Skip to comments.Why do Asians and Latinos from similar backgrounds do differently in school?
Posted on 07/15/2003 12:16:59 AM PDT by mr. mojo risin
GARDEN GROVE Four years ago, Areanna Vasquez and Deanna Le bounded into the same school with the same dream - to attend a university.
Both are the daughters of immigrants who urged them to seize opportunities the parents missed. At Garden Grove High School, Vasquez led the cheerleading squad, Le was homecoming queen. Both were elected to student government. Their English is seamless, their grades are strong and their expectations high.
Yet their dreams diverged on the way to graduation. Le was accepted to four universities and spent the spring hunting for financial aid. Vasquez toured one community college, and barely glanced at the list of scholarships.
It is a split typical of Asians and Latinos at this school and the rest of Orange County. But the gap cannot be easily explained by differences in affluence, language ability or even culture.
Asians are about as likely as Latinos in this city to be poor and not fluent in English, according to the U.S. Census. Many adults in both groups never graduated from high school. But at this school last year, Asians who were prepared for a four-year college outnumbered their Latino counterparts 7 to 1.
The divide, some researchers say, is the result of the students' own decisions and the direction they received from their family and friends, teachers and counselors. How their communities work, how they are received in this country and whether they are encouraged in school will do more to determine their success than innate ability alone.
HOW TO HELP Here are some local organizations that use volunteers for tutoring: THINK Together Web site: www.thinkoc.org Tel: (714) 543-3807 Big Brothers Big Sisters of O.C. Web site: www.bigbrooc.org Tel: (714) 544-7773, Ext. 14 Boys & Girls Club of Santa Ana Web site: www.boysandgirlsclub.com Tel: (714) 543-7212 Le and Vasquez, both now 18, sat in the same math class in junior high. By the end of senior year, they rarely saw each other.
"We all were once together," Le said. "It's weird."
Asians and Latinos are among the fastest-growing groups in Orange County, according to the census, and they are at opposite ends of the academic spectrum.
Latinos drop out of high school in large numbers; Asians don't. Latinos are unlikely to be prepared for a university; Asians outpace every group in college preparation.
Everyone from teachers to parents to community organizers seems to have a theory to explain the gap - Latinos don't value education, but Asians do; Latinos do not plan to stay here permanently, while Asians see California as their home.
Some are now challenging the conventional wisdom by studying the children of two immigrant groups that have much in common: Vietnamese and Mexicans. Both are often poor, not fluent in English and less educated than other groups.
The similarities are highlighted in cities such as Garden Grove, which is about one-third Asian, one-third Hispanic and one-third white. Most Asians here are Vietnamese; most Latinos are of Mexican descent. Census data suggests both groups have approximately the same percentage of homeowners. Asians are more likely than Hispanics to receive government assistance.
Academically, they are far apart. Two-thirds of Asians 25 and older had a high school diploma, compared with less than half of Latinos. About 42 percent of the Asians in Garden Grove Unified, which serves this city and parts of several others, completed the coursework last year to apply to a state university, compared with 6 percent of Latinos, the lowest such rate in Orange County.
Intrigued by similar gaps across the nation, two prominent sociologists - Rubén G. Rumbaut of the University of California, Irvine, and Princeton University professor Alejandro Portes - examined this issue as part of a larger ongoing study of more than 5,000 immigrant children in South Florida and San Diego, which is similar to Orange County.
Many argue that Confucianism, the Chinese philosophy that holds teachers in high regard, drives Asians to succeed. But Rumbaut and Portes said Vietnamese have been influenced by a number of religions and traditions. Most Vietnamese are Buddhist, for instance, with a strong Catholic minority.
Family values appeared similar, too. In surveys, Mexican parents were even more likely to have rules for their children about doing homework, getting good grades and planning for the future. But in reality, their children studied far less than their Vietnamese classmates did - about 45 percent of Vietnamese students did more than two hours of homework a day, compared with 14 percent of Mexicans.
