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Newest waves of immigrants have higher levels of education

WALTHAM — When the market first opened on Lexington Street, immigrants packed the aisles for a chance to dictate a letter to Lilian Rojas.

Many were too shy to say they could not read or write, so they whispered that they forgot their eyeglasses or some other excuse. The petite shop owner nodded and wrote all they wanted: love letters, Mother’s Day cards, messages of longing and grief to deliver to relatives thousands of miles away.

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Now, 17 years later, the number of immigrants in this city has soared. But the letter-writing lines at the small market near Waltham’s city center have all but disappeared.

“It’s incredible,” Rojas said, standing amid the sacks of dry beans and pots of fresh tamales. “It’s been a long time since someone asked for that.”

A reason, researchers say, is that the latest waves of immigrants are far more educated than their forebears. Nearly 80 percent of the Massachusetts immigrants who arrived after 2000 have a high school diploma or some college education or a college degree, much higher than the 68 percent of those who came to the United States before 1980, according to an analysis of recent census figures by the University of Massachusetts Donahue Institute. The share of immigrants with a bachelor’s degree or higher in Massachusetts has risen even more dramatically, from 26 percent among those who arrived before 1980 to 42 percent of those who came after 2000.

“Clearly our more recent immigrants are more highly educated than the immigrants in past decades,” said Susan Strate, population estimates program manager at the Donahue Institute, based in Hadley. The data is from the American Community Survey, a nationwide survey, that covered the years 2007 to 2011 and applies to immigrants aged 25 and older.

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Advocates for immigrants and researchers say the heated debate over immigration policy has tended to obscure public perceptions of immigrants’ education levels, which have been slowly rising for years in Massachusetts and nationwide.

The trend is aided by an overall decline in the numbers of illegal immigrants, who tend to have less formal schooling. But immigrants’ homelands have also built more schools, boosting literacy, and the United States has actively recruited high-skilled workers and college students from countries such as China, India, and Brazil.

The better educated workers are also changing the face of the economy, launching companies and creating jobs in Massachusetts and elsewhere in the United States, as well as changing the face of local schools and communities.

“Even though it’s not been very widely recognized, the educational level of immigrants has risen all the way through since the 1980s,” said Michael Fix, senior vice president of the Migration Policy Institute, a nonprofit that researches immigration. “Every decade it goes up.”

Immigrants in Massachusetts are still less likely to have graduated high school than US-born residents; some 24 percent of foreign-born residents of Massachusetts do not have a high school diploma, compared with 8 percent of natives.

The percentage of immigrants who have advanced degrees, however, is now slightly higher than American-born residents — up to 18 percent compared with 16 percent of US natives in the state. Even illegal immigrants are arriving with higher levels of education.

Alan Clayton-Matthews, Northeastern professor, said he has witnessed firsthand one of the reasons why, in Santa María Tzejá, a remote village in Guatemala that saw brutal violence during the 36-year civil war. Townsfolk fled to the mountains and refugee camps in Mexico, but then in the 1990s returned to rebuild the town.

They also built new schools, with the help of the church Clayton-Matthews attends in Needham and other supporters. The village now has a middle school. Villagers and some outside supporters are now raising money for a high school.

“Now a lot of the immigration to the United States from this village is from kids who have either a middle-school education or a high-school education and are coming to the US to make money to support their other siblings,” said Clayton-Matthews, an economist.

A prime exampl e was a man in Waltham on a recent day, scrolling through messages on his cellphone outside the market Rojas runs, known as Des­pensa Familiar . A 33-year-old laborer from Guatemala, he said he has only a sixth-grade education, but even that surpasses his father, a farmer back home. “My father did not go to school,” said the laborer, who asked not to be named because he is here illegally. “He wanted me to learn to read and write so I wouldn’t be like him.

Hillsboro residents come out in force at legislators forum on education

 

Hillsboro folks filled a lecture hall at Century High School and spilled into the hallway Thursday night in an effort to learn from local legislators what the future holds for their students.

They left with mixed emotions. Some said they were hopeful because the legislators — Sen. Bruce Starr, R-Hillsboro and representatives Ben Unger, D-Hillsboro and Joe Gallegos, D-Hillsboro – were trying to get more funding for education. Others said they were even less optimistic. Few, however, thought state funding would rise above the $6.75 billion proposed by a legislative committee.

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School district leaders in Hillsboro and Forest Grove know they’ll still have to make cuts in 2013-14 if state funding doesn’t exceed $6.75 billion.

Hillsboro expects to slice $8 million and Forest Grove is eyeing $2.7 million in reductions. The cuts mark nearly six years of continual reductions for the districts.

