Keynote Address – Texas Association of Chicanos in Higher Education
February 1, 2011, Austin, Texas
Dr. María “Cuca” Robledo Montecel, IDRA President and CEO

Buenas tardes, TACHistas. Good afternoon.

What an honor to be here with you this day. From all accounts, this 36th Annual Conference of the Texas Association of Chicanos in Higher Education is going very well and I am happy to be a part of it.

My thanks to Ms. Julie Arias, Dr. Criselda C. Leal, Dr. Jude Valdez, the TACHE leadership and the conference planning committee for inviting me here. For almost four decades, we at IDRA have worked with students, educators, communities, researchers and policymakers across Texas and the nation. It has been my privilege to work with TACHE and with many of you in this room. I thank you and invite you to continue our joint action on behalf of all students.

At IDRA we are committed to making equal educational opportunity a reality in our lifetime. We are committed to working hard to meet what has been called The Texas Challenge.

What is the Texas challenge? The challenge, and the imperative, is to make sure that all Texans, of all colors and incomes, have the skills and education necessary to compete in a global economy. Why educate everyone?

Well for one thing, the demographics demand we educate underserved groups. Nationally, more than 40 percent of all students in K-12 schools are minorities. This is double the percentage of Hispanic, African American and other minority students in schools three decades ago. By 2023, in a short 12 years, minority children will become the majority in our nation’s schools.

Already, about one-fourth of the nation’s kindergarteners are Hispanic and, nationally, one in five students in K-12 schools are Hispanic.

The demographics tell us one other thing. It is no longer viable for schools in this country or in this Texas to continue to see Latino youth as “outsiders” in our schools. According to the U.S. Census, almost 85 percent of Hispanic public school students are born in the United States and nine in 10 of Latino kindergartners in U.S. public schools are born in the United States.

Texas is now part of what a Duke University documentary called the “Nuevo South,” referring to the new demographics of very rapid growth of Latino populations in states like Arkansas, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.

And we have a Nuevo Texas, too.

In December, the Wall Street Journal reported that the big winner in the 2010 census was

. Our state added more people than any other state resulting in four more

seats to the current 32 in the U.S. House of Representatives.

and all states that gained seats did so because of growth in minority populations, Hispanics particularly. In the last decade, in fact, Hispanics accounted for 63 percent of

population growth.

In our schools, Hispanic children are already the outright majority in first grade classrooms in

. That shift occurred two years ago. The most recent data released by the Texas Education Agency indicate that of the 4,824,778 students in elementary and secondary school in the state, almost half (48.6 percent) are Hispanic, with White students now comprising only one third. Our elementary and secondary schools are now mainly Hispanic.

Karl Eschbach, who served as the official state demographer through appointment by Governor Rick Perry, predicts that
will become predominantly Hispanic within 10 years and, he says,

’ future depends on how well we prepare today’s minority children.

It is clear that Hispanic children will have the greatest say in the future success of

. It is also clear that the fate of all Texans is intertwined and related. We – you and I, young and old, rich and poor, and those who are White, Brown, Black and any color, those who speak English and those who do not, those who are immigrants and those who are not – we are in the same boat. And the boat either sinks or swims.

So how is the state responding to the

challenge to make sure that students of all colors and incomes are being prepared for a 21st economy? Not well. Not well at all.

  1. IDRA’s latest study of dropouts shows that

    public schools are failing to graduate one out of every three students. For the class of 2009-10, Black students and Hispanic students were about two times more likely to drop out than White students. And four out of 10 Hispanic high school students were lost before graduating high school. And of course, if students do not finish high school they do not go to college.

  2. You know also that despite growing numbers of Hispanics in the state,

    is not meeting Hispanic enrollment and graduation targets outlined in Closing the Gaps. Only 4.4 percent of Hispanics participated in higher education in the fall of 2009, and the Texas Higher Education Coordination Board stated in the 2010 Closing the Gaps report that about 263,000 more Hispanic students must enroll in higher education in 2015 in order to meet that year’s target.

