Florida Race-Based Achievement Target Perpetuates Stereotypes

Florida Race-Based AchievementIt’s the wrong message. No matter how you slice it, every time you establish different academic goals for subgroups of students you perpetuate stereotypes, self-doubt, and interracial/inter-ethnic discord.

The Florida Board of Education’s decision to set higher math and reading targets for Asians and whites than for African Americans and Hispanics sends the wrong message to members of each one of those groups.

According to the new plan, the idea is that by 2018, the state expects 90% of Asian students, 88% of white, 81% of Hispanics and 74% of African Americans be at or above their math and reading grade level. Right now, the percentage of students who are at grade level stand at: 76% Asians, 69% white, 53% Hispanic and 38% African American.

So I understand that the reasoning behind the decision is to take into account each student group’s starting point and that, in reality, the board is expecting a larger percentage jump from Hispanics and African Americans that it is from Asians and whites. After all, if the board wants 90% of Asians to be at grade level, up from the current 76%, that’s a jump of only 18% as opposed to African Americans who would be expected to improve nearly 100% (from 38% to 74%). You could easily say that there are much higher expectations of African Americans than Asians.

But this is not the way to encourage students, teachers or parents to have higher expectations and do what it takes to reduce the achievement gap.

Regardless of the intention behind the decision, it establishes different standards for different people. Instead of finding ways to increase everybody’s performance and providing the additional support that different students require, this kind of policy makes kids feel like they aren’t good enough. (Not to mention that it continues to re-energize the stereotype that all Asians are doing well, when that’s not the case either.)

How do we expect to compete in the global economy with young people who are valued according to their ethnicity or race and are treated like second-class citizens?  How do we expect to move achievement (from school to workforce) beyond race and ethnicity if we keep on segregating within our own schools?

I’d like to see Olympic medalists such as Leo Manzano (Hispanic) or Gabrielle Douglas (African American) be told, “Just make sure you match the level of your Hispanic competitors, Leo. And if you can reach the level of your black competitors, Gabrielle, you’ll be fine. ”

Wouldn’t the whole country be enraged about this? It would be a matter of national pride. And so should be our education system. Decisions like the one made by Florida (previously made in Virginia and Washington D.C.,) do not make me proud. We must find ways of moving together as a nation, not in subgroups that are labeled over and over again.

Mariela Dabbah’s latest book Poder de Mujer will be out in English April 2013 by Penguin. She’s the founder and CEO of Latinos in College, a not-for-profit organization, and of the Red Shoe Movement, an initiative that invites women to wear red shoes to work on Tuesday to signal their support for other women’s careers.

This article was first published on Fox News Latino.

How To Leverage Your Latino Traits in the Workplace

How To Leverage Your Latino Traits in the WorkplaceNot too long ago, after one of my workshops on leveraging your Latino traits to your advantage, a young female participant asked me: “How can I advance in my career leveraging my Latino traits while avoiding the stereotypes associated with Latinos?” It was a great question about an issue that impacts many second or third generation Latinos, and even immigrants who have spent many years in this country and have learned to navigate the system well.

Most people tend to become overly assimilated and to forget about their roots to the point where they might miss great opportunities to leverage the Hispanic culture to their benefit. For instance, the young lady in this story avoided taking on assignments in Latin America at all costs because she believed, as many people do, that taking these kinds of assignments might pigeonhole her. And although this may be a good strategy at the beginning of your career, once you’ve proven your worth, you may want to reconsider it. Given the current interest in the Hispanic market, understanding the Hispanic culture might make you the ideal person to tackle some interesting projects.

There are many Latino values, skills and world-views that are passed down from one generation to the next. Finding out what they are and bringing them to the surface is the first step to leveraging their power.

So for instance, raised in a region of the world with a high level of unpredictability and frequent change, your parents and grandparents learned how to adapt from very early on. For them, the only way to survive involved creating alternatives to the way in which they conducted business or to how they managed their daily lives. They instilled these skills in you even if you are not fully conscious of it. It’s very likely that your natural abilitiesto solve problems, think fast on your feet, change direction in a split second and to do several jobs with equal ease are, at least in part, the result of your cultural background.

Your goal is to convey these unique characteristics and talents as part of your value proposition to your bosses or prospective employers. You must be able to communicate that not only are you great at what you do, but in addition you have all of these traits that will benefit the company.

And going back to the question of the young lady at my workshop, to avoid being stereotyped you must keep stereotypes in mind and behave against them. For example, if Latinos are perceived as being too informal in their communication style, perhaps you can prepare a PowerPoint presentation next time you are asked to present at a formal meeting. Or send special requests in writing to your team, rather than asking for things in passing that people may not take seriously. If you know there’s a perception that Latinos are not assertive enough, make sure that you master the art of expressing your opinion when it counts.

In this tough market you should use all of the advantages at your disposal. The secret is to embrace and leverage those traits that you may have taken for granted, but that can give you a competitive edge. The beauty is that there’s little effort required of you because these characteristics are part of who you are.

