Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans

Javier Garcia:
Good afternoon. My
name is Javier Garcia. I’m a seventh grade student at Stell
Middle School in Brownsville, Texas. Brownsville is becoming famous
because its producing mainly high number of chess
champions, including me. It was my kindergarten teacher,
Ms. Medranna (sic), that said I should take up chess. She is one of my
favorite teachers. Two years ago I went
to Super Nationals Championship in Nashville. It was the most exciting
thing in my life. I didn’t win, but I
haven’t given up either. (laughter and applause) In my community, our teachers
and our families encourage us to study hard and do
our best all the time. I heard that the President wants
us to work harder on our math and science so that the U.S.
can be the smartest country in the world again. That works for me because
my favorite subjects are math and science. Mr. President, with your
leadership and support we can cover the whole world together
and make the United States the smartest country
in the world again. Chess Master Paul
Morthy once said, “Help your pieces so
they can help you.” Thank you for signing the
Hispanic executive order today, Mr. President, and helping
all our pieces help America. Ladies and gentlemen,
I introduce to you, the President of
the United States. (applause) President Obama:
Excellent. Everybody,
please be seated. Welcome to the White
House, everybody. Thank you, Javier, for that
outstanding introduction. I will not play you chess. (laughter) You may not have won at the
nationals, but you’d beat me. (laughter) And then Malia and Sasha
would laugh about it. (laughter) We are very proud of you and
we’re glad you are here. Thank you also to the University
of Texas Pan American Mariachis that performed for us. (applause) And hello to everybody across
the country participating in watch parties and in
education reform efforts in your own communities. It’s precisely that kind of
participation — engaging the American people, giving all of
you more say in the policies that affect your lives, and
holding ourselves accountable to deliver real results in return
— that is at the heart of a new Executive Order I’m about to
sign to strengthen the White House Initiative on Educational
Excellence for Hispanics. (applause) Now, before I sign
this document, I’d like to acknowledge a few
people who have been and will continue to be instrumental
to our success: our Assistant Secretary for Elementary
and Secondary Education, Thelma Meléndez de Santa Ana — (applause) — our Assistant Secretary
for Post-Secondary Education, Eduardo Ochoa — (applause) — and our Assistant Deputy
Secretary, Rosalinda Barrera. (applause) I also want to thank
Eduardo Padrón, the President of Miami
Dade Community College, who has been a leader in my
administration’s efforts to strengthen America’s
community colleges. And because that’s not enough,
in addition to running a community college he’s
also agreed to serve as the chair of this initiative’s
Presidential Advisory Commission. So we are grateful to you. (applause) This will be a group of 30
Latino leaders who are going to make sure that, when it comes
to our children’s education, my administration hears the
voices of the Latino community loud and clear. And I also want to give a
special recognition to our recently-confirmed Ambassador
to the Dominican Republic, Raul Yzaguirre. (applause) It was Raul’s vision and
tenacious commitment to equal education for all our people
that helped this initiative become a reality back in
1990 under George H.W. Bush. And so we are very proud that
he is here today to see that his work continues. The question then back in 1990
is the same question we face now: How do we best improve
educational opportunities and outcomes for our
Hispanic students? Over the past year and a
half, under Juan Sepúlveda’s leadership — and Juan, thank
you for your outstanding work — (applause) — over the last
year and a half, this initiative has worked to
gather the answers from those who know best — people in
communities across this country. Juan hosted more than a
hundred conversations. He’s taken comments from
more than 10,000 Americans. And he’s worked with leaders
from more than 30 states, as well as the District of
Columbia and Puerto Rico, to come up with real solutions
that work best for our kids. We know why this
is so important. Today, Latinos make up the
largest minority group in America’s schools — more than
one in five students overall — and they face challenges
of monumental proportions. Latino students are more likely
to attend our lowest-performing schools, more likely to
learn in larger class sizes, more likely to drop
out at higher rates. Fewer than half take part
in early childhood education. Only about half graduate
on time from high school. And those who do make it to
college often find themselves under prepared for its rigors. In just a single generation,
America has fallen from first to ninth in college completion
rates for all our students. Now, this is not just
a Latino problem; this is an American problem. We’ve got to solve it because
if we allow these trends to continue, it won’t just be one
community that falls behind — we will all fall
behind together. At a time when the unemployment
rate for Americans who’ve never gone to college is almost double
what it is for those who have gone to college; when most of
the new jobs that are being created require some
higher education; when other countries are
out-educating us today to out-compete us tomorrow; making
sure that we offer all our kids, regardless of race, a
world-class education is more than a moral obligation. It is an economic imperative
if we want to succeed in the 21st century. And that’s why,
