March 28, 2003
Calling for respectful, responsive and reasonable education practices, Eugene Garcia, one of the country's top experts on Latino educational achievement, delivered the keynote address Friday, March 28, at SFSU’s first inaugural César E. Chávez Research-Practice Forum.
The conference, titled "Toward Educational Equality in the 21st Century," featured presentations and discussions by visiting scholars, SFSU faculty and Bay Area education leaders. The forum attracted more than 350 participants, including teachers, administrators and community advocates, with many at the gathering watching on a monitor from a nearby room, Garcia, dean of the College of Education at Arizona State University and a former education professor at UC Berkeley, has studied Latino high school dropout rates and evaluated a range of bilingual and multicultural approaches to schooling. He said educators need to do more to support Latino Americans and help provide "alas," or wings, so they can excel in school and in the wider society.
"There’s something else going on here besides issues having to do with not knowing English," he said, adding that poverty does not explain the problem either. When Garcia compared the educational attainment of poor white students and poor Latino students in Watsonville, Calif., he found the white students still did better, despite their underprivileged backgrounds. Garcia said he believes part of the explanation is Latino students lack the "educational capital" that most European Americans bring from home. The educational capital included subtle understandings of how the school operates and what is expected of parents and students. As a result, he said, Latinos "don’t understand the roadmap" and "had no way to negotiate" their way through the system.
Garcia added that better use of academic research could begin to address such problems. He noted that among administrators and policy makers, opinions vary about whether bilingual education is effective. But in research circles, it is clear that non-English speakers do better when they have access to academic support in their home language. Recent political trends have also yielded some educational solutions, such as high-stakes testing, that are unworkable because they are grounded in ideology and not real, proven education practices, Garcia noted.
It all hinges on nurturing strong roots, or "raíces," he said. Students do best when they have effective parental involvement and learn from an early age that they are appreciated and respected in school.
"Educational equity is really about dignity," Garcia said. After a majority Latino high school in Yuma, Ariz., implemented a respectful, culturally appropriate program, its graduation rate climbed from 60-65 percent to 90 percent, he said.
In a later session, Gary Orfield, a Harvard education professor and an expert on school desegregation, said that it will take an effort similar to the civil rights movement to correct the educational inequalities that exist today.
"We need to have a different vision of our society in the future as the demographics of this country change drastically. And don't think the government is going to do it," he told the gathering of more than 300 teachers, school administrators and community advocates. "It has to start with a committed few like you."
Orfield, director of The Harvard Project on School Desegregation and co-director of The Harvard Civil Rights Project, listed what he called disturbing trends that keep Latinos, now the country's largest minority group, from achieving racial and economic equality in America.
For example, Orfield said, second generation families are faring worse than first generation families, high dropout rates persist and college -- going rates for Latinos remain low. According to the latest U.S. Census data, 27.3 percent of all Latinos in the United States have a eighth grade education or less, compared with 8.5 percent of Asian Americans, 6.7 percent of African Americans and 4.2 percent of whites. "The statistics show that we are not preparing the workforce of the future, which is going to be made up of an increasing number of Latinos," Orfield said.
To begin addressing those problems, Orfield said, several measures should be taken. "We need more preschools. We need smaller class size with better qualified teachers. And we need to develop successful models of programs that work in our schools," he said.
Afternoon sessions focused on Latino students in the academic pipeline, accountability and educational equality in the 21st century. Other scheduled featured speakers were Patricia Gandara of the UC Davis College of Education; Dennis Chaconas, superintendent of the Oakland Unified School District; Ingrid Seyer Ochi of the UC Berkeley School of Education; Pedro Noguera of the Harvard Graduate School of Education; Jake Perea, dean of the SFSU College of Education; Arlene Ackerman, superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District; and Gilberto Conchas, a faculty fellow at the Cesar E. Chavez Institute and faculty member at the Harvard Graduate School of Education
The event was sponsored by the College of Ethnic Studies' César E. Chávez Institute, an academic center that promotes social justice through research and community action, and the SFSU College of Education in partnership with The Harvard Civil Rights Project, which is publishing a new generation of research on multiracial civil rights issues.
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