Language Barrier a ‘Risk Factor’ for Hispanics

A new Associated Press-Univision nationwide poll of Latino families illuminated some surprising effects the language barrier has on education. According to the AP:

  • Just 20% of mainly Spanish-speaking parents say they were able to communicate “extremely well” with their child’s school, compared with 35% of Hispanics who speak English fluently.
  • About 42% of the Spanish speakers said it was easy for them to help with their children’s schoolwork, compared with 59% of the Hispanics who speak English well.
  • Children of Spanish-dominant parents were less likely to seek help with homework from their families. Fifty-seven% of those parents said their children came to them with school questions. That’s compared with 80% for mainly English-speaking Hispanic parents, who also were more likely to send their children to relatives or friends for answers.
  • With Hispanic enrollment surging in schools, many Spanish-speaking parents are having trouble helping their children with homework or communicating with U.S. teachers as English-immersion classes proliferate in K-12.
  • The vast majority of Hispanics — 78% — had children enrolled in K-12 classes that were taught mostly in English, compared with 3% in Spanish.

The AP also reports that approximately 1 in 5 people in the U.S. speaks a language other than English at home, with Hispanics representing the largest share, according to 2009 census data. Hispanics also now make up one-fourth of the nation’s kindergartners, part of a historic trend in which minorities are projected to become the new U.S. majority by midcentury. Still, Hispanics are nearly three times as likely than the general U.S. population to drop out of high school, and half as likely to earn a bachelor’s degree.

“The language barrier is still a serious risk factor for Hispanics,” said Michael Kirst, a Stanford University professor emeritus of education who helped analyze the survey. Even with many schools replacing Spanish with English in classrooms, for a student evaluated as learning English, “the odds of completing high school, and particularly college, significantly drops.”

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