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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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Reflecting on Immigrant Heritage Month: Rediscovering My Mexican-American Identity

Posted on 06/30/2015 @ 10:00 AM

This month, LULAC joined a host of other organizations to celebrate the second annual Immigrant Heritage Month. Immigrant heritage means many different things to many different people, and we are privileged to have a staff characterized by so many rich immigrant experiences. Here, LULAC Federal Affairs Intern Erica Ontiveros shares her journey to discover and honor her Mexican heritage.

Photo Credit: Welcome.Us

By: Erica Ontiveros, Federal Affairs Intern, LULAC National

For most of my life, I have wondered about my family’s heritage and where my roots truly come from. By the age of ten, I had moved ten different times, and this lack of stability contributed to the increasing disconnect that I felt with my culture. My dad was deported when I was ten years old, and as a result, I entered the foster care system. I faced many challenges as a Mexican-American foster child unsure of my heritage while growing up in a mixed environment of Hispanics, African-Americans, and Caucasians. I was never really able to fit into one group and could never really identify with one culture because I did not grow up with a defined family.

Moving from home to home was confusing at times, and not understanding a family’s way of life was a constant struggle. Due to being in foster care for some time, I have only vague memories of being connected to Mexican-American culture, such as memories of eating my mom and dad’s delicious home-made Pozole or Caldo de Res. When I entered the foster care system; however, I no longer had that, and ultimately lost touch with those memories.

While in the foster care system, I graduated from a high school in which 85% of the students were Caucasian. Not having the opportunity to interact with other Latinos made it much more difficult to express myself as a Latina because my peers had the expectations that you act a certain “American” way. During this time, I did not quite understand what it was to be fully Mexican or fully American, and I felt caught in the middle of a current that I could not swim against.

At times it can be difficult to deal with the fact that because of the way I look I am expected to know how to speak Spanish or have a “big family” because that is how Latinos are stereotypically perceived by society. These stereotypes, coupled with my environment made it difficult to discover my Latina identity because the people that were key to defining my roots and identity were removed from my life. This left few opportunities to explore who I was as a Latina. When my dad was deported back to Mexico and I never saw him again, I felt that I had lost the connection to my Mexican heritage forever.

Currently I am an intern at the League of United Latin American Citizens in Washington D.C. and am helping advocate for the Latino community while surrounded by inspiring people. Each day, I am afforded the wonderful opportunity to rediscover my culture by participating in events and activities that enhance my knowledge and personal growth as a Latina in America. Things do not come easy, but the more I learn, the prouder I am of my Latina identity. The circumstances I have endured have shaped me into what I am today, and I am continuing to develop and grow into the person I want to become. Today I strive to be open, considerate of others and their cultures while I work to redefine my Latina identity. While I am influenced by my past, I look forward each day to discovering something new and showing those around me that I am proud of my roots.

Erica Ontiveros is a Federal Affairs Intern at the League of United Latin American Citizens in Washington, D.C. She is a student at California State University Fullerton and hopes to work in a career the combines social work and public policy.

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