The study found another troubling difference: While majorities of both hoped their children would graduate from college, the belief that it would actually happen was very different. Only 55 percent of Mexican parents believed it would happen, compared with 87 percent of Vietnamese. Rumbaut said Mexican parents' doubts about college graduation partly stem from money concerns, their lack of community support and their own educational shortcomings.
The hopes Mexican students had for themselves showed similar gaps.
"Aspirations are very high," Rumbaut said. "Expectations tend to reflect the realities of their situation."
Rumbaut said there were several explanations for the disparity:
Although both groups have suffered discrimination, most Vietnamese arrived starting in the late 1970s as refugees. They received an array of federal assistance in resettling, from rent payments to English classes and job training. Also many in this first wave of 130,000 people were educated, providing an example for the larger, less-educated waves of boat people who arrived later.
In contrast, Mexican parents historically have arrived as laborers, legally or illegally. Laborers tended to be less educated and unaware of, or ineligible for, government programs. In Garden Grove, 12.8 percent of Asian households received government assistance in 1999, compared with 4.7 percent of Hispanics, according to the census.
Vietnamese parents reported feeling far more supported by others in their own community than Mexicans did in Rumbaut and Portes' study - 54 percent of Mexican parents compared with almost 83 percent of Vietnamese. The reasons for the Vietnamese immigrants' support of one another, Rumbaut said, reflect their unique histories: their shared political exile; their anti-communist ideology, which matched that of the United States; and a subsequent desire to attain status in this country, largely through education.
Mexicans often see themselves as outsiders, researchers say, though in Rumbaut and Portes' study most planned to stay in the United States permanently. Many families perceived that they were toward the bottom of the class system, especially in California, Rumbaut said. This is reinforced by statewide referendums of the last decade that dealt with language, affirmative action and immigration, which many saw as anti-Latino, he said.
Language, however, was not a major barrier for students, Rumbaut said. Most Asian and Latino families in Garden Grove, for instance, reported in the census that their children spoke English well.
Schools, however, offer conflicting information. At Garden Grove High, half of the Latino freshman class last year was listed as "not fluent" in English, but test scores suggested that more than half of these students were fluent or nearly fluent.
Areanna Vasquez's mother, Reyna, immigrated with her father, a construction worker, and her mother, a housewife, from the Mexican state of San Luis Potosí in 1973. Reyna was 11 when they brought her to Orange County. She adored school here.
She treasures her school certificates, which she keeps in a folder: perfect attendance, most-improved reading, an award for soccer. She learned English in six months.
Two years later, a counselor asked her what she wanted to do after junior high school.
"Work," Reyna, now 42, replied. The counselor never asked about college, and sent her to an alternative high school where she worked three hours and studied three hours a day. By 15 she had dropped out.
"I thought that working would get me everything," she said. "When I had my kids, I said, 'They're not going to do that.'"
Deanna Le's mother, Katherine, 46, arrived in 1980 as a young mother and refugee, one of the tens of thousands of boat people who fled Vietnam in flimsy watercraft. In Vietnam, she had never finished high school. She yearned to be a teacher, but she had to drop out to help her family pay the bills. Her late husband attended college, and although he helped shape the family's goals, he died when Deanna was 8.
Neither Reyna nor Katherine could offer their children much money. Both had several children - Reyna has five, Katherine has four - and both struggle financially. Katherine runs a jewelry kiosk in Little Saigon. Reyna works as a child-care worker; her estranged husband supplements her income.
Like many parents, neither was active at their children's schools. Garden Grove High doesn't have a PTA, though it is forming one now, officials said. But the two women set similar rules about education.
"I would tell them, 'School is your priority.'" Reyna said. "'There's nothing else for you to worry about.'"
Both urged their children to attend a university, not just a community college. But when it came time to talk about a crucial detail - money - Katherine had learned far more from friends than Reyna had.
Deanna Le once wondered aloud if her mother could afford to send her to college.
"Don't worry about that," Katherine shushed her. "I'll find a way."
