As a native Arizonan and product of our public education system, I have experienced many of the barriers that other Latinos have or will live through. These barriers represent lack of resources, lack of quality teachers, large class sizes, flawed policies, practices and strategies. Communities of color in Arizona have, for decades, been faced with injustice, poverty and overall lack of opportunities. These issues did not arise overnight and will in turn take undeniable dedication from our communities and leaders to solve.
One of the issues is the significant gap in representation at all levels and positions of decision-making and power within our school systems. At 46%, Latino students make up nearly half of Arizona’s K-12 system population, yet only 16% of the teaching workforce and less than 13% of education-board members are Latino. This gap greatly affects student outcomes and success. The lack of lived experience has led to decisions being made that are not representative of what the communities we are serving need. As the executive director of ALL In Education, my work is to speak truth to power and ensure that this organization is taking the necessary steps to address the long list of issues that have been barriers to the success of Latino students and families. To shed light on the challenges faced by Latino students, we released “MAPA: The State of Arizona Latino Education, Power and Influence.”
MAPA evaluates and shares findings on the makeup of the entire system, from Arizona school boards, classrooms and Latino academic achievement. Our data analysis not only confirmed the gap in representation, we also found that Latino students and families are being pocketed into communities of high poverty and low performing schools. MAPA serves as an annual report to track ALL In Education’s progress toward increasing Latino representation and attainment. This will be the MAPA or roadmap for our organization to help guide the research and policy agenda while keeping us accountable in our progress. We cannot deny the impact that lived experience and representation has on the policies and decisions that affect our students. We know that when students see themselves reflected in the classroom, they tend to create stronger bonds with educators, and there’s data that shows that one single effective teacher of the same race of the student increases the likelihood of the student having better academic outcomes. That is why we have created three leadership development programs that will address these issues – the Parent Educator Academy (PEA), Adelante Fellowship and LISTO (Leaders In Support of Transformational Opportunities).
PEA is a new innovative workforce development strategy to support parents and educators with distance learning. Adelante Fellowship will focus on exposing emerging leaders in our communities to what it means to be an advocate, how policies are formed and how the education system works. Lastly, LISTO will work with Latino leaders who are ready to serve on local and state education and organization governing boards. We believe these programs will help address these gaps in our education system while helping increase student outcomes.
Arizona not only has a moral imperative to prioritize Latino student success, this is also our state’s economic imperative. We can no longer afford to turn a blind eye to what this will mean for our future. From an economic standpoint, if we do not create solutions for this population of students to gain access to living and high-wage careers – the future of our economy of Arizona is at stake. In the near future we will be dependent on our current population of students to enter the workforce with the skills needed to be successful. The longer we wait to address the needs of these students, the more we put our economy in jeopardy.
As I look at the trajectory of Arizona, I envision a state that is thriving, welcoming and an environment that promotes opportunity and justice for all. When I think of the current state of Arizona, I am reminded that to get there it is critical for us to do the work now. We don’t have the time to wait.
You can read the full report and watch the virtual summit here: allineducation.org/mapa
Stephanie Parra is executive director of All In Education.