The legislators promised to work together across the aisle, across party lines to bolster education funding.

After the meeting, teacher Kathy Newman said, “At least they have an aisle. We don’t have an aisle in most classrooms.” Newman said she has 36 students in her sixth-grade class this year at Brookwood Elementary. Standing with her, Hillsboro High teacher Tami Miller said she has 49 kids in her French II class.

During a question and answer session, an audience member asked how the legislators could approve a budget they know will be short for schools.

“I won’t,” Starr said. “It’s not adequate. It’s way past time we stop reductions.”

Unger agreed. Both men said PERS reform could help bolster the education budget but Unger said it needed to be coupled with help from “people who can afford it.”

Newman said she didn’t like the budget being balanced on PERS, saying legal challenges could tie it up in court too long to help.

A suggestion to legislators from a man with two grandkids in Hillsboro schools received the most applause during the hour-long meeting. “I don’t see legislators making education a priority. He asked the three men to turn their attention away from coal and crops. “None of that stuff matters until we get that $50-$60 million back in this county,” he said, referring to Hillsboro cuts over the last five years. “

Unger assured him that he and his two colleagues see it as a priority but added, “It’s going to be tough to get the budget we need.”

Starr agreed. “People in Salem don’t get it,” he said. “There are people in my own caucus that think $6.75 billion is enough.”

After the meeting, Hillsboro parent Christi Dodge said she had less hope about education funding.

“I’m leaving a little depressed,” she said. “The problem is just so huge. You just hope they have the inside track on a better idea.”

Parent and Stand for Children member Jennifer Rychlik said she was happy with the turnout of people. “This is the most active the Hillsboro community has been,” she said.

Rychlik said she is hopeful about the education budget, but if it doesn’t come through, “There is nothing left to cut.”

Previous forums for education have drawn 30 or fewer people, but the roughly 200 people at Thursday’s gathering included a large number of people there to discuss Oregon’s citizenship requirements for driver’s licenses and how it limits people from getting work, especially migrant farm workers.

After the meeting, parent Karen Reynolds stood talking with teachers from her children’s school. She said the meeting with legislators reaffirmed her decision to move her kids from Hillsboro to Gaston where class sizes are smaller. Gaston receives additional state money because it’s a small school.

“I can’t do it anymore,” she said.

Berger announces major education package

 

RALEIGH The state Senate leader on Tuesday unveiled a second wave of measures he said would serve to hold schools and teachers more accountable for students’ progress.

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He proposed ending teacher tenure, limiting the amount of time spent on testing for final exams, grading entire schools and an emphasis on literacy.

“The days of accepting a broken education system in North Carolina are over,” Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said at a news conference at which he was flanked by several Republican senators who signed onto the bill as sponsors. “We must continue to demand better and positive change for our kids.”

With Berger, the Senate leader, as one of three primary sponsors, the bill has a strong likelihood of success. The other primary sponsors are Sen. Jerry Tillman of Randolph County and Sen. Dan Soucek of Watauga County. The two are co-chairmen of the Senate Education Committee.

Tillman also filed a bill Tuesday that would allow school boards to use their financial resources as they see fit, including increasing or decreasing class sizes, with some limitations. Berger’s far-reaching Senate Bill 361 upstaged the other education news of the day – Republican Gov. Pat McCrory’s school safety initiative, which he kicked off at Apex Middle School.

Berger introduced a similar bill last year, but with Gov. Bev Perdue, a Democrat, in office and Republicans not yet holding a veto-proof majority in the General Assembly, only some portions with compromises were included in the final state budget. All that has changed this session.

Senate Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt, a Democrat from Asheville, criticized the proposal.

“Simply put, this legislation adds insult to injury for teachers and will harm public education in North Carolina,” Nesbitt said in a statement. “The Republicans have already cut average teacher salaries to 48th in the nation; now they want to be able to fire good teachers at will? Communities across this state are already struggling to recruit and retain quality teachers, and now Republicans in Raleigh are making that task even tougher.”

Democrats respond

N.C. Democratic Party Chairman Randy Voller said the school grading system would disenfranchise low-performing schools in struggling communities.

“It’s sad to see a state leader assault our public education system as ‘broken,’ ” Voller said in a statement. “A decade ago, such a person would have been laughed out of the halls of the General Assembly.”

Sen. Josh Stein, a Raleigh Democrat, called Berger’s education plan unhelpful rhetoric. Education and school board representatives withheld reaction until they could study the 33-page bill more closely.

A key provision represents Berger’s latest effort to end tenure for teachers. Under current state law, teachers who have completed four years of service can receive tenure, meaning they can only be fired for a specific cause. Teachers with less experience can be fired for any reason.

