No one at my school expected me to attend college, much less lead the nation's largest Hispanic Christian organization. I grew up attending public school in Pennsylvania, an eager student with a knack for numbers and science. Yet as many wealthier and non-Hispanic students in my district were expected to excel and attend college, those high expectations did not apply to me or my friends. We lived in socially-challenged neighborhoods and our educational standards corresponded to our zip code. Though I had been identified for the gifted program and was taking honors classes, I will never forget how the guidance counselor explained that "kids like me" go to vocational or technical schools. My future options were limited in her eyes as she spelled it out clearly, "Do you want to focus on electrical or auto mechanic?"
My parents were not college educated, but they possessed great spiritual fortitude and wisdom, which helped me channel the racism I experienced into a determination to prove that guidance counselor wrong. The youngest in my family, I was the first to graduate college. I returned to that same high school as a teacher and requested to teach "BASIC" track students, knowing the minority students ended up there, as well as an honors class. I pushed the minority students to excel and told them they could have the same hopes and dreams as their middle class friends because they were the same on the inside. Unheard of at the time, I kept the content and expectations high for both groups of students, customizing the methodology for individual needs. Then I did something really radical: I gave the honors class 9th grade World History test to my "BASIC" class. The results proved that both sets of students could exceed - if they were given the right supports and high expectations.
Decades have passed since my own public school experience yet many minority students, especially the poor and immigrant students, are still held to lower educational standards. This dishonors the intellect, work ethic and soul of these children even as it handicaps our nation's future. Every child is created in the image of God, and every child deserves to be held to high educational expectations, which is why I support the Common Core State Standards. I wish they had been in place during my public school years, during the years I was teaching, to lift the eyes and fuel the dreams of minority students. At the very least, we can do better for this generation by holding equally high standards for all students.
Already adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia, the Common Core standards offer clear and consistent guidelines for what students should be able to do at each grade level in math and English Language Arts. Top researchers have found these standards superior to those recently used in 37 states for English Language Arts and 39 states in math, and on par with educational standards in top performing countries. For decades many states have set educational expectations too low for all students, but particularly for those in low-income schools where many Hispanic children are educated. Hispanic high school students are graduating at a rate over 10 percent lower than their white peers. Those who do graduate high school find their diploma an empty promise. Far too many students were told they were on track, only to discover they weren't as they fail in college-level work.
Because the status quo was failing children, Governors and state educational officers came together to raise expectations and align what students need to know in high school with the skills and knowledge to succeed in college. This effort resulted in streamlined academic standards focused on what is most important for students to master in order to succeed in college level work, such as critical thinking and strong math fluency. Now the Common Core offers parents, students and teachers clear learning goals which are easy to understand yet consistently demanding. This is good news for Hispanic students, since fifty-eight percent of those who currently make it to college do not graduate. As our next generation is held to higher standards before high school graduation, they will be prepared to not only enter but to thrive on their college campuses.
By supporting Common Core I stand with leading Republican Governors like Bobby Jindal, Chris Christie, Mitch Daniels, former Governor Bush, and former Governor Huckabee - all of whom deemed the adoption of the Common Core State Standards in the best interest of the students in their states. There has been controversy over these standards recently, and much misinformation is being circulated, fueled by unfounded fears and partisan politics. Raising educational expectations for our nation's young people may be a challenge, but we will see those students rise to meet the challenge. The Common Core State Standards is just the starting point for raising expectations for quality public education.
Because we seek to honor the image of God shared by all children, I am proud to lead the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference
in support of the Common Core. We are committed to empowering all students with the foundational tools for success, including high educational standards and the awareness that God created and values each child. Our future leaders are being raised all across the country, in every zip code, in skin of every shade, and each one must be held to high educational expectations so they can flourish and lead. The United States has always been a land of opportunity. Let us also be a land of educational opportunity.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rev. Samuel Rodriguez is President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.