If Latinos are Successful, Houston Will be Successful

Oct 2, 2020

By Andy Canales
Executive Director
Latinos for Education – Houston

As a first-generation college graduate, I’m passionate about education because it changed the trajectory of my life. However, I know that the road to higher education for Latino students isn’t a clear path – our education system places many roadblocks along the way that often lock Latinos out of the opportunity to pursue their college dreams. This is why I’ve devoted my career to expanding educational equality to children who are in the same shoes I was once in.

This isn’t just a personal issue, it is an economic one as well.

There are 608,000 Latino students across Greater Houston, making up over half of our student population. These students will make up the bulk of our workforce and determine the future of Houston’s economy. Failing to prioritize and invest in Latino education will only jeopardize our region’s future.

In order to set-up our region for success; education, business, and community leaders must demand that our school systems prioritize the academic success of Latino students. Currently, our schools are only graduating about 26% of Latino students with the skills and training needed to succeed in college, and they are only preparing 39% of Latino students to read at grade level by third grade. We need bold ideas and investments that ensure Latino students are prepared early to excel academically, even before they begin kindergarten, and that this preparation follows them to and through college.

Our region must also invest and prioritize in Latino talent.

Latinos are left out of so many leadership positions within our educational system. Despite the fact that Latinos make up over half of our student population, only 21% of teachers in our region are Latino. This lack of representation matters because we know that when students are taught by teachers who understand their cultural backgrounds, and see that culture as an asset in the classroom, they perform better academically. If you look at the Rio Grande Valley, where Latino teachers make up 90% of the teaching workforce, students there have some of the highest academic outcomes across the state, and that’s not by coincidence, it is because they have invested in Latino talent.

But representation cannot just stop in the classroom, it needs to also be seen and felt at the superintendent, school board, and city level. Across 20 elected school boards in Harris County, only 16 of the 142 school board members (11%) are Latino; and across the 50 public school districts in our seven-county Greater Region area, there is only one Latina Superintendent. If our region is not allowing Latinos to inform the decisions being made about our students, then we risk never being able to turn the tide on our failing education system.

And finally, our education system needs a fundamental mind shift when it comes to parent engagement.

I often hear comments made about why Latino parents don’t speak up more, or why they don’t show up more for their children – and my response is always the same: does your school or school district make that level of engagement accessible? We need to understand where our parents are coming from, some work multiple jobs, some speak languages other than English at home, and some might not want to speak up because they don’t want to compromise their immigration status. Taking this into consideration, the question that leaders should be asking themselves is: how are we inviting parents into the conversation and decisions made about their children’s education in a way that works for them?

For instance, not one of the 26 school districts in Harris County have web pages related to their school board meetings that are authentically translated in Spanish and only 21 of 26 even have a button where you can translate the information to Spanish via Google Translate. Access to information is the first step in empowering Latino parents to advocate, but right now there’s a simple but critical barrier for many of them to take that first step.

As businesses, elected officials, and community groups come together to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month here in Houston, we should all make a commitment to prioritize, reimagine, and invest in the education of our Latino students in order to pave a more inclusive and prosperous future for our region and our nation.

Canales is the executive director of Greater Houston at Latinos for Education and the chair of the Latino Texas PAC.

Good Reason Houston is a proud investor in the work of Latinos For Education.