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Closing the Latino Leadership Gap

Representation matters. But for most Latino students across the country, a stark under-representation of Latinos in the education profession means they may never have a teacher, principal or administrator who looks like them.

Nationally, Latinos make up 25 percent of school children, a figure that is expected to grow. But they comprise only 8 percent of teachers, 4 percent of board members, and 2 percent of senior education leaders. My home state of Massachusetts is a leader in K-12 education. Even so, reports show that some urban districts here serve populations where more than 70 percent of students are Latino, but only about 3 percent of educators in the state share that identity.

Latino leadership in education is essential. When our leaders share the backgrounds of the students they serve, they can draw upon shared experiences to inform how they make decisions on behalf of our children. A growing body of research suggests having teachers of the same race as students can lead to improved academic outcomes. With more Latino teachers, students and families can leverage their shared experiences to build stronger connections in the classroom.

And by exposing Latino children to more leaders who look like them, it helps them imagine what they want to become and can reinforce strong self-efficacy around the value of their identities and Latinidad. It’s been said “you can’t be what you can’t see.”

As a result, Latinos should be leading schools, conducting research, designing solutions as entrepreneurs, directing philanthropic dollars toward innovation, and creating education policy for Latino children. We should see more Latinos with a seat at the table in C-Suite positions of education nonprofits and as board members of schools and education organizations.

A study of education organizations that came together as Promise54 found senior roles in education are the least diverse and least representative of the students we serve. And the most significant gap by race and ethnicity was the underrepresentation of Latinos.

My organization, Latinos for Education, is the first Latino-founded and -led national organization dedicated to creating leadership pathways for Latinos in education. This year, we are mobilizing a national network of over 3,000 Latinos to ensure our voice is heard in schools, communities and education organizations. We believe representation of Latino education leaders in positions of influence will ensure Latino children can achieve their full potential.

We have created two programs specifically focused on the assets of Latino identity. The Aspiring Latino Leaders Fellowship provides development for mid-level education leaders through the exploration of public narrative, career planning, and identity-development. The Latino Board Fellowship provides governance training to Latino leaders matched to governing board of directors of charter schools and education nonprofits. Through these fellowships, we work to develop, place and connect Latino leaders in the education sector.

Ever since Brown vs. Board of Education, conversations about race and ethnicity in education have been discussed primarily through a binary, black/white paradigm. For the past 60 years, education policies and reform efforts have been focused on opportunity gaps, with urban black students at the center of the work. Latinos are often missing in critical conversations in education.

But with a growing Latino student population, we can no longer ignore the need to create policies and systems to attract, develop, and retain skilled Latinos to the education profession. Congress and the states are beginning to focus on this issue, especially on the need for more bilingual educators.

What role can we all play? First, we must change our mindsets about the archetypes of leadership. Given the dearth of Latino leaders, we have unintentionally created biases and assumptions about who deserves a seat at the table and how diverse voices should be included in our work.

Second, we must change the way we operate. Based on the Unrealized Impact report, 74 percent of CEOs and 68 percent of the board members at education organizations are white. CEOs and boards often identify and recruit board members from their own social networks. The problem with this recruitment strategy is most social networks are homogeneous along lines of race and ethnicity.

While people of color have networks that tend to be more diverse, 75 percent of white Americans report the network of people with whom they discuss important matters is entirely white, with no minority presence. By continuing the same practices to identify and recruit board members, education organizations are systematically leaving out the perspectives of the Latino community. We need to examine our leadership archetypes and be much more intentional about modifying our practices to include the perspectives of missing voices.We share a collective responsibility to work in partnership toward ending educational inequity for future generations.

[Read More: Teachers, Students, Race and Behavior]