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  • The Latino Education Crisis
  • Nathalia Eugenia Jaramillo (bio)
Patricia Gándara and Frances Contreras . The Latino Education Crisis. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009. 432 pp. ISBN 067403127X. $29.95.

Since the publication of A Nation at Risk, researchers and policy analysts have consistently directed our attention to the putative crisis state of US education. The reasons for the crisis vary, but are often symptomatic of a nation-wide despair over political and economic affairs that extend to the international arena. Whether the United States has claimed victory in cold-war politics, prepared itself for the suspected demise of its pre-eminence in global capitalism, or protested the unbraiding of its moral and cultural fabric in the ongoing culture wars, both the causes and remedies for alleviating social ills through education have been enthusiastically—and at times, frantically—set forward.

Oftentimes policy précis and other research documents focus on the structural determinations of failed educational delivery: lackluster curricular offerings in the biological and physical sciences, poor teacher preparation, or loose college admission requirements that do not properly discriminate between the worthy and unworthy. Once the conditions have been identified that obfuscate, or trouble, high-quality teaching and learning, then the path towards reform and recovery are relatively easy to discern. Legislation becomes the centerpiece of reform, and a slew of policy initiatives and mandates will follow to ensure that teachers receive proper training or proper evaluation; that education curricula be scientifically valid and quantifiable; and that so-called minority or poor student populations receive a standard and singular education reminiscent of Horace Mann's vision of the "great balance-wheel of social machinery."

And yet, in time, we come across a different kind of vision and study that places the notion of educational crises in another perspective. Patricia Gándara [End Page 71] and Frances Contreras have drawn our attention to The Latino Education Crisis in the United States. Unlike other research on the status of US education, Gándara and Contreras's findings appeal not only to our sense of presumed scientific reason but also to the promise of our empathetic knowledge to undo the structural injustice of educating the poor and racially marginalized sectors of the population. Using a wide array of educational indicators such as national assessment data and school dropout and college admission rates, the authors clearly and unequivocally demonstrate that Latinos are not faring well in the US public education system. Setting forth a multipronged, evidence-based analysis of school failure, Gándara and Contreras attempt to address both the political and social origins of paltry educational outcomes. In chapters 1 through 4 the authors discuss the basics of school preparedness: the physiological realities of hunger that impact child health and mental acuity; the relationship among a family's income, mobility, and internal configuration (i.e., number of siblings, single v. parent led household); students' ability to wield social and cultural capital in navigating the school system; and the structural conditions of schools—teacher qualifications, language instruction and debates over bilingual education, school violence, tracking and so forth—that impact the categorically distinct experience of Latino students in the US.

As the authors review findings on the conditions of schools and families that attest to school failure, they are unabashedly direct: if hunger and malnutrition affect students' readiness, then schools should initiate programs to support the children's nutrition, such as vitamin supplements. If bilingual teachers are needed to adequately teach English-language learners, then the states or federal government should provide resources to recruit and train these professionals. Gándara and Contreras are policy pragmatists; if a policy can be implemented to fix a social ill, then it should be. Any move to the contrary reveals an unwillingness to address what the research unequivocally and unrelentingly tells us: poor Latino children are hungry, their families lack the social and cultural skills to actively engage the school system, their teachers need better qualifications to teach English learners, and stereotypes, tracking, and remedial educational placements reduce their college-going rates. It is not the first time these effects have been published in the academic literature, but perhaps it is the first time that such a...