California's Growing Latino Student Population Must Be Better Educated

For the first time in California history, Latinos represent a majority of the state’s public school students. That long-anticipated development, reported this past Friday by the California Department of Education, places the onus on the state’s public school system to do a much better job of educating youngsters of Latin American descent.

As it is, one in four Latino students drops out of school before obtaining a high school diploma, a rate that outgoing State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell has acknowledged as “alarmingly high.”

As to the Latino students who remain in school, most under-perform in the state’s annual Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR). Indeed, only 40 percent rated proficient in English-language arts on this year’s test, and only 39 percent rated proficient in mathematics.

The Latino youngsters are not to blame for their low test scores, or for dropping out of school. They are the victims of a public education system that has condemned them to the soft bigotry of low expectations.

While public school officials and unionized public school teachers profess concern for the state’s 3.1 million Latino school children, neither those officials or those teachers are held accountable for the performance and progress of those students.

That should change under the administration of Governor-elect Jerry Brown. He should set specific goals and targets for Latino student achievement and reward (or, if necessary, punish) public school officials and teachers based on whether they reach the goals and targets.

By demanding more of those entrusted with education of California’s Latino student majority, we will nurture an emerging generation of Latino achievers following the examples of such prominent Californians as Antonio Villaraigosa, J. Mario Molina, France Cordova and Arte Moreno, all of whom have enhanced the quality of life not only of the state’s Latino, but also those of us who are not Latino.

Villaraigosa is the first Latino mayor of Los Angeles since 1972. Molina is President and CEO of Long Beach-based Molina Health Care, the nation’s second-largest Latino-owned firm. Cordova, an astrophysicist served as UC Riverside Chancellor before becoming Purdue University’s President. And Moreno is owner of the Los Angeles Angels major league baseball franchise.

California’s growing Latino student population represents the state’s future. They will be a tremendous asset if properly educated and a costly burden if they continue to be undereducated.

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