Soledad O'Brien Explores Education in America for CNN & Latina Magazine

CNN anchor and special correspondent Soledad O’Brien has joined Latina magazine as a contributing editor with a quarterly magazine column highlighting the social and cultural issues affecting Latinos. Her new column, Beyond the Numbers, debuts in the June-July 2011 issue with a column exploring education in the United States. In the column she profiles Maria Castro, a brilliant young Latina student who is smart, talented and ambitious but still finds the educational system is failing her.

Read an excerpt from her column below and be sure to check out O'Brien's special Don’t Fail Me: Education in America airing Sunday, May 15 at 8:00pm ET & PT on CNN.

Beyond the Numbers: Project Graduate
Will She Get Into the College of Her Dreams?

It’s her lunch break on a sunny afternoon in Phoenix, and instead of chatting with friends in the courtyard, 17-year-old Maria Castro is standing in front of a white board inside Carl Hayden Community High School. She has a fat red marker in her hand and is furiously scribbling around a triangle while muttering about sine and cosine.

“We’re studying for a final,” she explains while solving for angles. “We have a math final today.” It is mid-January, just days into the new semester, which is a strange time for a final, but this math class is unusual. It is taught after school and crams two years of math into two semesters. Maria, a junior, is not complaining. She is the one who created the math class once she figured out during her sophomore year that she wasn’t on track to take calculus before graduation.

“To get into a good university,” she tells me earnestly, “I have to have taken—at a minimum—calculus.” Maria’s sights are set very high. Her first choice college is Stanford. “She’s an exemplary student. I am very proud,” her mother tells me in Spanish as I sit on the Castro front porch.

Although Latino students make up one-fifth of the school-age population in America and will be 30 percent of the national adult population by 2050, 2011only half of Maria’s Latino peers graduate on time. At her school, half of the students don’t pass Arizona’s proficiency exams, which means they don’t meet the bar for basic knowledge in math, reading and science.

To read more, pick up the June/July Issue of Latina magazine