California Demands Greater Attention To White, Hispanic Educational Divide

In California, Hispanics will surpass white Californians in population next year, but education standards remain quite poor for Hispanic students. About 52% of the state’s 6 million school children are Hispanic, while just 26% are white.

Hispanic students larger class sizes, fewer course offerings and lower funding, compared to white students. Only 33% of Hispanic students are proficient in reading in third grade, compared with 64% of white students. 1 in 4 Hispanic 10th graders in California fail to pass the high school math exit exam, compared with 1 out of 10 white students, writes Martha Mendoza of Associated Press.

Overall, test scores across the state have increased in the past decade, but the achievement gap remains unchanged. Nationally, an achievement gap is also showing up as Latino enrollment has increased from one out of 20 U.S. students in 1970 to nearly one out of four, and white students account for just 52% of U.S. first graders.

‘‘We’re falling behind,’’ said Antioch University Los Angeles provost Luis Pedraja. ‘‘Ultimately we will face a crisis where a majority of the U.S. population will be economically disadvantaged, which will reduce their spending power and contribution to taxes and Social Security, impacting all segments of society and our country’s economic health.’’

One factor in the divide is that many Hispanic students are children of Mexican immigrants who did not complete high school and who cannot provide the academic and social support and advocacy of their white counterparts. California’s tax system allows communities to increase local taxes for their schools. As a result, wealthier communities have wealthier schools.

Jackie Medina is a 4th and 5th grade teacher who has been teaching for nine years in Watsonville. Medina said test scores may not reflect actual achievement if they are testing native Spanish speakers in English. Medina is teaching about topics like immigration in her classroom so students get relevant curriculum that relates to them, in both English and Spanish.

Gov. Jerry Brown hopes to flip what he calls ‘‘a funding system that is overly complex, bureaucratically driven and deeply inequitable’’ with a budget change phased in over several years that will funnel more money to low income and non-English students.

In California, parents are allowed to vote to take over a failing school. On July 29th, Desert Trails Preparatory Academy in Adelanto was reopened as the first public school in the nation to be taken over by parents.

Alan A. Aja, who teaches Latino studies at Brooklyn College, said that there should be an equal education system for both Latinos and whites. Aja said that black and Latino students are disproportionally taught easier material than white or Asian kids.

‘‘No one wants to see themselves as racist,’’ Aja said, ‘‘but educators have this ingrained belief that black and Latino kids are cognitively inferior and they lower expectations. It’s racialized tracking. So if they assume these kids are going to underachieve, if they assume they don’t have capacity to tackle hard topics, well, no wonder there’s an achievement gap.’’