Perhaps the biggest implication of our country’s growing Hispanic population, as recently confirmed by the US Census Bureau, is its impact on our public school system. With Hispanic children comprising more of our enrolled public school student-body, but comprising a growing number of our high school drop outs, it’s clear that we are facing the prospect of a largely uneducated workforce in the near future.
In this light, it’s clear why the President would want to address education policy, specifically as it relates to the Hispanic population, in front of the largest Spanish television network. As part of Univision’s marketing campaign titled, “Es el Momento,” roughly translated to “It’s Time,” in the hopes of spurring a broader discussion on education policy among the Hispanic community, President Obama addressed about two hundred students at the Bell Multicultural High School in NW Washington, DC, to tout his Administration’s policies to improve education achievement among Hispanic students.
Unfortunately after listening to the President speak at length on education, it’s evident that his limitless faith on the federal government to improve our school system remains strong.
In fact, today’s speech stands out not for what the President said – but rather, of what wasn’t said. Conspicuously absent from any of the President’s answers on education policy was the merits of school choice and school vouchers. To be sure, the President had a number of opportunities to mention the importance of empowering parents to choose the best school for their children as a way of increasing accountability and competition into our education system.
The absence of school choice in the hour long discussion was particularly peculiar considering both the venue and the timing of the President’s remarks given that Congress is slated to vote on a popular and effective school voucher program called the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program (DCOSP) this week. As we have been writing, this program has been providing low income schoolchildren in Washington, D.C., which ranks 51st in the nation in standardized test scores, with scholarships to attend a private school of their choice. Unfortunately, the President’s silence on this issue speaks volumes.
In essence, the President’s silence confirms that he does not wish to anger the powerful teacher unions who vigorously oppose the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program.
This posture is particularly disingenuous considering the stubbornness of failing to see how we have gotten nowhere in closing the racial achievement gap by simply increasing federal funding while empowering the federal government. In fact, based on the president’s answers in today’s town hall, he remains convinced that all we need to do is simply re-tweak federal policy while pumping more and more of our hard earned tax money into education spending to improve Hispanic academic achievement.
If the President was serious about truly helping to close the racial achievement gap between Hispanic and non Hispanic students, he would look to the state of Florida as a blueprint. Through bold reforms, such as increasing public and private school choice options and rewarding teachers who achieve student gains, Florida’s Hispanic students now outscore or tie the statewide average for all students in reading in 31 states.
Unfortunately, the President’s empty rhetoric on education makes clear that he is more interested in re-arranging the deck chairs than taking on the special interests that will be necessary if we are to ever close the racial achievement gaps plaguing our school system.
Univision is correct when it says, “Ya es Hora” or “It’s Time,” to address our failing education system for the good of our country. Unfortunately what the President prescribed in his answers in today’s town hall will not help us get there.
Israel Ortega is the Editor of Heritage Libertad – the Heritage Foundation’s Spanish language site. You can follow him on Twitter: @IzzyOrtega. Click here to read a version of this blog in Spanish at Heritage Libertad.