Why hiring more Latino teachers is not the solution

On Friday, the Chicago City Council Latino Caucus released a statement criticizing Mayor Rahm Emanuel for the lack of Latino leaders in the Chicago Public Schools.  Interim CPS CEO Jesse Ruiz resumed his position as vice-president of the Board of Education—not president–generating some backlash against the mayor for not naming Ruiz to a higher leadership position.  It’s unclear if Ruiz even wanted one of these roles.

Interestingly, some of the alderman quoted in the statement did not back the Latino mayoral candidate Jesus “Chuy” Garcia in the mayoral election.  They did not support the opportunity for this city to have its first Latino leader.

The Latino Caucus members call on CPS to hire “greater numbers of Latino teachers and Latinos in leadership positions.”  They cite Illinois State Board of Education data stating that 4.8% of Chicago teachers are Hispanic while Hispanics make up 46% of the CPS population.

My question for the Latino Caucus is—where do you expect these high numbers of Latino teachers to come from?

While college enrollment  for Latinos is up, college completion remains low.  According to the Pew Research Center in 2013, “Latinos continue to lag other groups when it comes to earning a bachelor’s degree. In 2012, 14.5% of Latinos ages 25 and older had earned one. By contrast, 51% of Asians, 34.5% of whites and 21.2% of blacks had earned a bachelor’s degree. Hispanic college students are also less likely than whites to enroll in a four-year college, attend a selective college, and enroll full-time.”

In 2012, 5.9% of the bachelor’s degrees conferred were in education, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.  Compare this to 1971 when 21% of of bachelor’s degrees conferred were in education.

Education is no longer an attractive profession.

And it’s harder to become a teacher. Aspiring teachers have to not only get into college and finance it, they also have to pass additional tests—and jump through so many hoops–to prove their competence.

A couple of years ago, Chicago Public Radio reported that the overall pass rate for a teacher licensing exam in Illinois (TAP) is less than half what it was before, “and the changes have disproportionately hurt non-Asian minorities. Sixty percent of African-Americans used to pass the TAP; now it’s 17 percent. For Hispanics, the pass rate has dropped from 70 percent, to 22 percent.”  I wonder about the decrease in minorities taking the exam.

While there is a shortage of Latino teachers, we cannot push Latinos or other minorities into this field simply to change data.

We should only encourage minority students to be teachers if they see this career as a path toward self-fulfillment. Sometimes minority students don’t know of all the career options they have, so they go with the familiar. That’s unfair to them, too.

On the policy side, leaders at the national and local level need to devote attention and resources to schools in Latino communities.  While many African American schools in Chicago struggle with decreasing enrollment, many schools in Latino communities–especially Southwest side high schools–are full to capacity. The education conversation for too long has remained black and white.

We do have a shortage of Latino teachers–but we have a shortage of Latinos in many influential positions such as medicine, government, and journalism.  The Latino experience gets little attention and really only comes up when we discuss English-language learners–but not all Latinos fall into this category.

Students tell me that having a teacher who grew up in similar circumstances makes a difference to them.  But this connection is one part of the teacher-student relationship. While cultural awareness and competence play important roles in teacher-student relationships, what plays the definitive role is how good the teacher is.

Teachers of color make a difference in communities of color only if they know their content, only if they can teach and engage students, only if they have the social skills to maneuver through class and generational differences, only if they’re focused on student needs and not on themselves. Being brown and college-degreed and passionate is not enough.

When I started at DePaul in 1990, the tuition was $8,000.  With some financial aid and my part-time Burger King job, I was able to pay for that first year.  Then the tuition began increasing.  By my fifth year, which came about because of incredible financial challenges, I was trying to pay $15,000 a year.  Today, DePaul’s tuition is over $32,000.

Why would a high-achieving minority student be motivated to pay over $125,000 to become a teacher and enter a field with public criticism, budget cuts, unstable employment options, questionable retirement plans, and increasing demands?

We need to educate minority students more effectively and help them make good decisions about post-secondary options that will lead to lucrative, influential careers.  Whether we like it or not, income matters for a minority college graduate from a low-income background.

The other thing to remember is that an education degree leads to few opportunities outside of education.  So minority students who earn an education degree need to realize the limits this degree carries.

Through the collaboration of non-profit leaders, Chicago Public Schools formed a Latino Advisory Committee.  I criticized the group for not including any Latino teachers.  They didn’t even seem to value people with education degrees.

To date, the Latino Advisory Committee has not publicly commented on the impact that high CEO turnover is having on the largest minority group in our schools and the mayor’s recent appointments.

In June in a Catalyst-Chicago article, however, a number of individual Latino and Latina leaders did openly criticize the mayor’s exclusion of Latinos in his Board appointments.

As far as the Latino Caucus’s criticism of not having enough Latino leaders, I want to remind them that as a Latino community, we do not do enough to develop leaders because we become constrained by politics and cliques.

When I worked at central office about ten years ago when there were a large number of Latino and Latina leaders, many times, these key leaders glared at me across the table at meetings with a skeptical subtext of “how did you get here?” because I was not part of their Latino leadership clique.

When one high-powered Latina leader would barely turn to interact with me at one meeting (due to, I think, her tense relationship with the office I worked in), I reminded her she had been my fourth grade reading teacher.  Oh—I got a hug and smiles after that!  Too many Latino leaders base relationships on personal politics.

So we see that having Latino leaders does not always guarantee that those leaders will act on behalf of the community they’re supposed to represent.

At my high school on Chicago’s Southwest side, where the student population is almost 100% Latino, approximately 15% of the teachers are Latino.  This is due to thoughtful hiring that started with a bold principal a few years ago who saw the need to diversify the school’s teaching population.  Still, she did not hire just any Latino teacher.  She hired Latino teachers who were competent and who would work hard to meet students’ needs.

Advocates for the hiring of more Latino teachers are quick to cite research about the positive impact that teachers of color can have on students of color.  But no one is talking about the data that reveals why Latino students struggle to get to and through college.  That’s the real conversation our current Latino leaders need to push.

Read why I discourage Latino students from becoming teachers.

Updated 7.20.15 at 5:05 p.m. to include a link to the Catalyst-Chicago article where Sylvia Puente of the Latino Policy Forum, Former State Senator Miguel Del Valle, and a few others criticized the lack of Latinos on the Board of Ed.

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