Sociology 338 Project

Introduction: Trends in Latino Educational Attainment

The germination of our interest in the area of education comes from the abysmal statistics in educational outcomes for Latino students across the nation. In 1994, 34.7% of Latino students dropped out of high school, in comparison to 15.5% of blacks and just 12% of whites. How can such a troubling trend of epidemic proportions among Latino students be explained? Scholars like Jonathan Kozol attribute this trend to the disparity of resources and quality of education available in minority-majority school districts in low-income areas, in comparison to suburban, middle class communities. In Savage Inequalities, Kozol conducts a nation-wide comparison of the disparity in school spending per pupil and quality of education available in neighboring communities at extremely distant socioeconomic strata, such as Camden and Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Kozol comments that "to a real degree, what is considered 'adequate' or 'necessary' or 'sufficient' for the poor... is determined by the rich or relatively rich... in accord with their opinion of what children of the poor are fit to become, and what their social role should be"(216). Using information like the graph below, Kozol links students' educational attainment with the socioeconomic class of their families; however, Kozol points out that schools in minority-majority communities are at the bottom of the education and socioeconomic scale because the communities are aggregations of families under poverty.

Poverty and Graduation Statistics for Latinos

EthnicityPercent of Families Under Poverty Percent of High School Graduates (>25)
Puerto Rican35.4%60.5%
Mexican American27.6% 45.2%
South/ Central American23.9% 61.7%

Case Study of Princeton High School

Kozol presents a straight-forward comparison between school districts that have comparatively different levels of spending and resources, but does not explain the lower educational attainment and higher drop-out rate among Latinos within the wealthy, privileged schools. From an Article in the Princeton Packet on Tuesday, March 16, we learned that the Latino students at Princeton High School are failing their classes at a rate 1.5 times greater than the overall student population. We hypothesized that studying the struggles of Latino students at Princeton High School (PHS) would provide an interesting case study into the phenomenon of failing Latino students, since those at PHS apparently have an assortment of resources at their fingertips. According to the article in the Princeton Packet, 60.5 percent of Latino students attending Princeton High School are failing one, if not more, classes. How might this trend among a student population within one of the wealthiest public high schools in the state in terms of fiscal and human capital be explained?

Sylvia Matos, a bilingual guidance counselor at PHS, suggests that the language and cultural differences may be responsible for some students' difficulties. In the Princeton Packet article, Matos explains that "language is a barrier to learning, and some of the kids do not have the academic background that is required." Beyond the language barrier, Dianne Ravitch of The Brookings Institution and New York University suggests in an article entitled "Somebody's Children: Educational Opportunity for All American Children" that even within good school systems, the educational opportunities provided to minority students may not be equal. Unlike Kozol's comparison of school systems with opposite extremes of resources, Ravitch focusses on successful school systems, but still comes to the following same conclusion.

Despite considerable progress over the past generation, there continues to be large gaps in achievement between children from different social classes and different racial or ethnic groups. For many children, especially children who are poor and are racial minorities, both equality and excellence in education remain out of reach.

Princeton High School provides an excellent testing ground for Ravitch's hypothesis, for the wealth of resources at Princeton High School far exceed the state averages. The following data collection, published on the "New Jersey Schools' Report Card" web-site, reveals the quality of teaching and endowment of resources Princeton High School possesses.

Comparison of Resources in 1995-96

ResourcePrinceton High School State Average
Average Class Size18 20.6
Expenditure Per Pupil10,389 8,798
Faculty Salary58,630 50,025
Administrators' Salary89,360 78,956
Local Tax Revenue 87% of budget 54% of budget
Instructional Time5 hrs, 52 min 5 hrs, 28 min

The application of these resources to the success of students at Princeton High School is evident in the state-leading test scores achieved by Princeton students. The average math SAT score for PHS students was 609, compared to the state average of 508; in the verbal portion, PHS students averaged 592, in comparison to 496 by students across the state. Although its wealth of resources, in both monetary and human capital, are evident in the success of the majority of students at Princeton High School, there is a question as to whether the Latino students who attend Princeton High School receive the same access to resources and faculty attention for academic pursuits as their white counterparts. In a paper entitled "A Snapshot of Princeton High School," Dr. Leigh Byron, principal of PHS, boasts of the high school's 160 courses, including twelve advanced placement courses. Yet, despite the fact that 21 percent of the student body speaks another language first at home, out of all 160 courses, only one ESL English course is offered before students are infused into the standard English classes. Byron highlights that 60 percent of the PHS student body is enrolled in accelerated courses, and 80 percent of those enrolled in the advanced placement classes passed the exam in 1995. However, reports of former students convey that the only advanced placement class with substantial numbers (over 2 students) of Latino or African American students in its population is Advanced Placement Spanish. With the new publicity of the Latino students' struggles at PHS, Dr. Byron claims, "One major goal of PHS is to enhance the educational experience of its African -American and Latino students" through a new focus of teachers on "encouraging, motivating, and inspiring students to achieve their full potential." But, is this attitudinal change enough?

