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Report: Hispanic Education Disparities Threaten San Diego Economy

A graph showing San Diego graduation statistics by race.
San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation
A graph showing San Diego graduation statistics by race.
Report: Hispanic Education Disparities Threaten San Diego Economy
Hispanic Education Disparities Threaten San Diego Economy: EDC GUESTS: Sera Hernandez, professor, San Diego State University Carlos Cortez, president, San Diego Continuing Education

When San Diego's fastest growing population is underserved in the area of higher education, the County has a big problem on its hands, that is the assessment of the San Diego regional economic developing corporation, their study identifies the higher education gap among Latinos as one of three economic pain points facing the area. 34% of San Diego's Latino population haven't graduated from high school, and only 15% have a college degree, this week we have been examining the issues causing the regions growing economic inequity, and today the issue is the education gap, and joining me is Professor Sarah Mendez, of the English learner education department. >> Thank you for having me. >> Carlos Cortez is here, part of San Diego continuing education, the adult education arm of the district, thank you for coming, Carlos. >> Thank you for having me. >> How significant a factor is it? >> Languages -- languages significant. Latino students and families have been a part of the public school system for ages, and what we are finding in those last several decades is that students and their families have been told that they need to leave their language of the door, we are turning a point now, about a couple of decades of the most recent restrictive policies, proposition 227, which passed in 1998, and entering a new area -- era that is positive, and for Latino students, it is critical that we allow and leverage their home language, language is a key in ensuring that they thrive in our society. >> Carlos, what are the best practices based on research for teaching English learner students? >> The education is beginning with embracing the entire student, the home culture, and home language, and using the first language to build capacity in second or third languages. Dual immersion programs have gained increasing attention throughout the United States, particularly in southern Cologne -- California, both the first language in the listening which. >> How many students who come to continuing education left high school because of language issues, would you say? >> The factors that cause them to opt out rather than dropout, are myriad, but the challenges without a real push up bilingual is -- bilingual education, they don't get out of it, they get stuck and labeled as by -- bilingual education students and so the curriculum a receipt is dumbed down, and students who opt out of school, and students who are not redesignated as English only students. >> It must be also demoralizing, for the individual student to begin to realize that they are just not keeping up, and they are not going to keep up, tell us about that process, because you see it firsthand? >> The effective filter, which applies from my perspective not only to language learners, but to all learners, and learning is more effective, and students are more successful, when they feel comfortable in the environment, supportive, when they believe that the educators have their best interest at heart, when the educational program is structured around their interests and their needs, and oftentimes supporting English language learners doesn't value the student and what the student brings to the table, so the psychological component of education is asked -- extremely important, we have to make them feel welcome before we can engage them in learning. >> And it is not just about language, what about more Latino teachers in the classroom, how would that affect education outcomes? But we know that there is a teacher shortage in general, but also teachers of color, bilingual teachers, a huge shortage, the estimate is that over the next decade, California will need close to 6000 teachers, so when we have students that have a -- have been a product of subtractive schooling, they have had little or no access, to bilingual programs, we see they are not opting for that, they don't feel competent in their English and Spanish by literacy skills, so there are other skills, one of them is the seal of tragedy to -- biliteracy, is that the Latino kind bilingual students, the ones that have that seal of biliteracy are stronger in the program, they have been told since an early age that their Spanish is an asset, and many students that we have, and the discrepancy, are not being told that now, that is the discrepancy between community members. >> And typically, education reforms come from teachers and not from business, but do you think there's anything that businesses could do to improve graduation rates, and to welcome more Latino individuals into the business environment? >> Going into schools is important, other opportunities, direct partnerships with community members, we see there is a trend of students in those schools, going on to increasing social mobility, and going on to different types of careers, we are trying to increase the pathway from community college and high school the -- and high school level, partnering with Southwestern and other community colleges, and I encourage businesses to do the same, with educators, so that we can provide more opportunities and starting at an earlier stage for our Latino students. >> I know that is important to you, as well, Carlos, in your capacity as an educator, what you see businesses role in all of this, and trying to keep Latino students in school, the importance of graduation, gaining a college degree, where does business factor into that? But employers are critical, particularly for internships, the average family median income, is less than $5000 per year, we need to get some way for students to both earn money, and attend school concurrently, in order for them to advance their opportunities in life, and so I implore any employers who are interested in supporting us with job mentorship opportunities -- internship, connect with us, we have a partnership now with the San Diego rescue Mission, 24 of their residence coming and taking career technical education courses in the evening, and we now need to tell -- find 24 employers, in HVAC, welding, plumbing and office skills, if there are employers out there interested in partnering, there are always opportunities. >> I have been speaking with Professor Sarah Hernandez of San Diego states Department of dual language and English learner education. And Carlos Cortez, thank you so much period >>> -- Thank you so much.

When San Diego’s fastest growing population is underserved in the area of higher education, the county has a big problem on its hands. That’s the assessment of the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation, which identified three economic threats that could contribute to economic inequality.

Latinos are the fastest growing racial demographic in San Diego and will make up 40 percent of the region’s population by 2030, more than any other group. But 34 percent of Latinos do not finish high school, compared to 12 percent of whites; only 15 percent graduate college, compared to 49 percent of whites.

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“The fastest growing population is statistically the least prepared for high-skilled, high-wage jobs,” the EDC wrote in its report.

RELATED: San Diego Businesses Point To Looming Economic ‘Pain Points’

The problem is far from specific to San Diego. A study last year from The Education Trust-West found most Latino students in California aren’t proficient in math or English language arts and attend some of the most segregated schools in the country.

San Diego and other school districts in the state are seeing progress in recent years as they implement dual language programs, said Sera Hernandez, a professor at San Diego State University’s Dual Language and English Learner Education department.

“If we have programs that value the home language, we’re already winning,” she said. “It makes me think back to when I was an elementary school teacher in the late '90s. That was far from what we were being told. It was all about, ‘You need to be speaking English in the home.’ Families should be encouraged to use the language they know best.”

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RELATED: San Diego Small Business Wages Lag Behind

But even as Latino graduations rates are improving around the country to record highs, that doesn’t address those who were in school decades ago but never finished or pursued college.

Carlos Cortez is the president of San Diego Continuing Education, the adult education arm of the San Diego Community College District.

“The largest opt-out population is Latinos who were dumped into ESL and never moved out of those programs, never given the chance to prove themselves,” he said.

Cortez suggested that as the business community considers how it can help narrow the education gap, it should focus on student internships that pay full-time wages.

“The average income of someone in our high school education program is less than $5,000 per year,” Cortez said. “The immediate solution is dollars. They don’t have money to stop what they’re doing, to put their lives on hold, to complete degree programs. The majority of immigrant populations are living without financial security.”

As part of our weeklong coverage of the threats to San Diego's economy, Hernandez and Cortez join KPBS Midday Edition on Wednesday to discuss other ways businesses can improve Latino graduation rates.