In a media call today, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan called the improved academic performance of Latino children a “national priority.”
The media call previewed President Obama’s town hall meeting Monday morning at Bell Multicultural High School. The president will discuss Hispanics and education with 600 students, parents and teachers at the Washington, D.C. high school.
Today, 22 percent of students under the age of 18 are Latino. Citing the growth of Hispanic enrollment — 12 million children in pre-k to high school are Latino — Duncan said that less than half of Latino children attend early learning programs and less than half earn their high school degrees.
Only one in eight has a bachelor’s degree. Only 4 percent of Latinos have an academic degree beyond an undergraduate level.
In Georgia, the Hispanic population grew 96 percent, according to the new Census data released this week. In Gwinnett County, the number of Hispanics grew more than 152 percent, while Cobb County rose 80 percent increase, Fulton 51 percent and DeKalb 29 percent. Hispanics showed a 100 percent increase in Clayton.
“Both President Obama and I believe reducing the Latino dropout rate and boosting student achievement are absolutely essentially to the future of our economy and the future of our country,” Duncan said.
“Whether parents are educated or not, whether they speak the language or not, it is important that the school partner with those parents,” said Duncan. “We have to hold parents accountable. But at the same time, we have to open our doors and give parents a chance to participate in the culture of the school, regardless of what education level they are at. Every parent wants their child to be successful. We want to double funding for parental engagement programs, not that are feel-good, but programs that lead to higher student achievement.”
Asked about whether the economy allows investments in any new education efforts, Duncan said children have only one chance to get an education. “We can’t wait for the economy to improve,” he said.
Duncan cited the administration’s commitment to increasing access to early childhood education in disadvantaged communities and increasing community college options. Half of Hispanics who attend college start at a community college.
“We have to educate our way to a better economy,” Duncan said. “We cannot begin to use tough economic times as an excuse not to invest in education and not to drive improvement.”
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog