- The Washington Times - Friday, June 1, 2001

In the past few decades, the number of high school graduates who went straight to college rose among black and white students, but there have been no significant enrollment increases for their Hispanic counterparts.

Hispanic students, however, comprise the fastest-growing segment of students attending the nation´s elementary and secondary schools, according to a federally mandated annual report released yesterday by the U.S. Department of Education.

The report also found that, among the nation´s 25-29 year-olds, 47 percent of Hispanics lack a high school diploma, forecasting a grim trend for current students and future generations hoping to get ahead.

Education Secretary Rod Paige used those and other findings from the report, called "The Condition of Education 2001" to bolster the Bush administration´s plan to test all students annually to make sure they are not becoming a part of the country´s widening academic-achievement divide.

"We must keep track of everyone and make excuses for no one," said Mr. Paige, who decried the "generally flat" educational progress of U.S. students over the past decade after gains in the 1970s and 1980s.

"We are far from where we need to be in terms of student performance," Mr. Paige said. "We are failing to close persistent achievement and attainment gaps, and we lag behind other developed nations in mathematics and science education."

The detailed 309-page report, compiled by the National Center for Education Statistics, provides updated information about 59 indicators related to quality of education, including time spent on homework, dropout rates by race and ethnicity, international comparisons of attainment and achievement and parents´ perception of college costs.

This year, the report focused on first-generation college students and factors that increase their likelihood of getting into and succeeding in college.

In the past decade, the percentage of high school graduates who went straight to college rose from 60 to 67 percent, with parent-education levels remaining strong indicators of whether students headed directly to college after high school.

In 1999, 82 percent of students whose parents graduated from college enrolled immediately after high school. But 54 percent of students whose parents received simply a high school diploma headed to college, while only 36 percent of those students whose parents did not graduate from high school sought a college education.

For first-generation college students, taking advanced course work in core subjects in high school is a strong indicator of their likelihood of enrolling in a four-year college or receiving a bachelor´s degree, the study found. In fact, taking higher-level courses was cited as a key to leveling the education playing field for many students whose parents did not attend college.

"The gap was eliminated among those who took rigorous courses," said Vinetta C. Jones, dean of the graduate school of education at Howard University, who joined Mr. Paige in reacting to the report.

She said the often low expectations of school counselors for poor children affect student motivation, as well as that of their parents, in believing college is an attainable goal. The counselors´ influence and help could play a strong role in guiding first-generation students to higher education.

She described teacher education as being at a "crisis point," and called for schools to narrow the gap between "theory and practice and lifelong learning."

"If students took all the necessary steps leading to college enrollment, including preparing academically, taking college-entrance examinations, applying to a four-year institution and being accepted for admission to at least one college, parents´ education ceases to be important in enrollment," she said.

The study also found:

• The number of high school graduates taking advanced courses in foreign languages and in English rose by 30 percent from 1982 to 1998, while the proportion of high school graduates who took advanced math rose from 26 percent to 41 percent over the same period. The proportion of those who took advanced physics rose from 31percent to 60 percent.

• From 1990 to 1998, student-teacher ratios declined in public elementary schools, but went up in secondary schools.

• The quality of U.S. eighth-grade math lessons was rated lower than lessons in Germany and Japan. U.S. eighth-graders were less likely than their peers internationally to be taught in math and physics by a teacher who majored in those subjects specifically.

• Average per-student spending was $5,700 in 1996-97. Increases in student spending were higher in non-metropolitan school districts from 1991-92 to 1996-97 than in urban school districts.


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