H.S. Hispanics’ Formula for Success: The Bottom Line Can Be Found Online

Like it or not, we are living in an increasingly virtual world – especially when it comes to education practices both on the K-12 and college levels. While Hispanics have improved in numbers when it comes to Internet use, according to a Pew Center report, Latinos Online: Narrowing the Gap, the word “gap” in the title tells the story. Hispanics still lag behind Whites in Internet use by more than 10 percent. There is some evidence to suggest, Pew notes, that the gap is in part related to English-language proficiency.

Latino Internet Use, by Language Proficiency, 2008 (%)

Source: Pew Hispanic Center Surveys

According to the report by Gretchen Livingston, senior researcher, Kim Parker, senior researcher, Pew Social & Demographic Trends Project, and Susannah Fox, associate director, Pew Internet & American Life Project, Internet use among Latino adults jumped 10 percent, from 54 percent to 64 percent, from 2006 to 2008. This increase was more than double the progress made by Whites (4 percent) and five times that of African-Americans (2 percent ) in the same time period. The gap between Hispanics and Whites in Internet use remains, but this dramatic increase in Internet use by Latinos has reduced the gap to 13 percent.
As the report summary states, “While U.S.-born Latinos experienced a 2 percentage point increase in Internet use from 75 percent in 2006 to 77 percent in 2008, foreign-born Latinos experienced a 12 percentage point increase during the same period, from 40 percent to 52 percent. In 2006, 31 percent of Latinos lacking a high school degree reported ever going online; in 2008, this number was 41 percent. In comparison, Latinos with higher levels of education experienced 3 to 4 percentage point increases in Internet use.”
Hispanic students have to overcome more obstacles than their White counterparts when it comes to accessing the Internet. Home access to high speed Internet is a financial consideration for low income and minority households. The Pew report also shows that the falling prices of high-speed access offered through cable companies, phone companies and satellite operators have reduced that obstacle. The affordability of Internet access has translated into low-income Hispanic households showing the greatest increase in Internet use by Hispanics, more than higher-income Hispanic households. The report states, “Internet use among Latinos residing in households with annual income less than $30,000 increased 17 percentage points from 2006 to 2008. For Latinos in households earning $30,000 to $49,999 annually, Internet use increased 2 percentage points, and for Latinos in households earning $50,000 or more annually, there was no change in Internet use.”

Data points: High School Student Involvement in Online Learning

The survey asked: "In the past 12 months, how have you been involved in classes taught online?" Results here represent responses from students in grades 9 through 12. Source: Project Tomorrow, "2009 Speak Up Survey," March 2010

