Let’s Break Down Ethnic And Gender Barriers in STEM Fields

Cross-posted from The Huffington Post

As a Hispanic woman in a male-dominated field, I’ve experienced firsthand how one’s gender and ethnicity can create unjust roadblocks on the path to professional success. As a result, women and Hispanics are both underrepresented in the STEM industry, but I believe we can break through these barriers.

To share a personal example through my experiences and career, I’ve learned that you never know when one opportunity may lead to another. A few years ago, I was named to a Hispanic business publication’s list of Top Five Women and was invited to attend an awards ceremony. While there, I had a conversation that led to me being asked to join the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics. It was one of those times where I paused and thought, “The White House?!?” Of course, I agreed to serve immediately.

It’s been a great experience for me, but you don’t have to serve on a White House panel to make a difference. We can all help inspire change, and to do so, there are key steps we can take with our children and mentees to encourage higher representation of both minorities and women in these critical fields. And they’re easy to remember — just think STEM:

  • Strong encouragement: It comes from parents, grandparents, teachers, friends and the media. A young person’s confidence should be developed and nourished so that they know they can do what they want to do even if it’s in a field where they’re outnumbered. Confidence is key.
  • Time and resources: Give a little bit of your time or financial resources. Collectively, we can support organizations that promote focus and leadership.
  • Exposure to industry leaders: Do this at an early age, and do it repeatedly throughout their education. Many students want to go into professions that help others, and think that they must become a doctor or nurse to fulfill that desire. But engineers have had profound effects on human civilization and the technological advances we all enjoy today. Their work has reached — and helped — billions of people.
  • Model behavior: Role models are important and can have considerable impact on a young person’s choices. If a young girl can see a woman whose profession is STEM-based, they can point to her and say, “If she can do it, so can I.”

If we can all work on these initiatives, young women and minorities will feel more supported and confident engaging in STEM and in their dream careers. Furthermore, the talent they can bring to the field will not only diversify, but help achieve our full potential of discovery and technological innovation.

Alicia Abella is a member of the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics

Join Shakira and Secretary Duncan for a Twitter Q&A on Early Education

Crossposted from The White House blog

For every dollar we invest in early childhood education, we see a rate of return of $7 or more through a reduced need for spending on other services, such as remedial education, grade repetition, and special education, as well as increased productivity and earnings for these kids as adults.

Early education is one of the best investments our country can make. Participation in high-quality early learning programs—like Head Start, public and private pre-K, and childcare—provide children from all backgrounds with a strong start and a solid foundation for success in school.

Tomorrow, President Obama will host a White House Summit on Early Education, announcing new commitments and building on his call to expand access to high-quality early childhood education to every child in America.

As part of the Summit, Grammy award-winning artist Shakira and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will be taking to Twitter on Wednesday, December 10, at 10:00 a.m. ET to answer your questions about early education. Shakira is a member of the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, and has been a strong advocate for high-quality early education.

Here’s how you can get involved:

Learn more about the President’s plan to expand access to high-quality early childhood education, and then join Shakira and Secretary Arne Duncan for a Twitter chat on Wednesday, December 10, at 10:00 a.m. ET.

Highlighting Hispanic Education Year-Round

Cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Education blog, Homeroom

It’s the middle of October. The leaves are changing colors, baseball playoffs are under way, and Hispanic Heritage month – celebrated each year from September 15 to October 15 – just came to close. It’s an opportunity to celebrate the rich history and the centuries’-worth of contributions the Hispanic community – a diverse community with roots in Mexico, the Caribbean, Spain and Central and South America – has made to this country.

His panic students graduating

We first began celebrating Hispanic Heritage Week in 1968, and in 1988 the observance of Hispanic Heritage Month was enacted as law by the U.S. Congress. But the impact of this country’s Hispanic community has never been greater – and the importance of promoting success for Hispanic learners has never mattered more – than right now.

Today, Hispanics are the largest, youngest and fastest-growing minority group. Yet our college attainment rates are among the lowest. A college education continues to be the ticket to the middle class, and improving educational outcomes for the Hispanic community is vitally important for the common good. In America, we fall or rise together. The success of Hispanic students is directly tied to the success of our democracy, and our ability to compete in a global economy.

President Obama’s North Star Goal – that this country will again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world – depends on the success of every single student, whatever his or her background or circumstance. The President understands the crucial role of the Hispanic community and has continued to expand opportunities for them and all students. Whether it is our work through the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, the My Brother’s Keeper initiative or our support of Hispanic Serving institutions, this Department is committed to supporting this community and foster its educational success.

