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.

Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month and Bright Spots in Hispanic Education to Fulfill America’s Future

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

Today, nearly one in four students in our nation’s public schools is a Hispanic youth. Making sure Latinos have the opportunity to achieve their dreams isn’t just the right thing to do for the Latino community —it is also the right thing to do for our country.

In just the next few decades, Hispanics will represent nearly one in three American workers. It’s clear; the future of our nation is inextricably linked to the future of our Hispanic communities.

From September 15 through October 15, our nation observes Hispanic Heritage Month. Each year, especially during this time, we celebrate the incredible contributions of the Hispanic community, honor its heritage, and look ahead to even more progress for Latinos across America. But this year is unique.

The White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, established in 1990 to address the educational disparities faced by the Hispanic community, is celebrating its 25th anniversary. In honor of this historic milestone, the Initiative launched a year of action in October 2014 to highlight the tremendous progress Latinos are making in education and the challenges that remain to ensure true educational opportunity for all and ensure their educational success is a shared responsibility between all sectors.

Latinos are in fact doing better. For example:

Our nation’s high school graduation rate is the highest in history, and Latinos, the fastest growing population of students, have made the greatest gains – at 76 percent – in graduation rates. From 2011 to 2013, Latino graduation rates have improved by more than four percentage points. Our nation’s high school dropout rate is at a historic low, with the Hispanic dropout rate half of what it was in 2000. And more minority students, including Hispanics, are enrolling in higher education at higher rates.

But the work does not stop there. At only 16 percent of Latinos who hold a Bachelor’s degree or higher, we can and must do better. To help build the national narrative on Latino progress and to share promising practices the Initiative called for nominations for Bright Spots in Hispanic Education. These Bright Spots are evidence-based organizations, models, or initiatives that are helping to close achievement and opportunity gaps, from cradle to career, for Latinos.

Earlier this week, we were proud to recognize more than 230 Bright Spots in Hispanic Education that are working to increase the educational attainment of the Latino community in key areas, including: early learning; K-12 and college access, science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education; Latino teacher recruitment; and postsecondary completion.

We know that identifying and implementing strategies and solutions that support Hispanic students is critical to ensuring their success. We also hope that by highlighting work that already is happening across the country, we can encourage more programs, groups, and individuals to collaborate; share data-driven approaches, promising practices, and peer to-peer advice; and build effective partnerships, ultimately resulting in increased educational outcomes for Hispanic students, and all students.

You can find all of the Bright Spots in this national online catalog, and here is a sampling of what’s there:

Early Learning

  • LAUP, based in CA, has prepared more than 105,000 children for kindergarten and beyond by funding, rating, and raising the quality of preschool programs.

STEM education

  • The ARMAS program in NM was created to increase the number of Hispanic students earning a bachelor of science degree in STEM and offers supplemental instruction and tutoring in STEM courses.

College access

  • The Valley Initiative for Development and Advancement (VIDA) Project, based in TX, provides extensive wraparound support services and financial assistance so that the students can attend college full time.

Hispanic teacher recruitment

  • The ALBA school in WI works with local universities to create a pipeline to teacher certification, encouraging teacher assistants and parents to pursue credentials to become fully certified educators.

College completion

  • The Dream Project in VA is addressing the needs of undocumented students striving for higher education.

It is critical to continue to identify and highlight asset-based, solutions-oriented innovations that are helping to close achievement and opportunity gaps for Latinos. Throughout Hispanic Heritage Month, the Obama administration is celebrating Latino progress and highlighting the work and investment put it in by parents, community leaders, educators, and students to ensure Latinos achieve.

View the statement from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on National Hispanic Heritage Month

View President Obama’s proclamation on Hispanic Heritage Month, 2015

Alejandra Ceja is Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics

Progress in Action: Celebrating Hispanic Educational Achievement

Crossposted from the President Obama and the Hispanic Community blog.

The following article was published on Univision.com. You can read the original article in Spanish HERE.

Each year, in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month we recognize and celebrate the rich histories and significant contributions made by Hispanics throughout this great nation. With over 54 million people, Hispanics are the largest, youngest, and fastest-growing minority group, and will represent 70 percent of our nation’s population growth between 2015 and 2060. From preschool to postsecondary education, Hispanic representation is palpable. Hispanics now make up the majority of students in our public schools, with 1 out of every 4 students in K-12 grades. Similarly, college enrollment is up more for Hispanics than any other group.

Earlier this year the President said that 2014 would be a “year of action”. In this spirit, the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics (Initiative) officially launched our “Anniversary Year of Action” – a call to action to expand upon the progress and achievement made in Hispanic education.

As a community, we have made significant progress. According to the Census Bureau (2011), the Hispanic high school dropout rate has been cut in half from 28 percent in 2000 to 14 percent in 2011.The  Hispanic graduation rate has increased to 76 percent – an all-time high. College enrollment among Hispanics reached a record high and continues to increase. In 2012, the college enrollment rate among 18-to-24-year-old Hispanic high school graduates was over 49 percent, up from 31 percent in 2002.

We recognize there is more work to do and that it’s a shared responsibility—everyone will have a role to play in ensuring the continued success of our community. Over the coming year we will highlight “Bright Spots” that are providing a quality early childhood education, robust and rigorous K-12 education experiences, supporting increased participation in STEM courses, promoting promising practices, partnerships, and institutions of higher education that are graduating more Latinos ready and prepared to enter the competitive workforce, preparing more Hispanics into the teaching profession, while highlighting collaborative efforts supporting our young Hispanic girls and boys through the President’s initiative My Brother’s Keeper.

