To Fulfill Their Rights

By Leticia Bustillos, Associate Director, Education Policy Project, NCLR

At the height of the civil rights movement, President Johnson gave a speech at Howard University dubbed “To Fulfill These Rights.” He recognized that extending equal opportunity to all is not enough.

If we are to “open the gates of opportunity,” he said, then “all of our citizens must have the ability to walk through those gates.” This is “the next and the more profound state of the battle for civil rights.”

Watch President Johnson’s historic speech below:

These words accurately depict where we are today. As the “Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA),” which would reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), goes to the Senate floor for consideration, we are reminded that the battle for civil rights has not yet ended. The skirmishes of the last 50 years have resulted in promising gains in education. Still, too many students are losing ground, unable to harness the socioeconomic benefits that come from education.

If we are to achieve true equality as President Johnson envisioned half a century ago, then we must ensure that students from low-income communities are given the necessary resources and supports. For the civil rights community, accountability must be at the forefront of our actions.

How we act is subject to debate. What is not debatable, however, is the necessity of including robust accountability measures to identify where achievement gaps exist. These provisions ensure that the progress of every child and every group is known. It also guarantees that achievement gaps remain at the forefront of the national consciousness so that everything can be done to eradicate them.

ESEAbrief_picThe need for strengthened accountability is not lost on our nation’s educators. For Dr. Vasthi Acosta, Executive Director of Amber Charter School in New York City, accountability is not a one-time measure that comes at the end of the school year. It is a central focus of her school community.

Student performance data, disaggregated by group, empower teachers at Amber to differentiate their instruction based on the needs of various students. Schooling, then, becomes about not just filling gaps in achievement but also providing opportunities to improve learning by capitalizing on the assets of students. Amber’s stated  goal is to “find those who are in need, learn what they need, and then meet that need.”

For Dr. Acosta and her team, there is no greater sign of their success than to hear the community inform them that what they are doing is making a difference.

Graduation“Recently, I received a thank-you card from a mother whose son got a full scholarship to a local private middle school,” said Acosta. “She said that she didn’t speak English and couldn’t help him with his homework, but she knew if he was doing well or not because of the scores on his assessments and the school’s constant communication with her. Together we helped that boy through a door that is often closed to so many of our children.”

For the first time in our country’s history, students from underrepresented communities now form the new majority in our schools. Their success is a testament to the investments we make in them and their capacity to positively contribute to our future well-being. To fulfill their rights, we must act with conviction.

Holding ourselves accountable for the success of our students is a principle enshrined in the reauthorization of ESEA. Giving our students the wherewithal to walk through the gates of opportunity is the charge of accountability. Seeing them on the other side of those gates is one more victory in our battle for civil rights.

Un Verano En Nueva York

By Rafael Collazo, Director of Political Campaigns, NCLR

40x504_commoncore_72aThe seminal Puerto Rican salsa band El Gran Combo sang it best: there is nothing quite like “Un Verano En Nueva York.”Even a hardscrabble Philly guy like me has to admit that a unique energy permeates the Manhattan streets during the summer.

So it was with great pleasure that I visited Spanish Harlem in New York City to document the opinions of leaders who are on the frontlines of preparing our young people for higher education and the future job market.

The National Council of La Raza (NCLR) is heavily engaged in the ongoing national debate on the benefits of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). For many that are still unclear about what the Common Core are, skepticism is spreading amongst parents and some educators due to a lack of information, and even misinformation. They wonder if the CCSS are another fad that is steering national public education off course and disrupting the progress of Latino and minority students.

GraduationWhile NCLR understands these concerns and is working to advocate for improved implementation, NCLR firmly believes that Latino students can only achieve education equity when all schools and school districts are held to the same standards of achievement, instruction, and assessment that the CCSS demand. In fact, NCLR has already discovered Latino educators committed to the Common Core State Standards for the benefit of students.

Amber Charter School, an NCLR Affiliate, is a K–5 school located in the heart of “El Barrio” in New York City. Since 2011, Principal Dr. Vashti Acosta has been preparing to align her school with the new rigorous standards of achievement that are now in 43 states and the District of Columbia. With careful planning from administrators, teachers, and parents, Amber Charter School is a model of how Latino and minority children can Step Up and Step In to higher achievement.

When NCLR spoke to Dr. Acosta about our New York Campaign to make Latinos more aware of what the CCSS entail and how they will benefit Latino youth, Dr. Acosta immediately recommended that we connect with students and teachers to hear their stories of how the CCSS have impacted their school year.

So NCLR staff paid a visit to Amber Charter School to tape video interviews (watch below) with Dr. Acosta, her teachers, and her kids to hear about their year with the CCSS. From the moment we started filming, it was clear how integral these standards have been in helping the entire school “Step Up.” Seasoned educators raved about how these standards accelerated learning, thinking, and communication for all students. The students themselves said it best: “My favorite word this year was ‘whimsical,’” said Nina, a fourth grader at Amber. Another student, Anthony, stated how what he is learning will help him “mature into the adult” he wants to be.

The buzz in Spanish Harlem a few days before the National Puerto Rican Day Parade made our visit even more inspiring. NCLR staff also interviewed Latino immigrant parents at the Annual English Language Learner Parent Conference held at the nearby Museo Del Barrio. The parents, primarily Mexican, shared the importance of education for their children and all Latinos, with the backdrop of some amazing artwork by top Latino artists from all over the world.

Commitment, inspiration, creativity, hope, warmth… all words I can use to describe our time in New York. After all these years, Un Verano En Nueva York is still something special.

What the Common Core Means for Latinos in New York State

The Common Core State Standards is a reality in New York state, but what does it mean for the Latino community and how it will impact our students? We’re hosting a FREE webinar next week to explore this question. Register today to join us!