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Lifting up California’s Latino students in 2018: 4 big things parents say they want to see in their schools this year

Esmeralda Fabián Romero | January 10, 2018

Stephanie Martínez and her mother read together at Alliance College-Ready Susan and Eric Smidt Tech High School.

In 2018, Latino parents and advocates are preparing to fight for more funds and better support for their students, from kindergarten to a college degree, as data show California’s Latino students are not succeeding at the same rate as students from other ethnic groups.

Topping their list: protecting undocumented students’ education, making sure money gets to schools to help English learners, holding the state and districts accountable for giving parents the tools they need to evaluate schools, and seeing more Latinos leading in classrooms.

“Given the number of Latinos in the state as well as the political power of Latinos in California, there should be a vibrant conversation about how to support the needs of Latino students and their families. California should be a model for that,” said Ryan Smith, executive director of The Education Trust—West, which advocates for educational justice and the high academic achievement of all California students, particularly those of color and living in poverty.

Latino students are the majority in California, with 3.3 million Latinos attending California’s K-12 public schools, and 1 million Latino students comprise 35 percent of California’s higher education student population.

These are the four top priorities Latino education advocates identified for this year:

1. Protections for undocumented students after DACA

The future of undocumented youth after the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program continues to cause widespread concern. Congress has yet to pass a DREAM Act, and on Wednesday a district judge in San Francisco issued a nationwide injunction keeping protections in place those covered under DACA. More than 200 Californians a day have been losing work permits and deportation protections, according to The Campaign for College Opportunity.

• Read more from The 74: Teacher v. Trump: How an Educator’s Lawsuit (Temporarily) Halted the President’s DACA Repeal

With an estimated 74,000 undocumented students in California’s public higher education, colleges and universities are fighting back, urging Congress to protect students whose fears are keeping many from applying for college aid. Data show a drop in the number of aid applications through the California Dream Act, which allows undocumented students to pay in-state tuition.

The University of California system sued the Trump administration shortly after its September announcement that DACA protections were being phased out, with all protections to end by March 5. UC has approximately 4,000 undocumented students, a substantial number covered by DACA, as well as teachers, researchers, and health care providers who are DACA recipients.

California education advocates plan to continue defending the right of undocumented children and youth to stay in school, making sure state and local legislation as well as school districts and the higher education system enforce policies that protect immigrant students and their families.

“Protecting California’s DACA-mented students is about protecting our investment in their K-12 education. The students who qualify for the DREAM Act came to this country as children. They have learned and grown in our K-12 system, and many continue their studies in our world-class universities,” Michele Siqueiros, president of The Campaign for College Opportunity, said in a statement.

“Rescinding their permission to work after we have invested so much in their education is bad policy and will yield negative returns on that investment. Even worse, it squashes these young Americans’ dreams.”

2. More resources for English language learners

Education experts agree that Latino students need more resources from the state, with more funds going directly to high-needs schools, and particularly those with English language learners, 80 percent of whom are Latino.  

Among all states in the country, California is near the bottom in the amount of money it spends for each student’s K-12 education. In 2014, California spent $8,694 per student per year, raking it in 46th place, while New York spent $18,191 per student, putting it third in the nation. First was Vermont at $19,654. In the 1970s, California ranked in the top 10 nationwide.

Since 2013, a state law known as Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) has given school districts greater flexibility in how they spend state educational funds to help high-needs students in three categories: English learners, students from low-income families, and foster youth.

Latino education advocates believe the money is not yet going to the schools where there’s a major concentration of these students and that districts should be doing more in 2018 to make sure those funds to get to them.

“The question is if actually more resources are being distributed to the schools where students need them the most and how well those funds are distributed,” said Myrna Castrejón, executive director of Great Public Schools Now, a nonprofit whose mission is replicating high-quality schools in disenfranchised neighborhoods of Los Angeles.

“Unless parents go personally to each school from east to west across the district, it is very difficult to compare and to know what having enough resources looks like and what we should aspire to,” she said. “It’s essential that these groups of students — whether it be by geography, by grade level, or whatever that is — have access to the right distribution of resources.”

María Brenes, executive director of InnerCity Struggle, an organization in Boyle Heights striving for high-quality education on Los Angeles’ mostly Latino east side, also said the investment for Latino student achievement has to increase as well as support targeted for English learners in particular.

“Across the state, we’re seeing many schools where the student population is predominantly  Latino, and the state of California is not where it needs to be in terms of per-pupil spending. The state and county spend more in incarcerating youth than they do in educating them,” she said.

“We need to shift investment toward education and prevention, and address that underfunding of education that greatly impacts more Latino students, particularly in districts where they are the majority, including LAUSD.”