And we’ve seen encouraging signs of progress. The Hispanic high school dropout rate among 16-24 year olds fell from 28 percent in 2000 to 14 percent in 2011. Hispanic college enrollment has grown by more than 1.1. million students. In fact, college enrollment is up more for Hispanics than any other group. In 2012, the enrollment rate among Hispanics 18-24 years old was over 49 percent, up from 31 percent in 2002.

Still, there’s more we must do. As a country our high school graduation rate has reached an all-time high of 80 percent, but the rate for Hispanics still lags behind. In addition, African American and Hispanic students account for 40 percent of high school youth, yet make up just 25 percent of students taking advanced placement classes. Hispanic youth are also disproportionately represented in school-related arrests and disciplinary actions.

During the Department’s kick-off event for National Hispanic Heritage Month, Secretary Duncan said, “we need to make sure that the opportunities we offer every single child in this country are the opportunities we would want to offer our own children.”

This call to action comes at a watershed moment: for the first time in history, a majority of our nation’s public school students are minority students. Hispanic students alone make up 25 percent of all public school students in our schools.

Although Hispanic Heritage month is over, educating Hispanic learners – and all students – is important all year round. That’s the one sure way to reach our North Star goal, preserve the promise of the American Dream, and have the world’s best educated, most competitive workforce.

Robert Gomez is the director of higher education outreach at the U.S. Department of Education, and the son of Mexican immigrants.

The Promise of a Skilled Latino Community

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, we recognize the many contributions Hispanics have made and continue to make to ensure this great nation’s vitality. Hispanics provide a profound and constructive influence on our country through their resilient commitment to family, faith, hard work, and service. They have enriched and wrought our national character with centuries-old traditions that reflect their multiethnic and multicultural customs.

According to the U.S. Census, in 2013 the Hispanic population in the United States reached 54 million, making people of Hispanic origin 17 percent of the nation’s population. Hispanics are the largest, youngest, and fastest growing minority group, and will represent 70 percent of our nation’s population growth between 2015 and 2060. By 2060, they are projected to account for nearly a third of the workforce.

The strength of the American economy is inextricably linked to the strength of the Latino workforce. Education has long been known as a gateway to achievement. Hispanic success in education and in the labor market, therefore, is of immediate and long‐term importance for all of us. In order to meet the future demands of the growing workforce, we must collectively invest in educating this growing population. However, Hispanic students currently face numerous challenges to educational achievement, both at the K-12 and postsecondary levels.

While the dropout rate for Hispanics has been cut in half over the last decade, too many continue to drop out. Of those who do complete high school, many are not sufficiently equipped for college and are at greater risk for remediation than their peers. At the same time, college completion rates for Hispanics remain low and large numbers of Hispanic adults lack the instruction or literacy skills they need to advance their careers. They likewise are less likely to have taken job-or career-related courses, with the exception of basic education classes, such as English as a second language.

As the fastest growing population, the Hispanic community holds the key to the President’s 2020 goal of once again having the best educated, most competitive workforce in the world. Enrollment of minority students in higher education has increased significantly over the past 20 years, up from just 20 percent of all undergraduates in the fall of 1990 to 40 percent in the fall of 2012. Community college enrollment among Hispanics reached a record high and continues to increase. In 2012, the college enrollment rate among 18-to-24-year old Hispanic high school graduates was over 49 percent, up from 31 percent in 2002. Hispanics are currently the largest minority group on college campuses across the nation, representing 17 percent of all college goers. Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) are affording vital education opportunities and play a pivotal role in satisfying our obligation to the rising group of Hispanic visionaries, entrepreneurs, artists, and scholars. HSIs then, where more than half of America’s Hispanic undergraduates attend, are critical to increasing the college enrollment, retention, and graduation rates of this expanding population.

Many Americans, including Hispanic and immigrant populations, lack the skills to access high-wage, high-demand jobs. In October 2013, the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics and its international partner, the Organization for Economic Cooperation for Development released the results from the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIACC). PIACC tested adult skills in literacy, numeracy, and problem solving in technology-rich environments to find that despite a relatively high level of educational qualifications, the basic skills of adults in the United States are relatively weak. The findings showed that 36 million, or one in six adults between the ages of 16 and 65, could benefit from improved skills. 43 percent of Hispanic adults have low literacy skills, compared with only 10 percent of whites. The basic skills issue affects the Hispanic community in profound ways, in part given the scarcity of resources in high-need areas.

