak Spanish well, most school systems do not urge them to read or write in it. This is a grave resource loss to the nation.”

The commission found, for example, that only 4 percent of Hispanic high-school students take three or more years of Spanish.

Yet, the report notes, “in many regions of the nation, Anglo and Hispanic political and business leaders testified that their banking, tourism, and service sectors need large numbers of employees who are literate in both Spanish and English,” and that “in certain parts of the nation, Hispanics who are bi-literate can find higher-paying jobs.”

The panel recommends that both Hispanic and non-Hispanic students be encouraged to take courses in the Spanish language as early as elementary school. It also suggests that the methodologies for teaching Spanish be improved for both native speakers and non-native speakers, and that schools recruit and train native Spanish-speaking teachers to help raise oral proficiency in the Spanish language.

Copies of “Make Something Happen” are available from the Hispanic Policy Development Project, 1001 Connecticut Avenue, N.W., Suite 310, Washington, D.C. 20036; (202) 822-8414.

A version of this article appeared in the December 12, 1984 edition of Education Week as Shocking Waste of Youths Cited in Study of Hispanic Schooling