5 Unique Ways to Improve K-12 Education for Latino Students

Early education can make a huge impact on the lives of children — especially its effects on economic opportunities, college prep, and finding a good-paying job.

Yet it is far too common for Latinos and other disadvantaged students to face barriers for quality K-12 education.

That’s why The Brookings Institution, a nonprofit policy organization, recently published five policy recommendations that can make a huge difference in the education of Latino students.

“Latino students in particular constitute a significant and growing portion of the U.S. student population yet are often overlooked in education literature because they are not the lowest performing demographic,” the report states. “We considered factors that may’ve influenced student performance, including both in-school factors and family background, and conclude by recommending paths to improve educational outcomes for Latino students.”

Why Should We Focus Effort on Latino Students in K-12 Schools?

Racial/ethnic disparities in education are not new.

Latino children often start developmentally behind their peers, according to a Salud America! research review.

Reasons include living in child care deserts, language issues and immigrant status, unengaged parents, childhood trauma, discipline, segregated school districts, and a lack of state funding in districts with lots of students of color.

Now COVID-19 is worsening many of these inequities.

The new report from The Brookings Institution offers five policy solutions that can start to tackle the challenges facing Latino students across the U.S.

1. Recruit and Retain Diverse Teachers

Throughout the U.S., “only one-tenth of 1 percent of Latino students attend a school system where the portion of Latino teachers equals or exceeds the percentage of Latino students,” according to the

That analysis showed that 85% of white teachers were teaching at the same school they taught in the year before, whereas only 79% of Latino teachers fell into that category.

The Brookings Institution recommends:

  • School districts should increase investment in recruiting and retaining teachers of color
  • Universities should improve diversity among those preparing to teach
  • Potentially offer financial aid and robust career assistance for teachers
  • Create private donor programs underrepresented groups that offers recipients a substantial student loan to be forgiven if they teach in a public school for at least two years Education Latino Students Improve K-12

In addition to current efforts to address workplace culture, districts should also consider:

  • Offer “differentiated professional development” for teachers of color to network and access continuing education opportunities
  • Create more inclusive environments in schools with predominantly white teaching staff 

“Representation absolutely matters and it matters for … almost every educational outcome you can think of,” Seth Gershenson, a public policy professor at American University, told Washington Post.

2. Improve Food Security

Food insecurity is prevalent in the United States, especially in Latino and Black communities.

Latino and Black households are more likely to suffer food insecurity (16.2% and 21.2%, respectively) than the national average (11.1%), according to USDA data.

In schools, school meals are rising as a solution to both food insecurity and nutrition insecurity, especially for students of color.

But for Latino students, many attend schools with high levels of access to unhealthy foods and sugary drinks in school stores, snack lines, and vending machines. Latino students ate or drank 47 more “low-nutrient” calories per day than their peers, according to a Salud America! research review.

To improve the food Latino students are offered, The Brookings Institution recommends:

  • The federal government could increase the maximum Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefit
  • State and local governments could also invest more in food security programs, potentially by giving families an electronic benefit transfer (EBT) to purchase meals (especially over the summer)
  • Some schools and districts with at least 40% of students qualifying for other assistance (like SNAP) have started offering free meals to all students, which improves food security and eases the administrative burden on schools and school districts
  • School districts could also expand summer meal flexibility, perhaps through creating more food pickup locations

“A modernized [food security] is more than a commitment to good nutrition – it’s an investment in our nation’s health, economy, and security,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Ensuring low-income families have access to a healthy diet helps prevent disease, supports children in the classroom, reduces health care costs, and more. And the additional money families will spend on groceries helps grow the food economy, creating thousands of new jobs along the way.”

3. Devote Resources to Close the Remote-Learning Gap

One of the issues educators and administrators face is not having a full understanding of the digital divide issue at-large.

“It’s really hard to get people to tell you they don’t have [an] internet connection when they can’t use the internet to respond to a survey or send an email,” Kevin Schwartz, Austin Independent School District’s technology officer, told The Texas Observer. “What we’ve got is based on national data, and we’ve modified that based on what we know in Austin and from those who talk to our communities.”

Nationally, over 15 million students do not have sufficient internet access. Over 300,000 teachers struggle to educate due to poor connection, according to the Common Sense report. Inequities in school health and education

The Brookings Institution suggests:

  • Offering summer school, while others consider the benefits of afterschool programs that target learning gaps.
  • Both have the potential to improve student learning outcomes and may give working parents (especially those with unpredictable schedules) more flexibility.
  • Schools may also consider supplementing instruction with high-quality tutoring during school, after school, or in the summer.

4. Shape Family-Friendly Immigration Policy

Education impacts the lives of children and families — especially for immigrant families.

If schools do not accommodate to those needs, it can affect socio-emotional needs of these children and adults.

For dual-language students, education can be difficult, considering 81% of teachers are white, according to new research from the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE).

The experts at Brookings say that, “education and child welfare being weighed heavily in the shaping of immigration policy.”

Those researchers Recommend:

  • Keeping families together when making decisions about the immigration status of parents
  • More help being provided to immigrant students
  • Lowering language barriers in programs to help those receiving federal assistance designed to expand educational opportunities for young low-income children.
  • Policymakers emphasizing communicating public food assistance
  • Further workforce development,
  • Greater housing assistance
  • Other access to other programs for immigrant families

“Meeting the needs of such diverse immigrant child and family situations requires knowledge, commitment, and emotional energy on the parts of school administrators, teachers, and other school personnel,” according to the guidelines. “School professionals should be poised to provide assistance to immigrant families in a culturally competent manner.”

5. Promote Fair Work Scheduling

Amid COVID-19, many people were laid off or faced reduced work.

Latinas suffered the biggest drop in workforce size of any demographic group, according to UCLA Latino Police and Politics Initiative (UCLA LPPI), a Latino-focused think tank.

This could have a long-lasting impact on Latina wellbeing, labor shortages, and economic recovery overall, said Sonja Diaz, the founding director of UCLA LPPI.

“Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic really created a ripple effect of economic disruption in particular on communities by race, and then again, by gender,” Diaz told ABC News. Toxic Stress in Education and How to Prevent it

Unpredictable work schedules make it challenging for employees to schedule the rest of their lives, which is particularly difficult for parents who need to arrange childcare.

“Requiring employers to pay workers for schedule changes made within 14 days’ notice is one promising approach towards incentivizing employers to give workers more predictable schedules,” the Brookings report states.

What You Can Do to Help Latino Students

How can we support Latino students?

Here are some ways to help:

Education experts suggest investing in community college programs that help residents earn a high school equivalency credential and get on a pathway to higher education.

“States must do better in serving Latino students when it comes to access and success in public higher education,” said Arturo Vargas, Chief Executive Officer of NALEO Educational Fund. “NALEO Educational Fund will continue to work towards this goal by supporting Latino elected and appointed officials as they develop and enact policies to improve academic opportunity and success among our community.”

You can also find out how equitable education is for Latino students in your area.

Download a Health Equity Report Card from Salud America! at UT Health San Antonio.

With the report card, you can find maps and data visualizations on rates of adults with no high school diploma, data on preschool enrollment, and the rate high school graduation as well as dropouts.

You can then email your Health Equity Report Card to school and community leaders, share on social, and build the case to address education issues in at-risk areas!


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