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Help for Part-time Students Among Recommendations Urged To Improve Latino Educational Attainment

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Warning of an education crisis for the nation’s burgeoning Latino population, academic researchers and advocates came to Capitol Hill Friday, calling for quick action to avert that crisis.

Sarita Brown, president of Excelencia in Education, a nonprofit working to accelerate Latino success in higher education.

Dr. Patricia Gándara, a University of California, Los Angeles, education professor and author of the new book The Latino Education Crisis: The Consequences of Failed Social Policies, told a crowd in a Senate conference room that her objective “was to try to make clear how terribly urgent this is.”

At the conference sponsored by the American Youth Policy Forum, Gándara presented dire statistics: While Blacks and Whites have shown significant progress in college graduation rates over the past 30 years, the rates of Latinos have barely changed at all. The percentage of 25- to 29-year-old Latinos with bachelor’s degrees or higher rose to a mere 11 percent in 2005 as compared to 9 percent in 1975. The number for Blacks rose from 11 to 18 percent; for Whites, it was 24 to 34 percent over the same three decades.

Gándara said a solution is essential because Latinos, as the largest minority and the fastest-growing ethnic group in the nation, will make up one-fourth of the nation’s students by 2025.

Sarita Brown, president of Excelencia in Education, a nonprofit group that works to accelerate Latino success in higher education, agreed: “It is the future workforce and leadership.”

Brown said Latinos are widely viewed as undocumented immigrants who cannot speak English and drop out of high school but stressed that most Latino students do not fit the stereotypes.

Most, she said, are U.S.-born, English-dominant U.S. citizens and high school graduates. The problem, she said, is that they approach college in nontraditional ways and that public policies have not kept up with them.

“They are first-generation college-goers who enroll part-time and attend community colleges. They enroll at colleges close to where they live, work off-campus … and they do not complete college in the traditional path,” Brown said. “Many of them (take) six, seven, eight, 10 years.”

Brown said education officials need to stop treating part-time students as an exception. Increasing financial aid to Latino students is another important step, Gándara said, noting that 37 percent of Latino youth live in poverty.

But the advocates said that the education crisis must be tackled far earlier – by providing financial help enabling more Latino families to afford pre-school for their children.

Alejandra Ceja, a senior budget and appropriations analyst for the House Education and Labor Committee, said some help should be on the way with the recently passed federal stimulus bill. It includes $105 billion for education and training – and $2.1 billion for Head Start and Early Head Start programs for low-income infants to preschoolers.

Ceja said there should be more efforts to get Latino parents involved in children’s education: “My parents would send my older sister to school because they were intimidated because they didn’t speak the language.”

Gándara said such programs are essential because 40 percent of Latino parents have not finished high school themselves and need help navigating the educational system for their children. She said Latino students need more access to drop-out prevention and college access programs.

“What do we know is the best predictor of how you’ll do in school? It’s your mother’s education,” Gándara said.

Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, said the group will release a report this summer on English Language Learners programs. Its findings, he said, will compare programs that have shown exceptional academic gains with those that do not.

He said the successful programs have strong leaders at the senior level of the school district where “someone has taken responsibility” for seeing academic gains from ELL programs. Also crucial, he said, was using data to drive the ELL teaching process, well-qualified teachers and integrating the program with the rest of the school programs.

“We’ve been stunned at how isolated many of the language

programs are” at the lower-performing schools, he said.

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