How We Can Improve the Latino Educational Pipeline

By Jose Enriquez, National Institute for Latino School Leaders Fellow

EDUCATION students and teacher

Current data trends show that the Latino educational pipeline is improving—within the last decade, both high school graduation rates and college enrollment rates have improved for Latino students. However, there are still challenges to closing educational gaps.

Until recently, data showed that for every 100 Latino students, 21 will go to college, eight will earn a graduate degree, and less than 0.2% will earn a doctoral degree. According to Pew Research Center, 49% of Latino high school graduates in the United States enrolled in college in 2012, while high school dropout rates continued to fall. This positive trend may be representative of Latino students moving through the education system more smoothly than before. Despite such promising trends, in comparison to other ethnic groups, Latino college students are:

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Speaking Truth to Power

By Angelica Solis, Director, Youth Policy Institute

(Cross-posted from the National Institute for Latino School Leaders blog.)

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NCLR Nat’l. Institute for Latino School Leaders fellows in Washington last month.

Our national leaders are charged with some heavy responsibilities: representing the community’s interest and ensuring that that representation reflects national policy. This is easier said than done. Competing community interests, disconnect between local realities and national perceptions, insufficient information about specific topic issues, and many other factors often challenge our leadership’s ability to develop policies that address the specific needs of Latino students and their families. For this reason, it is important that school and community leaders working directly with Latino communities actively engage policy makers around the issues that are vital to supporting the students and families they work with.

Informing and educating policy makers and their staff about important education issues such as NCLB waivers, college and career readiness standards, family engagement, and mental health, is critical to ensuring that Latino voices and experiences are not lost as our national legislators craft policies that will impact our community. Most importantly, having policy makers hear first hand the stories of how education policies play out locally, allows them to put faces to the issues and to contextualize the statistics and data that may or may not accurately capture the impacts of these policies in our communities.

On March 6, the current cohort of NCLR’s National Institute for Latino School Leaders (NILSL) had an opportunity to do just that – share their local stories, experiences and expertise around these and several other key issues impacting Latino students and families across the country. The NILSL fellows had the chance to meet with representatives from high-ranking legislative leaders such as Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Congressman George Miller (D-Calif.), and others, that are currently leading discourse and developing policies that impact our educators, schools, students and families. NILSL participants shared first-hand accounts of how their schools can use resources to support teacher development; how realignment of existing funds can impact a school’s ability to provide mental health resources to the child that has to overcome the traumas of living in a gang-infested neighborhood; and how developing clear accountability measures can ensure local schools are held accountable for erasing the achievement gap.

National Institute for Latino School Leaders Fellows outside NCLR headquarters in DC.

National Institute for Latino School Leaders Fellows outside NCLR headquarters in DC.

These were the stories the NILSL fellows carried with them as they walked the halls of Congress and met with the staff of the powerful leaders that will make decisions that impact their communities. Equipped with these stories as well as the hard facts and data related to the issue topics, the school and community leaders were unwavering in their commitment to the share the key recommendations that will ultimately lead to improved student outcomes, safe and healthy school environments, and improved community and family engagement.

Without the voices of local school and community leaders in Washington D.C., our leaders’ job of representing our Latino community interests will be difficult to fulfill, and it is in our best interest that they are successful at what they do so that our communities can be successful in return.

Preparing Our Students for 21st Century and College and Career Readiness Standards

By Janet Alvarez, Principal, Para Los Ninos Middle School
(Cross-posted from the National Institute for Latino School Leaders blog.)

GraduationI was recently asked what I think the most important aspect is to prepare our Latino students for the rigor of 21st Century Learning and College and Career Readiness Standards.  As I thought more, it isn’t the arts, literacy, science, technology, or math that we integrate into every content area. Rather, it is the inquiry and curiosity that we nurture, demonstrate and practice through our approach.

Our students are curious about the world around them, hungry for more information about why things work the way they do and how to make them work even better.  This curiosity is what ignites a thirst for learning in our students and energizes them to be innovative thinkers.

Typically, 21st Century and College and Career Readiness Skills, are referred to as; critical thinking, communication, creativity and collaboration. These skills are extremely important, and the structure and tools to practice them in school are crucial.

