ERIC Identifier: ED459048
Publication Date: 2001-12-00
Author: Scribner, Alicia Paredes - Scribner, Jay D.
ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools Charleston WV.
High-Performing Schools Serving Mexican American Students: What
They Can Teach Us. ERIC Digest.
In a recent study along the Texas-Mexico border (Reyes, Scribner, &
Paredes Scribner, 1999) we reported the characteristics of successful schools
where the student population was mostly Mexican American, from low socioeconomic
backgrounds, and where a high percentage of the students were limited English
proficient. Based on our study, we concluded that conditions of failure for
Mexican American students need not exist. This Digest reviews the findings of
our study and others, to discover what such research can teach us about creating
schools that better support the success of Mexican American students.
STUDYING HIGH-PERFORMING SCHOOLS SERVING MEXICAN AMERICAN
The method employed to select the schools we studied was a
purposive sample. Three elementary schools, three middle schools, and three high
schools were selected on the basis of the following criteria: (1) school
enrollment of 66.6% or more Mexican American students; (2) schools with
above-average standardized test scores on the Texas state assessment system; and
(3) schools that had received state and national recognition. After a review of
the literature to identify "best practices," a pilot study was conducted in two
similar schools. Following the field work phase, data analysis and
interpretation were carried out by research teams trained in multicultural
research, qualitative analysis, and interpretation techniques.
We discovered that high-performing schools serving Mexican Americans were
very similar to other successful schools. Like effective schools in urban
communities (Edmonds, 1979), these schools were typically characterized as
communities of learners where students came first, teachers set high
expectations for all their students, and instruction was interactive and
student-centered rather than teacher-centered. Research elsewhere has shown that
in high-performing schools, teachers empowered students to become excited about
and responsible for their own learning (Blase & Blase, 1994). Additionally,
we found that effective schools for Mexican American students shared a vision
for all students. Above all, as Valencia (1997) also reported, such schools
ignored the barriers to learning often associated with "deficit thinking."
The high-performing schools serving Mexican Americans we studied were not
only true communities of learners, they differed from other successful schools
in at least four areas:
the way they addressed community and family involvement,
how they built a collaborative school governance system,
their commitment to connecting curricula and instructional techniques to
students' funds of knowledge and cultural backgrounds, and
how they used advocacy-oriented assessment practices that held educators
accountable for their instructional strategies and for the impact they had on
Mexican American learners.
The balance of this Digest briefly discusses these four areas of distinction.
This discussion may help point the way to creating high-performing schools for
Mexican Americans in other parts of the country, encouraging communities to seek
innovative solutions to what, in the past, may have seemed like intractable
COLLABORATIVE RELATIONSHIPS WITH PARENTS AND
"Parent involvement" often means something different to
educators than it does to Mexican American parents. Further, differences in
family structure, culture, ethnic background, and school experiences can lead to
interpretations within the Mexican American community that are quite different
from those of other minority parents. Mexican Americans tend to value parental
involvement in schools when they see their activities enhancing the school
environment for their children (Delgado-Gaitan, 1991). They are likely to become
more involved when school staff show concern for their child. School staff, on
the other hand, generally understand parent involvement to be efforts aimed at
increasing student achievement. In the schools we studied, we observed staff
using the following strategies to increase parent involvement:
building on cultural values of Mexican American parents
stressing personal contact with parents
fostering communication with parents
creating a warm environment for parents
facilitating structural accommodations for parent involvement
School staff also were aware of their responsibilities to meet the needs of
diverse populations. Those needs often extended beyond purely educational
concerns, requiring involvement in the community. Best practices in community
involvement address health, safety, and economic issues.
