Original URL: http://www.arizonarepublic.com/opinions/articles/1031pimentel31.html

Latinos pay price when schools flunk

By O. RicardoPimentel, columnist
The Arizona Republic
Oct. 31, 2002

Excluding those in charter schools, about 55 percent of Valley Latino students are in districts in which a quarter or more of the schools are underperforming.

By contrast, roughly 90 percent of Valley White students are in the remaining districts, many of which reported no underperforming schools.

We can look at other data - where English-language learners are concentrated and at data that indicates levels of poverty or low income, for instance - but the school rankings recently released by the state point to the obvious.

For whatever reason, Arizona is failing its Latino students.

Yup. I will get plenty of predictable responses. Latinos are at fault. It's the culture. It's the English, stupid. Parents don't care. Latinos are disproportionately poor. Their parents didn't go to school. What about personal responsibility? The
state is doing something.

But the proportion of Latinos attending struggling schools points to the same thing: Excuses and looking for reasons not to change what we're doing to suit existing circumstances.

Oh, yeah. We have changed. We have high-stakes testing and school "accountability." In other words, flog the students and the schools until they get better.

Underperforming schools have to come up with school improvement plans and, if they don't improve, face a state takeover.

Hmmm. This is a state that shortchanged the schools in the first place, has a Legislature that is to public policy what slapstick is to comedy and has parlayed years of budget surpluses into coming years of budget defici ts. (All under
Republican auspices, by the way. Not that there is an election coming up or anything.)

Why would we trust the state to do any better?

In case you missed it, two weeks ago the state released its list of schools deemed underperforming, maintaining, improving and excelling.

My own analysis: Not including charter schools, 54.5 percent of all Latinos were in those districts with a quarter or more of their schools underperforming. But only 9.16 percent of the state's White students attend those schools.

About 70 percent of the students in those 19 underperforming school districts were in the free- and reduced-lunch program, an indicator of poverty. Contrast that with the school districts that had schools generally listed as maintaining or
improving - 37.8 percent of the students were in the same program.

Averages can be misleading, however. While there were some districts with relatively few students in the free- and reduced-lunch program, most in this struggling group of districts were in the 60 percent-plus range, with a significant
number in the 90 percent range, according to data from the 2001-2002 school year. Not much has likely changed this year.

On the other hand, most of the districts with schools generally maintaining or improving had relatively low numbers of students in the free- and reduced-lunch program, with an average skewed upward because of a few districts with
relatively high numbers.

An average of 40 percent of the students in the underperforming districts were English-language learners in the fiscal year that ended last July. Compare that, however, with 14.1 percent for the maintaining and improving districts.

OK, you're saying, no surprise here. Poor students traditionally do poorly in schools. And Latinos are disproportionately low income, and there are many immigrants among them.

There is, in fact, virtually nothing at all new in this data. It's just that the state has provided a means to quantify the obvious and, now, underperforming schools have to tell us how they'll get better.

Here's a notion: Maybe a big part of the reason schools underperform is because the state has.

Yes, there are exceptions. A few school districts with many low-income minority students are doing relatively well. Most in this category are not, however. And I'm betting that the few doing well aren't that way because they had guns to their

We should all demand that the state also tell us how it is going to get better. This state plan should include all those things now denied to the schools, despite some well-intentioned recent efforts to set things right. The schools need well-paid
teachers, smaller class sizes, more credentialed teachers, more individualized attention generally, expanded preschool opportunities, all-day kindergarten, funding that gets us out of the cellar of national rankings and the flexibility to tailor
public education to shifting needs without having to become charter schools. In other words, money, resources and innovation.

Underperforming schools are really just a symptom. Unfortunately, Latinos specifically and minorities generally are the first to suffer from these symptoms. In the long term, we all will.

Reach Pimentel at ricardo.pimentel@arizonarepublic.com or (602) 444-8210. His column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.


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