We will continue working towards the President’s 2020 goal of once again leading the world in college completion. Over the last 12 months, the Initiative has been deeply committed to amplifying the Administration’s education agenda, building partnerships and expanding commitments to support education for Hispanics, while also highlighting the Hispanic community’s progress. Through a number of activities – from national policy forums and back-to-school tours to webinars and twitter chats – we reached over 100,000 stakeholders around the United States and Puerto Rico. We heard from parents, students, non-profit, state and local government, business and philanthropy leaders, and educators about their work and challenges. Through strategic outreach and engagement, we learned that the Hispanic community is not only making great strides but eager to reframe the narrative.

We look forward to building on previous successes and producing more helpful tools like our “¡Gradúate! A Financial Aid Guide to Success”, published this May. The bilingual guide – designed to help students and families navigate the college enrollment and financial aid process includes key information about federal financial aid resources available and on scholarships supporting all Hispanic students, including those granted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and non-U.S. citizens. We will continue to work towards increasing the number of Hispanic teachers through innovative strategies, such as our #LatinosTeach social media campaign launched this month.

And just this Monday, the White House, as part of Hispanic Heritage Month celebrations, honored Latino Educators “Champions of Change” who are doing extraordinary work to educate the next generation of Americans. These Champions have distinguished themselves by devoting their time and energy to creating opportunities for young people to succeed, particularly in low-income communities. The event showcased these leaders and the exceptional contributions to this country. Because, we know that by highlighting progress in action, we will ensure a bright future for the Hispanic community.

Alejandra Ceja is the Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics

Hispanic Males in Education: What the Numbers Say

The President recently launched the My Brother’s Keeper initiative to build ladders of opportunity for all youth, including boys and young men of color. The effort aims to improve measurably the expected educational and life outcomes for youth and address the persistent opportunity gaps faced by boys and young men of color, including Hispanics. The White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics (Initiative) is working to advance the goals of My Brother’s Keeper for the Hispanic community. To carry out its mission, in January the Initiative convened a roundtable discussion with a group of academics, researchers, practitioners, funders, and thought leaders whose work addresses issues Latino males face.

In the Initiative’s initial research – confirmed by the dialogue at the roundtable, something became clear; there is a lack of sufficient exploration of this issue for the Hispanic population. The amount of data collection and analysis, of scholarship, of resources invested, and of general public awareness about the situation of Hispanic boys and young men needs to increase, to remove barriers that prevent young Latino males from contributing fully to their communities and society.

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BRIGHT SPOTS: Educational Excellence in Action

The White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics (WHIEEH) is working to increase educational opportunities, improve educational outcomes, and deliver a complete and competitive education for all Hispanics. Through our continued outreach around the nation, we’ve seen that solutions to key educational challenges exist and are producing tangible and positive outcomes for our community. We are shining a light on these “Bright Spots”

Bright Spots are programs, leaders, schools, organizations, partnerships, or models that address key education topics for Hispanics and are helping close the achievement gap – from cradle to career.  By highlighting them we hope other schools and programs will benefit and learn from their data-driven approaches, promising practices, peer advice, and effective partnerships, ultimately resulting in scaling or replicating what works for our community.

“Schools belong to the community”- Principal Juan Ocon

One Bright Spot we visited recently was Benito Juarez Community Academy in Chicago, Illinois. The neighborhood public school with over 94 percent of Hispanic students is leading the way in drop-out reduction. After 20 years of existing under a ‘probation’ status, Juarez turned itself around and was removed from probation last year. The school’s four-year graduation rate has risen dramatically – from 57 percent in the 2010 school year to 80 percent in 2013. Attendance rates are on track to reach 100 percent this school year – a spike from 83 percent in 2010.

Secretary Arne Duncan holding a Community Roundtable Discussion at Benito Juarez Community Academy in Chicago, IL

Secretary Arne Duncan holding a Community Roundtable Discussion at Benito Juarez Community Academy in Chicago, IL

During our visit, we met with community and business leaders to discuss engagement and efforts to support Juarez and other neighborhood schools serving Hispanic students. We were later joined by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan who met with students, educators and parents to hear about their experiences. We learned that it takes great leadership, strong family and community engagement, robust partnerships and dedicated teachers and students to close the achievement gap.

In 2011, Juarez received a three-year $5.6 million school improvement grant from the U.S. Department of Education, to help improve the school’s academic standing and galvanize the change it desperately needed. Principal Juan Ocon created Parent University – a program that provides free classes to parents at the school. “They have become partners with the administration in their children’s education because they are already in the building”, said Principal Ocon. He also established after school programs to further support students, expanded wrap-around services and AP course offerings, implemented a standard-based curriculum and is a big advocate for effectively using technology in the classroom. He knows that recruiting great teachers and investing in their professional development is instrumental. The tremendous gains made by Juarez are no easy feat – it is because of his leadership, the incredible dedication of his staff, family and community partners that Juarez is helping close the achievement gap and develop leaders.

To learn more about Benito Juarez Community Academy, visit www.benitojuarez.net

We will be highlighting Bright Spots through our activities and communications. If you want to recommend a Bright Spot, please email us at WHIEEH@ed.gov.

Maribel Duran

 Maribel Duran is Chief of Staff with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics