First Bright Spot in Hispanic Education Google + Hangout Highlights Local Efforts on College Access for Latino Students

Posted by Maria Pastrana Lujan, Senior Advisor, White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics

On November 18, 2015, the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics launched its Bright Spots in Hispanic Education Google+ Hangout sessions. The inaugural event highlighted the tremendous efforts of Bright Spots focused on college access for all students, in including Latino and undocumented students around the country. Executive Director, Alejandra Ceja and U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid, Leslie Acosta, were joined by representatives from Bright Spots in Arizona, California, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Texas on a dynamic and informative discussion featuring promising practices and strategies supporting college access and other efforts helping reduce the academic achievement gap for Hispanics.

This year, the national high school graduation rate rose to 81 percent, the highest in history, in part due to the high numbers of Latino students graduating. Ensuring they have access to a postsecondary education and providing them the tools and resources to enroll

Initiative Staff conducting Google Hangout

White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics staff at Google + Hangout on College Access on November 18, 2015.

is critical. The number of Hispanic youth enrolled in college has reached a record high, 2.4 million. However, Hispanics continue to lag other groups when it comes to earning a bachelor’s degree (Pew Research Center, 2015). Bright Spots featured are helping to combat this disparity through their efforts.

“Educators should focus on [college access] as early as the 6th, 7th, and 8th grade” because waiting until the junior or senior year of Latino students can be too late,” Carina Soto, Program Manager, Career and College Clubs.

The approaches vary and are tailored to their student needs. The Unidos Project at the University of New Mexico takes a holistic approach on mentorship, or as they call it, “academic coaching.” The program has seen a historic increase in undergraduate retention rates. College Spring, a California-based organization, is focused on improving SAT scores, navigation of college admissions, and supporting the financial needs of students. Undergraduates have the opportunity to mentor and tutor under supported youth through their personal experience and knowledge while also receiving academic credit. One-by-One, in East Moline, Illinois, motivates 7th and 8th graders by having them visit college campuses and introducing them to community leaders of color to help them envision themselves succeeding.

Bright Spots also heard about the efforts on behalf of the Administration to help increase access and ensure affordability to a postsecondary education. We know that our students cannot wait for the support they need to achieve their dreams of a higher education. It is inspiring to see local, state and national efforts join in what President Obama calls a “shared responsibility.” In order to once again lead the world with the highest number of postsecondary education degree attainment, we must continue working together, learning from one another and expanding access to college and career.

The next Google+ Hangout will take place on Wednesday, December 16, 2015 on Early Learning. We hope you will join us as we work together to move the needle on progress for Hispanic students across the nation.

Initiative Staff conducting Google Hangout

Participant Bright Spots on Hispanic Education for College Access:

Career and College Clubs (Based in Manhattan Beach, California with sites in Colorado, Texas, Ohio, and Washington D.C.) , College Forward (Austin, Texas), Metas Program (San Jose, California), One-by-One (Glenview Middle School, East Moline, Illinois) Adults Achieving a College Education (AACE) in Rio Salado College (Tempe, Arizona), the University of North Carolina Wilmington Centro Hispano (Wilmington, North Carolina), and Unidos Project (Albuquerque, New Mexico).

U.S. Department of Education college access resources:

College Scorecard:

Financial Student Aid tool kit:

Resource Guide: Supporting Undocumented Youth

Bright Spots in Hispanic Education national catalog:

To view the full engagement video here:

New Resource Guide Helps Undocumented Students Achieve Their Dreams

This was crossposted on the U.S. Department of Education blog, Homeroom.

On Tuesday, October 20, 2015, the U.S. Department of Education released a resource guide to support undocumented students in high school and college. The guide aims, “to ensure that all students have access to a world-class education that prepares them for college and careers.”

The effort will help individuals and organizations invested in education better support undocumented youth, including Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients. The guide’s objectives include: helping educators and school staff support undocumented students academically, debunking misconceptions and clarifying undocumented students’ legal rights, sharing information about financial aid options, and supporting youth to apply for DACA consideration or renewal.

Resources like those listed in the guide were critical for me. As an undergraduate student at the University of Maryland and the first intern at the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics who was a DACA recipient, I have been directly impacted by the resources and tools provided by the Obama administration which help improve the educational trajectory of undocumented students.

