My hometown of Miami is known as the Capital of the Americas, a melting pot of Hispanic nationalities nestled within the greater melting pot of America. Half of the population in our county is foreign-born.

It is a fascinating vantage point to view the newest wave of immigrants from the Caribbean, Central America and South America.

Like in South Florida, Hispanic communities are growing rapidly across our nation. They may have come from different countries and cultures, but they share similar goals and desires as all of us — to participate in the American dream and ensure their children have access to unlimited opportunities.

Florida’s secret is simple. We do not create carve-outs in the classroom. We hold all students to the same academic standards.

- Jeb Bush

Their success ultimately will depend on education. The challenges here are immense and the implications for our nation enormous.

There are now about 12.5 million Hispanic children in public schools, comprising nearly a quarter of the total population.

This rapid growth has forced schools to adapt quickly.

Half of Hispanic fourth graders are functionally illiterate in the U.S. They are more than two grade levels behind their white counterparts in reading and math. The achievement gap persists through the higher grades and is reflected on college entrance exams (NAEP).

This is not a Hispanic issue. It is a national issue. The 21st century global economy is intensely and increasingly competitive. Those nations with the most educated and skilled workers will dominate, which is why we are currently seeing a worldwide effort to boost academic achievement in the classroom. We are the greatest nation; however our standing on the world stage will be determined on how well we prepare the next generation.

We can’t afford to gradually phase in higher expectations to create a comfort level for adults in public education, not with the U.S. Census Bureau projecting that by 2036, a third of American children between the ages of 3 and 17 will be Hispanic.

We need to move boldly and aggressively, particularly now that we are beginning to see very positive advancement.

Between 2000 and 2011, the dropout rate for Hispanic students has been cut in half to about 15 percent.

Their SAT and ACT scores have improved. This year, Hispanics achieved an historic milestone by closing the college enrollment gap — a record seven-in-ten (69 percent) Hispanic high school graduates in the class of 2012 completed high school and enrolled in college, two percentage points higher than the rate (67 percent) among their white counterparts.  

And we are seeing positive improvements like this in places across the nation. On the 2011 fourth grade reading test, states like New York and Texas had more Hispanic students scoring at or above proficient than the national average for Hispanics. In 2013, New Mexico’s 11th graders had a 10 percent growth in reading proficiency from 2012. This year, Georgia ACT scores of Hispanic students outperformed national averages of Hispanics across the country.

We are particularly proud of the progress being made in Florida, since adopting policies and practices that reorganized education around student achievement.

On the National Assessment of Education Progress rankings, Hispanic fourth graders in Florida have advanced more than two grade levels in reading since 1998, and are 1½ grade levels above the national average of Hispanic students. Florida’s Hispanic students read as well or better than the average student in 21 states.

Florida’s secret is simple. We do not create carve-outs in the classroom. We hold all students to the same academic standards. We give all equal access to Advanced Placement classes and other academically rigorous courses.

We are introducing digital technology into the classroom. We created the Florida Virtual School, which has become a national model for excellence in virtual education.

We prepare our students for college and the workforce. In Florida, high school students are allowed to substitute rigorous industry certification courses for certain graduation course requirements, providing more immediate job opportunities and college credit.

We understand that teachers and principals play a vital role in the academic achievement and future success of their students and we reward educators who help their students succeed. We empower moms and dads to have a voice in their child’s education and we give families choice in selecting schools.

We obviously have far to go, both in Florida and the nation. But the trend lines are positive and gaining momentum.

I remain optimistic, because I have seen first-hand the spirit of these hardworking immigrants.

They are risk takers. They come to a country that offers them no guarantees, but also no limits on where their individual initiative can take them.

They form more businesses than the native-born population. In the last 10 years, we have seen the number of Hispanic-owned businesses double to 3.2 million.

And they put a premium on ensuring the success of their children. Children of immigrants surpass their parents in income, home ownership and education.

There is no reason to believe the positive trend in Hispanic achievement will not continue. But we certainly cannot take it for granted and that means making quality education for every child a national priority. We must give every family the opportunity to thrive, starting with an equal chance at educational success. We must restore the vitality of the American Dream for generations to come. 

Jeb Bush was the Governor of Florida from 1999-2007 and is the current Chairman of the Foundation for Excellence in Education.

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