Last week, senior members of the administration met at Miami-Dade College to discuss President Obama's goal of creating the best educated workforce by 2020. A key piece of that puzzle will be lifting Hispanic students out of their current rut. Hispanics are by far the largest minority in the country's public education system, but they have the lowest achievement rates. Less than half of Hispanic children are enrolled in early learning, only about half of them earn their high-school diplomas on time, and they are half as likely as their peers to be prepared for college.
The White House released a report outlining Obama's vision for improving Hispanic achievement. Many of its tenets are no different from the administration's overall educational vision, which places an emphasis on early learning, promotes math and science throughout the K-12 grades, and encourages community colleges.
Language is the one area that distinguishes Hispanic students from other youth. In dense Hispanic areas like Arizona, up to 70 percent of Hispanic children enter kindergarten without knowing a word of English. The schools are then forced to place a premium on teaching English and basic fluency before they can move on to content-based curriculum. Educators in those areas say their English-based emphasis helps all children become literate, including native English speakers.
What should educators being doing to help Hispanics and other children who don't speak English? Are there advantages to a strong English-based curriculum? What advantages come from a bilingual education? What kinds of resources are necessary for schools to help children who speak other languages become proficient in English? Are policymakers paying enough attention to language barriers in schools?