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Why are Latinos Pushed to the Back of the Classroom?: The Case for Stronger Accountability in our Schools

Posted on 07/28/2015 @ 12:45 AM

Photo Credit: Huffington Post, Education Blog

By: Lya Ferreyra

“You’re so smart, I always forget that you’re Mexican.” The wide-eyed gaze of my fellow graduates fell upon me, and the room was silent as everyone awaited my response to our host’s comment. I felt anger, embarrassment, but most of all I was perplexed. How after four years of sharing the same classroom, studying for the same AP tests, and even applying to colleges together was I still seen as an anomaly by my classmates? Why was being Latina and a high school graduate something that my peers had such trouble pairing, especially when Latinas have the fastest-growing college graduation rates of any other group of women in the country? It wasn’t until I went to college and met others with similar experiences and questions, that these ideas boiled down to one sentiment: How is it, that despite representing a little over 26% of the overall public school student population, Latinos are consistently pushed to the back of the classroom?

Unfortunately, despite some gains in high school graduation rates and college enrollment, Latinos continue to be overlooked by legislators when it comes to their education. Recently both the Senate and House passed versions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) that seek to strip away accountability provisions that help ensure the success of students of color. These bills are now in conference. The passed Senate bill titled the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015 minimizes federal oversight over school performance, leaving the future of Latino student’s education in the hands of individual states.

Although some would argue that the power to regulate schools is a local one, certain states have repeatedly shown that they are not capable of protecting the essential civil right that is equal opportunity education. Texas test scores, for example, are stagnant, with many advocates blaming the current school funding distribution system which “gives higher-wealth districts about $65,000 more to spend on their elementary classrooms than low-wealth districts.” With these type of blatant inequities taking place with strong federal role and oversight in place, it is unsettling to think what would happen without any federal oversight whatsoever.

Because of these critical gaps in the current Senate ESEA bill, civil rights organizations, like LULAC, advocated for the Senate to adopt amendments to the bill that would better protect Latino and minority students. For example, an amendment that sought to increase accountability failed to pass but was able to garner a sizable 43 votes in the Senate, sending a clear message to conferees that accountability measures will need to be improved if the the final bill wishes to tally a filibuster proof number of votes. One way that civil rights organizations aimed to shield historically under-protected groups was by ensuring that the indicators used to trigger school interventions are focused solely on academic factors, such as graduation rates and state assessment scores.

One would assume that it would be reasonable for schools to be held responsible for their main function, teaching, but unfortunately, as seen by the failure of the aforementioned amendment there are certain organizations and groups of individuals who continue to oppose the work of civil rights organizations. Instead, they blatantly ignore the lack of accountability and suggest expanding possible indicators to include factors such as P.E and attendance. Although physical education and daily attendance are important aspects of a well-rounded education, they direct focus (and funds) away from essential measurements of performance, factors like graduation rates and test scores that directly affect whether or not an individual goes on to pursue higher education.

No longer can our communities endure this marginalization when it comes to our education. We must demand not only that schools and states be held responsible for their students and future constituents, but that the focus remain on the academic success of Latinos and other minority groups. Both the shortcomings of the Senate and House passed ESEA bills must be addressed in conference.

As a student myself, I urge any student, past or present, who has ever felt like an afterthought in the education system, to take action. This could be as simple as sharing this blog, or clicking on an action alert. The goal here is not only to protect and foster Latino communities, but to change the narratives that surround them. In one year I will be a college graduate. At that graduation, much like every other graduate, I hope to be celebrated for not only what I was able to overcome, but for what I was able to achieve.

Lya Ferreyra is currently a Policy and Legislation intern at the LULAC National Office in Washington, DC. Lya is a rising senior at Northwestern University and is passionate about immigration issues and policy advocacy. She hopes to one day pursue a career in the nonprofit sector working with and for Latino communities.

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No Child Left Behind Rewrite Leaves Many Children Behind

Posted on 07/03/2015 @ 10:00 AM

By Nathan Baker, Policy and Legislation Intern, LULAC National

This year, the perennial “elephant in the room” is finally getting addressed in Congress. After nearly fifteen years of trials and frustration, American public education is finally getting an overhaul.

