Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Thursday, December 10, 2009

White House adviser seeks input at U-M for Obama’s education policies

Juan Sepúlveda, director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans, spent Wednesday at U-M looking for public input on shaping the Obama administration’s education policies.

“What’s your best advice?’’ Sepúlveda asked a crowd of nearly 100 at the U-M Alumni Center. “What do you want to tell the president? What would you say are the big challenges and the solutions? Who wouldn’t like to help me start the conversation?’’

Sepúlveda, who reports to the U.S. secretary of education, noted he is working closely with education officials and counterparts tackling policies related to historically black colleges, tribal colleges and education issues affecting Asian Americans.

The town hall meeting and the rest of the visit were organized by U-M’s National Forum on Higher Education for the Public Good, and by the Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education in the School of Education.

Maria Cotera, director of U-M’s Latina/o Studies Program, said she wants the administration to encourage parents to keep their children in public schools, and to be engaged in and care about public schools.

Others asked about support for early education programs like full-day kindergarten, increasing college retention, bridging cultural differences and making teaching more appealing as a career.

“We’re having these conversations to get you on board and partner with us,’’ Sepúlveda told a luncheon of officials from U-M and other invited dignitaries from across the state. “We want you to push us and hold us accountable.’’

Sepúlveda, a former Rhodes scholar, who earned his law degree from Stanford University, described how a high school counselor repeatedly encouraged him to lower his ambitions and apply to two-year or technical schools rather than the elite programs he wound up in.

“A great challenge is what our counselors are telling our kids,’’ he said, noting that one million educators are expected to retire within the next four or five years, and who replaces them will be key to the future of U.S. education.

U-M faculty, students and staff involved with the conversations said they were pleased to play a role in influencing U.S. education policies.

Deborah Ball, dean of the School of Education, said Sepúlveda’s appointment and other administration priorities offered hopeful signs for real progress in education reform.

“We actually can do this,’’ Ball said. “This time, it can’t just be talk.’’

Ball added that excellence and diversity are not two values that need to be “balanced,’’ but rather they go together, each complementing the other.

“It’s daunting but it’s work that we invite because it’s so important,’’ National Forum Director John Burkhardt, a clinical professor of higher education, said of the ongoing conversations and events the forum has hosted.