June 27, 2000: Column on Quality Education for Hispanic Youth



June 28, 2000

In 20 years, about one in six U.S. residents will be of Hispanic origin. By the middle of the century, that ratio is expected to increase to one in four.

These numbers reveal one very important fact: The future productivity of the U.S. labor force hinges to a considerable degree on our nation's ability to provide high quality education for Hispanic young people, as they will play an increasingly vital role in the labor market of the future.

Despite tangible evidence of improvement for many groups, there are still troubling lags in the educational attainment of Hispanics. Here is some of the good news: Over recent decades, the average education of Hispanics born in the United States has increased substantially, and the education gap between U.S.-born Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites has narrowed. Furthermore, Hispanic students are scoring higher on math tests, and more are completing high school, college and graduate school.

On the other hand, Hispanic children younger than 5 are less likely to be enrolled in the early childhood education programs we know are so important to their future success in school. Although Hispanic Head Start enrollment has increased since my husband took office, Hispanic children remain under-represented -- comprising just 25 percent of all those enrolled in Head Start.

Given this lack of preparation, it is not surprising that the high school graduation rate for all young Hispanic adults is only 63 percent, compared with 88 percent for whites and African Americans. And the proportion of Hispanics graduating from four-year colleges is less than half that of whites.

Meanwhile, the economic rewards of education are on the rise, making the goal of improving educational outcomes for Hispanics even more urgent. Whereas 20 years ago, a male Hispanic college graduate earned 67 percent more than a Hispanic male with no high school education, today that number is 146 percent.

This administration has worked tirelessly to boost the educational attainment of all of America's children. For over seven years, the President and the Vice President have pushed hard for higher standards, more choice, greater accountability and more support for children, teachers, parents and the schools that need it. Their efforts have paid off with the funding of nearly 30,000 new, highly trained teachers, well on the way to meeting the goal of hiring 100,000 new teachers and lowering class size.

When it comes to educational achievement, the President's strategy of investing more and demanding more is working. He has asked Congress to double the funding for his Hispanic Education Action Plan, which provides support for programs that have proved successful. If we are to close the gap that still remains between Hispanic children and their non-Hispanic peers, we can't stop now, because there is still work to be done.

Last August, I hosted the first-ever White House Conference on Hispanic Children and Youth. And earlier this month, the President followed up with a White House Strategy Session on Improving Hispanic Student Achievement.

At that session, the President unveiled five 10-year goals and a series of strategies for meeting them. First, he wants to make sure that young Hispanic preschoolers will be enrolled in quality early-childhood programs like Head Start at the same rate as other Americans; second, every Hispanic student graduating from high school will be proficient in English; third, there will be no gap in test scores and other assessments between Hispanic students and their peers; fourth, 90 percent will graduate from high school; and finally, twice as many Hispanic students will earn college degrees.

Among the strategies for achieving these goals is an outreach campaign -- involving the National PTA, among others -- designed to disseminate bilingual information on early childhood. Specifically, it will distribute information on the development of the brain, the importance of parents as a child's first teacher and the benefits of parental involvement in a child's school.

In addition, the Department of Education will encourage Title I schools to provide more and better preschool programs to very young Hispanic students. And the Department of Health and Human Services will work to improve the quality of services for all Head Start programs serving Hispanic children and their families.

In order to keep the national spotlight focused on these goals, the President also announced the creation of a new group -- the 2010 Alliance, a partnership among a wide variety of Hispanic organizations, including La Raza, the National Association for Bilingual Education, and several corporate and non-profit groups, including the Ford, Irvine, Kellogg and Hazen Foundations, and AT&T, GM, Univision and State Farm.

If we are to close the achievement gap that is holding Hispanic children back, a first-rate education must be one of our most important policy goals. We must keep our expectations high and remember that, as my husband said at the White House strategy session, "Intelligence is equally distributed throughout the world, but opportunity is not."

If America is to stay strong in the 21st century, we cannot afford to let our Hispanic children -- or any children -- fall behind.

To find out more about Hillary Rodham Clinton and read her past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.


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