Hispanic Underachievement in the Boston Public Schools: Is It because English is their Second Language?

() wisecatWriting 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?


  1. Whoa….this blog seems a little racially tinged eh? I understand your intent, but this blog did not come across well. How do you know the white European immigrants whose 1st language was not English didn’t struggle in school? Do you have statistics from the late 1800s? How many of them even attended school? I bet most were working in some factory or farm.

    I think it has more to do with the socio-economic status of a student rather than race. The wealthier a child’s family is, it seems the more invested the child’s parents are in education. Children who have 2 working parents, or only 1 parent who works full time most likely have less scrutiny of their schoolwork/grades etc. Those kids who come from poor or working class families have a disadvantage in that regard.

    • Dave:

      I suggested the Hispanics are lagging behind. I suggested that need not be so because they come into the school system not having English as a first language. I ask why that is? You find my post is racially tinged?

      I don’t think many of the kids in the late 1800s were working on farms. Most of them crowded into the cities. Most also attended free public school because that was one of the big draws to America for many parents who wanted to give their kids a better life. The influx to the public schools caused great consternation in New York and Boston and other cities because it necessitated more expenditures of public funds which those in power resented. Some kids, of course, went into the factories but that seem not relevant to the situation because I was talking about kids in school and not all kids.

      I disagree with the socio-economic argument. The people of the lower East Side in New York – Hews, Italians Eastern Europeans – and others in cities throughout the country had nothing yet they were not deterred from obtaining success in public schools. Neither are the minority of the Hispanic kids who come out at the top of their class today in the public school. You do point to a major factor in school achievement which is family involvement. That is a separate issue from money or working class environments. Schools like Boston Latin have traditionally filled with working class families.

  2. “Outside of the Irish who were versed in the English language”

    Except for the Irish who were not well versed in the English language. For some Irish, such as those from Gaeltacht regions, English was their second language, spoken with varying levels of proficiency.


  3. Good talking points Matt.

    After much futile research I was unable to find
    any evidence of the CIA and Boston police bringing
    heroin and cocaine into Boston Ukranian

    after googling Catherine Austin Fitts CIA Drugs
    I pulled up the research by this former
    assistant head of HUD detailing Boston police
    bringing in massive amounts of heroin
    and cocaine into black and latino

    Yo Matt:
    Think Serpico,eh?

    DEA supervisor Mike Levine says
    the same thing in his many books
    including the book White Lies.

    DEA agent Celerino Castillo says the
    same thing at his website powderburns

    Investigative reporter Gary Webb
    detailed the evidence before he was

    LAPD narcotics detective Mike Ruppert
    exposed it in his books and videos as
    well in the film Collapse before he was suicided.

    Secretary of State John Kerry exposed it
    in Senate hearings along with Senator D’Amato.

    Yo Matt:
    Children have a hard time learning
    when exposed to PTSD.
    google children learning ptsd

    Yo Matt:
    Your tax dime is being used to
    bring heroin and cocaine into
    black and latino communities.

    Duh! Heroin and Cocaine create
    PTSD in black and latino communities.

    I just googled list of spanish scientests
    and inventors

  4. By comparison:

    “In the College news release, dean of admissions and financial aid William R. Fitzsimmons observed that, “For the class of 2020 admissions, economic diversity has increased, and records were set for both African-American and Asian-American students.”

    The release went on to amplify that “A record 14 percent of the admitted students are African-American and 22.1 percent are Asian-American, also a record. Latinos are 12.7 percent after last year’s record 13.3 percent; Native Americans are 2.2 percent (1.5 percent last year) and Native Hawaiians 0.4 percent (0.5 percent last year).” Of the admitted students, 48.4 percent are women (up fractionally from last year), and about 15 percent are first-generation college students.


    • Henry:

      The Harvard statistics are fascinating. I’d love to see what the breakdown of the white populations by religion and ethnic background. Can it be that the white showing is so poor because they are lacking equal educational opportunity in our nation’s high schools. The US being over 62% white yet being able to produce only 48% of the incoming class must be accounted for in some manner especially when you take into account there must be a fair amount of legacy admissions. I don’t suppose anyone would suggest statistics like that give the shivers to the parents of non-privileged ($$$$) white kids which causes them to think that the empty drum [Trump]eting his chase for the White House has a point.