Beyond Words - Language Blog

Latino Children and the American Education System

For many immigrants with school-age children, parent-teacher conferences are a family affair. The student arrives with a slew of relatives in tow, all with varying degrees of English proficiency, and all working in tandem to fill out paperwork and make sure that the child knows where to catch the bus and how much to pay for lunch. Whereas the American child brings mom or dad, the children of immigrants often have one relative who translates, one who signs the paperwork, and yet another who drives everyone to and from the school.

While it is obvious that immigrants face many challenges in educating their children in America, the method for alleviating these challenges is less clear. Recently, a new study has been released by the Johns Hopkins University Center for Research and Reform, that offers new insights in the field of teaching non-native speakers of English. In this study, funded by the Institute of Education Sciences at the U.S. Department of Education, researchers examined the developmental progress of Hispanic kindergarten students in low-income neighborhoods. Children were assigned to either English immersion or bilingual classes and study results were drawn by the time the students entered the third grade. Researchers found that no significant difference could be found between the two groups — it was only the caliber of the education that impacted their reading, writing, and comprehension.

This information comes in light of a recent poll sponsored by the Nielsen Company and Stanford University, which found that just 20 percent of Spanish-speaking parents were able to communicate “extremely well” with their child’s school. Furthermore, fewer than half of the parents polled stated that it was easy for them to help with their child’s school. While American children feel comfortable asking their parents for help with their homework, only 57 percent of the Hispanic parents polled stated that their children came to them with questions. This disparity puts Hispanic students at a disadvantage compared with their English-speaking counterparts and, frequently, encourages them to abandon their native language and culture in favor of more readily assimilating. Some schools are combating this trend by providing dual-immersion courses to non-native and native English-speakers alike. Judging from the results of the recent Johns Hopkins study, this approach may be the most beneficial one, allowing students to retain their heritage while providing them with the necessary tools to succeed in American schools.