High School Latino Students in the United States
In the United States, the educational achievement of the Hispanic youth is among the lowest of all ethnic groups in terms of high school completion rates and income in the higher education. In the United States, getting a high school certificate is considered as having completed the basic education. Hispanic students have the highest dropout rates during the four years of high school. Migrant adolescents are a group particularly prone to leave school. In October 2006, the percentage of school dropouts was 7% for Hispanics, 3.8% for blacks and 2.9% for whites (Laird, Forrest, KewalRamani, & Chapman, 2008). In contrast, the high school dropout rate for Latinos born outside the United States in 2000 was 43% (Fashola, Slavin, Claderón, & Durán, 2001), suggesting that for various reasons, a high percentage of recent immigrants left the system before getting a certificate of high school.
The term status completion rate indicates the percentage of individuals in the population with a high school degree or its equivalent in a certain age range. These data facilitate the study population as a whole, in contrast to the school-age population. For example, in 2002, 67.3% of Hispanics aged 18 to 24 years enrolled in a school did not have a high school certificate, compared with 84.7% of blacks and 91.8% of whites (Laird et al., 2008). It is essential to emphasize that in the same year, the proportion of Hispanic women with high school certificates was greater than that of men, 67.7% and 56% respectively (Laird et al., 2008). The results of the Latinos in the status completion rate data are not surprising, since the figure includes young people, who migrated to work and had never entered a U.S. school, as well as had not completed high school or the equivalent in their country of origin.
An initial element may explain that the poor educational attainment of Latino families in the United States relates to what is considered as the basic education. Latinos, who have migrated, have lower levels of education than the Latino population that does not migrate. Guadalupe Valdés (1996) explains that Latino families in the United States measure their children’s educational achievements by comparing with what they had studied in their hometowns. In Mexico, for example, the basic education is a completed high school at 14 years or so. In the U.S., the basic education is completed four years of high school, graduating at approximately 17 years old. Some Latino families believe their children have completed their basic study to finish middle school, which many parents equate to high school in Mexico and that usually means more years of studying what they themselves studied (Valdés, 1996).
Several studies have explained the low achievement of Latino students, depending on their arrival age and socioeconomic status of immigrant families. Institutional factors are related to the lack of teachers trained to teach English, and content and structures of the education in the middle and upper levels prevent Latino students from achieving an adequate preparation for the higher education. The history of Latino student’s education explains the impact of the legal rulings of the past four decades. The previous research focused on understanding the relationship of migrant families with schools and educational practices review of “success” with Latino students, that is, studies of “best practices”.
According to a study by the Public Policy Institute of California, children who migrate at an early age (before 10 years) are more likely to succeed in school and achieve levels close to Latinos born in the United States (Hill, 2004). One reason is that the arrival of younger children, who benefit from programs in primary schools, focused on Hispanic families, and also study English at an early age, which facilitates learning. In contrast, it is more difficult to influence the academic achievement of students, who are inserted into the U.S. education system at an older age.
The family’s socioeconomic status affects the educational attainment of children. It has been found that there is a causal effect between the parental socioeconomic status and educational attainment of children. Education costs can average $35 per child for school supplies and books in families, where the household head has not completed high school, but the costs amount to $85, where the head of the household has a university degree and provides more materials like computers, access to the Internet and variety of books (Harvey and Anderson, 2005). Another explanation of differences in the educational attainment is psychological costs and costs due to the lack of information. Psychological costs are explained by the frustration and time needed to learn new material, which increases for young Latinos, who do not master English or understand the educational system. These authors explain that low-income families lack the accurate information about the benefits of further study and the disadvantages of having low levels of education. Students, who choose not to continue studying, may think that the future benefits are few and that the value of a high school diploma is not worth the frustrations at school.
Many high school programs are inappropriate for learning English, because they do not adequately integrate the content. Students need to focus on learning English, deferring crucial time for learning other material. A study on the education of Latinos in the southeastern United States indicated that the lack of teachers trained in teaching English as a second language is the most prominent problem. Likewise, it pointed to the lack of support staff in administrative offices, who could communicate with students and their families, and the lack of recognition among teachers that learning English is difficult and cannot be instantly achieved.
