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Education Department Rep Says Too Many Hispanics Drop Out of School

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

SAN ANTONIO, Texas, Oct. 10, 2002 – Visit the DoD National Hispanic American Heritage Month 2002 Web site at http://www.defenselink.mil/specials/hispanic02/.

Many schools in America are doing a great job, but the national report card shows a growing achievement gap between the hopeful and the hopeless, Susan B. Bonesteel told the audience here at DoD's observance of Hispanic American Heritage Month.

The gap represents the human toll of an education system that has failed too many children -- many of them Hispanic, said Bonesteel, the secretary of education's Region VI representative, based in Dallas. Her remarks echoed the longstanding concerns of Hispanic parents and community leaders across the country and such Hispanic organizations as National Image Inc. and the American GI Forum.

Bonesteel pointed out that nearly 30 percent of Hispanic students drop out of school. That rate is far higher than for any other group. She noted that on a national reading assessment survey, 40 percent of white fourth graders scored as proficient or better, compared to only 16 percent of their Hispanic classmates. And, she added, Hispanic achievement also lagged in math -- 10 percent of Hispanic fourth graders scored as high achievers while 35 percent of their white peers scored as proficient or better,.

Quoting President Bush, "This is unacceptable," Bonesteel said, "Every child deserves to learn, and we can't let the soft bigotry of low expectation destroy the future for so many of our children. All children -- no matter where they live or where their parents come from -- deserve schools where the instruction is rigorous, the teachers are qualified and those in charge are held accountable for results."

She said no matter the color of their skin or the accent of their speech, now is the time to break with the past and educate all children.

Many of the parents who attended the secretary of education's July town hall meeting in California spoke only Spanish, Bonesteel noted. "A large number of parents said what they wanted most for their children was more rigorous courses and the teachers to teach them," she said. "At another town meeting, the secretary saw Hispanic moms and dads cry as they talked about their hopes for a better life for their children.

"Parents want better for their children," she emphasized. "Their children want better for themselves. One 19-year-old named Mayra put it best when she said, 'I want to be a Mexican-American who makes a difference in this beautiful country.'"

Bonesteel said the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans has launched "Yes I Can," a new program that encourages more Latino students to go to college and that helps parents plan for their children's educational future. More than a half-million people visited the new bilingual Web site, www.yesican.gov, in its first 10 days on line, she noted.

She said new national education reforms like "No Child Left Behind" seek to make quality education from kindergarten through college the expectation, not the exception.

"We're plowing historic new ground. I'm confident we'll succeed," Bonesteel told the audience. "In fact, it's already happening in many places around the country, like Pueblo, Colo., a largely Hispanic school district. She spoke of Joyce Bales, superintendent of Pueblo's public schools.

"All the things the president and secretary talk about -- she did. She got a research-based reading program. She got the parents involved. She set high standards and high expectations and insisted on results," Bonesteel said. "Now people in Pueblo know what history has long shown: When you raise the bar, people rise to the challenge. Student achievement in Pueblo soared."

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy Brig. Gen. Bernardo Negrete chats with Susan B. Bonesteel of the Department of Education Oct. 9, 2002, at DoD's observance of Hispanic American Heritage Month in San Antonio, Texas. Bonesteel was one of the speakers at the event. Negrete is in charge of a program geared toward recruiting more Hispanics into the Army. Photo by Rudi Williams.  
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