The demand for jobs in the U.S. that require postsecondary education continues to increase.  At current higher education graduation rates, the U.S. has the potential to experience an increasingly large professional skills gap. Given the Hispanic population’s anticipated growth, these two trends reveal a significant need for a multilingual workforce. Many of these graduates will need to come from the multi-cultural, U.S. Hispanic population. The U.S. higher education system must be prepared to meet the dual challenge of increasing graduation rates and supplying more bilingual graduates who will in turn drive our workforce.

Youth’s and adults’ foundation skills impact local, regional, and national competitiveness. Skills are vital components of healthy, safe families and civic engagement, and are the building blocks of economic development and growth. Continued improvements in education achievement for Latinos are critical to ensuring that our youth are academically equipped to meet the challenges of the future.

Because skills matter to many quality-of-life issues, raising Americans’ skill levels and those of our fastest growing population will require a collective commitment. Therefore, the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education are partnering to strengthen the nation by expanding educational opportunities, improving educational outcomes for Hispanics of all ages, and by helping to ensure that all Hispanics receive a complete and competitive education that prepares them for college, a career, and productive and satisfying lives. Join us in this vital effort for the immediate and long-term future success of our nation. Together, we can celebrate the progress of the Hispanic community, work to make skills everyone’s business, and help fulfill America’s Future.

Alejandra Ceja is the Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics and Johan Uvin is Acting Assistant Secretary of the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education

Engaging Families, Ensuring Education Success: A Back-to-School Tour with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics

Cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Education blog, Homeroom

In Springdale, Arkansas, the Hispanic population grew by more than 150 percent between 2000 and 2011, largely driven by the arrival of mostly Hispanic immigrants. The school district’s public school population is now 44 percent Hispanic, and its English Learner population is also 44 percent of students. The city has done a remarkable job of embracing their newest community members and ensuring that all students and families are supported.

As part of ED’s Back-to-School Bus Tour, the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics (WHIEEH) visited Springdale to learn about the city’s community integration efforts. For the visit, WHIEEH collaborated with the Cisneros Center for New Americans, an organization that works to accelerate the integration of new Americans into American society. One stop was at an early childhood center where newly enrolled families pose for portraits that are placed in the classroom, to help ease the child’s transition and alleviate separation anxiety. Coffee sessions between new and veteran parents help familiarize families with the center and the community.

Another stop included the Turnbow Elementary School family literacy program where parents attend English language classes and scheduled PAC or “Parent and Child” time, in which parents join their children in class. They also learn about other subjects, including safety and financial assistance, from community partners such as the police and fire departments and local banks.

A mother described the program’s impact on her and her daughter: “When I signed up for this program, I saw my daughter with a huge smile, so I know it really mattered to her that I was in it,” she said.

At the Language Academy at Har-Ber High School, newly arrived students write their aspirations on classroom walls. These not only remind students to work hard, but they also provide instructors with daily reminders of their own role in helping all students reach their full potential.

The Academy has served to support integration into the larger community.

“The Language Academy helped me communicate with other people,” one student said. “At first, I didn’t know the basics …and now I’m in a regular class. I know all the things that the teacher tells me, and how they teach me and help me so much.”

A town hall for leaders from throughout the community provided context for the school district’s work. Superintendent Jim Rollins provided an overview of the district’s comprehensive efforts and a panel of experts discussed best practices on immigrant integration.

“Education is the great equalizer – quality education is accessible to immigrant families in Springdale,” said Professor William Schwab, University of Arkansas.

Throughout the tour, it was evident that efforts to break down language barriers and motivate students to succeed in and out of the classroom are making a difference.

Springdale’s family engagement and integration vision and efforts were recognized in aRace to the Top-District grant award in 2013. The program helps localities develop plans to personalize and improve student learning, increase educational opportunities, and provide resources that lead to a high-quality learning experience.

The program has enabled Springdale to provide 100 additional preschool slots to the community’s children and draw up plans to expand their family literacy program to each of their 30 schools.

The commitment to immigrant integration through family engagement is in the soul of the Springdale community. Superintendent Rollins put it best: “Those are the kind of things that can happen when you embrace children and help them find their true potential and promise.”

Emmanuel Caudillo is a Special Advisor for the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.