When my family moved from Colombia to the United States, I was six years old. I would have never imagined having the opportunities that DACA afforded me. DACA allowed me to continue pursuing my dreams of a obtaining a quality higher education. As a DACA recipient, I was able to apply for and obtain a Hispanic Scholarship Fund scholarship and become a Frank Karel Fellow in Public Interest Communications. And, I was able to get a driver’s license, which allowed me to drive to and from campus, making my education more accessible.

For undocumented youth in the U.S., the future can feel uncertain. Yet it is deeply significant and helpful that schools continue to welcome all students regardless of status, educators and counselors remain trustworthy and understanding of the sensitivity around this critical issue, and students have access to resources that support their attainment of a higher education, including financial aid options. Absent of true immigration reform, and as I work towards helping ensure a brighter future for more Latinos, including undocumented youth and DACA recipients, I will continue to share my story with the hope that more students will come out of the shadows and apply for DACA.

Since 2012, more than 680,000 young people who were brought to the United States as children have received DACA. The majority of these applicants are of Hispanic origin. Research indicates that about 1.5 million undocumented youth in the U.S. are currently eligible for DACA and that 400,000 more young people will be eligible in coming years. The new Resource Guide is an invaluable tool for educators who are dedicated to supporting the educational attainment and success of all their students, including those who are undocumented. For me, receiving DACA was a life-changer, allowing me to reach my full potential.

Access the resource guide here.

Karen Vanegas is an intern at the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.

#LatinosAchieve When We Believe in Them

This was crossposted from the U.S. Department of Education’s blog, Homeroom

Today, a high school education is simply not enough. The global, knowledge-based economy that we live in means that some post-secondary education, whether that be a 2-year degree, a 4-year degree, a certificate or a credential, is essential. Which is why we must invest in the educational future of our Hispanic youth. Hispanic youth are in large part the face of our nation and our next generation of leaders. So we need to invest in them if we want to be serious about our future. Although Hispanic high school dropout rates hit a record low at 13 percent in 2012, they’re still higher than any other demographic. Hispanic youth will represent 70 percent of population growth in our country between 2015 and 2060, and are rapidly growing faster than any other minority group. It is our duty to make sure that our next generation of politicians, teachers, CEOs, engineers and entrepreneurs are equipped with the skills they need to succeed.

Progress is being made but not nearly fast enough. And for me, this isn’t simply an intellectual matter. As a Puerto Rican, I’ve seen first-hand how the power of a great education can change lives across the country, as well as back home on the island that gave birth to my mother.

That’s one of the reasons why I’m so proud to lead First Lady Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher Initiative. We work to inspire young people to take control of their future by exposing students to college and career opportunities, making financial aid and college affordability a reality, supporting academic and summer planning, and investing in school counselors. We want young people, including Hispanics, to know that education after high school has to be part of their plan. That enrolling and completing college is essential to ensuring their achievement and success.

When speaking at the 85th Annual Conference of the League of United Latin American Citizens last year, the First lady spoke about the need for investing in education for Hispanic youth. She said, “As you know, too many young people in the Latino community simply aren’t fulfilling their potential… We have got to … reignite that hunger for opportunity — that hunger for education – across all of our communities. And we all have a role to play in this endeavor. Parents have to be reading to their kids from an early age and making sure they go to school every day and do their homework every night. Our young people, you have a role to play as well. You have to make education your number-one priority and be role models for those around you.”

The efforts led by the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, including their nearly $340 million in public and private sector commitments and the U.S. Department of Education’s work to make college accessible and affordable are key to ensuring this population has the tools they need to achieve.

This issue requires all-hands-on-deck approach to make sure students and families are getting access to the resources and information to help make college a reality. That might be filling out the FAFSA, which gives students access to $150 billion in aid for college, or talking to your school counselor, who can help students or families navigate the application process. It also means taking rigorous, college-ready courses like Advanced Placement; and it means thinking about getting internships and mentorship programs that can help young people see the value of a college degree.

We also need to make the process easier. President Obama and the First Lady have been working hard to create and promote tools such as the College Scorecard to help make students find the best college value and fit. They also recently announced that starting in 2016, students can begin filling out the FAFSA three months earlier, so that financial aid can be secured earlier and in time to help make college decisions.

