Story highlights

The graduation rate of high school Latinos continues to fall behind the national average

Bill Richardson: Schools across the country are creating an "honesty gap" by misreporting scores

Common Core can improve the quality of education and ensure graduates are prepared for college and beyond

Editor’s Note: Bill Richardson is the former governor of New Mexico, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, former U.S. energy secretary and a current board member of the World Resources Institute, a global research organization on environmental issues. He serves on the boards or consults with companies in the energy field. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

CNN —  

Graduation season is upon us once again. Proud parents from California to Florida beam as their children walk across the stage and embark on the next phase of their lives. While this is a time to celebrate, there is more work to be done and progress to be made to prepare our graduates – especially Latino students – for the journey ahead.

While our national graduation rate has reached a record 81%, only 76% of Hispanic students are graduating from high school. The picture for Latino students in college is similar – more Latinos than ever are attending college, but they are still not graduating at the same rate as their white peers.

Bill Richardson
Courtesy of Bill Richardson
Bill Richardson

The face of American public schools is changing. In August, the U.S. Department of Education predicted that minority enrollment in our nation’s public schools would surpass white enrollment, in large part because of the increasing numbers of Latino students.

The world our graduates are entering into is changing, too, challenging students to think critically and use reasoning skills every day. More than ever before, ensuring that our students have the skills necessary to succeed in the real world after graduation is essential to their success.

Throughout the education process, parents deserve to have a true picture of how their children are performing and whether they are prepared for college. Right now, too many states suffer from an “honesty gap” between state-reported student proficiency levels and how those same students actually scored in English and math on the National Assessment of Educational Progress – our country’s largest representative assessment of what students know in various subject areas.

While I was the governor of New Mexico from 2003 to 2011, I recognized the need to take action to better prepare our students for what lies ahead and to provide parents with a clearer view of their students’ progress. In 2010, New Mexico took the first step in making sure all students were college and career-ready when it adopted the Common Core State Standards, which are in full effect in the state as of this year.

The Common Core – a K-12 initiative seeking to establish consistent educational standards for math and English – raises expectations for all children, including those who are struggling. By raising the bar for our students, we are ensuring that every child has the opportunities he or she deserves.

Where a family lives, how much money it makes or its race or ethnicity should not dictate the quality of education a child receives or that child’s ability to thrive in college and in future careers. Consistent standards and assessments for students throughout the country mean more students will receive exceptional education and have an equal chance to succeed. That means our Latino youths will be more prepared for college and ready to reap the benefits of an advanced degree – which directly translates to higher rates of employment and higher incomes.

As a country we are beginning to expect more from our students because we know that with great teachers, who provide high-quality instruction, and parents, who support learning, they can reach a higher bar. The new standards and aligned assessments are a necessary step toward eliminating the honesty gap and giving parents a more accurate picture of student performance.

Teachers are working hard to implement the new standards, and while some naysayers continue to misrepresent the Common Core as a federal takeover of education that won’t help students improve, states such as Kentucky are already seeing improvements. Since Kentucky adopted the standards in 2009 – it was the first state to do so – the state’s graduation rate for Latino students has risen from 58.5% to 80%.

With time and persistence, these standards will yield even more results. We can and must continue implementing them so our students are ready to succeed in whatever opportunities they pursue. Next year, when graduation season rolls around again, I’m confident that we will continue to see even more progress toward that goal.

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