Academic journal article High School Journal

Tensions, Contradictions, and Resistance: An Activist's Reflection of the Struggles of Latino Parents in the Public School System

Academic journal article High School Journal

Tensions, Contradictions, and Resistance: An Activist's Reflection of the Struggles of Latino Parents in the Public School System

Article excerpt

Substantial literature suggests that parent participation is beneficial to student success. Latino parents, however, have traditionally been underrepresented in their children's schools. Historically, this phenomenon has been explicated using deficit perspectives which have viewed Latino parents as culpable for their children's academic and social failure, arguments which have failed to capture the complexity of the relationship between these parents and the public school system.

This article is a parent activist's narrative. Integrating personal experience and parental voices, it examines tensions in the relationship between Latino parents and the public schools. The author suggests that Latino parents can resist, challenge, and even transform contradictory and "oppressive" school policies and practices, particularly when accompanied by political consciousness.

Keywords: parent involvement, assumptions, resistance


A report from the Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture at UCLA reported that the majority of babies born in California during the final six months of 2001 were Latino (Hayes-Bautista, Hsu, Perez, & Kahramanian, 2003). This "study also projected a series of Latino-related milestones for California" (Sanchez, 2003). It predicted that by 2006, the majority of the children entering kindergarten in California will be Latino; by 2014, the majority of children entering high school will be Latino; and by 2019, the majority of young adults eligible to vote by turning 18 will be Latino (Hayes-Bautista, et. al, 2003).

According to the U.S. Census Department, over 32.5 million Latinos (Hispanics) were living in the U.S. in 2000, an increase of approximately 10 million people from 1990 (NCES, 2003). By 2003, two years earlier than predicted (NCES, 2003), Latinos also became "the largest minority group" in the U.S., surpassing African-Americans (Armas, 2003). Yet, despite these impressive demographic numbers in California, and around the country, the educational achievement of Latino students continues to significantly lag behind that of their Anglo counterparts.

In the area of academic testing, Latino students consistently and significantly trail Whites. On the 2001 administration of the SAT-9 (1), 67% of White students scored above the 50th percentile in math, nearly double the 35% of Latino students, in reading, 62% of White students scored above the 50th percentile in comparison to 23% of Latino students (2). The academic disparity between Latinos and Whites, commonly known as the "achievement gap," hinders the Latino students potential to graduate, thus their opportunities to further their education and ultimately their chances in life.

The challenge of finishing high school is further complicated for Latino students by nationwide state trends to implement graduation competency exams which require all students to pass both English reading and math proficiency tests in order to receive a diploma. According to The Sacramento Bee (Louey & Morita, 2001), this problem first surfaced in California in 2001 when 64% of White students passed the math portion of the highly controversial, and recently postponed, California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE), more than double the 25% of Latino students who were able to pass. In reading, 82% of White students passed the CAHSEE in comparison to 48% of Latino students.

Given the academic circumstance Latino students are in, it is not surprising that many of them find these educational barriers insurmountable and opt to leave school instead. More than any other group, Latino students are the most likely to drop out of school (Fry, 2003). Nationwide the status dropout rate (3) for Latinos is "28%, higher than the 7% rate for Whites and the 13% rate for Blacks" (NCES, 2003, p. 40). In California, over 25,000 Latino students dropped out of school before graduating during the 2001--2002 school year (4). …

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