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Latino Education Gains Are Encouraging: New Report

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Despite challenges, a top education group said the national data on Latino students is encouraging and shows solid growth.

"The conversation about Latinos and education is often very deficit-based, where we're English language learners, we're high school dropouts, and we're illegal immigrants," Deborah Santiago, vice president at Excelencia in Education and author of a new report, told NBC News. "While we still have to address those important issues in our country, the profile of Latinos is one of asset opportunities, growth, improvement and education potential."

The report, "The Condition of Latinos in Education: 2015 Factbook," released by Excelencia in Education, paints a more accurate profile of Latino students, one spotlighting achievement and countering misperceptions and myths.

The report shatters the perception that most Latino students are not proficient in English. The reality, according to the data, is that 18 percent of young Latinos in the U.S. are English language learners.

According to the report, Latinos participate in the workforce at a higher rate than any other racial or ethnic group. "So Latinos are active workers," Santiago said. "This perception that Latinos don't want to work or are lazy, we hear so many myths."

Among the encouraging findings: recent Latino high school grads enrolled in college at a higher rate than their white and African American peers, and an overwhelming majority of Latino parents say they expect their child to continue their education beyond high school.

Latinos represent a fast-growing and youthful segment of all students in U.S. public schools. In 2011, they represented 24 percent of public school enrollment. They are projected to be 30 percent by 2023. With a population of 53 million, Latinos were the second largest racial or ethnic group in the United States in 2012.

The Excelencia in Education report looks at Latino student educational achievement across a broad spectrum of what it calls the educational pipeline, from K-12 through higher education institutions and the workforce, and sets a baseline from which to measure performance over time.

"Every educational experience from early childhood to high school and into the workforce influences the potential for success," said Sarita Brown, president of Excelencia in Education.

Based in Washington, D.C., Excelencia in Education is building a network of educators and policymakers to address the U.S. economy's needs for a highly educated workforce. Santiago said she hopes they will use the report's findings as a resource to inform their thinking about Latinos and to compel them to act.

People would rather invest in opportunity and potential, not in negative profiles which conjure images of people in longstanding crisis, Santiago said. "It's really important that people believe we can make progress," she told NBC News Latino. "The data show Latinos are making good progress and we can do more."

The report also notes challenges. By the year 2050, Latinos are projected to comprise nearly 40 percent of the U.S. population under the age of 5, but along with African Americans, they are more likely to live in poverty than others.

Santiago has heard criticism that the group's findings soft-pedal a need to close educational gaps.

"When we look at the progress Latinos are making, we try to bring attention to those successes, not to negate there's work to be done," Santiago said.

"I don't negate we have to address ELL and English language issues. Those are absolutely critical, but if the only action we take is around those, we are addressing a minority of Latinos, not the majority."

Other highlights from the report:

- The number of Latinos earning an associate degree or higher increased 71 percent between 2004 and 2013.

- In 2012, Latinos were more likely to enroll in community colleges than their African American, Asian and white peers.