Duncan on Hispanic Education

In light of numerous reports citing low Hispanic college attendance and graduation rates, earlier this week Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced the United States will make higher education for Hispanics a top priority. Is this initiative really necessary, however?

According to a press release by the Department of Education:

Mathematics and reading scores for Hispanic students have increased over time, but the gap between Hispanic students and their white counterparts on the National Assessment of Educational Progress has not changed since the 1990s, according to the comprehensive report by NCES. Over the same period, the gap between non-limited English proficient Hispanic students and their white peers narrowed.

“Race and ethnicity shouldn’t be factors in the success of any child in America,” said Secretary Duncan. “Hispanic students are the largest minority group in our nation’s schools. But they face grave educational challenges that are hindering their ability to pursue the American dream. We must expand their educational opportunities at every level of the P-12 system to compete with the rest of the world.”

Duncan “urged parents, educators and school leaders at every level of government to make Hispanic educational excellence a national priority.” A national priority is great, if vague to the point of meaninglessness, but something about this discussion seems odd.

The problem with these statistics cited is that one potential reason that the gap between Hispanic students and their white counterparts hasn’t changed since the 90s is that the population is growing much faster. Since the majority of this population speaks English as a second language, the population as a whole will continue to have low school achievement, particularly since the new immigrants are those least likely to be proficient in English.

Making Hispanic education a priority is a great idea, as is making the education of any group a good idea, but this is not really a special necessity.

In the next few decades Hispanics will actually cease to be a real minority and will simply function as regular white people, with college-going rates about the same. That’s what happened to other Immigrant groups, Italians, Irish, etc. That being said, if you want Hispanics to graduate from college, make college free for them. Cheap college will cause more people of any ethnicity to go and finish college. Period.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer