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The Racial Achievement Gap between Latino and White Students


The achievement gap between Latino students and their Caucasian counterparts is ever widening due to a combination of factors working unfairly against the common Latino student including a lower economic standing, a lower level of parental involvement, and institutional racism. By providing more accessible tutoring and afterschool programs to these students, especially those in highly Latino populations, educational achievement for disadvantaged groups can become a reality.

The Counter Argument

In the United States, school administrators and counselors attempt to employ many practices to balance student academic results between underachieving student groups. Majority educators agree on some common external factors that result in the achievement gap, they include the neighborhood of students, poverty, language barriers and the lack of parents’ involvement in the education of their children. Some of the reasons educators agree on are not necessarily the true cause of discrepancy of student achievement since they do not impede learning for Asian and Caucasian students.

The achievement gap is an adaptive challenge, and there is a need to look for technical solutions (Dunlosky et al.). An adaptive challenge requires a transformation of an individual’s values, beliefs, loyalties and habits. Both teachers and a transformative leader need to undergo a personal transformation. This will lead to more pervasive cultures, beliefs and values than the prevailing ones. However, organizational change will likely to be met with resistance since some educators will want to maintain the status quo (Dunlosky et al.).

The structure of the American education system was created in an aggressive environment that sought to produce the brightest individuals who would become dependable future leaders of the nation. However, the existence of performance gaps, especially between Latino and White students continue to widen, creating a paradox that cannot be ignored. Understanding the inequity of learning experiences between African Americans in comparison to more advantaged groups requires recognition that their educational attainment is rooted in historical injustices that fashioned their educational development. The culture of slavery was reinforced by slavery laws that made it impossible for African Americans to access education. For example, in 1800s, South Carolina, Louisiana and Virginia passed laws declaring it unlawful to have an assembly of slaves for the purpose of instruction; an offence would be heavily punished (Little, Akin-Little, and Lloyd). For example, an offender in Louisiana would be imprisoned for one year. However, there were African Americans who had a tenacious desire to learn. Therefore, historical realities could be the starting point in a discussion of poor academic achievement for African Americans. In light of this knowledge and the fact that Latinos have not had such major institutional hindrances, the question about their poor academic performance is more perplexing.

Drop-Out Rates, College Attendance and Degree Completion

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 enabled elementary and secondary schools to get federal assistance in reducing the lower academic performance of Latino, Native Americans and African Americans in comparison to Asian and Caucasian American students. Before the Act was enacted, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) had reported in 2002 that students from low socioeconomic backgrounds, along with Hispanics and African Americans are usually two years behind the more advantaged students in the fourth grade and about four years behind by the 12th grade (Dunlosky et al.). It was also found that the likelihood of Asian students completing a bachelor’s degree was high, 49 in every 100 Asian kindergartners would obtain a degree. In fact, of every 100 kindergartners, 30 Caucasians, 29 Latinos and 16 African Americans would obtain a bachelor’s degree. Also, of every 100 kindergartners, 94 Asians, 91 Caucasians, 87 African Americans and 62 Latinos would graduate from high school. It is important to mention that of every 100 kindergartners, 80 Asians, 62 Caucasians, 54 African Americans and 29 Latinos would complete some college (Dunlosky et al.).

Education and Affirmative Action as Equalizers

Education serves as an equalizer for all people since it is a universal measure of achievement and capacity to perform. Many government policies, successful and unsuccessful, have been aimed at reducing racial performance gaps. Initiatives to promote equal access to education indirectly lead to equal opportunities for all citizens. This creates national harmony, reduces discrimination and attracts foreign investment. The emphasis on equal educational opportunities for all and the consequent formulation of appropriate strategies helps majority Latinos to acquire education. The affirmative action initiatives seek to allocate a certain number of recruitment or enrollment positions for a particular gender. It helps to bridge what would be a large achievement gap among various races in the United States (Conger and Long).