There are several institutional or structural barriers for Latinos in their access to the higher education. Young Latinos newcomers to middle schools and high school in the United States have little knowledge of the impact of school decisions and how they can influence a subsequent opportunity to study at a university such as bringing advanced courses, making certain tests and improving technology skills. In the high schools, counselors control the information about requirements for college entrance, exams and deadlines, as well as the possibilities of loans and grants, and determine who needs and receives the information. A study in the state of Georgia with teachers and administrators found that none of the participants knew about the Goizueta Foundation, which provides scholarships for Latino immigrants, including undocumented students (Harvey and Anderson, 2005). A study in California showed that there are structural barriers that the Latino youth develop supportive relationships with teachers and counselors to seek help (Stanton-Salazar, 2001), which increases their isolation in schools.
Similarly, there is a lack of the social capital, because parents do not have the information, resources and cultural capital of the middle class to empower their children and assure social mobility options. A recurring theme is that young people do not feel they belong to the school, and this affects their motivation. Some Latinos have overcome difficult obstacles in their desire for the personal development through the education. Gándara (1995) studied the cases of 50 men and women from poor families Latino, who ended or became lawyers or doctors. A part of their success was because they could take advanced classes (several times, by mistake of the education bureaucracy) and participated in special programs designed to recruit and support minority students for them to enter college. Few Latino students failed when graduating as doctor or lawyer. In contrast, the vast majority of young migrants are living what is known as the “Big Lie”, a daily practice of teachers to push their students to continue studying in college, but which is impossible for a large part of young people, especially the undocumented ones. Interviews with youth in the state of Alabama confirmed this practice, because their teachers told them to go to college and informed them where they could study, regardless of the obstacles or native language of many.
By contrast, explaining the Hispanic educational failures limits assumptions of a motivational or cognitive character or for reasons of genetics, culture and socioeconomic levels (Valdés, 1996). Other research approaches emerged in the last decade of the twentieth century, namely assessing best practices that the education had made a significant progress in the education of Latino students. Upon talking about the best practices that have been developed and are still developed in California and Arizona, the following five may be highlighted:
- Assessing the language and culture of students through the recruitment of bilingual teachers in order to encourage learning Spanish and allow students to use other language, except for English classes.
- Communicating high expectations to students, offering advanced classes and bilingual information sessions regarding requirements to get into college.
- Providing a support and training to teachers on specific techniques.
- Enabling directors to give a special attention to Latino students.
- Encouraging parents to get involved in the education of their children.
- Giving priority to empower students.
Studies of best educational practices emphasize the significance of integrating strategies of teaching English with Spanish, culturally relevant socialization strategies and flexible to the situation of the students, as well as a deep respect for the values and norms of immigrant families. However, it has also been found that many Latino students rarely value their culture and knowledge, leading them to abandon the school system to the legal minimum age of 16 years or continue studying in school, but in light courses such as art and cuisine.
Factors on Which Level of Higher Education Depends
The reasons why children and young Latinos have a lower educational achievement in the U.S. schools and low levels of access to the higher education are varied and depend on factors, such as the age, at which they migrated, socio-economic levels of their families and institutional and individual difficulties to achieve a valid high school. Educational experiences vary according to the situation of migration, distinguishing between:
- children of migrants born in the United States;
- those, who arrived before 10 or 12 years;
- children, who arrived at 12 or 13 years later and went to school;
- migrant teens, who were not inserted in schools.
Young people in the last two categories grow in Mexico with the certainty that they will migrate in future, but it is difficult to reach their families and communicate with their parents, whereas they work long hours, so they are alone for a long period. There is a pressure of necessity to realize two dreams for themselves and their parents, which leads them to leave school early, if they were studying, and work to support the family. Most young Latinos, especially if they are undocumented, think that college is not for them.
Latino students, especially those, who do not speak English as a mother tongue, have lower achievements as compared to all other students, and schools are not prepared to educate them. As a result, most teachers do not speak their language and do not have the skills to teach. Although the state provides some training to increase teachers’ pedagogical skills, it offers little help to meet the challenges of students. In addition, teachers expressed the frustration at not being able to communicate with students and parents, whereas they do not know how to help students, who have lost the motivation to learn.