Writing about the Boston Public Schools (BPS) and the situation at Boston Latin School (BLS) involving the black students I could not but notice the plight of the Hispanic students. Like the blacks they are direly unrepresented at BLS having about one-quarter of the students there when compared to their number in the BPS.
Perhaps I thought it was because English for them is a second language so they have difficulty on the examination they have to take to gain entrance to BLS. Then I recognized that they were not the only group that had English as a second language. The Asians also seemed to fit into that category and as noted before they have over three times as many students at BLS than in the BPS system.
It also brought me back to thinking about the times when the great rush of foreign immigrants poured into this country around the late 1900s and up to those who came in as Displaced Persons after WWII. Outside of the Irish who were versed in the English language, most of those other immigrant groups from Russia, Germany, Italy, Eastern Europe and Ukraine came without knowledge of it. There were no special arrangements made for them in the public schools. The teachers spoke English and the lessons were in English and these young children were told to learn English or to sink. They did learn and did so very rapidly.
I can give one example which really proves little. My wife, who came over from Ukraine had that experience. Except for her older sister who had picked up a few English words, no one in her family spoke a word of English. She was sent off to public schools in the sixth grade knowing only Ukrainian. As happened to all other immigrants, no special arrangements were made for her. She recalls she did not understand the teacher and the teacher did not understand her. Her older sister gave her what help she could, some of her fellow students befriended her while others chased her home calling her names. Through the school of hard knocks she would eventually learn English and go on to obtain a degree in nursing.
Her example is just one of many examples. Looking at the students who graduated from the BPS as class valedictorian over the past three years in ten of the city’s high schools showed that 21 of the 30 students were born in foreign countries. This confirmed my belief that having English as a second language was no bar to achieving greatly. Yet there is so much more involved than that a shown in this article that suggests in the early years of school it is important that children feel welcome into the schools by hearing the language with which they are familiar.
I recall at one time there was a movement to let kids who spoke Spanish go to schools where they would learn their subjects in Spanish. I never understood how it was going to help the kids do well in an English-speaking society. I’m not sure whether that ever happened or whether it is happening now, but if it did or does exist I’d look at that as one reason why there is such a low representation of Hispanic students at BLS.
That also made me look at whether how the Hispanic students were doing in the other two examination schools. The population of Hispanic students in the BPS system is about 40%. Hispanics are 10% of teachers, 11% of principals, and 13% of the staff of the BPA. The Hispanic population growth in Boston has been rapid from 6% in 1980 10.8% in 1990 to 14.4% in 2000 to 17.5% in 2010.
The other two examination schools showed the presence of Hispanics at Latin Academy is 22.2% (blacks 24.2%, Asian 22%, and white 28.6%) which is almost half of their presence in the school population. The black population is about one-quarter below. At the other examination school, the O’Bryant, the statistics show Hispanics at 30.5% (blacks 32.9%, Asian 22.4%, and white 11.4%).
At these two examination schools Hispanics represent an average of 26.5% yet only 11.6% at BLS. I would surmise that would not be any different from the figures of all other groups who came to America speaking another tongue except for Asians who do seem to excel even though English is their second tongue. Overall, it appears not having English as a first language is no bar to high achievement in school. If so, why are the Hispanics lagging behind?