The Largest Minority’s Pending Subject: Improving School Performance.

by Victoria Cepeda

The late Jaime Escalante said that “the day someone quits school he is condemning himself to a future of poverty.”  As if foretelling the future, Mr. Escalante, who taught to a predominantly Latino student body, spoke with conviction based on his experience.

Years later, our pending assignment, as the largest US minority, is to decrease high school dropout rates,  increase college graduation rates and stimulate our young ones’ intellect enough to enable them to perform better in school.

What are we doing wrong?  Why does the  importance of education fails to reach a significant percentage of our kids and teenagers?

While I recognize the challenges that budget cuts and underfunding cause in our school districts,  there seems to be something else amiss.  I mean let us take a look outside of our ethnic group and take the Asian-American community as an example. They are a minority that can boast about their kids performing well in school and exemplary graduation rates, well within the 90th percentile. However, Asian-Americans comprise only a 4.8% of the U.S. population as of 2010. How do they accomplish such success in education? We are just unable to surpass Asian Americans when it comes to school performance, albeit making up for triple of their population. Their children’s rigorous studying habits pays off with scholarships, attendance to good colleges and access to high paying jobs.

Conversely, Latinos/Hispanics account for a total population rate of 16.8% in the U.S. but lead the pack in high school drop out rates. We have yet to reach a 20% in college graduation rates.  Yet, I sense  a high level of complacency within our community when it comes to education. As if our children are not deserving enough. By acquiescing the status quo, we are complying with what is expected of us; to stay down and uneducated.

I do understand that many parents work long hours, lack a high school diploma and are not fluent in English. Yet, would they not want their kids to break the cycle?  Yes, financial hardship and high unemployment rates also have  a lot to do with what ails our community but so does absentee parenting, rearing multiple children and stress levels that leave some parents  too tired to do anything else. “I am unable to help my son/daughter with homework because I am not fluent in English”  is often heard as the basis for not helping kids at home. However, to instill solid studying habits we need not be fluent in any language. We only need to teach our children discipline. After all,  other minority groups living in America could claim the same issue of language barriers, right?

What I am trying to say familia is that if a balance is not carefully attained between entertainment, leisure and education the end result is dismal school performance. The streets and schools do not educate or raise our children, we do.

But not all is bad news. Just a  few months ago, we published an encouraging news disclosed by Harvard College where 12 percent of their incoming class was of Latino descent.  Although Harvard is not representative of overall Latino college attendance given its Ivy League status, we undeniably applaud the youngsters that accomplished such feat, regardless of whether they were middle class or from urban areas.  Same goes to all those attending community colleges, technical and vocational schools and getting their associates degree.  We cannot ignore that such achievements can be obtained when parents and students decide that an education is of utmost importance, not a luxury.

I am of the opinion that parents that could allocate a good portion of their income, or time,  towards their children’s extracurricular activities, college prep programs and tutoring set the tone. They are positioning their children on the right track. After all, scholarship granting institutions reward kids that overcome financial hardship or display a consistent committment to their education all while finding time to give back to their communities. The predominant profile of a scholarship recipients is a multi-tasker and idle-adverse individual with parents that do not relent and demand good school performance.

By no means this is a finger pointing exercise but a public plea. I believe that most of us are already reaching out and promoting good school habits. So I would not want to be seen as preaching to the choir. To the contrary, let us continue to mentor, foster and promote the importance of a high school graduation. Even those not  interested or prepared for college  have countless opportunities awaiting if they only set out to find them. The sky is also the limit and the possibilities are just as endless. Consequently, we should also promote vocation and technical skill building programs.

Yes, we are a sizable demographics but should not just be perceived as consumers willing to dish out hundreds of dollars on arrays of products while appearing unaffected by our kids’ school underperforming trend.  Let us take notes from Asian Americans that although accounting for only 4.8 of the U.S. population, have surpassed even Whites in  college placement tests scores and college graduation rate.

Don Jaime Escalante knew very well what he was talking about and led by example. Can we, at least, try to do the same?

Latino College Graduation Rate An Issue for Everyone.


Science Education and Latino Students (LULAC)

Latinos and Education: Explaining The Attainment Gap

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