Do We Need a New Education Policy for Hispanics?

Nonie K. Lesaux Harvard University
Juan Rangel  UNO Charter School Network
Janice B. Riddell (203) 912-8675, External Relations, Education Next

Do We Need a New Education Policy for Hispanics?

Debate focuses on how best to foster academic success for youth in the nation’s fastest growing immigrant group

CAMBRIDGE, MA—Over the past two decades, the Hispanic population has become the nation’s largest immigrant group and has accounted for 56 percent of total U.S. population growth.  In a forum released today by Education Next, Nonie Lesaux of Harvard’s Graduate School of Education and Juan Rangel of a Chicago charter school organization, UNO, discuss whether these changing demographics call for substantial reforms in the current instructional practices designed to address Hispanic students’ needs, or whether improving education practices across the board is the best way to meet the needs of Hispanics.  “How Can Schools Best Educate Hispanic Students?” is now available at

Rangel argues that as was the case with previous immigrant groups, “Hispanic immigration carries a set of serious challenges that will test our community’s ability to prosper in the United States.”  But he does not believe that highly specialized programs for Hispanic students are needed.  He urges public schools to embrace their mission of serving as “the mediating institution to transition immigrant families into successful Americans.”  For example, charter schools in the UNO network are 95 percent Hispanic, but “are not Hispanic schools; they are classic American schools” that emphasize American civics and citizenship.  There is “no better process for the education of an immigrant class than providing a great teacher, a core curriculum, a disciplined school culture, and strong accountability,” says Rangel.  “These are sorely missing in America’s public schools, hurting all children, especially immigrant students.”

Rangel points to UNO’s choice of Structured English Language Immersion for its students as being both more effective and financially viable than conventional Bilingual Transition Programs.  UNO’s programs are built on an unconventional school day and calendar.  Schools have a 7.5-hour school day; a 191-day school year; and a hybrid year-round calendar that shortens the summer to just five weeks.

Lesaux’s research indicates that the nation needs to “change our design and planning for teaching literacy,” which will require a focus on “teaching both specialized vocabulary and the specialized structures of language that make school texts difficult.”  Instructional practices for English Language Learners (ELLs) that focus on basic reading and conversation skills are not sufficient.

Most of today’s Hispanic students are U.S.-born children of immigrants, Lesaux notes, and “Hispanic students in the U.S. are overwhelmingly growing up in poverty and attending high-minority schools,” leading to achievement- and opportunity-gaps between Hispanics and their peers from middle-income backgrounds.  The 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) shows, for example, that only 18 percent of Hispanic students in grades 4 and 8 scored at or above proficient in reading.

For these reasons, Lesaux explains that policymakers and education leaders should rethink the way that specialists are used to augment instruction for English language learners in today’s linguistically diverse schools.  She argues that the academic growth of all of our children depends upon “making sure that ELLs and their classmates are in strong and supportive language- and content-rich classrooms all day long, day after day and year after year.”  She suggests that such a “classroom-wide, universal approach focused on building up academic vocabulary and knowledge,” would benefit Hispanic students and keep pace with the standards-based accountability movement.

About the Authors

Nonie K. Lesaux is Professor of Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.  Juan Rangel is President of UNO Charter School Network.  The authors are available for interviews.

About Education Next

Education Next is a scholarly journal published by the Hoover Institution that is committed to careful examination of evidence relating to school reform.  Other collaborating institutions are the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University, part of the Taubman Center for State and Local Government at the Harvard Kennedy School, and the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation.  For more information about Education Next, please visit:

For more information on the Program on Education Policy and Governance contact Antonio Wendland at 617-495-7976,, or visit

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