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Hispanic Immigration Swamping California`s Schools
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September 14, 2006, 05:00 AM
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[Recently by Linda Thom: Lessons From A Short History Of Texas]

The maple leaves are turning red and yellow. Back-to-school sales abound. As does the annual crop of stories about unexpected school overcrowding—for example, see here and here.

I call my grandchildren and hear a recap of my grandson`s first week in kindergarten.

Because my grandchildren live in California, I worry about their education. So many of the students in that state have special needs. In my grandchildren`s elementary school, Hispanic students have test scores in the 20th percentile.

It used to be that our children attended California public schools from kindergarten through graduate school, and we never worried. Times have changed, however, and not just in California.

California public schools are overrun with Hispanic students. The California Department of Education enrollment figures show a rapid rise in students that is caused almost entirely by the Hispanic influx.

Change in California School Enrollment, K-12, 1993 to 2005

Year All White Black API Hispanic Other
2004-05 6,322,083 1,981,432 505,308 713,239 2,961,067 161,037
1993-94 5,267,277 2,227,652 455,954 588,634 1,951,578 43,459
  1,054,806 -246,220 49,354 124,605 1,009,489 117,578

In the period from 1993-94 to 2004-2005, California K-12 enrollment increased by 1,054,806 students. Hispanic children accounted for most of the rise, an additional 1,009,489 pupils. White enrollment declined—by 246,220 students.

Last year, the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) released a study of California`s immigrant population. According to the study, 19 million, half of California`s residents, are first, second or third generation immigrants. Among second-generation children, over half, 58%, have Mexican fathers. [ Second-Generation Immigrants in California S. Karthick Ramakrishnan and Hans P. Johnson May 2005, 20 pp. Vol. 6, No. 4 ( PDF)]

Latino immigrants are not well-educated. Fewer than half are high school graduates and most have had fewer than eight years of schooling.

And this is a problem. Whether they live in St. Louis or San Luis, children whose parents are not well-educated do not perform well in school. Without a good education, it is much harder to pull oneself out of poverty.

Many people believe that learning English is the key to successful immigrant assimilation. But simply teaching children English does not necessarily produce well-educated adults. The PPIC report on second-generation immigrants reported:

"Second generation Asians have very high levels of education and low poverty rates, whereas second-generation Latinos have relatively low levels of education and high poverty rates."

These second-generation adults almost all speak English—93%. Clearly, a good education—not simply the ability to speak English—is the key. (See the PPIC report above.)

How are the Hispanic children performing? One measure of school performance – and therefore successful immigrant assimilation—is the participation rate in the GATE program (Gifted and Talented Education). It demonstrates that while Asians excel, Hispanics lag behind. The data are from the California Department of Education.

2004-05 School Year White Black Asian/Pac Islander Hispanic Other
Percent of Enrollment 31% 8% 11% 47% 3%
Percent of GATE 46% 4% 22% 25% 3%

White children comprise 31% of all students and 46% of the GATE students. Asian children account for 11% of students and are 22% of those in the gifted program.

Hispanics make up almost half of the enrollment but a quarter of gifted students.

The second largest school district in the nation is Los Angeles Unified with 747,009 students of whom 541,514 are Hispanic—72.5% of all its students.  And how do these students perform? Half of the schools in the district from elementary to high school ranked in the lowest three deciles and only 15% in the top three deciles.

According to the PPIC study, third-generation Latinos in California have twice as many high school dropouts, 22%, as they do college graduates, 11%. In contrast, among third-generation Asians, 7% have less than 12 years of education and 45% are college graduates. Among whites, only 6% dropouts and 35% college graduates.

It`s not just California. The trend is now nationwide. In its news release, "Back to School: 2006-2007," [Aug 16, 2006] the Census Bureau states that 22% of elementary and high school students have at least one foreign-born parent, including 5% of whom are foreign-born themselves. Ten million students speak a foreign language at home. For 7 million of those, that language is Spanish.

Most of the U.S. students from immigrant households are Hispanic. According to the Current Population Survey, students over 18 years old who have immigrant parents are primarily Hispanic, unless they are over the age of 45.

Nationally, among young adults aged 18-44 years, Hispanics account for an even larger share of the population and an even larger percentage have foreign-born parents, than do the elementary and high-school age children. Of the 110 million residents of the U.S. aged 18-44 years, 26.9 million or 24% have at least one immigrant parent and 17% or 18.6 million are Hispanic.

Are many of those with foreign-born parents, Hispanic? Yes. Are most of students who did not complete high school Hispanic? Yes. The numbers are too close to conclude otherwise:

High school dropouts among children of immigrants and Hispanics, ages 18 to 44 years, October 2004. 

Population, 18-44 years Not HS grad FB parent, not HS grad Percent of all non-HS grad Hispanic, non- HS grad Percent of all non-HS grad
110,079,000 13,313,000 6,504,000 48.9% 6,510,000 48.9%

[Source: Census Bureau with calculations by Linda Thom. [Table A-1. School Enrollment of the Population 3 Years Old and Over, by Level and Control of School, Race, and Hispanic Origin: October 1955 to 2004 (Excel Spreadsheet).]

From these national figures, we can conclude that among 18- to 44-year-olds, Hispanic immigrants and their children comprise most of the poorly-educated population.

With such a poorly educated population, it`s no wonder so many first, second and third generation Hispanic immigrant households live in poverty or with low incomes. According to the PPIC report, "One of every three second-generation Latino children lives in poverty" and "Over half the children in Los Angeles County are second-generation immigrants."

With so many students coming from poorly educated households, it`s no wonder Los Angeles Unified School District has such low test scores.

And with those kinds of numbers, it`s no wonder I worry about my grandchildren`s education in California schools.

My grandchildren are lucky; their dad is a college graduate and their mom has an advanced degree. My daughter advocates for her children and so Gloria, the seven-year-old, skipped first grade and is thriving in the third-grade, gifted program. (Gloria is named after her other grandmother, a Mexican-American.  Being Mexican is not the problem in this instance. Being uneducated is.)

Importing millions of uneducated people has long-term consequences for our children and for our country.

We must do the morally correct thing. We must feed, clothe and educate our own children before we invite the neighbors in.

Linda Thom [email her] is a retiree and refugee from California. She formerly worked as an officer for a major bank and as a budget analyst for the County Administrator of Santa Barbara.