Latinos Are Optimistic About Schools and Education

  • January 26, 2004

About

Hispanics support the use of standardized testing and are less likely than African Americans to say such tests are biased against non-white students, according to a new comprehensive survey of Latino attitudes toward education. In general, Latinos offer positive views of their local schools, teachers and educational institutions, and Latino parents say they are active in their child's school and involved in their education. But the survey also reveals their concerns that the educational system does not always treat Latino students fairly. Substantial numbers of Latinos, for example, worry that Hispanic students lag behind other children because teachers are unable to bridge the cultural divides in their classrooms, according to the survey released today by the Pew Hispanic Center and the Kaiser Family Foundation.

“Latinos in this survey are optimistic about the schools, but they also have high expectations of both the schools and their own children,” said Roberto Suro, director of the Pew Hispanic Center. “They do not see themselves as particularly disadvantaged or victimized, and yet Latinos have clear positions on issues like language, teacher quality, funding and affirmative action.” 

Latinos also are willing supporters of the key principles embodied in the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), the education reform law that is the core of President George W. Bush's education agenda. The legislation requires all schools to use standardized tests to measure a student's progress and sanctions those that do not improve. On the issue of how to deal with schools that repeatedly fail to meet performance levels, when forced to chose, Latinos are more likely to favor helping to improve the schools but requiring students to continue to attend than whites, who are more likely to endorse the principle of letting parents move their children elsewhere. 

“With the large expected growth in the Latino school-age population in the next 25 years, it isn't surprising that Latinos are paying close attention to the education system in the U.S.,” said Mollyann Brodie, Ph.D., vice president and director of public opinion and media research for the Kaiser Family Foundation. “Like all parents, Latinos want their children to do well in school and the quality of our public education system is hugely significant in achieving that goal.” 

The National Survey of Latinos conducted between August 7 and October 15, 2003 among a nationally representative sample of 3,421 adults examines attitudes toward the public schools and a variety of education issues among Hispanics and substantial comparison samples of whites and African Americans. Distinctively Latino views emerge on many points, but there are also many clear differences between Latinos born here and those who have come from abroad. 

Ratings of public schools Latinos, especially those born abroad, are more positive about public schools and more optimistic that schools are improving than either whites or African Americans. However, there is a sizeable minority that would give public schools an average or below average rating. When asked to apply letter grades that students generally receive to the public schools, most Latinos would give the public schools in their community (63%) and nationwide (52%) an ‘A' or ‘B,' while fewer Latinos, but still about three in ten, would give the schools in their community (29%) and nationwide (38%) a ‘C', ‘D', or ‘F.' Whites and African Americans are less optimistic than Latinos about the progress that is being made in schools. Far fewer whites (25%) and African Americans (31%) say that schools have improved the last five years, compared to Latinos (45%). 

Parents' experiences with their child's school 
Most Latino parents are positive about their children's teachers and the experiences they have had with school officials.

  • Most Latino parents say that their child's teachers have a good understanding of their child's academic strengths and weaknesses (80%) and overall development and happiness (76%).   
  • In general, Latino parents are actively involved in their child's education. Most say that they take part in activities at their child's school including attending a PTA meeting (74%), participating in a fundraiser (63%) or volunteering in the school (55%).

Perceived reasons Latino students are not doing as well as their peers
Latinos say that major reasons Latino students do not perform as well as their white peers are:

  • Too many Latino parents neglect to push their kids to work hard (53%).   
  • The school is often too quick to label Latino kids as having behavior or learning problems (51%).   
  • Too many white teachers do not know how to deal with Latino kids because they come from different cultures (47%).   
  • Latino students have weaker English language skills than white students (47%).   
  • Because of racial stereotypes, teachers and principals have lower expectations for Latino students (43%).

Higher education
Most Latinos (54%) feel that young people starting out today have little chance of success without a college degree. Knowing this, it is not surprising that nearly all Latino parents (95%) say it is very important to them that their children go to college.

  • When asked, a large majority of Latinos say that the cost of tuition (77%) and the need to work and earn money (77%) are both major reasons why people do not go to college or fail to finish once they have started. Whites and African Americans responded similarly on tuition (82% and 82%) and on the need to work (73% and 76%).   
  • Four in ten (40%) Latinos say that discrimination is a major reason people do not get a college degree. Latinos who were not born in the United States are more likely to feel this way than Latinos who were born in the United States (46% vs. 32%). Among African Americans, 34% cite discrimination while 13% of whites see it as a major factor in keeping people from going to college.

Language 
Latinos, like nearly all Americans, agree that teaching English to the children of immigrant families is an important goal. The vast majority also says that it is important to help students from immigrant families maintain their native tongue.

  • The vast majority of Latinos (92%) say that teaching English to the children of immigrant families is a “very” important goal and another 7% say it is a “somewhat” important goal. Whites and African Americans hold almost identical views.   
  • Almost nine in ten (88%) Latinos and eight in ten African Americans (79%), say that it is important for public schools to help students from immigrant families maintain their native tongue, including over two-thirds (67%) of Latinos who say that it is “very” important and another 21% say that it is “somewhat” important. Fewer, but still a majority of whites (57%) also agree.

Politics
President Bush gets mixed ratings for his handling of education issues at the time of this survey, although foreign-born Latinos view him more favorably on this score than whites or African Americans. Many Latinos decline to choose the party they trust to do a better job improving education and the schools, but those who do are more likely to pick Democrats than Republicans as the party they trust most to improve education.

