Guest Voz: Early Education and Parent Engagement are Keys to Unlocking the Latino Dropout Crisis

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By Betty Molina Morgan, Ph.D
LatinaLista

After spending 30 plus years in public education, I’ve been a witness to many student challenges and accomplishments over the years. For me, a particular reward was witnessing the achievements of Latino students who were supported and encouraged by parents engaged in their educational success.

No two family situations are the same, but many times, students come from homes where their parents did not have strong educational backgrounds or do not speak English as their primary language. What these parents do have is a home environment created to help their children thrive academically.

Latinos have the lowest educational attainment level of any group in the U.S. Only about half of all Latino students earn their high school diploma on time, and of those who do, only half are as prepared for college as their peers. These statistics are alarming for so many reasons, including the impact they have on a student’s future employment opportunities. Fortunately, there are ways to turn this trend around, and they start with early education and parent engagement.

Much of the recent education debate has centered on high school achievement and dropout rates. While these are important issues to address, in order to reverse this trend we need to ensure that our children’s education is high quality from the earliest possible age.

Numerous studies have shown that children who receive high-quality early childhood education in their first four and a half years of life perform better academically and behaviorally as teenagers, resulting in a greater chance for future life success.

The Perry Preschool Study found that one dollar invested in high-quality early childhood education programs by policymakers resulted in a return of seven dollars in preventative costs associated with school dropout, truancy, incarceration, and teen pregnancy. Simply put, early childhood education is an investment in the success of our youth, the health of the Latino community and our nation’s economic future.

To many people, early childhood education is personified in public school pre-kindergarten programs and Raising A Reader. Each are high-quality, cost-effective resources that benefit early childhood education efforts. Many Latino families are enrolling their children in public school pre-kindergarten programs, while 40 percent of Raising A Reader’s children and their parents are Latinos. Investing in these high-quality, proven programs that serve the Latino community has a positive impact on the future success of our young people.

Research has shown—and I’ve seen in my years in education — that children who participate in pre-kindergarten and early education programs experience increased achievement in test scores as well as favorable long-term effects on grade repetition, special education and graduation rates.

More than a dozen independent evaluations have documented the success of Raising A Reader’s early literacy and parent engagement program. The overarching finding is that children who participate in a Raising A Reader program are better prepared to learn when they enter kindergarten.

Just as the effectiveness of childhood education programs is proven, so too is parent engagement. Parents or guardians are truly a child’s first teacher and can play a huge role in helping stimulate brain development by encouraging family-centered and child-centered activities such as book-sharing and encouraging sound and movement. Routine participation in these activities result in children benefitting from healthy cognitive development, parent-child bonding and increased early literacy skills—all proven elements in achieving life success.

In the words of Latino activist, Cesar Chavez, “There is no turning back, we will win.” There really is no turning back the demographic shift this nation is undergoing. In order to embrace success for this great nation, we must work to improve outcomes for Latino youth. When we do that, we will all truly win.

Betty Molina Morgan, Ph.D., is the executive director of the Grad Nation campaign for America’s Promise Alliance. On March 19, America’s Promise Alliance will unveil the nation’s latest graduation figures in its 2012 Building A Grad Nation Report.