Web System Proposed to Help in Educating Migrant Kids
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Migrant workers have crisscrossed the United States from harvest to harvest for generations, yet schools have struggled with how best to educate their children. Often when migrant kids show up at a new school, their previous records are late or nonexistent. The federal government first tried to track migrant students 35 years ago, but that effort fizzled. Now the Education Department has a new plan. NPR's Claudio Sanchez reports.
CLAUDIO SANCHEZ reporting:
Back in 1970 when the US Department of Education first started tracking migrant students, their high school graduation rate was an unbelievable 1.5 percent. Less than 6 percent ever completed ninth grade. By the mid-1990s, 14 percent of migrant students were graduating from high school and 25 percent were making it to the ninth grade. The situation today, though, is not much better. First, most families move three to four times during the school year and schools sometimes have no clue what school migrant students last attended, let alone what courses they've taken, what textbooks they're using, how far along they are in reading or math. By the time they get this information, these kids and their families are ready to move on again. The solution? A Web-based migrant student information exchange system. Francisco Garcia is director of migrant education at the US Education Department.
Mr. FRANCISCO GARCIA (Director of Migrant Education, US Education Department): Our task now is to link the states to ensure that records are, in fact, transferred. I think it's going to make a huge difference.
SANCHEZ: Students will have their own electronic folder with their name, birthplace, schools attended, immunization records; kids will be assigned a unique identifier or number so that even if two or more have the same name, schools will know they're different students. In other words, it will be harder for these kids to disappear as they move from school to school. Administrators will have access to students' electronic files instantly online, and teachers will get a much clearer picture of a student's academic skills and abilities. This is crucial under the No Child Left Behind Act, which requires states to provide a progress report with test results for all students every year, information that hasn't always been available or accurate for migrant students. Why? Because in most states, migrant students have not been a priority, says Jeffrey Newman, president of the New York City-based National Child Labor Committee.
Mr. JEFFREY NEWMAN (President, National Child Labor Committee): When the states are given the responsibility for migrant education, it's a failure, and that's why the federal government stepped in 35 years ago, because the states cannot, will not and do not have the wherewithal or the support to make this happen, and it will not happen if we rely on the states.
SANCHEZ: Newman worried that even if a new, more sophisticated tracking system provides lots of terrific information faster, it's useless if nobody acts on it.
Mr. NEWMAN: Migrant children are already, by third or fourth grade or even earlier in many cases, so far behind, unless they are given the supplemental education, unless the states are given the money, which they are not now given, then there is not going to be any more progress in the next 10 years than there's been in the last 10 years, and that has been zero to minimal.
SANCHEZ: The man at the US Education Department who will oversee the new tracking system, Alex Goniprow, says states will be held accountable.
Mr. ALEX GONIPROW (US Department of Education): Every state has to report how migrant students--what percent were proficient in reading and in math. So they're being counted.
SANCHEZ: Goniprow says it's easier to count migrant students these days because the families actually aren't moving as often.
Mr. GONIPROW: People don't have to necessarily move to as many places to piece together a income in agriculture. And we're moving away from what used to be the old traditional follow-a-crop migrant that used to be a large proportion of the families that go from one state to another state to another state to another state, then back, and then continue that cycle.
SANCHEZ: Less mobility, says Goniprow, means migrant children are spending more time in one or two schools rather than three or four during the year. So tracking them is getting easier, not harder. Jeffrey Newman says he's going to wait and see.
Mr. NEWMAN: I am keeping my fingers crossed that the Department of Education really means what it says here, because it will mean that migrant children will really be served for the first time in a way that hasn't been done by any administration for the better part of the last four decades.
SANCHEZ: Despite a $6 million cut in its budget for migrant education, the US Education Department says it will have the money on hand to pay for the new system which should be up and running in about a year. Claudio Sanchez, NPR News.