Congress, Don't Abandon Latino Students. Don't Pass H.R. 5!

By Albert Jacquez, NCLR Action Fund Political Director

This week the House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on H.R. 5, the "Student Success Act." This bill would reauthorize the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law, which in turn reauthorized the venerable Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. But its rosy name notwithstanding, H.R. 5 would do little to help Latino students succeed. Instead, the bill would significantly undermine the gains made by Latino students since NCLB was implemented in 2002. H.R. 5 would weaken accountability measures, potentially end annual student assessments, and significantly erode the gains made by Latino students since the reforms of NCLB began to level the educational playing field.

Though No Child Left Behind is hardly a perfect initiative, the law has done substantial work in improving the math and reading scores of Latino students over the past 10 years. NCLB's central tenet that no student should slip through the cracks plays out in three broad practices: annual testing of students in math and language arts, performance targets, and subgroup accountability. The widespread adoption of these practices over the past 10 years holds significant civil-rights implications for the Latino population. Consider, for instance, the third piece of the NCLB trio: subgroup accountability. When Latino student performance is tracked distinctly (prior to NCLB, performance was recorded as part of a formless, unhelpful aggregate), parents, advocates, and public servants are able to learn exactly who is flourishing and who is not. Subgroup accountability means that education advocates have been able to push school districts that fail to educate their Latino students, as is too often the case, and this pressure has led to increased performance among Hispanic youth. Latinos cannot afford to abandon this badly needed reform when inequities still run rampant throughout our education system.

After all, despite the past decade's gains in Latino math and reading scores, Hispanic Americans still lag far behind all other ethnic groups when it comes to educational achievement. Only 13.1 percent of Latinos aged 25 to 29 had completed a bachelor's degree or higher in 2012, for instance, while 17.8 percent of blacks, 31.1 percent of whites, and 50.4 percent of Asian Americans held that credential. This is occurring in an economy where experts forecast that by 2018, some 63 percent of jobs will require at least a college degree. Meanwhile, 30 percent of our K-12 students will be Hispanic by 2023, and 20 percent of American workers will be Latino by 2020. What this will all add up to, if things don't change, is an undereducated population that will not be able to find work in a 21st-century economy. Our educational policy cannot abandon Latinos to undereducation and subsequent underemployment, yet this is precisely the track Congress seems to be putting Latino students on.

Confronted with this inequitable state of affairs, H.R. 5 offers the following nonsolutions:

  1. Divesting states of the responsibility for closing achievement gaps between subgroups of students.

  • Lowering education funding to 2012 levels, locking in educational invests to a mere $800 million over the next six years, and eliminating provisions that prevent states and municipalities from inadequately funding our public schools.
  • Crippling funding for English-language-learning programs and distorting the effective functioning of academic-support schemes for English language learners.
  • Enabling school districts to subsidize affluent, suburban schools with money intended for needy schools that need it most.
  • Clearly, none of these proposals would do anything for Latino students, who remain underserved and undereducated in a rapidly changing economy. At a time when stark achievement gaps between subgroups of students remain unresolved, when increased funding in education is more badly needed than ever, and when too many schools are too often seeking to exempt English language learners from their accountability systems, H.R. 5 threatens to exacerbate the educational inequities that have long held back Latino students in our schools and have held back Latino graduates in the workforce.