To the young Hispanics who are now in the swing of school, challenge yourselves to take your education seriously. Start talking to your parents about finances, take challenging classes, build strong bonds with your teachers and administration, join clubs and extracurriculars that will expose you to new things, and most importantly believe in yourselves. Believe that you can achieve and do whatever you put your mind to; starting with college. Because we do.

Eric Waldo is the Executive Director for the Reach Higher Initiative

Hispanic Heritage Month Spotlight: How IDEA Public Schools is Closing the Gap

This was crossposted from the U.S. Department of Education Office of Innovation and Improvement blog.

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month and Secretary Duncan’s visit to South Texas, today we are highlighting IDEA Public Schools, a Texas-based Office of Innovation and Improvement (OII) grantee that’s been recognized for helping Latinos, particularly English language learners, make strong achievement gains. Just last month, the White House Initiative on Education Excellence for Hispanics named IDEA a Bright Spot in Hispanic Education.

In 2012, IDEA won a Race to the Top – District (RTT–D) award aimed at personalizing student learning and closing achievement gaps. IDEA is also a past recipient of an Investing in Innovation (i3) grant and grants from OII’s Charter Schools Program. IDEA’s network serves approximately 24,000 students in 44 public charter schools across Texas. More than 90 percent are Hispanic, and a third are still acquiring English speaking, reading, and writing skills.

For nine consecutive years, 100 percent of IDEA’s graduating seniors have been accepted to college, and achievement scores have consistently been above the state’s average. We checked in with Tricia Lopez, IDEA’s Director of Special Programs, about what’s behind the network’s success and how the RTT–D grant has been helping the network meet its goals.
Author and illustrator Patricia Polacco speaks to IDEA Public Schools students in Texas’ Mid-Valley.

Author and illustrator Patricia Polacco speaks to IDEA Public Schools students in Texas’ Mid-Valley.

Meeting Local Needs and Personalizing Learning

The 2012 RTT–D grant came during a critical period for the network. Around that time, IDEA was experiencing increased demand for its schools, particularly from students with limited English proficiency, according to Lopez. “The grant came at an important time, and it helped us to really step back and think strategically about how we were serving this population,” she said.

To help their English language learners, IDEA educators and leaders have created personalized learning experiences that differentiate instruction for each English language learner. IDEA uses adaptive technology designed for kids learning English and assesses their individual reading, writing, and speaking skills and helps them improve at the appropriate pace.

“This differentiation is critical. I could have 50 English language learners in a grade. They can range from having not one word of English to being pretty far along in terms of their language acquisition, but not quite fluent. It only makes sense to vary their instruction, but that doesn’t always happen in schools,” Lopez said.

Supporting Teachers

The RTT–D grant has also helped IDEA with teacher training, particularly making sure educators have the tools and background they need to close gaps between English language learners and their peers. The grant has helped pay for teachers across grades to receive in-person and online training in “sheltered instruction,” which gives general education classroom teachers specific training in working with students still acquiring English language skills to access grade-level content.

“It touches on things like: what kind of materials you should have in your classroom; what kind of strategies you should use for math; the value of word walls; having more frequent checks for understanding; and giving students more time to answer questions,” Lopez said. “These are common sense but not necessarily intuitive, especially for teachers early in their careers. It has to be on your radar, and the training helps with that.”

These efforts are paying off. Scores on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) for ELL students rose by double digits over the past two years, faster growth than for any other subgroup of students in the network. As it continues to progress, IDEA is proving that when given the right supports, all students—no matter their background or first language—can learn and succeed.

Start Now, to Start the School Year Right

This is crossposted from the U.S. Department of Education blog, Homeroom

Three children in the classroom.

In communities and homes all across the country, change is in the air, and families are thinking about back-to-school season. There are lots of ways to gear up for a great school year.

Sometimes the whole neighborhood plays a part! For example, this past weekend, my hometown of Chicago hosted an 86-year tradition: the largest back-to-school parade in the country. Hundreds of students, parents, teachers and their neighbors took to the streets with marching bands, floats and special activities to celebrate the last few weeks of summer and get the word out about the new school year.

“Now is the time for parents and kids to start getting set for success in the classroom.”
Arne Duncan

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The American Dream is Not Optional

This was crossposted from the U.S. Department of Education blog, Homeroom

Memphis is a city rich with history, especially when it comes to civil rights. During a recent trip to Tennessee, we were profoundly inspired by the launch of new efforts to support undocumented youth, which will help to ensure the right to a quality education for more young people living in this country.

