Latino Male Youth in California’s Public Schools: Ways in Which They Experience Successes and Challenges


Juan Carlos González
Assistant Professor

Jason C. Immekus
Assistant Professor

Contact Information:

California State University, Fresno
Kremen School of Education and Human Development
Educational Research and Administration Department
5005 North Maple Avenue  M/S ED303
Fresno, CA  93740-8025

(559) 278-9001 (office)
(559) 278-0370 (fax)


We are assistant professors in the Department of Educational Research & Administration in the Kremen School of Education & Human Development, at California State University, Fresno. We have been working as researchers on the Men and Boys of Color of California project for one year, collecting data what will ultimately affect policy changes that affect youth of color in the Central Valley.


There are a variety of ways in which Latino males experience successes and challenges in U.S. public schools. These experiences are unique in the Central Valley due to the high number of Latino rural youth. As a result, schools lack the cultural resources to address these problems and consciousness about how racism affects their Latinos in their schools. This study’s purpose to determine how Chicanos (ages 14 to 25) experienced the public education in the Central Valley. This guiding research question was: What are the perspectives/experiences of Chicanos in regard to education, and how are these perspectives and experiences facilitated and/or compromised by their engagement/non-engagement in their family, community, spiritual, and academic lives? Both quantitative and quantitative data were collected. Qualitative data included seven focus groups with 35 youth, and 13 interviews with Latino leaders in Central California. Participants had a wide array of experiences (e. g., gang affiliation, athletes, and church-goers). Quantitative data included multiple sources that characterized the disparities of Chicano and White youths in various educational settings. Preliminary findings show that which some Latinos experience success in public schools, many do not. In part, it was clear that there are strong cultural differences (in part around the concept of “respect”) in their schools between them and the predominately White teachers and administrators that run the schools, and these differences perpetuate challenges in other aspects of their lives. Latino leaders pointed to institutional racism, cultural differences as major reasons for the struggles of Latino male youth. This presentation will conclude with a discussion of recommendations for Latino administrators if we as educators are going to address the achievement gap and dropout rates that plague Latino youth in California.

Purpose and Background

In 2009, the RAND Corporation (RAND, 2010) published a ground-breaking report on the conditions of boys and men of color in California (Davis, Kilburn, Schultz, 2009). In this report they identified the four major disparities faced by California’s boys and men of color:

(a) socioeconomic (i.e., poverty, under-educated, lack of paternal role models, familial unemployment),

(b) health (namely asthma, obesity, post-traumatic stress disorder, lack of health care and insurance, HIV and AIDS),

(c) safety (i.e., witnessing violence, child abuse/neglect, juvenile arrests and custody rates, high incarceration rates, access to firearms, high homicide rates), and

(d) education (i. e., high dropout rates, educational underachievement, high suspension and grade retention rates).

As groundbreaking and important as it is, the focus is not on the Central Valley, which stretches approximately 500 miles from the northern Sacramento Valley to the southern San Joaquin Valley, and it is one of the most agriculturally productive areas in the world. The focus is in the large urban areas of Los Angeles, San Diego, and the Bay Area. The California Endowment, for whom the report was published, has taken a leadership role in advancing the conversation on the issues of boys and men of color in California, and has even taken a role to fund promising programs that address the 4 major disparities, but unfortunately most of this programmatic funding has gone to the three large urban areas stated.

Why have the issues of boys and men of color in the Central Valley, particularly Fresno county (the 10th most populous county in the state), which has Fresno (the 5th most populous, and largest inland city in the state), not been significantly and sufficiently addressed? Part of it has to do with a lack of understanding by agencies and foundations (outside of the central valley) about the needs and the disparate poverty that exists in the region. Even the best available data that documents the needs of the region is inadequate, insufficient, and incomplete because most is collected by researchers external to the region, and therefore there is no accountability to produce reliable data, nor appreciation for the uniqueness of the Central Valley as an agricultural region heavily dependent on migrant labor. And without reliable data, it becomes difficult to prove the needs of region, particularly those of boys and men of color.

With this understanding as a foundation to the needs of the region, the purpose of this project is to collect data on boys and men of color in Fresno County related to the 4 major disparities. In Fresno, the 3 major groups of boys and men of color are Latino, African American, and Southeast Asian, in order of population size. For the purposes of this project, the focus will be on the largest numerical minority –Latinos. And while both quantitative and qualitative data are needs to further understand local disparities, this research project will focus on qualitative data collection. Lastly, while all four major disparities are important, and all will be somewhat addressed, the focus will be on disparities related to educational attainment, non-attainment, aspirations, and lack of aspirations.

Research Question

The primary question driving this research is, What are the perspectives/experiences of Fresno County Latinos in regard to education and heatlh, and how are these perspectives/experiences facilitated/compromised by their engagement/non-engagement in their family, community, spiritual, and academic lives?


Subjects were identified through various methods and invited to participate in focus groups, individual interviews, or both. The focus groups were with Latino youth participants. The interviews will be with Latino leaders that work with Latino youth. The quota sample (see Airasian, Gay, & Mills, 2009) netted 48 participants –35 in focus groups, and 13 with Latino leaders.