when I took office, I set two big goals
for American education. One was to make sure
all our students, like the ones who are
here with us today, receive a complete and
competitive education from cradle to career. And number two, by the year 2020
— the year Javier will graduate from college — America will
once again have a higher share of college graduates than
any other nation on Earth. That is our goal. (applause) Now, improving educational
outcomes for the Hispanic community is critical to
reaching these overall goals. And reaching these goals is
behind every battle that we’ve waged on behalf of our
children’s education since I took office. We are expanding and reforming
early childhood education so that our children aren’t
behind by the time they reach the schoolhouse door. We’re challenging programs that
don’t measure up to compete for their funding, because if
you’re receiving tax dollars, you’d better be able to deliver
results for our children. We’ve launched a “Race to the
Top” encouraging states to change their schools from the
bottom up for all our children — black, white,
and Latino alike. Already, 48 states and D.C. have
competed to raise standards, improve curricula, and turn
around struggling schools. And we’ll take steps to recruit
and train more good teachers, including bilingual teachers. We’re tackling the dropout
crisis that affects the Hispanic community more
than any other community. And we’re challenging states and
communities to turn around our 5,000 worst schools, including
many of the ones that produce the most Latino and
African-American dropouts. To reach the second
goal that I’ve set, leading the world in the
proportion of college graduates, we’re offering middle-class
families the American Opportunity Tax Credit, which
is a tax credit worth up to $2,500 a year that’s already
helped put the dream of a college degree within the reach
of more than 12 million students from working families. We’re upgrading our community
colleges so that we can link students looking for work with
businesses looking to hire. We’re funding and implementing
the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill so our veterans, including
our outstanding Latino veterans, can come home to the same chance
to earn a college education as my grandfather had when he
came back from World War II. We’re eliminating $60 billion
over the next decade in wasteful giveaways to banks that profited
from a broken student loan system, and we’re using that
money to make college more affordable for
millions of students. In fact, we estimate that these
steps will make college more affordable for more than 150,000
additional Latino students. And as I’ve said before,
Congress should finally pass the DREAM Act. I’ve supported this bill — (applause) — I have supported
this bill for years, and I’ll do everything it takes
to sign it into law on behalf of students seeking a college
education and those who wish to serve in our country’s uniform. Turning around our
troubled schools. Putting the dream of a college
education within the reach of working families. Educating our kids — all of
them — to graduate ready for college, ready for a
career, ready to make the most of their lives. That’s what we’re doing. That is why we’re here. But while strengthening Hispanic
education in America is the purpose of this initiative, it’s
not something that can fall on the Department of
Education alone. I expect agencies across the
federal government to take this initiative seriously
and support its mission. And it’s also not something that
government can do by itself. It’s going to take all of us
— public and private sectors, teachers and principals, all
of you at home at those watch parties, parents getting
involved in their kids’ education, and students giving
their best — because the farther they go in school, the
farther they will go in life, and that means the farther
we’ll go as a country. I know there will be cynics
out there who say that this improvement that we’re
seeking is not possible; that the reforms won’t work; the
problems in our education system are too entrenched. It’s easy to think that way. This initiative, for example,
has been around for 20 years, and we still face many
of the same challenges. And it’s true, as I’ve said ever
since I ran for this office — and as everyone here
knows firsthand — that change is hard. Change takes time. Fixing what is broken in
our education system will not be easy. We won’t see results overnight. It may take years, even
decades, for all these changes to pay off. But that’s no reason
not to get started. That’s no reason not to
strive for these changes. That’s a reason for us, in fact,
to start making them right now. It’s a reason for us
to follow through. And as long as I’m President,
I will not give in to calls to shortchange any of our students. (applause) So in the end, this is about
building a brighter future where every child in this country —
black, white, Latino, Asian, or Native American;
regardless of color, class, creed — has a chance to rise
above any barrier to fulfill their God-given potential. It’s about keeping the promise
at the heart of this country that we love. The promise of a better life. The promise that our children
will dream bigger, hope deeper, climb higher than we
could ever imagine. That’s the promise that so many
of you work to advance each and every day in your own
respective fields. And as long as I have the
privilege of being your President, that’s a promise
that I intend to work to keep. Thank you very much, everybody. Now I’m going to
sign this initiative. Thank you. (applause) (the initiative is signed) (applause)

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