• IDRA Newsletter • October 1996 • 

President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans

Editor’s Note: The following excerpt is reprinted from Our Nation on the Fault Line: Hispanic American Education, a report just released by the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans. The commission is chaired by Ana “Cha” Margarita Guzmán of Austin Community College in Cedar Park, Texas.

Call to Action

The commission calls upon the nation to improve education for Hispanic Americans. This call to action goes out to Hispanics and non­Hispanics alike – rich, middle­class and poor – to work in partnership with the leadership and resources of government and the private sector.

The nature of the problem with the education of Hispanic Americans is rooted in a refusal to accept, to recognize and to value the central role of Hispanics in the past, present and future of this nation. The education of Hispanic Americans is characterized by a history of neglect, oppression and periods of wanton denial of opportunity.

The successful resolution of what has become nothing less than a crisis is embedded in the collective and collaborative response of the nation; and it must be characterized by the affirmation of the value and dignity of Hispanic communities, families and individuals…

State of Education for Hispanic Americans

The “State of Education for Hispanic Americans” chapter of Our Nation on the Fault Line presents an overview of Hispanic American students as they move through the U.S. educational system B in elementary, middle, secondary, higher education and beyond. [The report also] examines some of the most serious inadequacies of the educational system for Latino students, including inequity in school financing, the lack of sufficient bilingual and English as a second language programs and teachers, and the misuse of assessment and testing. If Latino youth are to benefit fully from and contribute to the wealth of this nation, then greater numbers must be given the chance to succeed throughout the educational system.

Data collected by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and the Bureau of the Census show important educational gains over the past two decades for both Latinos and non­Hispanic Whites. Nevertheless, data also show Hispanic students trailing behind their non­Hispanic White peers in a number of important areas – disparities that begin even before kindergarten and continue throughout adulthood…

Dropping Out

Once a student falls behind, the effects may last a lifetime. Rather than face continuous humiliation, many Latino students simply walk away from formal education. It is essential to understand that each step in the educational system is a building block. When steps are missed, the results often lead to poor performance, grade retention and dropping out. Large gaps in educational attainment remain through the age of 17, with Latino students scoring lower than White students in math, science, reading and writing proficiency.

In short, due to many deficiencies in the educational system, Latinos have a high dropout rate (see note below.) In October of 1993, the dropout rate for Hispanic 16­ to 24­year­olds was 28 percent. That is, 28 percent of all Latinos in this age group had not completed and were not enrolled in high school, which was double the rate for Blacks (14 percent) and more than three times the rate for Whites (8 percent) in the same group.

Hispanic Americans not only have a higher dropout rate, they tend to drop out of school earlier. In 1993, an alarming 40 percent of Hispanic dropouts had not completed the eighth grade. Another 18 percent of Latino dropouts completed ninth grade, but left before completing 10th grade, and over one­half (58 percent) of Hispanic dropouts had less than a 10th grade education. Only 29 percent of White dropouts and 25 percent of Black dropouts leave as early as do Hispanics.

Hispanic American students’ high dropout rates are linked to various inefficiencies and inadequacies throughout the educational system. Intervention measures, therefore, must be aimed as well at the elementary level and secondary level since a very large percent drop out early. Simply put, there is a need for more programs designed to bring the performance of Latino students up to par with other groups.

Grade retention is one of the major factors contributing to school dropout rates. Indeed, when looking at the overall picture, a correlation between dropout and retention rates becomes apparent. Data from the National Center for Education Statistics demonstrate that most students who decide to drop out have repeated one or more grades. In 1993 alone, 41 percent had repeated more than one grade, 17 percent had repeated on grade, and 9 percent had not repeated a grade.

Hispanic students are more often than not “tracked” into general courses that satisfy only the basic high school requirements, and do not provide access to four­year colleges or to rigorous technical schools. In addition, such courses do not qualify Hispanics for good, entry level jobs in high­technology industries. However, while the dropout rates remain high, some progress can be noted. The percentage of Latino and White high school graduates taking advanced science and mathematics courses, for instance, increased dramatically between 1982 and 1992. As a result, a few more Hispanic students are now following a more rigorous curriculum, but they are far from the majority.

Even as the numbers of Latino high school graduates increase, they are still less likely than White graduates to have completed the “New Standards” curriculum, which includes four years of English and three years of science, social studies and mathematics (44 percent compared to 54 percent in 1994). In 1992, Hispanic graduates were less likely than White graduates to have taken geometry, algebra II, trigonometry, chemistry, physics or a combination of biology, chemistry and physics; they were more likely to have taken remedial mathematics…


…There are serious shortcomings in the public education system that directly lead to unacceptable dropout rates, exceedingly low numbers of college graduates and an overall denial of educational excellence to Hispanic Americans. While certain academic gains can be measured with some groups of Hispanic students, there remain enormous gaps between Hispanic American students and other American students on specific measures of educational attainment.

Unequal educational outcomes diminish the nation’s ability to compete in the global economy, thus weakening its national fabric by not utilizing all of its human capital. The nation essentially is being robbed of the full intellectual, moral and spiritual strengths of a major segment of the American population, Hispanic Americans…

Since 1983, the educational war conducted against children in public schools is slowly being won for many students, but not for all. To win that war, this work requires commitment, as a nation, to provide the best education possible to all U.S. citizens. The President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans is aggressively and affirmatively committed to keeping the nation alert. The United States should not tolerate the loss to our society of any more generations of children of any cultural, racial or linguistic background. Excellence and equity must be inseparable benchmarks for the education of all our nation’s children. This report, therefore, is not the last word on what concerns Hispanic Americans. On the contrary, this report is just the beginning.

For a copy of the report, contact the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans, directed by Alfred Ramirez, at 600 Independence Avenue S W, Washington, D.C. 20202­3601; 202/401­1411; E­mail: WHITE_HOUSE_INIT_HISPANIC_ED@ed.gov. Reprinted here with permission.

Note: Status rates measure that part of the total population that has not completed high school and is not enrolled at one point in time regardless of when dropping out occurs. Status dropout rates thus reveal the extent of the dropout problem in the population and suggest the magnitude of the total challenge for further training and education that will permit individuals to participate more fully in the economy and the life of the nation.

Comments and questions may be sent via e-mail to feedback@idra.org.

[©1996, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the October 1996 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]