The Latino Ed Roundup: The destruction of education as a public good

Welcome to our new education roundup. Each week, we’ll share stories and insights from around the web and examine them under a Latino lens. We’ll keep you informed on what’s happening in schools and colleges in the U.S. and how it affects you. 

This week: Why school segregation is on the rise; gifted programs aren’t just for White kids; and the desperate need for more diverse teachers.

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Compiled and written by Gabriela Montell, Communications Manager, UnidosUS

DeVos and the slow destruction of education as a public good

It’s hard to believe Betsy DeVos is only a year into her tenure as Secretary of Education. For those who think public education and civil rights are good things, it feels like eons. While she hasn’t yet made good on her promise to demolish the Department of Education, she’s found numerous ways to undermine it and undo civil-rights protections for students, too. An article from Time details some of the damage.

Why segregation is alive and well in American public schools

Of course, bigotry and inequality in America’s education system are nothing new. (In fact, the system is nearly as segregated now as it was after the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that racial segregation of children in public schools was unconstitutional.) That’s thanks largely to how it’s funded, and the new Republican tax law is about to make things more lopsided. So says Clint Smith in a recent article on CityLab.


Smith, a freelance writer and Ph.D. candidate at Harvard University, notes that the kids who attend the most impoverished public schools are predominantly from minority working-class households, and it’s no secret why: Funding for public-school districts has long been linked to local property taxes, so poorer districts with lower home prices have less money to pass on to schools. According to recent data from the Department of Education, the poorest 25 percent of districts receive 15 percent less funds per student from state and local governments than the richest 25 percent of districts, he writes.

Students - ESSA implementationAs if that weren’t troubling enough, the new Republican tax overhaul includes a change that’s sure to widen that gap significantly and might best be described as a federally supported school-choice scheme sans vouchers (aka the aforementioned DeVos’s dreams come true). It lets families that can afford to (translation: well-to-do White people) use up to $10,000 from tax-free 529 savings plans for private-school tuition, which means more affluent and middle-class parents may withdraw their kids from public schools, Smith explains. That could hurt education budgets – which are tied to enrollment – divert more money from already struggling public schools and students who need it most, and deepen school segregation, he adds.

Meanwhile, residents of high-tax states like California and New York – home to many Latinos – might be in for another shock, as the new $10,000 limits on federal deductions for state and local taxes could increase their federal tax bills and make it even tougher for those states and the cities therein to fund schools, says Smith.

He points to a recent NEA study, which predicts that over the next 10 years the new tax law will “blow a $150 billion hole in state and local revenue earmarked for elementary and secondary schools” and that California and New York stand to lose over $35 billion and $31 billion respectively.

It’s fair to say that this will raise inequality and erect more educational hurdles for black and Latino students who already suffer disproportionately from a lack of adequate resources, instruction and affordable school options.

Back to schoolNikole Hannah-Jones, an investigative journalist known for her stories on race and segregation, would argue that the system is working precisely as planned. In a recent interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, The Atlantic’s editor-in-chief, she explained that inequality and segregation aren’t accidental: White Americans “want segregation,” she argued, noting that even in integrated communities, there’s school segregation. “In communities that are gentrifying, the gentrification stops at the schoolhouse door. White communities want neighborhood schools if their neighborhood school is white.” But if their school is majority black or brown, “they want choice,” Hannah-Jones said.

One woman wants to change that. In an article in Pacific Standard, Courtney Everts Mykytyn says the White gentrification of cities offers an ideal opportunity to rectify long-standing educational inequities and desegregate public schools (since wherever well-to-do White people go, resources tend to follow). That’s assuming cities can get White people to go along, though.

That’s why Mykytyn sent her kids (now high-schoolers) to the largely Latino public schools in her Los Angeles neighborhood from the time they were kindergarteners onward. She also created Integrated Schools, an organization whose mission is to convince White families like hers to walk the talk on racial equality and integration by putting their progeny in public schools.

That’s easier said than done, of course. While the benefits for minority kids – e.g., better test scores, better resources, and a better education – are routinely touted, it’s harder to sell White parents on the idea of sending their kids to impoverished schools, she admits. A typical fear is that it’ll hurt their kids’ test scores, despite research to the contrary. Mykytyn maintains, though, that there are upsides for White kids and families willing to take the plunge, not least of which is learning to navigate an increasingly diverse world.

In fact, there’s plenty of evidence that diverse schools teach White students greater collaborative skills, empathy, and resilience, too – which are all highly marketable skills in today’s business world.

The incredible whiteness of gifted education

It should surprise no one that studies show that White students get far more educational encouragement at school than their minority student counterparts, who often suffer from what George W. Bush called “the soft bigotry of low expectations.”

Nowhere is this more apparent than school gifted programs, for which low-income Latino and black students are 250 percent less likely than their wealthier White peers to be selected (per data from the National Center for Research on Gifted) – even when their test scores are comparable – notes an article on The 74 about a failed Washington State bill that would have made universal screening for gifted students mandatory. The question is, Why?

ESSA Infographic for Parents

It turns out one reason is that Latino and black families rarely make appeals that might get their kids admitted, an article in the Washington Post reports. Those parents may not even be aware that they have a right to challenge the process when their kids don’t qualify; others don’t have the $500 or so that it typically costs to hire a psychologist to re-test their kids, the Post article notes.

In the case of Latinos, another likely explanation might be language fluency or the presumed lack thereof. While entrée into gifted programs shouldn’t hinge on English language proficiency, the reality is that students who are English Language Learners may be more easily overlooked.

Marginalized students need more teachers who look like them

Increasing teacher diversity might be a good way to address that issue and expand academic opportunities for minority students. According to a recent article in Education Week, only 9 percent of public-school instructors are Hispanic – and, of those, a mere 2 percent are Hispanic men. That’s paltry considering that Hispanics are the fastest-growing group in the country and a quarter of K-12 students in the U.S. are Hispanic, writes Madeline Will, a reporter for the weekly publication on pre-collegiate education.

Rodney E. Van speaks with students about the Pathways to Justice Careers program.A new report by The Education Trust zeroes in on that divide and examines the thorny challenges of getting more Latinos to select – and stick with – teaching careers.

Ms. Will’s article, meanwhile, looks at some programs – like NxtGEN and Pathways2Teaching – that are working to get more teachers of color into the pipeline and help school districts bring them on board.

Ray Salazar, a long-time educator in the Chicago public school system, hopes they’ll succeed. He’s a self-described “white rhino,” who noted in a recent blog post that in his more than two decades of teaching, he’s been the first (and often the only) male Latino English instructor at every high school at which he’s ever taught.

A spotlight on public schools in Puerto Rico

Unfortunately, it may take more than that to resuscitate Puerto Rico’s educational system, which nearly five months after Hurricane Maria is hurtinghanging by a thread and facing a massive drop in enrollment and countless school closures.

But more on that next time.