The senator's speech countered Margaret Spellings' optimism.
PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said Monday the "achievement gap is beginning to close" between Hispanic and white students, while Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton countered that she's not convinced the federal government is doing enough to help Hispanic youths get through school.
Spellings and Clinton each spoke at the convention of the National Council of La Raza, a four-day event that ends Tuesday.
The two did not dispute statistics that show Latino students have the nation's highest high school dropout rate and the lowest college enrollment rate, but diverged on whether the government is fixing the problem.
Praising No Child Left Behind, the education law President Bush signed in January 2002, Spellings pointed to National Assessment of Educational Progress scores released Thursday that show 9-year-olds, including Hispanics, have improved their reading and math scores.
"These results did not come out of thin air," Spellings said. "They came from a commitment to doing something that's never been done before, a commitment to giving every child a quality education."
"The achievement gap is beginning to close," she said.
But minutes later, the Democratic senator told the same group: "You are doing your part, but I don't know that your government is doing its part right now."
Clinton stressed that, though younger students' scores have improved, 17-year-olds have made virtually no gains since the tests first started being given 30 years ago.
"I'm not sure that we are doing everything we should to make your job easier, to make sure that the opportunity society is alive and well for everyone," she said.
Linda L. Silva, a Democratic organizer and advocate for Latinos in Concord County, Pa., stood with hundreds of others to applaud Clinton, particularly when the senator called for policy changes that would allow undocumented immigrant students to receive college aid.
Silva said she hopes to see Clinton enter the race for president in 2008. "There's no one else in America who has more integrity today," she said.
The welcome for Spellings was more muted.
Washington-based La Raza was founded in Phoenix in 1968 as a Mexican-American civil rights group and now is the nation's largest advocacy group for Hispanics. It represents 4 million members in 300 affiliates across the country.
Minutes after the speeches ended, eight people who said they want tighter controls on immigration walked into the Philadelphia convention center where the meeting is being held wearing T-shirts and caps saying "U.S. Border Patrol," said Cecilia Mu & ntilde;oz, vice president of La Raza.
They were escorted from the building without incident, Mu & ntilde;oz said.