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HISPANIC STUDENTS LEFT BEHIND: Hispanic Students Most Likely to Attend High-Poverty, High-Enrollment High Schools

"The characteristics of high schools matter for student performance," said Richard Fry

Hispanic high school students are more likely than their white or African-American peers to attend high schools with the highest enrollments, the highest concentrations of poor students, and the highest student-teacher ratios, according to The High Schools Hispanics Attend: Size and Other Key Characteristics, a new report from the Pew Hispanic Center.

“The characteristics of high schools matter for student performance,” said Richard Fry, senior research associate at the Pew Hispanic Center and author of the report. “Hispanic teens are more likely than any other racial or ethnic group to attend public high schools that have the dual characteristics of extreme size and poverty.”

According to the report, the average American high school has about 750 students, but approximately 10 percent of high schools have enrollments of more than 1,838 students. More than half (56 percent) of all Latino high school students attend high-enrollment schools, while only 32 percent of African-American and 26 percent of white students attend them. “This is in spite of the fact that Hispanic and black public high school students are equally likely to attend schools located in central city areas,” the report read.

Using information based on the numbers of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, the report concluded that Hispanic teens are also more likely to attend high-poverty high schools. Nationwide, it found that about one third of students at the average public high school are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. However, in 10 percent of high schools, more than two thirds of the student body qualifies. Nearly one in five Hispanic high school students (19 percent) attend these schools, compared to 15 percent of African-American and 2 percent of white students, as shown in the chart below (click on the chart for a larger image).

hispanic students


Source: The High Schools Hispanics Attend: Size and Other Key Characteristics

The report also found that Hispanics are 6 times more likely than African Americans to attend public high schools that are on the extreme ends of size (greater than 1,838 students) and poverty (more than 67 percent of the student body eligible for free or reduced-price lunches).

The imbalance of Hispanic students attending high-poverty, high-enrollment high schools is attributed to the fact that most of the Hispanic population nationwide is concentrated in seven states-California, Texas, Florida, New York, Arizona, Illinois, and New Jersey. It found that these states tend to have high schools that are larger, have greater concentrations of poverty, and have higher student-to-teacher ratios than high schools elsewhere. According to the report, public high schools in these seven states educate almost 80 percent of the nation’s 2 million Hispanic public high school students, but less than one third of the nation’s white and black teenagers.

Hispanic students are almost 3 times (37 percent) more likely than their African-American (14 percent) or white (13 percent) peers to attend high schools with a student-to-teacher ratio greater than 22 to 1, according to the report. The national average is 16 to 1. Sadly, research has shown that poor, urban, and minority children are more likely to be taught by less experienced, less qualified teachers who do not stay long enough to become the expert, high-quality teachers these students desperately need. The net effect is that Hispanic students are hit with a double whammy-they are taught in larger than average classes by teachers who lack the qualifications and experience of those in more affluent areas.

The report is based on the data collected on high schools in the U.S. Department of Education’s Public Elementary/Secondary School Universe Survey of its Common Core of Data survey system and is available at


Arizona English-Language Learners Struggle to Pass Exit Exam


In 1992, a group of Arizona parents filed a lawsuit against the state for failing to properly fund public school programs for students needing English instruction. Eight years later, a federal judge ruled that the state had to better address the needs of English-language learners. Today, the state legislature is still struggling over how to find the money required to meet the judge’s order. Some estimates say the cost could be as much as $200 million for 185,000 Arizona children.

Meanwhile, beginning with the Class of 2006, high school students must pass Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS) to graduate and receive their diploma. Like many states around the country, Arizona is discovering that some students are having difficulty passing the test even though they have achieved good grades in their classes. Currently, 23,800 of 63,500 high school seniors (37 percent) still need to pass AIMS. Among English-language learners, however, the numbers are even more dismal. Of the state’s 4,521 seniors who are learning English, only 734 (16 percent) have passed AIMS. As a result, the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest asked a federal judge to exempt seniors who are learning English from having to pass the test.

Proponents of the lawsuit say that AIMS was designed for students who grew up speaking English and that it could take 5 to 10 years for English-language learners to catch up with their peers-especially those students who do not come to the United States until later in their education. Opponents argue that issuing a diploma to students who struggle with English would sap value from the diploma. Others contend that most of the students are in the United States illegally and do not deserve special circumstances. A judge is expected to rule on the lawsuit in early December.

“Passing Tough for English Learners” is available at


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