Credit: Lillian Mongeau/EdSource Today

The gap between white and Mexican-American children in cognitive skills such as oral language is apparent at age 2, according to a recent study from UC Berkeley.

The gap is largest between white children and the children of immigrant parents, the researchers found in their report, Differing Cognitive Trajectories of Mexican American Toddlers: The Role of Class, Nativity and Maternal Practices.

Young children from immigrant families are healthy and have about the same level of social and emotional skills as white children, the researchers found. And at age 9 months, they perform about the same as white infants.

“Our findings send up a red flag that we shouldn’t put all of our eggs in the pre-K basket,” said lead author Bruce Fuller. “These findings occur by age 2 or 3 before children reach pre-K.”

But by the time they reach age 2, four out of five Mexican-American toddlers have weaker pre-literacy skills, less complex oral language skills in either English or Spanish and less familiarity with print materials than the average white toddler, the researchers found. They lagged behind their white peers by three to five months.

“Our findings send up a red flag that we shouldn’t put all of our eggs in the pre-K basket,” said lead author Bruce Fuller. “These findings occur by age 2 or 3 before children reach pre-K.”

The study, published last week in the Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, followed a nationally representative sample of 4,550 children from birth to 30 months.

Maternal educational background and socioeconomic class were shown to be risk factors, the researchers said. Close to two-thirds of the white mothers had some college background compared to a quarter of Mexican-American mothers in English-speaking households. About one in six mothers in Spanish-speaking households had gone to college.

There were also differences in how often mothers read to their children. Altogether, 59 percent of the white mothers reported reading to their toddlers every day compared to 28 percent of Mexican-American mothers in English-speaking households and 18 percent of Spanish-speaking mothers.

“Those are the basic drivers,” Fuller said. “There has been a lot of conversation about vocabulary and reading.”

But the study was also “trying to go a bit deeper,” he said, looking at the relationships between mothers and their children. The study found that white mothers offered more praise and encouragement in videotaped interactions with their infants and toddlers.

“A lot of this is rich language embedded in close relationships between the child and the mother,” he said. “Some of these processes are pretty subtle.”

For example, white mothers asked their children more questions and were more likely to invite their toddlers to express their feelings in words, Fuller said. This approach to talking with children “is more embedded in the white, middle-class experience than in low-income, Mexican-American communities,” he said.

White and Mexican-American mothers whose children displayed strong cognitive growth were also more likely to work outside the home. This finding occurred regardless of the mother’s educational background, according to the study.

Fuller called this finding “a little mysterious,” hypothesizing that interactions outside the home with other parents exposed these women to more novel ideas about parenting.

Overall, Fuller said, the expansion of quality preschool programs for 3- and 4-year-olds is important in closing the achievement gap. But more support is needed for younger children, he said.

Fuller said the Local Control Funding Formula – California’s new school finance system that gives districts flexibility to spend extra money on low-income children and English learners – offers “a rare opportunity to invest more heavily in early childhood programs.”

 


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  1. Tracy 1 year ago1 year ago

    Another study that must be conducted is the lack of ability to learn random letters and their sounds rotely. At this age, that is a big indicator of dyslexia. It is the beginnings of phonemic awareness. Without it, kids cannot decode words and try to word memorize. Studies are showing, that regardless of race, a family agricultural history is much more likely to result in familial dyslexia. What is … Read More

    Another study that must be conducted is the lack of ability to learn random letters and their sounds rotely. At this age, that is a big indicator of dyslexia. It is the beginnings of phonemic awareness. Without it, kids cannot decode words and try to word memorize. Studies are showing, that regardless of race, a family agricultural history is much more likely to result in familial dyslexia. What is the recent work history of Mexicans? You got it! Therefore, so much focus on EL remediation when dyslexia causes families:
    not to read to their children
    not have books in the home
    not to encourage writing (which is the foundation of literacy)

    Therefore, if America is to be saved, the focus at this age and all pre-K education needs to be screening for and remediation of dyslexia.

  2. Valerie Zapien 1 year ago1 year ago

    I am a Mexican American/Caucasian, first generation to go to college, lower SES, female who is now directing a Dental Assisting Program in Texas, in addition to owning my own business consulting business. I have a Master's degree in School Psychology. I say this because I have always been passionate about researching and using best practices as preventative measures with schools in order to help people like me succeed. I am currently … Read More

    I am a Mexican American/Caucasian, first generation to go to college, lower SES, female who is now directing a Dental Assisting Program in Texas, in addition to owning my own business consulting business. I have a Master’s degree in School Psychology. I say this because I have always been passionate about researching and using best practices as preventative measures with schools in order to help people like me succeed.

    I am currently seeing an increase in applications from bilingual students from rural areas in my program. They range from fresh out of high school to almost 30 years old. As the director, I see being bilingual as a strength but what I am noticing is that these students, male and female, do not have good writing or communication skills in English. This is putting them at a major disadvantage in the workforce.

