Blog: Latino Ed Beat

El Paso Superintendent Pushed Latino Students to Drop Out

During his time  in power, El Paso Public Schools superintendent Lorenzo Garcia sought to identify struggling students who hurt the district’s ratings and then worked to push them out of the system.

At a time when efforts to reverse the dismal high school graduation rates of Latino students is a national education discussion, Garcia was actively pursuing the opposite agenda. In 2011, about 83 percent of El Paso students were Latino. The former Texas superintendent recently pleaded guilty to fraud and now possibly faces several years of jail time, reports The Associated Press.

He resorted to practices including having staff photograph students crossing the border from Mexico to attend the school district, and then seeking to remove those who were not performing well. He used assessments to identify freshmen at risk of failing state exams. He also held back high school freshmen who were limited English proficient, had attendance issues or had bad grades. Students were urged to leave school or transfer to charter schools.

Once the students were gone, test scores rose because the most at-risk students were gone and no longer able to impact the ratings. As a result, the district’s rating improved from “Academically Acceptable” to a “Recognized” rating. The district also became eligible for more federal funding.

Former Texas State Sen. Eliot Shapleigh was the one who finally brought attention to the practices after hearing complaints from parents. The El Paso Times newspaper also played a key role by requesting correspondence between the school district and federal officials, which exposed the scandal.

Former student Roger Avalos, one of the dropouts, is happy to see Garcia facing prison time. He is taking classes to earn his GED while working at a cowboy boot factory.

“Justice would be getting my high school diploma, a picture with the cap and gown,” said the now 21-year-old.

Have you heard of school officials urging students at risk of failing accountability exams to transfer to charter schools? Do school officials find struggling students worth helping, or do they give up on them and instead focus on helping more borderline students?