How Far Have We Really Come? Graduation Rates, Students of Color, and Subgroup Accountability

Posted on 06/23/2015 @ 10:00 AM

Tags: policy, education, blog

By: Tyler Crowe, Policy and Legislation Fellow, LULAC National

This past graduation season was a good one for American education: a record 81% of high school students graduated from high school in 2012-2013, and it looks like those numbers will continue to increase this year, with historically underperforming minority groups showing significant improvements as well. Those improvements, however, obscure another alarming statistic released by the Alliance for Excellent Education: that more than 1,200 American high schools fail to graduate 1/3rd of their students.

It’s no secret that educational success is tied to economic success. As an organization of action, LULAC’s mission is to improve socio-economic conditions for Latinos from coast to coast. Since our founding, LULAC has advocated for greater educational opportunities for our community -- from fighting school segregation in the Supreme Court to encouraging educational success through the Ford Driving Dreams Through Education program. To do this, we work in concert with a number of other organizations, advocacy groups, and passionate volunteers to help lift up Latino students across the country.

However, progress will not come to our community unless it’s matched by progress in Washington. This summer, your representatives in Congress will vote on a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA): a critical piece of legislation that would help revitalize American educational success. LULAC supports reauthorization of the ESEA, but not without prioritizing the needs of vulnerable student populations, such as low-income, English language learner, disabled, and minority students. Not surprisingly, these “subgroups” -- the students that need our help the most -- are not just marginalized in the classroom, but on Capitol Hill as well.

For years, accountability standards have quantified when a school is considered “failing”, when certain students are falling behind, and when governments can intervene in a school's’ operations. This imperfect but acceptable approach was furthered with the passage of No Child Left Behind in 2003. But what was once a rather common sense approach to education has now slipped into the mire of partisan politics -- and it puts our students at risk. Under the so-called “Every Child Achieves” Act (ECAA), states would be given the ultimate authority in deciding which schools and students merit interventions -- not the federal government. States would furthermore be given free reign to determine academic standards and expectations.

The removal of the federal government from the national dialogue about education would be nothing short of a huge step back for American students -- creating nothing short of an inadequate means of educating our most vulnerable children. For generations, the federal government has been instrumental in enforcing a number of things that have been good for our country, including universal elementary and secondary education as well as desegregating our schools. Legislation like the ECAA minimizes the important role of the federal government in education and limits how and when the federal government can intervene, leaving our children unprotected while at their most vulnerable.

To put it simply, do you trust your state government to educate your children? Adequately fund their schools? Intervene in a reasonable amount of time to help struggling students? Do you trust legislators in Texas, legislators in Arizona, or legislators in your home state?

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act is important to ensure an educational future for our children, but not without strong measures to support historically underserved subgroups of students. LULAC fiercely supports the protection of Latino and Hispanic students most affected by changes to subgroup accountability language. We are furthermore proud to stand with a broad coalition of civil rights groups, students, and teachers to demand protection for our most at-risk youth. We will not be shaken, and we will not stand down.

Tyler R. Crowe is a Policy and Legislation Fellow at the League of United Latin American Citizens in Washington, D.C. He specializes in issues related to the economy, resources, and good governance. He received a BA in Chinese Language and Culture and a Certificate in International Agriculture and Natural Resources from the University of Maryland-College Park.

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