Five Ways Race to the Top Supports Teachers and Students

In the four years since the Obama Administration announced its first Race to the Top grants, the President’s signature education initiative has helped spark a wave of reform across the country, according to a new report released today by the White House and Department of Education.

RTT States and AwardsSince the Obama administration announced the first Race to the Top grants to Tennessee and Delaware four years ago – many state and local leaders, educators, and communities are deep in the hard work of education improvement, and the nation is seeing progress.

Today, the innovations unleashed by Race to the Top are touching nearly half the nation’s students and 1.5 million teachers in schools across the country – for an investment that represents less than 1 percent of education spending.

Amid that climate of positive change, America’s educators, students and families have made major achievements. The high school graduation rate is now at its highest on record (80 percent). Student test scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) are the highest since the test was first given 20 years ago. And there have been double- digit gains on state tests at some of the lowest-performing schools – many of which had not seen any improvement for decades.

Today’s report highlights examples of the most innovative and effective reforms that are taking place in states across the country to prepare students for college and careers, support educators, and spur innovative educational strategies. Below are five ways Race to the Top is supporting teachers and students.

1. Race to the Top Has Provided More Students with Access to Challenging Classes

Under Race to the Top, states have spearheaded efforts to create plans tailored to their students’ needs. For example, Massachusetts provided more students with access to AP classes by training more than 1,100 middle and early high school teachers to prepare their students for new, high academic standards. Initial findings from the external evaluation of Massachusetts’ college- and career-readiness initiatives indicate patterns of increased AP course-taking, exam-taking, and exam performance.

RTTAP2. Race to the Top Has Supported Hard-working Educators in New Ways

Under Race to the Top, schools and districts are making sure we have excellent principals leading our schools and skilled teachers who inspire students. In Rhode Island, the state had more than 400 first-year and 40 second-year teachers engage with the state’s new teacher induction program, which includes weekly coaching and professional development.

Delaware launched the Delaware Talent Cooperative, which provides retention awards – between $2,500 and $10,000 over two years – to highly effective educators and leaders willing to work and stay in schools with the highest needs.

3. Race to the Top Has Provided More STEM Opportunities to Students

Maryland developed and translated five STEM curriculum modules for use in language programs statewide, and in Florida, Race to the Top funds have helped hundreds of students from rural communities get new STEM opportunities through the STEM Scholars initiative.

4. Race to the Top is Helping Educators Transition to New Standards

With the help of Race to the Top, Ohio expanded alternative certification pathways for teachers and principals; developed 800 curriculum resources aligned to higher standards; and trained 24,000 teachers to use those resources. And in an ambitious and comprehensive effort, Tennessee provided 30,000 teachers with intensive summer training as part of its transition to the Common Core State Standards—more rigorous academic standards in English language arts and mathematics.

5. Race to the Top is Supporting States in Turning Around Lowest-Performing Schools

Under Race to the Top, states have designed plans to turn around some of their lowest-performing schools using new ideas that engage students and transform school culture. In Georgia, the state created two non-traditional schools to accommodate high school students at risk of dropping out. And in Tennessee, the state awarded grants or provided Tennessee Academic Specialists to address performance gaps at the 167 schools identified as Focus Schools based on significant achievement gaps in school year 2011-2012. Based on 2012-2013 state assessment results, the state made progress closing achievement gaps in these 167 schools.

Read the entire report: Setting the Pace: Expanding Opportunity for America’s Students under Race to the Top.

Sara Gast is director of strategic communications at the U.S. Department of Education

Award-Winning Science Teacher: “How I Came to Study, Teach, and Love Science”

Obama greets teachers at the White House

President Barack Obama meets with Presidential award for excellence in math and science teaching winners in the East Room of the White House, March 3, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Recently I stood in the East Room of the White House as President Obama welcomed and congratulated recipients of the 2012 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST). This immense honor made me feel very proud, and I experience pride by reflecting on the people who have guided me toward an accomplishment.

