I just returned from a week long camping trip in New Hampshire with a group of approximately 70 teenage girls. The girls came from all walks of life – some of them were from higher socioeconomic backgrounds with others coming from families who were struggling to make ends meet; some of them spoke only English with others having barely arrived from another country, and so on. Interacting with these girls provoked reflection on the types of opportunities each of them has within their respective schools and communities. I wondered about what each of them would do with their lives, their careers, their families, and their opportunities for growth.
While gathered around a campfire one afternoon with some of the girls, I asked them about their experiences at school and their plans following high school graduation. One of the Latinos told me how she had been held back that school year and was about to repeat the grade. She said she didn’t really like school. Another Latino girl told me how her school had a poor reputation and that the teaching wasn’t very good. One of the White girls told me how she had thought a lot about college during the past school year with another telling me of her upcoming tryouts for sports. I was intrigued by how well their responses aligned with what research has said about school performance and quality. Those girls coming from more affluent neighborhoods described greater opportunities in terms of educational and extracurricular activities, a higher quality of teaching and learning, and could articulate clearer goals for thinking about higher education following high school. Those from schools located in areas reflecting lower socioeconomics described a poorer quality of teaching and learning, fewer opportunities for academic and extracurricular growth, and had less clear plans regarding postsecondary pursuits. While I realize that the discrepancies mentioned above are broad generalizations and that the sampling was less than representative of the population at large, this experience highlighted a persistent concern in public education – that educational opportunities for students are not always equitable.
My research interests are in the area of equitable educational opportunities for Latin American students, more particularly in their educational opportunities following high school. Educational inequity for Latin American students has persisted over time and is reflected in their retention and enrollment in higher education (Cabrera & La Nasa, 2001; Choy, Horn, Nunez, & Chen, 2000; Hurtado, Inkelas, Briggs, & Rhee, 1997). When compared with other ethnic and racial groups, Latin American students reflect one of the lowest college enrollment rates (Huber, Huidor, Malagon, Sanchez, & Solorzano, 2006).
Schools within the United States continue to be the recipients of immigrant students. Our nation claims that No Child [will be] Left Behind. But what is happening in the schools nationwide? A report by the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center (Huber et al., 2006) considered U.S. census data from the year 2000 indicating that of the Latino students included in the report, 54% of the females and 51% of the males graduated from high school, and 11% of the females and 10% of the males graduated from college. This was in comparison to a high school graduation rate of 84% for White females and 83% for males, and a college graduation rate of 24% for White females and 28% for White males. Data from 2005 presented by the American Council on Education (Cook & Cordova, 2007) showed that 87.8% of White students and 65.9% of Hispanic students graduated from high school, and 48.7% of White students and 37.6% of Hispanic students enrolled in college. Data highlighted by these studies indicates that a problem exists in providing equitable opportunities for all students.
What can be done to address these issues of equity and social justice within education? Although useful interventions have been implemented by policymakers, educators, and community members, I pause to ask if the voices of teenage girls sitting around a campfire are being heard. Are their experiences from their native countries and cultures being listened to in terms of how this impacts their perspectives and goals for the future? And what role do their parents and families have in all of this? It is my personal mission to better understand the voices of these students so that I can help provide more equitable educational opportunities for them that meet their individual and collective needs. These students are not just numbers included in statistics illustrating discrepancies in educating the nation’s youth; they are human beings who deserve a right to a high quality education.
Cabrera, A. F., & La Nasa, S. M. (2001). On the path to college: Three critical tasks facing America's disadvantaged. Research in Higher Education, 42(2), 119-149.
Choy, S. P., Horn, L. J., Nunez, A., & Chen, X. (2000). Transition to college: What helps at-risk students and students whose parents did not attend college. New Directions for Institutional Research, 27(3), 45-63.
Cook, B. J., & Cordova, D. I. (2007). Minorities in higher education: Twenty-second annual status report: 2007 supplement. Washington, DC: American Council on Education.
Huber, L. P., Huidor, O., Malagon, M. C., Sanchez, G., & Solorzano, D. (2006). Falling through the cracks: Critical transitions in the Latina/o educational pipeline, 2006 Latina/o Education Summit report. Los Angeles, CA: UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center.
Hurtado, S., Inkelas, K. K., Briggs, C., & Rhee, B. S. (1997). Differences in college access and choice among racial/ethnic groups: Identifying continuing barriers. Research in Higher Education, 38(1), 43-75.