The Current Education Policy May Be Hurting Latino Students

PHOTO: A group of Latino officials urged lawmakers in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, May 21, 2013, to focus on programs that would benefit Hispanic students.Mark Bowden/Getty Images
A group of Latino officials urged lawmakers in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, May 21, 2013, to focus on programs that would benefit Hispanic students.

A group of Latino education experts from across the country urged policymakers in Washington, D.C., this week to take steps to improve education for Hispanic students.

The Latino Elected and Appointed Officials National Taskforce on Education was formed several years ago. They wanted to make sure the needs of Latino students and English Language learners were recognized as talks about the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act got underway. That act authorizes federally funded education programs that are administered by the states.

That program morphed into No Child Left Behind under former President George W. Bush and subsequent attempts to amend it and reauthorize it as the ESEA have failed, meaning policies put in place by NCLB still hold. Advocates for the more than 13 million Hispanic students enrolled in public schools around the country think several things need to change to better serve this group.

There are three they most definitely want addressed:

Issue 1: The department's response to the failed reauthorization attempt -- issuing waivers for some states to get around remaining NCLB requirements -- allows states to avoid reporting data on how different subgroups of students, such as Hispanics, are doing. That lack of data makes it difficult to tell which programs are helping Latinos and which are hurting them.

Issue 2: The new Common Core standards, which link teacher evaluations to student performance, are also a concern. Advocates worry that the more difficult students -- English language learners, for example -- will be stuck with the least qualified teachers as good teachers jockey for positions with high-performing students. The taskforce wants teachers to receive more training on Common Core and thinks that the best teachers should go to the most needy students.

Issue 3: Sequestration has also hit Latino students especially hard.

Head Start and programs for English language learners, which overwhelmingly benefit Latino kids, have seen cuts. And Head Start in particular gives Latino kids a chance to enter kindergarten on par with their non-Hispanic peers when it comes to vocabulary and other skills, areas where they have traditionally fallen behind without early intervention.

The taskforce wants more funding, not less, for such programs.

Will Anything Actually Change?

These goals are a long shot. Money is tight and collaboration across party lines seems to be a distant dream.

Ana Sol Gutierrez, one of the directors of the task force, said she saw "an absolute lack of collaboration between different party groups, especially in the House," during the meetings.

Education could also see more cuts in the future, so a more modest goal for the taskforce is simply preserving the existing funding from further cuts.

There are plans from both Republicans and Democrats to introduce bills to reauthorize the ESEA, but they're not likely to garner enough support across party lines to pass.

Sol Gutierrez is not giving up hope. Her broader goal is awareness at the national and state levels of the needs of Latinos, the fastest growing student population in the country. The group plans to push for awareness at the state level, where their voices might gain more traction.

It's an uphill battle, but "if we don't do it," she said, "no one else is going to speak up for Latino students."

The taskforce is part of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Education Leadership Initiative.