ACA Latino Week of Action

It’s “Latino Week of Action,” and a time to make sure all of our Latino students and families are enrolled and covered by health insurance.   This week represents the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) continuing efforts to engage the Latino community to #GetCovered or #Asegurate under the Affordable Care Act.

Across the country, community organizations have joined local, state and federal government partners to convene health care enrollment events, partnering with Spanish language media to offer personalized enrollment assistance and to encourage Latinos to sign up for quality and affordable health coverage.

  • The Latino Week of Action will increase outreach efforts to educate Latinos across the country about the benefits of the Affordable Care Act and to let them know how affordable quality health insurance is if they enroll in the health insurance Marketplaces.

Read More

Latino Education and the Fifth Anniversary of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act

On February 17, 2009 President Obama signed into law the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA).  This was in response to the worst economic crisis in the U.S. since the Great Depression.  At the time, private employers had cut almost 4 million jobs and trillions in dollars in household wealth had been wiped out. 

The Council of Economic Advisors has released its final report to Congress which affirms the investments made through ARRA have had a positive impact on the economy.  We not only see the effects of ARRA through the millions of jobs it helped create, but we also see how ARRA has helped in the classroom.

Read More

First Lady Michelle Obama: “I’m First”

Last November, First Lady Michelle Obama spoke to the sophomore class at Bell Multicultural High School, in Washington, D.C. about the importance of higher education. In her remarks, Mrs. Obama talked about how education has created opportunity in her own life, working hard to attend and graduate from college.

Like the First Lady, many Latinos are also the first in their family to go to college.  The whole process; from applying to college, to finding ways to pay for it, to navigating a college campus, can be overwhelming, as it was for the First Lady. 

Yesterday, the White House released a special video message from the First Lady in which she talks about being the first in her family to attend college. This video is part of the “I’m First” storytelling project, which lifts up the stories of first generation college students in order to inspire future generations.

As the First Lady says in her video, “no matter where you come from or how much money your family has, I want you to know that you can succeed in college, and get your degree, and then go on to build an incredible life for yourself.”

Read More

Making Progress on ConnectED

Cross-posted from the White House blog


Today, President Obama visited Buck Lodge Middle School in Adelphi, Maryland to announce major progress on the ConnectED initiative, designed to enrich K-12 education for every student in America. ConnectED empowers teachers with the best technology and the training to make the most of it, and empowers students through individualized learning and rich, digital content.

Preparing America’s students with the skills they need to get good jobs and compete with countries around the world relies increasingly on interactive, personalized learning experiences driven by new technology. Yet fewer than 30% of America’s schools have the broadband they need to connect to today’s technology. Under ConnectED, however, 99% of American students will have access to next-generation broadband by 2017. That connectivity will help transform the classroom experience for all students, regardless of income. 

Read More

State of the Union and Hispanics Twitter Chat Recap

Last night, we held our first Twitter Chat following the President’s State of the Union (SOTU) Address.  This year more than ever, we were able to watch the address across different platforms, and engage in activities before, during and after. We wanted to hear from you. What did the State of the Union say about education? What does that mean for the Hispanic community? What are other education-related issues important and relevant to you? We were thrilled with the questions and comments we received during our one hour session.

Folks from Arizona raised questions about college completion and wanted to learn more about how the Obama administration is supporting postsecondary completion for Hispanics.  Others applauded and appreciated the significance of Latino students, including one ELL student, who joined the First Lady during the SOTU.  We were too.

Read More

Latino Students to Join First Lady During State of the Union Address

In less than 12 hours, President Barack Obama will deliver his fifth State of the Union Address. Education is sure to be one of the topics the President addresses in a speech that will lay out “practical proposals to grow the economy, strengthen the middle class, and empower all who hope to join it.”

