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A Study of the Educational Opportunities Provided Spanish-Name Children in Ten Texas School Systems

Virgil E. Strickland
George I. Sánchez

[Austin, Tex., 1948. Reprinted from The nation's schools, vol. 41, no. 1; Jan. 1948]

The problem of this report is to present a summary of a survey, recently made in ten Texas school systems, of the educational opportunities now being provided "Spanish-name " children.* This study investigates also the problem of present segregation practices for instructional purposes as it relates to this large minority group.

Since special terminology was found to be unavoidable in reporting this study, it is well to clarify those terms at the outset. The term "Spanish-name" is used in this report to designate those people who, in other studies in this field, are referred to as "Latin American," "Spanish-speaking," "Mexicans," etc. None of the customary terminology is precise or really descriptive of this group. "Spanish-name" seems to carry just the shade of meaning that is needed to refer to this large minority group. For, actually and with few exceptions. it is upon the basis of their Spanish names that these youngsters are segregated in some schools. For the sake of convenience, all other white children referred to in this report are designated as "Anglos."

Another term requiring some classification is "segregation." In this report, this term is used to mean a physical and/or social separation by means of separate housing, separate lunch periods, separate play periods, and other such ways whereby Spanish-name children are arbitrarily set apart from other boys and girls. Within this definition, the writers would not regard a neighborhood school as a segregated school. Nor would normal grouping within a school be considered segregation. The determining principle is that the physical separation is based on prejudice, and that it involves prejudicial compulsion.

Spanish-name peoples are found, in the largest numbers, in five states: California, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, and Texas. In these states the percentage of Spanish-name population ranges from approximately 50 percent in New Mexico to about 10 percent in Colorado. The total population of this large minority group in these southwestern states is around two and one-half million people. (1)

An examination of the study by Manuel (2) and the one by Little (3) shows that Spanish-name people in Texas are increasing significantly in both number and proportion. In 1928 the scholastic population of these people in Texas was 15.6 percent of the total white scholastic population. This percentage of Spanish-name scholastic population had increased to 20.4 percent by 1942. If the same rate of increase continues, by 1956 the percentage of the Texas white scholastic population that is made up of Spanish-name children will have risen to 26.7 percent.

Even a brief overview of the situation shows pretty clearly the significance of the problem. If the statistics of the situation indicate anything at all, they reveal the vastness of the educational problems in this region. This fact is particularly true in Texas, where the school population is increasingly being made up of Spanish-name constituents.

In obtaining an objective account of the educational opportunity now being provided for Spanish-name youngsters in Texas, it is obvious that a consideration of all schools would be impractical. It is assumed, however, that this purpose can be achieved through an evaluation and comparison of the larger, objective aspects of the educational programs in a selected sample of schools. Upon this assumption, then, the following aspects of the educational program were selected for consideration in ten selected systems:

  1. Segregation Practices
  2. Teaching Staff:
    • Training
    • Experience
    • Tenure
    • Salary
    • Teacher-pupil ratio
    • Special training for work to which assigned
    • Type of certificate held
  3. Administrative Staff:
    • Training
    • Experience
    • Tenure
    • Salary
    • Time devoted to supervision
  4. The Instructional Program:
    • Curriculum organization
    • Health and physical education programs
    • Provisions for audio-visual aids
    • Provisions for band, sports, dramatics, and other such activities
  5. Classification and Promotion Practices
  6. Building and Other Physical Facilities:
    • Type of buildings
    • Condition of buildings
    • Location in respect to population served
    • Playground space and equipment
    • Drainage
  7. Drinking and Sanitary Facilities:
    • Type of toilets
    • Handwashing facilities
    • Drinking facilities
  8. Blackboard and Bulletin Board Facilities
  9. Gymnasium Facilities
  10. Textbook and Instructional Materials
  11. Library Facilities:
    • Space allotted
    • Furnishings
    • Books
  12. Welfare Practices:
    • Medical and dental examinations
    • Provisions for corrective work
    • Lunchroom facilities
    • First aid equipment
  13. School-Community Relationships:
    • Parent-teacher organizations
    • Parent visitation
    • Publicity
  14. Inter-School Joint Activities
  15. Free Pupil Transportation

The evaluation of educational opportunity is based also on analyses of:

  1. Scholastic Population
  2. Enrollment by Grades
  3. Average Daily Attendance
  4. Age-Grade Progress Distribution
  5. Full or Half-Day Sessions
  6. Attendance Records

