Ed Kissam, Shannon Williams – April 2015
The largest and fastest-growing ethnic group in rural schools, Hispanic students face serious educational disparities. However, communities’ future well-being—economic, social, civic—rests on integrating these students into the U.S. mainstream by assuring them of equal educational opportunity.
Researcher Ed Kissam has studied these achievement gaps and offers promising strategies for improving Hispanic students’ educational outcomes.
Rural Hispanic population changes, but performance gap persists
Idaho’s Hispanic population grew by 50 percent from 1990 to 2000, with many families consisting of immigrant parents and U.S.-born children. The majority of these families are settled farmworkers or low-wage workers and are concentrated in the state’s rural fringe counties.
The state’s schools are struggling to keep up with these changes. This is most obvious in the achievement gap between rural Hispanic and white students on assessments such as the Idaho Standards Achievement Tests (ISAT) and the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Kissam found that there are many correlates for this performance gap, including district size, distribution of Hispanic students within schools, and persistent and varying generational challenges.
He also noted that declining numbers of migrant students mean that schools have less funding from the federal Migrant Education Program (MEP) to support programs for farmworker children. Further, he found that schools use the majority of their MEP dollars on identifying eligible children—not on direct service.
Improving opportunities for Idaho’s Hispanic youth
Kissam believes that improving educational opportunities requires focusing on opportunities and issues that extend beyond the K–12 school day. He offered several recommendations for programs focused on improving outcomes for rural Hispanic youth:
- Build students’ career awareness
- Engage students in community service
- Experiment with new approaches to parental engagement
- Expand the school’s role and presence in the community by offering dropout recovery and adult learning programs
- Provide improved support for dual-language learners