I began to reflect about how I came to study, teach, and love science. I recalled a friend, braver than me, who encouraged me join her at the remote scientific station where I learned to love fieldwork. And I thought of professors whose contagious enthusiasm got me excited about photosynthesis. But I suddenly realized that the reason I saw myself as capable in science at all was because a teacher once told me, “You might be the first woman to walk on Mars.” I was surprised to discover how much my identity as a scientist was largely shaped by his belief in me.

Many of my PAEMST colleagues were already aware that role models get children hooked on STEM. In fact, the importance of STEM role models was one of the major themes of discussion among PAEMST recipients and the scientists with whom we met during four days of celebrating and learning in Washington, DC.

During a visit to the National Science Foundation, a group of scientists fondly shared stories of teachers who inspired their career paths.  At another discussion, teachers buzzed with agreement when a panel of physicists called for greater visibility of female scientist role models to inspire more girls to pursue science.

My fellow educators don’t just agree; they’ve designed school-based programs to foster relationships between students and STEM role models. One teacher organizes single-sex conversations among scientists and students, so that relationships are build on interest in science, as well as gender identity. This teacher does not leave mentoring to chance because she knows role models can inspire a life-long love of science and the confidence to pursue STEM careers.

Recently, my student Tattiana confessed, “People don’t think I like science because of the way I look.”  We began talking about what it’s like to love science and to be a woman, when her working image of a scientist is an elderly white man. Our conversation highlighted that, as a woman and her teacher, I might be the person most responsible for fostering her identity development as a female scientist this year.

My fellow PAEMST recipients constantly inspire young people like Tattiana to engage with science and math. I’m glad that so many women among this year’s winners are modeling our passion for STEM for the young girls we teach.  However, teachers of color were underrepresented, and as a result recipients did not reflect the diversity of America’s students. This year, I hope educators, parents, and students will visit https://www.paemst.org/nomination/nominate to nominate more amazing science and math teachers of color. By recognizing a diverse group of science and math educators, we will help all of our students discover their own potential to succeed in STEM careers.

Erin Dukeshire teaches sixth grade science at Orchard Gardens K-8 School in Roxbury, Mass. She is a 2012 Presidential Awardee for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.

Five New Facts from the Civil Rights Data Collection

Equity – the push to ensure strong educational opportunity for every student – drives everything we do at the U.S. Department of Education, and particularly in the Office for Civil Rights. From preschool enrollment to college attendance and completion, our office’s work is grounded in the belief that all students, regardless of race, gender, disability, or age, need a high-quality education to be successful.

Yet despite the gains we’ve made as a country, too many students are not receiving the education they deserve, and it is our collective duty to change that. Data is crucial to this work and helps us understand the extent of educational inequity throughout the U.S. and make informed decisions for action.

Since 1968, the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), formerly the Elementary and Secondary School Survey, has collected data on key education and civil rights issues in our nation’s public schools. Our office uses this data to focus our equity efforts and monitor the effectiveness of our programs. Earlier today we released new data from the 2011-12 collection, and for the first time since 2000, we collected data from every public school in the nation. This newest collection also includes data on preschool suspensions and expulsions for the first time as well.

Below are five striking new facts from the 2011-12 CRDC collection:

  • Access to preschool is not a reality for much of the country. About 40 percent of public school districts do not offer preschool, and where it is available, it is mostly part-day only. Of the school districts that operate public preschool programs, barely half are available to all students within the district.
  • Suspension of preschool children. Black students represent 18 percent of preschool enrollment but 42 percent of preschool students suspended once, and 48 percent of the preschool students suspended more than once.
  • Access to courses necessary for college is inequitably distributed. Eighty-one percent of Asian-American high school students and 71 percent of white high school students attend high schools where the full range of math and science courses are offered (Algebra I, geometry, Algebra II, calculus, biology, chemistry, physics). However, fewer than half of American Indian and Native-Alaskan high school students have access to the full range of math and science courses in their high schools.  Black students (57 percent), Latino students (67 percent), students with disabilities (63 percent), and English learner students (65 percent) also have diminished access to the full range of courses.
  • Access to college counselors is uneven. Nationwide, one in five high schools lacks a school counselor.
  • Disparities in high school retention.  Twelve percent of black students are retained in grade nine – about double the rate that all students are retained (six percent).  Additionally, students with disabilities served by IDEA and English learners make up 12 percent and five percent of high school enrollment, respectively, but 19 percent and 11 percent of students held back or retained a year, respectively.