Upon the basis of this plan of study, ten Texas school systems were selected to be surveyed. To avoid any semblance of bias, much care was exercised in the selection of these schools. No school system was included which could be considered as representing an unusually bad educational situation for either Anglo or Spanish-name children. The ten selected school systems can be taken as representative of the following factors:

  1. A balanced educational picture, with a decided weighting in favor of the best rather than the poorest conditions
  2. A representative geographic spread
  3. The inclusion of and adequate Spanish-name school population
  4. The inclusion of large-school situations, medium-sized organizations, and small-school conditions
  5. The inclusion of school systems employing varying degrees of segregation practices and policies

Personal visits were made to each of the school systems selected. During these visitations, the investigator followed such procedures as:

  1. Interviews with superintendents, principals, and some teachers
  2. Tours of the buildings and grounds
  3. Observations of teaching, classroom procedures, and playground activities
  4. Studies of school records relating to such items as:
    • Attendance records
    • Data on teaching and administrative staffs
    • Acquisition of other data relative to the interest of this study
  5. Photographing buildings, equipment, and other physical facilities

From the data thus collected, the investigators have assembled and presented this report. This study is, in effect, a critique of certain logical questions provoked by the reasons most often given for the present educational picture, as it relates to the segregation practices followed with regard to the Spanish-name children of Texas. The reasons most frequently offered for these practices, that have been discovered by other investigators and through this study, are:

  1. Separate elementary schools can give Spanish-name boys and girls better opportunities to learn English and other fundamental subject matter than could be achieved in a competitive situation with Anglo children.
  2. Irregular attendance of Spanish-name children creates a situation necessitating separate schooling.
  3. Public opinion and local prejudice make it advisable to provide separate housing and education for this group.
  4. Anglo schools are over-crowded now, hence, it seems most practical to continue the present arrangement of separate housing.
  5. Segregation will provide for children with language difficulty the opportunity of special treatment and special methods of instruction.
  6. Segregation makes possible more individual time and help which these Spanish-name children need.
  7. Spanish-name boys and girls are usually unclean and have poor health and social habits which need correcting before they should be mixed with Anglo boys and girls.
  8. Spanish-name children need several years of Americanization before they should be placed with Anglo children.
  9. Language handicap is the official reason found in the school board minutes.

An examination of these reasons for segregation forces the investigator to face the logical questions to which they give rise. Those inescapable questions may be stated as:

  1. What are the segregation practices in these Texas schools?
  2. Is there uniformity of practice? If not, upon what basis is the lack of uniformity justified?
  3. Are practices consonant with reasons offered?
  4. Are these reasons sound educationally and psychologically?
  5. What are the positions of educational and legal authorities with respect to segregation?

Proceeding, then, upon the basis of the reasons offered, and the questions stimulated by them, the investigation was pursued as a research project which was financed in part by the Research Institute of the University of Texas and in part from private funds.

Present Practices

What are the present practices relative to segregation in the ten school systems included in this survey? Of the ten schools, eight employ segregation practices. Two follow no practices of segregation. No semblance of uniformity was found to exist among the eight schools practicing segregation. One school insisted on segregation through the third grade, one segregated through the fourth grade, two segregated through the fifth grade, two extended segregation through the sixth grade, one segregated through the seventh grade, and one included the eighth grade in its segregation practices.

This matter of practices in segregation was further illuminated by certain facts which were found to prevail in one of the school systems. In this particular case, segregation was practiced in principle, in policy, and in effect through the twelfth grade. According to the records, this school system follows segregation practices only through the eighth grade. However, this system adheres to the principle of segregation to such a degree that Spanish-name students in grades nine through twelve are seated in separate areas in each classroom where Anglo students are accommodated. Furthermore, the names of Spanish-name students appear in separate sections of the teachers' class rollbooks! In policy and effect, this system follows segregation practices even farther. Anglo students are given preference in all student matters such as assembly programs, student offices, band membership, and other such student activities.

Another avenue used to get at the practices relative to segregation was to examine the extent to which joint participation was carried out between Spanish-name children and Anglos in certain non-academic school activities. Here, the study revealed little or no joint participation between the Anglo schools and the schools for Spanish-name children. For instance, in band activities, eight schools engaged in no joint participation; in sports, seven of the ten schools systems followed no practices of joint participation; in dramatics, eight schools have no joint participation; and in playday and festival activities, only in five schools do both groups engage in such activities jointly. From these few illustrations, it is clearly shown that present practices of segregation go much deeper than those indicated by the reasons offered.