Institutional Racism and Immigration

Unconscious bias makes teachers think that students from minority families are traumatized and that they can’t learn. Consequently, most teachers do not encourage Latino students to excel. Latinos and African-American boys tend to grow physically; some researchers have argued that teachers are sometimes afraid of their physical size and tend to overpunish them (Atik and Güneri). Consequently, a sizable number of Latinos male students are suspended. This makes them miss class instruction, further eliminating the ability to catch up with others. Unconscious bias puts Latino students into the slower track courses. It makes teachers and administrators who learn of suspension of Latino students think they are disruptive. Therefore, unconscious bias plays a role in terms of discipline. In the end, the teachers develop lower expectations of Latino students who have been seen as undisciplined. Eventually, it will have a negative impact on the ability to complete a college education. Additionally, the preoccupation with illegal immigration of Latinos into the United States causes an anti-Latino sentiment. Despite the same exposure to unfavorable racial climate, Latino students have lower college application rates than African American students.

The Role of the Socio-Economic Environment

The socio-economic class of students influences the racial achievement gap between Latino and White students. Compared to White students, poor Latino students are more likely to be taught by out-of-field and inexperienced teachers. Furthermore, such students are more likely to have new teachers, most of whom cannot help put underperforming students on track (Cohen, Garcia, Apfel, and Master). This makes the students perform badly, enhancing the chance to have newly minted and inexperienced teachers at each higher level of learning. Inexperienced teachers unintentionally perpetuate racial achievement gap. It is important to note that new teachers can serve minority and needy students. Nonetheless, the occasion of a huge number of teachers who are not prepared is increasing (Little, Akin-Little, and Lloyd).

Most Latino students are from low socio-economic backgrounds and are less likely to attend high performing schools. Most of them attend schools that lack resources, where the student-teacher ratio is high, computers and books are outdated and teacher aides are absent. Some schools may have all the resources needed but may be of poor quality. Practically, most Latino students come from poor neighborhoods and are likely to be affected psychologically by the experiences of early childhood including too much exposure to marital rivalry, violence and drug abuse. Additionally, such students may be exposed to early forms of child labor at home. This may make them too tired for school or have restlessness that can adversely affect their performance (Shin and Ryan).

Poor Latinos are overrepresented in the schools they attend. Most of these schools are to be found in poorest neighborhoods, creating a cumulative effect of structural deficiencies in such schools. Most Latinos live in school districts that slash budgets in order to reduce arts instruction and after-school programs. A large proportion of such schools is underfunded, whether or not they are found in affluent districts. Poor parents of Latino students cannot pay for private tutors and are less likely to organize a fundraiser for the same purpose. These parents are likely to be working two and three jobs and are not likely to advocate for the education of their children. Some may not have time to pursue the education matters touching on their children. Most of the parents received a substandard education. As a result, the society suffers from the cycle of underachievement (Busi and Bititci).

According to Simms (2012), men are increasingly falling behind in academic performance. Latino men have not been left out. The traditional trend of bullying may be linked to the lower performance (Atik and Güneri). Students who are bullied are likely to have a negative attitude towards school and the whole concept of education. Additionally, most Latino males are not interested in higher levels of learning and would rather have other responsibilities such as providing for younger children or their families in general (Simms). A significant portion is likely to engage in drugs business.

Familism affects Latino students. It refers to the social pattern whereby one’s individual decisions, interests, and actions have influenced a network of relatives, their interests taking priority over the individual. When compared to Caucasians, Latino adolescents value interdependence, and family obligations. Even though most students desire to complete a college education, they are faced with an impulse to uphold family ties, which they believe shape their identity. Caucasians are over three times more likely to complete college than Latino Americans. They desire to complete a college education and are not held up by familial bonds. They are likely to attend high-performing schools with resources to support their education. Additionally, most white parents have completed college education and can easily organize fundraisers to finance education and extra-curricular activities (Dunlosky et al.).

The Latino Elected and Appointed Officials National Taskforce on Education and other advocates of Latino and African-American education have been demanding that certain issues be addressed if the achievement gap is to be eliminated. First, the NCLB waiver given to some states to avoid performance reporting by groups needs to be done away with since it makes it difficult to identify the programs that help Latinos and those that hurt them. Secondly, the new Common Core standards should be eliminated or avoided. The practice of linking teacher evaluations to student performance may cause the more qualified teachers to compete to teach the best students, leaving the needy students with the less qualified teachers. The advocates think that needy students should get the best teachers and that teachers should receive more training on Common Core standards. Thirdly, certain programs for English language learners have been cut. Such programs make Latino children start school while at par with non-Hispanic peers.

