Remembering the Alamo

By Watson Scott SwailPresident & Senior Research Scholar, Educational Policy Institute

In this week’s news, we feature a new study by the DC-based Alliance for Excellent Education, which finds that over $1.4 billion is spent at US two-year institutions for developmental (remedial) education. The issue of remediation continues to become an increasing challenge for educational institutions in the US and Canada. Critics of remedial programming suggest that if high schools did their job better, this wouldn’t be an issue. That’s a hard point to argue. Certainly, if our middle and high schools better prepared students for higher education, we would rely less on remedial programs later in the education process. However, education reform doesn’t happen overnight and, given our track record over the past 20 years, it hardly occurs at all.

It’s an early Friday morning in San Antonio, Texas. I just came back from a walk around the infamous Alamo (or, more correctly, the Mission San Antonio de Valero), which I’ve done several times in my life, but am always taken by how humbling an experience it is.

The Alamo only vaguely resembles what it was in 1836, when the battle between Santa Anna and the Texans occurred. For those of you not steeped in the history, this is where Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie, and pals succumbed to intense fighting from thousands of Mexicans. Still, looking at the Alamo reminds us of the battles that have been waged to protect rights and fight oppression, for which the Texans were fighting.

I am here at a special conference hosted by Innovative Educators, a small, for-profit group that orchestrates occasional events in education. Today’s conference is focused on Latino students and educational opportunity, an issue at the core of the Educational Policy Institute’s mission.

What we understand is that Latino youth face barriers beyond most other youth in America. On average, they live in lesser neighborhoods, go to lesser schools, and are taught by lesser teachers. A much smaller percentage of Latinos graduate from high school, go to college, and graduate than White or Asian students.

Not to run an analogy to strongly, but I wonder when we, as a nation, are going to decide to fight for Latino, Black, Native American, poor White youth, and others who are historically disenfranchised by society? In Canada, we obviously can extend this to Aboriginals and First Nations, in addition to low-income youth.

Our governments — state, provincial, and federal — work at an incremental pace, meaning that public policy grows at a rate well below the pace of industry and global change. It seems we can’t even get even, let alone get ahead. This is a frustrating issue for some of us policy wonks. In the US, Senator Kennedy is leading the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act, but most of us understand clearly that NCLB is hardly the answer. Many practitioners argue that NCLB has made the challenge more difficult from the federal intrusion. Who really knows…

But we need to do something to jump start the conversation. For our part, the Educational Policy Institute, in partnership with the University of Maryland, College Park, is hosting a National Capitol Summit on Latino Youth and Educational Opportunity on Capitol Hill June 13-14. Many scholars, members of congress, and others will be in attendance to discuss the challenges, and hopefully, solutions to the plight of Latino youth. This summit certainly won’t remedy the issues, and maybe we won’t accomplish much, but it is our hope that our conversation, tacked on to what we are doing here in San Antonio today, will help leverage political willpower to make change not only plausible, but possible.

The registration information will be posted this weekend. Please come back and visit us on Monday and register for this important conversation in the Nation’s Capital. We can only make a difference by trying.

Remember the Alamo…

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