  3. The last Measuring Up report gave

    a “D-” in college participation, a “C-” in completion, and an “F” in affordability. College tuition and fee increases since deregulation have not been matched with increased financial aid, pricing low- and middle-income families of out of the college market, even if students do gain admission. And the “F” in affordability came even before some current budget proposals that would deny two out of three new students a Texas Grant for college and would deny more than 25,000 new students other college financial aid. In public education spending, the State of

    just earned an “F” (50.9) on school spending from Education Week’s Quality Counts report card. Again, that is before the current budget proposals.

As you know, the State of

faces a revenue shortfall of up to $27 billion. This is bad enough. Unfortunately, many of the current budget proposals threaten fairness, opportunity and our educational infrastructure for public education and higher education. Without a thoughtful efficient and strategic balanced approach to balancing the budget and invest in educational opportunities for all, everyone loses. Such a balanced approach to budgeting includes using the rainy day fund and creating new and fair and long-term revenue plans and investments for education. The legislature’s continual insistence on choosing between education funding and tax cuts is wrong and very short-sighted. A more educated workforce decreases costs and increases revenues.

Our studies at IDRA indicate that the inability of Texas schools to keep 3 million students in high school through to graduation over the last 25 years costs hundreds of billions of dollars in lost earnings and a decreased tax base coupled with increased welfare and criminal justice costs. Our cost-benefit studies at IDRA have also found that for every dollar invested in education there is a nine dollar return in increased wages, more productivity and a bigger tax base.

There is an interesting fact in the Measuring Up report that I want to share with you. The report concludes that if all ethnic groups in
had the same educational attainment and earnings as Whites, total personal income in
would be about $31.4 billion higher and the state would realize an estimated $11 billion in additional

revenues. And what could

do with an additional $11 billion in tax revenue? Well for one thing, it could pay for a huge chunk of the revenue shortfall we are facing right now. In fact, the shortfall situation would be quite different is we had high quality education to power strong economic growth. So we know that education pays and is an investment worth making.

We also know a lot about where and how to invest to produce educational success. We know a lot about how to make sure that minority students do not continue to be relegated to the margins of education, income and productivity.

For the last five years, IDRA has utilized our Quality Schools Action Framework to guide our work in educational reform. Last July, we brought together what we know about educational change efforts in a book titled, Courage to Connect –A Quality Schools Action Framework. The framework featured in the book is empirical, experiential, practical and tied to educational outcomes at many levels including college.

You have a handout at your tables that illustrates the IDRA Quality Schools Action Framework.

The framework is oriented toward results. It tracks expected outcomes both on student metrics of success at many levels including college, and school metrics of success focused on the ability of the educational institution to keep students in and learning through graduation and completion.

The framework also focuses on knowledge, information, evidence and outcome data not only as rear-mirror assessments but as integral to present and future strategy that includes an engaged public and accountable leaders and policymakers.

In this framework, change strategies derive from individual and collective capacity within and outside of educational institutions. Cross-sector coalitions that reflect our full commitment to educational quality and educational opportunity are a key part of making change happen. So are the fundamentals of good governance and fair funding.

The Quality Schools Action Framework focuses change on what research and experience say matters: parents as partners involved in consistent and meaningful ways, engaged students who know they belong in schools and are supported by caring adults, competent caring educators who are well-paid and supported in their work, and high quality curriculum that prepares students for 21st Century opportunities.

A number of our partner schools and coalition organizations have used the framework and the companion OurSchool portal (available through to drive local changes. In the South Texas, for example, the first PTA Comunitario in the nation was begun with IDRA support by the women leaders of ARISE, a community-based organization in the colonias working to make sure their children get a good education in their neighborhood public schools.

In our work at the higher education level and with institutions of higher education, we are finding that proven strategies for increasing college completion parallel the Quality Schools Action Framework.

On the actionable knowledge part of the framework, for example, research is showing that knowledge-driven practices and useful data are a key strategy to increased college completion rates. Student level data, available early in the semester, used quickly to support students and faculty during the first few weeks, can markedly increase persistence. At the institutional level, data can inform student engagement, coursework and policies. And at the policy level, aligned data systems across K-12 and higher education are needed but are rather non-existent. So there is part of the frame for action.

