Presidential “Latinos and Education” Town Hall—A Key to Winning the Future

President Barack Obama, with moderator Jorge Ramos, left, addresses a town hall meeting hosted by Univision at Bell Multicultural High School in Washington, D.C., March 28. 2011. Ramos is a news anchor and Univision. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Cross-posted from the White House Blog.

En español.

President Obama participated in an historical town hall event focused on education and the Latino community this morning at Bell Multicultural High School, a dual-language school situated in the heart of the Hispanic community in Columbia Heights in the nation’s capitol.  It’s a school 66 percent Hispanic, 37 percent English language learners and where 90 percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced lunch. Hosted by Univision, this community conversation gave the President a chance to talk directly to Hispanic students, parents and their teachers about the importance of education in the rapidly growing Latino community and the country as a whole.

In his State of the Union address the President laid out his vision for how America can win the future—we need to out-educate, out-innovate, and out-build the rest of the world.  He has also challenged us to have the best-educated workforce in the world by having the highest proportion of college graduates of any country by 2020.  The U.S. used to be number one, as recently as 2000.  We’re now ninth in the world.

The only way we can achieve these goals is to clearly understand that the future of America is inextricably linked to the future of the Latino community.  At more than 54 million strong – including nearly 4 million in Puerto Rico — Hispanics are both the largest and fastest-growing minority group, yet they have the lowest education attainment levels of any group in the country.   In the 21st century global economy, the fact that Latinos will form a larger growing portion of the American workforce makes this challenge even more central to the nation: as more Americans retire, this will be the population that retirees and the rest of America depends upon. Latinos number more than 12 million students in America’s public schools and make up more than 1 in 5 (22 percent) of all pre-K-12 public school students.  Yet, less than half of Latino children are enrolled in any early learning program.  Only about half of Latino children earn their high school diploma on time; those who do finish high school are only half as likely as their peers to be prepared for college.  Only 13 percent of Latinos hold a bachelor’s degree, and just four percent have completed graduate or professional degree programs.  For the Hispanic community, there is a lot work to be done across the entire education spectrum.

The only way we can make change happen in the Latino community is to make sure everyone brings their self-interests and talents to the table—students, parents, and families working hand-in-hand with teachers and principals; superintendents collaborating more closely with community college and four-year university education leaders; governors, mayors, and other elected officials partnering with the business, philanthropic, nonprofit, and grassroots sectors; everyone sharing the responsibility for helping us win the future.

Our office has been fortunate to connect with the Latino community in over 100 different cities in nearly 40 states, D.C. and Puerto Rico over the past year and a half.  In each city, one message has been crystal clear: education is the path to the American Dream for the Hispanic community.  On Monday, you’ll get the chance to hear the President talk about his vision for how we help Latino kids and all students succeed—from cradle to career.

Watch the entire town hall in English and Spanish at www.EsElMomento.com.

To keep up with the activities of the White House Initiative, follow them at Ed.gov or on Facebook.

Juan Sepúlveda is Executive Director, White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics

3 Comments

  1. As part of this town hall meeting, I heard the President begin to walk down a dangerous path by talking about the negative side of testing. I have worked in education as a High School teacher and over the last decade as a consultant in 20 different states. The idea that the test is negatively impacting students is a red herring. This is an excuse that adults give who don’t want accountability. Students take high stakes tests every single day in school. In comparison, the state test is actually low stakes since it has very few repercussions for the student. Any negativity that kids experience does not come from the test itself but from the way the adults present it.

    I have had the pleasure of working with hundreds of great teachers over the years and not one of those great teachers worries about the test and they all get superb results. “Teaching to the test” is the most overused phrase in education next to “unfunded mandate”. State tests are not a series of facts that students memorize. I have yet to get a good response when I ask someone who believes that all we do is “teach to a test” to explain to me how teachers do that in a non-fact based test like Reading Comprehension, where they have no idea what the passages will be. In schools where the focus is only the test, the teachers there need quality professional development to help them overcome their limitations on how to reach all students.
    If the reauthorization of ESEA does not contain a key accountability piece linked to standarized tests we will be going backwards. Our High Schools are a perfect example. The President suggested that perhaps we only test every other year. Well, in most states, high schools only test students once. So from 8th grade to 11th grade we have no idea how groups of students are doing and then are surprised when scores in our high schools are lower than in the middle schools. We should actually be testing students in 9th and 10th grade as well or at least in subject oriented tests as some states have incorporated. I just don’t understand the rationale of why we want less information on our students. If we don’t test all of these students every year we are going to miss out on opportunities to enrich the educational experience of these students.

    Please, please, please do not give in to those who want to go back to the 1990′s. I have seen first hand the progress many schools have made under NCLB and easing up on the requirements for schools will only hurt our children. It is no longer good enough to be in education because you want to do good work, we have to raise the standards and expectations and expect that good work is actually being done. Remember: what gets measured is what gets done!

  2. I know that the Hispanics are becoming very important for the US. The education of students of Hispanic heritage is very important for the US, unfortunately the approach that has been taken can be improved considerably. The roots, social status, and education, of the Hispanic parents and their heritage and culture have to be taken into consideration. At this time I am writing a book about Hispanics in the US. A good part of this book talks about education, specifically about our Hispanic children. Although is based on the Mexican immigrants, there are a lot of resemblances with other Hispanics that have an Indian heritage, I will be happy to send you the education chapters.

  3. I had the opportunity to watch the television special in Univision the 28th of March with our president Barack Obama about the education and the Hispanic community. I know that the Hispanics are becoming very important for the US. The education of students of Hispanic heritage is very important for the US, unfortunately the approach that has been taken can be improved considerably. The roots, social status, and education, of the Hispanic parents and their heritage and culture have to be taken into consideration.
    At this time I am writing a book about Hispanics in the US. Because my Spanish is much better than my English I am writing it in Spanish. A good part of this book talks about education, specifically about our Hispanic children. Although is based on the Mexican immigrants, there are a lot of resemblances with other Hispanics that have an Indian heritage, such as Cento Americans and some South Americans Hispanics. I will be happy to send you the education chapters.

    Salvador Alvarez Tostado

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