Initial Proposal

We were eager to investigate the potential disparity of access and attention afforded to Latino students at PHS. Could the disparity between the success of white and Latino students at Princeton be explained by the language barrier alone, or are their educational and social issues precluding Latino students from taking full advantage of the wealth of resources at PHS? Our initial proposal was to interview the teachers at Princeton High School to gather their perceptions of the impact the increasing numbers of Latino students have had on the school, in both academic and social realms. We were curious to learn if the teachers had altered their teaching styles to adjust to the influx of Latino students in their classes. We also wanted to know if the teachers had noticed any distinctive social dynamics, such as a self-isolation, among the Latino students, or if the Latino students were completely integrated into the student body at the high school. We ran into several bureaucratic barriers at the Principal's Office and the Princeton Regional Schools' District Office that prevented us from interviewing the teachers themselves, so we had to alter our initial proposal.

Frustrations With Bureaucracy

We started our investigation with an attempt to access a dozen teachers at Princeton High School whom we could interview to obtain their impressions of the impact of the increasing numbers of Latino students. Bridget contacted a teacher that she has worked with at the high school through a volunteer teaching project to see if she might be interested in participating, and if she could suggest other teachers who would like to help out as well. This teacher gave our proposal a warm reception. Upon her suggestion, we drafted a letter to teachers to solicit their involvement in our study (see Appendix). We delivered these letters to the school office, requesting their authorization for our distribution of the letters. While we awaited the reply of the school office, we attempted to learn as much information about the high school as we could from sources outside the institution itself.

At this initial phase of inquiry, we had conversations with former PHS students and Paulina Alvarado, the director of the Mercer County Hispanic Association (MECHA) who works with many of the Latino youth currently attending the school, to try to obtain from them a sense of the educational opportunities provided to Latino students, particularly recent immigrants. Former PHS students currently attending Princeton University consistently reported a dearth of minority students, Latino and African American students, in their honors classes. Alvarado emphasized tragic numbers of Latino students failing classes at PHS: 52 out of 85 Latino students at PHS failed a class in the fall semester, 1996. Alvarado pointed out that the Latino population who live in Princeton is unique, in comparison to the Latino presence in surrounding communities, for 99 percent of Princeton's Latino population are new immigrants who come from agricultural backgrounds. This high proportion of recent immigrants are often very unfamiliar with the American system of education; as a consequence, the kids don't feel that the have the language or educational background for the classes they attend at the high school. In addition, Alvarado stated that a majority of parents don't speak English, leaving the kids to fend for themselves. Alvarado contended that the language barrier for the kids is often the start of a downward spiral, for the kids become disenchanted with school, and also feel that prejudices exist in American society which precludes them from being a part of the school community. Our conversations with former PHS students and Alvarado wetted our appetite to learn more, for we had an even greater sense that there was indeed a problem with the ways the school was responding to the Latino students, allowing them to simply feel alienated and unqualified for attending the school.

Unfortunately, when the school office got back to us regarding the distribution of our letters, they reported that our request to interview teachers had been denied. We called the school office back to see if we could adjust our letter or study to make it more acceptable to the school, but were told that the Principal had made a flat denial of our proposal- no further explanation was necessary or provided. We were perplexed by this response, for it seemed to us to imply that the school administration was afraid or reluctant to share information with us. Why would the school administration attempt to halt a study of the teachers' sentiments on the impact of the increasing Latino students on the schools? Bridget approached the teacher she had worked with, her original contact, with this question.

Our teacher-contact was outraged at the administration's refusal to allow us to conduct our study. Ms. Smith stated that she thought the administration was reluctant to have us asking about the school's response to the influx of Latino students because the response has, in her opinion, been inadequate. Ms. Smith implied that the administration's reply indicated a protective mechanism to preserve their image, for they could not answer a question regarding an aspect of the school they had ignored for several years. Ms. Smith sought out the legal consultant of the school (the building representative for the education association) to see why our request had been denied. Following her conversation with the legal consultant, Ms. Smith called us back to report that the refusal of our request arose principally from the inimical relationship that Princeton High School had with the press. The legal consultant claimed that the press is overwhelmingly hostile to the teachers and administration at PHS, citing the recent article in the Princeton Packet (March 16, 1997) as a prime example. According to Ms. Smith, the administration feared the "stupid thing that teachers say in interviews," so they had enacted a policy to prohibit interviews of teachers which would be published. Ms. Smith's response: "Initially, I was offended by their denial of your study. I was wondering, 'What are they afraid of or trying to hide?' But, now I have learned that it's not your study that's the issue- it's just the policy." Ms. Smith did add, however, that the issue of the Latino students' educational attainment "is a particularly sensitive issue at Princeton High School."