FullSizeRenderThese efforts will be made possible through a Commitment to Action from Christian Brothers University (CBU) in collaboration with Latino Memphis—an organization assisting Latinos in the Greater Memphis area with health, education, and justice issues, and through an anonymous grant. CBU and Latino Memphis answered a call to action to support and invest in the success of Latinos, from cradle-to-career, from the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics (Initiative). This commitment, totaling $12.4 million, will provide scholarships to help undocumented youth pursue their college dreams. More than 100 undocumented Latino students will now have the opportunity to get a college education because of this important investment.

While we were in Tennessee, we engaged with student leaders from CBU. Their grit, resilience and fierce dedication to their education were palpable. When we asked how the students would use their college degrees, the common thread in their responses was giving back to their communities. These students are part of the Latino Student Success program, a privately funded scholarship and loan program aimed at leveling the playing field for students ineligible for state and federal student aid.

“My parents did not finish middle school. It is not that they did not want to help, but they did not know how to and could now financially. I am thankful for the opportunities I have today, but I had to do it all on my own” – CBU Student

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Supporting and Empowering Male Educators of Color

Crossposted from the U.S. Department of Education blog, Homeroom

The Male Educators of Color Symposium convened May 8, 2015 at the U.S. Department of Education (photo by Leslie Williams/U.S. Department of Education)

Male educators of color are seldom recognized for our expertise in the engine that drives this country. But through the Male Educators of Color Symposium, the U.S. Department of Education shined a light on the work of the nation’s most underrepresented educators in preK-12 schools. At this gathering, some 150 plus men of various minority races discussed issues of policy, teacher mentorship, recruitment, cultural competency, and our roles in modern education.

Although collectively we comprise a very small percentage of the teaching force, our skills and dedication to the craft were largely represented at the symposium. Men traveled from as far as Hawaii to engage in the pre-planning of a significant step into changing the face of schools around the continental states.

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Bridging the Word Gap

Crossposted from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services blog

“We know that right now during the first three years of life, a child born into a low-income family hears 30 million fewer words than a child born into a well-off family. By giving more of our kids access to high-quality pre-school and other early learning programs, and by helping parents get the tools they need to help their kids succeed, we can give those kids a better shot at the career they are capable of, and a life that will make us all better off.”

-President Obama

Last week, the Obama Administration, in partnership with Too Small to Fail Exit Disclaimer and the Urban Institute Exit Disclaimer, hosted a group of federal, state and local policy makers, philanthropists, researchers and advocates at the White House for a day of shared learning on “Bridging the Word Gap.” The convening is a follow-up to the President’s call to action Exit Disclaimer on early education and the word gap earlier this year.

The President and his Administration are not alone in their interest in the subject. A growing coalition across the political spectrum is devoting attention and action to children’s earliest experiences. The driving catalyst is a combination of the growing literature on developmental and brain science that has permeated public policy and public knowledge, a stubborn achievement gap, and socioeconomic-driven disparities appearing in children much earlier than any American can stomach.

So what does the word gap have to do with brain development and subsequent socioeconomic disparities? A lot. The word gap technically refers to the difference in the quantity of words a high versus low-income child hears in the first few years of life. But the word gap is really much more than that. It is a proxy for the varying levels of enriching or quality experiences children have in their early years. In this case, the quantity of words children hear is correlated with the quality of interactions they are experiencing. We know from almost two decades of research that early experiences shape brain development. If we can bridge this word gap — both in quantity and quality — and provide more children with the foundational early experiences they need to be astute learners in preschool, kindergarten and beyond, we may be able to make more progress on the stubborn achievement gap and ensuing socioeconomic disparities. But we can’t get there unless we start early — really early.

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What is ESEA?

Cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Education blog, Homeroom

Fifty years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965. The law represented a major new commitment by the federal government to “quality and equality” in educating our young people.

President Johnson, Johnson, seated at a table with his childhood schoolteacher, Kate Deadrich Loney, delivered remarks during the signing ceremony for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. (Photo credit: White House Photographer Frank Wolfe/LBJ Library & Museum)

President Johnson, seated at a table with his childhood schoolteacher, Kate Deadrich Loney, delivered remarks during the signing ceremony for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 1965. (Photo credit: White House Photographer Frank Wolfe/LBJ Library & Museum)

When President Johnson sent the bill to Congress, he urged that the country, “declare a national goal of full educational opportunity.”

