White House Gets Input at Hispanic Education Forum

09/22/09 Kate Bradshaw
WMNF Drive-Time News Tuesday

Health care reform may be hogging the limelight, but another Obama Administration initiative is gaining momentum. With outreach efforts some call unprecedented, Obama’s goal of improving education for students of all levels and backgrounds faces some major challenges. Closing the achievement gaps that exist between white students and those of other ethnic backgrounds is one of these, especially in Florida. WMNF’s Kate Bradshaw attended the White House’s community conversation on Hispanic Education Excellence held at USF’s Tampa campus today, and files this report.

[“49 of the 50 states are working with us…don’t worry, Florida’s one of the 49…”]

One of the four pillars Juan Sepulveda says will get US schools up to speed is a tough national standard for student performance. Teaching and leadership, turnaround schools and data collection, he said, are the other three. Sepulveda is director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans, a directive that has been around since the George H.W. Bush administration. The one state that has yet to get aboard on a national performance standard?

[“Here’s the question: Who’s the 50th? Any guesses? Alaska! So, we’re working on that.”]

Sepulveda stopped by USF as part of a series of conversations the White House is holding throughout Florida and the Caribbean on improving educational outcomes for Hispanics. The Obama administration has set some concrete – however lofty – goals, including increasing the percentage of college degree holders from 39 to 60 percent by 2025. Sepulveda said that this will make the US more competitive on the world stage.

[“The President has set a very ambitious goal for us to once again be number one in the world…”]

It was the job of audience members, mostly educators, to point out the biggest stumbling blocks for Hispanic students and suggest ways to overcome them.

[“There’s a need for consistency, for newcomers…”]

Fernando Figueroa is program manager for a National Science Foundation study on Latino families and educational outcomes. He says that success in schools, especially those with students just arriving in the US, requires a high degree of collaboration.

[“If we get together and a school actually has a vision…”]

Patsy Feliciano, Interim Director of USF’s Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity, says that worry over affordability inhibits many Hispanic students from pursuing what would otherwise be their educational goals.

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Sepulveda says that the Administration is helping address this by making more federal money available for postsecondary education, namely through increased Pell grant limits and eliminating expensive and unnecessary steps in the financial aid process. But he said that keeping students interested for the long haul is one of the biggest challenges that participating educators say they face.

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He says that conversation participants have suggested dealing with dropouts in a way that recognizes the multitude of reasons for which students quit, something he says his office may not have come up with on its own. For Sepulveda, concrete information this will be key in tackling the President’s overarching goals for the nation’s students.

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From USF – Tampa, For WMNF News, I’m Kate Bradshaw.

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