Unconvinced that we would have to abandon ship simply because we could not interview teachers, we resolved to try to find another way to study the impact of the Latino-student influx on Princeton High School. At a minimum, we thought that finding statistics of the high school students, such as passing rates on standardized tests and grade point average distributions, which we expected to find at the Princeton Regional Schools District Office, would help us to gather a better understanding of the high school. But, on the morning that we had planned to meet to devise a new plan, we receive word from another research group from our class that the District Office could only provide the most basic statistics, such as enrollment of students, but would not provide any statistics with ethnic or racial break-downs. In addition, the District Office alerted the other research group to a policy prohibiting people outside the school from doing studies of any kind on the schools unless their work has been approved by a panel of teachers and professors, passed the vote of the school board, and received the seal of approval from the superintendent. Needless to say, the process described was extremely lengthy and complicated, making it an impossible procedure for us to begin in mid-April, given our deadline of mid-May. With our new knowledge, our original proposal seemed impossible, for at the very minimum, we would jeopardize the jobs of PHS teachers, and the trust of the high school for future interaction with university students. We realized that we had to devise a new proposal that would avoid such potential problems.

Upon the suggestion of Professor Centeno, we decided to see if we could study the impressions of student teachers who had taught in local schools over the course of the past year through the Princeton University Teacher Preparation Program. We wanted to ask the same type of questions, for our interest still primarily revolved around the teachers' and schools' responses to Latino students within and outside of the classroom. Realizing that some of the student-teachers would have more Latino students in their classes than others, we decided to also ask the student-teachers about their preparation for teaching students of different cultural backgrounds (see Appendix for complete interview questions). What follows is the presentation of the information we learned from our new form of research- interviews with teacher preparation students who have done their student teaching at local schools. Because responses of student teachers varied markedly according to the grade level of their classes and the student population at the school in general, we have maintain three separate frames, designated by the three different interviewers. We found that our individual analysis and conclusions about the information we individually obtained was best presented on their own. We will draw together conclusions from our experience following the third frame of interviews.

LATINO STUDENTS IN LOCAL SCHOOLS: Observations of Student Teachers

Background on the Teacher Preparation Program

As part of their training, seniors in the Teacher Preparation program are required to observe and practice teaching at a local school for a minimum of eight weeks. During this time they are asked "to evaluate existing teaching methods and materials while at the same time developing their own." This process can be particularly challenging as students are forced to grapple, not only with developing the most effective teaching methods, but doing so with a keen understanding of the personal and social dynamics of New Jersey's vastly diverse classrooms.

In the interest of assessing the educational and social impact of Latino students in area school districts, we conducted an e-mail survey amongst seniors in the program and asked them share their experiences in trying to understand and educate Latino students (See Appendix B). Although they had varying levels of interaction with these students, the reflections of the student teachers lend insight into the current challenges faced by Latinos and their educators in America's public schools. Furthermore, their stories highlight the need for teachers, and students in the teacher preparation program in particular, to be informed about the challenges they will face in the classroom and the most effective ways of overcoming them.


Interview Conducted by Cara Jones

  • Name: Christina
  • School: Riverside School, Princeton, NJ
  • Subjects Taught: all subjects (self-contained classroom)
  • Grade level: 1st

    Although lacking direct experience with Latino students through her teaching, Christina spent considerable time in the Princeton School District through various volunteer activities. Despite the fact that she was satisfied with the district's commitment to running ESL and bilingual programs, she felt that Limited English Proficient (LEP) Latinos are done a disservice by the tremendous amount of time they spend in these programs. According to Christina, these students participate in language programs a few days a week that provide very little academic content. In the mean time, the period dedicated for this special instruction often occurs during regular science and history classes. Thus, many LEP students end up missing science and history instruction for up to a few days a week and thus have difficulty understanding what is going on in the class. Christina was also concerned that there was little collaboration or even communication between mainstream and ESL/bilingual education instructors.

    Having also had the opportunity to work with students outside of school, Christina was given the impression that many of these students simply did not understand what was going on in mainstream classrooms. She observed that these students often find a friend who can speak English better than they can from whom they copy homework answers. Christina thought it was problematic that homework was not translated so that parents could help but at the same time understood that many Latino parents have not even received enough education to be able to do so. She added, however, that there was a Latino parents' meeting once a month, run by bilingual educators. The attendance rate for these meetings is unknown.

  • Name: Sarah
  • School: Riverside School, Princeton, NJ
  • Subjects Taught: all
  • Grade level: 3rd
  • Based on her experience with one Mexican girl in her 3rd grade class at the Riverside School in Princeton, Sarah described the difficulty in pinpointing the factors inhibiting immigrant students from realizing their potential in the classroom. The girl in her class had previously been assigned to a "basic skills" classroom to help she and several other children with similar needs in math. According to Sarah, the immigrant student was "simply very slow." Sarah recognized, however, that that this could be because lessons were taught in a way that was perhaps culturally foreign to her. Furthermore, although she had no concrete evidence, Sarah surmised that this child's poor performance was most likely a result of her not having received the reinforcement needed at home.

