Friday, May 24, 2024

The Latino Education Crisis: Possible Solutions to a Complicated Issue

Drop out rates for Latinos have remained high, particularly among immigrant students who many times face tremendous obstacles to obtain an education. Most studies indicate that those trends will continue unless dramatic steps are taken in the next few years. Latinos are posed to become the ethnic majority in the United States in the upcoming decades. The steps that are taken now will determine whether those large numbers will translate into higher education attainment levels. More importantly they will also determine whether Latinos will be prepared to face the challenges brought on by a global economy in which education has become in necessary in order to remain competitive.

While the dropout rate for young Latinos in this country has seen a slight decline, the overall percentage is still much greater than that of other groups. Whites accounted for 6 percent of the dropout rate in 2005, but Latinos made up 22.4 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics.

“[When it comes to education], there has to be a focus on minority communities,” says Alma Morales Rojas, president of MANA, A National Latina Organization. “The demographics are clear. The trend will be that by 2033–if not sooner–one-fifth to one-third of the population will be Latino or Spanish-speaking and we have to invest in an educational system that gets as many kids [as possible] to graduate or continue their education.”

Latinos not only top dropout rates in general, but when you add “foreign-born” to their description, it’s even more likely they will not finish school. Nearly 25 percent of dropouts are foreign-born, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Once in the United States, they often take on the responsibility of contributing to the family income, which also causes a rift in their education.

“Most of our kids are working and going to school, helping with the family and doing volunteer work in the community,” Rojas says. “When you have a choice between survival, a roof over your head and food on the table, it’s a little bit hard, and one of the things that we try to communicate with our community is that you may think it’s a lot of money now, but when you add it up in your lifetime earnings, you’re going to really shortchange yourself and your family.”

So what needs to be done on the part of the government, teachers, parents and the Latino youth? Here are four suggestions on how we can strengthen our educational system to ensure kids from the fastest-growing traditionally underrepresented group are getting the education they need to succeed:

Bringing the message straight to the top

Rojas brought the Latino community’s concerns about education straight to the top, speaking at both the Democratic and Republican conventions this year.

“The bottom line for us is that individually, each of us has our own political preferences, but we wanted to ensure that as a coalition of Latino organizations and as Latino leaders, we were putting the agenda [that is] important to our community above party politics,” she says. Rojas spoke about civil rights, immigration reform, economic empowerment and health, but she “wanted to make sure that education was at the very top” of the agenda. “[Latinos] are the only group who had an increase in both registration and in voting turnout for the last four presidential elections,” she says. “So we don’t want anybody to think that Latinos don’t understand that education is [in] a crisis and that we are all making that our top priority.”

Don’t put all the blame on the parents and kids

“You cannot continuously blame students and families,” Rojas says. The dearth of money for education programs is also to blame. In 2006, President Bush proposed shrinking federal spending on education by more than $3 billion. In addition, the largest source of federal education aid to states, the $12.7 billion Title I program for low-income students, would receive no new funding. Title I accounts for about half of federal spending to implement the 2002 federal No Child Left Behind bill, which aims to close achievement gaps and get all students to read and perform grade-level math by 2014.

“There is a whole lot more to the issue … than just whether they want to stay in school or not. I think most kids want to complete their education,” Rojas says

Make an investment in teachers

“You also need to invest in teachers who are good at teaching,” Rojas says. “I know the push is that they need to be certified, but I want to know, does that certification really also test whether that person is a good instructor? I love teaching, but not everybody can teach. “There are approximately 6.2 million teachers in the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Among them, 71 percent are women, and overall, only 5.5 percent of teachers are Latino.” I cannot tell you how many kids have graduated with high honors and their English is terrible, their knowledge of history isn’t that good, and I’m thinking, ‘You have a ways to go,'” Rojas says. “There is a whole lot that needs to be done. Are the old testing requirements of what constitutes certification for teachers still satisfactory?”

Alternative school hours

For the many Latino kids who are forced to make the decision between work and school, Rojas suggests alternative school hours to accommodate the schedules of all kids and therefore diminish one reason for possible dropouts. “For many, it becomes a question of whether they have to work to support the family and they can’t get jobs because jobs are at a time when school is taking place,” says Rojas. “What we need to look at is [if] we realistically have good scheduling for all schools. Shouldn’t we be able to have high schools that have classes that are in the evening so that kids who have to work in the daytime could still finish their education by going to night school?

The dropout rates for foreign-born kids from countries all over the world are also high. For example, recent arrivals to the United States from China who did not make adequate school progress in China have a dropout rate greater than 30 percent in this country.

Rojas concludes, “We really need to get teachers, administrators and families together with corporate America and with the government because it really needs to be a team effort.

Diversity Inc. Magazine


  1. These are some good possible solutions. Are either of the presidential candidates addressing this at all?

    I think awareness is a big deal in this situation. A lot of people out there don’t know a problem like this is actually facing the community.

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    Isabella Coldivar
    AARP Ambassador