Hispanic Heritage Month Teacher Profile, Natalie A. Morales

Natalie Morales

Natalie A. Morales, EdD

Science High School Teacher in Newburgh, NY

Dr. Morales has spent fourteen years teaching Biology and more recently, Human Anatomy and Physiology, at Newburgh Free Academy, where she began her teaching career as a student teacher. In addition to teaching, she has spent time aligning her course curricula and developing new curricula for a course integrating science and technology. Dr. Morales has been selected to participate in numerous building level and union committees and trainings. She has served as a turnkey trainer and facilitator for the implementation of professional learning communities, classroom management skills, and the Common Core State Standards within her school. Dr. Morales recently began mentoring student teams conducting independent research utilizing network science as part of the Newburgh Free Academy’s NetSci High research program in affiliation with West Point’s Network Science Center. She is currently serving on Newburgh Free Academy’s High School Steering Committee which has been tasked with researching and developing an implementation plan for the creation of two independent high schools.

Dr. Morales holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Biology/Secondary Education from the State University of New York at New Paltz which earned her certification as a 7-12 Biology/General Science teacher. She returned to the State University of New York at New Paltz to earn her Master’s of Science in Education in Literacy Education which granted her Literacy Certifications in grades Birth-5 and 6-12. Dr. Morales also earned a professional degree for Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in Educational Administration which allowed to become certified as a School Administrator and Supervisor and a School District Administrator. She recently completed her Doctorate in Education in Instructional Leadership at Western Connecticut State University where she conducted a study comparing high school students’ and their teachers’ perceptions of factors affecting academic achievement and underachievement.

Dr. Morales was selected to the Class of 2013-2014 as a Phi Delta Kappa International Emergent Leader. As a PDK Emergent Leader, she served as the teacher advisory committee member, in Washington, DC, for the 2014 PDK Gallup Poll and reviewed applications for Phi Delta Kappa International’s Duncan Scholarship awarded to graduate students pursuing their doctorate degrees. Her Ed Profile was also featured in PDK’s Kappan magazine. Dr. Morales was also designated a New York State Master Teacher in STEM. She was one of twenty-six STEM teachers in Mid-Hudson, NY selected to into the first cohort of Master STEM teachers in New York State where she will be spending the next four years working towards the improving the integration of STEM and STEM careers within the classroom.

Dr. Morales is an active member within the New York State United Teachers union and Newburgh Teachers Association where she served was a former head delegate and is a current delegate of Newburgh Free Academy’s North Campus. She also serves as a delegate representing the Newburgh Enlarged City School District Teachers at the New York State Teacher Retirement System Delegate meetings. Dr. Morales is also a member of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum and Phi Delta Kappa.

Why do I teach? I teach because I have a heart for and towards my students.. I teach because I want to pass on all that I know to those who will listen both in and out of the classroom so that they, too, can become more informed and educated.

What do you love about teaching? I love to see my students’ self-confidence and self-efficacy blossom and grow over the course of the year as they acquire and apply their biological knowledge to real world applications.

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you? My high school biology teacher, Mrs. Murphy, exuded heart and passion when she taught which allowed for a positive teacher-student relationship to develop grounded in motivation and care.

A Latina’s Perspective: Preparing the Next Generation of STEM Latino Leaders

Cross-posted from the MIND Research Institute blog

At six years old, I faced an unfamiliar culture, a new language, and insurmountable unknowns when I reunited with my family in Houston, TX after leaving El Salvador. Although my father only completed the second grade, he made sure that education was my top priority. My parent’s lack of a formal education and knowledge of the English language thwarted their capacity to support my academic experience, yet they were always engaged.

The early years were difficult but I persisted. Fortunately, my high school classmates introduced me to the importance of college preparedness and a college education. Through hard work, determination, and continuous effort, I graduated 3rd out of 747 seniors in my high school, earned my B.S. in Biomedical Engineering from The University of Texas at Austin, and am a Cancer Biology Ph.D. candidate at The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. I must admit that without the mentoring of my peers and the emotional support from my parents, I wouldn’t have achieved a higher education.

Currently, I have taken a break from my studies to serve as a policy intern at the White House Initiative on the Educational Excellence for Hispanics (Initiative), to help assess the state of the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education of Hispanic students in the U.S. This topic is close to my heart as I am on the verge of achieving something I never imagined possible.

As a six-year-old ESL student, I couldn’t fathom the idea of one day becoming a cancer scientist. Growing up, I enjoyed STEM courses although I didn’t quite understand their impact on my education. I did however realize that something was amiss; there were very few Hispanic students in my AP math and science courses. In fact, this observation followed a trend in which the higher my education attainment was, the fewer Hispanic students joined me in the classroom. This, along with the lack of a Hispanic STEM mentor to advise and guide me through college, was disheartening to experience.