  • Name: Kelly
  • School: Princeton High School, Princeton, NJ
  • Subjects Taught: History 1 and AP US History
  • Grade level: 9-12
  • Kelly, a student teacher at Princeton High School, had two immigrant students from Guatemala in her class. One had been in the United States over a year and the other just a few months. Because Kelly spoke Spanish fluently she was able communicate with these two students. It was impossible, however, for her to conduct two lessons at the same time, so the students were not able to remain in the class. Because of their language barrier, she observed, they were placed in a completely different level than the other students, most of whom were native English speakers and honors level students. In general, Kelly noticed a remarkable discrepancy in the performance of these two students. Although she was inclined to blame it on the language barrier, she thinks there may be other issues such as cultural differences or difficulties in the home involved. This assumption is based on her observation that there were immigrants from non-Hispanic countries and who were also non-native English speakers who performed at higher levels than these two students. Although she felt she has not seen enough of the school to make any absolute conclusions, Kelly thought that in general the schools' response to Latino students in Princeton High School "is not a good one" as it placed non-English speaking students in an English based History classes where their language needs could not be met.

  • Name: Jason
  • School: Princeton High School, Princeton, NJ
  • Subjects Taught: Genetics, Biology, Accelerated Biology
  • Grade level: 9-12
  • Jason had 4 or 5 Latino students in his classes, none of whom were recent immigrants. His students generally had strong English skills. Although he observed that writing and public speaking skills sometimes lacked amongst these students, this was the case for many of the students, even native English speakers.

    Jason noted that the presence of a strong Latino community "is certainly felt at Princeton High School." In general, however, he sensed that the faculty is "sensitive" to the diversity that exists. He went on to comment, however, that in fact the faculty and administration may be too considerate of student freedoms. Jason felt that Princeton High School lacked a clear definition of proper student conduct and limitations on what students can do.

    Commenting on the challenge of teaching a diverse student body Jason noted that teaching in a heterogeneous classroom, especially where language barriers exist, was an extremely difficult task. While he felt that some educators could certainly be more sensitive to what they could do to aid their Latino students, he felt that Princeton High School boasted "a disproportionately large number of caring professionals," (at least in the science department). Supportive of this sentiment was his observation that at least 10 faculty members (many from non-ESL courses) are taking a no-cost Spanish class given by the school in their free time just to familiarize themselves with "classroom" Spanish.

    On the Teacher Preparation Program:

    Although she did not have any Latino students in her 1st grade class at Riverside Elementary School in Princeton, Christina felt that the Teacher Preparation Program could be given on how to deal with a diverse classroom. Relating to the question of Latinos, she thought it might be helpful for student teachers to get a basic background on the status of minority and Limited English Proficient students in the state.

    Having been challenged by one immigrant student who rarely liked to speak out loud in class, Kelly felt that training could be helpful if it could help student teachers be sensitive to how behaviors such as this could be a result of some culturally related habit, practice or understanding. Sarah, on the other hand, felt that there was no way for the Teacher Prep. Program to solve these problems, especially in light of language differences.

    In Jason's experience, however, Spanish did not seem to be necessary to produce understanding of the subject-matter in non-ESL courses. Only once did he use his Spanish to clarify a science-related issue. In Jason's experience cultural barriers in the classroom were more challenging than those posed by language. He said a common language, however, "might be a good tool to indicate to the student a teachers' understanding of culture."


    From the limited information I was able to collect, there are three commonly expressed observations regarding the experience Latino students and their educators in area schools. First, on a structural level, it seems the school has not provided an adequate transition program particularly for Limited English Proficiency students. Most of the Latino students introduced in the reflections were either "not very adept" at reading or writing or were "simply very slow." Furthermore, few Latino students seem to be underrepresented in upper level classes. Although ESL and bilingual language programs do exist in these districts, these observations suggest that they may not be effective. Additionally, it seems there is premature entry into mainstream classrooms where attention is not paid to the ongoing needs of LEP Latino students.

    A second shared observation amongst teacher prep students was that there was noteworthy commitment exhibited by some of the teachers in these districts to facilitating the educational experience of Latino students. Although they failed to comment on the effectiveness of teachers' ability to handle Latino students in the classroom, a number of student teachers were impressed with the concern expressed by some teachers. This commitment was particularly demonstrated in some of the teachers' willingness to take classroom Spanish classes. One student also observed a teacher who gave her class a presentation on Guatemala to introduce the students to the unique background of their Guatemalan classmate. Efforts such as this, he noted, are hard initiate "especially in a school of predominantly white, J-Crewish people." The level of commitment demonstrated by some teachers in New Jersey districts is surprising in the context of a the apparent inadequacy of educational programs for LEP Latinos but it may mean that the forces inhibiting advancements in Latino education are coming from the higher levels in the administration.

    A third observation frequently expressed in the student teachers' reflections was that the task of understanding and bridging cultural gaps was quite daunting. Being unfamiliar with the cultural and ethnic backgrounds of their students lead to confusion and in many cases misunderstanding. Although her inclination was to label one Latino students "slow" Sarah noted that there might be other factors contributing to her poor academic performance such as different learning styles, cultural unfamiliarity, family difficulties or simple maladjustment to a very foreign American society. Jason also supported this observation in his comment that the mutual alienation evident between Latino students and their American educators seemed to be due to cultural factors beyond just language differences.