For decades, First Ladies have invited extraordinary Americans that match the themes of the State of the Union Address to join them in her viewing box. This year three Latinos are among the educators and students joining First Lady Michelle Obama:

Read More

BRIGHT SPOTS: Educational Excellence in Action

The White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics (WHIEEH) is working to increase educational opportunities, improve educational outcomes, and deliver a complete and competitive education for all Hispanics. Through our continued outreach around the nation, we’ve seen that solutions to key educational challenges exist and are producing tangible and positive outcomes for our community. We are shining a light on these “Bright Spots”

Bright Spots are programs, leaders, schools, organizations, partnerships, or models that address key education topics for Hispanics and are helping close the achievement gap – from cradle to career.  By highlighting them we hope other schools and programs will benefit and learn from their data-driven approaches, promising practices, peer advice, and effective partnerships, ultimately resulting in scaling or replicating what works for our community.

“Schools belong to the community”- Principal Juan Ocon

One Bright Spot we visited recently was Benito Juarez Community Academy in Chicago, Illinois. The neighborhood public school with over 94 percent of Hispanic students is leading the way in drop-out reduction. After 20 years of existing under a ‘probation’ status, Juarez turned itself around and was removed from probation last year. The school’s four-year graduation rate has risen dramatically – from 57 percent in the 2010 school year to 80 percent in 2013. Attendance rates are on track to reach 100 percent this school year – a spike from 83 percent in 2010.

Secretary Arne Duncan holding a Community Roundtable Discussion at Benito Juarez Community Academy in Chicago, IL

Secretary Arne Duncan holding a Community Roundtable Discussion at Benito Juarez Community Academy in Chicago, IL

During our visit, we met with community and business leaders to discuss engagement and efforts to support Juarez and other neighborhood schools serving Hispanic students. We were later joined by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan who met with students, educators and parents to hear about their experiences. We learned that it takes great leadership, strong family and community engagement, robust partnerships and dedicated teachers and students to close the achievement gap.

In 2011, Juarez received a three-year $5.6 million school improvement grant from the U.S. Department of Education, to help improve the school’s academic standing and galvanize the change it desperately needed. Principal Juan Ocon created Parent University – a program that provides free classes to parents at the school. “They have become partners with the administration in their children’s education because they are already in the building”, said Principal Ocon. He also established after school programs to further support students, expanded wrap-around services and AP course offerings, implemented a standard-based curriculum and is a big advocate for effectively using technology in the classroom. He knows that recruiting great teachers and investing in their professional development is instrumental. The tremendous gains made by Juarez are no easy feat – it is because of his leadership, the incredible dedication of his staff, family and community partners that Juarez is helping close the achievement gap and develop leaders.

To learn more about Benito Juarez Community Academy, visit

We will be highlighting Bright Spots through our activities and communications. If you want to recommend a Bright Spot, please email us at

Maribel Duran

 Maribel Duran is Chief of Staff with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics

Behind Progress, Common Sense and Courage

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

This op-ed appeared in the January 23, 2014 edition of the Washington Post.

In education, it sometimes takes courage to do what ought to be common sense.

That’s a key lesson from several recent national and international assessments of U.S. education. These include the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), known as the nation’s report card; a new version of the NAEP focused on large, urban districts; and the international rankings in the tri-annual PISA test.

Collectively, these assessments demonstrate extraordinary progress in the places where leaders have worked hardest and most consistently to bring change — but also a national failure to make nearly enough progress to keep up with our competitors.

Secretary Duncan recieves feedback at PISA event

Secretary Duncan received feedback from students during last month’s PISA release.

Nationwide, students made modest progress in reading and math in 2013, with achievement edging up to record highs for fourth- and eighth-graders, the NAEP found.

Nearly every state has adopted higher academic standards, and most states have instituted new systems of teacher support and evaluation. It’s a testament to hardworking educators that they are implementing these changes and raising student performance at the same time.

But as the international PISA results demonstrate, our progress isn’t enough. Other countries are leapfrogging us at a time when education is vital to economic health in a global competition for jobs and innovation. Among the 65 countries and education systems that participate in PISA, the United States was surpassed by 27 in math and 14 in reading . That’s unacceptable.

We can learn, however, from some of the standouts. In contrast to a national picture of gradual progress, Tennessee and the District of Columbia reported striking jumps — in both math and reading achievement and in both grades examined, fourth and eighth.

