The Next Secretary of Education cannot Ignore the Latino Community
By: Amanda Fernandez
To say that our nation is experiencing an education crisis is an understatement. The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown an already broken system into disarray as we see enrollment and participation numbers decline across the nation, students experiencing significant learning loss, and a generation of educators and students who are experiencing trauma as a result of this pandemic. And that is just the tip of the iceberg. COVID-19 has also pulled back the curtain on the inequities that are endemic to our education system, and the multiple ways this system has underserved and provided unequal opportunities to Latino students.
This should concern all of us. Latinos make-up one third of all school-aged students (a number that will only continue to increase) and will continue to be the backbone of our workforce and economy. Setting them up for success, to be able to pursue and obtain a postsecondary success and get a high-quality education, will pay dividends to both the economic future of our country, and our social fabric.
The next Secretary of Education must prioritize Latino education, especially as we build back a post-covid education system that works for all students. The next Secretary can do this by focusing on the following:
- Early Childhood Education Access. The research is clear that early childhood education sets up young kids for academic success, increases their chances of graduating from high school and going on to college. However, like other education programs, Latinos haven’t had equal access to early childhood education programs and opportunities and the next Secretary of Education should ensure that we provide more opportunities for Latino children to enroll and participate in ECE programs.
- Increased Representation of Latino Education Leaders. While the diversity of our student population has dramatically changed over the past decades, our teaching profession and education leaders still remain predominantly white. This is concerning because the research is clear that when you have teachers and faculty of color in the classroom and board rooms making decisions for students of color, all students benefit. Students perform better academically, parents are more involved, and the climate on campus improves. We need a Secretary of Education that will look at the diversity of our teaching workforce and ensure there are more pipeline opportunities and pathways for Latinos to enter into the education sector, not just for the sake of diversity, but because it will help all students succeed.
- College Access and Attainment. While our schools have done a better job graduating Latino students from high school, and preparing them for college, we know there are still many barriers and lack of opportunity for students to pursue higher education. Factors such as cost to attend, insufficient preparation or support, and legacies of bias in entrance exams and admissions have locked out Latinos students from college opportunity. We need a Secretary of Education that will increase college access and attainment for Latino students.
The next Secretary of Education must also lead with empathy, equity, and put children first. Due to the pandemic, children are facing unprecedented hardships, both in and out of the classroom. The Secretary must be able to understand what children are facing, and act accordingly. That means ensuring that those students who have the fewest resources get the full support of the federal government. Oftentimes, those students are from lower-income households, are children of color, English learners, homeless students, and students with disabilities.
These students need a Secretary of Education who will fight for them and not get caught up in the education wars that are playing out in Washington, DC and many states across the country. Moreover, given that Latinos are the largest growing demographic in our public schools, we need a Secretary who understands the promise our Latino children hold and can bring out the best in them. When Latino students succeed, America succeeds.
About Amanda Fernandez
Amanda Fernandez is the CEO and co-founder of Latinos for Education, the first Latino-founded and led national organization dedicated to creating leadership pathways for emerging Latino education leaders and diversifying education nonprofit boards. She is a Trustee of the Board with the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and Roxbury Community College. El Planeta has twice named her one of the 100 most influential Hispanics in Massachusetts and she is a Senior Fellow at FutureEd. Amanda has over 25 years of experience in the areas of recruiting, diversity, organization development, change management, strategic planning, and Latino community relations.