As a result, it became engrained in my mind that other Hispanic students did not care about education and even less about STEM careers. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Hispanics represent 23 percent of students enrolling in STEM majors – comparable to their White counterparts. For the first time in history Hispanics are graduating in higher numbers than ever (76 percent), have cut the drop-out rate in half over the last decade (14 percent compared to 28 percent in 2000), and enrolling in college at higher rates than their White counterparts (69 percent in the class of 2012 compared to 67 percent, respectively). Despite these positive trends, only 16 percent of Hispanics complete their STEM Bachelor’s degree compared to 30 percent of their White counterparts Thus, this feeds into the lack of Hispanic presence in the STEM workforce.

At the postsecondary level, Hispanic students are not prepared to acclimate to new curriculum structures, diverse communities, and even the weed-out nature of STEM introductory courses. These new challenges, accompanied by academic underperformance, discourage Hispanic students from completing STEM majors. In addition, the financial status of Hispanic students, either the lack of financial aid or the need to support their families, is detrimental to the completion of challenging and time-demanding STEM majors.

And while ensuring more minorities, including Hispanics, are provided access to rigorous courses starting early in elementary school, there needs to be a collective effort on behalf of high schools and postsecondary institutions to support their enrollment, persistence, and success in STEM careers. Currently, 66 percent of Hispanic students enroll in community colleges, providing these institutions with a critical opportunity to retain, graduate, or successfully transfer them to 4-year institutions where they can pursue their bachelor’s degrees in STEM.

The challenges Hispanic students face start long before they enroll in college. While the numbers of Hispanic students enrolling in AP courses and exams in high school are at their highest, no STEM course is within the top 5 AP courses they take. Still, only 30 percent of Hispanic students with the potential to participate in AP classes actually enroll in them. Similarly, in spite of increasing numbers of Hispanic students taking college-entrance exams, only 1 in 7 Hispanics met all four college-readiness benchmarks, indicating a low chance to succeed in first-year college courses. In fact, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights reports that only 67 percent of Hispanic students have access to a full range of STEM courses (Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II, Calculus, Biology, Chemistry and Physics) in high school. This, along with cognitive and socio-cultural factors, attitudes/perceptions, institutional variables, and college experiences influence the representation and retention of Hispanic students in STEM majors.

As the fastest-growing minority group, Hispanics are projected to represent 70 percent of the nation’s population growth between 2015 and 2060. Thus, it is deeply encouraging to see a new movement taking shape towards supporting and mentoring minorities, and women and girls, into STEM fields. US2020, responding to the White House’s call for action to engage students in STEM, makes STEM mentorship accessible to girls, minorities, and low-income students in order to reinforce a quality STEM education suitable for STEM careers.

Further, the Obama Administration established the Committee on STEM Education (CoSTEM) to aid Hispanics in Pre-K-12th grade transition to a postsecondary education and into the STEM workforce through strategies that bring together federal agencies, communities, stakeholders, schools, and students.

Finally, addressing the important financial barriers for Latino families, the Initiative created the¡Gradúate! Financial Aid Guide to Success, which provides key information on resources to finance a STEM education. With the great strides Hispanics are currently making in education, it is imperative for us all to get involved now in order to create a sustainable environment for our students to become the next generation of fruitful contributors to the STEM workforce, the economy, and the collective success of our nation.

Sobeyda Gomez is a Ph.D. Candidate at The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. During the Summer of  2014, she was a Policy Intern for the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics where she worked on the Initiative’s STEM portfolio

Progress in Action: Celebrating Hispanic Educational Achievement

Crossposted from the President Obama and the Hispanic Community blog.

The following article was published on Univision.com. You can read the original article in Spanish HERE.

Each year, in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month we recognize and celebrate the rich histories and significant contributions made by Hispanics throughout this great nation. With over 54 million people, Hispanics are the largest, youngest, and fastest-growing minority group, and will represent 70 percent of our nation’s population growth between 2015 and 2060. From preschool to postsecondary education, Hispanic representation is palpable. Hispanics now make up the majority of students in our public schools, with 1 out of every 4 students in K-12 grades. Similarly, college enrollment is up more for Hispanics than any other group.

Earlier this year the President said that 2014 would be a “year of action”. In this spirit, the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics (Initiative) officially launched our “Anniversary Year of Action” – a call to action to expand upon the progress and achievement made in Hispanic education.

As a community, we have made significant progress. According to the Census Bureau (2011), the Hispanic high school dropout rate has been cut in half from 28 percent in 2000 to 14 percent in 2011.The  Hispanic graduation rate has increased to 76 percent – an all-time high. College enrollment among Hispanics reached a record high and continues to increase. In 2012, the college enrollment rate among 18-to-24-year-old Hispanic high school graduates was over 49 percent, up from 31 percent in 2002.

