My View: Latino voting power can create better education reform
Residents vote on election day in Sun Valley's Latino district, Los Angeles County, on November 6, 2012 in California.
November 20th, 2012
04:06 AM ET

My View: Latino voting power can create better education reform

Courtesy Sandra SteinbrecherBy Ray Salazar, Special to CNN

Editor’s Note: Ray Salazar is a National Board Certified English teacher in the Chicago Public Schools. He writes about education and Latino issues on the White Rhino Blog. Follow him on Twitter @whiterhinoray.

(CNN) - Finally, Republicans and Democrats know that they need more than mariachis playing behind them to win the Latino vote. By now, almost everyone heard about the Latino influence this presidential election.

The signs were everywhere. Maybe this is the 2012 cosmic event predicted by the Mayan calendar. Now, President Obama must recognize Latino views as he moves forward with economic recovery and immigration policy and farther with education reform.

None of the parties should have been surprised by the Latino vote.  On October 7, CNN’s “Latino in America: Courting the Latino Vote” reported that more than 60,000 Latinos turn 18 each month across the country, and we care about more than immigration. When Latinos were given a choice between what’s more important, immigration or the economy, 74% chose the economy.

Obama’s modified DREAM Act did, though, help secure 71% of the Latino vote. Romney’s unclear view of immigration reform contributed to only 27% of his Latino vote. 

More notably, the Latino vote for Obama exceeded the national Latino average in some battleground states: 87% in Colorado, 80% in Nevada and 82% in Ohio.

These votes indicate that the conversations need to change. For too long, education reform remained a black and white issue, racially and politically. Our educational system as is does not work, especially not for Latinos. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the Latino dropout rate is almost double that of African-Americans and about three times higher than that of whites.

Because of our newfound political power, Latinos must now demand education reform that creates long-term improvement in our communities. We have to stop being like that smart, quiet Latino student who sits in class, barely expressing his opinion if, by chance, he’s called on.

Some may say Latino communities are diverse and needs are too distinct for national policies. Latino communities do differ. The realities of Southwest, Midwest, Northeast and all U.S. Latinos are defined by diverse cultural, historical, social and economic challenges.

Despite our differences, however, an education-reform movement that creates more Latino achievement is quite simple to explain.

1. Students first: Education-policy decisions at the local and national level need to be beneficial for students and manageable for teachers.

One education policy change proposed during Obama’s January State of the Union Address pushed state leaders to change the legal dropout age to 18. While the high Latino dropout rate may decrease, we cannot simply keep students in school so they are in school. My first teaching job was at an alternative high school for former dropouts. Five teachers ran this school in an old apartment building for about 100 students. We needed help from a smaller counseling unit, a young moms’ guidance group, collaboration with students’ parole officers. Many promising students dropped out again because of economic and social pressures outside their, and our, control.

Forcing students to stay in high school until they’re 18 sounds like putting students first, but it’s not. Instead, this creates insurmountable situations if schools lack resources to solidly partner with counseling, parenting and job-training organizations.

The traditional high-school experience of six to eight classes a day for four years must change. Students need credit-earning internships, dual-credit college classes, counseling sessions. Good teachers want to create innovative learning experiences inside and outside of the classroom.  We need increased funding and flexibility.

For too long, Latino students’ needs remained last. Unfortunately, many of us can explain how and why - in fluent English.

2. High expectations: If schools with high percentages of low-income youth receive more funding and flexibility, we need to ensure that adults in the building believe Latino students can succeed at higher levels.

Too often, we hear teachers blamed for Latino students’ lack of achievement. More often, we hear Latino parents blamed for their own students’ failure. The truth is, if a student is in a building for six or seven hours a day (and many of them are), schools should be able to show a behavioral or academic change in almost every student.

According to the Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago , “The single most consistent predictor of whether students took steps toward college enrollment was whether their teachers reported that their high school had a strong college climate, that is, they and their colleagues pushed students to go to college, worked to ensure that students would be prepared, and were involved in supporting students in completing their college applications.”

Latinos need to demand that teachers and school leaders stop using poverty as a scapegoat.  And if bad teachers and ineffective leaders remain in the building, they need to be removed more easily.

3. More options: Latino students - all students - should be able to attend any of the district’s schools.

Usually, a student’s school is determined by where he lives.  What if students were free to attend any public school in their city?  In Chicago, there’s some policy talk that eighth-graders will no longer have to automatically attend their neighborhood high schools (usually a struggling school closest to their home).  Supposedly, eighth-graders will be able to apply to any neighborhood high school in the city.  We’ll see.

If students have citywide options, we would decrease economic and racial segregation.  District leaders would be forced to ensure that all schools receive equal resources.  Low-income students would have access to newer school buildings with more computer labs and classrooms with more than one working outlet.  Affluent diverse suburbs, like Evanston, where NorthwesternUniversity is located, combine low-income and high-income students in one building. All students receive a quality education. Of course, this suburban district’s funding is different from the city’s. Citywide options would force state leaders to redesign school funding for the benefit of all students.