  3. Alan Korce 1 year ago1 year ago

    I Teach highschool in Santa Fe NM. Our school is 75% Hispanic and 68% free lunch students. We struggle with major literacy issues in face of the new Common Core standards. The gap is obvious at the high school. Many under achievers are social promoted so that many of our Hispanic students are years behind in reading. 48% are proficient in 9th grade. Our math proficiency is much worse 18%. Are culture differences producing … Read More

    I Teach highschool in Santa Fe NM. Our school is 75% Hispanic and 68% free lunch students. We struggle with major literacy issues in face of the new Common Core standards. The gap is obvious at the high school. Many under achievers are social promoted so that many of our Hispanic students are years behind in reading. 48% are proficient in 9th grade. Our math proficiency is much worse 18%. Are culture differences producing the gap? The new PARCC testing will bear out the statistics. What is the impact at the high school? 25% absenteeism. 35% dropout rate. For a freshmen class of 500 students, 300-350 graduate.

    Replies

    • Gary Ravani 1 year ago1 year ago

      So social-retention in grade is superior to social-promotion? There is a considerable research base on the efficacy of retaining student in grade: The gist of it is that for each year a student is "held-back" it hugely increases the chances they will drop out of school. The answers are, for second language students, increased social services to them and their parents, increased living wage jobs for parents for economic security, increased decent and fairly priced … Read More

      So social-retention in grade is superior to social-promotion? There is a considerable research base on the efficacy of retaining student in grade: The gist of it is that for each year a student is “held-back” it hugely increases the chances they will drop out of school. The answers are, for second language students, increased social services to them and their parents, increased living wage jobs for parents for economic security, increased decent and fairly priced (non-segregated) housing, and (most importantly) an aggressive education policy initiative to increase the amount and quality of bilingual education.

      • FloydThursby1941 1 year ago1 year ago

        Gary you're wrong, I'm raising Latino children to be in the top 3% of California test results. I know what I'm doing. Parental income isn't going to double and if it goes up 10-20% it won't make people stop using it as an excuse. It's not realistic to see minimum wage going up by that much. Housing takes long to change. However, Asian kids in low income Latino and black … Read More

        Gary you’re wrong, I’m raising Latino children to be in the top 3% of California test results. I know what I’m doing. Parental income isn’t going to double and if it goes up 10-20% it won’t make people stop using it as an excuse. It’s not realistic to see minimum wage going up by that much. Housing takes long to change. However, Asian kids in low income Latino and black ghettos do just fine, better than most whites. Yes, an aggressive policy is key but that means Saturday school, weekends, and making teachers who don’t show up when not sick be able to be fired, or just bad teachers. It all comes down to how many hours you study, how much parents help, and IQ. Also, paying attention in class. Many high income individuals have kids who do terrible in school. Children of African American and white police officers do worse in school than children of Asian waiters, despite far higher income. Read ‘Triple Package’. Income has little to do with it. If you give these families 100k a year and they keep the TV on and don’t push hard work in school, you’ll get zero results.

      • FloydThursby1941 1 year ago1 year ago

        No one should ever advance to the next grade if they aren't Advanced or Proficient on the Statewide tests. Far better to start adulthood at 20 going to college than 18 going to a life of poverty. You must earn each grade advancement and excel, not just move on because a teacher feels sorry for you. The average black kid in 12th grade reads at the level of the average white 8th … Read More

        No one should ever advance to the next grade if they aren’t Advanced or Proficient on the Statewide tests. Far better to start adulthood at 20 going to college than 18 going to a life of poverty. You must earn each grade advancement and excel, not just move on because a teacher feels sorry for you. The average black kid in 12th grade reads at the level of the average white 8th grader and Asian 7th grader. I say no more, if you want a diploma, reach the level of 12th grade reading. Otherwise, stay a year or two. Maybe teachers will push harder if they know they’ll have to see the kid next year if they don’t pass the test. We need to make this a national priority. You treat this as some unfortunate unpreventable situation, but if you really analyze it you’ll find these kids spent 2000 hours the year before watching TV and playing video games, and they didn’t have to do that. They could have studied, and if they want to advance to the next grade, they should have to. No more social promotion.

  4. Michael Cuba 1 year ago1 year ago

    I would say most of the Mexican American children are bilingual, which is a reason why language develops later.