I would like to add two more “C’s” to that list: curiosity and confidence.

Curiosity is a student’s fundamental motivation for learning.  Without it, students would never wonder, never question, and never try again after failing.  Our students need to see curiosity in action through demonstration. They need the time, structure, and devices to guide their curiosity into inquiry, exploration and learning. They also need meaningful ways to reveal their innovations, challenges and thoughts along the way.

Building confidence in our students is one of the most powerful “C’s” of all.  Acknowledging student accomplishments privately, and in front of a group boosts their belief in their capabilities. Further, allowing students the opportunity to self-select their own activities will help them build their self-worth.

Encourage students, when they are performing a task or getting involved in an activity, to do better than they did before, NOT better than someone else!  And finally, express a positive attitude toward our students so they see that they are worth your time and attention.

How about you?  How are you encouraging 21st Century skills for our students?

Go Slow to Go Fast

By Kevin Myers, National Institute for Latino school Leaders Fellow, NCLR

(Cross-posted from the National Institute for Latino School Leaders Blog)

NILSL_Feb14_blogpic1Students walk into a classroom with an innate trust in teachers.  They trust teachers to educate, to support academically and emotionally, and they trust teachers to guide them through a year of overall development.  With all of the different facets of teaching and the pressure of testing accountability bearing down on them, balancing the needs of all students is a difficult undertaking.   To be effective, teachers need to juggle many different tasks, countless student needs, and hundreds of varying resources.

When working with populations of students with a high percentage of English learners, maintaining focus and balancing all of these plates at once is even more important.  It’s easy to get lost in the myriad of “To Dos” that pop onto a teachers task list, but I believe there are three important strategies that teachers need to use on a daily basis to ensure that they are effective with their English learners and with all of their students.  In order to maintain that innate trust students have in educators, we must initiate frequent checks for understanding, provide meaningful and immediate feedback, and build relationships with kids.

As the kids pile through the classroom door, a million different cues and must-dos run through a teacher’s head.  Attendance, Do Nows, passing back work, classroom procedures, correcting behavior, and starting a lesson are all thoughts zooming around in a teacher’s mind, colliding with each other and creating a lot of internal chaos.  When this happens to me, I like to think back to something I heard during an Inquiry by Design professional development session.  The trainer said to the class, “You need to go slow so you can go fast.”  This seems like a paradox at first, but in actuality, it’s wonderful advice!  When all of the tasks and stresses of teaching start to collide, it’s imperative for teachers to take a breath and slow down.  One strategy for slowing down is to plan frequent checks for understanding into a lesson.

NILSL_Feb14_blogpic2Kids need for teachers to focus on the lesson and what is currently being taught, not what else still needs to be done during that period.  When teachers use strategies like Think-Pair-Share, Thumbs-Up/Thumbs-Down, or evaluating an idea by showing a number of fingers (1-4 seems to be effective), kids have time to process what is being taught during the lesson.  By intentionally taking the time to pause and check in with students, teachers are ensuring that kids are ready to move on to the next step.  When the kids are ready to move on, teachers won’t have to spend stressful minutes going back and re-teaching.  If teachers take time to make sure kids are with them through checks for understanding, they will definitely be more effective with all students, including our English learners.

With a million things on our minds, it would be easy for an educator to get bogged down in the stress and the obligation of everyday work.  But if we peel back the curtain to get a glimpse of the reason we all got into this field, we will see the students.  We all want to be effective educators so our kids can be successful, and if we take the time to go slow- to check for understanding, to provide feedback, and to build relationships- we will be effective indeed.

NCLR Celebrates American Education Week

By Peggy McLeod, Deputy Vice President, Education and Workforce Development, NCLR

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAmerican Education Week puts a spotlight on the role of educators and families—two groups who are essential in helping our nation’s children gain vital skills for future success.  The National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Education Team thought this would be a great time to give you an overview of our work in this field.

I started as NCLR’s Deputy Vice President of Education and Workforce Development in August 2013, and I have the privilege of working with a fantastic team.  While the scope of our work is broad, it is focused completely on improving the education of Latinos from preschool to graduate school and beyond.  Continue reading