Equity & Diversity

Latino Optimism High On Children’s Schools, National Survey Finds

By Darcia Harris Bowman — January 28, 2004 5 min read
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Performance gaps and language barriers aside, the nation’s fastest-growing minority group appears to have an “overarching faith” in the public school system that non-Hispanic whites and African-Americans lack.

Read the “National Survey of Latinos: Education,” from the Pew Hispanic Center. (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

Latinos are more optimistic than whites and blacks about the progress being made to improve public schools, and are more upbeat about their relationships with teachers and administrators, according to the results of a national survey that was set for release this week.

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View the accompanying chart, “Hispanic Viewpoints.”

But while Latinos are likewise more confident about standardized testing as an accurate indicator of a student’s academic abilities, they are largely unaware of the federal law that encourages such accountability, according to the survey. It polled U.S.-born and immigrant Latinos.

The positive attitudes are most pronounced among immigrant Latinos, said Robert Suro, the director of the nonprofit Pew Hispanic Center in Washington, which co-produced the survey with the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a national health-care philanthropy based in Menlo Park, Calif.

“In a lot of different surveys and on a lot of different questions, immigrants are generally more optimistic about their lives in the United States and about their children’s future here,” he said.

“This may have something to do with the fact that foreign-born Latinos, by definition, have no direct experience with the education system here,” he continued. “They’re learning as they raise their kids how this all works, ... and there’s more of a willingness to go along with things.”

“It would seem that in this case that familiarity breeds a certain degree of contempt,” he added in a reference to the attitudes of whites and blacks.

When asked to give public schools a letter grade, for instance, 63 percent of all Latinos in the survey gave their community schools an A or B, and half assigned one of those two grades to the public school system nationwide as well.

Whites and blacks weren’t as enthusiastic in their grading of public schools, and African-Americans were the least positive of the three groups. Only 26 percent of whites and 36 percent of blacks elected to give the public school system A or B grades. Fewer than half the African- Americans polled, 46 percent, gave those top grades to their community schools, compared with 58 percent of whites.

Yet, Mr. Suro said, it’s worth noting that a sizable minority of Latinos have less-than-enthusiastic views of their schools and of public schools in general. About three in 10 Latinos surveyed would give grades of C or lower to both their local schools and the U.S. public education system as a whole.

Reservations

The “National Survey of Latinos: Education” was done by telephone between Aug. 7 and Oct. 15 of last year. The research drew its results from a nationally representative sample of 3,421 adults, including 1,508 Latinos, 829 of whom were foreign-born and 677 of whom were born in the United States. The poll also included 1,193 non-Hispanic whites and 610 blacks.

Parents of school-aged children made up a little more than a third of the survey sample, with a total of 1,233 from all three groups. The poll’s overall margin of error is 2.43 percentage points, a figure that varies among the various groups included.

The authors point out in the report that young people ages 5 to 24 make up 37 percent of the Hispanic population in the United States, compared with 27 percent of the non-Hispanic population. That school-age segment of the Latino community is projected to increase by 82 percent over the next 25 years, they say, potentially making education a top issue among Hispanics.

While Latinos in the survey did not focus on a single reason their children weren’t doing as well academically as their white counterparts, their responses to that question revealed some doubts about public schools and concern about stereotypes.

When asked to choose major reasons for the academic divide, 53 percent picked “Too many Latino parents neglect to push their children to work hard.” Still, 51 percent also picked “The school is often too quick to label Latino kids as having behavior or learning problems.”

Among the other responses: Forty-seven percent picked “Too many white teachers don’t know how to deal with Latino kids because they come from different cultures"; 44 percent chose “Latino students have weaker English skills than white students; and 44 percent agreed that “Schools that have mostly Latino students have fewer good teachers.”

“It’s clear from this survey that there are still a bunch of people in the Latino community who are not happy with the current condition of schools or with the road map for the future,” Mr. Suro said.

Policies and Politics

Whether Democrats or Republicans will carry the day with Latino voters in this year’s presidential election—at least where education is concerned—remains unclear if the Pew survey is any indication.

First, many Latinos refused to side with either of the two major political parties on the issue of education. Among those that did, the Democrats had a definite edge in being trusted to do a better job improving education and schools: Nearly four in 10 Latinos picked Democrats, while 19 percent sided with Republicans.

The results “suggest going into the campaign that the issue of education hasn’t been defined yet in a partisan way,” Mr. Suro said.

Still, African-Americans reported trusting the Democratic Party by a ratio of nearly 5-to-1. Among whites, the Democrats had a slim advantage over Republicans, 39 percent to 32 percent.

Latinos gave President Bush mixed reviews on education.

Just over half of those polled, or 53 percent, said the president had done a “fair” or “poor” job on education issues, while 41 percent said he had done an “excellent” or “good” job. Whites and African-Americans expressed less favorable views about Mr. Bush’s performance on school issues.

The good news for Mr. Bush is that Latinos endorse two major aspects of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, the 2-year- old reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that is the core of Mr. Bush’s education agenda. Latinos largely embrace the law’s requirements that states set strict performance standards for public schools, and that schools use standardized testing to measure students’ progress.

More than two-thirds of the Latinos polled, or 67 percent, agreed that the federal government should require state performance standards for schools, compared with 73 percent of whites and 69 percent of African-Americans. And about six in 10 Latinos said they were “very” or “somewhat” confident that standardized tests were a good measure of student performance, compared with 53 percent of whites and 55 percent of blacks surveyed.

While Latinos may support President Bush’s school agenda, only 8 percent were aware of the No Child Left Behind Act. The figures for the other groups polled were only slightly better: Ten percent of African-Americans and 13 percent of whites indicated they were aware of the law.

A version of this article appeared in the January 28, 2004 edition of Education Week as Latino Optimism High On Children’s Schools, National Survey Finds

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