We Can't Afford to Let Latino Students Fall Behind

Across the country, American public schools are experiencing a major demographic shift. Latino students are our fastest growing student population, projected to account for 30 percent of public school students by 2023.

Furthermore, current projections expect the U.S. to become a majority-minority country by 2044. With Latino youth today poised to become the leaders of our workforce tomorrow, why aren't we doing more to prevent them from falling behind?

Last month, the annual Building a Grad Nation report analyzed the data behind the increasing national on-time high school graduation rates, and it laid out both some very good news, and some news that has me concerned.

First, the good news: We, as a country, have hit a record high of graduating 81.4 percent of high school students on time, and we are on pace to reach the national goal of 90 percent on-time graduation rate by 2020. Furthermore, these national gains have been driven, in large part, by the increased numbers of minority students graduating on time. The Latino population has made the greatest gains of all, and is also on track to hit the 90 percent mark by 2020.

And yet, despite this progress, the Latino graduation rate is currently 75.2 percent, compared to 86.6 percent for white students. And of the six states that collectively educate more than 70 percent of the nation's Hispanic/Latino students -- California, Texas, Florida, New York, Illinois and Arizona -- only three have graduation rates above the national average for these students.

In Arizona, one of the states that Helios Education Foundation serves, the graduation rate for Hispanic/Latino students is 68.9 percent -- roughly 12 percentage points below the national average for all students.

We know that minority students continue to face barriers to their academic success that push them off track for graduation. Some students face language barriers and lack of access to rigorous coursework that will enable them to be successful in college and career.

The U.S. Department of Education found that 25 percent of high schools with the highest percentages of Black and Latino students don't offer Algebra II, and a third of them don't offer chemistry -- key academic coursework for college and career preparation.

We must pay attention to the data that is before us. We must celebrate the progress that is being made while also accepting the fact that there is more work to do. We also must change the conversation and engage our community leaders -- both civic and private sector -- to embrace the concept that all students deserve access to a high quality education.

Simply put, if Latino students in this country don't succeed, then we as a country won't succeed. The student population in American public schools is changing dramatically; it's time that the systems we put in place to support them adapt with them.