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Why keeping standards high will help The New America

February 5, 2014 5 minute Read by William McKenzie

Here are three important facts to consider:

  • At least half the students in California's public schools are Hispanic;
  • Just over half of the students in Texas' public schools are Hispanic; and
  • Twenty two percent of America's public students are now Hispanic.

In short, the student body in America’s two largest states is already predominantly Latino. Across the nation, Latinos now make up almost a quarter of the national student body.

America has always been about flows of immigrants, so this is just the latest case of demographic change. Still, this shift comes with its own set of challenges.

Specifically, will Latino students have a chance to develop the type of skills that will land them a good job? The Dallas Morning News reported Monday on a Latino leadership gap. It is borne out by the fact that Latinos move fast into mid-management positions but they stall out before they get to the level of vice president and above. “Latinos have the fewest of all major racial and ethnic groups when it comes to management, executive and board of director positions,” The News found.

The future of young Latinos certainly has been on the mind of Hispanic leaders as they look at what is happening in states like Texas and California. (Two years ago, 16 percent of Latinos in California had a college degree, sharply trailing the 39 percent of all Californians with a degree.)

During the 2013 meeting of the Texas Legislature, organizations like the National Council of La Raza warned against Texas reducing graduation requirements for high school students. They argued that weakening standards in areas like math especially could hurt Latinos, who, after all, make up the biggest share of Texas students. Nevertheless, legislators rebuffed them and kept Algebra II as a requirement  for only one of the five new pathways to graduation.

La Raza, as well as LULAC, spoke out again last week as the State Board of Education essentially decided to go along with the Legislature's watering down of math requirements. Like the Legislature, the board decided not to require Algebra II for all high school graduates.

Never mind that experts consider the subject a predictor of academic success beyond high school. On Friday, the board decided to keep Algebra II as a must-have only for those seeking a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics degree plan.

What's more, they stepped back from requiring other demanding math courses. A lot of good old-fashioned courses are still listed. But, in the name of flexibility, they also chose to let students take amorphous-sounding courses in areas like applied mathematics and locally-developed apprenticeships. These new options are like going to the vending machine. Yeah, there are some good products, but are kids going to pick them over the sugary ones?

Just as there is for Algebra II, there is plenty of data to suggest that other strong math courses are in the best interest of students. Among other things, they prepare students for the SAT and ACT and qualify them for top universities.

That is a sure-fire way for Latinos to close the leadership gap the Morning News noted. Good math courses also prepare them and other students for community colleges and "middle-skill" jobs.  The Charles A. Dana Center at the University of Texas at Austin reports that such jobs typically require at least a certification or an Associate's degree and they pay a median salary of $44,000.

Jobs that require at least some kind of college also are likely to grow in numbers. And that’s not true for low-skill jobs. The Dana Center reports that over 75% of low skill jobs are not projected to grow substantially.

Numbers like these are why Latino leaders are very concerned about education in states like Texas and California.  The rest of us should be concerned, too. This debate is not only about believing all kids can learn. It also is about preparing the New America, which will be increasingly Latino.

 


Author

William McKenzie
William McKenzie

William McKenzie is editorial director for the George W. Bush Institute, where he also serves as editor of The Catalyst: A Journal of Ideas from the Bush Institute.

Active in education issues, he co-teaches an education policy class at SMU’s Simmons School of Education and Human Development. He also participates in the Bush Institute’s school accountability project.

Before joining the Bush Institute, the Fort Worth native served 22 years as an editorial columnist for the Dallas Morning News and led the newspaper’s Texas Faith blog. The University of Texas graduate’s columns appeared nationwide and he has won a Pulitzer Prize and commentary awards from the Education Writers Association, the American Academy of Religion, and the Texas Headliners Foundation, among other organizations. He still contributes columns and essays for the Morning News and The Weekly Standard.

Before joining the News in 1991, he earned a master’s degree in political science from the University of Texas at Arlington and spent a dozen years in Washington, D.C. During that time, he edited the Ripon Forum.

McKenzie has served as a Pulitzer Prize juror, on the board of a homeless organization, and on governing committees of a Dallas public school. He also is an elder of the First Presbyterian Church in Dallas, where he lives with his wife and their twin children.

Full Bio

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