    Replies

    • FloydThursby1941 1 year ago1 year ago

      The achievement gap is a huge issue. Spanish language helps in terms of knowing complex words in English which are very similar to Spanish words. However, few read to their kids or tell their kids it is super important to push and get the best grades possible. Few teach their kids to say any letter upon sight by 2, 26 English Letters, as most Asian Families do. 60% of Asian American … Read More

      The achievement gap is a huge issue. Spanish language helps in terms of knowing complex words in English which are very similar to Spanish words. However, few read to their kids or tell their kids it is super important to push and get the best grades possible. Few teach their kids to say any letter upon sight by 2, 26 English Letters, as most Asian Families do. 60% of Asian American parents in California teach their kids to read and do basic math before starting Kindergarten. 16% of whites do and I believe a lower percentage of Latinos do. To do very well in school generally takes an obsessive focus by parents on their kids’ development from a young age. It takes parents thinking about how they raise their kids as determining their quality of life 20, 30, 40, 50 years ahead. The average kid in California watches TV 40 plus hours a week and the average who goes to a UC about 10. I think parent education should be offered to all parents with a focus on the habits of those who best raise kids to get into top colleges. Too many parents are not aware of how much hard work as a parent pays off decades later.

  5. Gary Ravani 1 year ago1 year ago

    Wow! A significant discrepancy in language skills by age two! Obviously this is due to all of the "bad teachers" and their unions protecting due process rights, seniority rights, and so on. Wait a minute. Age two? Why that's before they typically get to school and that would mean it is non-school (aka, non-teacher) factors that impact many of CA's school children and impede education achievement. Why that could mean that children arrive at the … Read More

    Wow! A significant discrepancy in language skills by age two! Obviously this is due to all of the “bad teachers” and their unions protecting due process rights, seniority rights, and so on.

    Wait a minute. Age two? Why that’s before they typically get to school and that would mean it is non-school (aka, non-teacher) factors that impact many of CA’s school children and impede education achievement.

    Why that could mean that children arrive at the school door already behind, learn and progress as much as children without those disadvantages (one year’s growth) during a single school year and yet still remain “behind” in terms of measured achievement. Or, with a one-size-fits-all standardized curriculum mandated by states and districts and inappropriate for children with very different developmental needs, that some kids might not make that one year’s growth. (Even though it makes no sense there’s gotta be a way to blame that on teachers!)

    Who’d have guessed?

  6. Narciso Iglesias 1 year ago1 year ago

    A quick observe/question: "weaker pre-literacy skills, less complex oral language skills in either English or Spanish and less familiarity with print materials than the average white toddler, the researchers found." Did the research speak to latter years - where Latino students have developed two or more languages? Doesn't that research show complex neural-brain connections/development due to dual-language usage? Which development would be considered more rich or worth having in the long run? See below for references to … Read More

    A quick observe/question:

    “weaker pre-literacy skills, less complex oral language skills in either English or Spanish and less familiarity with print materials than the average white toddler, the researchers found.”

    Did the research speak to latter years – where Latino students have developed two or more languages? Doesn’t that research show complex neural-brain connections/development due to dual-language usage? Which development would be considered more rich or worth having in the long run? See below for references to research –

    Editor’s Note: Comment edited to place cited text inside a blockquote for better readability.

    “In one study designed to examine functional specializations for word processing, Conboy and Mills (2006) recorded ERPs to known and unknown English and Spanish words from 19- to 22-month-old bilingual toddlers. All of these children were learning English and Spanish simultaneously, but in a variety of ways, and with uneven development across languages. Each child’s dominant language was determined by having parents complete a questionnaire regarding exposure to each language across a range of activities and vocabulary checklists on the MacArthur-Bates Communicative Development Inventories (CDI) in English (Fenson et al. 1993) and Spanish (Jackson-Maldonado et al. 2003). ERPs to known and unknown words were compared for each child’s dominant and nondominant languages. For both languages, ERP amplitudes were significantly larger for the known versus unknown words, as reported for monolingual infants and toddlers. However, the patterns varied for the same children’s dominant and nondominant languages, particularly in the timing and distribution of the effects across the brain. This finding can be explained only by experiential factors, not brain maturation, because maturation was held constant. For example, there was more rapid processing of words in the bilingual children’s dominant versus nondominant language, which may reflect greater word familiarity and ease of lexical access in the dominant language. Unlike monolingual children of the same age, the bilingual toddlers showed effects that were broadly distributed across the brain, rather than limited to left electrode sites. In this sense, the distribution of brain activity of bilingual 19- to 22-month-olds was more similar to that of 13- to 17-month-old monolingual toddlers than it was to that of 20-month-old monolingual toddlers. Given that the bilingual toddlers knew approximately the same numbers of words in each of their languages as the younger monolingual toddlers, the results support the hypothesis that the organization of brain activity for language processing is influenced by toddlers’ experience with particular words. This is not evidence that bilingualism hinders or delays early language learning, although it is consistent with other evidence that bilingual lexical learning leads to initially smaller vocabularies in each separate language than for monolingual learners of those same languages, and that total vocabulary sizes (the sum of what children know in both their languages) in ilingual toddlers are similar to those of monolingual toddlers (Pearson, Fernández, Lewedeg, and Oller 1997); for more information on this topic, see Paper 5, Assessment, and Paper 6, Early Intervention and Special Needs. Thus, the differences noted in brain activity across bilingual and monolingual children should not be interpreted as evidence of a delay induced by bilingualism, but rather, as a distinct developmental pattern of specialization linked to experience with each language.