    As it stands teacher-prep students are not trained in dealing with extra-curricular cultural and personal challenges of immigrant youth. Without a basic understanding of cultural and learning style differences of these students the ability of student teachers to assess and meet the needs of minority youth is considerably impaired.

    Interviews Conducted by Kristin Buehl

  • Name: Jamie
  • School: Lawrence Middle School (Lawrence, NJ)
  • Subjects taught: Social Studies
  • Grade level: 7th
  • Jamie taught Social Studies to a seventh-grade class at Lawrence Middle School and had two Latinos in her class. The two Latinos in her class had trouble writing English but she didn't know how she could help them to improve their learning skills. She admitted that having some knowledge of Spanish and Latino culture could really help because it would help her understand the Latinos better. Although she took six weeks of Spanish classes and spent a week at an orphanage in Tijuana with SVC, she did not have any official preparation to deal with Latino culture. Jamie was disappointed because she knew that the two Latinos came from different cultural backgrounds that offered different learning styles. After all, she realized that "having to adjust to a new language and a strange teaching style can be traumatic." The Latinos in her class were sometimes frustrated and often lost their motivation to learn due to their lack of understanding English. She simply wished that she "had training" because she wanted to help them. She didn't even know what their nationalities were because she never made the effort to ask them..

    Despite the academic difficulties the Latinos experienced in her class, Jamie noted that the Latinos "seemed to mix well with the other kids and were generally happy." She attributed this to the excellent diversity at her school especially with the recent surge of Polish immigration.

  • Name: Stacy
  • School: Riverside Elementary School
  • Subjects taught: all
  • Grade level: 3rd and 4th
  • Stacy taught all subjects to a 3rd and 4th grade class. There was one Latino in her class whose family came from Mexico ten years ago. She observed that the boy spoke both English and Spanish. She was able to communicate with him because her father spoke Spanish fluently, thus giving her the advantage of knowing the language. She commented, "This particular student was having some difficulties with reading and writing English, which may stem from the use of different languages at school and at home."

    Stacy's school was responsive to students' needs in that they had a program for bilingual students, in which the students got individual help for reading and writing. But Stacy failed to mention how effective or ineffective the program was.

    Name: Jackie Name: Catherine

    School: Montgomery High School School: Montgomery High School

    Subjects taught: World History Subjects taught: United States History

    Grade Level: 11th Grade Level: 11th and 12th

    Both Jackie and Catherine taught at Montgomery High School, "a very white suburban school located just north of Princeton." One taught World History while the other taught United States History at the junior and senior levels. Neither of them had a Latino in their classes. However, Jackie admitted that maybe she "might have forgotten one or two." Maybe this means that Latinos do not make a strong impression on some of the teachers as much as the white students do. It is possible that most Latinos do not have the money to attend an exclusive school and therefore obtain a good education. Or perhaps there are some Latinos living in that neighborhood but they may have already dropped out of school.


    To sum up, it is clear that the greatest disadvantage suffered by a large portion of Latinos is their inability to use English. Very few teachers speak Spanish. As a result, Latinos with limited English skills are usually instructed by monolingual teachers who are unable to provide them with the services they are entitled to in the language they can understand. Not only that, the Latino parents who probably speak mainly Spanish can't even help their own kids with their homework. Consequently, language remains a huge barrier to learning.

    Furthermore, it is shown that many teachers lack an understanding of Latino culture. We don't know if they are aware or unaware of these cultural disparities and their effects. There are probably some who are aware of these cultural disparities but don't know what to do about it (other than to try encouraging the Latinos to assimilate to the American ways of the schools). If the teachers want to improve their students' learning, they need to accommodate educational approaches to the Latino's cultural characteristics. It is evident that if the teachers do not adapt their educational approaches to these differences, Latinos will be frustrated and lose their motivation to learn. Also, teachers need to increase the quality of their interaction with Latinos in order to improve the system of communication. The better the system of communication is, the better the system of education will be.

    Jamie, one of the student teachers we interviewed, made us realize that when there are other minorities present in the class, there is a better understanding and appreciation of cultural differences. For example, since there are a lot of recent Polish immigrants at her school, a program for bilingual students has been installed to help them with their reading and writing skills.

    It is also apparent that these kinds of programs are more widespread and effective in elementary schools than in high schools. It seems as if teachers in elementary schools are more aware and more willing to help the Latinos in their classes than those in high schools because their classes are smaller and the kids are more enthusiastic about learning than the high school students. The Latino elementary students are basically on the same academic level as the other non-Latino students as they all attempt to learn to read and write.

    Overall, it is helpful if the teachers are trained to take their Latino students' cultural characteristics into consideration when they instruct the Latinos. Whatever happens in the near future, it is imperative that teachers who work with Latino students understand the causes of their poor academic performance and correct the school's contribution to this unfortunate fact.

