By KIM L. BROWN
The education of Hispanic Americans and their academic achievements must be improved if the fast growing Latino community is going to participate fully in the life of the nation.
So said Sarita E. Brown (left), executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans, in the Library's National Hispanic Heritage Month keynote address on Sept. 27.
Describing White House efforts to address the educational needs of the Hispanic community, Ms. Brown said, "The fact that the fastest growing community in this country, the Latino community, has lower educational attainment rates creates a fault line. It places the future of our country on a fault line because today, as in no other time in our world history ... the capacity to think, to reason, to analyze, is the life's blood, not only of our economy, but of our democracy."
Ms. Brown began by saying that the Library's Jefferson Building has become her favorite place of interest in Washington. "Whenever I have friends or family visiting, I tell them 'Let's visit the cathedral [of] the mind.' It is not only a gorgeous facility, but the very nature of its work, of your work ... is ideas, issues and how, through the mind and through our words, we foster a continuity. It is [because of] that, I was particularly pleased to receive your invitation to come and talk to you about Hispanic Heritage Month."
Ms. Brown said she was particularly proud to be speaking at the Library about the work of the 24-member President's Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence, whose work she facilitates. In 1994 President Clinton appointed the commission, consisting of superintendents from big-city school systems, college presidents and elected officials. Since then, the commission has worked at the request of President Clinton and Secretary of Education Richard Riley to address the needs, issues and strengths of the Latino community and to focus on better education for Hispanics.
In 1994 the president signed Executive Order 12900. Ms. Brown's job is to help implement this order. She advises the president and his administration on the educational status of Hispanic Americans from early childhood through graduate and professional levels; works with 26 federal agencies to improve educational opportunities for Hispanic Americans; and assists in increasing the number of Hispanic Americans in federal employment. "Our government ... absolutely needs the talents, the perspectives, the contributions of Latinos," Ms. Brown said.
The 1994 commission was charged by the president with the responsibility of looking at education from early childhood programs through grade 12, as well as undergraduate, graduate and professional education.
The commission issued a 1996 report, "Our Nation on the Fault Line: Hispanic American Education." "That report was basically the diagnosis," she said.
In effect, the report was the commission's call to action, urging local, state and federal policymakers to take deliberate and immediate steps to improve the educational achievement of Hispanics.
"To participate fully in this country requires a quality education. [But] when you look at the shortfall, the facts [are] that Latinos are still not graduating from high school in the numbers necessary, not participating in colleges and universities at the rate necessary, not becoming doctors and lawyers and college professors in the way that we need as a country," Ms. Brown said. "If we do not have the human resources in the 21st century that we have had in the past, we are talking about a country on the fault line."
Ms. Brown said the commission is an activist group. Even though the Clinton administration took important steps after the release of the commission's 1996 report, the commission recognized that concerted national action is still necessary to raise the level of educational achievement in the Hispanic community. To this end, on Sept. 25 the commission released another report, "Creating the Will: Hispanics Achieving Educational Excellence."
Ms. Brown discussed some of the commission's findings in its assessment of "the educational pipeline" from early childhood education and beyond. "Too few Latino children are participating in Head Start programs."
The report also found fault with preparation of Latino students for college. "The fact [is], when you look throughout this country at the course offerings in junior high and high schools, you will find a disparity in the advice that we give college-going students," she said. "Look at course offerings in schools in many communities with large Latino numbers: Algebra is not offered. Geometry is not offered; it's not that it's not offered at the grade level that is recommended, [but] it's not offered. That is fixable. That is changeable."
In closing, Ms. Brown alluded to Hillary Clinton's invocation of the African proverb "It takes a village to raise a child." In the same vein, Ms. Brown said, the Sept. 25 report says: "There is a role for all of us. There is a role for parents, in support of your own children and those in your community."
Mr. Brown is head of the Mail and Correspondence Control Section in the U.S. Copyright Office.