“Parents and family are the No. 1 enablers, and the No. 1 obstacles” to student success, Sara Martinez Tucker, the undersecretary at the U.S. Department of Education, told a group of educators, parents and community organizers at the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans on Thursday.
During the daylong summit, held to discuss education reform and Hispanic education attainment, speakers tackled topics from Hispanic high school dropout rates to parental and family involvement in education. Tucker encouraged the audience to “take some of these best practices and give to communities,” to help the children.
Greater community involvement was often cited as a key component to decreasing high school dropout rates and promoting higher education, and thus, a better quality of life. Some promoted educational services to children outside of the classroom, while others lauded community-based programs.
The vice president for children’s programs, Clara López, and development director, María López, of a multifaceted program designed to help Hispanic students and parents get involved in education from pre-school to college presented on the subject.
Eduardo Cancino, assistant superintendent from Hidalgo, Texas, applauded community programs and also noted the efforts of public schools. Cancino has implemented a variety of programs focused on increasing the number of college-bound students in the community, as well as promoting adult literacy, financial literacy and parental empowerment. He said that it was important to “strengthen the home environment.”
Other speakers also emphasized the importance of families.
“Parents need to know what’s going on in their child’s school, and they need to know what options they have, whether it’s good or bad,” said Doug Mesecar, assistant deputy secretary for the Office of Innovation and Improvement in the U.S. Department of Education. Like many of the presenters, Mesecar is a strong advocate of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) policies. He said that there is a need to break down the walls of communication between parents and schools to improve the engagement of parents in their child’s education.
It is programs like the Parent Institute for Quality Education (PIQE), said the institute’s president and CEO David Valladolid, that enable parents to be more active. The training program to help parents work collaboratively with their children’s K-12 schools has graduated over 400,000 parents and has implemented its program in 16 languages. Initiated in 1987 in California, it has proliferated eastward and has recently established a chapter at George Mason University in Northern Virginia. Valladolid said that it was crucial to bring schools, parents, communities and businesses together as equal partners for a child’s education.
Ana Burns, a parent graduate of PIQE with five children, expressed her gratitude for the opportunity to learn how to approach and prepare her children for the American school system. Parents also learned important practical functions, such as how to ask questions, talk to counselors and apply for federal aid.
Keynote speaker Margaret Spellings, secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, echoed the need for continued efforts to close the achievement gap. Hispanic students “deserve all that it takes to achieve the American dream,” said Spellings. She warned about the “soft bigotry of low expectations” and flatly stated that “we cannot stand for that attitude.” She praised NCLB for focusing its resources on underachieving student groups, but added that there was a long way to go.
“Accountability is only as effective and lasting as we make it,” said Spellings. “Together, we can and must do better.”
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