Press Release

WASHINGTON (June 23, 2011) — Today’s report from the National Center for Education Statistics shows that the hard work of America’s educators and students is yielding important progress. Achievement is rising for Latino students, particularly in fourth-grade reading, where the gap between whites and Latinos has narrowed by 10 points since 2000 — about a full year’s worth of learning.

Despite these gains, we’re nowhere near where we need to be. Over the past two decades, the Latino student population in the nation’s schools has increased by 138 percent, to more than 11 million students nationwide. This extraordinary growth demands that we accelerate our progress in closing the achievement gaps that separate them from their white peers.

“These gaps are dangerous,” said Kati Haycock, president of The Education Trust. “At a time when students in other countries are out pacing our own, we can’t afford the high moral, economic or civic costs associated with failing to prepare all students with the skills and knowledge that they, and our country, need to thrive.”

Lackluster performance among Latino students is often attributed to language acquisition issues. But according to the U.S. Department of Education, only 16 percent of Hispanic school-aged children speak a language other than English in the home and have difficulty speaking English themselves. And nearly one-third of secondary students considered to be English-language learners actually are third-generation Americans — meaning they and their parents were born in this country and educated in our schools.

Too many Latino students, regardless of language status, enter school behind their white counterparts. But the NCES data show that when we concentrate on improving instruction and raising expectations, Latino achievement rises. For instance:

  • Between 2003 and 2009, Latino students from Florida, Hawaii, Maryland, New Hampshire and the District of Columbia all made gains of at least 10 points on the fourth-grade reading assessment, roughly a full year of learning.
  • In eighth-grade math, Latino students in 21 states and the District of Columbia improved from 2003 to 2009. In Arkansas, Delaware and the district, these math gains were 20 points or more, the equivalent of two years’-worth of learning.

Progress in states like these, and at predominantly Latino schools like Morningside Elementary in Brownsville, Texas, and Griegos Elementary in Albuquerque, N.M., show us that organizing our schools for success results in higher achievement. But too often, we give students who start out behind their peers less — not more — of everything we know they need from our schools to be successful. For example, despite clear evidence of the importance of strong teachers, nearly one in three math classes in high-minority secondary schools are taught by teachers who neither majored in a related field nor are certified to teach math.

We know what it takes to get all students to achieve at high levels, starting with high expectations and a rich, rigorous curriculum. The move toward college-ready and career-ready standards in 40-plus states will help this process, but implementing those standards consistently across districts, schools and classrooms is critical. To support high achievement for all, every student needs access to great teachers. Concomitantly, our teachers need access to robust curricular support materials and professional development opportunities that provide examples of and guidance on developing high-quality lessons and assignments.

“Those changes will require every one of us — policymakers, educators, parents and students alike — to work smarter than ever. Even more than that, it will require that we move our most vulnerable students from the back of the line to the front,” Haycock said. “The time for pleading ignorance about what to do has long passed. We know what works, and we know what matters most. It doesn’t take a magician or a miracle worker to improve outcomes for all students. The only question is whether we have the collective will to do what needs to be done.”