Guest Post by Joel Ceballo
Florida’s Hispanic population has surged over the last 30 years, becoming an integral part of the state’s economy and political arena. Now we need to turn our focus to education to ensure Latino children are held to rigorous academic expectations that put them on an early path towards success.
As a board member of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and member of the Leadership Advisory Council for the Faith and Education Coalition (NHCLC), I frequently hear from Hispanic pastors about the struggles their communities face in public schools.
Graduation rates among Hispanic students have steadily increased in Florida to more than 76 percent. But even with these improvements, Latino students still trail their white peers in high school completion rates. The Hispanic Education Status Report points out that proficiency rates among Hispanic children are 23 percent lower in reading and 22 percent lower in math than white students. Only 15 percent of Hispanic Latinos between the ages of 25 and 29 have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared with 40 percent of whites.
As believers, God calls us to continually strive to ensure all His children are treated in a manner that empowers them to achieve their full potential. All children deserve to be challenged and held to expectations that will prepare them with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in whatever path they choose. Sadly, for a long time our public schools failed in this regard.
Inconsistent education standards gave no real assurance that all students would be held to levels that prepared them for college or a good job. Worse, weak student assessments often time lowered the bar, instead of delivering honest information to parents about areas their children might be struggling. A 2015 study by Achieve, an independent education advocacy group, found more than half of states reported proficiency rates in fourth-grade reading or eighth-grade math that were 30 percentage points higher than those found by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), an objective national measure.
Florida, the report found, over reported proficiency by 22 points in reading and 16 points in math. This was called the “Honesty Gap,” because parents were often lied to about how well prepared their children were. For families the impact of such discrepancies could often be serious. Parents were told their children were on track to move on to high levels of learning, when in fact often times they were not. This was especially problematic for Latinos, who often got to college only to find out they were woefully under prepared. Forced into remediation, many incurred significant student debt and never obtained a degree.
Fortunately, Florida—like most states—recognized the problem and over the past several years began to address it. A follow-up study by Achieve this year found 26 states significantly closed their Honesty Gaps by 10 percentage points or more in either fourth-grade reading, eighth-grade math or both. Only four states continued to grossly inflate proficiency rates. Florida parents and education officials alike should not retreat from this moment of truth.
Our young people are finally learning to levels that reflect what they need to graduate high school prepared for the next step. Tests are finally measuring to ensure they are on track towards that goal, and that parents and teachers can provide the support they need if they fall short. There are growing pains associated with aspiring to these new levels, but we cannot afford to regress back to the old model of education. Along with millions of Hispanics living in Florida, I call on Governor Rick Scott, the Florida Legislature and the state Department of Education to hold fast to rigorous education standards, high-quality student assessments and challenging proficiency targets.
Lowering the bar in any of those areas will hurt all our students, but especially minority communities. The Bible tells us that all children, regardless of race or their family’s income, deserve the opportunity to achieve their full God-given potential.
Each of us, as Christians, is therefore called to ensure we do all we can to ensure that right. We should insist on rigorous classroom standards and accurate assessments that give an honest account of student development—not one that is necessarily politically expedient. I have three children. I know it’s difficult to see them struggle, and often it seems it would be easier to lower the bar for them. That would only do them a disservice. And what’s more, I am constantly amazed by how young people rise to the expectations we set for them.
Joel Ceballo is a board member of NHCLC (National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference) and a member of the Leadership Advisory Council for the Faith and Education Coalition at the NHCLC.