The Role of Teachers and Administrators

Teachers and administrators have been lacking a general initiative to push students in low-income schools to achieve high levels of education. Additionally, some states have been cutting some slack in school in a bid to standardize performance. Lowering expectations by administrators and teachers have only led to poor performance in schools and the making of an unqualified workforce; it has proved that the measure is not the appropriate response to poverty and racism in American culture. Teachers are also less likely to give Latino students advanced-level coursework.

The Education Trust has recently claimed that Latino and African-American 12th grade students have made insignificant progress in reading scores since 1994. Some of the causes cited by educators include lowered expectations for Latino and African American students, unequal access to experienced teachers, ballooning income inequalities and presence of low-income school districts. In addition, there is an unconscious bias by administrators and teachers, and an increased number of teachers teaching outside their area of expertise.

Lowering expectations by administrators and teachers has also contributed to the formation and perpetration of notions about minority kids. This gives teachers and some administrators keen on creating equality and enhancing quality a hard time dispelling the stereotypes associated with minority students. It perpetuates racism and affects individuals seeking employment. Some employees from particular races are likely to be perceived with skepticism while job seekers can suffer from discrimination (Aronson, Fried and Good). It has been noted that some teachers are not committed to teaching. In a considerable number of schools, they are likely to discouraged students from pursuing particular courses. According to the Education Trust study, many Latino students are placed in less competitive classes and a fifth-grade Latino student who has high math scores may not be enrolled in algebra in eighth grade. The lack of encouragement from teachers may make such students feel alienated.

Public Policy/Government Problem

Dianne Gilchrist Brown conducted a study to compare minority achievement with the achievement of Caucasian counterparts in Nassau County schools since the enactment of No Child Left Behind policy (Dunlosky et al.). Nassau County is part of New York. Brown noted that the education system in the United States is characterized by a certain level of mediocrity that threatens its future. With regard to performance differences, he focused on gaps in Math and the English language. He analyzed assessment results of a five-year period and used the results of twenty-eight schools to compare performances. He analyzed the historical perception of the persistent challenges met by the minority populations in addition to the purpose and nature of various kinds of legislation on the same issue. Brown focused on the school districts that achieved academic equity. The schools defined the achievement gap using three main perspectives: the performance gap, the willingness gap, and the resource gap. The districts that enhanced academic equity displayed a willingness and provided adequate resources with a view of meeting the expectations of the No Child Left Behind policy (Little, Akin-Little, and Lloyd).

Latino Americans made considerable progress in closing the academic achievement gaps during 1970s and 1980s. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, the progress was stalled. The gaps increased in certain years. Since its enactment, the NCLB has been the main federal reform initiative designed to improve the academic performance of all races in all public schools. NCLB requires states to provide highly qualified teachers, improve learning environments, reduce the spiteful performance gaps experienced by minorities and demonstrate increased achievement of all students. While several analysts, educators, and researchers hail the initiative as successful, there are researchers who claim that evidence of a remarkable rise in achievement is lacking and that the racial achievement gaps persist.

The Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) is a benchmark for measuring academic performance. Researchers have criticized it saying that it poses a big challenge high poverty and low achieving schools. They also argue that it is not valid since it uses mean proficiency levels and subgroup rules. Most noteworthy criticisms border on the overemphasis on reading and math in comparison to other curricula areas. It has been argued that NCLB's special emphasis on basic academic outcomes does not guarantee that students will become practical and critical thinking citizens.

After listening to the experiences of educators, students, administrators, state and district officials, experts, parents and policy makers in 2007, the Commission on No Child Left Behind (NCLB) found areas of challenges with regard to the implementation of the legislation. It promised to adopt the recommendations brought forward. The Nation's Report Card in reading and math released by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in 2007 indicated that minority gaps had improved in reading and math although the achievement gap had not been narrowed (Little, Akin-Little, and Lloyd).