At the governance level, we know it works when college and university administration and trustees emphasize student success as a priority of the institution with clear accountability for success. So there is another part of the frame for action.

Higher education institutions that are producing results do not give up on students. They engage them, track them, support them and graduate them. Higher education institutions that are producing results also involve and keep parents as partners because they know from research that this matters to many Hispanics. So student engagement and parent and community engagement are other important parts of the frame for action.

In the area of curriculum quality and access, the framework suggests that if colleges are losing a lot of students in particular courses, then they should redesign the courses. If it is not working, change it. If, as one example, developmental courses are not adequately moving students onto college-level courses (and very many are not) then re-design those courses, change the paradigm, increase instructional quality and put an accelerated developmental curriculum in place. A number of
institutions – the
El Paso
Community College
is one example – are demonstrating that an early focus on college readiness and high quality accelerated developmental courses keep students on track to completion.

One final example that I think illustrates the importance of thoughtful, data-based, coherent plans that connect K-12 with higher education and community to improve educational opportunities. Looking at dropout data, the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo school district found out that 40 percent of kids dropping out of PSJA were doing so in their senior year. Under Superintendent Dr. Daniel King’s leadership, the district undertook to bring students back to school by knocking on doors and talking to parents. Before doing so, though, the district created the College, Career and
in partnership with
. The students were then encouraged to come back – not to the same schools and conditions that had them drop out in the first place but rather to come back and finish high school and at the same time begin college coursework. Many did. The district has reduced its dropout rate by 75 percent in two years, and PSJA has become a leader in connecting high school students to college with more than 1,500 students participating in dual college credit courses during the last school year.

You notice that there is no deficit thinking and that there are no excuses in this approach: no “students cannot learn” or “parents don’t care” or “they do not speak English” or “we can’t do it; we have too many minorities,” or “they are not worth it.”

There is no if they don’t pass the Accuplacer, send them to vocational schools and stop spending money on developmental courses – as the San Antonio Express-News editorialized last week, without pointing to a single solution that actually enhances academic preparedness, closes the gaps or moves the state toward economic competitiveness.

I don’t know about you, but I always get suspicious when someone says “college is not for everyone” and “we don’t have any money.” Have you noticed that when someone says “college is not for everyone” they are almost never talking about their own children? Instead of clinging to old stereotypes and deficit assumptions, we need to know what is really going on, know what’s working and get on with providing high quality education not to the privileged few but to all our children.

We live in difficult times. And the times call us – each of us and all of us – to work to create a better world for young people. During the memorial to the victims killed in the horrible tragedy in Tucson last month, President Obama talked about the death of nine year old Christina Green and said: “I want us to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as Christina imagined it. I want

to be as good as she imagined it. All of us — we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children’s expectations.” Indeed.


, as in the rest of the country, we must do everything we can to live up to our children’s expectations for a great education and a good life. And doing that – living up to our children’s expectations for a great education and a great life – means that certain things are just not OK. It means, that – unlike what some down the street at the State Capitol would suggest – it is not OK to do certain things…

It is not OK to continue the funding gaps that harm our children’s chances of going to college.

It is not OK to put students in bigger classes and to plan school budgets that assume that our children will drop out before graduating.

It is not OK to turn teachers and educators into immigration officers.

It is not OK to dumb-down the curriculum and track our kids into vocational classes.

It is not OK to slash college financial aid and funnel a few dollars to the so-called “deserving poor.”

It is not OK to make a college education beyond the reach of working families and young people who have worked hard for an opportunity to learn.

In a word, it is not OK to mess with our young people.

At IDRA, we stand ready to work with you to make equal educational opportunity a reality in our lifetime. Your voice matters. Our young people matter and educational opportunity matters.

Gracias y que Dios los bendiga.

IDRA is an independent, private non-profit organization, directed by María Robledo Montecel, Ph.D., dedicated to strengthening public schools to work for all children. As a vanguard leadership development and research team for more than three decades, IDRA has worked with people to create self-renewing schools that value and empower all children, families and communities. IDRA conducts research and development activities, creates, implements and administers innovative education programs and provides teacher, administrator, and parent training and technical assistance.