    There are many other possible reasons why bilingual children’s processing would be different from that of monolingual peers. One is the need to learn and manage conflicting sets of cues for each language. For example, English has many two-syllable words with a stress pattern in which the initial syllable is of longer duration and higher intensity (loudness) han the second syllable (e.g., “mommy”). Initial consonants in English words are thus perceptually salient, or noticeable, because they tend to be louder and longer than other sounds in the word. Because of this saliency, they provide a fairly reliable cue to the beginnings of words in ongoing speech, which helps listeners recognize individual words. This mphasis on the initial parts of words is not as common in all languages. Research that used both behavioral and ERP methods to test infants’ recognition of English and Welsh words showed that the stress patterns of each language accounted for distinct results across learners (Vihman et al. 2007). Monolingual Welsh-learning infants did not show recognition of consonant-initial words at any point between nine and 12 months of age, but monolingual English-learning infants did so by 10 months, reflecting the stronger cues to word onset provided by initial consonants in English compared with Welsh. Bilingual English–Welsh infants recognized both English and Welsh words by 11 months, a pattern intermediate to those of the monolingual infants. Thus, bilingual infants learning English and another language with a different stress pattern (e.g., French, Spanish, Welsh) may temporarily reduce attention to initial consonants in words from both languages. However, this finding does not reflect a delay induced by bilingualism, because the bilingual infants in this study ecognized words at an earlier age than did the monolingual Welsh infants. These findings with infants might extend to preschool children who are learning about word onsets during phonological awareness tasks. If there is a difference in the stress patterns of the words in children’s two languages, this may temporarily change the cognitive strategies used for processing those words. Thus, the particular pair of languages a child is learning may influence how learning in the two languages interacts. When teaching phonological awareness skills, practitioners should always consider the phonological structure (sequences of sounds, stress patterns) of children’s home language and whether it is different from the hildren’s school language…”

    http://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/cd/ce/documents/dllresearchpapers.pdf

    Replies

    • Gary Ravani 1 year ago1 year ago

      Narcisco: You seem to be implying there is a some kind of contradiction here. Not really. Those of us who have worked in EL for a long time understand that many of our students have differing levels of language skills. And much of that has to do with family background. Some EL students come with a middle-class set of values (and background) and some do not. For the ones that do, the academic challenges are reduced. Please … Read More

      Narcisco:

      You seem to be implying there is a some kind of contradiction here. Not really.

      Those of us who have worked in EL for a long time understand that many of our students have differing levels of language skills. And much of that has to do with family background. Some EL students come with a middle-class set of values (and background) and some do not. For the ones that do, the academic challenges are reduced.

      Please excuse me if I go over material you already know.

      In EL instruction we talk about BICS (Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills) and CALPS (Cognitive-Academic Language Proficiency Skills). BICS, or “playground level language skills” is what a lost all kids pick up very quickly. CALPS, required for solid academic performance, requires (according to leading linguists) most kids 5 to 7 years to acquire (if you’re working at it). Some may take more and others less. In the schools we see many students who have BICS in both their heritage language and English and move on to CALPS in neither.

      This is not to suggest that some students, very resilient ones, can’t overcome the lack of CALPS in the heritage language and gain it, and high academic achievement, in English. It is done, but fairly rarely.

      As you have stated, in a fashion, once a student acquires CALPS in one language it makes it easier to acquire it in a second (and third and so on). There is a real advantage, developmentally and cognitively, to learning multiple languages. Obviously CALPS is most likely to be achieved in the heritage language first, if the student is heavily exposed to CALPS in the home and that means parents who have relatively high levels of language proficiency (typically comes with education) themselves. All of this would be consistent with your assertions as well as the study outlined above.

    • FloydThursby1941 1 year ago1 year ago

      Gary, no one disputes that most teachers do a good job. If you take any profession and make it nearly impossible to fire anyone and have all promotions, pay and transfers done purely by seniority, it's just human nature, you'll get false sick days you wouldn't get if members of said profession were worried about impressing the boss and some bad ones will stay on the job way too long, damaging performance. It's … Read More

      Gary, no one disputes that most teachers do a good job. If you take any profession and make it nearly impossible to fire anyone and have all promotions, pay and transfers done purely by seniority, it’s just human nature, you’ll get false sick days you wouldn’t get if members of said profession were worried about impressing the boss and some bad ones will stay on the job way too long, damaging performance. It’s universal. It’s why communism failed but we have that system pretty much for teacher. Very similar to most Cuban and USSR pay scale structures.

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