    Interviews Conducted by Bridget Scott

  • Name: Carrie
  • School: Princeton High School, Princeton, NJ
  • Subjects Taught: English
  • Grade level: 9th and 10th
  • For Carrie, knowing Spanish came in handy not for her teaching within the classroom, but for her disciplinary action outside the classroom. Carrie taught several classes of English at the ninth and tenth grade level at Princeton High School. Her classes were comprised of a "mixed group of kids" in terms of racial and ethnic composition, as well as skill levels, because the English classes at the high school are not tracked, but standardized, so the advanced placement English class is the only selectively-chosen English class. Carrie commented that a "Power English" class had been set up recently to aid students struggling through the standard English class, particularly recent Latino immigrants, in improving their reading and writing skills. Carrie says that this
    "Power English" class is good, but it still does not solve the problem created by having only one English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher in the entire high school. Apparently, many of the kids are forced out of ESL as soon as they learn the most basic conversational English, but are inserted into these standard classes on American and British literature. As a consequence of such a rushed ESL process, the English teachers at the high school feel "at a loss," according to Carrie, for they are unable to address the needs of these students when they are teaching their standard English classes. She noted that in many cases, the language and skill level is just out of their league. In addition, Carrie pointed out that knowing Spanish is not particularly useful in the classroom because the majority of the class does not understand Spanish, and reminded me that Spanish is not the only language immigrant students at PHS speak. The table below, obtained from the web, tells the same story.

  • Language Diversity at Princeton High School
  • First language spoken at home in order of frequency
  • English79Spanish 7
    Mandarin (Kuoyu, Pekin)2 Cantonese1
    Russian1French 1
    Japanese1Others 8

    Carrie said that her Spanish was most useful to her when she was outside of the classroom in the role of a disciplinarian. Carrie sighted the school's new policy of having a permanent faculty "hall monitor" in the main corridor of the building to combat the discipline problem of groups of boys, Latinos in particular, loitering in the hallways, even in the middle of class periods. Carrie described that the faculty decided a hall monitor was needed to address this problem, but few teachers wanted to take on this responsibility, primarily because they felt uncomfortable in approaching "Latino cliques" of boys in the hallway. Carrie said that other faculty members cited the language barrier as their reason for avoiding the job, because apparently Latino students would "talk back" in Spanish to teachers disciplining them, and these teacher had no idea what they were saying. Carrie took on this job without any qualms because she did know Spanish, and she said that, unlike other teachers, the students respected and obeyed her because she would not tolerate their "talking back." Because of her proficiency in Spanish, Carrie believes she was able to establish a relationship with the students that few other faculty had.

    Because of her relationship with the students, Carrie was able to make some assessments about the Latino students as members of the school community. First, she conveyed that every kid she met wanted to learn English, and subsequently the subjects being offered, very much. They were not there simply to pass the time, but showed a genuine interest in learning, particularly in improving their reading, writing, and speaking skills. When asked if she thought that the Latino students felt as if they were a part of the school, Carrie replied in the negative, stating that they often feel the need to set themselves apart. Carrie acknowledged that this social isolation could contribute to the students' poor participation in class as well.

    Carrie believes that PHS needs to address the influx of Latino students linguistically and socially. One attempt to address the issue, as mentioned above in Cara's report, is the "classroom Spanish" class taught to faculty members after school. Carrie believes that PHS is a great school, but it is currently not dealing with its social problems.

    Name: Pam

  • School: Heightstown High School, Heightstown, NJ (15 minutes from Princeton)
  • Subjects Taught: ESL-Science and AP Biology
  • Grade level: ESL 9-12 mixed class, 12
  • Pam said she has learned a great deal about teaching and herself through her experience of teaching an introductory science class for students enrolled in the English as a Second Language (ESL) Program at Heightstown High School According to Pam, she learned how to teach through the Teacher Preparation Program in mostly a lecture, or presentation-style, format, but found that in order to convey the lesson to her ESL science class, she had to create a more hands-on, student-centered, interactive format. . Pam is currently teaching this class this semester, in conjunction with an Advanced Placement Biology class.

    Pam's ESL class is composed of students who have immigrated here from Costa Rica, Mexico, Russia, Hungary, and Ecuador, with the majority coming from Ecuador. Pam says her A.P. biology class is like "night and day" compared to her ESL class, with three Asian students, one Latino student, one African American student, one Indian student, and a majority of white students. Pam says it is not only the "appearance" of the classes that are different, but the atmosphere of the classes as well. Her ESL class, she says, is louder, for most of the students interject comments out loud frequently, even during her explanations. Pam says she has learned that this is partly understandable by the cultural differences, for she has learned from books she has read on her own that there is a level of "accepted chatter" in most Latin American classrooms that doesn't exist in the typical American classroom. Pam says that as a consequence of the more vocal and mobile group (students frequently stand-up or approach the door to leave the class), she has instituted more strict rules in her class. Yet, she has designed these rules in conjunction with a system of "positive points" so that students have an incentive, rather than a punishment, to encourage them to conform to the more quiet and still American classroom-atmosphere. One other observation Pam made is that the class uniformly "sticks up" for each other; punishing one single person is nearly impossible in the class, because no one student wants to incriminate another. Thus, the ESL group is much closer with one another in comparison to the students in A.P. biology, who are competitive, rather than cooperative, with each other.