In the foregoing summarization, the findings relative to practices of segregation point out several significant facts. First, there is a complete lack of uniformity of practice. A system is just as likely to segregate through the eighth grade as the third grade, or any other combination of grades. Second, and most probably fundamental, is the fact that this segregation is carried out on a purely arbitrary basis. The arbitrary basis of fixing the grade limits to be included for segregation purposes is determined solely by local custom, tradition, and prejudices. Furthermore, where segregation is practiced, it is based on the Spanish name of the students, and it is extended beyond academic activities in varying ways and to varying degrees by the several systems. This extension, like the selection of grades for segregation, is obviously arbitrary and capricious.

In the matter of "poor attendance," offered as a reason for segregating Spanish-name children in the public schools, the survey revealed that the attendance records do not support this reason, even though the average daily attendance for Anglos is generally higher than that for Spanish-name children. If, however, the percentage of enrollment in average daily attendance is taken for certain schools, the figures show that this generalization is not entirely true in their cases. For instance, in one school system the percentage of enrollment in average daily attendance is 64.2 percent for Spanish-name children, and only 65.3 percent for the Anglos. A similar example is found in another system, where the percentage of enrollment in average daily attendance for Spanish-name children is 55.5 percent; whereas, for the Anglos it is just 60.9 percent. In neither case is the deviation so great as to warrant separate schooling.

When all the schools are considered together, in the matter of attendance, the records show a range in percentage of enrollment in average attendance from 51.7 percent to 91.8 percent for Spanish-name children, and a range for Anglo children from 60.9 percent to 92.0 percent. This means that, if all the schools are taken together, there is practically no difference in either the upper or lower limits of the percentage of enrollment in average daily attendance for the two groups. This generalization points to the fact that in many instances there are goodly numbers of Spanish-name children whose average daily attendance is as high (or higher) as that of the Anglos.

A further analysis of the attendance data disclosed that in every school, with the exception of one, where there were some Anglo children who attended the maximum number of days during the school year, there were also some Spanish-name children who attended as many days as did those Anglos. For example, in one school with an Anglo enrollment of 712 and a Spanish-name enrollment of 693, there were 39 Anglo children who attended 175 or more days during the school year, and there were 7 Spanish-name children who attended the same number of days. This fact was also illustrated in another system, where, for an enrollment of 477 Spanish-name children, 13 attended as many days as did these Anglos. The records of a third system revealed that 1 Anglo attended the maximum number of days, as compared to 5 Spanish-name children who attended the maximum number of days. At the other end of the attendance scale, the records revealed that there were several Anglo schools, as well as schools for Spanish-name children, in which some children attended as few as 69 or less days during the school year. If, then, the facts of the matter regarding attendance are frankly and honestly faced, if segregation is to be based on attendance, some Anglo children would be set apart for separate schooling along with some Spanish-name children. The opposite of this conclusion is also true; that is, there are also some Spanish-name children who would have to be placed with those Anglo children who attend school regularly.

Another reason given for segregation was to the effect that Spanish-name children would be able to have greater individual attention and help. On the basis of this reason, one would expect to find a smaller teacher-pupil ratio in the segregated schools. The findings of this survey, however, show definitely that the reverse is true. In all but one instance, the teacher-pupil ratio in the schools for Spanish-name children was considerably larger than that found in the Anglo schools. This fact may be illustrated by observing that the number of pupils per teacher in the schools for Spanish-name children ranged from 26.5 to 61; whereas, the range in the Anglo schools was from 15.2 to 42.2. The facts, then, as they were revealed through this survey, do not support the reason that, under segregation, greater individual attention will be given Spanish-name children.

This brief summarization of the findings brought out in the survey shows pretty clearly that in no way do practices correspond to the reasons given for segregation. To be more specific, there were employed no pedagogically defensible techniques or procedures for the determination of those youngsters needing segregation because of language handicaps, or other special needs; and the practices carried out under segregation, instead of being designed for furthering the education of Spanish-name children, were discriminatory and were prejudicial to their educational growth and development. The practices disclosed were in no way conducive to Americanization, better health and social habits, better language development, or better school attendance.

