Answering Questions about the Schooling of Latino Children

A. Reynaldo Contreras

San Francisco State University

Robert E. Slavin and Margarita Calderón, eds., Effective Programs for Latino Students. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2001.

The successful education of culturally and linguistically diverse students is a complex endeavor that involves many factors in addition to the acquisition of English. Schools that recognize students' needs and provide the necessary leadership and support in planning, implementation, and evaluation of quality instructional programs will address those needs. Unfortunately, many of our schools perpetuate negative stereotypes, thereby continuing to fail students. Latino students are the fastest growing diverse student group. As such, they are our most vulnerable.

Thus, as the debate over educational reforms continues, the focus on the issue of culture and linguistic diversity remains an essential dynamic to the argument. Most attention remains focused on the language in which English language learners should be taught. Lost are questions of whether these students are actually learning, of educational equity, and of the quality of their school programs.

It is in this setting that Effective Programs for Latino Children enters into this debate. The book highlights a variety of research projects that have sought to answer some of the more difficult questions concerning the schooling of Latino children. The chapters go far beyond issues of language to address more challenging questions having to do with dropout, transition, emergent literacy, and program quality that affect Latino student outcomes in American schools.

The first chapter evaluates elementary and middle school programs and describes their effectiveness in terms of their applicability to Latino students, their evaluations as compared to control groups, and the potential to replicate them. The authors describe 24 programs that are divided into six categories: school-wide reform; cooperative learning methods; reading, writing, language arts; math; pre-school; and, tutoring programs. Concise descriptions of the programs are provided along with evidence of their effectiveness. The authors recognize three conditions that were present in effective programs:

  1. Clear goals with methods, materials, and assessment related to these goals.
  2. Well-specified components, materials, and professional development procedures.
  3. Extensive professional development.
The authors confront schools working with Latino children by challenging them to step out of the status quo in selecting an appropriate program for their own adaptation.

In the second chapter, six programs that meet the criteria of effectiveness, replicability, and applicability for Latino students are explored. Seven additional programs that did not meet the effectiveness criteria are described due to their prevalent employment with Latino students. Four common themes in effective programs are identified: personalization, connecting students to an attainable future, targeted academic assistance, and student status and recognition.

The third chapter provides a more detailed view of three effective programs for Latinos that were described briefly in the previous chapters. The elementary program, Success for All (SFA), is described primarily through the lens of the principal. While this is insightful, an exploration of alternative viewpoints would have been beneficial. Lacking are voices of students and parents participating in the program. The middle school program, the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program, is explicitly described by the outlining of how the program overcame obstacles and barriers to implementation. It would have been effective to describe how the other programs have also attended to barriers. The high school program, Project AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) is described. On the whole, this chapter provides a qualitative complement to the initial chapters, which focus on quantitative confirmation of program successes. The chapter provides an opportunity for those considering adaptation of one of the programs to have a more intimate insight into the process of implementation. The fourth chapter presents an ethnographic study of a two-way bilingual program in El Paso, Texas. The undertaking explored

  1. Program design and implementation adjustments.
  2. Teacher performance and professional development.
  3. Pedagogy.
  4. Role of the principal in program and structure.

The inquiry provides a good view of the complexities involved in the various stages of the implementation of a two-way program. It presents an in-depth look at the two-way adaptation of Success for All (SFA) and issues related to curriculum development, team teaching, separation of languages, instructional methods, and professional development. The analysis emphasizes the importance of involving teachers as researchers, and the importance of their attitudes and collegial relationships. Moreover, the study concentrates on the unique role of the principal in the two-way program and the significance of cultural and racial tension, historical inequities, and negative attitudes of staff.

This is an important chapter in light of the proliferation of two-way programs across the United States. Eight recommendations are provided for schools considering implementing two-way programs. The recommendations are practical and thought provoking. This is an excellent ethnography that highlights a number of useful ideas related to teaching and teacher development. Furthermore, it highlights the complexity of issues relevant to two-way programs.

The fourth chapter discusses what may be the future of bilingual education, while the fifth chapter focuses on the widely used current model: transitional programs. The authors describe a multiyear design for transition, based on the theoretical principles of comprehensiveness, continuity, challenge, and connections. They report findings from a longitudinal, comparative evaluation of the design at a school in California. The outcomes presented include observed student practices in literacy and attitudes toward reading and writing in English and Spanish. The study offers optimistic results in all areas and identifies shortcomings of the model in addressing the needs of low achieving students, in dealing with newcomers, and in replicating the program with large numbers of teachers.

