NCLR Affiliate Spotlight: Southwest Key

This month’s Affiliate Spotlight is on Southwest Key, based in Austin, Texas. The former Affiliate of the Year joined NCLR for a Twitter chat to talk about what the group does and where they’re going in the future.

El Día de los Niños: A Day to Celebrate Benchmarks and Help Our Children Reach Even Higher

Yesterday, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced that the nation has reached an important milestone in education: in 2012 (the latest year that statistics are available), the national high school graduation rate reached 80 percent. Even more encouraging, researchers believe that if this trend continues, that number will increase to 90 percent by 2020.

The story for Latino students is just as positive, with graduation rates increasing by 15 percent. This impressive jump is great news not only for the Latino community but for the nation overall. Latinos will constitute close to 20 percent of the nation’s labor force in 2020, and educated workers are essential to ensuring that our economy remains robust and competitive.

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The notable improvement in graduation rates can be attributed to several factors. Teachers, parents, and students are finding better ways to partner and communicate, giving children a greater chance at academic success. We believe new education standards are also a key component in making our kids ready for college and able to step into the career path of their choice.

In an increasingly competitive marketplace, our country can no longer be satisfied sitting in the middle of the pack when it comes to academic performance among industrialized nations. In the last test given by the Program for International Student Assessment, in 2012, 29 countries ranked higher than the U.S. in math and 22 in science. This means that while it is great news that our graduation rates are improving, it will take much more to prepare our children for the jobs of the future. That’s why we are encouraging innovation, creativity, and the broader thinking skills necessary to compete in a global job market.

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are setting higher benchmarks and improving the way our kids learn. Rather than simply memorizing facts, they are being taught to connect what they learn in the classroom to the world around them, sharpening their analytical skills, and reawakening a love of learning. Fewer, higher, and clearer standards are also allowing our teachers to be creative in the classroom and dive deeper into subject areas, imparting a greater breadth of knowledge.

The CCSS lay out clear guidelines that provide parents with a better understanding of how to best support their children’s learning. They are ensuring that, regardless of race, ethnicity, or ZIP code, all youth are given the same opportunity to succeed. These new standards are elevating what and how we teach our children, a vital component to maintaining the graduation rates we celebrate today and seeing them rise in the future.

Teaching and Learning — A Principal’s Perspective

By John De La Cruz, Principal, George I. Sanchez Charter School
(This was first posted to the Latino School Leaders Blog, an NCLR Project)

George I. Sanchez students

I don’t know if there has ever been a time when public schools only had to concern themselves with teaching and learning academic content but I can say with certainty that now is definitely not that time. At my inner city charter school everyday brings new challenges that have nothing to do with academic content.

If you were a principal at my school, a typical day on for you might look something like this: You start the morning dealing with some high school students who were brought in reeking of the marijuana they smoked on their way to school that morning. Shortly thereafter you deal with some middle-school students who were bullying each other because of something that was posted to Facebook. Just as that is resolved, you are made aware that the young lady from yesterday’s bullying incident is having a crisis and has indicated to staff that she is contemplating suicide. While addressing this issue, it is brought to your attention that a pregnant girl in 10th grade is possibly experiencing contractions and needs medical attention. Efforts to reach any of the parents or family members of any the students involved in these incidents have not been met with success. Phone numbers that were provided to the school are no longer active or are answered by the wrong party. Therefore, the responsibility of what to do with those students falls squarely on your shoulders.

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Want Your Kids to Graduate from High School? Make Sure They Show Up at School.

By Liany Elba Arroyo, Associate Director, Education and Children’s Policy Project, NCLR

Bell Multicultural Students

As the parent of a 19-month-old daughter, I often find myself thinking now about the things I can do to make sure she will excel in school, graduate high school on time, and enroll in college.  I spend the time I have with her during my commute between Washington, DC and Maryland practicing the alphabet, counting to ten, and singing songs.  I read to her and play games that boost her brain development and help her develop preliteracy skills.

Because of my education, I am giving her the best shot I can at guaranteeing her own educational achievement.  Yet I succeeded without experiencing many of these supports.  What made the difference?  One thing I vividly remember from my childhood is the emphasis that my mother and grandmother placed on getting me to school every day.  As it turns out, they were on to something.

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Latino Graduation Rates Surge to Three-decade High

Bell Multicultural StudentsFor the first time in over three decades, a new study found that the Latino on-time graduation rate in 2010 surged to over 70% in a major ten-point jump from four years before.

The increase in Hispanic high school graduation, combined with an increase among other groups, has led the national dropout rate to fall to just 3% of all American high school students.

Although Latinos are still dropping out of high school in unsustainably high numbers, at more than double the rate of their non-Hispanic counterparts, these findings may represent a welcome turn in the right direction. Far more than before, young Hispanic students are making the decision to stay in school until graduation day.

“While we are excited about this new increase in high school graduation rates, our ultimate challenge remains to ensure that more Hispanic students are prepared to be accepted and succeed in our colleges and universities. We must see more Latinos enroll in college each year with the skills they need to graduate and obtain a degree,” said Delia Pompa, Senior Vice President of Programs at the National Council of La Raza (NCLR).

What does this change mean for a growing Latino community during a time when many states are cutting school resources in the name of fiscal austerity?

Despite both cultural and linguistic setbacks, we know that Latino children can achieve educational goals whether in preschool or in high school and should not be written off at any point along the educational pipeline. Every day, talented and hardworking Hispanic students overcome stereotypes and personal adversity and succeed in realizing dreams of both high school and college graduation.

“NCLR works with school administrators, teachers, and parents to ensure that they not only graduate from high school but are prepared to face rigorous college coursework. Through programs like “What If?” and the Escalera Program, NCLR supports student-focused programs that provide tools for Latino students to be better prepared for acceptance to postsecondary institutions and thrive in a college environment,” said Pompa.

As Latino unemployment still hovers around 10% nationally, many Hispanic teens may be consciously deciding to stay in school, recognizing that without a degree their employment prospects are scant in an already difficult job market.

While an increase in graduation rates is a strong step forward, the study finds that nearly 30% of Hispanic high school students dropped out of school during the 2009–2010 academic year. This is still unacceptably high, and we must work together this year to redouble our efforts to ensure that every Latino student has the opportunity to succeed and earn a high school diploma.