A six-language telephone survey of ethnic and immigrant minority parents in California released last Wednesday produced a refreshingly welcome debunking of patronizing stereotypes. Those stereotypes, promoted by both the state school establishment and by activists suing to block the high school exit exam, have set back education in California.
The survey came out just one day after the state’s newest exit exam statistics showed a wide achievement gap persisting between white and Asian American students and lower-scoring African-Americans and Latino students. The study was commissioned by New America Media, a nationwide nonprofit that has pioneered multilingual polling to gauge views of ethnic minority populations generally under-represented in mainstream opinion studies.
Multilingual polling of parents is particularly useful for uncovering the truth about education issues because 65 percent of California public school students now are from the state’s new majority of ethnic minorities. And more than one-third speak non-English languages at home with their families.
The new poll’s most intriguing finding is that the overwhelming majority of non-white parents support the controversial high school exit exam requirement. African-Americans parents are for the exam by 68 percent, while 80 percent of Latino parents and 86 percent of Asian parents are also behind it.
Minority parents want real school accountability, said pollster Sergio Bendixen, who conducted the survey. They don’t want their kids simply passed along an assembly line of social promotions and getting diplomas without acquiring a basic education, he concluded.
Another pleasant surprise from the poll was that more than three-quarters of all parents surveyed expect their children to graduate from a four-year college or even attain a graduate degree. They also believed that preschool was vital for preparing their kids to succeed in kindergarten and the early grades, which suggests that the Proposition 82 preschool initiative might have passed in June if more minority parents had voted.
And, contrary to widespread preconceptions, the vast majority of parents in each ethnic subgroup said they helped their children with homework at least several times a week, with more than half helping every night. Not only that, more than three-fourths of the parents met with their child’s teacher at least twice during the last school year, with Latino parents highest at 91 percent and African-Americans second with 85 percent.
None of this should be taken to mean the significant new minority parent poll was all sweetness and light. Only 9 percent of African-Americans, 18 percent of Asians and 32 percent of Latinos were strongly confident that public education was adequately preparing their children for successful careers.
But as the New America Media poll points out, ethnic and minority parents have higher aspirations for their children’s education than was commonly believed and "could become an important source of pressure to raise achievement levels in California public schools."