    Pam says that she was initially very intimidated by her ESL class because she had ten Latino students, but she knew not a word of Spanish. In addition, she noted that she had to get used to different cultural practices, such as the fact that her students felt comfortable in approaching her closer physically that the traditional "teacher-distance" in the American system would allow for. Pam says that the Teacher Prep. Program really could not have prepared her for these things- she is in the process of experiential learning of how to teach better through the process of working with them. One big adjustment Pam had to make was her system of discipline because at the beginning of the semester, Pam would attempt to punish the ESL students by making them stay after school, as she did her honors students in the A.P. class. However, Pam soon realized that this punishment was ineffective because the ESL students wanted to stay after school with her to learn more, and practice their English with her. In Pam's words, "Even now (at the end of the semester), I am learning every day."

  • Name: Maria
  • School: Lawrence High School, Lawrenceville, NJ
  • Subjects Taught: regular and A.P. Biology
  • Grade level: 9, 12
  • Maria taught standard and advanced placement biology to a relatively homogenous student body at Lawrence High School. She noted that there were recent Polish immigrants in the school, but very few Latino students, and none in any of her four classes. In regards to her own preparation for teaching Latino students, Maria included that she was proficient in Spanish from classes she had taken on her own. She expressed that she wished the Teacher Preparation Program had spent more time on issues of multi-culturalism in their education seminar for student-teachers.

    Though Maria did not have any Latino students of her own, she told an anecdote regarding a Latino student. One day in the faculty lunch room, one of the other science teachers at the high school was telling Maria about one of his students who was doing very poorly in his class. The teacher then included the statement, "Of course, he is Hispanic," as if to explain the student's poor performance in his class. Maria commented that this statement shocked her, and expressed a rather uncommon prejudice among the faculty at Lawrence High School.

  • Name: Jennifer
  • School: Princeton High School, Princeton, NJ
  • Subjects Taught: regular and A.P. English
  • Grade level: 11, 12
  • Jennifer taught three advanced placement English classes and one standard English class for juniors at Princeton High School. Although she did not recall whether or not she had had a Latino student in her standard English class, Jennifer expressed that there were no Latino students in any of her three advanced placement English classes. Given the research we had found through other sources (described in the introduction to the interviews), the dearth of Latino students in the A.P. English classes at PHS is no surprise. In regard to the racial composition of her classes, Jennifer commented that she had a few Asian students and one African American student in her classes. Jennifer explained that due to the rigorous nature of the course, she did not believe it would be possible for a non-native speaker of English to survive the reading and writing assignments.

    In terms of the social dynamics of the school, Jennifer commented that there were clear racial lines at the school. According to Jennifer, African American students and Latino students maintained separate groups. She expressed the difficulty in bridging these gaps between groups due to the language barrier involved, but expressed that she thought that the ESL program was meeting the needs of the Latino students. Jennifer said that she was aware, from conversations with other teachers, that teachers of the standard English classes were frustrated with its inclusion nature from an academic stand-point, particularly since their inclusive nature did not seem to be having any effect in the social dynamics of the students outside of the classroom.


    The four teachers had a range of experiences with regard to their contact with Latino students due to the demography of their school's district, the classes that they taught, and their own level of comfort in approaching Latino students on their own. The lack of Latino students in Maria's classes tells us about the demographic profile of Lawrenceville, for the public high school there had few Latino students, especially in comparison to the 9 percent of the student body that Latinos constitute at PHS. Within PHS, Carrie had substantially more contact with Latino students than did Jennifer since she sought to establish a relationship with the students she encountered in her disciplinarian role. It was interesting to hear how differently Carrie and Jennifer viewed the school's response to the educational and social needs of its Latino students. Jennifer seemed to think that PHS was adequately addressing the needs of Latino students through the ESL program, but Carrie was not content with the way that PHS was approaching the needs of Latino students, especially given the social barriers between students and the lack of relationships the faculty had with Latino students that she witnessed. Pam, on the other hand, has been able to overcome her initial fears to build a relationship with her ESL class. Her relationship with her students seems to have radically changed the way she teaches and disciplines. In fact, she credits the experience of working with a class of such diverse background and skills as one of the most instructive aspects of her student teaching.

    All four teachers I interviewed seemed to agree that addressing the language barrier ought to be the first priority for meeting the needs of Latino students, because the language barrier has very serious academic and social consequences for students at the high school level. The teachers at PHS and Heightstown High School conveyed that they felt powerless in addressing the social lines drawn between racial and ethnic groups at the high school, but Carrie did convey that she thought the non-tracked, inclusion classes of standard English and history were helpful in bringing students from different backgrounds together. Thus, even Carrie was able to find some positive steps that indicate the school is aware of the issue of addressing the needs of Latino students.


