It’s Up to Us to Expect More.

Last Friday, Morrison Institute for Public Policy released a new report called, “Dropped?” highlighting that Arizona’s economic future is at risk if we fail to address our Latino education attainment gap   We couldn’t agree more.  Ensuring high expectations and a high quality education, birth through career, for all our students must be Arizona’s top economic priority.

The report, supported by the Virginia G. Piper Trust and the Helios Education Foundation, is a follow-up to the 2001 publication, “Five Shoes Waiting to Drop.”  Published more than a decade ago, the report asserted that while Latino youth were upwardly mobile, in 2001, only half of all Arizona Latinos obtained a high school diploma.  The report sounded a warning call that without a concentrated effort to provide educational opportunities for our state’s young Latino students, Arizona’s future economic and social well-being would be severely compromised.

Fast-forward more than 10 years, and while there have been many bright spots, we have not succeeded in moving the needle in a significant way on educational progress among Latinos. Meanwhile, the Latino population continues to grow and become a more significant economic determinant for our state.

For example:

  • In 1980, Latinos made up 16% of Arizona’s total population.  Today, that number is 30%.  Latinos will eventually comprise a majority of Arizonans and comprise a larger share of state leadership, workforce and tax base.
  • Currently, there are more Latinos under the age of 18 than Caucasians.  There is little doubt that Latinos are the workforce of the future.
  • Projections show by 2030, the combined average income for Latinos and Caucasians in Arizona will drop to $32,423, down from $39,667 today if income and education trends continue.

Although this report draws attention to the overall need to strengthen Arizona’s education system, it is really more of a dire economic warning than a traditional education report.  It also highlights the fact that while we knew the issue was upon us a decade ago, we haven’t made the necessary systemic changes to address the issue and close the achievement gap that we know exists.

So, why haven’t we? We all want a bright future for our state and for our children, but the challenges of raising the bar for Arizona education and closing the achievement gap for students growing up in low-income communities are complex.

Ensuring a world-class education for all Arizona students will take building a statewide movement of public awareness, deeper understanding of the issues, and a willingness to take ownership and action.  It will take hundreds of thousands of dedicated Arizonans who are passionate about ensuring the best education possible for students, especially those most at-risk, and who are willing to ask our leaders to do the same.  As parents, we need to make education the top priority in our homes and stay engaged at every step.  As students, we need to strive for excellence and work hard.  From our leadership, we need the willingness to make necessary investments in education, hold a long-term view, and to work collaboratively.  Perhaps wise words for all of us come from a plaque that once sat on Ronald Reagan’s desk: “There’s no limit to what we can accomplish if we don’t care who gets the credit.”

Real change will start with each of us.  As the mother of a one year-old, I believe it’s important we are willing to advocate for outstanding educational opportunities for other children as we would for our own.  As the daughter of Taiwanese immigrants, and someone who grew up learning English as a second language, I also believe that we must value culture as an asset.  Our Latino, Native American and other minority youth possess wonderful cultural strengths that can be cultivated through an outstanding education.  Only by viewing culture as an asset, while holding high expectations for all students, will we truly maximize our youth’s potential and contributions to this great state.

We must act now.  We simply cannot let another generation of students go by.  Our state’s economic development and the quality of life for all Arizonans depend on our high expectations and our willingness to act with urgency to provide quality education to all students.

Let’s make sure that ten years from now, we are not gathered together again to hear another report telling us worse news.  The title of this report, “Dropped?” is purposefully framed as a question.  Let’s make sure the answer to the question is a resounding, “No. Absolutely not.”

To read the full report, click here.

To read an op-ed about the findings by Judy Jolley Mohraz, President and CEO of the Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust and Paul Luna, President and CEO of Helios Education Foundation, click here.

Pearl Chang Esau is President and CEO of Expect More Arizona