  • Slightly more than half of Latinos (53%) say that President Bush has done a “fair” or “poor” job handling the issue of education and schools, while 41% say that he has done an “excellent” or “good” job.   
  • Whites (59%) and African Americans (78%) are more likely than Latinos to say that President Bush has done a “fair” or “poor” job. They are less likely to say he has done an “excellent” or “good” job (34% and 17%, respectively).   
  • The positive views of President Bush's performance on education among Latinos are driven by the foreign born. More foreign-born Latinos (47%) say President Bush has done and “excellent” or “good” job on education than native- born Latinos (33%).

No Child Left Behind Act
Large majorities of Latinos, whites and African Americans alike say they are unaware of whether or not an education reform bill was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bush. In fact, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 launched sweeping reforms for public education from Kindergarten through high school. Nonetheless, Latinos generally endorse the two key pillars of the No Child Left Behind Act: a federal requirement that states set strict performance standards for public schools and the use of standardized testing to allow students to progress.  

  • When asked, more than eight in ten Latinos (87%), whites (81%) and African Americans (85%) said that they did not know if an education reform bill was passed. 
  • Over two-thirds (67%) of Latinos agree that the federal government should require states to set strict performance standards for public schools. About two in ten (21%) disagree and 12% say they do not know if states should set strict performance standards for public schools. 
  • Three-quarters (75%) of Latinos agree that standardized testing should be used to determine whether students are promoted or can graduate (20% say such testing should not be used for this purpose and 5% say they don't know).

Latinos are split over how to handle schools that repeatedly fail to meet standards. The foreign-born favor helping the schools improve but requiring students to continue to attend regardless of a school's performance, while the native born are almost evenly divided over requiring kids to attend or letting parents move their kids elsewhere even if that means shutting down the school. African Americans are similarly divided while a majority of whites favors parental choice.

Affirmative Action
Latinos, especially the foreign born, favor university admissions programs that give special consideration to Latinos, African Americans, and other minority groups. h·

  • Over two-thirds (68%) of all Latinos favor university admissions programs that give special consideration to Latinos, African Americans, and other minority groups. This includes 45% of Latinos who say they “strongly” favor these programs. 
  • African Americans support such policies at similar levels, while about two-thirds of whites oppose them.
Methodology

The Pew Hispanic Center/Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation 2003 National Survey of Latinos on Education was conducted by telephone between August 7 and October 15, 2003 among a nationally representative sample of 3,421 adults, 18 years and older, who were selected at random. Representatives of the Pew Hispanic Center and The Kaiser Family Foundation worked together to develop the survey questionnaire and analyze the results. International Communications Research of Media, PA conducted the fieldwork in either English or Spanish, based on the respondent's preference. 

The sample design employed a highly stratified disproportionate RDD sample of the 48 contiguous states. The results are weighted to represent the actual distribution of adults throughout the United States. 

Of those who were interviewed, 1,508 identified themselves as being of Hispanic or Latino origin or descent (based on the question “Are you, yourself of Hispanic or Latino origin or descent, such as Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Dominican, Central or South American, Caribbean or some other Latin background?”) and throughout this summary they will be referred to interchangeably as either “Latinos” or “Hispanics.” 

Latinos were classified into two groups: foreign-born Latinos and native-born Latinos. Foreign-born Latinos are those who were born outside of the fifty states as well as those who were born on the island of Puerto Rico, a commonwealth associated with the United States. Although individuals born in Puerto Rico are U.S. citizens by birthright, they were included among the foreign-born because, like immigrants from Latin America, they were born into a Spanish-dominant culture and because on many points their attitudes, views and beliefs are much closer to Hispanics born abroad than to Latinos born in the fifty-states, even those who identify themselves as being of Puerto Rican origins. Native-born Latinos are those who say they were born in the United States. 

Interviews were also conducted with 1,193 non-Latino whites and 610 non-Latino African Americans. The terms “white” and “African American” are used throughout this summary to refer to non-Latino whites and non-Latino African Americans. 

Because of the nature of the survey, some questions were only asked of parents who currently have children in school. Of the total 3,421 adults interviewed, 1,268 reported that they are parents of children who are in Kindergarten through the 12th grade. 

The sample size and margin of sampling error for these groups is shown in the table below: 

 

 

Unweighted Number of Respondents (n)

Margin of Sampling Error
Total

3421

+/-2.43 percentage points

Total Latinos

1508

3.03

Foreign-Born Latinos

829

4.07

Native-Born Latinos

677

4.53

Non-Latino Whites

1193

3.19

Non-Latino African Americans

610

4.69

 
Total Parents

 

1268

 

4.11

Latino Parents

650

4.46

Non-Latino White Parents

343

5.81

Non Latino African American Parents

240

7.48

Note that sampling error may be larger for other subgroups and that sampling error is only one of many potential sources of error in this or any other public opinion poll.

Please note table percentages may not add to 100% due to rounding.

The toplines (publication #3032) and the survey report (#3031) are available online at www.kff.org and www.pewhispanic.org. A webcast of the event held to release the findings will be available after 5:00 p.m. Eastern on January 26, 2004 on the Kaiser Network Website.  The Kaiser Family Foundation is a non-profit, private operating foundation dedicated to providing information and analysis on health care issues to policymakers, the media, the health care community, and the general public. The Foundation is not associated with Kaiser Permanente or Kaiser Industries.

The Pew Hispanic Center, based in Washington, DC, is a non-partisan research organization supported by a grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts Kaiser Network Website of Philadelphia. The Center is a project of the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication.

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