Valley Voices

Paul A. Garcia: Summit addresses bold initiatives for minority students in Fresno County

Paul A. Garcia
Paul A. Garcia Fresno Bee

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the most significant education legislation in U.S. history. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 1965 was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson to federally fund improved schooling for low-income students and arrest social inequalities.

This is going to be something where people are going to learn their way out of poverty. While the education act of 1965 and its most recent iteration, No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, have attempted to increase achievement levels for low income and ethnic and racial minority students, accelerated gains have been nonexistent.

Recent test scores from the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress demonstrate that large disparities exist between white and ethnic/racial minority students who met or exceeded the standard in English language arts and mathematics. In grade three, the pivotal grade level for educational success, white students were twice as likely as Latino students in Fresno County to meet or exceed the standard in both English and mathematics.

Grade 11 results are particularly troublesome, since meeting the standard is meant to suggest conditional evidence of readiness for entry-level, transferable, credit-bearing college courses (Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, 2014).

Yet in Fresno County, 43 percent of Latino students and 31 percent of black students met or exceeded the standard compared to 68 percent of white students in English. More disturbing, white students were twice as likely as Latino and three times as likely as black students to meet the standard in mathematics.

Closer examination of test scores suggest parent education level explains much of the disparities. In Fresno Unified, the gap in English scores between white and Latino 11th-grade students closed from 20 to a mere 7 percentage points for students whose parents had a college degree.

One alarming demographic systemic throughout the Valley is the gross mismatch between the ethnic or racial composition of students compared to the teachers and administrators who serve them. While Latino students represent 63 percent of the K-12 population, only 21 percent of teachers and 22 percent of administrators are Latino. Conversely, about two-thirds of all teachers and administrators are white.

The only difference between the many qualified Latino teachers and administrator candidates and their white counterparts is the lack of opportunity.

On Oct. 30 the inaugural California Latino Leadership Education Summit convened at Fresno State to establish a regional approach to improve schooling experiences for Latino students from pre-K through college (P-20). The summit attracted education, business, civic and community leaders throughout the Valley and included Dr. Timothy White, chancellor of California State University; school district superintendents; county Office of Education superintendents; the chancellor from UC Merced; and each president from CSU Fresno, Bakersfield and Stanislaus.

The summit aimed to identify factors specific to the Valley to produce an effective, comprehensive intersegmental approach to schooling for all students. A UC regent in the audience made the most poignant and urgent call for action when he said that we need to get everyone in a room, lock the doors and not let anyone out until we have a plan.

Bold initiatives were discussed at the summit, such as:

▪  establishing voluntary, college-level accountability goals

▪  creating a centralized P-20 data warehouse

▪  developing a unified vision for the vast region

▪  promoting hiring practices to increase the number of Latino teachers and school administrators

▪  improving partnerships with nonprofit organizations such as Parent Institute for Quality Education

▪  increasing faculty diversity across the post-secondary education segments

▪  increasing student completion rates of A through G requirements

▪  establishing a Latino Education Research and Policy Center

The Valley cannot wait another 50 years before radical measures are taken to accelerate the academic achievement of Latino and other ethnic and racial minority students from pre-K through college.

Until all students are guaranteed access to a rich and challenging curriculum and protected by policies that foster equity in schools, colleges and universities, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 will fail to live up to its promise to arrest the educational effects of poverty and ethnic and racial inequalities.

Paul A. Garcia is a retired educator.