Beyond available technology, English-reading ability is still the gold standard in accessing the widest range and amount of education material avail-able for American students on the Internet. As such, Hispanics who are skilled in English-reading had the highest percentage of Internet use (81 percent). By comparison, 63 percent of Hispanics who professed to read English “pretty well” were online and 52 percent of Latinos who said they didn’t “read English well” used the Internet. Only 24 percent of Latinos who couldn’t read English were online users. According to Pew, how well or poorly Hispanics read Spanish was not relevant to their Internet use. The difference between those Hispanics who read Spanish very well or pretty well and those who did not read Spanish and used the Internet was only 3 percent or 4 percent.
As expected, younger Hispanics were more inclined to go online than older Hispanics. Of those ages 18 to 34, more than three-fourths were Internet users. That compares to the 65 percent of Hispanics 35 to 49 who fell into that category, 53 percent of Latinos 50 to 64, and 25 percent of older Hispanics 65 and older.
The connection between education and Internet use was evident in Pew’s research figures for 2008 showing that 74 percent of Hispanics with a high school degree were online users, compared to 41 percent of Hispanics with-out one and 93 percent of Hispanic college graduates. With education also came a greater likelihood of a home having a home Internet connection. According to Pew, “Among Internet users, 64 percent of Latinos lacking a high school degree had a home Internet connection in 2008, as compared with 84 percent of Latino high school graduates, and 94 percent of Latino college graduates.”
The education community is taking careful note of the use of home Internet connections of school-age children, seeing it as a tool it can use to create a seamless learning environment from the classroom to the home. Project Tomorrow is a national education nonprofit group based in Irvine, Calif. In its report, Learning in the 21st Century: 2010 Trends Update, Project Tomorrow examined just how widespread online learning has become.
The report summarizes its findings this way: “As the use of computing and networking technologies in schools grows, educators increasingly incorporate online tools and resources into their curricula – some even replace traditional classroom interactions with ‘virtual’ courses that take place entirely online. At the same time, administrators are concerned with helping students develop 21st-century skills while bridging the digital divide between students and adults. Today’s students are ready now to seize and shape the future by leveraging technology tools to implement their personalized vision for 21st-century education. Online learning is at the heart of this momentum as it satisfies the three essential elements of this new student vision: learning that is socially based, untethered and digitally-rich.”
The trend statistics in their report are worth considering. The number of high school students who are taking online classes for school credit has almost doubled from 2008 to 2009. In 2008, 14 percent of high school stu-dents reported taking an online course. In 2009, 27 percent. The increase in demand for online courses has not, however, produced more teachers up to the task of online instruction. There are three times more teachers teaching online classes as there were in 2008, but 26 percent of school administrators felt that these teachers needed more guidance and training to implement an online class more effectively. The pessimism stems, in part, from what aspiring teachers are conveying. Only 4 percent say that they are learning how to teach online courses as part of their instructional methods courses.
According to Project Tomorrow’s report, “Online learning within K-12 education is increasing access and equity by making high-quality courses and highly qualified teachers available to students. Online learning programs offer courses, academic credits and support toward a diploma. They vary in structure, and may be managed by a state, district, university, charter school, not-for-profit, for-profit, or other institution. Thirty states and more than half of the school districts in the United States offer online courses and services, and online learning is growing rapidly, at 30 percent annually. This growth is meeting demand among students, as more than 40 percent of high school and middle school students have expressed interest in taking an online course.”
With all its positive projections, Project Tomorrow also has some sobering reminders of the limitations of a new world economy. The report notes that 25 percent of students who haven’t taken advantage of online courses com-plain that classes weren’t available to them. Indeed, a lack of adequate state funding was cited by 35 percent of school administrators and 40 percent of district administrators as the reason why more online classes were not being offered to students. And where students had to pay for online classes, 16 per-cent of those who weren’t online explained that taking a course was too cost prohibitive for them. Still, there is a strong desire to take online classes. According to Project Tomorrow, 38 percent of high school students who haven’t taken online courses in the past year are interested in doing so in the future. So, the desire is there. It remains to be seen if the funding, direction and will are sufficient to make it happen.

Theory into practice

The International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) association based in the Washington, D.C., area with more than 3,200 members. The members represent a diverse cross-section of K-12 education from school districts, charter schools, state education agencies, nonprofit organizations, research institutions, corporate entities and other content and technology providers. An association of this type is further evidence of the burgeoning online education community that has developed over the past few years. Consider these fast facts offered by iNACOL. K-12 online learning is an estimated $507 million market that is growing at an estimated pace of 30 percent annually. Supplemental or full-time online learning opportunities are available in 48 of the 50 states plus Washington, D.C. Twenty-seven states and Washington, D.C., have statewide full-time online schools, and 38 states have state virtual schools or state-led online initiatives.
The rush is on for educators to create standards to harness the potential and success of online learning. iNACOL is an association that has created a suggested guideline of National Standards for Quality of Online Courses. It is just one of the many guidelines that have been offered or will be offered by academics and education associations. Here’s a representation of what iNACOL suggests for schools “blending” online learning with traditional brick-and-mortar classroom education:

Create clear course content.

Students not only need to know what they will have to do to complete the course requirements, they also should know what they can expect to learn and be able to accomplish by the time the course concludes. The content of the course must also comply with state content standards where applicable. For courses not covered by state standards, other national standards should be consulted, such as those of Advanced Placement, computer science, or technology courses. It is also important to make sure that course content does not violate any copyright standards. This is sometimes a trap those who offer online courses can fall into if the line is crossed between information “aggregation” and copyright infringement. Online “publishing” is still publishing and protected by the same laws as printed works.

