Groups Call on State Policymakers to Address Critical State Education Issues Including Achievement Gaps, Teacher Shortages

NCLR and California Latino Legislative Caucus roundtable highlights challenges, opportunities in public education

SACRAMENTO—Today, NCLR (National Council of la Raza), the California Latino Legislative Caucus and State Senator Ben Hueso, were joined by the ACLU, Migration Policy Institute and the Learning Policy Institute at a roundtable discussion held at the state Capitol where participants discussed significant challenges and opportunities for Latino students and English language learners in the state. California’s public schools continue to contend with teacher shortages and achievement gaps that are critical to address if the schools are to continue graduating students that are college- and career-ready. More than six million students attend California public schools, half of whom are Latino, and many of whom are English language learners.

During the afternoon discussion, participants addressed how state policymakers can do better to address the needs of newcomers, long-term English learners and those who fall in between. How schools deal with the diverse needs of Latino students—those who are in the process of learning the language and those who are native English speakers—is critical. According to expert panelists, these students are often clustered together during accountability discussions leading many to overlook the distinct needs of each. In addition, as states around the country draft their Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plans, participants discussed the critical need to ensure all school leaders attend to the full spectrum of needs across the Latino student population.

“States must be intentional about addressing the unique needs of Latino and English language learner students, and closing achievement gaps for all students. California has the opportunity to recognize and address the diversity within and across these student populations, and to invest in an equitable system that makes sure all students are graduating from high school college- and career-ready,” said Lorén Trull, Senior Policy Advisor, NCLR.

Yet another critical layer of the afternoon discussion was particularly timely given the anti-immigrant, anti-Latino rhetoric from the current administration and the actions of some Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials around the country. Groups like the ACLU, NCLR and members of the California Schools Are Sanctuaries (CASAS) coalition, are working with parents, communities and school leaders to ensure that the constitutional rights of immigrant students are protected and that their families are welcomed into safe and supportive schools. The issue affects a broad base of students, as figures indicate there are nearly one-quarter of a million undocumented school-age children in California, and more than 1.9 million children in the state live in a household with at least one undocumented family member.

“Now, more than ever, California students and families are looking to lawmakers for bold action to promote policies and practices that ensure every student is afforded a safe learning environment, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, and immigration status,” said Sylvia Torres-Guillén, Director of Education Equity for the American Civil Liberties Union of California. “We need policies and practices that ensure every student is afforded a safe learning environment.”

In addition to addressing achievement gaps, equity and accountability, California’s schools are contending with a critical teacher shortage that is projected to grow over the next decade. Currently, California is ranked last in student-to-teacher ratio and bringing the state up to the national average would require an additional 100,000 teachers. Panelists discussed whether current investments in recently enacted budgets are enough to make up that difference and whether it is enough to make sure the state is recruiting and training educators who are prepared to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse student population.

“California is facing a severe teacher shortage and the crisis is most acute in schools in low-income communities and in schools serving higher numbers of students of color and English language learners. But there are research-based solutions being implemented in areas across the country—solutions that policymakers can look to to address this growing problem,” said Patrick Shields, Executive Director, Learning Policy Institute.

The roundtable discussion is part of an ongoing effort by NCLR and partner organizations to lift up issues critical to Latino students and urge policymakers to ensure they are addressing the diverse and growing needs of the state’s children.