School staff who originate from outside the Mexican American community may
need additional professional development to interact effectively with the
Mexican American community. As Villanueva and Hubbard (1994) observed, honoring
culturally relevant values such as respect, informal small talk, and personal
contact are important in building school-community relationships. Professional
development that extends to the community should include an understanding of how
economic, class, racial, and political factors interact in the community and the
school. When educators proactively learn about the communities they serve, they
are better prepared to provide learning opportunities that extend beyond the
school's walls (Lopez, Scribner, & Mahitivanichcha, 2001; Scribner, Young,
& Pedroza, 1999).
COLLABORATIVE GOVERNANCE AND LEADERSHIP
governance and leadership in effective schools serving Mexican American students
did not seem to be driven by state-mandated accountability measures. Educators
held themselves accountable, however, believing that all children can learn and
that it was their responsibility to make it happen (Scribner & Reyes, 1999).
Communication and collaboration were considered top priorities. Participation in
site-based management teams and coordinated planning and communication made
teachers feel involved and valued. In the area of governance, these successful
schools shared several attributes:
a clear, coherent vision and mission shared by the school community
collaborative administrators who modeled their dedication and vision
humanistic leadership philosophies
empowerment of professional staff
current and appropriate professional development
an ethic of caring
the belief that all students can succeed
an emphasis on accountability
a culture of innovation
STUDENT-CENTERED CLASSROOM ENVIRONMENTS
In general, the
high-performing schools we observed were open, friendly, and culturally
inviting. Students were allowed and encouraged to interact with one another and
to engage in collaborative learning activities. We observed a variety of
instructional approaches. In fact, there is no identifiable, easily transferable
program to recommend. Instead, successful schools and teachers seemed to do "what it takes" to help students succeed. This meant teachers worked together to
identify learning experiences that would benefit students.
For students whose English was limited, coordinated English language
instruction was requisite to success. In the regular classroom, as Moll and
Gonzalez (1994) observed, we saw teachers provide assistance in Spanish whenever
it seemed such assistance would aid learning. At times, this was done on a
formal daily basis; other times spontaneously, as the need arose.
In summary, factors contributing to student-centered classroom environments
for Mexican American students included
teachers who accepted full responsibility for helping students
teachers who were extremely caring and nurturing to students
consistent, productive, and intensive collaboration among teachers
the encouragement of collaborative learning
student access to a wide variety of learning materials
utilization of both Spanish and English, as needed, to enhance learning
ADVOCACY-ORIENTED ASSESSMENT PRACTICES
Students whose first
language is not English often run the risk of being referred for special
services. High-performing schools serving Mexican American students were
cautious about referring students prematurely. Prereferral systems were in place
for students who experienced academic problems, including instructional
modifications, team planning and teaching, intensive English as a second
language (ESL) instruction, and the use of ESL-certified classroom teachers.
Language assessments were done with care. For example, teachers recognized that
a student new to this country needed an adjustment period, to avoid misplacement
in special education.
Intensive language development, team planning/teaching, and coordination of
instruction were strategies consistently employed for the benefit of students.
Finally, the high-performing schools we observed shared a philosophy that
stressed collaboration and familiarity with ESL student needs, which resulted in
an advocacy-oriented approach to assessment (Paredes Scribner, 1995).
During the last two decades, our research and the
research of others have produced extensive information on effective schools
(Beck & Murphy, 1996; Edmonds, 1979; Garcia, 1999). In general, we have
learned that in effective schools serving Mexican American students, teachers
have high expectations for student achievement; teachers also emphasize the
development and acquisition of literacy skills throughout the content areas to
enhance language and cognitive development. The school climate is one that is
conducive to learning, and one in which cultural diversity is celebrated.
Regular feedback is provided to parents so monitoring student progress becomes a
goal for teachers and parents.
Teaching practices alone do not make effective schools, however. Like earlier
effective schools studies, recent research confirms the importance of
organizational variables, such as inclusive leadership that creates a sense of
community, drawing everyone into the learning process and preventing alienation
of any stakeholders, be they faculty, students, parents, or the larger Mexican
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parental involvement: Lessons from high-performing migrant-impacted schools.
American Educational Research Journal 38(2), 253-88.
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