UC Mexico Initiative: A Next Step in Addressing the Needs of Students Shared Across the Border

CA Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and Mexico's Secretary of Education Aurelio Nuño to join discussion at Summit in Mexico City this month.

In the months since the election of President Donald Trump, tensions between the United States and its southern neighbor have increased over immigration and other issues. But California and Mexico are taking a different tack, forging ahead on plans to to better serve the students they share.

Building on the success of last September’s ground-breaking UC Mexico Initiative research symposium in Mexico City, education officials, policy makers, researchers and educators are gathering again for a summit in the Mexican capital to discuss ways California and Mexico can collaborate to improve educational opportunities for students they share across borders. In a historic first, both the Secretary of Education for Mexico, Aurelio Nuño, and California’s Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson will attend the Summit.

“This Summit represents an important engagement between Mexico and California to find ways to support students of Mexican origin both in the U.S. and those returning to Mexico, says Patricia Gándara, co-director of the Civil Rights Project and the chair of the UC Mexico Initiative education committee. “It is a demonstration of the deep commitment of the UC system to make quality education possible for all Californians and a testament to the spirit of collaboration that exists between California and Mexico.”

UCLA Professor of Education Patricia Gándara chairs the education committee of the UC Mexico Initiative. Photo by Andres Cuervo

“The national political atmosphere at this time makes it especially important to reiterate the bonds of friendship between educators in California and Mexico. The goal of this trip is to deepen our friendship, build stronger ties, and create closer cooperation,” says Superintendent Torlakson, a former high school science teacher and coach. “It is critical that we work together to provide support to students who end up attending schools in both California and Mexico so they can receive a great education.”

Torlakson leads the nation’s largest public education system with more than 6.2 million students at 10,000 schools. About 54 percent of California students are Latino, and nearly 1.4 million are English Learners.

The California-Mexico Summit, which takes place June 14 thru 16, builds on research presented at the Students We Share conference that took place last fall in Mexico City. That research concluded that the United States and Mexico share hundreds of thousands of students, but their educational needs too often go unmet, and their potential is imperiled because of poor communication, bureaucratic challenges, language barriers and inadequate and unequal educational opportunities on both sides of the border. More than 400,000 U.S.-born school age children and their families are currently trying to find their way in Mexican schools, according to research presented at the symposium last fall. Students who return to Mexico and fail to enroll in school are not counted in these numbers but constitute a highly vulnerable group. Another 700,000 Mexican children in the U.S., as well as millions of U.S. citizen children of Mexican parents share parallel struggles in the United States.

This week’s summit brings together education officials to consider recommendations and to discuss strategies and potential actions to better serve students on both sides of the border. Californian and Mexican officials plan to discuss ways to work together more closely on a range of issues, including teacher exchanges and helping students who attend school systems in both places.

“To my knowledge, this is the first time that the heads of the education agencies of Mexico and California have met face to face to discuss the challenges facing education in both countries,” says Gándara. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to build an important collaboration to improve educational opportunities for the students we share on both sides of the border.”


Above: California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson (foreground, at left) visits a classroom. Courtesy of the California Department of Education