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.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.