The Latino youth in the focus groups were recruited and identified through community leaders that work with Latino boys and men and are part of the boys and men of color (BMOC) Advisory Board. This group consists of community leaders that represent various non-profit entities, such as the Fresno West Coalition for Economic Development (FWCED), Unidos Barrios, Chicano Youth Center, Centro La Familia, and the San Joaquin Valley Latino Environmental Advancement and Policy Project (Valley LEAP). These leaders have been asked to identify Latino youth that we can talk to that are representative of other youth, leaders, unique, willing to share, and even youth who are struggling in education. Seven focus groups (with an average of 5 participants per focus group) were conducted.

Interviews with 13 Latino leaders were also conducted. This group of participants was key in providing perspective and knowledge on the Latino experience, particularly challenges, opportunities, and aspirations. These were also identified by our MBoC advisory board. All but one were Latino males. The some female worked directly with Latino male youth in some of Fresno’s barrio communities.


All participants signed in informed consent to participate, and those under 18 had to get their parents’ signature. All participants also completed a demographic questionnaire prior to participation in our research. Focus group and interview participation lasted between 1 hour to 1 ½ hours.

In regard to the focus groups, they are used widely in academia (see Grudens-Schuck, Allen, & Larson, 2004; Krueger & Casey, 2000; Morgan, 1993, 1997). They involve discussions with participants in a group setting, so as to create a comfortable environment while participants have peer support, and do not feel that they must engage every topic or question (Krueger & Casey, 2000). It was important that the focus group be conducted by a Latino male, since the participants were Latino males. This similarity in ethnicity and gender was an attempt to maximize the level of comfort so that participants can share their experiences in confidence. Also, the moderator (Dr. González) was fluent in Spanish, and this is important for the level of comfort for participants that are Spanish-dominant speakers, or for those that code-switch between English and Spanish.

In regard to technology used to collect, transcribe, and analyze the data, all the interviewees were be recorded with a digital recorder for purposes of easy storage on a computer or CD. The digital recorder also allow for easy downloading into Scribe Express, a digital transcription software program. Transcribed data will be analyzed with QSR NVIVO8, the latest version of the NUD*IST (Non-numerical Unstructured Data Indexing Searching and Theorizing) software used for code-based qualitative analysis. It is designed for researchers trying to make sense of complex data thorough exploration and rigorous management and analysis, allows for the linking of qualitative and quantitative data, and helps organize the data in a hierarchical tree-like form. Also, the Inspiration program will be used to help present complex qualitative data visually. The purpose of this software is to visually develop, communicate, and present ideas.

Specifically, the following methods were used for the focus groups and interviews.

Focus Groups

As stated earlier, quota sampling was used to recruit 35 participants. Additionally, MBoC board members were asked for help in recruiting Latino youth. Purposive sampling (Airasian, Gay, & Mills, 2009) was used, meaning that we were looking for specific types of participants: (a) Latinos, (b) males, (c) from Fresno Country, (d) successful in community, (e) struggling or school dropouts, (f) talkative, (g) quiet, and/or (h) are served by their organizations in some form or capacity. The goal was to try to establish as much homogeneity as possible, as this is ideal in the organization of focus groups (Morgan, 1997). Homogeneity was established based on the demographic questionnaires, but also based on location of residence and/or community location (i.e., urban vs. rural).

Every focus group was conducted by two researchers, or one researcher and an assistant. The purpose for this was so that the primary researcher can focus on participant responses and body language, and from this be able to delve deeper into particular responses that require follow up. The purpose of the second researcher, or assistant, was two-fold: (a) to debrief with the primary researcher after the focus group, and (b) to keep track of who said what and in what order, and to be able to connect responses to individual demographic profiles during the data analysis.

Every focus group, and the post-focus group debriefing, was digitally recorded, digitally transcribed, and analyze with NVIVO8 (see QSR International, 2010).


This group will be selected through convenience sampling (Airasian, Gay, & Mills, 2009), and efforts were made so that most of these were Latino males. At an advisory board meeting, some of the preliminary results was shared. At this point, participants were asked if they would like to participate as interviewees. Prior to interviews, it was required that interviewees complete a consent form and demographic questionnaire. Prior to these interviews, it will be necessary that a preliminary analysis of the data from the focus groups we completed and shared. Also, because a lot of the board members have specialized knowledge, the interviews allowed for the discussion to be structured in a way that taps into their unique expertise/knowledge.

The ideal place for the interviews is at a location that was convenient and comfortable to the participants, mostly at their places of employment, or at the places where they work serving the Latino population. Some interviews were also conducted in public settings, such as coffee shops, and over the weekend. All interviews were digitally recorded, digitally transcribed, and analyze with NVIVO8. 

Preliminary Findings and Implications

Preliminary findings show similarities and differences among different types of Latinos (i.e., urban vs. rural). Also preliminary findings from Latino leaders show stark differences from that of Latino youth. What this means is that youth see their issues different than how Latino leaders see Latino youth issues. Also, what Latino youth from schools is different than what Latino leaders think they should want. The implications suggest that not only do schools need to understand how Latino youth view them, and how they can best serve them, but that Latino leaders’ concerns about educational quality for the Latino community need to be addressed.