Latino children have a lot going for them. That’s according to Lina Guzman, director of Child Trends Hispanic Institute, who presented at last week’s EWA Spanish-Language Media Convening in Dallas during our “What the Research Says” session.
By the time Latino children reach kindergarten, however, they are far less prepared to start school than their peers.
Statistics show Latino children get a strong start at life with a healthy birth weight, and breastfeeding rates among these ethnic groups are high, Guzman said. Fifty-eight percent of Hispanic kids go on to live in two parent households, 59 percent have home-cooked meals and 67 percent of Latino parents have high expectations – like finishing college – for their children’s education.
At 9 months old, there is no developmental difference between Latino infants and their white and black peers. They’re even on par or better in social-emotional skills.
But by kindergarten, things change. According to Guzman and a study by the Educational Testing Service, Latino children lag far behind in academic readiness, struggling in both reading and math.
Why does this matter? Researchers find that kindergartners who enter school with basic knowledge of math and reading are more likely to fare well in elementary school, according to Child Trends’ website. By ripple effect, students’ grades in elementary and middle school are good predictors of school completion.
Though improving, Latino high school dropout rates are high. From 1990 to 2012, Hispanics held the highest number of 16 to 24 year olds without a diploma or GED when compared with whites, blacks and all races, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Family involvement is another important contributor to school success and completion – the most accurate predictor being how much a student’s family encourages learning. A recent Child Trends study revealed Hispanic and black students were less likely than white students to have parents attend school events or volunteer their time at school. In 2012, 64 percent of Hispanic students had a parent who attended school events compared with 82 percent of white students with a parent who had done so. Thirty-two percent of Latinos had a parent who volunteered, while 50 percent of white students could say the same.
A 2007 study by The Tomás Rivera Policy Institute at the University of Southern California found Latino parents are no less interested in their children’s education than non-Latino parents but see language and their own education levels as barriers for getting involved.
“Since over half of the study participants had not completed high school and most spoke Spanish at home, the parents in the focus groups had mixed views on whether they should engage with homework in light of their own limited formal education,” the USC study states.
The most frequently cited reason for low parental participation and communication with schools was a lack of time. Many Latino parents worked for hourly wages, and in order to attend parent-teacher conferences or school events during the day, wages had to be forgone. In most cases, the parents felt their employment would be at risk if they frequently submitted requests for time off.
To help educate parents in these situations about the importance of getting involved in their child’s education – even before kindergarten – Child Trends started the Abriendo Puertas/ Opening Doors Program, a 10-session culturally-relevant training course for parents which many states administer through Head Start.
The program instructs parents to start off by going to the library to check out books. But the lessons go further than that. For example, parents are told they should read the books with as many voice inflections as there are characters, discuss the book when done and repeat the story at the child’s request. A review of the alphabet is also encouraged.
After rolling out the program in 2007, Child Trends conducted an evaluation study of the Abriendo Puertas’ effectiveness, which found participating Latino parents gained knowledge about high-quality child care and education and improved their organizational strategies and ability to plan and set goals for their children. Parents also grew to appreciate their role as models for their children.
Most importantly, these practices appear to have continued over time.