This article was originally published on Mamiverse.

How to stand out at your job & every day life!

How to stand out at your job & every day life!Teachers I’ve talked to tell me that in general, when they ask a question, the boys in the class are the ones that usually raise their hands. Women, from very early on, prefer to wait until they’re absolutely sure they know the right answer before risking giving an incorrect answer. Shame on these girls if they “scream” the answer without asking for permission. The teacher will usually remind them of the classroom’s rules, something that doesn’t usually happen if it’s a boy who does the same thing.

It’s very possible that this “training” that we receive at such a young age continues to affect our actions at work in the present day. The problem is that in this stage of your life, not raising your hand (that is, asking questions, voicing your opinion, etc.) can make you pretty much invisible, something that will restrict your job opportunities in the short and long run. Why? Let me explain…

Sadly, I see this attitude each time I hold one of my conferences. When the moment comes to ask me questions, most times the hands raised belong to the men in the room. In fact, in a funny illustration of this, the other day I presented in front of an audience that was 90 percent women, and one of the few men in the room was STILL the first to raise his hand!

Read more ¿Qué más? Is it ever okay to lie in order to advance your career goals?

Why are women so timid? It’s a combination of us wanting to feel 100 percent sure about what we’re going to say before opening our mouths, and the fact that we don’t want to seem dumb by asking something that perhaps others might consider obvious. Men, on the other hand, just wing it without as much thought and with less trepidation, and as a result they get more attention and more visibility. Do you remember how teachers often paid more attention to your rowdy, problematic schoolmates than to the studious, smart girls in the class? They were working under the assumption that the girls–at least the more dedicated ones–could go at their schoolwork on their own, while the boys needed their help. The same is true in our professional lives.

When you ask a question or make a comment in front of a large group, you make yourself known. You have the opportunity to state your name, the company or department you work for, and you get to ask something that will showcase your intelligence, knowledge, or interest in a particular topic. It’s also a great way to get noticed by potential mentors or advisors.

It’s a strategy that has always given me results when I attend any conference where I can find potential clients. Without fail, after asking something relevant, people approach me asking me for my card and telling me they’d like to speak to me.

I’m not saying by any means that it’s easy to put yourself in this situation. But the truth of the matter is that with the way the job market is these days, if you don’t cast aside all those notions of what is and isn’t comfortable for you and if you don’t put yourself out there to be noticed for the value you add to any job, you could easily become a target when the next rounds of layoffs come around.

So, do your homework, prep before any work event in which you know there will be a Q and A session so you could have a really smart, relevant question ready. Or, try to think of one during the presentation and make sure you’re one of the first people to raise their hands and talk when the moment comes. You’ll stand out from the group–and you’ll open many more doors than you can even imagine!

Image via Thinkstock

This article was originally published on Mamas Latina. 

Why Aren’t Students Rallying for College Loan Forgiveness Plans?

Student Loan ForgivenessA recent article related to student loan debt suicides written by C.Cryn Johannsen for the Huffington Post, left me speechless. The number of young people taking their lives because they can’t afford to repay their loans is not only devastating but is likely going to increase.

When you think about the large mobilization of Latino organizations and students in support of the Dream Act and to push for the extension of the 3.4% interest rate on subsidized Stafford loans that we’ve seen in the last few months, the silence around the Student Loan Forgiveness Act (H.R.4170), which was introduced by Representative Hansen Clarke of Michigan in the House of Representatives in March, is shocking. (Briefly, Mr. Clarke’s bill would create a “10-10 standard” for student loan forgiveness, which means that if you make payments equal to 10% of your discretionary income for 10 years, your remaining federal student loan debt would be forgiven. The bill caps interest rates on federal loans at 3.4%. It also allows borrowers whose educational loan debt exceeds their income to break free from the high interest rates of private loans by converting them into federal Direct Loans, and then enrolling those into the 10-10 program.)

I can’t help but wonder about the lack of engagement with a topic that deeply affects every single current and future college student. While many of us hope for a permanent solution to the Dreamers’ current situation, we can’t deny that theirs is an issue that affects a minority of Hispanic students. And, ironically, those undocumented students at risk of being deported are the ones who have demonstrated across the country, marched from San Francisco to Washington, and appeared in front of TV cameras to share their stories. With everything to lose, they are the ones who came together to fight for their rights and their beliefs. And I say ironically because, in a way, the DREAMers are outside of the system. They can’t get federal loans, subsidies or any other government benefits reserved for American citizens and legal residents; and still they came out and protested until their plea was heard. Until something, even if temporary, was done about it.

During the weeks leading to the vote in Congress to extend the 3.4% rate on Stafford loans (a rate that had only been in place since last July) for one more year we saw so much media coverage on the issue that you would’ve thought the decision would have huge impact on the $1 trillion college debt. But no, apparently only 3% of that debt comes from Stafford loans. Yet not only politicians, who were working the electorate, spent countless words on this topic, but also plenty of students and Hispanic organizations raised their voices about the unfairness of letting the temporary low-rate provision elapse.

