12/14/2012 09:11 am ET

Mexican-American Preschoolers Excel Socially, But Lag Behind In Literacy And Early Language Skills

Mexican-American students in preschool lag behind non-Hispanic whites when it comes to literacy and early language skills; however, according to research published in the Maternal Child Health Journal, there are almost no distinguishable differences between Mexican-Americans and non-Hispanic whites when it comes to social skills development.

“Researchers have long assumed that poor parents display poor parenting,” UC Berkeley sociologist and study co-author Bruce Fuller said in a university press release. “But we find robust cultural strengths in Mexican American homes when it comes to raising eager and socially mature preschoolers.”

Preschoolers’ social and language skills study

For the research, Fuller and his team evaluated a nationwide sample of 4,700 children between the ages of two and five. The children in the study were not yet in kindergarten, and two-thirds of them were of Mexican descent. According to a press release, 19 percent of study participants had at least one parent of Latino heritage.

The data, when reviewed after a three-year period, revealed a persistent gap between Mexican-American children and non-Hispanic whites when it came to language and cognitive skills.

According to researchers, the difference in ability equated to approximately an eight-month difference, regardless of whether they were assessed in English or Spanish. That educational gap inevitably led to Mexican-American students starting kindergarten already behind.

According to Fuller, if Mexican-American students were to also lack in social skills, the educational disparity might be more severe.

Social adeptness creates an eagerness in the classroom which can be beneficial, Fuller explained to VOXXI; however, that advantage is eventually overtaken by a lack of oral language competencies and reading skills.

“It’s the strength of their robust social skills and emotional maturity that surprised us, displayed even among the two-fifths of Latino children being raised in poverty in our national sample,” Fuller said. “Yes, relatively low levels of maternal education slow growth [of] language and pre-literacy skills, but strong socialization practices persist even in otherwise impoverished Latino neighborhoods. It’s the resilience and cultural strengths that surprised us.”

Mexican-American children, cognitive skills and acculturation

Another potential contributing factor in the education gap is that of acculturation among the Mexican-American community. Fuller indicated the more generations live in the United States, the more proficient Mexican-American mothers tend to be in their own language skills. That proficiency is often passed down to children. The catch, though, is that assimilation into American culture can often undercut the social skills of children, and therefore, stated Fuller, acculturation is a double-edged sword.

When asked what he would recommend for decreasing the literacy gap, Fuller told VOXXI, “Expand and improve the quality of preschool programs, like Head Start and state-level early childhood programs. Widen parent training efforts, while understanding and respecting the cultural assets that Latino parents bring to the table. Expand adult education opportunities—especially for Latina mothers—given their direct and quick benefits felt by their own young children.”

Originally published by Voxxi as Mexican-American children excel socially, lag behind in pre-literacy skills



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