A group of Latino parents tried to show the St. Paul school board the difficulty faced by families whose first language is not English. They presented the report of the Parent Advisory Committee for the Latino Consent Decree in Spanish. Board members had the advantage of simultaneous translation via headphones, which is more assistance than parents and students get during normal school days, meetings and parent conferences, but the point was made.
Parents repeatedly stressed their commitment to high academic performance for their children. They see parent involvement in education as key to student achievement. “When children see that their parents participate,” said one parent, “they are proud and this is a motivation to help them achieve more and it is a big push for children.”
Studies show that students who are taught mastery of their first language are quicker to learn English and to make academic progress, the group said. They recommended three concrete steps:
What is the Latino Consent Decree?
The Latino Consent Decree (LCD) is a legally binding court order (consent decree) which the Saint Paul Public Schools entered into as part of the settlement of the federal court case of Garcia et al vs. Independent School District 625. The final stipulation for this case (1984) details the full range of responsibilities which the Saint Paul Public Schools has agreed to, regarding the education of Latino students who have limited English proficiency.
Our LCD Students
• a daily, 30-minute literacy block, in Spanish, so support first-language mastery for LCD-eligible students and for those whose families request this service;
• continuing to support the development of concepts and knowledge of mathematics in Spanish in elementary, middle and secondary schools;
• developing and supporting partnerships with Latino organizations to work with schools, parents and students.
Parents said the 30-minute Spanish-language literacy block is supported by donations of texts from the Mexican consulate, though they noted that some schools have not used the donated books. They said that books are available without cost to the district, but that the district must provide teachers — most likely by using Spanish-speaking teachers already in the schools.
Spanish-language math texts are already available for the K-6 Everyday Math curriculum. These texts make it possible for parents to see what is being taught in school and to help their children with math lessons. Parents want research to find Spanish-language math texts for grades 7-12 math, to continue and strengthen learning at those levels.
“We did not come to ask for money,” said one parent. “We are asking that the things already exist, to investigate if they can be used in all schools, not just in one or two. Also, the organizations are willing to come to the schools and help – this is part of the proposal.”
Interim Superintendent Suzanne Kelly pointed out the achievement gap for Latino students — 41 percent proficiency in math, which is 40 percentage points behind white students, and 48 percent proficiency in reading, again far below the 90 percent proficiency of white students. The administration will consider the report presented by the Parent Advisory Committee, and will come back with its recommendations in two months.
“We know that what you are asking for is the best practices,” said chief academic officer Valeria Silva. She said that the St. Paul schools are working hard to raise achievement levels for Latino students, saying, “Even though the test scores [of Latino students] are low, they are still the best in the state.”