Duncan's model: Sonia Sotomayor's mother

“We need more parents like Sonia Sotomayor’s mother,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan urged in a speech to the National Council of La Raza in Chicago. From Learning the Language:

In the July 28 speech, he said, “We need more parents like Sonia Sotomayor’s mother, who said, ‘You will study hard and you will succeed at college and you will graduate — even if I have to work six days a week to make it happen.’ “

Mrs. Sotomayor worked six days a week to send her children to Catholic school.

Duncan made a plug for bilingualism and stated his support for the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, or “DREAM Act,” which if enacted would provide a path to legalization for undocumented students who graduate from U.S. high schools and serve in the military or go to college.

But he didn’t discuss what education policies he thinks would help English Learners or Hispanic students do better in school.

Where Sotomayor got her start

Sonia Sotomayor’s widowed mother worked extra shifts to send her kids to a K-8 Catholic school. Blessed Sacrament School hasn’t changed much, writes the New York Times.

Jacqueline Garcia, 8, sat at the front of the classroom, inside Blessed Sacrament School in the Bronx on Wednesday morning. Math does not frighten her. She likes it, because she wants to be a doctor, and to be a doctor, she said, you have to learn math, science and reading.

One of Jacqueline’s older schoolmates, Alicia Sylvester, 12, wants to go to Penn State University and learn to be a pharmacist. Another student, Alex Nunez, 10, is undecided on his career path, but he said it’s a toss-up between a scientist and an astronaut.

“I can go to space and discover new planets and fix some satellites,” Alex said.

The school, which charges $2,900 a year in tuition, hasn’t updated its facilities since Sotomayor was a top student there.

Sotomayor's choice

Sonia Sotomayor’s personal experience — her mother sent her to Catholic schools — may shape her decisions on school choice, writes Andy Smarick in The American.

Of course, it remains an open question how Judge Sotomayor would apply her Catholic school experiences should she be confirmed and face a school voucher case. On the one hand, she might fully appreciate the invaluable gift she was given by being able to attend Cardinal Spellman High in the Bronx. She might reflect on today’s low-income urban parents’ hopes for great schools for their kids. She might consider the heretofore futile efforts to adequately improve traditional city school systems and the tragic impact on students growing up in public housing units similar to those of her childhood.

On the other hand, Barack Obama, who attended private school and sends his children to private school, hasn’t backed school vouchers for low-income Washington, D.C. children.

Sotomayor: Catholic school girl

Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor went to Catholic schools as a girl in New York City, reports the New York Times. Her father died when she was 9; her mother worked as a nurse to support her daughter and son, who became a physician.

In speeches to Latino groups over the years, Judge Sotomayor has recalled how her mother worked six days a week as a nurse to send her and her brother to Catholic school, purchased the only set of encyclopedias in the neighborhood and kept a warm pot of rice and beans on the stove every day for their friends.

The family moved from a housing project to a middle-class neighborhood when she was in her teens, which has undercut the hard-luck story.  Sotomayor went to Princeton on scholarship, then to Yale for law school.

A widowed nurse with two kids doesn’t have an easy time. But, if she spends her limited income on encyclopedias and school tuition, her kids will get the message that education is valued.

Teaching values in an ex-Catholic school

D.C. Catholic schools that converted to public, secular charter schools still teach values, reports the New York Times.

Holy Name,  the Trinidad Campus of Center City Public Charter Schools, serves predominantly low-income black students.

Where mornings at Holy Name began with the Lord’s Prayer, Trinidad students start each day with a recitation of the school honor code: “I will arrive at school each day on time and ready to work. I will treat all with respect and dignity. I will solve any conflicts that arise peacefully. I will care for and protect our environment.”

Enrollment is up now that there’s no tuition to pay. Most students came from public schools. Most teachers are Holy Name veterans, including a few nuns.

Classrooms are filled with discussions not of the Bible and Jesus but of 10 “core values” — perseverance and curiosity, for instance — that are woven into the curriculum.

. . . Students are constantly prompted by teachers to relate their studies — whether in history, science or art — back to the core values. One day last week, (fourth-grade teacher Barbara) Williams circulated around the classroom, posing questions about the assigned short stories in their literature textbook. What value was that selfish king missing? What did the seamstress’s hard work demonstrate?

The new charters have a lot more money to spend than they did as private schools: Funding averages $11,879 for each student, up from $7,500.  That’s enabled Trinidad to raise teacher pay by 22 percent, hire a special education instructor, buy science laboratory kits and replace 13-year-old social studies books.

Some New York City Catholic schools, at risk of closing due to lack of funds, may convert to charters.