Lay out a comprehensive instructional blueprint.

Once content goals are clearly defined, the next step is to design an outline and overview that encourages the kind of independent study that is the hallmark of successful online learning. Begin with a complete overview of the course, describing the objectives and activities of the course as well as the resources required to complete it (i.e, books, videos, access to labs, etc.). Most importantly, the blueprint must contain detailed individual lesson instruction and assignments in a calendar form.

Don’t skimp on technology.

Design the blueprint for the course with as much technical flexibility as possible. Resist rigid “grid systems” that restrict instructors from giving any-thing but cookie-cutter comments on assignments or activities. The software and hardware running an online education community should allow for design changes and upgrades as technology and/or student and instructor needs change and evolve.

Don’t keep students in the dark.

High school students entering the world of online academics – especially minority or low-income students who might be new to the Internet – need consistent feedback. This feedback is not only essential in the area of grading and accessing mastery of subject matter, it is also critical to the transitioning of students used to traditional classroom setting to virtual reality. Part of the feedback is preemptive. It should include tips and strategies for students to achieve the highest possible course success. It is also important for students to be able to access their progress or lack of progress in the course work on demand.

Refine and retool as needed.

One of the wonderful things about online learning is its flexibility. Nothing is carved in stone. Courses can be retooled and changed regularly without the time and effort that it takes to revamp a brick-and-mortar classroom-taught course. Changes to text do not require republishing. Materials used online are always fresh and never dated as printed textbooks can be. But this aspect of online learning is only an asset if the courses offered are peer reviewed and welcome student evaluations on a regular basis so that changes and updates can be made.

Stay on the cutting edge.

Online courses are not the place for 20th-century content or learning and thinking skills. Online courses should emphasize the 21st-century skills of this brave new virtual world. These skills include an emphasis on independent, self-directed learning and global awareness.

Bridging the High School and College Achievement Gap for Hispanics – It All Begins at Home

According to the Pew Hispanic Center’s study Between Two Worlds: How Young Latinos Come of Age in America, Educational Expectations and Attainment (surveying Hispanics 16 years old and older), the high school dropout rate among Latino youths (17 percent) is nearly three times as high as it is among White youths (6 percent) and nearly double the rate among Blacks (9 percent). Nearly all Latino youths (89 percent) – Pew indicates that the term “youths” refers to 16- to 25-year-olds – and older adults (88 percent) agree with the statement that a college degree is important for getting ahead in life. However, just under half of Latinos ages 18 to 25 say they plan to get a college degree. The headline to explain this disconnect is that nearly 75 percent of young Hispanics (age 16 to 25) cite a lack of money as a major impediment to choosing to complete higher school or pursue higher education. But looking behind the headline tells another story. As in most instances, the devil is in the details. The same study notes that about half the respondents cite poor English skills.

