Hispanics are the largest and fastest-growing minority in the United States, yet only 53 percent of Hispanic students graduate from high school. Nelson Smith with the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools says several new reports indicate Hispanic students achieve at higher levels when enrolled in a charter school as compared to a traditional public school.
"In the state of Massachusetts showing stronger and getting stronger than that performance by Hispanic students in charter schools as compared to their peers in other public schools. In Florida we found Hispanic students, for example, starting out considerably behind but then moving ahead of their peers in other public schools. There are other national studies that we've cited here. All in all I think it adds up to a pretty interesting picture that, as we say, there are signs of promise that this model of charter schooling has some particular power to serve kids from this community."
In 2005, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, showed fourth-grade Hispanic students in charter schools scored statistically significant gains over their Hispanic peers in non-charter schools. Smith says the NAEP is just a snapshot assessment, so those numbers are promising but not conclusive.
"It is snapshot data. In other words, it doesn't tell you about the prior academic performance of the students in the sample. But what's interesting is between the 2003 and 2005 assessments the performance of Hispanic students moved ahead very smartly. And then in the 2005 report, the fourth-graders were ten points ahead in terms of current numbers of Hispanic students in non-charter schools. So with all the cautions that we want to make clear about, we think that's a very interesting piece of pretty good news."
Smith says the data backs up the anecdotal evidence at various charter schools. Tom Torkelson is the founder and CEO of IDEA Public Schools, a charter school system in South Texas. He says 95 percent of his students are Latino and charter schools are able to help this population succeed because of their sensitivity to the cultural and familial background of their students.
"Folks are here to access the American dream. And the American dream is economic success and prosperity, and we know that in the States it's only possible through success in a four-year college or university. So when we work with parents and we really capitalize on these strong relationships the parents have with their students and really working through the parents as well as the students to educate them on some really important basic steps that can be done to ensure that they're on that college-bound path."
Torkelson says if Texas, as a whole, doesn't do a better job of preparing Latino youth for college, career and citizenship, this state will not reach it's economic potential. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.