Deanna devoted herself to schoolwork and has earned thousands of dollars in scholarships for high test scores. She took Advanced Placement classes that could help her earn college credit and save money by not having to take some classes.
Reyna's oldest daughter, Andrea, 21, a go-getter in school, was twice invited to visit UCI. But Reyna balked at the price of a university education. It seemed safer to send her daughter to community college first. Andrea later transferred to Cal State Fullerton.
There was little talk of scholarships or grants, and Reyna didn't push her children to look for them.
"Truly, it seemed so expensive," Reyna said. "We couldn't pay so much money."
Areanna, who was in student government and the National Junior Honor Society with Deanna in eighth grade, followed her sister's lead. While she had once wanted to go to straight to the University of California, Los Angeles, it seemed safer to do as her older sister did, and start at a community college.
It would appear that Reyna, who worked in child care for a public school district, would have an advantage in understanding how to navigate the system, but by the time her daughters were in high school she still had never heard of the SAT, the college entrance exam, or Advanced Placement classes.
When her friends talk to her, it is about the day-to-day issues of work, their children and safety at school.
"I always said, 'Go to a university,'" Reyna said. "But we didn't know how."
The talk where Katherine works is far different. She spends most of her time at her jewelry kiosk in Little Saigon, a hub of strip malls with Vietnamese shops.
In the quiet morning hours, the women come to chat in Vietnamese about their son the doctor or their daughter the pharmacist. An A is good, a B is bad, they tell her, over the satin headbands and brocaded pins. A high school graduate should have a sash around his neck and an asterisk next to his name in the program, both signifying higher academic achievement. An SAT score should be above 1,200. Universities are better than community colleges, they tell her.
"I don't know anything about anything," Katherine said, with a smile and wave of her arm. "I just know San Diego, UCLA, UC Davis, Berkeley. I see on TV that famous people are at Harvard."
At home she drills the tips into her children, reminding them so often that sometimes they flee the room.
She would prefer that they become doctors, but they have chosen other paths. Hong, the only university graduate so far, is a successful auditor who graduated from UCLA while she worked to help out her mother. Deanna may become a pharmacist, which pleases her mother, but she is also flirting with the idea of studying business.
The other two children started at community colleges, though one has since transferred to a university, choices for which Katherine's friends sometimes chided them.
"In my country, doctor No. 1," Katherine said, index finger raised. "I think they make a lot of money. It's easy to get a job."
While parents are important, researchers say a student's influences from peers and teachers may be even more so. And in these, the experiences of Asian and Latino children are often quite different.
Deanna Le relied on teachers, her older sister and classmates, mostly Asian, who were in the same top classes at Garden Grove High. She signed up for summer classes at the community college, along with her friends. Her mostly Vietnamese classmates helped her figure out which classes to take and which to avoid to keep from hurting her grade-point average.
"A lot of people think your parents are there for you a lot. My mother was never there for me," Deanna said. "She worked a lot. I was on my own."
Katherine agreed: "I'm not good enough to guide them. If you don't know the right thing, you have to ask counselor."
Although Garden Grove High appears to be one of the most integrated in Orange County on paper, often its classes are not. Most Latinos were in low-level math classes in ninth grade last year; most Asians were in Algebra I or higher, a difference that helps knock most Latinos off the path to a university because there are too few years left to take the classes required for admission.
Asians are often the valedictorians and student leaders. They compete for the top grades, advanced classes and dominate the honor roll. Last year three times as many Asians took the SAT as Latinos.
The gap belies their common goals. In 2001, 68 percent of Asians and 55 percent of Latinos who graduated from Garden Grove High then enrolled in a community college or state university. The difference is that Asians are more likely than Latinos to head straight to a university.
Students said they notice the divide. Areanna Vasquez didn't say anything when she was dropped from an honors English class after her sophomore year. She thinks it's because she didn't do a summer reading assignment, but she didn't challenge it and her mother didn't check.
"I felt like I wasn't smart enough. I never really asked why," Areanna said. "I was the only Hispanic in that class."
