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Why are young Fil-Ams doing poorly in school?

By Dennis Clemente
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 18:34:00 10/31/2010

Filed Under: Education, Schools

NEW YORK?The College Board here released recently a report that said Asians 25 to 64 years of age had, at 62.9 percent, the highest college completion rate among all races, including whites (42 percent).

Unfortunately, the study did not yield data on how each Asian segment had fared.

The breakdown is important to look into because Filipino-Americans may not be part of that high percentage.

In 2008, another study had revealed that Filipino-Americans were performing dismally in K-12 at public schools compared to any other ethnicity. In the United States, K-12 means kindergarten to year 12, or primary and secondary education combined, completion of which is required before admission to any college or university.

Titled ?Filipino American K-12 Public School Students: A Study of Ten Urban Communities Across the United States,? the research was a ground-breaking initiative of the National Federation of Filipino-American Associations (NaFFAA). The NaFFAA, chaired by Greg Macabenta, is a non-profit national affiliation of 500 Filipino American institutions.

Dr. Anthony Barretto Ogilvie, executive dean of the Seattle Central Community College?s Continuing and Professional Education department, spearheaded the study in the 10 urban areas highly populated by Filipinos in the US.

According to the study, Filipino-American public high school students in the city of San Francisco had the highest dropout rate among other Asians. Those who stayed in school barely passed.

In San Francisco public schools, the report revealed, the California Standardized Test scores of Filipino-Americans in 6th to 8th grades were ?Below Basic? in both English-language arts and mathematics. In the 9th to 11th grades, 42 percent of Filipino students were in the ?Basic? and ?Below Basic? levels in the Star Math test. California schools have five performance levels: Advanced, Proficient, Basic, Below Basic and Far Below Basic.

In Los Angeles, the dropout numbers for Filipino-American students represented 56 percent of all dropouts in the county.

Failing science, math

A 2006 Seattle School District study also found that in the 10th grade WASL test, 73 percent of Filipino-American students failed the science component and 55 percent failed the math component.? Both are subjects required for graduation.

As pointed out by College Board president Gaston Caperton, ?To improve our college completion rates, we must think ?P-16? and improve education from preschool through higher education.?

In a phone interview, Ogilvie sounded concerned yet circumspect. He said he was aware both the mother and the father in most Filipino households in the US were employed, with some even holding down two jobs or needing to work overtime. This allowed little time for parental supervision of the children?s progress in school.

Filipino parents also tended not to get involved in the public school system, he said. American public education, he added, was also made complicated by different sets of laws, and this could have further discouraged the involvement of Filipino parents.

Hiphop over homework

The study reported that Filipino students focused their energies more on working so as to be able to buy expensive clothes and cars. Also, they were much more into dancing and singing than studying and earning academic awards.

To improve the performance of Filipino public school students, the report said, the Filipino community would have to increase its advocacy efforts to impact policy makers and decision makers.

?Becoming less academically achieving, [young Filipino- Americans] may soon be caught in the insidious cycle of poverty, having become permanent members of the low-educated and low-skilled group vying for low-paying jobs,? said the report.

The question is: How much of the underperformance of Filipino-American students is a reflection on their parents and how much on the current state of American education?

The US ranks 12th among 36 developed nations in college degree attainment for 25- to 34-year-olds, according to the College Board report. Only three years ago, it was at No. 6.

Down in rankings

Over the past decades, the report said, the US had been falling behind other countries in college degree attainment, even though almost 70 percent of high school graduates in America entered college within two years of graduating. Only about 57 percent of students who enrolled in a bachelor?s degree program graduated within six years, and fewer than 25 percent of students who enrolled in community colleges obtained an associate?s degree within three years.

The numbers may be stacked against Filipino-Americans, but for Miguel Cutiongco, himself a product of the US public school system, they should serve as both inspiration and challenge to young Filipino-Americans.

Not only did Cutiongco make it past high school but he also received the Dartmouth Club of Hartford Book Award and the Rensselaer Medal, a prestigious award given to secondary school students who have distinguished themselves in mathematics and science.

Cutiongco is now in college, and not just any college. He is attending Harvard University, majoring in psychology. He is the education director of the Harvard Philippine Forum, which involvement should cue him in on the challenges facing his peers.

Cutiongco attributes his early accomplishments to the support of his family?mother Fides, an actuarial consultant; father Eric, an aerospace engineer; and brother Johann, Harvard graduate (class of 2006). Says Cutiongco, ?I learned from their own dedication and motivation.? His parents are graduates of the Philippine Science High School, the University of the Philippines and Northwestern University.

Where?s the passion?

Now why have other Filipino transplants, who are such achievers in and of themselves, become so uninspiring to the second generation? And why does it seem like their diligence and dedication are absent when it comes to their kids? education? Or is it simply that they are hungrier or more passionate about achieving the American dream than their children, who have never known deprivation?

Even the concern over why there are fewer Filipino-Americans gaining entry into Ivy League schools is open to debate. Could it be that the admission numbers for young Filipino-Americans are underreported? Is it because they are under the radar, given that among other ethnicities, most young Filipino-Americans don?t speak Filipino? Or are they being lumped together with the Hispanic segment because of their Spanish last names?

Subsequent studies are certainly needed to address the education woes of Filipino-Americans and their exposure to the issues that matter. Reached for comment, NaFFAA?s Macabenta said corporate sponsorship was needed to continue the study and address the needs of Filipino-American students.

Finding out what makes children of immigrants succeed academically is never easy. Is it IQ or EQ? Is love for learning something in the genes or is it in the environment? Is academic achievement linked to one?s ethnicity by way of culture and language?

The College Board?s overall study may not point to Filipino-Americans as having the highest dropout rates in all of the US, but who wants to wait for that to happen?

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