If language is a barrier to academic achievement for today’s high school student, the question that has to be asked is why and how schools can remove this obstacle to closing the achievement gap between Hispanic and White students. This Pew study examines how parental influence impacts student behavior and academic achievement in the Hispanic home. The inescapable inference to explain why 50 percent of Hispanics cite “poor English skills” as a deterrent to finishing high school or going on to college could be a lack of immersion and practice. And it starts in the home.
According to Pew, “The way today’s young Latinos choose to describe themselves is linked to a series of identity and cultural signals they received from their parents. Young Latinos are more likely than older Latinos to say their parents socialized them more with a Hispanic focus than an American focus. Six in 10 (60 percent) of young Latinos say their parents often encouraged them to speak Spanish, and less than half (47 percent) of older Latinos say that. At the same time, just 22 percent of young Latinos say their parents often encouraged them to speak only English, and more than a third (34 per-cent) of older Latinos say the same.
These differences in parental encouragement of language use persist even when controlling for immigrant status. Young native-born Latinos are more likely than older native-born Latinos to have been encouraged often by their parents to speak Spanish – 51 percent vs. 40 percent. Among the foreign born, more than eight in 10 (84 percent) of young immigrant Latinos say their parents often encouraged them to speak Spanish, and only about seven in 10 (69 per-cent) of older immigrant Latinos say the same.
The survey also finds that “today’s older Latinos report being raised by their parents with a stronger sense of pride in being American than today’s younger Latinos report receiving from their parents. Nearly four in 10 (39 percent) Latinos ages 26 and older say their parents talked often about their pride in being American; fewer than three in 10 (29 percent) young Latinos (ages 16 to 25) say the same.”
But limited English does nothing to quell the desire for education or diminish its importance. According to the 2009 National Survey of Latinos, a whopping 97 percent of young Hispanics who are Spanish-language dominant rate a college education as important compared to 89 percent and 83 percent of bilingual and English-language youths. And while many of their parents encourage them to speak Spanish at home, these same parents view college as very important for their children’s success. More than three-quarters (77 percent) of Hispanic youths surveyed said that their parents believe going to college is the most important thing for them to do after they complete high school. That contrasts with just 11 percent of their parents who believe the most important thing for them to do after high school is to get a full-time job.

But that’s where the numbers break down. Hispanic high school students and their families might value a college education, but Hispanic youths tend to set the bar lower for themselves, personally. Just 48 percent say they expect to get a college degree or more, compared with 60 percent of the overall U.S. population of non-Hispanic youths.
Here again, there is a significant gap that appears between Hispanic youths who are Spanish-language dominant and those who are bilingual or Hispanic English-language dominant. About one-quarter (24 percent) of Hispanic Spanish-dominant youths say they plan to earn a bachelor’s degree or higher while about half (49 percent) of bilingual Hispanic youths and more than six in 10 (62 percent) of Hispanic English-dominant youths share that ambition. Similarly, more than four in 10 (41 percent) of Hispanic Spanish-dominant youths say they have no further plans to continue in school after high school while 20 percent of bilingual Hispanic youths and 13 percent of Hispanic English-dominant youths feel the same way.
While nearly 75 percent of all Hispanic youth survey respondents who dropped out of the education system during or immediately upon graduation from high school report they did so because they had to pitch in financially to support their family, the other reasons cited include poor English skills (about 50 percent) and “a dislike of school and a feeling that they don’t need more education for the careers they want” (each cited by about 40 percent of Hispanic youth respondents). The survey explains, “In 2007, 29 percent of all immigrant female Hispanics ages 16 to 25 were mothers, compared with 17 percent of native-born female Hispanics and 12 percent of White females. In addition, nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of all immigrant Hispanics ages 18 to 25 say they send remittances to family members in their country of origin ... and just 21 percent of their U.S.-born counterparts.”
Hispanics 16 to 24 and 25 and older have differing opinions about why the rate of Hispanic academic success does not measure up favorably in some categories to that of their non-Hispanic colleagues. Older Hispanics tend to lay the blame at the feet of the parents, poor English skills and the students themselves. Interestingly enough, older Hispanics don’t take teachers or schools as much to task for poor performance and a lack of follow through on education goals such as finishing high school or going on to further education. Overall, 38 percent of respondents think Hispanic students don’t work as hard as their fellow non-Hispanic students and see this as the major cause of the achievement gap between Hispanic and non-Hispanic students.
Parents take a major hit from older Hispanics in this regard. Of Hispanics polled who were 26 years and up, 61 percent gave parents a failing grade when it came to playing an active role in the academic success of their children. They cite that as the major reason for the lackluster academic performance of Hispanics in high school and in college.
When the survey isolated the Hispanic youth response to this, less than half of those polled (47 percent) agreed with their older counter-parts. Some vehemently defend their parents. As
one 21-year-old Hispanic male put it, “Our parents are exhausted every time they come home. They don’t have time to be ‘oh you need help with your homework?’” Another 15-year-old Hispanic student points out how the economic times of crisis complicate the issue. “Parents expect so much and it gets ... overwhelming. You have to support your family and take care of your brothers and sisters. ... some people gotta grow up, and basically never really have a childhood.”
Older Hispanics see English-language skills as more critical than the Hispanic youth do. Nearly 60 percent of Hispanics over 26 say the limited English skills of Hispanic students is a major reason for their education achievement gap, but just 43 per-cent of Hispanic youths agree. As the survey points out, “Older Latinos are also more likely than young Latinos to say Hispanic students not working as hard as other students is a major reason that Hispanics students are not doing as well in school as other students – 41 percent versus 31 percent. Immigrant young Latinos are about as likely as adult Latinos to blame parents, the English skills of Hispanic students, and student themselves for the poor academic performance of Hispanic students.

