Latino Students and School Reform

Achieving Equity for Latino Students: Expanding the Pathway to Higher Education through Public Policy
by Frances Contreras
(Teachers College Press, 208 pp., $29.95)

I have never pretended to be an expert on access problems as they relate to the Latino community.  However, the rigor of the research and the comprehensiveness of the approach of Frances Contreras in this new book (one of a series), Achieving Equity for Latino Students, makes this volume a commendable effort in an era when there is an astonishing increase in the number of Latino students to be served.

Dr. Contreras argues that Latino students are seriously disadvantaged in the whole college admissions process.  As the author’s eight-year-old niece points out, “my school does not look like the schools on Nickelodeon.”  Bilingual programs rarely have been successful, despite their advocates’ claims to the contrary, in helping students for whom English is a second language.  Participation in A.P. courses has been the exception rather than the rule for Latino students.  Standardized tests frequently bear an oblique relationship to what is taught.  Principals too often sacrifice their instructional responsibilities in favor of seemingly more pressing managerial concerns.  Last but not least, the extraordinary inflation in the cost of college attendance is a matter of acute concern to the Latino community, along with everyone else.

But Contreras does more than rehearse the litany of difficulties.  She suggests policy initiatives that, if implemented, would go a long way toward making the playing field more level.  To cite a few of her recommendations:

1)  Subsidized pre-school programs
2)  Targeted recruitment and better preparation for teachers
3)  Immigration policy reform
4)  Reframing the discussion around testing and accountability
5)  Increasing financial aid

In summary, this book does what it sets out to do.  It provides a clear guide as to how most effectively to improve access to higher education for Latino students. Frances Contreras’ exceptional knowledge of this field shines through all the details informing the text.

I recommend this volume to all those really interested in constructive alternatives to the status quo at a time of unprecedented change – culturally, politically, economically, and above all, demographically – in the life of the nation.

-A. Graham Down

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