Editor’s note: This guest column comes from Julio Fuentes, the president of the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options (HCREO), a national coalition dedicated to education reform that counts civil rights and Hispanic business leaders along with public school teachers and ministers among its supporters.
The history of our education system is marked by pivotal opportunities when leaders and policy influencers joined forces to bring about improvements and policy changes for the betterment of students. From public school desegregation to teacher quality measurements and standardized testing, the landscape of education has evolved and matured to best serve students and their families.
Last week, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan urged parents, educators and school leaders at the local, state and national levels of government to seize the next of these pivotal opportunities – specifically, he said, we must make Hispanic educational excellence a national priority.
Secretary Duncan noted that the Obama Administration’s goal of having the world’s highest share of college graduates by 2020 will not happen “without challenging every level of government to make the educational success of Latinos a top priority. America’s future depends on it.”
Secretary Duncan’s call to action came in response to a new report from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the U.S. Department of Education’s statistical center, which outlines in grave detail the Hispanic achievement gap that has long been of such concern to my organization and others. Hispanic students are the largest minority group in our nation’s schools, but they continue to fall behind.
The report, for example, found that while fourth- and eighth-grade mathematics and reading scores for Hispanic students have increased over time, the gap between Hispanic students and their white counterparts on the National Assessment of Educational Progress has not changed since the 1990s. Other educational data tells us that Latino high school students lag behind their white counterparts in graduation rates, dropout rates, literacy rates, and college preparedness rates.
The Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options, the only Hispanic national public policy organization dedicated solely to K-12 education reform, believes that these alarming education statistics point clearly to the need for more school choices.
Families want opportunities. They want a better education. They want their school policies and state laws to provide them with programs that push their children to their maximum potential. Hispanic CREO advocates for options that open the door of opportunity to every child. Every parent has the right to choose a learning program in which his or her child can be stimulated academically and challenged to succeed in life.
As Secretary Duncan stressed: “Race and ethnicity shouldn’t be factors in the success of any child in America … We must expand their educational opportunities at every level of the P–12 system to compete with the rest of the world.”
Hispanic CREO and an historic coalition of fellow education leaders, families and elected officials are heeding the White House’s call to action with an historic gathering of businesses, policy leaders and educators on July 15 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. With forums and roundtable discussions featuring state lawmakers as well as former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, we will outline a plan for working together to make Hispanic educational excellence a national priority.
We will face the Hispanic achievement gap head-on and develop strategies and recommendations for bridging it. This is no small agenda, no small task. But we embrace this challenge because our students are counting on us. We embrace this challenge because in tackling it successfully, we will have seized a pivotal educational opportunity that makes our nation stronger.