Paulina Ocampo, 16, who just finished her sophomore year, felt left out when she signed up last year for Advanced Placement European History - made up mostly of Asian students - only to learn completion of a project assigned over the previous summer was also expected. Already three months behind on the first day of school, she dropped the class.
In other classes, she said, she felt her mostly Asian classmates thought she couldn't cut it. Students were always competing for the highest grades, or getting together to study in their own groups to the point that she felt excluded.
"It's intimidating," Ocampo said. "Deep inside I feel like I can't compete against them."
And she said some Latino students think their teachers expect less of them. A recent study co-authored by Harvard professor Gilberto Conchas showed that students who did not know their teachers' expectations or who believed their teachers did not care did less homework than those who thought their teachers expected them to attend college.
"When you try to bring it up (to teachers) they say, 'You're just seeing things. We don't do that here at Grove,'" Ocampo said.
If Latino parents are often unsure of how to navigate the system and their children struggle with self- doubts and a peer group with too few successes, it is often the school that is the last hope. Researchers say teachers play a role in helping students succeed - or fail - especially in communities where information about college is scarce.
Garden Grove High's teachers offer students all sorts of opportunities - from after-school tutoring to regular progress reports sent home to parents who ask for them. They say they want high standards and urge kids to reach for them. And students often need their recommendations to get into an upper-level class, such as honors English.
And sometimes, teachers say, they form opinions about who can do the work based on factors other than grades.
Kevin Griffin, an English teacher and adviser to the student newspaper, said he has sometimes rushed to such judgments. He praised student Carlos Salgado, 15, for getting good grades in his English class, and admitted that at first he thought Salgado would be a poor student because he slouched to a seat far in the back of the room and wore loose, gang-type clothing on the first day of class.
"I was expecting him to be low performing, that he might be a gang member," Griffin said at a ceremony honoring the school's most-improved students. "Carlos has turned out to be one of my good students. I think that if we had 20-25 students like Carlos Salgado, we could turn this school around."
Later, Griffin hesitated when asked if he would recommend Salgado for an honors English class. He said Salgado was getting an A, which could be grounds for advancement. But other things come into the mix, too: The honors courses are more competitive, require higher skills and often more work than the regular classes. And they can be cliquish; students who lag behind could feel ostracized by the honors kids.
"I don't know if he'd be out of place in that class," Griffin said. "I don't know if he'd want it. ... They (honors students) take things seriously."
School officials say a teacher's recommendation is one of many factors considered when students sign up for classes, and it should not necessarily bar them from enrolling.
Griffin, for instance, said in the end he considers only whether they can handle the rigors of an honors class. He has recommended Latinos for honors classes in the past.
But he said he also struggles to motivate students who lag behind at the school, who don't push as much for the tougher classes and perhaps don't see achieving in school as the "cool" thing to do.
Salgado said he, too, has been frustrated with the system, and has few peers helping him navigate it. He has noticed that many Latino kids seem uninterested in school, but he has also felt stuck in classes that are too easy, such as pre-algebra this year. He didn't know he could sign up for the honors classes on his own, and although he wants to go straight to one of "the really good universities, the four-years," he said he doesn't know which classes he needs to get in.
"The classes I have right now are pretty easy," he said. "For me, this school, I basically don't have any homework. I do most of it and then other people they're like, 'I have three projects due tomorrow.'"
STEREOTYPES AND SOLUTIONS
Garden Grove's teachers and counselors say they work hard to narrow the gaps, and the district's schools earned national recognition two years in a row, in part for raising test scores. At Garden Grove High, for instance, counselors helped seniors fill out financial aid forms for college, earning this medium-size school the sixth-largest number of Cal Grants, or state scholarships, in the county last year.
The school hosts numerous meetings, usually at night, to inform parents about the opportunities for their children. The district publishes parent guides in English, Spanish and Vietnamese and offers translators at meetings.
School officials say they cannot change things overnight - or alone for that matter, since they have the students only six hours a day and counselors have as many as 500 students each. Parents, they say, must help them by sending kids for tutoring, monitoring their classes and making sure students have clear goals.