Brenes said despite state underfunding for schools, “we need to follow those dollars that exist and make sure we target them for schools where the need is greater across the state.”

State funding is also key to expanding Latinos’ access to higher education.

“We’ll be watching the state budget and ensuring that there’s sufficient enrolling funding for our community colleges, Cal State and UC system,” said Siqueiros of The Campaign for College Opportunity. “We know that as we are graduating more Latinos from high school, more who are college ready and know that college is essentially their way out of poverty, we need to make sure that they actually have a spot in college when they get there. How that budget is going to support higher education is critical.”

3. More information on school quality

Last spring’s release of the California School Dashboard, the state’s new accountability system, was intended to give parents a fuller understanding of schools’ performance. But instead of giving schools a single score or grade, it uses a color-coded grid that evaluates a variety of aspects of schools — red being the lowest performance rate and blue the highest. An independent review called the dashboard complicated and incomplete, and parents and education advocates have expressed frustration with its complexity and lack of clarity on key information that parents — and particularly Latino parents — need in underserved communities to evaluate schools. They want to see a dashboard that is easier to understand and that would allow for parents to compare schools.

Castrejón said parents still don’t have the information they need so they can demand high-quality schools for their children. And California still needs to do a lot of work in defining what school quality looks like.

“The state Board of Education still needs to work on defining what is a good school climate and how to measure it, as well as how can it improve the dashboard ratings,” she said. “The public and particularly parents need to follow closely these situations, because they deserve to be able to know how good their children’s schools are and which schools are offering better learning environments. Information is one one of the most important tools they have to advocate for their kids’ education.”

Brenes said Latino parents need to do more to make sure their voices are heard, and school districts need to include them in their decision making.

“Districts have to recognize that Latino parents are assets, not deficits. Latino parents need to be seen as partners and schools need to build bridges, relationships with these families,” Brenes said.

She said parent engagement should be part of districts’ strategic plan for student improvement.

“We just don’t see that at the level we should in our schools. This is a key area of improvement statewide we should focus on, and we need to do it with a sense of urgency,” she said. “Parents need to know what’s happening in the classroom and how we can elevate the full promise and potential of Latino children and youth.”

4. More Latino bilingual educators

A new law — Proposition 58 — has opened the way for expansion of bilingual and multilingual education programs which especially benefit Latino English learners. But school districts face a shortage of Latino teachers, and bilingual teachers in particular, limiting their ability to offer more multilingual language programs.

Advocates are asking districts to recognize the benefits of these programs and invest in recruiting bilingual educators and replicating models of success.

“Given the repeal of Prop. 227, there are discussions about the recruitment of teachers who can support the bilingual programs, and parents can be part of the discussion about how we make sure to have a strong foundation for English learners through the recruitment of bilingual educators,” Smith said.

“In January, we will release a report on how the state should look at schools and districts that are giving results for ELs (English learners), so we will publish a policy grid on the bright spots, the schools and districts that are closing the achievement gap for them,” he said. “We need to look at the schools where they are doing things right for these students.”

From K-12 education to college, experts point to the benefits for Latinos and other minority students of learning from teachers from their same background.

“We know that students succeed when they have access to faculty and college leaders that look like them,” Siqueiros said. “We have huge concerns about the lack of diversity among faculty and college leaders that make important decisions around college admission, courses offerings, remedial education. We believe that our colleges should and could be doing  a much better job at ensuring that their campuses are diverse and inclusive.”

According to an Education Trust report, A Look at Latino Student Success, 1 million Latino students make up 35 percent of California’s higher education student population. Latino students are enrolling in four-year colleges and universities at higher rates than ever before. While high school graduation rates are on the rise, only about half of Latino students who start college earn a bachelor’s degree. Among white young adults ages 25 to 34, 44 percent have a college degree, while only 18 percent of Latinos do.

“Far too many Latino students still don’t have access to the higher education they deserve,” said Andrew H. Nichols, Ed Trust’s director of higher education research and data analytics and author of the report, which was released in December.

“Equitable completion rates are possible. All college and university leaders must take their responsibility seriously to provide students with the support they need to earn their degrees, while leaders at selective institutions, where Latino students are grossly underrepresented, need to put their resources to work to increase their enrollments of Latino students,” he said in a news release.

Sandra Sánchez, a mother of a first-grade student in LA Unified and a high school student in Downey Unified, said she believes some school district policies are disconnected from the real needs of Latino families for their students to succeed in college.

“I would like to see my son get less homework and more support on his social-emotional needs,” she said. “And with high schools students, I think schools should provide them with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in college, like financial information and tools for them to find easier to integrate successfully to college life.”

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