With minorities on track to become a majority of the nation's under-18 population before 2020, closing the gaps in educational attainment between them and white students looms as an increasingly urgent challenge. Cecilia Muñoz, the director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, spoke last week with Atlantic Media Editorial Director Ronald Brownstein about the administration's agenda for narrowing those disparities, at the relaunch event for National Journal's Next America project. Edited excerpts of the conversation follow.
Where are we making progress in reducing the gaps in educational attainment and skills, and where are we still struggling?
We are making progress in college participation. We know the Latino numbers, in particular, are going up. And we're doing better in terms of student performance overall. Those numbers are creeping up. But they're creeping up in a way that demonstrates that the racial attainment gaps aren't narrowing nearly as quickly as we need them to be.
Where could we expand our effort to produce the most bang for our buck?
In my view, that's pretty clearly in early-childhood education. The return on investment is huge. And the likelihood of children actually arriving at kindergarten ready to learn increases dramatically. Without it, we end up with disparities already at kindergarten that we may never catch up on. When the president asked his team last year, "If we're going to be reducing inequality "¦ where do we get the best bang for our buck?" the answer to that is preschool.