Southeast Unprepared to Teach Hispanics
The Associated Press Baltimore Sun
December 10, 2004

By Associated Press Writer KRISTEN WYATT

ATLANTA -- The Southeast has the nation's fastest-growing Hispanic population but is perhaps the region least prepared to teach public school students who don't know English, a new study shows.

Educators in the South are unprepared to teach immigrants, and in many cases discriminate against non-English speakers, according to the study conducted by the University of Southern California. The result is lower test scores and higher dropout rates for Latino children.

"Some teachers just put them in the back of the room and teach their regular lessons because they don't know how to include immigrant students," researcher Andrew Wainer said Thursday.

Wainer and his colleagues interviewed 119 parents and educators in Georgia, Arkansas and North Carolina, the states that had nine of the 10 fastest-growing counties for Hispanic populations in the 1990s.

The study concluded that while many teachers have good intentions for helping Spanish-speaking students, the overall inclusion of Hispanic students is "deeply flawed" in the South. It recommended far more training for regular classroom teachers, not just second-language specialists.

At Georgia's Gainesville Elementary School, which has hundreds of Spanish-speaking children, Principal Shawn McCullough said some educators think their duty to include Hispanic students stops with a sombrero in the front office or "taco Tuesdays in the cafeteria."

"You can talk all day about how important it is to teach second-language learners. But until there's a fundamental commitment for success for our kids, that's never going to happen," he said at a news conference to announce the study results.

Latino students have far higher dropout rates than their black or non-Hispanic white peers. In the 1990s, that national Latino dropout rate was about 30 percent, compared with about 10 percent to 15 percent for the overall population. Among adults, Hispanics were the most likely to have left school before ninth grade, according to U.S. Census surveys.

Other problems noted by the study: parents who don't get involved in schools because they don't know English, and perhaps had little formal education themselves; and the barring of undocumented immigrants from competing for scholarships or even getting in-state tuition, making college prohibitively expensive.

The report also cited some examples of innovative ways being used in the South to include Spanish-speaking students and help them succeed in an English-speaking school.

In North Carolina, for example, teachers tried an experiment to teach tolerance to their American students. For one day, all signs in a classroom were written in Spanish, and teacher was brought in who spoke only Spanish. The Spanish-speaking students were the only ones able to answer questions and follow the lesson, teaching their white peers that the immigrants are not stupid.

"Of course the Spanish-speaking students were raising their hands, answering all the questions. It was sort of the reverse of usual," Wainer said.

Copyright (c) 2004, The Associated Press

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