chapter  7
21 Pages

Latino/a Immigrant Parents’ Voices in Mathematics Education


In this chapter we draw on a decade of research with working-class, Latino/a families and their engagement in their children’s mathematics education. Most of the families in our work are of Mexican origin; some are recent immigrants, while others have been in this part of the country for generations since this area was at one time part of Mexico. Throughout our years of working in these communities, we have noticed that, often, immigrant students who were recent arrivals and had been schooled in Mexico came in with a strong command of mathematics, particularly in terms of arithmetic procedures and knowledge of formulas (e.g., knowing the formula for finding the area of a triangle) and tended to outperform (at least in the more skill-type activities) their classmates who had been mostly (if not completely) schooled in the US. Valenzuela (1999) also documents this difference in performance in more general terms, not specific to mathematics. As a group, Latinos (Hispanic is the term used in the reports) continue to underperform in mathematics compared to White students on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). In the 2007 NAEP the mathematics average scores for fourth graders were 248 for White students and 227 for Hispanic students; the mathematics average score for ELL (English Language Learner) fourth graders was 217 and the average score for non-ELL fourth graders was 242. (The scale is from 0 to 500.) Although the performance has shown improvement for all groups in the recent years, the gaps between groups persist. Our work takes place in schools that overall do not perform well in state assessments. These schools are in low-income communities, with a majority of Latino students, some of whom are ELLs. Immigration is often strongly related to both economic and social disadvantage. Rainwater and Smeeding (2003) show that poverty rates for Latinos/as are about three times that for the so-called group of Anglo-Americans. They point to the necessity of new pedagogies and relationships so that such social differences do not persist over the next decades. In their portrayal of the circumstances surrounding different groups of immigrants, Hernandez, Denton, and Macartney (this volume) provide ample evidence for the rather challenging conditions that affect Mexican immigrant families (in particular in terms of educational background and economic situation). These authors state that children of Mexican origin are among the most likely (from several groups of different origins) to have a parent who is limited-English-proficient. They are also most likely to have parents with low levels of formal education (67% of the Mexican-origin children in their data had a father who had not completed high school).