Chapter 5 is a key contribution in light of the contemporary impetus toward the one-year language immersion model that is occurring in a number of states as an effort to phase out bilingual instruction. The multiyear longitudinal evaluation design illustrates that transition is a complex process and must be treated as such. While acknowledging that the transitional model may not be the most effective for English language learners, the authors provide a strong argument for making it as effective as possible given its prevalence in American schools.

The sixth chapter summarizes six studies on English as a Second Language adaptations of Success for All (SFA) and Éxito Para Todos (EPT), the Spanish version of Success for All (SFA). Brief descriptions of the programs are provided, as are the evaluations of each one. All the studies used control groups of students, yet more information could have been provided on how students were matched. Results from bilingual classes illustrate positive effects of the Éxito Para Todos (EPT) model, however the authors recognize that some results are tentative. The findings from Éxito Para Todos (EPT) appraisals highlight the need for research on heritage language literacy development and note the compounding factors involved with students being transitioned out of Spanish literacy development programs. The findings from the English as a Second Language (ESL) adaptation of Success for All (SFA) reveal positive effects for Spanish language speakers as well as speakers of other languages. The authors acknowledge the inconsistency of the findings and call for additional exploration into the topic.

The seventh chapter extends the exploration of Éxito Para Todos (EPT) presented in the preceding chapter and describes an ethnographic study of two schools in California and one school in Texas involved in the initial stages of implementing the Éxito Para Todos (EPT) model. The research question for the study is "What does reading instruction in Éxito Para Todos look like?" The investigators used participatory observation over a period of two years to answer the question. The investigation describes the factors that make Éxito Para Todos (EPT) classrooms recognizable without difficulty and how teachers adhere to and individualize the Éxito Para Todos (EPT) model. The authors describe classes that "look alike" in terms of materials needed for Éxito Para Todos (EPT), but do not offer specifics on the materials. In a similar vein, a sequence of activities is given without a thorough review. The authors recognize that the data "reflect surface interactions in the classroom and do not address close, face-to-face interactions between students."

The eighth chapter explores the effectiveness studies, articles on effective reading programs, and existing instructional materials to describe the current state of teaching English reading to English language learners. The authors describe factors affecting the reading achievement of Latino students and underscore the need for additional research on this topic. Moreover, they call attention to individual factors that can impact students' abilities to succeed in reading. In presenting common practices in teaching Spanish reading, the authors utilize a series of detailed vignettes. The chapters describing ESL reading techniques, the transition from Spanish to English, and two-way bilingual programs could have benefited from similar vignettes. The authors' briefly mention home literacy experiences that suggest the absence of such programs. The authors' questions for schools are thought provoking and extend beyond the basics to more personal issues of teachers' professional development.

The ninth and tenth chapters do not directly deal with effective programs for Latino students. Chapter 9 is useful in providing statistical data that describe factors placing Latino youth at risk of educational failure. The factors are divided into three categories: personal features/characteristics, environmental factors, and school/learning conditions. The authors suggest that data in all categories must be collected and analyzed by the schools in order to create systemic, comprehensive, and informed school reform. The chapter serves as a reminder to consider individual needs of students in implementing any reform effort. The concluding chapter is a more conceptual examination of reasons for Latino students' academic achievement levels. The authors present brief descriptions of 11 historical models, including cultural deficit, cultural difference, involuntary vs. voluntary immigrant models, as well as lesser known co-ethnic peer communities and dual frame-of-reference explanations. They identify patterns and discontinuities in research on Latino student achievement and present policy implications based on their research. Of the recommendations they offer, two seem to expand beyond what has often been suggested. The recommendations, the need to look at different types of socialization and to identify patterns of family resilience, provide a broader view of possible solutions in dealing with Latino underachievement.

Overall, this publication succeeds in providing an in-depth look at a number of the deeper issues affecting the education of Latinos. The book can be read as preferred or as needed, since each chapter stands on its own in fully describing research procedures and results. Those interested in elementary educational issues will find more information here than those interested in middle or high school levels. However, there are worthy programs to learn about at every level. The volume is an especially helpful resource for those interested in learning more about Success for All (SFA) and Éxito Para Todos (EPT) as options for school reform. The book succeeds in meeting the authors' expectation that it conveys anticipation about what schools for Latinos can be and what Latino students will attain.