    Although the stories of Princeton seniors suggest compelling evidence of certain components of the Latino education challenge, there were three major limitations to our study. First, although were able to contact twelve teacher prep students, only six of them had experience with Latino students in their classrooms. Second, most of the teacher prep seniors were only involved in the teaching of these students for a limited number of hours over just eight weeks. Third, while we felt using e-mail as a means of communication allowed us to reach more people initially, students were often reluctant to offer more detailed responses when they were contacted the second time.


    In a study such as ours in search of explanations for the trend of Latino students' poor educational outcomes, no clear-cut answer or reason is bound to surface. Our struggles with our original proposal to interview teachers at Princeton High School to do a particular case study on that school tell a story on their own, for they reveal a reluctance and fear among school administrators to address the topic of Latino youth in their schools. The rejection our proposal received from both the school and district administrative offices may suggest that this is an area the schools find unimportant; or, on the other hand (and in our positive-thinking estimation) it could indicate that the schools are in the midst of addressing the issue presently, and are not yet ready to produce results. In any event, we are glad that we made the inquiry at the faculty and administrative levels in order to pressure these parties to invest more time and energy into this issue.

    Although our original proposal was blocked by bureaucratic barriers, we were successful in ascertaining student teachers' impressions of the effects Latino students have had on the schools and the challenges Latino students face. Here we present an amalgamation of our findings and our best educated guesses as to the factors which impede Latino students from obtaining the same quality of education, and from achieving at the same level of success as their white counterparts.

    First, the role of cultural expectations and customs, particularly among recent immigrants is substantial in determining a student's level of comfort in an American school. As Cara noted in her section, much of the American school system is based on participation and vocalization by students. Such a system is often particularly foreign to Latina girls; their shyness or silence, reflective of their upbringing at home, could be interpreted as a failure to respond due to a lack of knowledge or understanding. If a Latina is afraid to speak up for herself, it is not unlikely that her silence will be misinterpreted as sub-par class participation or understanding of the class.

    Next, the language barrier justifiably receives a great deal of attention as a limit to educational success. From the reports of our student teachers, we found that if a student is weak in English at the elementary school level, it is more likely that s/he will receive the attention s/he needs to improve her/his proficiency in English, without falling dramatically behind. In addition, much of the instruction at the elementary level is basic and hands-on, so a student with less proficiency could still get by. In contrast, it is much more difficult for both the student and the school at the high school level to overcome a language barrier, for the disparity in understanding at the upper level of education between proficient speakers and recent immigrants is much greater. In addition, the language barrier affecting students can also affect the degree of parental involvement. If the parents of the students do not speak English, as Paulina Alvarado of MECHA suggests is frequently the case, they tend to be less involved in their children's education, from helping with homework to communicating with the teacher regarding their daughter/son's progress. Such parental involvement has been proven to positively effect students' achievement; thus the language barrier can hurt the student in multiple ways.

    Another dimension to the barriers for Latinos in their academic achievement can be their socioeconomic status. The connection that Kozol makes between the poverty of families and the high school graduation rate has just as much relevance for those at the lower rungs of the socioeconomic ladder in Princeton as it does in Camden, for example. If families are depending upon their children to hold jobs while in school, as many immigrant families are forced to do, the amount of time and energy the child can spend on her/his education is severely impaired.

    In addition to financial considerations, recent immigrants often face trying psychological and emotional battles from the transition of moving into a new culture. This emotional and psychological "baggage" that students carry with them into school can make it difficult for them socially and academically, for being the new kid in school generally implies a lower level of self-confidence and self-esteem. Facing academic challenges is just one of many concerns these Latino children may be facing at any given time.

    Often in response to such feelings of alienation, Latino students (particularly recent immigrants) flock to each other's sides, forming a group of peers they can identify with. The problem with the formation of such a group is evidenced especially at Princeton High School, for teachers and other students see this group as a self-segregating group, and often accuse such a group of being a discipline problem. While rebellious behavior is common to many teens, it is especially understandable for the Latino teen given the social pressure and familial constraints s/he may be operating under. In some cases, Latino teens may indeed be discipline problems, but in other cases, isn't it possible that the teachers react negatively to a group of Latino students together simply because it is a clique they don't understand or even fear. As Bridget's interviewee, Carrie, indicated, several teachers in the high school are indeed afraid of approaching these groups of Latino students. These interactions are not healthy for the learning environment of the school, or the educational involvement of the individual.

    In conclusion, there are many issues contributing to the dismal trends in Latino education, even in the well-endowed school district of Princeton. The one conclusive answer we did find in the process of our study was the need for schools to spend time examining the challenges Latino students face in order to better meet their needs. Ultimately, it is in the school's and society's best interest to work with Latino students to bring an end to the trend of poor educational attainment because Latino youth are a growing population of the future citizens and leaders of this country.