The purpose of ESEA was to provide additional resources for vulnerable students. ESEA offered new grants to districts serving low-income students, federal grants for textbooks and library books, created special education centers, and created scholarships for low-income college students. The law also provided federal grants to state educational agencies to improve the quality of elementary and secondary education.

In the 35 years following ESEA, the federal government increased the amount of resources dedicated to education. However, education remains a local issue. The federal government remained committed to ensuring that disadvantaged students had additional resources, however, because as a nation we were falling short of meeting the law’s original goal of full educational opportunity.

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A Matter of Equity: Preschool in America

This is cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Education blog, Homeroom

All parents hope their child will start school ready for success. Unfortunately, not every parent can find the high-quality early learning opportunity that sets their child up for success.

Earlier today the U.S. Department of Education released a new report outlining the unmet need for high-quality early learning programs in America. Roughly 6 in 10 four-year-olds are not enrolled in publicly funded preschool programs, and even fewer are enrolled in the highest quality programs.

Unmet Need

While both states and the federal government invest in early learning, these efforts have fallen short of what is needed to ensure that all children can access a high-quality early education that will prepare them for success.

Significant new investments in high-quality early education are necessary to help states, local communities, and parents close the readiness gap that exists between disadvantaged children and their more advantaged peers.


For Latino children, the unmet need is especially great. While Latinos are the fastest growing and largest minority group in the United States, making up a quarter of 3- and 4-year-olds, Latinos demonstrate the lowest preschool participation rates of any major ethnicity or race.

And while most children who have access to preschool attend moderate-quality programs, African- American children and children from low-income families are the most likely to attend low- quality preschool programs and are the least likely to attend high-quality preschool programs.

Building on Progress

To address the unmet need for high-quality preschool, states and the federal government have invested in initiatives to expand access. These investments provide a strong base upon which we can build voluntary, universal access to high-quality early education that will prepare our nation’s students for success in kindergarten and beyond.

Over the past decade, governors from both political parties have pushed for the creation
and expansion of publicly funded preschool programs. Since 2003, states have increased
their investment in preschool by more than 200 percent.

The federal government has also worked to improve the quality and expand early learning through the Head Start program. Twenty states have also received support through the Early Learning Challenge program, which helped states improve early childhood workforce preparation and training, and strengthened health services and family engagement.

Congress took an important step in 2014 to address inequities in access to high-quality preschool by supporting the Preschool Development Grants program, a 4-year, federal-state partnership to expand the number of children enrolled in high-quality preschool programs in high-need communities. Thirty-five states and Puerto Rico applied, but due — in part — to limited funding, only 18 grants were awarded.


Preschool Development Grants will not cover every child in the funded states; however, these states will be another step closer to the goal of expanding access to high-quality early learning across the country. Over the 4-year grant period, and with continued funding from Congress, these states are expecting to enroll an additional 177,000 children in high-quality preschool programs, which will help put children on a path to success in school and in life.

Support for Early Learning

Over the last several years, an impressive coalition of education, business, law enforcement, military, child advocacy groups, and faith-based leaders have joined together to support the expansion of high-quality preschool programs. These groups recognize that investing in high-quality preschool means that more students will graduate from high school, go to college or join the armed or public services, and become contributing, productive members of our society with fewer youth and adults entering the justice system.

The evidence supporting early learning is clear. Research shows that children who participate in high-quality preschool programs have better health, social-emotional, and cognitive outcomes than those who do not participate.

Expanding early learning — including high-quality preschool — provides society with a return on investment of $8.60 for every $1 spent. About half of the return on investment originates from increased earnings for children when they grow up.

Moving Forward

This year, as Congress seeks to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), our nation is at critical moment. Congress can honor this important legacy and moral imperative – as our nation observes ESEA’s 50th anniversary – by reauthorizing a strong education law. This new law must reflect real equity of opportunity, starting with our youngest children.

By making a significant investment in preschool a key component of ESEA, we can help America live up to its highest ideals, as a place with real equity of opportunity. Congress has a chance to honor and extend the civil rights legacy of our education law by providing all children — no matter where they live or how much money their parents earn — an equal opportunity to begin school ready to succeed.