The United States, along with many other countries, has experienced considerable immigration over many decades and particularly in the past 20 years. While the general U.S. population grew at a rate of 17% (from 227 million to 275 million) from 1980 to 2000, the rate of growth varied tremendously across the different ethnic/racial groups in the U.S., and will continue to increase at different rates in the foreseeable future.

The educational significance of this demographic shift is that many immigrants are children, or are adults who gave birth to children, who enter the school system speaking little or no English. In the U.S., an estimated 9.9 million of the total 45 million school-aged children, live in households in which languages other than English are spoken, a statistic which represents a 35% increase since 1980. Spanish continues to be the language of two-thirds, or six million children, who speak a language other than English at home.

The effects of today's unprecedented racial and ethnic diversity in American classrooms.
Issues affecting our students:

  • demographic changes,
  • changes resulting from war,
  • "undocumented children,"
  • cultural changes,
  • language and academic needs,
  • coping with a strange educational system.

On reaching an understanding of the social and cultural characteristics of Hispanic American children and adolescents, educators can proceed with understanding the learner in the Hispanic culture. Research suggests "Nationwide, United States Hispanics agree that the single most crucial problem they face today is education."

This section considers Hispanic American learners and looks for answers to several questions related to their educational progress. What special school-related problems do Hispanic learners experience? Do European American expectations and stereotypes penalize Hispanic learners? Are Hispanic learners labeled? How do learning styles of Hispanics differ? What school practices might impede Hispanics' progress? As we explore these and other questions, we caution readers to consider the intracultural, generational, and socioeconomic differences between individual learners when reaching educational decisions.

Educators' Understanding of Hispanic Americans
There is among Hispanic and other linguistically and culturally different groups a new and not-so-young population that must be considered. They are the immigrant children from countries of war, who come to the United States and are expected to attend school and learn the language and subject matter just as any other child would. Many of these children are not performing well in schools where a different language is spoken and things are done in a way that is foreign to them.

Before getting to know the strengths and weaknesses of learners, teachers and other school personnel need to know the individual.

Census Bureau data indicate that Hispanics in the United States are growing poorer. Between 1989 and 1998, annual income for Hispanics dropped 14%, from approximately $26,000 to less than $22,900.

  • Hispanics = 24% of the poor in this country, a
  • figure grow 8% since 1985.
  • exceed the poverty rate of blacks

A number of researchers believe lack of education is responsible for the downward trend. Hispanics have the highest high school dropout rate in the nation: according to the 1990 Census, only 78% finish high school, compared with 91% of whites and 84% of blacks. A majority of Hispanics receive less schooling than their parents did. In 1994, only 9% of Hispanics over age 24 had college degrees, compared with 24% of non-Hispanics.

A relatively low number of Hispanic American students is eligible for college. By the senior year, only 31 percent of Hispanic American high school students are enrolled in college preparatory courses. Of the Hispanic students graduating from high school, only about 10 to 15 percent are academically qualified to enter slate universities


Grace Kao and Marta Tienda (1998) analyze how educational aspirations are formed and maintained from eighth to twelfth grade. They conclude that ethnic groups differ in the extent to which educational aspirations are maintained. They also found that family socioeconomic status contributes to ambitious aspirations in eighth grade and also to the maintenance of high aspirations during the high school years. Because African and Hispanic American youth are less likely to maintain their high aspirations throughout high school, owing to their lower family socioeconomic status, Kao and Tienda conclude that their early aspirations are less concrete than those of white and Asian American students.

Kao and Tienda also believe an ethnic group can compensate for the liabilities of minority group status by overachieving scholastically; on the other hand, the lack of opportunity can lead to educational underperformance if a racial or ethnic group becomes skeptical about the value of educational success as a means of upward mobility,
The researchers theorize about why despite their high educational aspirations, African and Hispanic youth underachieve scholastically, but Asians overachieve relative to their ability and material resources. Some students believe their parents' financial status makes college an impossible dream, and others believe they can obtain a full scholarship simply because they are Hispanic or athletes. They conclude that the lack of information about college and admissions procedures may also drive some ambivalent students not to apply.

Other researchers described Hispanic Americans' academic achievement this way:
Hispanic students score lower than do their white, middle-class counterparts on tests of academic achievement. They are more likely to fail one or more grades in school, be placed in special education, and drop out altogether. Attitudes toward school are negative, with Hispanic students reporting a higher degree of alienation and disenchantment with school and school personnel.


  • Educators need to recognize that the differences in educational aspirations among ethnic groups call for a methodical plan to remedy this situation.
  • Educators need to provide informational sessions for all students (and especially African and Hispanic Americans) to inform them about colleges, admission procedures, and financial packages.
  • Adolescents who think they might receive college scholarships simply because they are Hispanic or athletes should be informed of the keen competition for scholarships, both academic and athletic.
  • Educators who understand the relationship between socioeconomic status and educational aspirations should be careful to avoid making assumptions based on students' ethnicity.

Kao, G., & Tienda, M. (1998), Educational aspirations of minority youth- American fourrwl of ion 106(3). 349-384.

Latino Youth Gangs and the Meaning of School
Tellez and Estep (1997) maintain that despite widespread condemnation of gangs, few studies direct attention to gangs in schools, particularly Latino gangs. These researchers interviewed eight male former or active gang members to determine their schooling experiences and found they did well in school when they had a "good" teacher and that they had a favorite subject in school. Tellez and Estep suggest that the school curriculum can make a difference in helping gang members through secondary schooling and on to more traditional lifestyles.
Schools take several approaches to gang membership. They ignore the gangs, get tough on gangs, or provide self-esteem training that supposedly prevents gangs-Implementing the Research
On the basis of their research, Tellez and Estep conclude and suggest:

1. Teachers. A great majority of teachers understand little about gang life or how to encourage gang members to stay in school.
Implementation suggestion: Provide in-service training (and other training in diversity) for teachers by Latino experts who know Latinos' cultural backgrounds, strengths, and challenges.

2. Curriculum. The curriculum has few ideas interesting to Latinos and never addresses their lived experiences.
Implementation suggestion: Revisit the curriculum to determine how it can be changed to reflect Latino experiences, especially those of Latino adolescents who might be prone to join gangs.

3. Dropping out. All the Latino interviewees had dropped out, except for the 12-year-olds.
Implementation suggestion: Conduct additional studies (as Tellez and Estep have done) to determine other reasons that Latino gang members drop out of school. Plan school programs and curricular experiences that might keep them in school and career education options to capture their interest,

4. Segregation. Most interviewees went to schools that many other Latino gang members attended. They should have had more opportunities to attend more diverse schools,
Implementation suggestion: Study the possibility of sending some Latino students to magnet schools (again as Tellez and Estep recommend in an effort to have a more diverse student body and for students to see options and life possibilities other than dropping out of school,

Teller, K., & Estep, M, (1997). Latino youth gangs and the meaning of school. The High School Journal, 31(2),69-81.




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