Separate and Unequal

In a school district that still sees the city in terms of black and white, Hispanics say their children are robbed of a fair share

"The configurations and organization of the district," he says, "as well as the utilization of resources make me really wonder about the coherent delivery of instruction across the district." He hopes to tackle the thorny issue of who gets what and how during discussions over next year's budget. "The board," he says, "is going to have to step back and consider: Is this in the interests of all children? Does this provide for equal education across the district and equal access across the district?"

At a Baptist church facility in East Dallas, Mexican and Central American immigrants gather in the evening for English lessons. Kathleen Leos, a DISD trustee, runs the Basic English program as a nonprofit program in several centers across the city. In an advanced class, one Salvadoran man expresses an intriguing conception of America during an exercise that asks students whether countries will run out of land for their people:

At North Dallas High School’s Reconnection Center, some dropouts get back on track. Here, center director Tom Taylor checks the progress of one-time hooky specialist Rudy Barraza.
Mark Graham
At North Dallas High School’s Reconnection Center, some dropouts get back on track. Here, center director Tom Taylor checks the progress of one-time hooky specialist Rudy Barraza.

"Not here in the U.S.," he says, "because this is a very good country. They got plenty of land."

Many of the students in this non-DISD program are parents. During a break, some express anguish over their wayward offspring. "We all do our best...but we have a hard time," says Paulino Ortiz. "The kids don't want to go to school, and it's hard for the parents to get them to go because we have to work." Others blame lack of classroom discipline, the lure of gangs and minimum-wage jobs that make proper parenting difficult.

Spontaneously, an argument breaks out over the efficacy of bilingual education, the controversial practice of teaching core subjects in a native tongue while children are learning English. "Teachers who can't speak English, they are trying to keep them in bilingual education," a man says. "Who has more opportunity?" counters Rosa Garcia, a bilingual teacher assistant who says she has sent three children to college. "Someone who speaks only English or someone who speaks Spanish and English?"

Across town, Renato De Los Santos is attempting to look at the big picture. Director of LULAC's local educational service center, an Oak Cliff storefront that helps kids prepare college financial-aid applications and runs after-school programs, De Los Santos says he was shocked by the academic lethargy he encountered here when he moved from Corpus Christi to open the LULAC center two years ago.

He cites a study by San Antonio's Intercultural Development Research Association, a respected research group, that found a 63 percent Hispanic dropout rate in Dallas County during the 1999-2000 school year. According to the study, which compared 12th-grade enrollment to ninth-grade enrollment in Texas counties, blacks and whites also dropped out at alarming rates--51 and 29 percent, respectively, for a total dropout rate of 46 percent. "It's pretty damning," De Los Santos says.

A big part of the problem, he says, is low expectations from teachers. But he cites another that seems counter-intuitive: too much opportunity of the small-time sort. Kids in economically stagnant Corpus Christi realize that unemployment is their destiny unless they graduate from high school or college. But in Dallas, jobs are more available, if not particularly good ones. Dallas also counts fewer older Hispanic families with deep roots than in South Texas communities.

Still, De Los Santos says Hispanic families expect more from Dallas schools. Parents have complained to him about everything from "permanent" substitute teachers to overcrowded classes and anemic lessons that don't stress the contributions of Hispanics to American history. But he admits no uprising is on the horizon.

A reckoning for Dallas leaders will come in time, De Los Santos says. "They haven't yet had to deal with the full implications of demographic change," he says. "But believe me, they will."

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