Thursday, May 11, 2017

Twice In One Week: An Educational Barrier of the Past and Present

Twice in one week! I listened to two related stories of triumph; I wish, however, that this familiar narrative would die. I have studied the past, been admonished by my parents at the dinner table as a youth, and frustrated by the not uncommon accounts of students and colleagues how high school counselors continue to steer away Mexican-origin youth from college-prep courses.

At a May 3rd Future Leaders of America forum at Cesar Chavez Elementary, students of the Oxnard Union High School District delivered data and testimonies on the achievement gap in their respective campuses in comparison to schools in Ventura County’s more affluent communities.

Actually, A-G admission requirements for the California State University and University of California framed the discussion. A FLA study indicates while Hispanics made up 75% of the students in the OUHSD in 2014, only 22% of graduating seniors from this demographic completed coursework to attend a CSU or UC.

In addition to the factors of family income and race that defines the character of college admissions, the discretion of one high school counselor in particular echoed the racist expectations of 20th century educators who assumed that parents and students of Mexican-origin did not value education.

To combat this persistent lie, each FLA presenter, some 15 talented high school students in all, declared, “We value education.” One in particular shared the story how he made repeated pleas to his counselor to be enrolled in honors courses only to be told that not a single section had room for him. Determined to prepare himself for college, he approached the teachers of such classes to ask if open seats existed. All replied yes.

The counselor, however, did not budge. Even more resolute, though, this student made an appointment with the campus principal to meet with him and his parents. Only then was he allowed to take the courses he wanted. As a result of his brio, he will graduate this year #1 in his class and attend the University of California at Berkeley in the fall.

“Halleluiah!” I said to myself as I held back from standing up in the audience to shout, “That counselor must be fired!”

Afterward, OUHSD Superintendent Dr. Penelope DeLeon provided another silver lining. She announced the district’s increase in Advance Placement course enrollments by 1,069 college bound students. To replace unsatisfactory grades, students will also have the opportunity to retake A-G classes in the summer. Added to this, the district will cover the registration cost of all its students to take the college PSAT and SAT.

Two days later, I participated in the presidential investiture ceremony of my new boss, Dr. Erika D. Beck, at CSU Channel Islands. After the congratulatory speeches of colleagues, friends, and family, Dr. Beck professed the power of a higher education to transform lives. To prove this, she exampled the story of Judge Michele M. Castillo, appointed to the Ventura County Superior Court in 2016.

Among several challenges in her family while growing up, Judge Castillo’s father battled alcoholism. To shield herself from the discord in a household that accompanies addiction, the isolation of study was Michele’s refuge and going away to a university her escape plan. Similar to the experience of the FLA student, however, her Buena High School counselor discouraged her, too, from an AP load of classes. For the young Michele, this counselor created a schedule in home economics. No college needed for her.

Despite this lack of encouragement, she enrolled in the classes she demanded and was accepted by UCLA, UC Davis, USC, and Stanford. She became a Bruin, graduated, and went on to earn a law degree from Thomas Jefferson Law School in San Diego. After a 13 year tenure as a public defender, Judge Castillo now serves as a role model of the possible in her community while ensuring equal justice for all.

Although stories of the FLA student and Judge Castillo are of perseverance, they highlight an exceptionalism. But how many persons—particularly of Mexican origin and others from the historically underserved—have not enjoyed the improved life chances that comes with a higher education due to the low expectations of educators? Too many. Educational data tells us this.

So what’s the answer? Increased state funding for K-14 public schools, the CSU, and UC so an army of culturally competent and sensitive counselors can encourage all students to pursue a higher education, especially for those who embrace this dream.

As President Beck referenced a 2015 Public Policy Institute of California study, this is an imperative as the state’s economy will face a shortfall of 1.1 million employees with baccalaureate degrees by 2030. This is while nearly 55% of students in the state’s educational pipeline consist of Hispanic youth. As a federally recognized Hispanic Serving Institution, over fifty percent of CSU Channel Islands’ student body alone consist of people, largely, of Mexican origin.

To meet the state’s demand for a highly skilled workforce, the people of California must force elected state and federal representatives such as President Donald Trump; Governor Jerry Brown; Senators Diane Feinstein and Kamala Harris; House of Representative members Julia Brownley and Salud Carbajal; and state senators Hannah Beth Jackson and Henry Stern; and assemblymembers Jacqui Irwin and Monique Limon; and others to fully fund public education beyond the levels of the Great Recession of 2007.

For this to happen, call them (and other elected officials) to make this demand. Their contact information can be found at


No comments: