Arizona education experts concerned Latino students still lag in classroom
PHOENIX – Latinos make up nearly half of all K-12 public school students in Arizona but continue to underperform on key education benchmarks, raising concerns about the state’s future workforce.
The latest enrollment numbers by the Arizona Department of Education show 45% of public school students are Latino, up slightly from a decade ago.
David Garcia, associate professor with the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University, said that while the Latino student population steadily grows, their academic achievement “has also been subpar over time.”
“That, unfortunately, continues,” he said. “The idea of Latino students being ready to hit those major milestones – being ready for kindergarten, for example, reading by third grade, achieving in mathematics in eighth grade at the levels that they need to – all those continue to be pressing issues.”
Garcia added Latino students continue to fall behind on high school graduation rates and college attainment as well.
He believes one major reason for that has to do with high poverty rates among Latino students.
“The most detrimental aspects of being poor, of poverty, is instability and it’s the instability associated with poverty that is most detrimental to students achieving their educational goals,” Garcia explained.
“If a family has to move out, for example, because they’re not able to make rent, that is tremendously disruptive to a student’s educational progress,” he added.
Garcia also pointed to research he has done that shows a much higher percentage of students are eligible for free or reduced lunch in areas where 75% of students are Latinos in Arizona versus areas where less than 25% are Latinos.
Stephanie Parra, executive director of the advocacy group ALL in Education, agreed that poverty is an underlying issue that directly impacts Latino student outcomes. And she’s worried the pandemic has made matters worse.
She believes schools are trying their best to help these students.
“They’re providing wrap-around support, social emotional counseling and therapy … all that while we also ask schools to do what they are charged with doing, which is teach our children,” Parra said.
She said one solution would be to change the funding formula so that schools are provided additional state dollars for student living in poverty. Adding this “poverty weight” would require legislative action.
“Other states across the country have recognized that it costs more to educate children who are growing up in poverty because they require wrap-around support services,” Parra said.
“Arizona just has not made that connection yet, unfortunately.”
She stressed as one of the fastest-growing demographics in the state, Latino students represent the future of Arizona.
“If our Latino students are not attaining at the rates that they should be, it says a lot about the future of our economy,” she said.
“We have to make sure that Latino students and their families have opportunities and are supported so that they can be a thriving future workforce for Arizona.”