NCLR Panel: Government & Parents Must Step Up Education Efforts for Latino Kids

Latinos must organize at the community level in order to better education while the federal government has to start considering factors outside education when it comes to figuring out how to curb the Latino dropout rate, said a panel of education activists and experts—including two Congressmen—at the National Council of La Raza’s annual conference.

On the Monday panel: Sen. Mark Warner—former governor of Virginia credited with much of that state’s education success in recent years—who said that the cost of dropouts to economy was $330 billion in 2010 alone. Education reform that truly helps Latinos, half of whose high school students drop out, and other minorities is “not just the right thing to do but essential to America’s prosperity that we do so.”

Yet, more and more, the federal government seems to be abandoning its “fundamental role as the civil rights cop on the beat,” said Northern California Representative George Miller, senior Democrat on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

Miller attacked a Republican-led House Education Committee decision to no longer require money set aside for minority populations be spent on those populations. “It’ an eviceration of the federal role,” he said, especially given that minority kids get about $1,000 less a year than white students in same size districts, he added.

And “as soon as you go into struggling schools, who do you find?” asked New York University Education Professor Pedro Noguera. “Poor kids, whose non-education needs—health, housing, nutrition—impact learning. But we pretend that we can separate that. We need integrated education policy that integrates all those needs.”

Having said that, Noguera added, parent and community involvement are key. While laws like Los Angeles’ Parent Trigger law, which allows parents unprecedented rights to force changes at low-performing schools, Noguera pointed to Latino-heavy Brownsville, Texas, which he said “is a high poverty area with high-performing schools. Why? Family and community engagement. They treat those children like they’re their children.

If Brownsville, Texas got some help with after-school and pre-school programs and health clinics,” he said, “who knows how far they could go?”