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Researchers find seven values Hispanic parents, students want in Idaho’s education system

The Here to Stay study began after researchers noticed a major gap in Hispanic populations at Idaho charter schools.  (Pixabay)
By Moesha Aplicano Burnham Idaho Capital Sun

The Farkas-Duffett Research Group, based in New York City, has conducted many studies within Idaho.

Most recently, by studying what the Idaho education system can improve on for Hispanic students and parents, the group has found seven main aspects that Hispanic parents and students value about the education system in Idaho. Bluum, a Boise-based nonprofit, is an organization that focuses on education research and innovation and also played a role in the research.

The Here to Stay study began after researchers noticed a major gap in Hispanic populations at Idaho charter schools. In 2016, Hispanics accounted for 11.4% of charter school enrollment growth, while white children made up 18.4% of enrollment growth. As recently as 2023, the gap has closed significantly with 16.7% of newly enrolled children at Idaho charter schools being from Hispanic heritage.

Hispanic parents concerned with staff to student ratio in classrooms

According to a Bluum press release, Hispanic parents’ goals for their children are similar to parents of other ethnicities. They expect schools to teach their children the basics in math, language and responsibility. They have expectations for the school to hire well-suited teachers who genuinely care for their students.

But many parents worry about the staff to child ratio, claiming that they are concerned that if their child is struggling that there is not enough time for each child to receive the attention and direction that they need.

“Social-emotional help would be really helpful, especially right now after COVID, and that was one of my concerns with our oldest,” one Twin Falls parent who participated in the study said. “We had a meeting at the school and I asked the counselor, ‘Can you check in on him just 10 minutes and see how he is doing?’ And she said, ‘I have 300+ students that I need to check on.’ And I said, ‘I’m not asking you to have an hour-long meeting, but just can you check on him.’”

One commonality that stretches not only among Hispanic parents, but also among parents across the country, is the growing frustration and confusion regarding mathematics. Many parents expressed concern that they haven’t been able to assist their children with math homework, leaving the children struggling and even falling behind.

“My daughter, she struggles with math a lot. Who could not struggle with 9-year-old math? Have you seen their math? Oh my gosh. It’s so different,” stated a parent from Idaho Falls who participated in the study.

Teaching Spanish in Idaho schools

Spanish being taught in schools seems to be much less of a concern with Hispanic parents, according to the study’s results. Many parents expressed that Spanish can play an important part in feeling connected to their culture, as well as giving the child a future advantage in regard to their career. However, the majority of parents expressed that teaching their child Spanish is the job of the family, not the school.

“It’s not their responsibility – it’s ours,” one Idaho Falls parent said in the study. “If we want our kids to learn a second language like Spanish, because that’s what we know, then you have to teach your kids at home.”

According to the study, many parents believe that having Spanish classes can be beneficial to their children, just that it should not be forced or emphasized upon.

A misconception that many parents expressed is the focus that Spanish plays in education. According to the parents who participated in the study, many children have been placed in English as a Second Language, or ESL, classrooms, when the children are fluent in English. Some Hispanic parents have been sent emails from the school in Spanish, when they themselves are not fluent, they told researchers. Some parents have expressed concern with accommodations regarding children with disabilities, but many regard their experience with these specific programs as positive, according to the study’s results.

“One thing that we also heard from one of the Hispanic stakeholders is that having a child with special needs is often seen as a negative,” Bluum’s operations manager Ashley Cotton said in an online panel held Thursday to explain the results. “And Hispanic parents don’t want to hear (that their) child has special needs (or being told), ‘We need to create this program.’ So what their approach was, is coming at it in a positive way, like OK, here is how they learn best, here is what they do best. So let’s create a plan of having (the student) succeed.”

Many parents in the study said that these programs and that the U.S.’s more accepting culture toward accommodations for students with disabilities has been a huge success.

Paying for college can raise concerns for parents, research finds

While representation is important within schools, and can make students feel more comfortable and have a stronger sense of belonging, what matters the most to students and parents alike is the quality of the teachers and staff, not the demographics of the staff and student body. However, to many parents and students, feeling like an outsider can have a negative impact on their experience within the educational system.

“I went to school here years ago and there were only five Hispanics, and I literally felt left out. … So that’s a very sensitive subject for me because I experienced that and I don’t want my kids to experience that,” a parent participant from Nampa said in the study.

College is often a subject that is also met with a lot of concern from these parents, especially regarding the lasting financial distress that can come with college, researchers found. Parents should also know that there are other educational options outside of college to set their children up for success.

“(These options should) not be seen as a hill or mountain that their kids cannot climb,” said Farkas Duffett Research Group President Steve Farkas. “Because what they want is for their kids to just do better than they themselves are doing. And that’s the goal here for the schools themselves to be a stepping stone.”

According to the press release, it should be noted that while focus groups can be useful, it does not express a conclusive opinion or thought process of an entire population. Given these consistent findings among Hispanic parents in Idaho, Bluum officials suggested a few potential solutions to some of these issues During the Thursday media briefing, Cotton and Farkas said the majority of these issues stem from a lack of or inefficient communication and resources.

Idaho Capital Sun is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Idaho Capital Sun maintains editorial independence.