Arne Duncan: ‘We Need More Parents Like Sonia Sotomayor’s Mother’

By Mary Ann Zehr — July 30, 2009 1 min read
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U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan urged Latino parents to help create more of a college-going culture among Latino students in a speech he gave this week at a conference of the National Council of La Raza in Chicago.

In the July 28 speech, he said, “We need more parents like Sonia Sotomayor’s mother, who said, ‘You will study hard and you will succeed at college and you will graduate—even if I have to work six days a week to make it happen.’ ” He commended Sotomayor, who may soon be confirmed as the first Hispanic woman to become a U.S. Supreme Court justice, for her hard work as a student.

Duncan made a plug for bilingualism and stated his support for the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, or “DREAM Act,” which if enacted would provide a path to legalization for undocumented students who graduate from U.S. high schools and serve in the military or go to college.

Otherwise, Duncan didn’t provide proposals for how education policy can be improved for Hispanics, or English-language learners, other than what he’s already said publicly should happen for all students.

Forty-five percent of Latino students are English-language learners, as I’ve noted before on this blog, but Duncan didn’t talk specifically about how education could be improved for ELLs.

He noted that Thelma Melendez de Santa Ana, a former ELL teacher and the superintendent of the Pomona Unified School District, has been confirmed as the Education Department’s assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education.

Duncan mentioned that Melendez was an ELL student herself while growing up in California.

I wonder if the Education Department will provide more specific plans for how it will support the education of ELLs now that Melendez is on board. President Barack Obama’s campaign platform endorsed “transitional bilingual education” before his election, but I haven’t heard of Duncan or anyone else on his staff mentioning the phrase since Obama got elected.

In transitional bilingual education, students receive instruction in their native language in some subjects while they are learning English.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.