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John Monfredo: A New Approach to Meeting the Needs of Latino Students

Saturday, August 18, 2012


According to the latest reports, by the year 2020, one in four children enrolled in our nation‘s K-12 public schools will be Latino. So, if our country is going to thrive and be a world leader in education it must boost the educational attainment of its fastest growing population.

According to Jose Rico, the executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, in order to meet President’s Obama’s goal of making the United States the world leader in the share of college graduates by 2020, more than half of the nine million postsecondary degrees it will take to reach that target must be earned by Latinos.

“The president has made it clear that the future of our country is at stake if we don’t provide quality education to our Latino students," echoed Mr. Rico.

HIgh Dropout Rate for Latinos

This issue is critical; despite modest gains in the past few years to narrow the achievement gap, much more needs to get done. According to research from the Condition of Education, 2011 ,published by the U.S. Department of Education, Latinos aged 16-24 were among the highest ethnic group in dropping out of school at 17%. The Editorial Projects in Education Research Center found that 63% of Latinos graduating from high school in 2009.

These national trends in population growth and lack of progress in educational achievement can be seen in Worcester as well. The Latino population continues to grow with 39% of the children attending the Worcester Public School being Latinos. The percentage of Latinos receiving free or reduced lunch is about 87%. Thus, poverty continues to be a major factor in the educational progress of the students. Looking at the graduation rate from the 2010, Latino students had a graduate rate of 63.2% and in 2011 a rate of 60.7%, lowest of the major ethnic groups in the city. The dropout rate continues to linger at around 17%, thus mirroring the nation trend.

Commission for Latino Educational Excellence

In the fall of 2010, I put forth a motion to establish a Commission for Latino Educational Excellence. The idea was embraced by then Mayor Joseph O’Brien and it was the start of the Mayoral Commission on Latino Educational Excellence.

As a member of the Commission, the task before the group was to provide advice to the Mayor and produce a written report on the following:

  1. Progress of Latino students enrolled in the Worcester Public Schools in closing the academic achievement gap and attaining the goals established by two federal programs, No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top.
  2. Development, monitoring, and coordination of efforts to promote high-quality education for Latino students, as well as those children at risk in the School District.
  3. Identification of ways to increase parental, private sector, and community involvement in improving education for Latino students. 
  4. Identification of innovative educational strategies to maximize the effectiveness of education for Latino students.
  5. Identification of systemic impediments that hinder the effectiveness of educational initiatives for Latino students.

The Commission is chaired by Dr. Gail Carberry, President of Quinsigamond Community College and Mary Jo Marion, Executive Director of the Latino Commission Institute at Worcester State University.

Prevention is the key to tackling the achievement gap. So let’s start with early education: according to the research, Latino students trail their non-Hispanic white counterparts in educational access as early as pre-school. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s survey, they are least likely of the four largest population groups to enroll their 3 and 4 year old children in pre-school. The reasons behind this are uncertain, but what is clear is that this needs to be addressed, for enrolling a child in a quality pre-school program is essential.

Keys to Achievement

I believe that early literacy is an essential component of academic success impacting the educational voyage of each child. All across America, many Latino children are entering school without the necessary basic early literacy skills for lifelong success. The early years are the time when a child’s brain undergoes the most growth and development. This period is essential to set the stage for future learning. In addition, early learning is regarded as the single best investment for enabling children to develop skills that will likely benefit them for a lifetime.

School attendance is another area to address. If children are not in school they aren’t learning. Excessive absences put students at risk of falling behind in their coursework, missing assignments, and performing poorly on important exams that measure their progress. If students are absent, they miss they miss important opportunities to build relationships with their teacher and classmates.

Looking at the absenteeism rate for Latinos in the Worcester Public Schools, the data is very troubling. In the early grades where the need is to develop a solid foundation the absentee rate is high- 22.8 % of Latino students in the kindergarten were absent more that 10% of the time and that translates to over 18 absences for the year. The grade one and two figures are about 14% and grade three at 10%. Those are unacceptable figures and unfortunately they get worse in the Middle School to High School with rates of 30% of the students absent over 10% of the school year.

I would also recommend that the Commission be the conduit that continues to bring all parties together and ask the question, what have you’ve done to improve the quality of education for the Latino students? The question must be asked of all players… schools, colleges, inter-faith, health agencies, businesses, Latino agencies, social agencies, and city officials. Let's all keep in mind that while the emphasis is in Latino students, the Commission recommendations is addressing all students, and has the potential to improve the outcomes for all Worcester students.  


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