Parents key to better Latino college rates

Increasing educational attainment among Latino students — who are the fastest-growing ethnic group in the country, and who consistently lag behind their white and Asian peers in college completion — is a priority of many advocates and policymakers.

See related story: Latino college completion rates lagging

Patricia Gándara, co-director of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA, has been focused on this issue for decades. She recently spoke with The Hechinger Report about how we can better address low completion rates.

Q: Excelencia in Education released a report this week that included a state-by-state fact sheet on Latino achievement in higher education, which showed a ballooning younger Latino population that experiences persistent equity gaps with their white peers. I watched a talk you gave in 2009 shortly after the release of your book The Latino Education Crisis: The Consequences of Failed Social Policies in which you cite some of the same numbers. Has nothing really changed and, if so, why is that the case?

A: The whole point of that book is that the stats are the same over three decades. Not three years — three decades! We’re just not making inroads. And this is what to me is extraordinary because if you look at what has happened demographically in the nation, and then you look at the college completion rates for Latinos, I mean we are stuck.

Why are we so stuck? What is preventing gains in this area?


We’ve been through a period since the 1980s that has been a real shift to the right in this country, and an increasingly conservative view of how it is we’re going to manage everything about social policy in this country, including education. The country has gone more and more to English-only, which is sort of the educational version of “love it or leave it.” You know, just get on with it or get out. For example, in California and Arizona we have lost half of our bilingual teachers from the schools. We have half as many as we had when they passed English-only legislation in which they said “Oh well, we’ll take care of this in a year just by immersing these kids in English,” which of course didn’t work. So we have fewer and fewer resources to work with kids in the schools, and fewer and fewer people who actually can help—seven percent of teachers nationwide are Latino, while over 20 percent of our kids are. There is a mismatch there in terms of people who understand these kids’ challenges and can meet them.

I think one of the biggest problems really is that we’ve had a big immigration, and that immigration is of people who don’t have experience in their own countries with high school and certainly don’t have that experience here in the U.S. So how do you guide kids through high school and on to college if it’s something that’s totally foreign to you and your community? You don’t have the resources to do that, and the schools don’t have the resources.

I think Washington needs to be just really awakened to the idea that this is not just some little thing that’s happening in the Southwest and that it’s a national issue.

To that point, there have been a lot of smart people working to fix this issue for a long time. And it seems to be no secret that it’s larger than an education problem—that it spills into demographics, jobs, etc. Why isn’t more done, considering we understand the implications of the demographic shift? What’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back?

The straw that breaks the camel’s back is when economically this really comes home to folks in these states that are on the edge of decline right now as a result of failing to educate this population. So you look at California and Texas—two states in which half or more of their K-12 population is Latino. And there have been studies done that look at what the consequences of that are economically for the state. The National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS) a few years ago talked about an 11 percent decline by 2020 in per-capita income. Well, California right now can’t close its budget gaps. That’s not all because of Latino kids. But it’s a piece of it. We’re not generating enough income because we’re not generating the kind of educational product that we need. So my hope is that people begin to connect the dots and realize this is affecting each of us because the state is not going to be able to sustain itself.

You sit on the Presidential Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, which met last week in California. What have the goals been, and what kind of progress have you made?

We have only met three times since the commissioners were appointed last year. However, this last meeting was about actually doing something. We have a program in place now where we’re going to really try and have a campaign around recruiting, retaining and rewarding Latino and bilingual teachers because they have to be part of the backbone of solving this problem. So I believe we have a date, August 30th, and we’re in the process of identifying people across the country to honor and highlight. The idea is to show to the Latino community that this is a really good thing for you to be thinking about encouraging your kid to do: Become a teacher.

What would be the greatest driver in your opinion to increase the college graduation rates of Latinos?

Parents. Parents have to understand why this is important, how you do it, how you encourage your kids. I think, generally speaking, Latino parents want their kids to do well in school and they think it’s an opportunity, but they have almost no information. The schools don’t talk to them. Nobody else talks to them. They don’t know how you go about this. Do you know how many young women I’ve talked to over the years who want to be pediatricians but they don’t realize you have to go to college to do it? They think it’s a nice job to work with babies. So who’s telling them this? Who’s telling them what it is you need to do to get there? So schools have got to work with parents. You have to have people in schools who can communicate with families, who feel comfortable and like it’s their job to do that — people whose job it is to connect with these kids and understand them.

This interview was edited for length.

The Hechinger Report is a nonprofit news organization that is focused on producing in-depth education journalism. It is an independently funded unit of Teachers College, Columbia University.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at [email protected]

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”