“Our current system, in many respects, rewards mediocrity, punishes excellence by granting unlimited job security to all who teach a few years,” Berger said Tuesday.

Berger said he thought there were only a small number of poor teachers in North Carolina. “But if it’s one teacher and it’s a teacher that’s teaching your child, it’s a huge problem,” he said.

After June 30, 2014, tenure would no longer be awarded, and teachers could be offered contracts of between one and three years. Teachers would only be offered multiyear contracts if they met requirements under a state program for assessing teacher performance.

Berger said he doesn’t anticipate lowering the amount of money teachers make. He said the bill includes some funding requirements, but he said those details haven’t been worked out.

The bill also calls for exploring ways to reward especially talented teachers with extra salary or bonuses.

School grading system

Schools would be graded, earning an A, B, C, D or F based on student performance on state tests, national exams and graduation rates. A performance grade point of 90 or above earns an A, while a grade lower than 60 points earns the school an F, according to the bill.

The grading program is modeled on a similar program used in Florida. Supporters say it will better let parents know how well their children’s schools are doing.

The grading system was adopted as part of the budget last year. But as part of the budget compromises, it was left up to the State Board of Education to develop the standards for the grading system. The new bill has legislators setting the standards.

Critics, including many educators, have said the grading system will unfairly result in many schools being shown as being low-performing, and argue that the grades should reflect how much progress the school is making toward improving passing rates.

The new bill says that the State Board of Education can list growth on the report cards but that it can’t be used to change a school’s letter grade.

Another change in the bill would limit when state tests could be given. The bill says that, depending on the course, the exam can only be offered in either the last week or last two weeks of the school year.

Currently, state exams can be offered as much as three weeks before the end of the school year. Parents complain the period after the tests are given are a waste of time as teachers do things such as show movies to pass the time.

The Worst Victims of the Education Sequester: Special-Needs Students and Poor Kid

 

The sequester’s guillotine has little regard for good or bad programs as it unselectively slices spending across the country, but perhaps nowhere does its indiscriminate blade fall more harshly than within education. The students who will lose out will be the ones we should be most careful to protect: children from poor families and special needs kids.

Federal funding for education will be slashed by 5.1 percent, until Congress can agree on a new budget. Though the federal government only makes up about 10 percent of the total education spending, this share is significant in every town budget. Schools need Washington’s money to provide basic services for its students, as states and localities have faced their own budget crises in recent years.

To understand the severe unfairness of these cuts, let’s start with a brief primer on federal education funding. The majority of federal funding for education is targeted for two groups of school kids — the poor and the disabled. Title 1 (federal support for low-income school districts) and Head Start (the pre-school program for disadvantaged children) serve the disadvantaged kids. The Department of Education support for special education amounts to between a sixth and a quarter of education spending in any given year.

Here is the overall breakdown of $78 billion in federal spending on elementary/secondary education. As you can see, almost half goes to Title 1, special education, and Head Start. Another third goes to support school lunches, improvements, and aid. Note that Head Start comes from Health and Human Services, and the Department of Agriculture oversees the school lunch program .

Screen Shot 2013-03-16 at 4.11.59 PM.png

These programs will see sizable cuts in their budget. Title 1 and Head Start will lose $740 million and $406 million, respectively. Special education will lose $644 million. Other cuts include: $58.8 million in Impact Aid, $126 million in Teacher Quality State Grants, $59 million in 21st Century Community Learning Centers, and $9 million in rural education.

The NEA estimates that 7.4 million students and 49,365 school personnel will be affected.

The Department of Education provides a state-by-state breakdown of the impact of these cuts. Texas, for example, will lose $67.8 million in general education funding and $51 million in special education funding. New Jersey is slated to lose $11.7 million in general education funding and an additional $17 million in special education money.

Localities are obligated by law to provide services to special education students, however the law is vague about the quality and amount of services. Special needs kids may receive less speech therapy or be crammed into crowded, unsafe classrooms, as a result of these cuts. These cuts could also have more subtle consequences: School districts could be reluctant to classify kids with less severe disabilities if they foresee cuts for these programs.

Also, local districts may be forced to reduce services for non-special needs kids in areas like art and music to make up for the budget gap. School districts are already straining under the high cost of educating special-needs kids, and even without the cuts, Washington has never funded special education at levels that were originally promised under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

School districts are in for some ugly fights as they plan for the 2013-1014 budget year. Parents of special-needs and disadvantaged kids hold their breath and hope that their children’s education isn’t a casualty of Washington’s absurd budget wars.

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