Latinos make up an estimated 16% of America’s total population, as of the 2010 census. Which means about 50.5 million total individuals constitutes the fastest-growing minority demographic. Yet despite this widespread influence, students tend to fall behind once school starts. The following facts and figures reveal not only the extent of the achievement gap between Latino students and their contemporaries, but some of the probable origins as well as its eventual repercussions. Hopefully, they illustrate exactly why the United States needs to start providing greater opportunities for students hailing from all demographics. Education is a basic human right, and the fact that such egregious achievement gaps are even allowed to exist proves that the school system needs to work out more than a few kinks to ensure every student receives an equal chance. Seeing as how it’s Hispanic Heritage Month, working toward a less divided society seems like a great way to spend September … and every month following.
- It hasn’t changed in two decades:
Although math and scores amongst fourth through eighth graders increased across all demographics between 1990 and 2009, the achievement gap between Caucasians and Latinos experienced only insignificant changes. While it increased in some states and narrowed in others, on the national level the song remained largely the same. Depending on the state and grade level, 2009 saw gaps ranging between 21 and 26 points.
- ELL status impacts performance positively…:
The Latino achievement gap largely hinges on linguistic barriers, as evidenced by the fact that students enrolled in ELL courses enjoy improved grades over those who are not. At the fourth grade level, the gap stands at 14 points in math and 29 for reading, compared to 34 points for math and 39 points for reading at the eighth grade.
- …but a gap still exists between ELL students and their white peers:
ELL fourth graders still sit 15 points behind whites when it comes to reading, and the number stayed the same when studies moved up four grade levels to eighth.
- Most Latino students are American citizens:
Stereotypes unfortunately slap most Americans of Latino descent as inherently “illegal,” but in reality most students actually hold either U.S.-born or naturalized citizenship status. Ninety-two percent, in fact, so keep that in mind before starting in with the accusations.
- Bullying is a major concern:
The National Center for Education Statistics reports that 27.6% of Latino students claim to have been bullied, though the number might actually be more than that when one takes reluctance into consideration. Anxiety and depression as a result of hostile environments lowers performance, and with anti-immigration legislation at the forefront of many state lawmakers’ minds, the situation seems even worse for Latino kids, especially if their parents were immigrants.
- Latino students qualifying for free or reduced lunches score lower:
The average score of non-eligible Latino fourth graders sits at 237, and drops to 225 for the eligible. For eighth graders, the non-eligible sport an overall score of 275 versus 263 for the eligible. Compared to white students with the same eligibility status, the gap between non-eligible fourth graders is 16 and 11 for the eligible, with the Caucasians in the lead. At the eighth grade level, the gap between non-eligibles increased to 23, while eligible saw theirs edge up to 13, once again with whites holding the advantage.
- A disconcerting amount of Latino children live in poverty:
Thirty-five percent of Latino children live at or below the poverty line, according to national statistics, though some estimates reach as high as 63%. Because lower socioeconomic brackets must contend with restricted access to experienced teachers, equal opportunities, and sufficient resources, this leads to compromised scores — even in students of prodigious intelligence and promise.
- Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee have the highest rates of Latino childhood poverty:
Each of them tie at a tragic 74%. By contrast, 32% of Latino students under the age of 18 live at or below the poverty line in Alaska, the lowest of any state (aside from maybe Vermont, whose sample size proved too small to successfully gauge).
- Almost half of Latino students have parents who never finished high school:
Estimates hover at around 40%, actually, which lowers these students’ chances of completing high school and moving on to college. By contrast, only 4% of white students hail from households where their parents never finished high school.
- The Latino dropout rate is the highest in the nation:
Between the ages of 16 and 24, anyways, but the 15.1% still exists as the highest in the United States. On a more positive note, however, the dropout rate has dropped considerably since 1990, where the number once hit 32.4%.
- One out of every 10 Latino dropouts receives a GED:
Two out of every 10 African-American and three out of every 10 white dropouts eventually receive their GED. By age 20 or older, 41% of Latino-Americans do not hold a high school diploma or equivalent, while 23% of African-American and 14% of whites possess the same qualifications.
- Native-born students are more likely to stay in school or complete the GED:
Among U.S.-born Latino students, the dropout rate hovers around 25%, compared to 52% of those born elsewhere. When it comes to acquiring GEDs, 21% of native-borns eventually finish, but the number drops to 5% for the foreign-born.
- Latino youth make up about a quarter of the total juvenile incarceration rate:
Compared with 45% of African-American and 30% for white, though data on the amount of Latino youth in the criminal justice system is admittedly difficult to compile. Some believe this means about 18,000 Latino minors in America sit in custody on any given day, usually for nonviolent crimes. As of 2008, though, as many as 24% are held in adult facilities, as are 26% of African-American offenders and 25% of white offenders.
- Latino youth have the third highest alcohol abuse rate:
Between the ages of 12 and 17, 15.2% of Latino have reported illegal alcohol abuse, putting them below the percentages of their white (16.1%) and mixed-race (16.7%) peers.
- Latinos have the highest gang participation rates:
Do keep in mind, however, that these numbers apply to both juveniles and adults. With the exception of rural counties, Americans of Latino heritage make up the highest percentage of gang members in large cities (48.1%), suburbs (43.8%), and small cities (49.7%). Participation in gang-related activity often correlates with dropout rates as well as compromised academic performances.
- Latino students lag behind on the SAT:
Standardized tests such as the SAT and ACT often receive understandable accusations of cultural and linguistic biases, and it’s easy to see why. The average critical reading score of Mexican-American, Puerto Rican, and other Latino students stood at 454 during the 2009-2010 school year – the lowest of any demographics other than African-Americans at 429. This pattern holds true for math as well, though with Mexican-Americans (467) performing better than Puerto Ricans (452), other Latinos (462), and African-Americans (428). Scores have improved slightly over the past decade, except in the case of other Latinos, who tend to spike up and down.
- More Latinos are attending college than ever before:
2007 figures from the U.S. Department of Education noted that 27% of Latino high school graduates between the ages of 18 and 24 wound up attending college, which marked an increase over time. About half of these attended two-year or community colleges. Their white peers attended college at a rate of 43%, and 36% sprang for community institutions. Their African-American peers attended college at a rate of 33%, and 42% attended community college.
- However, they need to catch up come graduation time:
During the 2007-2008 school year, 35.6% of Latino college students completed their undergraduate degree. White students held at a rate of 49.3%, meaning a gap of 13.7%. Only 19% of adults of Latin descent between the ages of 25 to 64 years old held a college degree at the time, compared to 38% of the general population.
- 5.5 million Latinos need to graduate with college degrees for the country to remain competitive:
By 2020, and this fact obviously marks something of a battleground for politicians. Twenty-two percent of the kindergarten through twelfth grade students during the 2007-2008 school year hailed from a Latino background, so the U.S. has quite a bit of gap-closing to do if it hopes to remain a global contender for college graduate output.
- Preschooling just might help close the gap:
In Las Vegas, experiments placing ELL students of a Hispanic background in preschool programs have yielded some amazing results, especially when paired with greater parental engagement. The achievement gap decreased with these initiatives in place, but ensuring their prolificacy remains another matter entirely.