When Minorities are the Majority
For the first time, Latino students are a majority of the state’s student population. Numbering more than 3.2 million, the Latino student population of California is larger than the individual student populations of every state in the Union except Texas. And when Latino students are combined with Asian, African American, Pacific Islander and mixed-race students, the “minority” students in California make up 73 percent of all students.
Clearly, when it comes to our public schools, the old notions of majority and minority have been turned upside down. One would imagine that this demographic shift would be accompanied by a similarly dramatic shift in the perspective of the policymakers in charge of our public schools. Unfortunately, our political and educational systems have a long way to go before they catch up with the needs of the new majority.
Too many California students fall through gaping holes in our college and career pipeline. On average, only six of 10 African American and Latino students graduate from high school. Last year, there were more Latino 12th-grade dropouts than Latino freshmen on a UC or CSU campus. For those African American and Latino students who get into our California State University system, less than four of 10 graduate in six years.
There are no silver bullets for this systemic breakdown of lost opportunities. California is at a generational crossroads, in which the old majority-minority paradigm and attendant deficit view of communities of color is not merely offensive, it’s downright dangerous. This isn’t a “minority” issue; it’s about the future of our state. Once the Baby Boomers retire in California, who will take their place? Where will the college graduates and highly trained workers who will fuel the next generation of California’s growth come from, if not the extraordinary mix of students in our schools?
The true heroes of California’s public schools are the children and their parents who desperately want a better future. What they need are courageous political leaders willing to grasp the scope of our demographic change and capitalize on the benefits of our students’ linguistic and cultural diversity in an increasingly globalized world. We need leaders willing to construct education policies aimed at both taking advantage of those strengths and making the hard budget and programmatic choices necessary to fund our children’s needs.
This means breaking free from the orthodoxy of both political parties – with public-employee unions on the left and taxpayer associations on the right, and shutting down the sideshow debates over charter schools or math pedagogy. It means finding Democrats willing to stand up to those teacher unions focused on meeting the demands of their longest-tenured members and Republicans willing to stand up to taxpayer associations that refuse to fund the educational needs of the new majority.
It means finding politicians of all stripes willing to focus on investing in the future of California instead of refighting the issues of the past.
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