Spanish-language education coverage lacks quantity and depth, creating obstacles for Spanish-speaking parents of English-speaking children.
by Timothy Pratt
Over the past few weeks, English-language news outlets have been full of stories about the new education secretary Betsy DeVos and the dramatic changes to public education that may occur in the Trump administration.
In an addition to news stories, there were wonky explainers about the position of secretary itself, and how much power DeVos has to enact reform; character profiles of the secretary, drawing from her history of support for charter schools; and analysis of student success at charter schools.
But for some 21 million people – or 38 percent of the nation’s total Latino population who speak mostly Spanish – there’s been comparatively little in-depth, enterprise coverage of education issues in recent weeks, according to a look at leading Spanish-language news websites. Spanish-language Latinos – many of them parents – may be going without high-quality, in-depth information about what’s going on in American schools.
This is happening despite the fact that one in four pre-K — 12 students in the U.S. is Hispanic, according to federal estimates. That share is projected to increase going forward.
So while Hispanic children are an increasing percentage of the nation’s school population, millions of their Spanish-speaking parents may have little access to in-depth information about education.
Experts say the shallowness and scarcity of education reporting is longstanding in the nation’s Spanish-language news outlets, but that the present need for deeper, clear information is great.
“They have no information [from news media], and don’t understand how changes in education will affect them,” said Alejandro Alvarado, director of a Spanish-language journalism Master’s program at Florida International University. “There’s a lack of information for this community to decide what to do,” he added.
Univision is one of the most popular Spanish-language news sites in America
Looking at education coverage on the websites of five major Spanish-language outlets for nearly three weeks following the DeVos confirmation, most of the reporting to be found centered on the several news events in which DeVos was involved. However, some of that coverage was supplied by wire services.
As for the rest — explanatory pieces, analysis, investigations of the kind found in English-language outlets — there was almost nada.
In Miami, several editorials and wire service news stories only served to highlight the lack of original reporting from the news side. El Nuevo Herald saw fit to publish an unsigned editorial shortly after Vice President Pence’s historic tie-breaking vote in favor of Trump’s pick, for example. .
But in the weeks after, the Miami daily only published three stories online mentioning DeVos, all in relation to news events — Trump’s transgender order, for example. . All three were wire stories.
Spanish-language readers in the metropolitan areas with the nation’s largest Latino populations — Los Angeles and New York — were even worse off if they hoped to learn more about DeVos and her background or policies from the dailies in their cities. La Opinión and El Diario/La Prensa both featured on Feb. 28 the same video of Astrid Silva, an immigration advocate, delivering the Democratic party’s response to Pres. Trump’s address to Congress, en español. The Nevada activist referred to education once in her eight-minute speech.
In Houston, at Semana News, sad to say, there’s been nothing on education under the Trump administration since the week of her confirmation — or at least, nothing online.
The only Spanish-language news website included in this report that published an enterprise story digging into the implications of school choice was Univisión. On Feb. 22, a story appeared on the site looking at a recent study linking charter schools in Washington, D.C., to increased racial, ethnic and economic segregation. While compelling in its detail, the story was produced in collaboration with CityLab, a project at the Atlantic magazine, and originally written in English.
Otherwise, the cable news network’s site reacted to Trump’s March 2 visit to St. Andrew’s Catholic School in Orlando — but quoted English-language news outlets such as the New York Times and Politico in its analysis of schools like the Florida private school, which accepts low-income students with vouchers.
Several days before, a long feature on Denisha Merriweather ran, describing how vouchers allowed the young woman from a low-income family to attend a Jacksonville, Fla. private school, going on to become the first in her family to attend college — and gaining an invitation from the Trump administration to view the president’s speech to Congress.
It also ran stories on Trump’s transgender order and on the Feb. 10 protest against Sec. DeVos’ visit to a D.C. public school.
LA School Report En Espanol
The lack of in-depth coverage of education is not new, or circumstantial, said Jose Luis Benavides, journalism professor at California State University, Northridge, where he created a minor program in Spanish-language journalism.
Hispanic news outlets “haven’t done a proper job of covering education — and it’s essential for the future of the community, especially for those who are immigrants, and need to understand the differences between systems in Mexico, South and Central America and the U.S.”
A change may come about from an unexpected source, said Benavides — nonprofit news organizations, often funded by foundations, with an emphasis on local news.
“It’s important to understand federal policy, but [in education] a lot of what is going on is local,” he said. In his own backyard, LA School Report en español is an example of this sort of project — although he pointed out that it looks like a Spanish translation of an English-language site, and underlined the importance of involving “Spanish-language reporters from the beginning and [making] them part of the team.”
[See also: The 74 is getting into Spanish-language education reporting, starting in Los Angeles from the Nieman Journalism Lab]
The lack of education coverage in Spanish-language news outlets may be creating another unfortunate outcome: exacerbating a divide between Spanish-speaking parents and their English-speaking kids.
An increasing share of the Hispanic population has been born in the U.S., meaning they are comfortable with English. (Nearly 9 of 10 Hispanic children aged 5 to 17 “either speak only English at home or speak English ‘very well,’ up from 73% who said the same in 2000,” according to Pew.) Meanwhile, more than 40 percent of adults over 30 — or the parents of many of those children — are more comfortable with Spanish.
So the lack of education coverage in Spanish-language news outlets may be adding to the well-documented issue of the obstacles many Spanish-speaking Latino parents face when it comes to getting involved in their children’s education — an issue the New York Times wrote about way back in 2002.
Related posts: What The Gates Foundation’s Learned About Funding Education Journalism (2014)