We recognize there is more work to do and that it’s a shared responsibility—everyone will have a role to play in ensuring the continued success of our community. Over the coming year we will highlight “Bright Spots” that are providing a quality early childhood education, robust and rigorous K-12 education experiences, supporting increased participation in STEM courses, promoting promising practices, partnerships, and institutions of higher education that are graduating more Latinos ready and prepared to enter the competitive workforce, preparing more Hispanics into the teaching profession, while highlighting collaborative efforts supporting our young Hispanic girls and boys through the President’s initiative My Brother’s Keeper.

We will continue working towards the President’s 2020 goal of once again leading the world in college completion. Over the last 12 months, the Initiative has been deeply committed to amplifying the Administration’s education agenda, building partnerships and expanding commitments to support education for Hispanics, while also highlighting the Hispanic community’s progress. Through a number of activities – from national policy forums and back-to-school tours to webinars and twitter chats – we reached over 100,000 stakeholders around the United States and Puerto Rico. We heard from parents, students, non-profit, state and local government, business and philanthropy leaders, and educators about their work and challenges. Through strategic outreach and engagement, we learned that the Hispanic community is not only making great strides but eager to reframe the narrative.

We look forward to building on previous successes and producing more helpful tools like our “¡Gradúate! A Financial Aid Guide to Success”, published this May. The bilingual guide – designed to help students and families navigate the college enrollment and financial aid process includes key information about federal financial aid resources available and on scholarships supporting all Hispanic students, including those granted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and non-U.S. citizens. We will continue to work towards increasing the number of Hispanic teachers through innovative strategies, such as our #LatinosTeach social media campaign launched this month.

And just this Monday, the White House, as part of Hispanic Heritage Month celebrations, honored Latino Educators “Champions of Change” who are doing extraordinary work to educate the next generation of Americans. These Champions have distinguished themselves by devoting their time and energy to creating opportunities for young people to succeed, particularly in low-income communities. The event showcased these leaders and the exceptional contributions to this country. Because, we know that by highlighting progress in action, we will ensure a bright future for the Hispanic community.

Alejandra Ceja is the Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics

Arts in Education Week: A Time to Validate the Importance of Hope

Cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Education Office of Improvement and Innovation blog.

What’s hope got to do with it? When the “it” is the persistent achievement gaps for African American and Hispanic students, the answer is a lot.

I don’t know if Bill Strickland, a 1996 MacArthur Fellow and visionary arts education entrepreneur, and Richard Carranza, superintendent of the San Francisco public schools, have met (my guess is they have not), but they must be channeling one another.

The two have a lot in common, and at the top of the list is an absolute conviction to the role of the arts in creating the needed learning environment for minority students in high-poverty schools to achieve academically, thrive in and outside of school, and graduate career and college-ready. Coincidentally, Strickland and Carranza keynoted national forums on arts education — for the Arts Education Partnership (AEP) and the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics (WHIEEH), respectively, within the past month. The forums provided a propitious run-up to National Arts in Education Week, Sept. 14-20, so designated by the U.S. Congress in House Resolution 275. Click here for the full agenda of the AEP forum and a link to the video of Bill Strickland’s keynote address.

Interest, environment, and values make a difference
“If you capture their interest,” Carranza told more than 150 attendees of the WHIEEH forum at the Pixar studios in Emeryville, Calif., “their intellect, commitment, and minds will follow.” He knows about that power of the arts firsthand, as both a student who began school not speaking English and found his voice through music, and later as a music teacher in Tucson, Ariz., who gave his students their voice through a nationally recognized Mariachi program that saw 90 percent of the students graduate from high school.
Bill Strickland, keynote speaker at the Arts Education Partnership’s national forum, Preparing Students for the Next America in and through the Arts, is joined by Sarah Tambucci, executive director of Pittsburgh’s Arts Education Collaborative, regional host for the forum. (Photo courtesy of the Arts Education Partnership

Bill Strickland, keynote speaker at the Arts Education Partnership’s national forum, Preparing Students for the Next America in and through the Arts, is joined by Sarah Tambucci, executive director of Pittsburgh’s Arts Education Collaborative, regional host for the forum. (Photo courtesy of the Arts Education Partnership

In the 1960s, Frank Ross, a visual arts teacher in the blighted north Pittsburgh community of Manchester, took an inquisitive high school student who was otherwise headed for a pretty rough life under his wing. Bill Stickland found his identity and a reason to come to school in Frank Ross’s art room, where he learned ceramic making and much more. That art room provided the essential ingredients for a poor kid who lacked purpose and hope — “clay, sunlight, and somebody to believe in him.” They are the very same ingredients of the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild’s School Day Arts Education program today, where more than 500 Pittsburgh high school students attend ceramics and photography classes weekly and have a near perfect high school graduation rate.