For example, 62 percent of immigrant youths say parents of Hispanics students are a major reason that Hispanic students do not do as well in school as others, similar to the share (61 percent) of older Latinos who say the same.”
And it has become a generational divide for Hispanics. According to the survey, “Foreign-born young Latinos are more likely than second- or third-generation young Latinos to identify parents, the English skills of Hispanic students, teachers, and Hispanics students themselves for the poor performance of Hispanics students relative to other groups. More than half (51 percent) of immigrant young Latinos say that Hispanic students not working as hard as others is a major reason that Hispanic students do not do as well in school as others. This is more than twice the share (22 per-cent) of second-generation young Latinos, and nearly five times the share (11 percent) of third-generation young Latinos who say the same.”
One thing that everyone can agree on is that parental involvement is an important tool for narrowing the achievement gap for high school Hispanics. It might, in fact, be the best tool we have.

Theory into Practice

When it comes to encouraging more Hispanics to finish high school and attend some form of higher education, it’s all hands on deck. The stakes are too high to allow the education gap between the White population and Latino population to continue or grow. It will take, however, a concerted effort to establish an education partnership with Hispanic parents to reverse course. Here are tools recommended in a Tomás Rivera Policy Institute (TRPI) report, Understanding Latino Parental Involvement in Education: Perceptions, Expectations and Recommendations by María Estela Zarate, Ph.D., assistant professor, University of California-Irvine, for policymakers, schools and teachers, whom it says can make a difference.

TRPI’s Recommendations for Policymakers and Schools:

  • On a state level and federal level there should be a way to measure the involvement of parents in school matters surrounding their children, and that involvement should be quantified and made public.
  • There needs to be a commitment, through legislation if necessary, by local businesses and employers to allow parents and guardians to be available for reasonable school activities such as conferences, open houses and parent-teacher meetings.
  • While a greater effort has been made over the years to make sure vital information is provided in Spanish as well as English to students and their parents, there is no substitute for greater Spanish-language fluency among the staff and administration of schools to give parents a greater comfort level in academic settings. More active recruitment of Spanish-speaking staff is needed, according to this report.
  • Some part of local, state or federal education funding should be devoted to developing English literacy, language and computer skills of parents who only speak Spanish in the home. In this era of underfunding and budget cuts, this is a hard sell but would pay great dividends if it results in higher Hispanic achievement in schools.
  • Just as schools develop curricula and lesson plans, they need to come up with goals for increasing parental involvement for all students, particularly Hispanics. These goals should be delineated and made public, along with providing objective means to measure the success or failure of the plan to reach those goals.
  • There should be a heightened sensitivity in scheduling school events and activities that would benefit parents and parents’ participation in schools so that they are planned for days and times most convenient for working parents. Teachers and staff should be in some way recognized for extra efforts in this regard. As the report stated, “Flexible meeting times place demands on teachers and counselors and need to be recognized in the distribution of class or student load.”
  • Parents need their own space in their children’s school. A classroom, an office, a conference room can be converted to become a welcoming place for parents to assemble. It can be used for parent get-togethers, English classes and naturalization workshops, for example. It should be available some evenings and weekends.
  • Schools should be in touch with parents for positive as well as negative developments in their children’s academic development. When a note goes home or the phone rings, a parent should not feel it’s a foregone conclusion that their child is in trouble. Good news encourages parental involvement.