May 15, 2013

David M. Keepnews, PhD, JD, RN, FAAN, a CHMP Senior Fellow, is an Associate Professor at the Hunter-Bellevue School of Nursing and the City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center. He is Editor of Policy, Politics & Nursing Practice, a journal focusing on nursing and health policy.

Riding the subway home recently, I noticed a Spanish-language ad placed by the New York City Department of Education (DOE). The ad, part of an effort to promote the new Common Core Learning Standards and exams being given to 3rd to 8th graders, bore a headline reading (in translation) “Higher standards. Different tests. It’s a new day.”

It ended with: “Deseamos prepararlos para la unversidad y las carreras técnicas”—“We want to prepare them [students] for college and technical careers.”

A few days later, I noticed an English-language ad headlined “This Spring, we’re aiming higher.” As I read it, I saw that despite the different headline, this was the English-language version of the ad I had read before. The text was largely identical to the Spanish-language version. However, I couldn’t help but notice that the last sentence was a little different:

“We want them prepared for college and a career.” Note: Not specifically a technical career—simply a career, in general.

This seemingly small discrepancy jarred me: The ads end with two different messages to two different audiences—English-speaking and Spanish-speaking families—about the futures they can anticipate for their children.

According to an April 15 DOE press release, the ads are part of a promotional campaign that involves placing 2,000 ads on subways and the Staten Island Ferry. I don’t know how or why the Spanish-language ad came to specify technical careers. I am not suggesting that this reflects DOE policy. In fact, most of the materials on the Common Core Learning Standards describe them as preparing students for “college and careers.”

So the addition of the word “technical” in the Spanish-language ad may well be an error, but of course that’s not the point. Whatever the cause or reason, the discrepancy in messages, carrying the implication—even if unintended—that the schools seek to prepare children of some families for a narrower set of options than others is troubling.

As a faculty member in a School of Nursing, I am aware of the great need to draw more Hispanic/Latino students into nursing and other health professions. There is nothing wrong with being prepared for technical careers, of course, but messages to students and their families should emphasize broad career options, including professional careers. And of course, those messages should be consistent for all groups.

(As far as I know, the ads are still in place.  The April 15 press release mentioned above states that the ad campaign was to last for approximately 12 weeks.  And as of today, that press release, which includes copies of both ads, remains accessible on the DOE website).

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