Latino parents are optimistic about public schools in our country, more so than any other parent groups studied in the Education Post Parents Poll released this month. This optimism is one that reflects my experience of working with Latino parents for improvements in the educational system for more than 20 years.
Many of these parents are immigrants who left their home countries with hope and optimism for a better life here in this country. The optimism they hold is often not for themselves, but for their children—the same children now in public schools.
Latinos have to be optimistic to withstand the struggles of leaving everything behind for a country that often scapegoats them, doesn’t want them here, and whose leading Republican presidential candidates openly and unapologetically treat them as second-class and even threaten to have their U.S.-born children’s citizenship revoked.
Yet this optimism is by no means a blind optimism about systems that don’t often work to support us or our children.
We Want to Be There
For years, I’ve heard patronizing and racist comments about how Latino parents are just quiet, rarely show up to meetings or are straight-up ignorant and, therefore, unable to help their children.
Some of the racism shows up as indifference: “I’m just not sure how they could possibly help.”
This poll suggests what I’ve always known to be true.
Latino parents are far more reflective about what their children need than they ever get credit for. They often feel they can’t contribute much, because their own education was cut short or, like me, they had a terrible public school education experience. So they show an understandable deference to educators, the experts, which only makes it easy for them to be shunted aside by educators and school systems who have convinced them, they don’t have a meaningful role to play.
What this poll is making clear is that Latino parents want to be engaged and want school districts to convince themselves that parents can be engaged so districts will find strategies and resources to involve parents in their children’s education.
We want to trust the system; we have high expectations, but we also want to get involved.
The Only Way
Of all parents, Latinos are the most optimistic about our country’s public schools.
When I first saw this, I thought, “Hmm…this is really interesting.” Is it because Latino parents are more naive? Have they been bamboozled?
No, it’s not that. It actually reflects my many years of experience as a mother of a high school student and as someone who has worked for years for much-needed improvements in our public school system. Latino parents—both immigrant and US-born Latino parents—want desperately to help their children jump from the working class to the middle class, and they are clear: The only way to to do that is to ensure their children are college educated.
Latino parents firmly believe that college is something that all children should have access to—not just their own children, but all children. They understand that a formal education is a path out of poverty. They value it.
They respect people who have a formal education and want their children to be in that class of the college educated. Our bosses are college educated. The professionals whose services we utilize have a formal education but Latinos remain underrepresented among these professions because nationally only one in 10 Latinos is college-educated.
We want our children to be doctors, lawyers and educators, too.
We all know that college is a way out of poverty, and so it’s hardly surprising that nearly all parents want their own child to attend college or some post-secondary training.
Yet Latinos are most likely to say college is important for every child: 57 percent compared to 34 percent for whites.
We’re talking about our own children, and yours, too. When you talk about all children, do you mean ours, too? We hope so.
Testing and Accountability
Latinos want to continue with annual testing to measure student learning in math and English. They believe that standardized tests have a positive impact on students, as it helps to measure progress for their children and for other children. Their challenge is that the information gathered is not directly connected to their children’s education outcomes.
Because they believe in systemic accountability, it’s not surprising that they are most likely to say standardized tests are fair. It’s not only about the tests, but Latino parents want to make sure that teachers are using those tests to help their children grow and succeed.
Latinos want more accountability for their own children and for other people’s children, shown by the fact Latinos are most likely to prioritize shutting down failing schools if they are not helping children succeed academically.
We Can’t Do It Alone
As a Latina mom, I know that I am responsible for my child’s learning, but like other parents, I know I can’t do it alone. I need the support of skilled, caring and committed teachers who are willing to partner with me to support my child.
Latino parents know that we have a role to play, and we don’t expect teachers and school systems to do everything for us or our children.
We just don’t always know our role or the right way in. That invite to the afternoon parent association meeting, when we’re working, isn’t the path to meaningful parent engagement.
Teachers and principals: help us help you.
Not in the abstract but in practical ways. If you continue to have parent meetings in the middle of the day, you’re telling us that you don’t want us there.
So if you want us engaged, give us real options—in the evenings, on Saturdays. Show us you respect us by dedicating staff to engage us. Guide us on how we can help our kids. We don’t expect you to do this alone either. Respect us enough to know: no one is more invested in our own children than us.
Be clear, because I’m absolutely clear. I will be the only one either at my child’s college graduation or their court appearances. I know what is at stake. College or the courts. Help me get them into the right system.