The Educational Experiences of Latinos in the United States

  • William Vélez

The educational conditions of Latinos in the United States in the first decade of the 21st century can be described only with a sense of alarm, given the dismal statistics we can use to capture attainment levels. For example, in 2003 only about half (48.7%) of the Mexican- and the Dominican-origin (51.7%) population (25 years and older) had completed at least a high school education (Falcon, 2004). This compares with just over three-fifths (63.3%) of Puerto Ricans and 68.7% of Cubans completing a high school education, which means that all of the major Latino subgroups were lagging behind the majority White-population high school completion rate of 84% by a wide margin. The historical context under which the Latino educational situation has developed in the United States is very complex and can be summarized under relations of subjugation, colonization, and the specific institutional mechanisms used in different locations to segregate and track Latino students. Latinos have struggled for more than a century to preserve their “raices” (cultural roots) in the face of a public educational system embarked on an “Americanization” mission, obsessed with erasing the Spanish language and any historical connections to Latin America (Garcia, 2001). The schooling of Latinos is frequently discussed under the umbrella of “immigrant” adaptation and bilingual education, even though the majority of U.S. Latinos were born in the continental United States (Bean, Lee, Batalova, & Leach, 2004) and their first language is English. However, emphasis on comparing the native-born with immigrants reflects a desire to see the second and third generation outpace the educational and occupational gains of their parents and grandparents, with specific attention to returns on educational credentials. This chapter is organized as follows: In the next section I outline some of the major historical events that have shaped the educational experiences of Latinos in this country. The following section covers some of the most relevant factors or variables behind the educational attainment of Latinos at both the secondary and postsecondary level. The final section contains recommendations for future research in light of more recent developments (e.g., the No Child Left Behind Act) at the state and federal levels.


Social Capital Immigrant Student Latino Youth Bilingual Education Educational Expectation 


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • William Vélez
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of Wisconsin-MilwaukeeUSA

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