Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Hispanics travel rough road to higher education

Ethnic group is the fastest growing, but the least likely to enroll in college

The future of Texas is sitting in room 318 at Austin High School, and right now, it could go either way. Students in the after-school program — Hispanic and from low-income families, the group least likely to enroll in college — are optimistic. But who knows?

“I hope to go,” says Neri Gamez, 17, a high school junior who dreams of being a doctor. Gamez has an advantage: She is in a program run by the Center for Mexican-American Studies at the University of Houston, designed to help Hispanic students enter college and, once there, earn a degree. Academic Achievers is among dozens of programs that address one of the state’s most intractable education problems.

But Hispanics, the state’s fastest-growing ethnic group, have fallen behind in some key areas, and efforts to change that remain piecemeal:

• Statewide, 68 percent of Hispanics graduate from high school within four years, 10 points below the overall rate.

• Just 42.5 percent of Hispanics who graduated from high school in 2007 enrolled in college or a technical training program the following fall, compared with 45.3 percent of black students and 57.5 percent of white students.

• Texas is “well below target” in raising the number of Hispanics in college, according to a 2008 report by the Higher Education Coordinating Board.

Enrollment of both white and black students was “somewhat above target.” And there are no consequences for schools that don’t raise Hispanic enrollment.

“The good news is, there’s a state goal,” said Paul Ruiz, co-founder and senior advisor to the Education Trust, a national group that advocates for at-risk students. “The bad news is, the institutions don’t get it. They set goals for Latino kids at about half the rate the state says we need.”

The issue is complicated by the rapid growth of the Hispanic population; about 36 percent of the Texas population is Hispanic. “We’ve made progress,” said Raymund Paredes, higher education commissioner for Texas. “Our challenge is, we started so far behind, and the Latino population is growing so fast.” Unless the numbers change, the state will be unable to field a well-educated work force. “The Hispanic community is key to the economic future of Texas,” Paredes said.

The state plan, known as Closing the Gaps, began in 2000 with the goal of increasing college enrollment to 5.7 percent of the population by 2015. That would raise college-going rates to the national average. Over the past eight years, overall enrollment has edged up to 5.3 percent from 5 percent. For Hispanics, it’s up to 3.9 percent from 3.7 percent.

More than 1.2 million Texans enrolled in a two- or four-year college or technical school last fall; state goals call for that to reach 1.6 million by 2015. The Coordinating Board’s own estimates suggest it will fall short by 300,000 students.

Gamez, a student at Austin High School, said she understands why so many of her peers don’t go on to college. “They may have to work,” she said. “And once they get a taste of the money, they may decide to skip college.” Often, no one in their family has attended college, so they don’t know the ropes...

The University of Texas system touts its diversity, noting that in 2008, Hispanic enrollment was about equal to that of white students, and several campuses have been designated as among the nation’s top in awarding degrees to Hispanics. But most Hispanic enrollment is concentrated at the system’s border schools, including UT-Pan American (86 percent), UT-Brownsville (91 percent) and UT-El Paso (75 percent). At UT-Austin, 16 percent of students are Hispanic; at UT-Dallas, it’s 9 percent.

About 20 percent of UH students are Hispanic, up only slightly over the last five years. (About 40 percent of Harris County residents are Hispanic.) But that was still enough to earn a place among the top 20 colleges and universities awarding degrees to Hispanic students, according to The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education magazine. The numbers are slightly higher at the University of Houston-Downtown, which has its own outreach programs. About 36 percent of students there are Hispanic.


UK: Three Rs courses late in life “ineffective”

Adult basic skills courses have been a waste of millions of pounds, an educationalist will tell a conference. Professor Anna Vignoles, from the Institute of Education, believes that good basic skills must be learned early to improve attainment later in life.

The government spent £995m between 2006-07 on one such programme in England, called Skills for Life. The government says it will not "write off" adults with poor basic skills, and that this is "money well spent".

Roughly five million adults still have the literacy levels which would be expected of an 11 year old, and the government has targeted its further education funding largely at extending the availability of literacy and numeracy courses. Colleges have in turn complained that training places in other areas are under serious threat.