“It’s environment,” Strickland told the more than 250 AEP forum attendees, “and it’s values” that include an aesthetically pleasing setting and an engaging curriculum. Couple these with a presumption that students can perform when given the right opportunities, and it results in students’ engagement and success, according to Strickland. For him, it’s as simple as “beautiful environments create beautiful kids; prisons create prisoners.”The arts opportunity gap

Both keynote speakers offer hope in the face of sobering realities for African American and Hispanic students, for whom the achievement gaps are persistent despite recent significant upward trends in high school graduation rates for students of color. For students in high-poverty schools, there also are profound opportunity gaps.

In his recent remarks marking the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act at Howard University, Education Secretary Arne Duncan pointed to the lack of Advanced Placement courses and gateway-to-college classes in advanced math and sciences for African American and Hispanic students, opportunities too often unavailable to students of color in high-poverty schools. In his videotaped remarks to the WHIEEH forum audience, the secretary cited benefits of arts education, particularly for Hispanic students, and acknowledged an “arts opportunity gap” for many students in high-poverty schools. In the most recent national survey of access to arts education in public schools, the National Center for Education Statistics reported a 15-percent gap in music and visual arts offerings between the lowest and highest poverty schools.

The arts can provide needed hope

Arts education, as the National Arts in Education Week congressional resolution notes, offers a wide range of benefits for all students, from developing 21st century skills like critical thinking and cross-cultural understanding to the “creativity and determination necessary for success in the global information age.” But for students in high-poverty schools, hope — like Bill Strickland and Richard Carranza experienced as young students and are paying forward for students in Pittsburgh and San Francisco today — deserves our attention.

The work of Gallup Education senior scientist Shane Lopez on the role of hope in schools was featured in a 2014 New York Times Next New World Forum broadcast. A recent survey in elementary schools revealed that students whose ideas and energy for their future pathways are valued are 30 times more engaged in their learning. That happens, according to Gallup Education CEO Brandon Busteed, when schools are committed to building on the strengths of each student and have teachers who make students excited about the future. “Hope as a strategy is really crucial” for all students, he observed, but especially those for whom the possible pathways to college and careers are impossible to see in high-poverty schools.

“If you believe you’re going to die at 16, 17, 18, you live a very different life than if you believe you’re going to live to be 65, 70, 80, or 90,” Secretary Duncan told the Howard University audience. Holding his right hand as if to finger the valves of a Mariachi trumpet, Superintendent Carranza observed that “when [students] have this in their hand, they won’t hold this,” letting his fingers rotate 90 degrees downward to mimic a handgun grip. A Pittsburgh art teacher knew about hope and passed it along, accompanied by the knowledge and skills that gave a young Bill Strickland the vision for a brighter future, one that led him to the University of Pittsburgh, for which he now serves as a trustee.

“We cannot promote a brighter future for our students and our country,” Secretary Duncan told the WHIEEH forum attendees, “without advocating for the arts as a critical subject in education. The President and I agree — the arts are so important when it comes to student learning, achievement, and success.”

Doug Herbert is a special assistant in the Office of Innovation and Improvement and editor of the OII home page.

Keeping our Boys in School: Why investing in all of America’s young people is a social and economic imperative

Every year, thousands of children are suspended or expelled from preschool in the United States.[1] Yes, three- and four-year olds are removed from the classroom at this early age. The findings from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights’ recent Civil Rights Data Collection highlight the outcomes of school discipline policies and practices throughout the country. It is considerably difficult to ignore the implications of these facts on access and attainment of a quality education. In particular, exclusionary discipline policies in schools across the United States disproportionately affect boys and young men of color. Policy makers and educators are now coming together at all levels to address the school-to-prison pipeline. This calls for a collaborative and comprehensive solution. It is a shared responsibility to shine the spotlight on parts of our population that have long been underserved – for America’s future and our global competitiveness depend on it.


