Education Reform And The Latino Community's Optimistic Outlook

02/11/2013 01:41 pm ET | Updated Feb 11, 2013
  • John Benson VOXXI

President Barack Obama is expected to outline education plans for his next term in tomorrow evening’s State of the Union address. In the Latino community, there is plenty of hope regarding education reform.

The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) Executive Director Brent Wilkes is optimistic the President’s education reform moves forward with the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

No Child Left Behind has gotten really old and the successor to that, ESEA, has been waiting for years to get reauthorized by Congress,” Wilkes told VOXXI. “That really has to be done because we learned a lot from No Child Left Behind, which was an experiment. That’s over and we have to go back and refine the tool to make it more effective. So we in essence kind of need Congress to break its log jam and take up the ESEA.”

Wilkes said the recent finance debate din out of Washington has drowned out any discussion about ESEA, which he characterizes as a bi-partisan effort. Not only does he feel it has a good shot at being reauthorized this year, but he’s hoping LULAC plays an important role in its implementation.

The LULAC National Educational Service Centers (NESC) offers counseling services to more than 18,000 Hispanic students per year at fifteen regional centers, as well as more than half a million dollars in scholarships to Latino students annually.

“We want to make sure we take the lessons learned from No Child Left Behind in our communities and alter the language so the tool is more refined and we have a better success rate,” Wilkes said.

Hopes for a comprehensive education reform

Wilkes feels No Child Left Behind upped the education ante in the country with high accountability standards. More so, it required schools to disaggregate Latino and African-American scores. The fact that individual ethnicities were part of the discussion meant no minority would be left behind.

As far as adding to ESEA, Wilkes hopes as part of the education reform, the Obama Administration will implement extended-day learning and wrap around services. The latter is a defined planning process used to build constructive relationships and support networks among students and youth with emotional or behavioral disabilities.

There is also a feeling in the education community that the Common Core Standard movement will crystallize. While not a federal issue, the initiative hopes to align the standards in various states so there’s basically a national test with very little variance.

“There are a lot of the benefits that can be realized, and I think that’s where you’re going to see a lot of action this year,” Wilkes said. “From our perspective, we’re saying don’t forget about the limited English proficient students because a lot of the states have been pining for years to try to say, ‘We shouldn’t test them because they’re not going to know the subject matter. So they should be exempted from testing.’

“We’re arguing, ‘No. Let’s create separate assessments.’ But I think the concern is if you exempt, then you’ll take the pressure off the schools to perform with that group of students and they’ll focus of course on the group of students they are being assessed on. So that’s really a major area where a lot of education reform groups, including us, are focused.”

Finally, Wilkes is optimistic President Obama’s next term will find his administration revisiting the Race to the Top program, which sought education reforms in adopting standards, measuring student growth, rewarding effective teachers and principals and turning around our lowest-achieving schools.

“I encourage them to perhaps unveil another Race to the Top style education initiative during the State of the Union,” Wilkes said. “They need something new along those lines but I haven’t heard anything about announcing that. We’ll see on Tuesday whether that transpires.”

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