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At School, Lower Expectations Of Dominican Kids


From NPR News this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, I'm Madeleine Brand.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

Now, why some immigrants' children do better in school than others. Yesterday, we heard about the kids of Chinese immigrants and the tensions between what their parents want for them academically and what they want. Today, the achievement gap between Chinese-American students and students of Dominican background. In Boston, researchers have zeroed-in on that gap. They've looked at whether one culture values education more than the other and what role do schools play. NPR's Claudio Sanchez has the second of two reports.

CLAUDIO SANCHEZ: Carmen Merced has had two sons in the Boston Public Schools. Fernando, an eighth grader, and Wildo, her oldest, just finished high school. They were born in Boston and grew up speaking English. In school, though, both were tagged learning disabled. Merced is convinced that it's because they're Latino.

Ms. CARMEN MERCED: (Foreign language spoken)

SANCHEZ: Latinos, even if they know English, are always discriminated, says Merced. It's not something schools even try to hide. Like the time one of Wildo's teachers told him he was never going to amount to anything in life.

Ms. MERCED: (Foreign language spoken)

SANCHEZ: These were such negative words to say to a child, so negative, Merced remembers thinking. She met with the teacher and told her that if that was all the school had to offer her son, insults, she wanted him transferred immediately. Wildo transferred. The teacher accused Merced of being a bad parent and this, says Merced, is how many teachers view Latino parents.

Ms. MERCED: (Foreign language spoken)

SANCHEZ: It's always the parents, says Merced. The parents are always at fault, never the school. She'd be surprised to know that Boston Schools' superintendent Carol Johnson agrees with her. Furthermore, says Johnson, some teachers and administrators don't expect Latino students to do well.

Dr. CAROL JOHNSON (Superintendent, Boston Public Schools): There isn't this sort of sense that with the right supports and the right incentives and motivation you can get students who are underperforming to achieve at higher levels. So part of this work is about changing attitudes and belief systems. Part of it also, though, is about access.

SANCHEZ: For too many Latinos, Johnson concedes, access to rigorous and advanced placement courses is not what it should be.

Dr. JOHNSON: So the achievement gap is also an access gap.

SANCHEZ: Latinos now account for 38.1 percent of the student body - blacks are right behind, whites and Asians about 20 percent. Latinos drop out in much higher numbers and they struggle academically more than any other group. In large part, school officials say, because when you track Latino students into the least rigorous courses, you're saying to them, we don't expect you to work hard. Just ask Carmen Merced's oldest son, Wildo.

Mr. WILDO: It just seemed like almost every time we step into the class, like, they would almost, like, try to go way too slow with me. They looked down on me most of the time when they were teaching me.

SANCHEZ: That was all through elementary school, says Wildo, although at Charleston High School, he turned out to be quite the math wiz. Still, says Wildo, school seemed like such a waste of time.

Mr. WILDO: I'm usually just bored out of my mind because, like, I already know most of the stuff that's going on. I'm, like, why am I even in this class and I pretty much taught myself a lot of things. I taught myself how to draw, taught myself how to write at a certain level.

SANCHEZ: And yet, says Wildo, some teachers saw him as slow or lazy. But what really infuriates his mother, Carmen Merced, is that teachers don't see Asian students in the same way.

Ms. MERCED: (Foreign language spoken)

SANCHEZ: Merced says teachers see an Asian student and immediately think this one's intelligent, easy to work with. Latinos? It's a different story.

Dr. MARGARET BLEDSOE (Headmaster, Charlestown High School): Well, I think the Chinese and Dominican populations are very different…

SANCHEZ: That's Margaret Bledsoe, the headmaster at Charlestown High School where about half the students are either Asian or Latino.

Dr. BLEDSOE: What do you mean to for (unintelligible), you need a bag?

Unidentified Child: Yeah.

SANCHEZ: As Bledsoe makes her early morning rounds mingling with students, she says no one here is discouraged from working hard, but Chinese kids work harder.

Dr. BLEDSOE: Many of our Chinese students have a lot of, you know, just a high - valuing academics very highly and a lot of family support and do very well, so they're some of our absolute top-performing students.

SANCHEZ: What about the Dominicans, I ask. Again, they're different, says Bledsoe. Chinese students are just more focused.

Dr. BLEDSOE: They buy in more to a belief that academics is their ticket, whereas our Latino students often are, you know, have a lot less confidence that this is actually going to work for them.

SANCHEZ: It's an incredible thing for an educator to say but Harvard professor Vivian Louie says she's not surprised.

Dr. VIVIAN LOUIE (Professor, Harvard University): We've heard this time and time again.

SANCHEZ: Louie has written extensively about Chinese and Dominican students in Boston and other cities and found that educators often buy into stereotypes.

Dr. LOUIE: So these Asian-American overachievers have the right ethnic culture that lead them to value school and to achieve. Latinos, the story goes, are not likely to be high achievers. Their parents don't - do not value education, do not care as much about the opportunities available in the United States.

SANCHEZ: Louie says these stereotypes endure because they become part of, what she calls, cultural scripts, which reinforce the myth of the model minority, attached especially to Chinese students. In reality, says Louie, not all Chinese students excel in math or science and not all are encouraged at home.

Dr. LOUIE: There are Chinese immigrant parents who are not as involved in their children's schooling, because they themselves do not have a lot of formal schooling. One difference that does exist between the Chinese immigrant community and the Dominican immigrant community in the greater Boston area is that there are differences in the wealth of the different communities.

SANCHEZ: This is crucial, says Louie, because regardless of whether their children attended a good or a bad public school, Chinese families save and pool their money to pay for tutoring, test-prep programs, weekend -cram schools.

Dr. LOUIE: Which provide extra academic preparation, but also there's a network of parents, immigrant parents, across class backgrounds - working class, middle class, upper-middle class - who share information about the schooling system and the college system.

SANCHEZ: That's not the case among Dominicans, says Louie. Class differences often keep Latinos apart and the Latino community doesn't pool its money like the Chinese. So it's harder for Latinos to enrich or supplement their children's education. But as Carmen Merced, Wildo's mom, points out, in America a child's lack of wealth is no excuse for schools to give up on him.

Ms. MERCED: (Foreign language spoken)

SANCHEZ: It's the school system where the problem exists, says Merced. Whether you're Dominican or any other culture, no one wants their child to be a bum, a delinquent. She says all immigrant parents want their children to grow up to be professionals and forthright.

Claudio Sanchez, NPR News.

SIEGEL: And you can listen to Claudio's story from yesterday about the kids of Chinese immigrants and find more stories from our series Immigrants' Children at the new npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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