President Obama in a classroom

Let’s talk about facts. Our young men of color, including Hispanic, African American, Asian American and Pacific Islanders, and American Indian and Alaskan Native males, are an at-risk population. Collectively, they are among the fastest-growing segments of our country’s population, representing nearly half of all males under age 18 throughout the country.[2] Studies show that this particular subgroup of the general population is, on average, a year to a year–and-a-half behind girls in reading and writing abilities, and most boys in grades 4-8 are twice more likely than girls to be held back a grade.[3] Data also show that boys are suspended or expelled at higher rates than girls (see figure below). The gender gap is even more prevalent in special education: boys are seven times more likely to be diagnosed with attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder; in some school districts, they are up to ten times more likely to be diagnosed with serious emotional and behavioral disorders.[4] Further, there are added challenges, because more boys and young men of color live in high-poverty neighborhoods, and/or with only one parent than their white counterparts[5] [6] . It is important that all youth in these circumstances, including boys and young men of color, receive the academic, emotional, and social support they critically need. President Barack Obama may be the first person of color to become president in our nation’s history – but the disparities facing these young men remain alive and well.


Students Expulsion and Suspensions by genderIn light of demographic projections, it is important to recognize that our nation’s future is inextricably linked to ensuring the success of all groups of young people, including these young men. For example, it is expected that Latino males ages 10-24 will grow by 3.7 million between 2013 and 2040 while the white male population in that age category will actually decline by 2.6 million.[7] Recognizing America’s changing landscape has never been more necessary. Policies that strengthen communities are critical to ensuring that we keep all young people in school rather than charting a path to the juvenile justice system by suspending them or expelling them for minor offenses. An educated workforce is key to America’s global competitiveness, and as a nation, we cannot stand idle while other countries out-educate and out-compete us. Addressing the school to prison pipeline also benefits our economy. Studies show that exclusionary discipline policies have direct financial implications for a school district. In California, the Fresno Unified School District saw 32,180 school days missed due to suspensions, resulting in more than a million dollars lost in funding based on students’ average daily attendance.[8] Just like in this district, there are millions of dollars being lost due to student suspensions all across the nation.

Of course, we cannot begin to address the issue if we aren’t aware of it.


This past summer, I worked as a policy intern at the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics (Initiative) at the U.S. Department of Education. The Initiative works with stakeholders in the private and public sectors to advance a strategic policy and outreach agenda to help tackle critical education challenges facing the Hispanic community, including discipline policies that disproportionately impact young men of color, including Hispanics. The Obama Administration has made equity and opportunity for all Americans a priority. In particular, the inequities that continue to exist in many pockets across the nation for many, including our young boys and men of color, have galvanized action and a movement.


Earlier this year, President Obama launched the My Brother’s Keeper Initiative (MBK) which aims to address opportunity gaps faced by boys and young men of color and ensure that all young people can reach their full potential. Through MBK, the private and philanthropic sectors have also come together to invest in the best practices addressing key issues that help all young people, including young boys and men of color, succeed. As part of this effort, the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice, along with organizations across the country are working to reduce counterproductive policies like zero-tolerance that can lead to disproportionate school suspensions and expulsions. Most recently, the President highlighted the Council of Great City Schools’ commitment wherein sixty of the nation’s largest urban school districts have created an eleven-point plan that stretches from early childhood to graduation, including programs to reduce suspensions and expulsions. In that same vein, the private sector has announced multi-million dollar investments to create mentoring programs and additional programs to address disparities in school climate. [9]


In that same spirit, it is up to all of us – educators, students, parents, non-profits, business, community leaders, government and faith-based leaders – to work together and invest in America’s education. How can one invest? Invest your time by becoming a mentor in your community. Research shows that the presence of a mentor helps significantly improve the lives of a young person. There are various opportunities to become a mentor. You can join the President’s call for mentors here. In the words of my school’s founder Benjamin Franklin, keep in mind that “an investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”

Jesus Perez is an International Relations major and the junior class president at the University of Pennsylvania. As an intern for the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics during the Summer of 2014, he worked to enhance and advance the President’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative.

[1] http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/053014_mbk_report.pdf

[2] http://www.census.gov/

[3] http://nces.ed.gov/datatools/index.asp?DataToolSectionID=4

[4] http://www.ihep.org/assets/files/publications/m-r/(Brief)_Men_of_Color_Latinos.pdf

[5] http://www.hiponline.org/storage/documents/SELECT_COMMITTEE_REPORT_ACTION_PLAN_FINAL.pdf

[6] http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/053014_mbk_report.pdf

[7] http://www.hiponline.org/storage/documents/hip-menandboys-the-right-to-dream.pdf

[8] http://csgjusticecenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/The_School_Discipline_Consensus_Report.pdf

[9] http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/07/21/fact-sheet-president-obama-applauds-new-commitments-support-my-brother-s