For Tri-Sector Athletes in Education, Latino Education Matters

One of the most troubling aspects of the current Republican primary race is the verbal assault on Latinos. Of course, Donald Trump's xenophobic and racist comments about Latinos being "criminals and rapists" and stressing how he would use his experience as a real estate developer to improve upon the fence to keep "Mexicans" out are well documented.

Other Republican candidates have opportunistically weighed in about immigration, with Latinos, again, being the scapegoat for what is broken about the system, although comprehensive immigration reform would also benefit Africans, Middle Eastern and Asians, groups who have immigrated to the United States in increasing numbers.

Democratic candidates are taking the higher road from Republican candidates, steering clear of immigrant bashing. But they are still myopically one-note, promoting immigration as the sole Latino issue and are essentially tone-deaf to other concerns of this growing, diverse population.

If one looks at the research, Latinos will make up over 30 percent of the U.S. population by 2050. What is glaringly obvious is that Latinos are the present and the future of the United States. Yet, ironically, their voices are virtually excluded from the broader public conversations on education in the U.S.

Why are Latino voices excluded? Well, I posit that although we disaggregate the achievement of Asians, Blacks and Latinos in the National Assessment of Educational Progress and other data, we still view education through an outdated black/white binary, where the achievement gap between black and white students still drives public discourse.

This is not to say we should discard a focus on the achievement of black students, given historical discrimination and current hyper-segregation in schools. However, when discussing issues in media or in policy circles at the state and local levels, Latino issues tend be simplified and subsumed into "black education" issues, without any real distinction or scrutiny, only until concerns of "bilingualism" or "immigrant status" emerges. This reductionist approach has implications. It allows us to collapse concerns into each other as if they are the same, and take our eyes off of the diverse needs of Latinos as well as black children.

Although Latinos have made significant gains in education since the 1990s, there are still deep challenges. According to the 2011 report of National Institute for Early Education Research, 30 percent of the nation's are served by publicly funded early childhood education, and Latino children have the lowest rates of enrollment among major ethnic groups. Further, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, in 2011, stated that more than four of every five Hispanic children (81 percent) were not reading proficiently by fourth grade.

In K-12 school systems, nationally, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics, Latinos make up almost 1 in 4 students, while only 7 percent of all public school teachers are Latino. In the post-secondary space, Latinos make up 25 percent of the pursuing higher education in the United States, but they are generally found in community colleges, and those receiving a bachelor's degree from four year colleges has remained stagnant at just 13 percent.

Since my blog focuses more on solutions, I am pleased to see that the Obama administration has taken strides to focus on Latino education. President Obama's Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, made up of prominent Latino tri-sector athletes in education has put forth an agenda to address the needs of this growing, diverse community.

Lisette Nieves, a brilliant national tri-sector athlete in education and co-chair of the Post-Secondary Education Subcommittee of the White House Commission, states "Latinos are the largest and fastest growing population in the U.S. and yet we are lagging in educational attainment. We are America and we are the future - investing in policy strategies that create positive outcomes for Latinos helps America."

Echoing this sentiment, President Obama recently during Hispanic Heritage month announced a collective investment initiative of $335 million for cradle-to-career support for Latino education. This commitment to action leverages 150 initiatives that are tri-sector in nature, pulling on state, local, philanthropic and corporate support. This has also sparked a popular social media campaign: #LatinosAchieve.

With this groundswell of support from the White House, Latino tri-sector athletes in education are pushing the envelope to find solutions to challenges facing Latino communities. Amanda Fernandez, former Vice President of Latino Ventures at Teach for America has joined forces with Lisette Nieves, as well as with other prominent national Latina leaders to found, Somos Latinos.

Somos Latinos (We Are Latinos) is a non-profit education organization that is focused on civic change by addressing existing barriers to educational attainment for Latinos in the U.S. The organization tackles this issue by breaking through the Latino leadership deficit and increasing the number of Latinos in high impact roles in education to fully represent the population of the Latino community and we will work to unite the Latino community's strengths and voice to demand an equitable education for Latino children.

Amanda Fernandez, founding CEO of Somos Latinos, states, "Somos Latinos seeks to take a holistic view of k-16 education. We also need leaders as advocates collaborating across the continuum. Latinos should be at the forefront of defining outcomes and what progress should look like and should be driving the changes we seek."
The founders are positioning Somos Latinos as a driving force to keep education at the center of the public discourse on education. Fernandez states, "I often use the quote with Latinos in education who are frustrated by lack of leadership and collective voice: "if not us who? if not now when? It is our time as a Latino community and Somos Latinos will be part of the solution."