President Obama took part in a town hall meeting on education at Bell Multicultural High School, a dual-language school situated in Washington, D.C. The event was hosted by the Spanish-language channel Univision—you can watch it online here in English and here in Spanish.
Hispanics are both the largest and fastest-growing minority group (currently 54 million), and yet they have the lowest education attainment levels of any group in the country. Answering questions from students, parents, and teachers yesterday, the President addressed many of the issues that are a barrier to success.
This is an issue that’s not just important for the Latino community here in the United States; this is an issue that is critical for the success of America generally, because we already have a situation where one out of five students are Latino in our schools, and when you look at those who are 10 years old or younger, it’s actually one in four. So what this means is, is that our workforce is going to be more diverse; it is going to be, to a large percentage, Latino. And if our young people are not getting the kind of education they need, we won’t succeed as a nation.
Now, there are some things that we know work. To the extent that young people are getting a good start in school and are falling behind, they’re less likely to drop out. So that’s why it’s important for us to invest in early childhood education. And my budget makes sure that we put more money into that. In K through 12, we’ve got to make sure that we’ve got the highest-quality teachers. We have to make sure that we have parental involvement so that we are building a culture in our community.
Language barriers for Spanish-speaking parents
Now, if they don't speak English, then it’s important for those schools to think about strategies to have translators in the schools to help them communicate with the teachers and the principals. If it turns out that the school budgets are tight and they can’t afford to hire translators, then we should enlist community members who are bilingual to come in and volunteer on parent-teacher meetings.
We had a conference at the White House where we convened interested groups from across the country—parent organizations, philanthropies, student organizations—to find ways that—strategies that we could put in place to reduce bullying.
Now, one of the most powerful tools, it turns out, is students themselves. And there are schools where young people have done surveys to find out how much bullying is taking place in school and how secure do you feel in the classroom. And then the students themselves started an entire campaign in the schools to say, we’re not going to tolerate bullying, and in fact, if we see somebody bullying, we’re going to call them out on it. And that peer pressure could actually end up making as much of a difference as just about anything.
The cost of going to college
Here’s what we’ve done over the last two years. First of all, we increased the level of Pell Grants so now you can get up to $800 more in Pell Grants every year than you were able to do two years ago because of changes that we made.
We also made Pell Grants available to millions more students around the country. So we expanded eligibility so that more young people could get access to student loans and grants that would help them pay for college.
Access to programs like Head Start, child care and early childhood education
The Latino community is a young population and so there are a lot of young kids, so they need high-quality early childhood education, high-quality day care, high-quality Head Start programs, more than just about any other community. Unfortunately, actually, they are under-represented in these programs, and we need to do more to provide that kind of support. So in our new budget we’re also putting additional resources into early childhood education.
And so we're doing a lot of work in improving professional development and the quality of the programs, even as we increase the money to support subsidies for those programs.
Recruiting more Latino teachers
We’re working to figure out how to do more recruitment in historically black colleges and universities, in Hispanic-serving institutions. We need to get in there and say to young people, consider teaching as a career. And I know that that’s something that [Education Secretary] Arne Duncan has emphasized.
So we’ve got to go to where the students are, get them early, get them in the pipeline, provide them the outstanding training that they need, and make sure then they’re supported as they go through. Because part of the challenge in teaching, it’s not just enough to recruit the teacher. Once the teacher is in the classroom, they’ve got to have support systems in place, professional development in place, so that they can learn their trade.
In his State of the Union address the President put education at the heart of his agenda—improving failing schools, introducing innovation and technology into the classroom, reforming No Child Left Behind, and tackling bullying.