"(Asians) apply themselves, that's the key," said Chip Kublin, chairman of the math department at Garden Grove High. "Anyone is capable of doing well in school. For the most part, the Asian kids do what we ask.
"The Hispanic population is catching up, but at a very slow rate."
But KimOanh Nguyen-Lam, interim executive director of the Center for Language Minority Education and Research at California State University, Long Beach, says teachers can fall prey to stereotypes, giving Asian students higher grades because they are often quiet and obedient. But that can hurt those same students because they might not ask enough questions and develop critical thinking skills, she said.
"All this high achievement from the Vietnamese-Americans or Asian- Americans is sort of overrated," said Nguyen-Lam, a Vietnamese-American educator who also trains teachers. "Their grades are inflated. They barely pass the (California State University) writing-proficiency test.
"I hear teachers say all the time, 'I would take 30 Vietnamese or Asian kids to 10 Latino kids any day,'" she said.
And she responds: "I would not want my kids in your room."
Nguyen-Lam said she urges teachers to visit kindergarten classrooms. Immigrant children arrive "bright-eyed and bushy-tailed" and ready to learn, she said. Rumbaut and Portes' study and others have found that some children change over the years as they feel discouraged by school and their communities.
"How did the school change them?" Nguyen-Lam wondered. "If your teacher is around you thinking that you're not as smart as the other kids, after a while, you believe it."
In their final days at Garden Grove High, Deanna Le and Areanna Vasquez rarely crossed paths. Student government was turned over to the juniors, and seniors were saying their goodbyes or searching for scholarships.
Until the end, Le was wrapped up in her classes, including calculus, which she hopes will give her a leg up when she has to take it again in college.
Vasquez took it easier, with a schedule that included serving as a teaching assistant to a woodshop class. Both said they would love to attend UCLA, a world-class university with one of the best research libraries in the nation.
Le's acceptance letter arrived March 14. Eleven days later, Vasquez toured Orange Coast College, a two-year school. She still plans to transfer to a university.
Vasquez starts classes in August. Less than a month later, Le will leave for Los Angeles.
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I'll enter those waters. I'm a close the border, send home illegals, stop wasting money pandering to ethnic groups, etc. poster.
I love this article. The answer isn't more money and more programs, it's an equal expectation and more information about how to prepare for college and for other after-HS options. It these Mexican students were star athelets, you better believe they'd get that help.
Let's face it. One of the main goals of the schools is to turn out enough low-income labor and capable people who want to do jobs that don't traditionally involve college education. It's a stacked deck (at least from what I've seen), that certain students are expected to reach one level, others another level. Any school I've seen immensely dislikes students changing levels or programs...it makes scheduling very messy.
I'm looking forward to comments on this article. You might be surprised how many people who don't like all of the money being spent on education really believe that students are probably better off if they aren't thrown in special programs, that they have a lot of potential if they're encouraged to do it on their own when it gets tough.
Does that mean they are all planning on returning to Mexico? Fat chance.
Latinos don't value education, but Asians do.
That is the key in a nutshell.
It's the culture of poverty and the poverty of culture!
All the government programs in the world will not help. Hispanics, like blacks will have to change their own cultures from within. Until then, blaming others will not change a thing nor help at all.
If you would like to be removed from my ping list FReepmail me. If you'd like to be on it FReepmail me too.
PS as a "latino", I can make a safe comment.:-P
I think there is a huge behavioral aspect. Students coming from different cultures come from different ways of expressing themselves and behaving in group situations. But, you know, expectations play a role here, too. Are teachers as surprised and likely to respond if a child from a Hispanic or welfare home acts up as when a child from an upper crust or Asian family misbehaves?
I really don't know, because so much is cumulative by the time they reach high school. I do know that there are people (Jamie Escalante, Robert Moses) and programs that do succeed in breaking the stereotype.
IQs can be raised. Been there, done that.
What is the median IQ of Mexican immigrants? Does anyone know?