A 2012 report released the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) showed that the academic performance of Hispanic students varied widely, depending on where they lived. It indicated that although Hispanic students formed more than half of all eighth graders in California in 2011, only 14% of the students passed the eighth-grade reading tests (Dunlosky et al.). In fact, 27% of Hispanic students in Florida scored at the proficient level or above while 23% of Hispanic students in Illinois were proficient in reading. The three states are among the five states where Hispanics are found in large numbers; the other two are New York and Texas. The five states enroll about 40% of public school students in the country. The report also indicated that a quarter of the student population in California is an English-language learner, the highest proportion in the country. Besides the demographic challenges, other challenges that the state faced included a continued disinvestment in public education. The report explored other factors including poverty level and improvements in test scores over twenty years. The National Center for Education Statistics noted that there was no constant pattern among the five states and that each state excels in certain areas and lags in other areas. Florida led in improving fourth- and eighth-grade math and reading scores between 1992 and 2011. The Florida State has recently focused on training of teachers and has mobilized Hispanic and African American students about the significance of the educational achievement. With regard to math scores, eighth-graders in Texas showed the strongest progress since 1990. It was the only State in the report whose eighth-grade math and science scores were above the national average. This proved that the State’s emphasis on math had been effective. From the report, it was discovered that students’ scores in New York seemed to be influenced by whether a student was enrolled in a city or suburban school. For example, 26% of urban eighth-graders were proficient in reading, compared to 43% of suburban students. This could be attributed to differences in after-school programs or access to public libraries.


The achievement gap between Latino students and their Caucasian counterparts is ever widening due to a combination of factors working unfairly against the common Latino student including a lower economic standing, a lower level of parental involvement, and institutional racism. The likelihood of Latino students completing a college education is minimal. Most students lack encouragement from teachers and this may make such students feel alienated. Most of Latinos attend schools that lack resources while many parents of Latino students received a substandard education. As a result, the society suffers from the cycle of underachievement. The tendency to observe familism hinders the academic progress of most Latino students. Most noteworthy criticisms of NCLB border on the overemphasis on reading and math in comparison to other curricula areas. It has been argued that NCLB’s special emphasis on basic academic outcomes does not guarantee that students will become critical thinking citizens. Some reports have indicated that minority students have gradually improved their reading and math abilities but the achievement gap has not been narrowed.

Works Cited

  • Aronson, Joshua, Carrie B. Fried, and Catherine Good. “Reducing the Effects of Stereotype Threat on African American College Students by Shaping Theories of Intelligence”. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 2002: 113-125.
  • Atik, Gökhan and Oya Yerin Güneri. “Bullying and Victimization: Predictive Role of Individual, Parental, and Academic Factors”. School Psychology International, 1992: 5-16.
  • Busi, Marco and Umit S. Bititci. “Collaborative Performance Management: Present Gaps and Future Research”. International Journal of Productivity and Performance Management, 2006.
  • Butler, S. Kent, M. Ann Shillingford, and Mia Alexander-Snow. “African American Male Students and the Achievement Gap: Building a Successful Student/Citizen”. Revista Interamericana de Psicología,, 2011: 177-184.
  • Cohen, Geoffrey L., Julio Garcia, Nancy Apfel, and Allison Master . “Reducing the Racial Achievement Gap: A Social-Psychological Intervention”. Science, 2006: 1307-1310.
  • Conger, Dylan and Mark C. Long. “Gender Gaps in College Enrollment: The Role of Gender Sorting Across Public High Schools”. Educational Researcher, 2013: 371-380.
  • Fantuzzo, John, Whitney LeBoeufa, Heather Rouseb, and Chin-Chih Chen. “Academic Achievement of African American Boys: A City-Wide, Community-Based Investigation of Risk and Resilience”. Journal of School Psychology, 2012: 559-579.
  • Dunlosky, John, Katherine A. Rawson, Elizabeth J. Marsh, Mitchell J. Nathan, and Daniel T. Willingham. “Improving Students’ Learning With Effective Learning Techniques: Promising Directions From Cognitive and Educational Psychology”. Psychological Science, 2013.
  • Little, Steven G., Angeleque Akin-Little, and Keryn Lloyd. “Content Analysis of School Psychology International, 1990-2011: An Analysis of Trends and Compatibility with the NASP Practice Model”. School Psychology International, 2011: 569-591.
  • Shin, Huiyoung and Allison M. Ryan. “How Do Young Adolescents Cope with Social Problems? An Examination of Social Goals, Coping with Friends, and Social Adjustment”. The Journal of Early Adolescence, 2012: 851-875.
  • Simms, Kathryn. “A Hierarchical Examination of the Immigrant Achievement Gap: The Additional Explanatory Power of Nationality and Educational Selectivity over Traditional Explorations of Race and Socioeconomic Status”. Journal of Advanced Academics, 2012: 72-98.