The new bill, known as the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA), emerged out of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee with bipartisan fanfare in mid-April. As it currently stands, the bill would remove nearly all federal accountability standards and defer this responsibility to the individual states; meaning that the states will wield the power to set their own rules. Federal accountability will be absent from everything ranging from testing standards to goal-setting to school intervention tactics.

This language could be especially devastating for minority students, who now represent the new majority of students in U.S. public schools. If minority students, English Language Learners, low-income students, or any other sub-set of students begin to fall behind, there will be no obligation for states to step in and intervene. With the future of so many children at stake, education reform stops being a partisan or fringe issue. No matter the background of the children, zero accountability will negatively affect their education. Minority students aren’t the only ones who would be ignored under this bill. The needs of low-income students, disabled kids, and English-Language Learners of any race or ethnicity would also be swept under the rug. ECAA doesn’t discriminate.

Even though I grew up in a racially homogenous community in Central Pennsylvania, and my school district was predominantly white, my school still experienced the same challenges that more diverse districts faced. A sizeable portion of my high school qualified for free or reduced lunch (myself included), placing us in the “Title I” category, meaning that under the law, we should have received special attention when we faltered academically. Unfortunately, I saw that Title I students were a burden on the school, and were often found in the lowest classes. Instead of helping struggling students succeed, I saw our school give up on them.

I remember sitting in my ninth grade “Careers” class, and the teacher instructed us to put letters on our paper from “A to Z” and write our name at the top, a seemingly routine task for a 14 or 15 year old. A fellow classmate sitting to my left had difficulty correctly remembering the alphabet and how to spell his own name. It was obvious to my ninth grade mind that this student had a learning disability and should have received some sort of individualized attention from the school. Unfortunately, the school had never identified this, and he was relegated to the lowest level of regular classes where he struggled to pass his courses and eventually dropped out.

I didn’t need to look further than my own home to see the consequences of a lack of accountability in schools. My own sister struggled with math throughout her school career. Although she took a particular interest in the arts, in high school, she struggled on our state assessment (the PSSA) and failed the math portion twice. After she showed obvious signs of falling behind, no one investigated the reasons why she was struggling with math, chalking it up to “test day anxiety” instead of providing her with the assistance that she needed to be truly proficient.

At my school, I was a first-hand witness to countless students falling behind, and while we can’t change the past, we can—and should— ensure a better future for our students by holding schools accountable.

How can we do this?

We must require schools to intervene when they see vulnerable sub-groups falling behind. We can’t trust individual states alone to assure that schools intervene, and the U.S. Department of Education must take an active role in overseeing the process.

If low-income students don’t even have the resources to buy their own lunch, how are they supposed to ensure that they receive a quality education? It is the job of the school, state, and national government to protect these students’ right to an excellent education. There are billions of dollars dedicated to education in America originally allocated to provide resources to underprivileged and minority students. These sub-groups need attention, and schools must be held accountable for their needs.

We need strong Federal oversight because states and schools won’t effectively oversee themselves. As students demonstrate their problem areas, schools like the one of my childhood ignore the problem. The Department of Education should be allowed to do its job of overseeing and promoting educational excellence in America.

Coming from a low-income, yet predominantly white area, I have seen the negative effects that an apathetic education system can have on students. Latino students face many of the same challenges, including under-representation at top colleges, lack of resources, and zero sub-group accountability. Unfortunately, these groups aren’t mutually exclusive either: many Latinos are also low-income.

Without these accountability standards and federal oversight, low-income and Latino students will continue to fall behind and the achievement gap will widen even further. We have the opportunity to help these students and guarantee their success, ensuring that all students, no matter their zip code, have access to a quality education.

The fight isn’t over. Join the effort by telling Congress that they must include language that protects sub-groups by clicking here.

Nathan Baker is a Policy and Legislation Intern at the League of United Latin American Citizens in Washington, D.C. He is especially interested in education, international relations, and political development in Latin America. Nathan will graduate with majors in Government and Spanish and minors in Business and Latin American Studies from Cornell University in 2017.

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