Hispanic students are not equal to their peers – but there is a solution

Hispanic Heritage Month has come and gone, serving as a celebration of our rich culture and the many contributions we’ve made to American society. What made this year’s commemoration different, though, is the feeling I’m left with at the end of the celebration. It’s a feeling of frustration and a drive to do more for our people.

It frustrates me that in 2015, I am still an anomaly statistically. According to the latest U.S. Census report, only 11 percent of Hispanics aged 25 and older have a bachelor’s degree. I’m part of an even smaller group of Hispanics – just four percent – who have earned a master’s or professional degree. Even more staggering is that I am one of just .6% of Hispanics who have a PhD. 

Hispanics are the majority minority, and, yet, we consistently have the least amount of educational attainment in the U.S. when compared to other races. And, sadly, it’s a trend that will continue based on the two variables that education experts often use to predict a student’s academic future: did the student’s parents go to college and did the student take college-ready curriculum – courses that help students understand what it takes to go to and be successful in college.

We have made some progress in the number of Hispanics attending and graduating from college. However, it’s the second predictor that concerns me the most – and it’s the one that we, as a community, have more control over than we may realize: the quality of education that Hispanic students receive.

Education experts have been reporting foryears that Latino and other minority students are often in segregated schools, being taught by teachers with the least amount of experience and with the least rigorous curriculum. For students that do make it to college, they often fall quickly behind and drop out at an alarming rate.

To be sure, education experts, policymakers, and business leaders are trying to improve educational opportunities for Hispanic students. From the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics to national movements such as XQ: The Super School Project to philanthropic initiatives including S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation’s support of better
teacher preparation
and The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation’s support of deeper learning, there are many efforts underway to help make sure our students – and all students – are better prepared for the real world.

But we can no longer wait for others to fix the problem for us. It’s time that we as a community –Hispanic and Latino parents, family and friends – create the change we seek in our schools. We must arm ourselves with the knowledge of what it takes to get to and be successful in college and beyond and do everything in our power to make sure our students receive that knowledge.

It’s no mystery. We know that to thrive and succeed in the 21st century, students need strong academic and interpersonal skills. It’s skills such as working in teams, problem solving and communicating effectively. It’s connecting what students learn inside the classroom with the world around them. It’s the outcomes of what education experts call deeper learning.

There are an increasing number of minority-majority schools around the country that provide the curriculum and experiences that lead to deeper learning. And we’re seeing positive results: A study of deeper learning schools in New York and California serving a substantial population of low-income students and English language learners, students succeeded regardless of their background.

In my book Deeper Learning:  How Eight Innovative Public Schools Are Transforming Education in the 21st Century, I studied schools that serve a high concentration of low income and minority students that are making deeper learning a reality. While much of the work falls to principals and teachers, I’ve learned there are four important things that parents,
family and friends can do to help ensure students receive the best education possible – inside and outside of the classroom.

First, be active in the student’s school. Demand that key leaders in your schools are ensuring that students are not learning passively but that teachers are activating students’ interests and are active as well.

Second, help students understand that they can be successful. Encourage your child to see
themselves as successful learners who use failure to improve – not quit – and engage in positive academic behavior. Help them learn how to learn take ownership of their education.

Third, help teachers extend learning beyond the classroom. If a student tells you they are learning about marine biology, take them to the local aquarium on the weekend. Help them make connections between what they learn in the classroom and the world around them.

Fourth, know your options. Learn what schools are available in your area that may be able to provide greater learning opportunities than what your students currently receives. Magnet and charter schools often have the ability to be more innovative in their teaching practices.

Providing our students with a better education – stronger curriculum and meaningful experiences that lead to deeper learning – is the single most important thing we can do to bridge the minority achievement gap. In both public and private schools, the 1 percent has received a good education for decades. It’s time for the 99 percent – the millions of Hispanic students who can be the leaders of the next generation – to receive the same educational opportunities.

If we as a community of parents, family and friends demand deeper learning opportunities and our schools and systems respond, then we have a fighting chance at reaching educational equality for all.

Dr. Monica Martinez is an author and education consultant and strategist, a Presidential appointee to the White House Commission of Educational Excellence for Hispanics, and a Deeper Learning Senior Fellow under the sponsorship of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

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