California’s student population is increasingly becoming more diverse, with Latinos now comprising around half of the total student population in the State. The political leadership in most school districts does not reflect this demographic shift, however, with school administrators and teachers still being mostly white. This lack of concomitant diversity among administrators can result in specific challenges for schools: If ethnic groups’ representation on a governing body tends to result in greater policy responsiveness to those groups, then, consequently, under-representation can result in California’s Latinos being deprived of needed programs and benefits.
Although school administrators are strongly sympathetic to the needs of all children, lack of diversity among themselves may limit their ability to adequately represent the needs of the entire population they intend to serve. This yields direct policy consequences, since Latino board members may see issues differently or have different priorities than white members, and may therefore advocate for different policies.
Moreover, the level of Latino representation could have an impact on Latino students’ performance and on parental involvement in schools. If Latino board members are regarded as better able to engage Latino children and parents, then greater diversity on our school boards could have a great impact on the educational progress of one of the most disadvantaged populations in California.
Using secondary data from the census and the California Department of Education and an on-line web-based survey of school board trustees, we explored barriers to Latino representation on school boards, as well as trustee perceptions about a variety of policy issues in their districts.
We found that Latinos represent a relatively small proportion of school board members in California, only about 15 percent. Latino representation does increase along with the broader increase in the number of Latino students, but even so, a majority of districts where Latinos already make up between half and two-thirds of the student body still have no Latino trustees at all.
Belinda Reyes, César E. Chávez Institute