Obama to Sign Order for White House Hispanic Initiative

By Mary Ann Zehr — October 18, 2010 2 min read
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President Obama is expected to sign an executive order tomorrow that will establish a presidential advisory commission on Hispanic education and a federal interagency working group on improving Hispanic education and the lives of Latinos. Both entities would likely be up and running by the end of the calendar year, said Jose Rico, the deputy director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.
The order would renew the initiative, which was started with an executive order signed in 1990 by President George H.W. Bush. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have also signed executive orders for the initiative.

I spoke with Rico about the executive order, scheduled to be signed tomorrow at 1 p.m., Eastern time, at a national education summit hosted today by the initiative. The summit gave attendees a chance to ask questions of numerous high-level officials in the White House or federal agencies, including the U.S. departments of Education, Health and Human Services, and Labor. Some in attendance were dubbing the format as “speed-dating” with federal officials because the federal officials moved from one group of attendees to another every 20 minutes. They had been given instructions to spend most of the time on taking questions and they adhered to those instructions.

One of those federal officials answering questions was Rosalinda Barrera, the assistant deputy secretary for the Education Department’s office of English-language acquisition, who started her post eight weeks ago. She said she’s focused on a “revitalization of the office.” She was asked if the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act would include any provisions to address the needs of long-term English-language learners, which is a group of students who may spend years learning English but never test as fluent in the language. Barrera said the Education Department is “looking into that,” and emphasized that ELLs are a diverse group of students. In answering a question about teacher training, Barrera said that “all teachers must be prepared to work with ELLs.”

Look for a story about the summit tomorrow at edweek.org.

For the last 18 months, the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics has visited more than 90 communities to gather information and ideas on how the education and lives of Latinos could be improved. “One thing we heard was ‘stop it with the reports, we need action,’ ” said Rico.

He said that next steps for the initiative are to identify nine communities that it can partner with to support President Obama’s goal to ensure that the United States is the top nation in the world in college completion by 2020. The charge to the communities, he said, is to be transparent about statistics for college completion and to publicly disclose a goal for improving the rate of college graduation.

San Antonio is the first community to have committed formally to that effort, said Rico. He said the city’s mayor, Julian Castro, has announced goals of doubling the number of college graduates to 200,000 and reducing the high school dropout rate in half.

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