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Latino Research Group Sets Ambitious Agenda
By Debra Viadero
9 March 2005
A group of researchers and advocates unveiled a framework last week for a new generation of education studies that might better meet the needs of the nation's growing population of Latino students.
Statisticians predict that the percentage of Hispanic children in the nation's K-12 schools will grow from 14 percent in 2000 to 25 percent in 2050. Yet, according to the National Latino Education Research Agenda Project, or NLERAP, educators still know little about how to best serve that diverse, rapidly growing population-partly because relatively few education studies have focused on Latinos.
"Questions about who decides what research gets done and for what purpose are answered in foundation and government circles, where Latino voices are absent," said Pedro Pedraza, the director of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at City University of New York and the project founder. "There's a big gap, and we need to fill it in."
The Latino research project began in 2000, when it established a 60-member board, including researchers, educators, and activists from groups such as the Washington-based National Council of La Raza, a nonprofit advocacy group for Hispanics. The board members also gathered grassroots comments in hearings held over four years in nine regions across the country.
Victoria-Maria MacDonald, a board member and an associate professor of history and philosophy of education at Florida State University in Tallahassee, said the group's effort is historic because, until recently, few Latino academics have been in positions to call attention to the needs of Hispanic students.
"Now we have a critical mass of Latinos who are experienced researchers and tenured researchers, so that we feel like we can be bold in our ideas and thoughts," she said.
The studies the group has in mind would be long-term, collaborative, interdisciplinary work that would involve local communities and would ultimately have a practical impact on policy decisions. It's a vision, board members acknowledged, that contrasts in some ways with the current emphasis at the federal level on more large-scale, quantitative experiments in education.
"What we're saying is that, particularly for Latinos and other groups, context is key," Ms. McDonald said.
In other words, she said, what works in schools with high concentrations of students from Puerto Rico might be different for city schools in well-established Mexican-American communities, or rural areas with an influx of new immigrants from the Dominican Republic.
The research topic at the top of the group's agenda is a call for studies on how Current measures to improve education, such as the federal No Child Left Behind Act, are affecting different groups of Hispanic students throughout the United States.
"People all over the country expressed a lot of concern about what was going on with the move toward more standardized testing, and that this will be affecting us negatively," Mr. Pedraza said.
Tracking Teacher Issues
The research group also recommends studying the recruitment, preparation, and retention of Hispanic teachers to staff the nation's classrooms and ways that the historical and political status of Latino groups in the United States affects their children's education.
The agenda also puts a priority on studies that explore the role of the visual and performing arts in improving schooling for Latinos.
"There are many schools where what has succeeded with our students is the integration of the arts throughout the curriculum," Mr. Pedraza said. "We need research on how to improve that practice, and we need to document for the public at large the importance of keeping arts in education."
edweek.org: The agenda of the National Latino Education Research Agenda Project is online at www.edweek.org/links .
"Questions about who decides what research gets done and for what purpose are answered in foundation and government circles, where Latino voices are absent."
Founder, National Latino Education Research Agenda Project