The Importance of Latino Leadership in Education

According to a recent report from the American Council on Education, Hispanics continue to lag behind other racial and ethnic groups in the United States on key measures of academic achievement. While Latinos made the largest gains on high school completion from 1988 to 2008, they remain at the bottom with a distressing completion rate of 70 percent. When it comes to college, the picture is similarly bleak. In 2008, only 28 percent of traditional college-age Hispanics were in college, up from 17 percent two decades earlier.

While there are pockets of progress, we are nowhere close to where we need to be. Too many Latino children in low-income communities are trapped in a cycle of poverty and educational inequity. However, what we do know is that when committed teachers, school leaders, parents and other influencers, provide the necessary supports and inspire Latino children to aim higher academically, they can perform dramatically better, reach their personal goals, and ultimately make critical societal contributions.

Laura Saldivar's story exemplifies the potential impact outstanding teachers and leaders can have on children in low-income communities. Laura attended Jefferson High School in San Antonio, Texas, and was greatly influenced by her high school English Language Arts teacher, Frances Santos. Ms. Santos was the first to arrive in the morning and the last to leave at night and provided a powerful model of what perseverance looked like. Ms. Santos had a consistent message for Laura: You can achieve at the highest levels and create future opportunities if you work hard now. Through Ms. Santos's belief in Laura, Laura worked hard and went above and beyond expectations, matriculating to Georgetown University in 2001.

Motivated to give back to the Latino community, Laura joined Teach For America upon graduation and taught ninth-grade English and English as a second language in the Rio Grande Valley. In her classroom, Laura led more than 80 percent of her students to pass the statewide exam. In 2010, Laura was named the executive director of Teach For America's San Antonio region. Several of the teachers in the San Antonio teaching corps work in Jefferson High School's English department, which Ms. Santos recently chaired.

Laura is just one example of countless stories that highlight the positive effect of teachers in the classroom who have helped their students to achieve beyond what they may have imagined for themselves. In low-income communities across the country, there are more than 8,200 Teach For America teachers preparing 500,000 students, including 200,000 Latino children, for success in academics and in life.

At Teach For America, we have seen that our most effective teachers represent all races, ethnicities, and socioeconomic backgrounds. When such teachers share the backgrounds of the students we serve, however, they have the potential to have a profound additional impact and serve as powerful models for success in education and in life.

That's why Teach For America continues to focus on refining our approaches to recruiting, selecting, training and advancing diverse talent in the movement to end educational inequity. This begins with recruiting at more than 350 schools across the country, including 23 Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs). At the same time, we are expanding partnerships with national Hispanic serving organizations to ensure we have many channels by which to recruit Hispanic talent.

The achievement gap that persists in our country is a massive and urgent problem. Yet we know that it is solvable, and that educational opportunity can make all the difference. By continuing our work to build a pipeline of leaders, with a particular focus on Latino leaders, who will commit to ending educational inequity, we hope to help more Latino children reach their full potential and realize their dreams.