We don’t know all the reasons why students did better in Tennessee and the District in 2013 than in 2011. But it is clear that they shared a similar approach to bettering education — taking common-sense, but politically hard, steps to help students. Both are places where vulnerable students predominate; 73 percent of District students and 55 percent of Tennessee students are sufficiently needy to qualify for reduced-price meals.

There are important lessons here. What these two places also had in common was a succession of leaders who told educators, parents and the public the truth about educational underperformance and who worked closely with educators to bring about real changes. They pushed hard to raise expectations for students, even though a lower bar would have made everyone look better. And they remained committed to doing the right thing for children, even when it meant crossing partisan lines or challenging ideological orthodoxy.

To meet those higher standards, these leaders invested in strengthening the quality of classroom instruction and revamping systems for teacher support and evaluation. They ensured that teachers could use good data from multiple sources to identify learning gaps and improve instruction. They also sought ongoing feedback from educators and others.

These concepts — developing and supporting the people who do the most important work, using data to inform improvement — are what strong organizations do.

Yet these common-sense steps took uncommon courage. Tennessee had previously set one of the lowest bars in the country for proficiency in reading and math. The resulting proficiency rates — 91 percent in math and 92 percent in reading — were a lie. By raising standards, Tennessee’s leaders forced the public, parents and politicians to confront brutal facts.

When Tennessee raised its standards in 2010, the proportion of students rated proficient dropped to 34 percent in math and 45 percent in reading. But in a bipartisan act of courage, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam and state Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman stayed true to the reforms begun under Democrat Phil Bredesen. They refused to dumb down standards to try to make Tennessee students look better.

Were students actually doing worse? No. For the first time, the state was telling the truth.

Just as important, leaders in the District and Tennessee worked with educators to transform industrial-era systems of support and evaluation for teachers and principals that had little or no link to teachers’ impact on student learning. That meant continuing the work of political predecessors, as Mayor Vincent C. Gray and Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson did in the District.

Building better systems that take account of educators’ impact on learning is complex and controversial work. Yet in Tennessee and the District, leaders solicited input from their critics, stayed committed but flexible and delivered systems that help both successful and struggling teachers.

I’m cautious about drawing big conclusions from a two-year trend, and it’s important to track a variety of educational outcomes, such as high school graduation and college enrollment rates.

Even so, the experiences of Tennessee and the District suggest that children win when leaders work closely with educators to do several vital things right, at the same time, and don’t give up when the going gets tough.

As Henderson said: “When you concentrate on teacher quality, you get results. When you radically increase the level of academic rigor, you get results.”

To be clear, no one in Tennessee or the District is declaring victory. Students in both places have a lot further to go to close achievement gaps and even to reach the level of top-performing states. But their progress shouldn’t be treated as mysterious or miraculous.

The changes America’s children need to get a better education require political courage and hard work. But in many cases the steps are surprisingly straightforward — and can be taken anywhere.

Arne Duncan is U.S. Secretary of Education

MLK Day of Service: A Day On, Not a Day Off

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama stain shelves during a National Day of Service school improvement project at Burrville Elementary School in Washington, D.C., Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama stain shelves during a National Day of Service school improvement project at Burrville Elementary School in Washington, D.C., Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Rev Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Life’s most urgent question is: What are you doing for others?” Each year Americans across the country answer that call to service on the Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Holiday. 

Taking place every year on the third Monday in January, the MLK Day of Service is the only federal holiday observed as a national day of service – a “day on, not a day off.”

The MLK Day of Service reminds us that volunteering empowers individuals, strengthens communities, bridges barriers, creates solutions to social problems, and moves us closer to Dr. King’s vision of a “Beloved Community.”

But according to the 2012 Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 15.2% of Latinos do some sort of volunteering. 

So this year let’s make a difference in the community! Where will you be and how can you help others on Monday, January 20?   

For information on where and how you can serve and take part in this national day of service, please visit MLK Day of Service.

Celinda Peña is a Special Advisor with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics