Preparing Nebraska Teachers to See Demographic Change as an Opportunity: Reflections on Immigrant Integration and the Role of Government, Communities and Institutions

By Reeves, Jenelle; Hamann, Edmund 'Ted' | The Journal of Latino - Latin American Studies, Spring 2008 | Go to article overview

Preparing Nebraska Teachers to See Demographic Change as an Opportunity: Reflections on Immigrant Integration and the Role of Government, Communities and Institutions


Reeves, Jenelle, Hamann, Edmund 'Ted', The Journal of Latino - Latin American Studies


Nebraska's Students Are Changing, But Its Teachers Are Not

According to the Nebraska Department of Education's 2005-06 State of the Schools Report, there were 32,795 Hispanic students enrolled in Nebraska schools, a 459% increase from the 1990-91 tally of 7,147 and more than the entire 1980 Census total count for Hispanics in Nebraska (28,000).1 Five Nebraska districts were majority Hispanic-Schuyler Grade Schools (76%), Lexington (74.7%), Madison (60.8%) Schuyler Central High School (52.1%), and South Sioux City (51.4%),-while several other districts also had large Hispanic enrollments. (See Table 1, next page). Comprising 11.5% of Nebraska's overall 2005-06 enrollment, Hispanics were the second largest racial/ethnic group in Nebraska schools, behind 'White, not Hispanic' (221,252) and ahead of 'Black, not Hispanic' (21,605), 'Asian / Pacific Islanders' (5,193), and 'American Indian / Alaskan Native (4,703).

In 2005-06, Hispanics made up the second largest portion of the teacher population, but at 227 out of 23,587 (just ahead of 226 'Black, not Hispanic' teachers) Hispanic teachers constituted less than 1% of Nebraska's teacher workforce, a workforce that was 97.6% 'White, not Hispanic'. In short, the number of Hispanic students in Nebraska is growing quickly, but they (and other student populations) have little access to Hispanic teachers. This is especially true in non-metropolitan districts; 11 of the 12 districts identified in Table 1 (next page) as having significant Hispanic student populations but no Hispanic teachers were non-metropolitan. South Sioux City was the one metropolitan district with no Hispanic teachers.

If Nebraska's new Latino student population is trying to learn mainly from non-Latinos, we should ask two intertwined questions: (1) How well are Latino students faring in Nebraska? and (2) How ready are Nebraska teachers for Latino students? Answering the first question is risky using State department collected data, because only 4th, 8th, and 11th grade assessment data are available and only in writing is that assessment data broken out by race and ethnicity. Writing is also the only topic area in which all Nebraska districts use the same assessment. Looking at writing scores, it appears that, like Latino student populations elsewhere in the U.S. (Garcia 2001), Nebraska's Latinos are not faring as well as some other student populations. According to the state report card, 27.50% of Hispanic 4th graders, 21.61% of 8th graders, and 22.61% of 11th graders did not meet standard in writing in 2005-06.ii This compares to the state average of 18.19% of all 4th graders, 13.92% of all 8th graders, and 10.00% of all 11th graders not meeting standard. If one looks only at the non-passing rate among white students, an achievement gap becomes starker; 15.33% of non-Hispanic Whites did not meet standard at the 4th grade level (making a 12.17% White/Hispanic achievement gap), 11.62% of non-Hispanic Whites did not meet standard at the 8th grade level (making a 9.99% White/Hispanic achievement gap), and just 8.26% of non-Hispanic Whites did not meet or exceed standard (making a 14.35% White/ Hispanic achievement gap).

There are hazards to noting that Latinos are not faring as well in school as other populations, because such reporting can risk reifying a kind of lower achievement stereotype of Latinos. It is important for us to note that Latinos can fare well at school, or phrased another way, that schools can meet the needs of Latino students as well as any other group (e.g., Callahan and Gándara 2004; Ernst, Statzner, and Trueba 1994; Lucas 1997; Lucas, Henze, and Donato 1990; Mehan et al. 1996; Pugach 1998; Reyes, Scribner, and Scribner, 1999; Romo and Falbo, 1996; Walqui 2000). In other words, because Latino populations should be able to fare as well in Nebraska schools as other populations, the fact that so far they do not, demand inquiry.

One starting point for such inquiry is to look at who teaches them and the contexts within which they encounter schooling. …

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