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Value education

If we are to truly change education in America, we must focus more of our efforts toward fostering a culture in which academic success is ever more deeply valued.

By Cesar Conde | www.univision.com
Josh Haner | The New York Times

Hylton High School segregates students learning English, and some of its educators are debating question whether that is for the best in Woodbridge, Va., in February 2009.

STORY TOOLS

When discussing educational achievement, it is common to focus our attention on policies and programs aimed at improving our schools, such as enhancing teacher performance and developing more effective testing protocols.

All of these are vitally important topics. But what is sometimes overlooked is the fact that educational success is never just about what happens when a student arrives at school. It is also heavily dependent on what happens before and after the school bell rings. The ways in which a students' parents are engaged in their education and the kinds of signals they are receiving from their broader community are vital.

If we are to truly change education in America, we must focus more of our efforts toward fostering a culture in which academic success is ever more deeply valued and in which the expectation of high-school graduation, college enrollment and beyond extend to all parts of our society.

Nowhere is that need greater than among the nation's Hispanic community. Today, one out of every five K-12 students in the United States is Hispanic. These young people literally represent the future of our country. The unfortunate truth is that, at present, these students' drop-out rates are too high, and their college matriculation and graduation rates are too low. At a time when global competition is putting an ever-higher premium on post-secondary education, these trends among Hispanic students represent a serious threat to their ability to realize their potential, while also posing a risk to the nation's long-term economic strength.

If we are to reverse these troubling trends, it is going to take smart policies aimed at strengthening our schools and developing academic pathways that meet the specific needs of Hispanic students. But that, by itself, is not enough.

We also need to surround those students with an environment in which they are hearing a single, clear, consistent message from all sides: They can achieve, they are expected to achieve and they will be supported and rewarded when they do achieve. And nobody is better positioned to deliver that message day in and day out than parents and caretakers.

It is intuitive that parents play a critical role in a child's academic success. While that message is certainly true, it is insufficient. Millions of Hispanic parents want their children to succeed at school and make it to college. But they also may not know how to navigate the educational system and help empower their children.

They also must deal with immediate economic challenges. As families face economic challenges, young people are going to work to help ease the financial burden, even if it risks that child's long term earning potential. Add to that the fact that many Hispanic parents may come from a personal background in which a college education was considered unattainable or doubt their ability to afford college for their children.

Faced with those daily pressures, even the most well meaning parents may wind up unintentionally prodding their children away from the academic path, which ultimately limits that young person's prospects. At Univision, our station managers, on-air personalities, community relations representatives and other employees see these challenges every single day.

We hear the heart-wrenching stories of parents watching their children succumb to anti-academic peer pressure, or families deciding to forgo college so a young person can start earning income sooner. In order to change that dynamic, it is not enough to lecture parents. Rather, we need a conversation with them to create a college bound culture. Hispanic parents need the opportunity to learn about the value of a high school and college diploma and make it not an aspiration but an expectation.

They also need assistance in understanding the attainability of those goals and the vehicles in which to do so, including financial aid and scholarships. Moreover, parents are going to need the support of a broader community sharing in the sacrifices required to get a child to college. Attaining such cultural shifts is not easy. But we must start somewhere.

Univision -- in partnership with the Gates Foundation , the Department of Education and community serving organizations -- is launching a national campaign utilizing Univision's popular TV, radio and internet platforms to drive messages to Hispanic parents, students and communities about the vital importance of a college education.

This campaign will look to create a deep, emotional connection with the ``brand'' of Hispanic academic achievement. To be sure, this campaign is but one small part of the solution. It will take many more such efforts to achieve long-term attitudinal and behavioral change.

We must use every tool in the toolkit -- national policies and local experiments, media campaigns and grassroots organizations, government programs and private initiatives -- to move the ball forward. What is at stake is nothing less than the well-being of our young people and long-term economic vitality of our nation.

César Conde is the president and CEO of Univisión.

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