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

Tags: education, intern

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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