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Published in Print: April 16, 2003, as Panel Asks for Action On Hispanic Achievement Gap

Panel Asks for Action On Hispanic Achievement Gap

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The nation needs to engage in a concerted push to raise academic expectations for Hispanic students and increase their college-completion rates, according to a report released last week by a presidential commission.

"Hispanic students are being left behind all along the educational spectrum," said Enedelia Schofield, the principal of W.L. Henry Elementary School in Hillsboro, Ore., who co-chaired the President's Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans. "The present crisis requires all Americans to act now."

The commission's 82-page report, released in Hialeah, Fla., says that while Hispanics are now the largest minority population in the United States, one out of every three Hispanics has dropped out of high school. Among those who complete high school, only 53 percent enroll immediately in higher education, compared with 66 percent of non-Hispanic whites. And only about 10 percent of Hispanic Americans actually graduate from four-year colleges and universities.

Hispanics' lagging rates of educational attainment limit their upward mobility in the labor market, the report says. Only 2 percent of Hispanics earn more than $75,000 a year, it found, compared with nearly 11 percent of non-Hispanic whites.

Among other recommendations, the panel calls for:

  • A national study of how colleges of education prepare teachers to teach reading to children from diverse backgrounds. The commission advocates the creation of an awards program to recognize teacher-preparation programs whose graduates go to work in high-need Hispanic school districts or who are especially effective at closing achievement gaps.
  • A nationwide public- awareness campaign aimed at increasing the college-going rates of Hispanic Americans, similar to that launched years ago by the Advertising Council and the United Negro College Fund, "A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Waste." The commission challenged the nation's higher education institutions to graduate 10 percent more Hispanics from colleges and universities each year over the next decade.
  • A "coherent and comprehensive research agenda" on the educational development of Hispanics from preschool through higher education. "There has not been enough targeted research on Hispanic education," said Frank J. Hanna, who co-chaired the panel with Ms. Schofield and is the chief executive officer of HBR Capital Ltd., a merchant-banking firm in Atlanta.
  • Better accountability and coordination of programs within the federal government to address the needs of Hispanic children and their families.

The commission did not put a price tag on any of its recommendations.

'A Disgrace'

President Bush formed the commission in October 2001 to develop an action plan to help close the performance gap between Hispanic students and their non-Hispanic white classmates. The commission heard from more than 1,600 parents, teachers, and experts during its 18-month review.

The 20-member commission called for full enforcement of the "No Child Left Behind" Act of 2001. The reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act requires states, districts, and schools to report test-score data separately for Hispanic students and to demonstrate annual progress in raising their achievement.

"The president and I believe every child can learn, and with the reforms of No Child Left Behind, every child will learn," Secretary of Education Rod Paige said in a statement on the report. "We're not letting any more Hispanic kids slip through the cracks. It's a disgrace. And it's going to stop."

But the panel also cautioned that many analyses do not do an adequate job of distinguishing among subgroups within the Hispanic population. Mexican immigrants, for example, experience nearly twice the dropout rate (61 percent) of other Hispanic subgroups.

"This phenomenon is of special concern to the commission given that Mexican immigrants constitute 54 percent of Hispanic immigrants and the largest segment of all immigrants in the United States," the report notes. "Addressing the educational needs of this large immigrant group will have enormous implications for their children and subsequent generations."

The report occasionally echoes Mr. Bush's political agenda of promoting greater parental choice in education and a greater role for faith- based organizations in providing education and other social services.

The commission argues, for instance, that where supplemental services or better public school choices are unavailable to Hispanic parents, as required under the No Child Left Behind law, "the U.S. Department of Education should, in cooperation with the appropriate nongovernmental organizations, stimulate parent consideration and discussion of recent studies that conclude that providing parents with the publicly funded option to send their children to the public or private schools of their choice actually improves public school education."

In addition, the panelists assert that because religion and community have "played such an important and overwhelmingly positive role in the lives of Hispanic American families," all federal agencies should "aggressively adhere" to the president's order to give faith-based organizations equal access to federal grant dollars.

Vol. 22, Issue 31, Pages 21-22

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