The largest and fastest-growing minority group in the United States is also chronically underserved by the nation's public schools.
A report released Wednesday by the White House and the U.S. Department of Education details the current crisis in Latino education. While one in four American children is Latino, according to the document, the demographic has "the lowest education attainment levels" in the country.
More than 17.1 million Latinos younger than age 17 live in the U.S., comprising more than 23 percent of the country’s youth and nearly 22 percent of all K-12 public school enrollment, the report, titled "Winning the Future: Improving Education for the Latino Community," outlines.
But less than half of such youths are enrolled in early learning programs. Only half of the population earns a high school diploma on time, and when those students do, they’re half as likely to be ready for college. As the report notes, only 13 percent of the population hold Bachelors degrees.
“There is no doubt that the future of the United States is inextricably tied to the future of the Hispanic community,” President Obama stated in the document, which ties the state of Latino education to Obama’s 2020 goal of having the country lead the world in college graduates. As the report notes, if the Latino population continues to lag behind in education, that objective cannot be met.
Some Latino education advocates argue the 28-page report lacks new material, despite its public rollout. “It’s just telling me what we’ve known for years,” said Mariela Dabbah, founder of latinosincollege.com, an online resource geared towards preparing the Latino community for higher education.
Dabbah said she heard the president mention his goal during his inauguration speech, and immediately thought it would be unattainable without a clear focus on Latino learning. “I wrote about this two years ago,” she said.
But the explicit spotlight on Latino education from the federal level is new, said Enrique Murillo, Jr., executive director of Latino Education and Advocacy Days, a program based at California State University, San Bernardino. “What is different here from this report is that other people have said it, but it’s important that the president says it explicitly: The competitive strength of the United States in a global economy depends and will continue to depend on the positive educational outcomes on Latino students.”
Murillo stressed that as the Latino population grows, the U.S. economy becomes more and more dependent on its success. “Our participation in the formal economy and civic engagement is not keeping up to par with our population growth,” he said. “Education is the economic imperative of our time. Latino students disproportionately bear the burden of the education crisis.”
The report offers a number of solutions, including various investments in early childhood, such as directing more funds toward programs that focus on comprehensive education like HeadStart and Race to the Top; a reliance on community colleges; private-public partnerships; and more attention paid to science and mathematics instruction.
The document also deemed currently-enacted No Child Left Behind legislation “too rigid, punitive, and prescriptive.” The administration’s proposed reform of the law, according to the report, would make parameters more flexible by emphasizing competitive grants for states and school districts.
Dabbah remains skeptical about the novelty of these approaches. “The truth is that I don’t think there are a lot of education ideas that are new,” she said. “It’s a question of what can be implemented and how.” She added that she thought the White House’s general focus on holding schools accountable for student performance benefited the Latino community.
The timing of the report's release, though, appeared suspicious to her. "While it would never be explicitly voiced by the administration, there clearly is an interest of satisfying the critically important Latino voting block, specially in view of the failure to pass immigration reform," Dabbah said.
The U.S. Department Education did not respond to request for comment.