New Study of Latino Students Reveals Strengths, Concerns
Well-behaved tots and tech-savvy teens were among the highlights in a new study by Child Trends Hispanic Institute released Wednesday, which sheds light on the future of the United States’ next generation of Hispanic Americans.
The purpose of the study, outlined in its introduction by Child Trends President Carol Emig, was to “widen the lens” by highlighting the positive trends among Hispanic youth. “In the midst of many troubling indicators, there are enduring strengths upon which to build, and impressive, but often overlooked, signs of progress,” Emig writes.
Researcher David Murphey said there were several areas of progress that stood out to him in the study, particularly in education. More young Latino children are enrolling in center-based care programs which are more likely to be of a higher educational quality than home-based care and other alternatives, Murphey said during a phone interview. Other highlights include Latino students posting solid gains on national assessments in key subject areas, more Latinos than ever before earning a high school diploma, and a record number of Hispanics enrolling in two- or four-year colleges.
A greater sense of responsibility among Latino youth was also revealed in the study, indicated by falling teen pregnancy rates – declines have been greater in the last four years for Latinas than other ethnic groups – and a decrease in smoking and binge drinking habits among high school seniors.
Latino teens’ use of technology is also promising. While less likely to own a cell phone than their peers, they are avid users of smartphones and tablets. “This is a promising vehicle that the people who work with youngsters can take advantage of,” Murphey said.
But obstacles remain. The Pew Research Center Hispanic Trends Project reported Tuesday Hispanics are the only group to see poverty rates decline and incomes increase, but despite these gains, Hispanics have the largest number of people living in poverty when compared with other minority groups. “Nearly one-third of Latino children live below the poverty line, and a roughly equal share, while not poor by official definition, has family incomes just adequate to meet basic needs,” the Child Trends study states. “America’s Latino children disproportionately live in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty where poor housing, poor schools, and crime further threaten their well-being.”
“Some of the people who study cultures, typically in family life, might offer some reasons,” Murphey said when asked about the school-readiness statistics. “One is that traditionally Latino cultures, rather than emphasizing the teaching role of parents, parents put a priority on good behavior. They see the job of parenting – the priority of that job anyway – is to teach their children how to behave well, how to respect adults, follow directions. We see the learning of letters or numbers as the job of the schools. Whether that’s optimal or not, we can debate, but certainly many kindergarten teachers have said (that is) just as important. We don’t think this is necessarily a bad news story.”
High rates of poverty may influence this, as well as the education levels of immigrant parents, but Murphey is hopeful this can be countered. “I think we see that when Latino parents are approached with respect for what they are doing, they are very receptive to taking on new roles.”
For Murphey, the biggest takeaway from the study was the revelation of the rapidly changing demographics. One in four children in the United States is Latino, and the statistics are well on their way to one in three, as already reflected in public school enrollment. The U.S. Census Bureau predicts the same for the American adult population as well, with Hispanic growth expected to more than double over the next 50 years.
Schools can’t be expected to carry all the load. “We’re still as a culture and as a society catching up to that reality and realizing we have to have a broader view of the kinds of experiences kids are bringing to school and how we respond to them,” he said.
“We need to have a multipronged approach,” Murphey continued, referring to society’s recognition of not only the education needs of the Latino community, but economic and health needs as well. “If a third of our population by 2050 is going to be Latino or Hispanic, then we can’t afford to leave them behind in a marginalized situation.”