But 2.8 million people have been through a Skills For Life programme. "It is well known that an individual's basic skills level affects how much they earn, but research shows that the three Rs are best acquired in childhood," Professor Vignoles will tell the Institute for Fiscal Studies conference. "Policies and qualifications to help adults develop them have proved largely ineffective."

Professor Vignoles will argue that there is a place for short training courses of up to 20 hours, as they can reach those who have not taken up any other opportunity to learn. And she acknowledges that adults who take basic skills courses may then go on to other courses. But she will say the "array of low-level courses available to adults has not boosted productivity and earnings". "Adult basic skills training might increase equality of opportunity, but unfortunately it won't boost economic competitiveness."

A spokesperson for the Department for Innovation and Skills said it was important for adults to develop these skills for a number of reasons, not just to try to increase their earnings. "Professor Vignoles may argue that good basic skills are best acquired in childhood but we have no intention of writing off the 12 million adults who struggle with literacy or numeracy," she said. "We will continue to invest so that even more adults can get a qualification, improve their self-confidence, get work, boost their earning power and help with their children's education.

"The £5bn we have spent since our Skills for Life strategy was launched in 2001 has enabled 5.7m people to go on 12m literacy, language and numeracy courses with over 2.8m achieving first qualifications. "This works out as £660 per achievement. "We consider it money well spent."


British parents get £10,000 State grant to teach their children at home... because they refuse to send them to failing school

Easier to pay off responsible parents than to fix a disastrous school, apparently. Too bad for the kids at the school concerned

Parents who refused to send their children to one of the country’s worst schools have been paid a £10,450 State grant to teach them at home. Essex County Council made the one-off payment to six families who kept the four boys and two girls away from Bishops Park College in Clacton-on-Sea and hired home tutors. It is believed to be the first time an education authority has provided funds to families who opt out of traditional school.

Under normal circumstances, parents who remove their children from schools are responsible for paying for their education. The payment was described by the council as ‘exceptional’, but it may encourage others in similar circumstances to apply for State funding.

The parents, who include a garden furniture manufacturer, a florist, a market trader and a former cafe owner, were offered places for their children at the failing secondary school despite refusing to name it on a list of preferred choices. For the past six months, they have been paying £100 a week in tutor fees and other expenses. The 11 and 12-year-olds are now doing so well their tutor is considering entering them for an English GCSE this summer, four years early.

The offer of financial help came after the parents had a meeting at the House of Lords with the council’s Conservative leader Lord Hanningfield. At a further meeting with director of education Terry Reynolds, they were told that if they looked into starting up their own school they could be given a cash payment. However, so far the parents have not done this. Under Government policy, town halls do not fund parents who educate their children at home but can provide money for groups who want to establish their own schools.

Holly O’Toole, who has kept her 12-year-old son Harry at home, said: ‘We were given no other option than to send our children to Bishops Park but it is chronically under-achieving. 'It is bottom of the tables and teachers from that school have even warned us not to send our children there. ‘The money is to help educate all the children. I was surprised when it happened because we had been told the money was not there. It is by no means enough and we have been told that there will be no further payments but at least it is a start.’

Another parent, Mark Hulstrom, said: ‘We were told that the funding was a very rare occurrence and that it was a one-off payment. I think they just wanted us off their backs and we didn’t have to fill out any forms.’

Earlier this year, Bishops Park slumped to the bottom of the GCSE ‘value added’ league table after axing traditional subjects for ‘themed’ lessons. Only eight per cent of pupils met Government targets. The school, housed in £15million state-of-the-art buildings opened by Tony Blair in 2005, has now reintroduced specialist teaching for science and maths.

The families learned this week that there are no further places at any of their other preferred schools next year either, and they will have to go on teaching the children at home.

Essex County Council said: ‘The payment followed an initial discussion around parents establishing their own school and we are pleased to be in a position to assist. 'We have always considered and will continue to consider any requests from parents for financial support on their merits.’


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