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Since my tenure on the school board, I’ve been an advocate of investing in raising expectations for Latino students. With my ongoing blog discussion about this issue, I’ve heard from many readers, especially teachers. One educator wrote, “It all starts with the priorities in the home.” Another commented that, “Latino parents need to know that their involvement is critical and necessary.”
A parent responded to the teacher comments by asking, “Can you educate parents on district policies for enrolling our kids and what to do?” That’s an important question. Another teacher agreed with that parent and described how she and her colleagues invest time in families because “parents want to help their kids but they don’t have the tools to do it.” So who’s right?
They’re all correct. Every study about student success identifies strong parent support as an essential factor. This component makes up one of the four legs of the stool that holds up high achievement in school. The other three legs are high academic standards, sufficient resources, and high student expectations. California schools are addressing standards and resources, but haven’t invested in engaging Latino parents or raising student expectations. Why is this?
Raising academic standards and allocating sufficient resources are concepts that are easy to understand. Test score goals and a college-prep curriculum are measurable, so policymakers just need to adjust the benchmarks to raise those standards, which is starting to happen around the state. Governor Jerry Brown’s Local Control Funding Formula provides school districts with funding based on the demographic profile of their students, so financially underprivileged students will have more access to resources.
Increasing parent engagement and raising student expectations are harder to understand. Immigrant Latino parents know little or nothing about our school system and American-born Latino parents are products of the very same system of low expectations that is hampering their kids. Our school systems can’t expect parents to set academic priorities for their children if they don’t even have the means to understanding those priorities.
The misconception within education circles is that Latino parents don’t care about academic success and don’t make school a priority at home. When I served on the school board in east San Jose, a predominately Latino community, I found the opposite to be true. Latino parents were constantly asking me for advice about how to access district administration to share their concerns and seek counsel for their children.
Many school districts have active Latino parent groups that advocate for their students with few resources allocated by the district. With the new funding formula, school leaders now have an opportunity to invest in parent groups that want to be more engaged with their students’ education. For those who say ALL parent organizations, not just Latino parents, should have access to more district resources, my answer is “absolutely yes.”
Raising expectations for Latino students is a little trickier. This is an issue I’ve discussed in past posts. Proponents of educational equity and culturally relevant teacher development have argued with solid evidence that school systems have been historically biased along racial lines, thus creating an environment of low expectations for students of color. In fact, educational equity experts call this the “missing link” in academic achievement. I call it the fourth leg on the stool.
Despite recommendations from the state superintendent of schools and a Silicon Valley Education Foundation report, investing in a comprehensive program to address these real issues has been non-existent. During the last decade of school budget-cutting, policymakers haven’t even considered addressing the fourth leg of the stool. Local control funding provides a historic opportunity to change this.
Academic standards are rising and new school funding formulas are increasing resources. With a growing Latino population, our education leaders can no longer accept the argument that the foundation of academic achievement can only be started “with priorities in the home,” especially when parents are asking for the tools to build that foundation. Educators play a major role in the foundation of academic success and it must start with high student expectations.
By the same token, Latino parents can no longer relinquish the role of setting the foundation of academic success solely on the school system. If school systems provide tools for parents and welcome them to engage in their children’s education, then Latino parents must meet their obligations and responsibilities to guide students toward a successful academic career.
Ensuring a robust economic future for California will hinge on the success of today’s Latino students, who will make up a majority of the state’s breadwinners within a generation. We can no longer put all of the responsibility on the school system, nor can the school system merely rely on the home to achieve this. California’s future rests on a team effort. Schools need to provide all four legs of the stool to achieve success, and Latino parents and students need to answer the call.
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