My question is, why aren’t Hispanic students, organizations and leaders rallying for a college loan forgiveness plan – whether it is the H.R.4170 or another bill? Why aren’t students who have trouble finding a job in this economy and who have mortgaged their future on the promise that a college degree would offer them better opportunities screaming at the top of their lungs on the steps of Congress instead of thinking of ways to commit suicide, as many are doing? Why aren’t they demanding increased funding for the Pell grant or lower interest rates on other federal college loans when interest rates are at historic lows?

Why is it that Hispanic students are not organizing to fight for the same bailout benefits we gave to banks? For the right to discharge their loans in bankruptcy court? Why aren’t they demanding that tuition costs be reined in and asking for a complete revamping of the laws that regulate student loans and benefit predatory lenders?

There’s a movement called Occupy Graduation that’s been picking up steam across the country (and which I hope doesn’t fizzle as Occupy Wall Street seems to have). It’s a coalition of partners fighting to bring these issues to the front line. Why aren’t Hispanic students and organizations jumping on this bandwagon?  Since a larger number of Hispanics than ever before are enrolling in college, this is a problem that affects this community as much, if not more, than all others. Why the apathy? What are we all waiting for?

Mariela Dabbah’s latest book Poder de Mujer will be out in English April 2013 by Penguin. She’s the founder and CEO of Latinos in College, a not-for-profit organization, and of the Red Shoe Movement, an initiative that invites women to wear red shoes to work on Tuesday to signal their support for other women’s careers.


This article was originally published on Fox News Latino.


What’s Wrong with the Education System?

What's wrong with the education system?Every time I attend an education conference, I feel as if I’m entering a time capsule. I am immediately transported to the early 90s, when I was first involved in education. Back then, people were having the same conversations over teachers who don’t know how to engage their students in the learning process, parents who don’t participate enough, and students who are disenfranchised.

Why do educators continue to question the solutions to poor performance when there’s plenty of research to validate what works? Things like early childhood education, high expectations, rigorous instruction, good teachers with degrees in their area of instruction, an inspiring and creative environment, exposure to a variety of experiences that open children’s minds, a longer school year, a school culture that embraces diversity, leadership that nurtures innovation, after-school support for those who need it, early intervention, a college bound mentality that permeates the entire school system from pre-K to high school, and preparing students to attend colleges with a posse of their peers  have all proven to be effective strategies.

But what would really help to break through the status quo in our education system is for the educators and administrators to recognize that new perspective is needed to see some of the solutions that are invisible to them right now.

What do I mean? Inevitably, all of us look at the world through the filters of our own personal experience and belief system. These filters are responsible for the assumptions every one of us makes all the time. The problem is that we are usually not aware of those filters and of the fact that we act according to our assumptions.

So, if you believe that the students in your care can achieve great things, they will. If you believe they can’t, they won’t. Either way, you will be proven right because you will align your actions with your assumptions and it is through your actions that you will impact these students.

This is easy to see when you look at how the adults in the school system deal with college readiness when it comes to non-white students, an area in which the system has been failing for decades. A young Latino junior walks into the guidance counselor’s office asking for college information. The guidance counselor takes one look at the student, assumes he is not Ivy League material and that his family will need him to work to contribute financially to the household. The counselor then shares information on technical schools and local two-year community colleges and sends the student on his way. Now this kid’s parents, not knowing any better, encourage their child to follow the guidance counselor’s advice without questioning it.

What would have happened if this counselor had been better trained to see her own filters and assumptions so that she could have offered a more comprehensive list of options? The student would have a completely different career outlook. I’m not saying the guidance counselor is racist. What I am saying is that unless she’s trained to perceive her own filters and the consequences of not keeping them in check, she’ll do what comes natural to all of us –  she will use her past experience, imbue it with her belief system, and offer information she thinks is relevant to this student. And most of this happens subconsciously in a few seconds after the student enters her office.

When the adults in the school system don’t consider that they are part of the problem affecting students and parent engagement, the needle doesn’t move. They keep on trying to reinvent the wheel when the wheel has been around for a long time. The truth is that it would be pretty simple to fix the educational system if the parties involved could stop putting the problem outside of themselves and agree to examine their own assumptions with regard to teaching and learning.

Mariela Dabbah is the CEO of www.Latinosincollege.com, a renown speaker, media contributor and award-winning author. Her new book: Poder de Mujer will be released March, 2012 by Penguin.

Mariela Dabbah’s latest book Poder de Mujer will be out in English April 2013 by Penguin. She’s the founder and CEO of Latinos in College, a not-for-profit organization, and of the Red Shoe Movement, an initiative that invites women to wear red shoes to work on Tuesday to signal their support for other women’s careers.

This article was originally published on Fox News Latino.