Latinos cannot be afraid to say we need education reform. We cannot become silent again, waiting for someone to ask us what we think. We cannot fear the fact that we have, for once, political power capable of changing our nation.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ray Salazar.

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Filed under: 2012 Election • Issues • Latino students • Voices
soundoff (21 Responses)
  1. KeninTexas

    He said "Obama’s modified DREAM Act did, though, help secure 71% of the Latino vote." I think you can replace the word "secure the Latino vote" with "buy the Latino vote".

    November 23, 2012 at 9:46 am |
    • Ray Salazar

      Kenin Texas, other groups–mostly affluent–have used their political power to gain social change that benefits them and only them. The DREAM Act benefits this country. Furthermore, democracy is about electing officials that will represents people's views. It sounds like your discomfort here comes from the fact that a non-traditional group is now having an influence on our, your, country.

      November 24, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
  2. bhutrus bhutrus bhutrus

    America was founded on immigrants. Those immigrants did not demand special treatment, materials printed in their native language, English as a second language, etc. Those immigrants assimilated into American society while keeping their traditions. Too often today, immigrants seem to be in one's face!

    November 22, 2012 at 12:05 am |
    • Ray Salazar

      Those immigrants did not have to face the anti-immigrant sentiment today's immigrants face. There were lots of fields and open land for them to take. That reality was different from today's struggles. Today's immigrants have it harder.

      November 24, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
      • jonat

        You are woefully uninformed on our history. I'll give you one example: When the Irish walked down the gangway of their ships that brought them to the new world, they were met by the local "draft board" if they did not have $300 to buy their way out of the Army they were immediately drafted into the Army and sent off to fight for the North in the civil war. Hispanics have it easy compared to all other groups that came to America.

        November 24, 2012 at 9:14 pm |
      • Ray Salazar

        Jonat, I guess if you believe today's Hispanics have it very easy, you probably think that people are poor because they want to be. I won't argue with that logic.

        November 25, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
      • pam

        as a teacher of us history, i hear too often, "i dont need a job cuz i gets a check". when we stop with "the checks", making it too easy to live on, then maybe we will see an increase in high school graduation. why become a citizen in the us? that means having to pay taxes, etc., unless you get on government assistance, then everything is free, or remain illegal, then its still free. i work 2 jobs to have what i have. i cant afford the manicures and pedicures i see others get, while they are living on government assistance, and my grocery cart is 1/2 full of "coupon" groceries, or store labels, not top of the line. as a society, we have made it too easy to NOT be educated, or even to get a job! there will be no changes in our country until we start changing the government assistance program. no matter what i do to make class fun, interesting, worthy, i feel at the end of the day, i've done nothing but been an under-paid babysitter. deadlines on classwork mean nothing, cheating is "okay", sleeping daily, roaming the halls, and i'm told "dont worry, he's an at-risk kid so be gentle with him". therein lies the problem!!! STOP

        November 26, 2012 at 6:32 am |
      • Ray Salazar

        Pam, you have gone over the philosophical cliff. Your ideas are not related to any of the three points I make.

        November 26, 2012 at 8:48 pm |
      • Ray Salazar

        Pam, I thought I would follow up on your comment. Who is telling you "Dont worry, he's an at-risk kid so be gentle with him"? It's not me or my commentary. It sounds like this might fit with point #2 in my commentary. Please see the last paragraph in that section.

        November 28, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
  3. Megan

    i think that latinos should have equal rights. we all deserve to have the same respects and opportunities in a learning environment

    November 20, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
    • elbob248

      Equal, not superior rights, like they are constantly demanding.

      November 22, 2012 at 9:58 am |
      • Ray Salazar

        elbob248: This is nothing here that would make us superior. It would make us equal to groups currently in power. THAT's what's threatening for you.

        November 24, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
    • Ray Salazar

      Thank you for commenting, Megan.

      November 24, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
      • elbob248

        I'm not threatened, I'm irritated by people refusal to assimilate. And get over your lame argument about ancestors. There are laws now that did not exist then. Don't like them? Do something about it.

        November 25, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
      • elbob248

        I'm not threatened, I'm irritated by people's refusal to assimilate. And get over your lame argument about ancestors. There are laws now that did not exist then. Don't like them? Do something about it.

        November 25, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
    • jonat

      Equal rights are earned by not breaking our immigration laws, that's a poor way to start out in a new country

      November 24, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
      • Ray Salazar

        You're correct, Jonat. It sounds like your ancestors did not break any laws. They just hopped on shore, took over, then created laws to keep others from doing the same thing.

        November 25, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
  4. Jacob

    Well I am definetly glad to see that the southern strategy will no longer work for the republicans. I find it hilarious that people keep whining about how much immigration from Mexico is coming into the country, but then they turn around and say we shouldn't target our education system toward them and make the problem even worse.

    November 20, 2012 at 3:50 pm |