School Failures of Latino Students

I read with some prior awareness and great interest the article on "School Failure of Latino Students" (Dec. 13). The staggering statistics portend ill for cities such as Los Angeles and others with large Latino populations.

Having more than a casual working relationship with Latinos both in and outside the Los Angeles Unified School District, I have had an opportunity to discuss the issue at length with several who have first-hand familiarity with the problems that beset their group.

Though I did not get a real consensus, it seemed that I was hearing that educational interventions are not enough for most of these students who leave school at an early age. It is true that they need great emphasis on English and on success in school in small numbers. It is also very important that they receive the same level of expectation as their Anglo classmates. Low expectation frequently yields low performance.

Going beyond the problems addressed by the "national report" that was cited in the article, people felt that the economic issues loom large as reasons for school failure. Latino families tend to be on the bottom of the economic heap. High-school-age children frequently seek employment to help with the family budget. Many of these famililes are undocumented and do not qualify for public assistance to help them. The parents work at low-paying jobs undesired by the citizen population. The young students follow suit.

If a student is in school, the stress of attending school and working seems to be too great. The job, or the starting of a family at an early age, frequently wins out. Whether or not the student feels a sense of belonging at his local school becomes moot if he cannot acquire adequate clothing or if his entire family lives in a one-room apartment. We really have to look at social issues as well as academic ones to explain, and perhaps remedy, the school failure of these students.

Education to prevent early pregnancy is one possible solution, and perhaps either loans or scholarships to serious students at the high shcool level might be another. Even a government service work-study program might improve the performance and ultimate productivity of both citizen and undocumented Latino students. Features of such a program might include receiving a stipened while participating in intensive English and academic programs and rendering some service to local, regional or federal government. One has to look beyond the academic issues with a more holistic eye to note and remedy the school failure rates that we are currently experiencing.

CHARLENE J. KRELL Los Angeles The article in the Metro Section of the Los Angeles Times on Dec. 13, 1984, "School Failure and the Latino," brought back memories of the early '70s. It seems that very little has changed.

In the late '60s and early '70s the major issue confronting the Chicano-Mexicano community was the enormous percentage of dropouts ("push-outs") among Chicano-Mexicano students. The article mentions that the dropout rate among Mexican-Americans and Puerto Ricans is about 45%. An omitted fact was that among Chicanos-Mexicanos the "push-out" rate is closer to 70%.

Although I don't agree totally with Mr. Meza, who was mentioned in the article, I do agree that all the problems dealing with the education of the Chicano-Mexicano-Latino student have been limited to bilingual education. He supports his argument by stating that about one-third of Chicano-Mexicano youngsters enter school speaking English, and he also stated that what these students need is more English-language development.

As a friend would say, "how easy they forget." It was not long ago that Chicano-Mexicano students protested for more and better education for La Raza. In Los Angeles students boycotted classes in what were called the "blowouts" (1969-70). The demands were for more Chicano teachers, Chicano studies classes and bilingual, bicultural education. The issues went beyond bilingual clases or more English classes, they dealt with the problem of a people that has been relegated to second-class citizenship, a group of people who have been paid with neglect, abuse and political manipulation for their contributions.

The problem with education for the Chicano-Mexicano-Latino is based in part on his self-image, on what he feels about himself and on how he is seen by the rest of society. But this is nothing new, and the solutions that the Board of Education will offer will also not be new: They will create more English courses, more remedial classes and even, just maybe, a "new approach to bilingual education"; things will continue the same, and more Chicanos will continue to be educationally shortchanged. When will we learn?

JENARO G. AYALA La Raza Unida Youth Committee I live in the Belmont High School area; Belmont High is predominantly Hispanic. My two children who could attend Belmont High do not. This is why:

1--Belmont High has a year-round schedule. Students at Belmont attend school 163 days instead of 180 days at regular September-June schools. (The same number of minutes, I understand! But who wants his child to have over three weeks more vacation a year?)

2--Two-thirds of the students attend school during the hot days of summer. I am told that by next summer only half of the classrooms will be air-conditioned.

3--About 1,000 students are mandatorily bused out of overcrowded Belmont High because there is not room for them. (My neighborhood used to be under this mandatory busing program, and I can see that, with just one stroke of the pen, we could be so included again.)

4--If my three children attended the local schools, the third child would be on a schedule different from that of Belmont High. Instead of going for four months and then being off two (the Belmont High schedule), she would attend nine weeks, and be off for three. It seems to me that most of the time someone would be on vacation.

Because of the year-round schedule, the fewer school days, the chance of being mandatorily bused elsewhere at a moment's notice, and the chaos created by different schedules, I have chosen to send my children out of the neighborhood to magnet schools.

There are, however, difficulties when a child leaves the neighborhood. My older daughter leaves the house at 6:35 a.m. (she would have to leave at 6:20 a.m. if I didn't drive her); her bus returns her to her bus stop at 4:10 p.m., and she arrives home about 4:30 p.m. A 10-hour day is one problem. Another one is safety: The day before Thanksgiving, the friend she was with had her necklaces snatched from her neck. (There were just the two of them.) Parents who send their children to the local schools know that their children will be with a group; there is safety in numbers.

Is it the Latinos who are failing, or is it the schools that are failing?

Quite simply, we need more schools in Echo Park.

JOYCE JOHNSTONE Los Angeles It is unfortunate that the report issued by the Hispanic Policy Development Project ("School Failure Rate of Latinos Seen as Foreboding") does not focus on the merits of bilingual education, since this issue may be basic to solving the dropout problem among Latinos.

Millions of dollars have been spent on bilingual programs, yet there have been no longitudinal studies in the Los Angeles area to establish the validity of this approach. A 45% dropout rate at the high school level indicates that other programs, such as intensive English-language instruction, need to be considered as alternatives.

The report contends that Latino children need smaller classes and more personal attention. Ideally, all children could benefit from such conditions, but the numbers of Latino children enrolling in Los Angeles schools preclude this remedy. Many schools are now involved in year-around programs in an attempt to cope with overcrowding.

The report also characterizes the most successful schools for Latinos as those that require parents to become partners in teaching and learning. Again, this ideal is difficult to achieve. The schools do not have the power to make parents do anything but make sure their children attend school.

The staggering school failure rate among Latinos should make us look at what we are now doing and begin to make the necessary changes which will give students the skills they need to succeed.

MARJORY WOOLF Sherman Oaks One of the reasons that Latinos fail in school may be that it takes seven years to fully learn a mother tongue. Latino children born into Spanish-speaking homes, either in another country, or in the United States, never complete seven years in a mother tongue. They begin school at 5 or 6 years of age, maybe hearing English only in a classroom setting. At recess and at lunch, and when school closes for the day, they speak Spanish. They do not learn to think in English.

JOAN ARNDT North Hollywood

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