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Reports: Hispanic Students Most Ill-Served in U.S.


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

The vast majority of Latino high school students in this country are being shoved into huge, often dysfunctional schools. That conclusion today from the Pew Hispanic Center, which released three reports about the education of Latinos. In short, researchers conclude that low-income Latino students are the most segregated, ill-served group in the nation's public high schools. NPR's Claudio Sanchez has the story.


Eighty percent of the nation's two million Latino high school students live in seven states: California, Texas, Florida, New York, Arizona, Illinois and New Jersey. Here researchers with the Pew Hispanic Center have found that Latino students are far more likely than blacks or whites to attend extremely large, segregated high schools, that most kids in these huge Latino-majority schools are poor and that even those who graduate aren't prepared for college or work. Richard Fry wrote the report.

Mr. RICHARD FRY (Pew Hispanic Center): I think what's particularly startling is that high school size does matter, both in terms of staying in school and in terms in sort of the achievement gains.

SANCHEZ: Fry says the research clearly shows that the ideal size for a high school is between 600 and 900 students. Over half of Latino students in this country, though, attend schools that are at least three times larger.

(Soundbite of school activities)

Unidentified Woman #1: We've got a 10-7 in a locked art room.

Unidentified Woman #2: 10-4.

SANCHEZ: Schools like the one we visited this fall in Tucson, Arizona. Cholla High School is perched on the arid, high desert hills right outside the city. It's the kind of school the Pew study describes, big with lots of security guards and lots of Latino, mostly Mexican-American, students. Arizona is second only to California in the percentage of high schools that are majority minority like Cholla. This is not a dysfunctional school, but with record enrollments every year, students and teachers here are struggling, says Hector Ayala, a veteran English teacher.

Mr. HECTOR AYALA (English Teacher): And everybody's nervous. A lot of kids don't really want to be in the classroom, and these are the kids that carry all the problems that an inner-city school has been, you know, traditionally known for. They are about 50 percent Mexican, at least in this school. Our population is made up of about 50 percent Mexican-American kids.

SANCHEZ: The noise in the hallways is deafening. The foot traffic is like gridlock at rush hour. It consumes valuable time and energy. Ayala's first class, an AP honors English course, starts at 7:30 AM. Seven kids show up this morning. Ayala, a virulent opponent of bilingual education, is known as one of the toughest, most demanding teachers at Cholla with a soft spot for the arts.

Mr. AYALA: I'm becoming an anachronism and now, you know, recently the district has been running short of money. So they've begun to eliminate some programs and among them--well, primary among them was the arts program in many schools. They just don't have, you know, chorus. They don't have art. They don't have any of the artistic endeavors they used to have.

SANCHEZ: At Cholla High, the no-frills curriculum focuses on the basics because the challenges are so great, with many students arriving three to four years behind in reading and math. Even the best teachers here have trouble connecting with those who need the most help. Again, Richard Fry of the Pew Hispanic Center.

Mr. FRY: Students in large high schools--you get into several thousand students, it's a much more impersonalized environment that lessens the students' engagement in feeling that the institution cares.

SANCHEZ: Bottom line: We may know a lot about Latino students--the family's income, their parents' education level and whether they know English or not--but until we know more about how Latino majority schools are organized, how they're managed and what works for low-income Latino students, Fry says educators won't be able to serve them better. Claudio Sanchez, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.