Latino education has improved but we have work ahead

By Ana Martinez, Midwest Regional Executive Director, New Leaders, National Institute for Latino School Leaders

I am a U.S. citizen who was born in El Salvador at a time of civil turmoil. Like many others from that country, my family fled to the United States in search of the American Dream. One could argue that their journey, at least in terms of my life’s prospects, has paid off. I was the first in my family to go to college and graduate, and the first in my family to have a career of my choice.

However, the reality of the current state of Latinos in our educational system is one in which my story is the exception, not the norm. Now more than ever, the future success of Latinos in our educational system is at stake, and we have a moral obligation to ensure that we are steadfast in our commitment to advancing the Latino community.

There is no denying that conditions have changed and that there has been movement in the right direction when it comes to Latinos in education. Latino students have historically had scores below the national average for math and reading when looking at the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), but have demonstrated double-digit improvement over the last 10 years. The high school completion rate has also increased (from 57% to 65%) while school dropouts have decreased by 50%. Even more impressive is the fact that college enrollment for Latinos immediately after high school is occurring at a higher rate than for White or Black students. These are the conditions that certainly made my story—and the story of several other Latinos—possible.

Our challenge is one of scale, one in which we must arm ourselves with strategies in order to multiply the number of Latinos who succeed and create generations of Latinos who not only enter, but lead, multiple professional sectors across our country.

While I wouldn’t assume that I alone have the answers, I offer three thoughts:

Latinos Must Lead from the C-Suite

In my short career, I have had the privilege to be inspired by a handful of Latinos who “made it.” Though we have Latinos leading school districts and sitting with the president in the midst of finalizing federal educational mandates, it is not enough to simply have one (or even two) Latinos in these spaces. The power of numbers in these spaces is the opportunity to create discourse that truly transforms how people think and, therefore, how people behave. We have an obligation to pursue our potential with relentless, unwavering tenacity .

Latinos Must Pave the Way for Others

The improving conditions have supported some of us in making it to the “other side.” We have an obligation to not only get a seat at the table, but to make room for others who are meant to disrupt the status quo. Those of us who have experienced success must operate with a deep conviction (regardless of position) that we have the responsibility to reach out and help another Latino achieve their maximum potential. This is called networking.

Latinos Must Keep Our Culture Alive

Our culture is deep and rich. We have much to offer the world and our country. In order for us to keep our culture alive, it’s critical we get clear on our values and our core in pursuit of our dreams—otherwise we negotiate our ability to keep our culture alive and authentic.

So while conditions have improved, our future rests on our ability to maximize our current visibility, increase the number of Latinos who work with us, and maintain a steadfast conviction to keep our culture and our traditions alive. We are people who risk our lives in pursuit of our dreams!

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