This blog on Texas education contains posts on accountability, testing, college readiness, dropouts, bilingual education, immigration, school finance, race, class, and gender issues with additional focus at the national level.
Students engage in a class project at the Escuela 20 Noviembre school in Tijuana, Mexico.
Sandy Huffaker for NPR
Part of our series exploring how the U.S will educate the nearly 5 million students who are learning English.
Children and teenagers of Mexican descent make up one of the fastest-growing populations in the nation's public schools.
a well-known statistic, but less known is that, in the last eight
years, nearly 500,000 of these children have returned to Mexico with
their families. Nine out of 10 are U.S. citizens because they were born
in the U.S. That's according to Mexican and U.S. government figures
compiled by researchers with the University of California system, and
the Civil Rights Project at UCLA.
These families have returned
to Mexico because of the economic downturn in the U.S. Many others were
deported and had no choice but to take their U.S.-born children with
Whatever the reason, Mexican schools have been caught off guard, totally unprepared to receive them. Researchers with the U-C Mexico Initiative
say these students will in all likelihood travel back and forth between
both countries so schools on both sides of the border need to work
together to make sure they get a quality education.
In Mexican schools, the single-biggest problem these
U.S.-born children and teenagers face is that they can't read or write
in Spanish. In the U.S. schools they previously attended, many lacked
the academic English they needed to do well. They're often labeled
"English Language Learners" or ELLs.
Patricia Gandara, co-chair of the Civil Rights Project, has been
tracking these students in both countries. She says both the U.S. and
Mexico struggle with these transient students, and she says Mexican
schools can learn a lot from educators who work with these kids in this
Gandara and others call these children Los Invisibles: the Invisible Ones.
organized a bi-national symposium in Mexico City recently to discuss
the latest research about these children and how best to educate them.
You say this has become an urgent issue for both the U.S. and Mexico. Why?
of all, people on both sides of the border don't realize this many
children have returned to Mexico from the U.S. Massive deportations and
the economic downturn from 2007 to 2009 were big contributors to this.Jobs
just dried up, so families went back with their kids. About 450,000
have enrolled in schools in Mexico that we know of. We don't know how
many are not enrolled because not all have access to schools.
The fact that most
of these students can't read or write in Spanish is just one hurdle.
Their parents don't know how to navigate Mexico's education system.
Mexican schools often don't accept transcripts from U.S. schools. They
don't evaluate U.S.-born children in English, their primary language. At
least that's what you and your fellow researchers have documented. But your research points to a bigger problem that makes it hard for U.S. born Mexican students to receive the help they need.
not unlike the U.S, also has very segregated schooling and segregated
communities. Most indigenous children, for example, grow up [in isolated
communities] where the government is not trying to integrate them into
the mainstream. The humiliation they experience in school is part of the
humiliation indigenous people experience in other walks of life in
Mexico. [Now,] there's discrimination targeting Mexican kids who've
returned from the U.S., because they don't speak Spanish.
Anthony David Martinez raises his hand in class at the Escuela 20 Noviembre school in Tijuana, Mexico.
Sandy Huffaker for NPR
At the bi-national conference you helped organize in
Mexico City, researchers talked about best practices and what both the
U.S. and Mexico can learn from each other in addressing the needs of
these transient students. But aren't there big differences in how each
country approaches language minority students?
difference in terms of how schools in the U.S. and Mexico deal with
language minorities seems pretty glaring. In Mexican schools, the goal
is to transition children as quickly as possible to Spanish fluency —
because it's the only language that matters. We've tried to estimate the
percentage of classroom teachers in Mexico who speak English at a level
that they can communicate with these [U.S.-born] kids, and found that
fewer than 5 percent in public schools across [Mexico] can communicate
with these children.
In the U.S., we don't accept the idea that
children come to us as blank slates. [Immigrant] children know a lot,
but they know it in their primary language, not English. We want to
build on their primary language and not start from zero.
in the U.S., the English-only, "sink or swim" approach has slowly given
way to dual-language programs and bilingual education. Parents today see
the value of teaching children to speak, read and write in Spanish and
English. But only if it's done right. Poor quality programs can do more
damage than good. Finally, you worry that schools in
Mexico have been too slow in developing new programs and policies to
help these students. So what are you and your bi-national group of
researchers recommending that Mexican schools do?
One: Schools need to welcome parents and help them understand how the
[Mexican] system works and how they can support their children. Many of
these families arrive with tremendous needs that hinder parents' ability
to support their children. Second, schools need to fully assess what
children know in their primary language. Too often, a child's knowledge
is discarded because its in another language. Educators in both Mexico
and the U.S. have to understand that young people who've been educated
in both countries can be our future. Whether your primary language is
English or Spanish or you live in Mexico or the U.S., we can't afford to
lose these children. Its a social and economic loss.