Giving Minorities a Voice

Five years of research have culminated in a new book that gives minority students a voice. In their book “Voices”, Dr. Lourdes Ferrer and Stephen Garlington capture comments from minority students among 20 different high schools throughout DuPage County about why they think African-American and Hispanic students score lower on standardized tests than their Caucasian and Asian peers.

“Some of them are saying the schools are racist, schools are biased,” said Ferrer. “Some of them are saying we don’t value education like the way we need to value education.”

One student said, “The African American male also wants just to get by and hope for some type of miracle of some sort. I think that they think just coming to school and hopefully graduating is good enough. I know that just coming to school and passing the classes with mediocre grades are not enough.”

Another wrote, “I think Hispanics don’t expect to achieve high because they think that they are different from White and Asian students. They don’t think they can do well in school and go to college.”

25 recurring themes emerged among the responses like negative attitudes towards the Prairie State Achievement Exam. According to the Illinois state report card in 2011, 64% of white and 66% of Asian 11th graders demonstrated reading proficiency on the exam compared to only 33% of Hispanics and 25% of African-Americans.

“African-American and Latino students say, ‘Oh, it’s too hard to read, the test is too long, or we’re supposed to finish the essay or reading too fast,’” said Ferrer.

Many African-Americans also said they often fear rejection from peers of the same race.

“There’s a premise that permeates in particular the culture of African Americans and that is to be smart is not cool,” said Garlington. “To be smart somehow is considered acting white.”

Students from both groups said home is not an environment that contributes to their academic success. So Dr. Ferrer is trying to increase parental involvement.

“When it comes to your kids’ education, you have to sit in the driver’s seat,” she said. “You have to know, ‘What is it I have to do at home to make sure the home environment is conducive.’”

Another contributing factor is racism within the schools. The book quotes one student as saying, “As a high school student and as an African-American I have seen and been through a lot. I have been called names. I have heard every kind of racial slur you can possibly think of.”

As the number of minorities continues to rise in the United States, both Ferrer and Garlington say it’s important to implement programs that take care of the concerns these students have shared.

“If we don’t educate more Latinos, if we don’t educate more blacks to get them to achieve, it’s going to affect the future of our nation,” said Ferrer.

The book also offers 27 different recommendations for closing the gap, like encouraging schools to attract black and Latino educators and modifying the school’s appearance to promote appreciation for different cultures.

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