Facilities: Personnel, Physical Plant, Equipment, Transportation, Welfare, and Sanitation

In general, the schools practicing segregation did not have the special procedures, techniques, methods, or physical facilities and equipment which one would expect to find in the light of the reasons given for segregation. Teaching and administrative staffs in the schools for Spanish-name children were found to be comparatively poorly trained and poorly paid. The records showed that, in general, these teachers and administrators had less experience and shorter tenure than those in the schools for Anglos. It was very evident that the policy of assigning less experienced teachers and administrators to the schools for Spanish-name boys and girls, and promoting to the Anglo schools those who seemed to be the most promising, was pretty generally followed. The physical facilities, equipment, and instructional materials in the schools for Spanish-name children were found to be generally inferior and inadequate as compared with those existing in the Anglo schools.

The survey disclosed that not in every case was free school transportation provided Spanish-name children where it was furnished to Anglo boys and girls. Some systems provided free transportation for both Anglos and Spanish-name children within the school district, but charged a fee of two dollars a month per child for transportation from one district to another. Other systems provided free transportation for Anglo children both within the district and from district to district, but did not make the same provision for Spanish-name children.

The same general conditions, which were found to persist in the previously discussed educational facilities, also prevailed with respect to welfare practices. For example, lunchrooms were provided in only four of the schools for Spanish name children, whereas this facility was available in eight of the Anglo schools. Physical and dental examinations, vaccinations, inoculations, and other health services common to the public schools were found to exist in all the schools for Anglo boys and girls. This was not true for all the schools accommodating only Spanish-name children. There were two such schools in which no health service was provided and two in which only limited health service was furnished. Regular health instruction was found to be offered in all the schools for Anglos, while there was one school for Spanish-name children in which no regular health instruction was provided.

Illustrative of the discriminatory practices revealed by the survey were the sanitary facilities found to exist in some of the schools for Spanish-name children. In three of these schools the only toilet facilities were outdoor privies of the most primitive type. Two of these were the oldtime pit type, and one was connected with the sewage disposal system of the city. No hand-washing facilities were available in one of these schools. In several of the other segregated schools, too, these facilities were wholly inadequate. This distressing picture was not found to exist in any of the schools for Anglo children.

Finally, as regards present practices and facilities (personnel, physical plant, equipment, transportation, welfare, and sanitation), the data produced by this survey clearly show a marked difference in the educational opportunities now being provided Anglo and Spanish-name children. Furthermore this difference was found in every case to be, without question, in favor of the Anglo child.

Position of Educational and Legal Authorities

What do educational and legal authorities have to say in regard to this matter of segregating Spanish-name children in the public schools of our country? According to educational and legal authorities, the reasons offered for the segregation of these children, and the practices followed under segregation, are illegal and are educationally unsound.

The position held by educational authority is well expressed in the following statement which was taken from the report of a recent conference of leading experts in this field: "It was emphatically pointed out by all members of the conference that school segregation is pedagogically unsound, socially dangerous, and unquestionably un-American." (4)

In this same connection, Dr. J. G. Umstattd of the University of Texas very forcefully expressed his position in a speech at the Annual Conference of School Administrators in Austin, January 10, 1947. In this speech, Dr. Umstattd said: "It is a crime against the future of America, one that approaches treason, deliberately to keep any segment of our population in ignorance through discriminating against that segment in our educational program."(5)

The Texas State Department of Education, under the leadership of Dr. L. A. Woods, adopted the following statement of policy in 1945:

It is recognized that Texas children of Latin American descent represent not only an important sector of the Texas school population, and are deserving therefore of the best efforts or our schools, but they constitute a natural resource in the development of a continuing good neighbor educational program at home. All administrative and curricular processes should be directed toward the fullest development of these children, and toward their participation with other children in an equitable and democratic process of education which, through the joint action and mutual instruction of these Texas children, will lead all of them towards those cooperative attitudes, understandings, and appreciations which are not only fundamental to our American way, but which are indispensable to the fullest operation of the good neighbor policy. Any administrative or curricular practices which isolate, or tend to isolate, the Latin American children solely on the basis of such descent, through physical separation or inequitable educational offerings, are deemed pedagogically unsound, contrary to state and national policy, and inimical to the best interests of both those groups of children.(6)

Recent federal court decisions are emphatic in condemning, in California, the segregation of Spanish-name children under conditions that were not as biased as those which exist in Texas. In his decision on the Mendez case, Judge McCormick said:

A paramount requisite in the American system of public education is social equality. It must be open to all children by unified school association regardless of lineage...The evidence clearly shows that Spanish-speaking children are retarded in learning English by lack of exposure to its use because of segregation, and that commingling of the entire student body instills and develops a common cultural attitude among the school children which is imperative for the perpetuation of American institutions and ideals in all schools...It is also established by the record that the methods of segregation prevalent in the defendant school districts foster antagonisms in the children and suggest inferiority among them where none exists.(7)

