Equity & Diversity

Group to Press for School Choice For Hispanics

By Mary Ann Zehr — October 15, 2003 3 min read
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Robert Sanchez, 17, of San Antonio, partipates in a news briefing at the National Press Club in Washington last week to help the organization Hispanic CREO announce its nationwide school choice campaign.
—Photograph by Allison Shelley/Education Week

Hispanic parents in the United States don’t have much choice in where they can send their children to school—and if they’re given more choice and act on it, Hispanic children are likely to do better in school.

That’s the underlying assumption of a new nonprofit organization, the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options, or Hispanic CREO. The organization held a press conference here on Oct. 9 at the National Press Club to mark its official launch on a national level.

Hispanic CREO, which means “I believe” in Spanish, was founded in 2001 by a San Antonio businessman, Robert B. Aguirre, and some other Hispanic activists. Funded with money from private donors and foundations, it opened an office in Washington about a year ago.

School choice is the best way to address the current educational crisis among Hispanics, Mr. Aguirre, the chairman of Hispanic CREO, said at the press conference. “We believe [school choice] to be an inherent right for all,” he said.

But a report by researchers from the New York City-based Manhattan Institute, released at the event, gave only limited research evidence that school choice would improve educational outcomes for Hispanics.

The lion’s share of the report, “No Exit: How Lack of Educational Choice Shortchanges Hispanic Students,” documents the vast achievement gap between Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites.

Last year, for example, about twice as many Hispanic students as their non-Hispanic white peers in three grades scored “below basic” in reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

On the last page of the 56-page report, the researchers briefly cite two studies that concluded Hispanic children improved their educational outcomes by taking part in school choice programs in Milwaukee and San Antonio. In general, the report says, school choice programs have been found to improve outcomes for the students who participate.

Jay P. Greene, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and one of the authors of the report, said at the press conference that research outcomes are “suggestive” that school choice could improve the education of Hispanics.

Filling a Niche

Hispanic CREO is perceived by other national Hispanic organizations as primarily an advocate of vouchers.

Robert B. Aguirre, the chairman of Hispanic CREO, speaks last week at a press conference to discuss the group’s agenda.
—Photograph by Allison Shelley/Education Week

Shortly after its formation in 2001, Hispanic CREO filed a legal brief in support of Cleveland’s voucher program in a case, Zellman v. Simmons- Harris, that was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. The court ruled in June 2002 that the voucher program was constitutional.

Hispanic CREO uses the words “school choice” rather than “vouchers” on its Web site and in publicity materials. Mr. Aguirre said in an interview last week that the group isn’t avoiding the word “vouchers,” but that “what we’re about is school choice.”

“Vouchers is one of the mechanisms to accomplish that,” he said.

The press conference featured four Latino youths who were said to have improved their academic achievement by attending charter schools, along with Robert Sanchez, 17, a Mexican-American from San Antonio who received a good education by attending a private military academy. He did so with the aid of a privately financed voucher from the Children’s Educational Opportunity Foundation in San Antonio, of which Mr. Aguirre is the managing director.

If Hispanic CREO does choose to focus on promoting vouchers for Hispanic students, it will fill a niche that isn’t yet being occupied, representatives of the National Council of La Raza and the League of United Latin American Citizens said last week.

They said that Hispanic advocacy organizations are either opposed to vouchers or haven’t taken a clear position on them.

LULAC, located in Washington, opposes vouchers.

The National Council of La Raza, also in Washington, has raised $19.2 million to support a network of public charter schools, but doesn’t take a position on vouchers.

Raul Gonzalez, an education policy analyst for the organization, said research hasn’t yet shown that either charter schools or voucher programs improve schooling for Hispanic children.

“To say that school choice is the missing element for improved educational outcomes for Latinos—it’s a stretch at best,” he said.

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