America’s ability to answer President Obama’s call to “out-innovate, out-educate and out-build” the rest of the world is inextricably linked to the future of the Latino community, said Secretary Duncan in a speech last week at the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities’ (HACU) National Capitol Forum in Washington, DC.
Nearly 150 presidents and other leaders from Hispanic-serving institutions gathered at the 16th Annual Forum to discuss initiatives to ensure greater college access and completion for the country’s Latino population. Secretary Duncan answered questions from the audience and spoke of the importance of being multilingual in our 21st century global economy. Duncan explained that during his time overseeing Chicago Public Schools, that the district made important investments in Chinese language instruction, a program that also benefited many bilingual Latino students.
The Secretary noted that in many countries such as China, children aren’t just learning one additional language, but are often becoming trilingual, and that for Americans to compete in a globally-connected world we must invest early in language instruction as part of a well-rounded education.
Secretary Duncan also answered questions about the DREAM Act—a bill that failed to pass Congress last year, and had it been adopted would have opened the doors of higher education and military service to young people brought to America without documentation by their parents while they were children. Duncan voiced his strong support for Congress to continue working on a solution:
“There are thousands of hard-working, patriotic, young people who are leaders in their communities and who are looking for an opportunity to attend college or serve our country in the military, but they cannot, through no fault of their own. We need the talent and skills of all of these students.”
There are currently more than 12 million Latino students in America’s public schools, making up more than 1 in 5 (22 percent) of all pre-K-12 public school students. Only about half of Latino children earn their high school diploma on time, and those who do finish high school are only half as likely as their peers to be prepared for college. The Department of Education continues to work with students, parents, families, teachers, education leaders, governors, mayors, and organizations such as the HACU to ensure that we are all sharing responsibility in helping Latino students win the future.
Ida Eblinger Kelley is Director of Hispanic Outreach and Communications at the U.S. Department of Education