As the number of Hispanic students enrolled in U.S. schools continues to rise, creating new challenges for educators, one of the nation’s largest education publishers has stepped forward to sponsor a new council dedicated to helping school teachers meet the unique needs of English-language learners (ELLs).

Pearson Education unveiled the initiative, dubbed the Hispanic Leadership Council on Education, at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., last month. Organizers say the council, composed of 17 school district leaders with Hispanic ancestry, is intended to serve as a platform for addressing the diverse needs of the nation’s Hispanic student population–a fast-growing demographic that researchers predict soon will qualify as the nation’s largest minority.

According to U.S. Census data, by the year 2025, Hispanic children will account for 25 percent of the school-age population in this country. In many of the nation’s largest states, including California, Texas, Florida, and New York, the Hispanic student population already has reached that level, researchers say. What’s more, the number of Hispanic students enrolling in schools in other states–such as Georgia, Alabama, and Kentucky–also is on the rise.

Despite such statistics, Hispanic students remain behind other demographics in academic achievement, council members say. Current research suggests that just over half of the Hispanic population in this country have a high school diploma–and the number of students who go on to graduate from college drops even more dramatically, researchers say.

Wilfredo Laboy, superintendent of the Lawrence Public Schools in Lawrence, Mass., said the council should help establish a national dialogue and foster more opportunities for Hispanic students in the United States.

“We need to find a place on the national level to talk about the nation’s largest minority,” declared Laboy, who was honored by eSchool News in 2003 as one of that nation’s 10 most tech-savvy superintendents (see http://www.eschoolnews.com/resources/surveys/editorial/savvy). “It is critical that our national education agenda focus attention on meeting the needs of Hispanic students–the new ‘largest minority’ in the United States.”

Where all students must learn to overcome certain challenges, council members say, Hispanic students face an even more daunting path to academic success.

Apart from mastering the nuances of a foreign language, these students also must adapt to cultural differences and often are forced to learn using academic programs that fail to account for their limited grasp of English.

And it isn’t just the students who struggle, but parents, too, council members say. In many cases, parents who don’t speak English as a first language have trouble discussing their child’s education with teachers. The breakdown sometimes leads to problems at home and, for some, a lack of emphasis on the importance of schooling.

Teachers today have to “find ways to escalate” this particular group of students, explained Laboy, who added: “It’s a challenge for all educators in this country.”

To meet these challenges, companies such as Pearson Digital Learning–one of the many brands in the Pearson family of companies–are pushing technologies and other prescriptive solutions.

“We certainly see that schools are looking for ways to use technology, particularly schools that don’t have as many resources” to meet the challenges posed by ELL students, said Karl Gustafon, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Pearson Digital Learning.

Earlier this year, Pearson Education acquired ELLIS Inc., a provider of English language training software for kindergarten through adult learners. Company executives expect the purchase will provide another option for education customers looking to meet the needs of ELL students–not just Hispanic students, but those from other parts of the world as well.

Technology-based applications have proven especially useful in some rural and urban schools, where administrators often don’t have the resources and funding necessary to meet the needs of ELL students, explained Gustafon. “Technology really can help to bridge that gap,” he said.

But technology alone won’t solve the problem, he added–and that’s where the council can help.

At the Oct. 10 meeting that launched the initiative, Laboy encouraged schools to build capacity, share and adapt new strategies, nurture effective professional development solutions, promote equity, and draft new polices designed to lift Hispanic students to a higher level of academic success.

“This country’s Hispanic student population faces unique educational challenges,” said Carlos Alcazar, president of the Hispanic Communications Network, a national broadcasting company. Alcazar said he hopes the council will develop “strategies for overcoming the gaps in academic progress and achievement faced by Hispanic students.”

“As a member of the new Hispanic Leadership Council on Education, I am committed to working with my colleagues from around the country to forge a coalition that will identify strategies for meeting the unique needs of our rapidly growing Hispanic student community,” said Laboy.

In addition to Laboy, council members include:

Robert Alfaro, eastern regional superintendent for Nevada’s Clark County School District;

Anthony Amato, superintendent of the Kansas City-Missouri School District;

Ray Chavez, principal of Valencia Middle School in Tucson, Ariz.;

Sonia Diaz, superintendent of Las Cruces, N.M., Public Schools;

Robert Duron, superintendent of the San Antonio Independent School District;

Deborah Esparza, Area Two instructional officer for the Chicago Public Schools;

Carmella Franco, superintendent of California’s Whittier City School District;

Arturo Guajardo, superintendent of the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District in Texas;

Ricardo Medina, academic achievement officer for the Alum Rock, Calif., School District;

Anthony Monreal, superintendent of California’s Selma Unified School District;

Hector Montenegro, superintendent of the Ysleta Independent School District in Texas;

Tomasita Ortiz, director of multilingual student education services for Florida’s Orange County Public Schools;

Manuel Rivera, superintendent of the Rochester City, N.Y., School District;

Darline Robles, superintendent of the Los Angeles County Office of Education;

Abelardo Saavedra, superintendent of the Houston Independent School District; and

Patricia Watkins, superintendent of Prince Edward County Public Schools in Virginia.

Links:

Pearson Digital Learning
http://www.pearsondigital.com/

Hispanic Communications Network
http://www.hcnmedia.com/