It's not a good combination. Hispanic students are dropping out of school more often than other ethnic groups. And in the future they will comprise a larger segment of the population and the workforce.
Education statistics indicate that Hispanic students are quitting school at more than three times the rate of white students and almost twice the rate of black students.
By 2005, people of Hispanic descent will be the largest minority in the country, and within the next 50 years they will comprise almost 25 percent of the nation's population.
Those statistics and projections highlight the need for Hispanic children to do well in school so that they will succeed in life, said U.S. Education Secretary Richard Riley.
"We are already the most diverse nation in the world -- and we have never been static in our diversity," Riley said in a speech at Bell Multicultural High School in Washington, D.C. "But these kinds of demographic changes will involve almost every aspect of our society and require us to think still more creatively about the future."
And for that reason, Riley is asking public school systems to create 1,000 new dual-language schools within the next five years. Those schools would teach students in their native language, such as Spanish, as well as in English.
Dual language instruction helps Hispanic children perform better in school and promotes bilingualism that is becoming increasingly important in a global economy, Riley said.
"We have about 260 dual-immersion schools and that is only a start," Riley said. "We need to invest in these kinds of programs and make sure they are in communities that can most benefit from them. In an international economy, knowledge -- and knowledge of language -- is power.
But not everyone supports the idea of dual language instruction as a method to teach the 3 million students, of which 75 percent are Hispanic, who have limited English skills.
"We don't need more bilingual education. We need less," said Jorge Amselle, vice-president of education for the Center for Equal Opportunity, a Washington-based group critical of bilingual education. "It's better to have students start learning English as soon as possible."
Bilingual education creates segregated classes where students don't have the opportunity to spend time with children who speak English or other languages, Amselle said.
Amselle said he believes Hispanic students are dropping out of school because they did not have the opportunity to learn English earlier in grade school. Bilingual education in elementary school would further delay exposure to English and exacerbate the problem, he said.
Hispanic children are more likely to incur barriers that effect their academic performance such as lack of access to health care and preschool classes. But Riley contends language is the primary barrier to learning and cited recent statistics to buttress his claim.
In 1997, about one-fourth of Hispanic students between 16 and 24 were dropouts compared to 13.4 percent of black students and 7.6 percent of white students. About half of Hispanic students born in other countries drop out of school while 16 percent of those born in the United States quit school, Riley said.
Finding teachers who are able to teach bilingual students is difficult. "Teachers with any specialty are hard to find. Just look at math," Amselle said. "There are plenty of social study teachers, but not enough math teachers. Now find a teacher who speaks Vietnamese or Russian."
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Center for Equal Opportunity
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