Early Learning: A Prerequisite for Success in the Hispanic Community

Hispanic Students Attending College Graph

The biggest jump we’ve seen among students attending college is for Hispanic students – 32% now attend college, compared to 24% in 2003.

It is no surprise to see a room full of business leaders, but what made the meeting on March 19, different was that the leaders in the room were focused on a different kind of investment: education. Secretary Arne Duncan set the stage for the America’s Greatest Investment: Educating the Future plenary session during the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Legislative Summit in Washington, D.C., by delivering remarks celebrating the educational successes in the Hispanic community and highlighting key components of President Obama’s call for universal high-quality early education.

The good news is that Hispanic high school graduation and college enrollment rates have increased over the last four years. About three in four Latino high school students graduate with their class, and there are now more than half a million additional Hispanic students enrolled in college compared to 2008. But there is still a great deal of work to be done, because while college enrollment is soaring, college completion rates have not kept pace.

Duncan speaks at Hispanic Summit

Secretary Duncan at the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Legislative Summit in Washington, D.C.

The shortage of Hispanic students on graduation day in college has its roots at the beginning of the education pipeline. One of the best, most strategic ways to continue and build on the educational progress in the Hispanic community is to expand access to affordable, high-quality preschool while also boosting college completion rates

High-quality early education offers the highest rate of return with some studies projecting a return of $7 for every $1 spent. During his State of the Union address, President Obama introduced a new universal preschool plan that would launch a new Early Head Start-Child Care Partnership program and expand the Administration’s evidence-based home visiting initiative. It would create a groundbreaking federal-state partnership that will enable states to provide universal, high-quality preschool for four-year olds from low- and moderate-income families, up to 200 percent of the poverty line.

To garner support for universal high-quality early education programs, Secretary Duncan called on business leaders “to make the case for the significant return-on-investment and greater equity that high-quality early learning will produce for America’s future workforce.” He continued that “business leaders [need] to encourage employees, customers, and neighbors to push for and to participate in high-quality preschool in greater numbers.”

Now is the time for every child in America to have an opportunity for high-quality early education so that all students arrive at kindergarten ready to learn. As he concluded his remarks, Secretary Duncan stated, “With bipartisan backing, with your commitment and leadership, I believe our nation will soon take its next step to transform preschool education. I believe state and local leaders, CEOs, teachers, and moms and dads and grandparents will stand up and say: It is time.”

Read Secretary Duncan’s speech and learn more about President Obama’s plan for early education for all Americans.

Marco Davis is Acting Executive Director for the White House Initiatives on Educational Excellence for Hispanics


  1. We must couple the same resources, interest, and efforts, jointly, of both early childhood ed (preK) AND programs to educate all those in our communities who left school before earning a high school diploma. The two must be addressed back to back until we improve early childhood programs. Those older, non-diplomas citizens will continue to strain our best intended efforts unless we get them to finish their high schooling and work at the same time…………..most are parents, struggling, and costing our economic system lots more than if we could go all out and provide completion programs and work projects for them.

  2. LONG before students reach high school guidance counselors and college entrance exams there are numerous hurdles for students to overcome, especially those from bilingual families.The article focuses on early childhood learning and often Hispanic parents are learning English along with their children. Language acquisition and vocabulary when entering kindergarten sets the pace for continuing learning in such areas as reading and writing skills. As a speech therapist, I’ve given young children the PPVT and I’ve found that the words recognized in English is fewer than the words understood in Spanish. More needs to be done in the home to increase vocabulary in both languages prior to 4 years old, which means working with parents in both languages to help improve their language skills and this is done by reading, reading, reading. Since most schools teach in English, more is needed to improve and increase comprehension of English and vocabulary in English in order for children to improve academically.

  3. This is a complicated issue and one that involves proactive interventions by institutions (schools and teachers), parent(s) and/or guardian(s), and the local community. Each community and “family” is unique, so a cookie-cutter approach might not be the best option. Instead, we (concerned parents and educators) should challenge leadership (institutions and government) to fund thoughtful and out-of-the-box interventions that harness the power of these three key players in our communities. Like I said, the issue is complex; we just need to keep at it.

    Respectfully –

  4. School counselors can certainly help… they do a great deal already! With student to counselor ratios of over 700:1 in Arizona, California, Michigan, Minnesota, Texas and Utah, perhaps we need to consider budgets that would help ease their caseload and provide additional counselors!

  5. Parent involvement is critical, but the point of the article is to focus on early learning, i.e. preschool. Research by neuoroscientsist have well-documented the first 18 months of a child’s life is the most important time for brain development. Leading ecomonists have recognized and published studies on the importance of investing early and often. It’s a positive trend to see the US DOE trying to achive a more appropriate balance toward early learning (where it counts more). Historically, financial assistance for post-seconday educuation has far outpaced the focus and availability of financial assistance for early learning and truly quality child care.

  6. What about the elementary education that the caucasion children are not getting, their falling further behind because the schools have put so much focus on the Hispanic learners? My daughter is one of those children, fourth grade and could not tell you how many quarters is in a dollar, or how mant pennies in a dime.
    Concerned Parent

    • No offense Kim, but what are you doing to support your daughter’s education. If you know you child is struggling with counting money, then shouldn’t you consider how you can help her learn and use money, in addition to what she is being exposed to at school. Don’t turn this into a White child vs. Hispanic child thing b/c in all honesty White children have had the advantage in education for decades.

    • Right on about parent involvement, Shonda. Parents are their child’s first and best teachers. It takes no special training or knowledge to teach your child about money, basic math, and some basic literacy skills. Money counting is an everyday skill. Take your child to the store with you, let them hand the money to the cashier, let them count out the money, count the change, practice at home, give them an opportunity to earn an allowance and to budget, save and spend their earnings. Don’t rely on school and others to teach your child what you can start at home. While you are at it, instill an appreciation for learning and education in your child because that is truly not something that you should rely on others to do for you and your child. Every race, ethnicity, and income level should be doing this for their children. Age 0-5 is ultra-important for brain development. There is absolutely no reason that all parents should not be engaging and teaching their children as much as possible unless the parent is confined to a hospital bed!

    • Have you considered that perhaps it is the math curriculum that your district is using? My son is also in 4th grade and i am not impressed with the math curriculum…what have I done about this? I put him in to tutoring to augment what he is missing at school. There are many ways to augment what is missing at school (and it doesn’t always cost money). I think the bigger issue is high stake tests. The tests end up being the focus and not so much the learning. The teachers have to power through units in order to make sure students are at least familiar with concepts rather than ensuring they understand them. This is far from a white vs. hispanic issue.

  7. The research for the dollar return on investment may not be exactly on point.

    If everyone truly wants to increase the graduation rate and higher education levels of those who are not successful now, guidance counselors need to step up to the plate and proactively help these students. It’s not enough just to tell these kids financial aid is available, many of them need to be walked through the process. The same needs to occur with college applications. Having a guidance counselor or other reliable adult stay with these kids every step of the way starting in around 1st grade would probably make more of an impact than preschool, especially if a reliable competetent adult was there to help the junior and senior year of high school. These zero tolerance policies for minor crimes don’t help much either. Many of these kids deserve a second chance just like kids got years ago.

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