Thursday, June 20, 2024

Guest Blogger Series: Colonel Rick Noriega “The Importance of Early Childhood Education for Latinos”

Independence Day, celebrated on the Fourth of July, commemorates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.  But who will be responsible for the future of our independence?

Latinos are the fastest growing population in the United States and by the year 2050, nearly one in three Americans will be of Hispanic origin.

Just in the 2008-2009 Texas school year, 51% of kindergarteners and 65.4% of pre-kindergarteners were Hispanic, the demographic with the highest state dropout rate. These statistics foretell the future.

“More than half of Hispanic and approximately 46 percent of African American ninth-graders leave the system before they reach 12th grade,” according to a 2005 Texas Supreme Court ruling on public school finance.  We hear different studies everyday that at least half of all Latino students will not complete high school.

These facts have obvious negative economic and national security implications.   We will need these students to lead government, business and to populate our Armed Forces.

According to the Alliance for Excellent Education, America loses more than $26 billion in federal and state income taxes each year from 23 million dropouts.

Seventy-five percent of young Americans are unqualified to join the military, according to the U.S. Department of Defense. The three primary reasons being inadequate education, criminality and physical unfitness.

Public policy isn’t what is said but rather what actually occurs.  Public policy in Texas and this country therefore is that we allow half of our children to fail, and apparently that’s okay.

What do we do? Almost every education challenge has been solved somewhere in America.  Do we have the political will to do something? Do we have the same kind of will to save an American generation as our forefathers had in seeking independence?

I am committing my public service to something that works—early childhood education.The best time to influence a child’s intellectual development occurs during the first five years when the brain is under intense development.

For 37 years we at AVANCE have been doing an intensive parent-child model that addresses this in predominately Hispanic communities— a program built on the mother as the first teacher and home as the first classroom.

Dallas ISD tracked AVANCE children and demonstrated a 95%high school graduation rate. In El Paso, AVANCE graduates consistently outperform district and state averages on third grade TAKS tests.

Nobel laureate economist James Heckman estimates, for every dollar we fail to invest in early childhood education, we will be forced to pay up to $8 in other social needs. Heckman stresses that early intervention reduces crime, grade repetition and special education costs.  It also promotes high school graduation, college attendance, prevents teenage births, and raises test scores.

Though financial consequences are obvious and tangible, this call to action is about our investment in national security.

Most understand the importance of education in the success of America’s economic engines—the need for educated workers, the importance of continued innovation driving our prosperity —but we fail to recognize its impact on national security.  The future safety of our nation depends on it.


Rick Noriega is President and Chief Executive Officer of the national non-profit organization, AVANCE, Inc.  This community-based organization focuses on offering early childhood education, parenting and comprehensive family services to predominantly Hispanic families.

Noriega has proudly served in the National Guard and Army Reserves since 1980 and now is a Colonel in the Texas Army National Guard.  He served in Afghanistan, Operation Enduring Freedom, as commander of the Kabul Military Training Center for Afghan forces.  Noriega also served as Laredo Sector Commander during Operation Jumpstart in 2006.  He recently relinquished command of the 1-141 Infantry Battalion (First Texas), 72nd BDE, 36th IN DIV.

Upon his return from Afghanistan in 2005, Noriega was appointed by Houston Mayor Bill White as Incident Commander of the city’s Hurricane Katrina relief efforts at the George R. Brown Convention Center.  His leadership was crucial in transforming the Convention Center into a virtual city that cared for nearly 30,000 evacuees, and then was dismantled within a month.

Noriega is a Houston native with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Houston and a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard University.  He is a graduate of the U.S. Army’s Command and General Staff College and earned a certificate in Advanced International Affairs from the Bush School of Government at Texas A & M University.


  1. Great guest blog.


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