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Report: Many Silicon Valley Latino Students Not Prepared for College

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While Silicon Valley is world-renowned for its innovative high-tech industry, a new report says that only 20 percent of Latino students in the region are graduating high school within four years and are eligible for admission to the University of California and California State University systems.

The achievement gap is most glaring when compared with Asian students, 71 percent of whom graduate in four years and are eligible to enroll in the UC and CSU systems. For white students, it is 53 percent and for black students, 22 percent.

Innovate Public Schools produced the report, entitled “Broken Promises: The Children Left Behind in Silicon Valley Schools.” It examines student academic achievement in the Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, where about 38 percent of the students are Latino. The report breaks out the data by school district and–in some cases–individual campuses.

This is Innovate Public Schools’ first report. The organization’s formation was announced last year, supported by the Walton Family Foundation and the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. Innovate Public Schools was established in part with the intent of creating charter schools or new public school models that better serve minority and low-income students. So it’s important to consider that the group has a clear platform it is trying to advance with the report, which shows that traditional schools and school districts tend to do poorly with closing achievement gaps for Latinos. The group concludes that charter schools are more likely to do better with Latino students. The director of the group, Matt Hammer, is a former director of People Acting in Community Together (PACT), a group that successfully pushed area districts to open charter schools.

Innovate Public Schools highlights the average algebra proficiency rates at the seventh- and eighth-grade levels as early predictors of future success. Those proficiency rates are 23 percent for Latinos, 24 percent for African-Americans, 76 percent for Asians and 57 percent for white students. Silicon Valley Education Foundation president Mohammed Chaudhry is quoted as saying that Hispanic students are “slipping off the college track in elementary and middle school, signified by their inability to pass algebra in 8th grade and often in 9th.” Ninth grade is when students have traditionally been expected to take and pass algebra.

The report points out that in the Sunnyvale School District, 27 percent of Latino eighth graders take algebra, while 91 percent of Asians take the class. Grades, test scores and teacher recommendations determine who is able to take the class. The report points out that Latinos end up taking Algebra Concepts instead of algebra, which focuses on vocabulary and other skills.

But giving students access to classes doesn’t always close the gap. In the San Mateo-Foster City School District, 81 percent of Latino eighth-graders take algebra, but they end up with only 10 percent of students rated proficient.

The report highlights several charter and experimental schools serving mostly Latino students, such as the Rocketship Mateo Sheedy elementary school, as success stories for Latinos (who make up about 89 percent of that school’s enrollment). The students spend about a quarter of their time in a computer learning lab, attend school for eight hours, and do not receive art or music classes. The report also refers to the Renaissance School, a collaboration between the Alum Rock school district and PACT, as doing well with Latino middle school students.

The Aspire East Palo Alto Phoenix Academy high school focuses on dual enrollment courses. But things aren’t all rosy. A recent Palo Alto Daily News article found that only 64 percent of the academy’s class of 2011-12 graduated, compared with the 83 percent average in San Mateo County. The principal said the rate was low because students were often taking five years to finish.