Uploaded: Tue, Dec 18, 2007, 3:27 pm
Bucking the trend
Pupils learning English feel supported, perform better, teacher and students say
Race may be used to define the Palo Alto school district's achievement gap -- black and Hispanic students as groups score lower than other ethnicities -- but a look at students in Gunn's English Language Development program shows that social factors also play a role in the disparity.
Hispanic students from around the world may not speak perfect English -- but they strive to succeed and usually score well, instructor Rick Jacobs said.
"The typical [English-learning student is high achieving. ... The report cards from my students are very high," he said.
Students in the program usually come from well-off, educated backgrounds, he said.
"The average student in our program has a parent that's employed at Silicon Valley or at Stanford and their whole purpose in bringing the kids here is to have them graduate from Gunn and go on to college," he said.
In contrast, many voluntary-transfer students lack financial resources, he said.
"A Spanish-speaking student you might meet in the VTP program has not had the same economic experience" as the students in his classes, Jacobs said.
And unlike tales of teacher misunderstanding or suspicion from East Palo Alto students, the English-learning students spoke only of compassionate staff.
"All the teachers in all the subjects know when you're not from here. They try to help," said junior Marisol Ortiz, who is studying at Gunn for the year before returning to Mexico.
"When the kids laugh at me, teachers stop them," agreed freshman Edoardo de Armas, who moved to Palo Alto two years ago from Venezuela.
Although he hasn't been here long, Edoardo's speech is already peppered with slang words such as "hecka" -- he has already assimilated easily into local culture and schools.
East Palo Alto students have a very different experience when they arrive at the district, Jacobs said.
"They often are being moved from their home community where they feel very secure to a community unlike their own, with a different ethnic make-up," he said.
The only Hispanic students who seem to fit the "achievement gap" mold are a handful from Guatemala and Mexico, he said.
Those countries have weaker schools than the U.S. and the students' parents are less likely to be wealthy or highly educated, he said.
Like this comment
Posted by Will Ray
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 20, 2007 at 12:18 pm
The article "Bucking the Trend" may be a story about something that shouldn't exist, "racial achievement data" on kids in school. Minority success in academics is most likely tied to neutralizing this idea. This is done either by being deeply embedded into a group that shares similar visible traits or completely rejecting any group association based on visible traits. Culture makes an affirmative group association choice much easier, similar to religion, and has trumped racee.g. the Black Jews in Israel, or the lighter complexion Nigerians in Africa.
Why do we keep dwelling on race and academic progress? First, there is no such thing as race unless you make it up. Race (categorized by visible traits) is a negative social construct which has lead to oppressing certain individuals, and therefore as it exist in schools there is no positive race experience per se. Within racial groups positive comments about skin complexion and tone can occur, but it does not carry much intellectual significance or deserve grand conversation. Therefore on the issue of race, there is nothing to talk about except irrational fears that require the assistance of a psychiatrist or a good book.
Back to the schools. As long as we classify kids in skin color groups or by visible traits, someone will create statistics on behavioral similarities like test scores, grades, and crimes, etc.. on these kids. Eventually, they will begin imitating each other, and like behavioral patterns will develop. This behavior can cross cultural lines.
Why aren't kids of color (even middle class kids) doing very well in Palo Alto schools? Are these achievement gaps based on race or culture? Really we shouldn't dignify anyone with an answer who ties in race. How are the people with big noses doing? Most African Americans in this area are not experiencing African American culture, so it is obvious they have a identity crisis going on. White Americans exhibit this problem that is manifested in so many deviant behaviors that are not under a microscope. And, for the record, poverty and slang are not indications of someone who has experienced a significant amount of time in the African American culture. This is called ignorance among minorities-although fun, exciting, and seductive in our pop steroid worldthis behavior is not representative of African American culture. The same people that have made peace in a nation that condoned their brutal oppression, have contributed to America because educators took an interest in their personal development.
Latinos are trying to live a dual consciousness much like African Americans in the 1950's. I noticed how the article avoids discussing Asians who have a substantial stake in Palo Alto education--as if they are no longer minorities--there are poor Asian communities with the same problems as Latinos and African Americans. African Americans understand there is a game that must be played, but they hunker down to save what may be their souls at the expense of an awkward educational experience. They are probably trying to preserve their identity in its fragmented state due to much economical dislocation. Asian families are under great stress trying to prove, prove, prove. Do you really think it is fun playing the violin, being a nerd (a synonym for "square" or "drip."), sitting down doing homework all night under the pressure of your parents? There parents are looking at the material opportunities. It is documented that kids of color have more self esteem than Asian kids, so why do we over-value academic performance? Are they really getting the education they need? Something has to suffer, and it might as well be self esteem. Why? It is not documented, and you are not evaluated because you have poor self-esteem. How did race become so important? It is a way of getting a favor above your neighbor. Race is not culture, but many treat it this way do to past hostilities toward people of a certain skin complexion. It is as ridiculous as jailing all men with big noses and curly hair.
That brings up the question about classifying people as a culture. Culture is not race, race is a by product of breeding and has nothing to do with intelligence. Opportunity has everything to do with success. Worse Socio-Economical conditions than others creates a higher hurdle to success. Showing poor academic performance by race is simple. Show me a micro or macro environment where numbers of students or scoring low, and I will show you the key conditions that are undermining academic performance.
The schools have a simple problem. Although it is competitive, the playing field is not level for minorities. You say you want to raise academic achievement of minorities in school. End racism and discrimination (disparate treatment by teachers) in schools. It is easy, simply end racial classification and view each student as an individual. Stanford has had Ph.D.'s graduate who have brought every quirky habit and cultural custom from every corner of the globe. These things have nothing to do with embracing and educating. Intelligence, motivation, or desire to be educated must be nurtured in those that feel they are at a disadvantage when they start the game. A student knows when he/she is being mis-educated, and they think they can't really do anything about it. The helpless feeling makes them disengage mentally from the school environment. While they are there physically, they are not engaged. It is difficult to say, "Just buck up, pay attention, learn all you can by watching, in a place where certain kids can get a $40,000 to drive five blocks to school--to most life is a party--I doubt more than half have career ideas. This is a luxury. How do you buck up in the midst of luxury unless you compete with it.
When you walk into a situation in some parts of America, everything going on reminds you of the historical patterns of racism. Even minorities fall into the trap of mediocrity, grouping together for survival in the workplace in the lower level jobs. We can do better.