The Mendez case was appealed to the Ninth U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals. That Court unanimously upheld Judge McCormick's decision, and concluded that:

It follows that the acts of respondents were and are entirely without authority of California law, notwithstanding their performance has been and is under color or pretense of California law. Therefore, conceding for the argument that California could legally enact a law authorizing the segregation as practiced, the fact stands out unchallengeable that California has not done so but to the contrary has enacted laws wholly inconsistent with such practice. By enforcing the segregation of school children of Mexican descent against their will and contrary to the laws of California, respondents have violated the Federal law as provided in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Federal Constitution by depriving them of liberty and property without due process of law and by denying to them the equal protection of the laws.(8)

In Texas, the Attorney General has held that:

The Cuero Independent School District may not segregate Latin-American pupils, as such. Based solely on language deficiencies or other individual needs or aptitudes, separate classes or schools may be maintained for pupils who, after examinations equally applied, come within such classifications. No part of such classification or segregation may be based solely upon Latin-American or Mexican descent.

Commenting on this opinion, Mr. Gus C. Garcia, a San Antonio attorney, wrote to Mr. Price Daniel, Attorney General of Texas, as follows:

Having made a meticulous examination of your entire opinion, I feel that it not only positively prohibits discrimination against Latin-American children in the public schools, but also clearly forbids the use of pedagogical or any other reasons, not applied in good faith, as a subterfuge to practice segregation.

I would like to know if I am correct in assuming that your opinion also embodies the following principles:

1. Pedagogical reasons must not serve as a pretext to practice segregation of children in subject matters other than those in which scientific tests, equally applied to all students regardless of racial ancestry, have proved that special instruction is necessary.

2. Separation for instructional purposes in those aforesaid subject matters does not justify inferiority in general educational facilities nor in the equality of teachers, but, if anything, calls for superior facilities and instructors.

3. The grouping of children for special instructional purposes should be based solely on the results of said tests, without reference to racial origin or social background.(10)

In response to this letter, Mr. Daniel stated:

I am certainly pleased to know that your interpretation of this opinion certainly agrees with ours. We meant that the law prohibits discrimination against or segregation of Latin-Americans on account of race or descent, and that the law permits no subterfuge to accomplish such discrimination...

You are correct in assuming that our opinion embodies the three principles outlined in your letter, and all of them are either clearly stated or clearly implied by the opinion.(11)

It seems clear, then, that the segregation of Spanish-name children, as practiced by eight of the ten school systems surveyed in this study, is contrary to the laws of Texas. That this practice also constitutes a denial of rights guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States is suggested by the decisions of federal courts in the Mendez case. In addition, the practices and conditions revealed by this survey constitute irrefutable, objective evidence that the segregation of Spanish-name children in the selected school systems is prejudicially discriminatory, and that the good faith of the "pedagogical reasons" offered for that segregation is questionable.

  1. George I. Sánchez, (Editor), "The First Regional Conference on the Education of Spanish-Speaking People in the Southwest," Inter-American Education, Occasional Papers, 1, p. 7, March 1946.

  2. Manuel, H. T., The Education of Mexican and Spanish-Speaking Children in Texas, Austin, University of Texas Press, 1930.

  3. Wilson, Little, Spanish-Speaking Children in Texas, The University of Texas Press, Austin, Texas, 1944.

  4. George I. Sánchez, (Editor), "First Regional Conference on the Education of Spanish-Speaking People in the Southwest." Inter-American Education, Occasional Papers 1, p. 14, March, 1946.

  5. Texas State Department of Education, A Desirable Educational Program For Texas, Research Bulletin No. Four, p. 16, 1947.

  6. Texas Good Neighbor Commission, Community Organization for Inter-American Understanding, pp. 13-14.

  7. Mendez v. Westminister School District (1946), Federal Supplement, vol. 64, pp. 544-551.

  8. Westminister School District v. Mendez (1947), Ninth United States Circuit Court of Appeals, Cause No. 11, 310.

  9. Texas Attorney General, Opinion No. V-128, April 8, 1947.

  10. Gus C. Garcia, Letter of August 13, 1947, to Hon. Price Daniel, Attorney-General of the State of Texas.

  11. Price Daniel (Texas Attorney-General), Letter of August 21, 1947, to Mr. Gus C. Garcia.

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