Learn more about the CRDC at ocrdata.ed.gov.

Catherine E. Lhamon is assistant secretary for the Office for Civil Rights.

Taking Time to Talk with Your Child about Tests

Assessments are part of life at school, but they don’t have to be a source of stress. Helping your child prepare properly for an exam is important, and the conversation doesn’t have to stop after the test is complete.

PencilsBelow are some tips parents might consider discussing with their child:

  • Let your child know that you are proud of his/her achievements and together you will work on troublesome subject matter.
  • Learn about the type of tests the classroom teacher is using to prepare the children for the tests.
  • Learn about the type of tests the school, district, and state are using to measure the achievement of your child.
  • Find the school, district, or state website for information on the test. Samples of previous tests given may also be found at the website.  Use as practice items for your child to prepare them.
  • Be familiar with the terms used on the test (such as proficient, percentile, and norm-referenced) and be prepared to ask what those terms mean when talking with the classroom teacher, counselor, or principal.
  • If needed, schedule a meeting with the teacher to discuss your child’s test results.
  • Ask your child’s teacher for tips and ideas about working with your child at home. Are there specific packets or materials available that will help your child improve?
  • Ask the teacher if a private tutor might be available. Are there resources the teacher can provide?
  • Create a plan with the teacher to periodically check on your child’s progress in deficient areas.

Involvement before and after any test can help children achieve their goals in the 21st century classroom.

Check out our Parent Power booklet for more information. Additional practice information can be found at the NCES Kids’ Zone.

Carrie Jasper is director of outreach to parents and families at the U.S. Department of Education

Protecting Americans from Predatory and Poor-Performing Career Training Programs

Students at for-profit colleges represent only about 13 percent of the total higher education population, but about 31 percent of all student loans and nearly half of all loan defaults. Of the for-profit gainful employment programs analyzed by the Department of Education, the majority—72 percent—produced graduates who on average earned less than high school dropouts.

Debt Graphic

The Obama Administration announced new steps on Friday to address growing concerns about burdensome student loan debt.

In an effort to reduce the number of American families with enormous debt loads, and to encourage responsible actions by colleges and programs, the Obama Administration announced new steps on Friday to address growing concerns about burdensome student loan debt by requiring career training programs to do a better job of preparing students for gainful employment.

The regulation proposed by the Department will help to strengthen students’ options for higher education by giving all career training programs an opportunity to improve, while stopping the flow of federal funding to the lowest-performing programs where the debt of former students in comparison to their earnings or the rate at which they default on their student loans consistently fail to meet minimum standards. Institutions will also be required to make public disclosures regarding the performance and outcomes of their career training programs.  The disclosures include information on costs, earnings, debt, loan repayment rates, and completion rates.

While this proposal applies equally to public, private and for-profit programs, students at for-profit colleges have had particularly concerning outcomes.

After the proposal released last week publishes in the Federal Register, the public will have 60 days to comment on the draft regulations. The Department will take that feedback and finalize the rule in the following months.

Read more about the gainful employment announcement.

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital strategy at the U.S. Department of Education

Teach to Lead: From Rubber Stamps to Voice and Vision

Panelists at Teaching and Learning

Panelists from left to right: Secretary Duncan, Maddie Fennell, Omari James, Kim Ursetta, Sarah Brown Wessling and James Liou.

“That was inspiring; I’m walking away giving myself permission to lead,” said Alan Chen, a teacher from L.A. Alan had just heard Secretary Duncan’s remarks and panel discussion with teachers at the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) Teaching and Learning Conference.

In the midst of discussing the tremendous changes now under way in American classrooms, Secretary Duncan announced that over the next year, he and Ron Thorpe, NBPTS President and CEO, will co-convene a new initiative called “Teach to Lead,” or T2L. The initiative will foster ambitious commitments on authentic opportunities for teachers to take up leadership roles without leaving the classroom. The goal is to ensure that when important decisions are being made about the work teachers do, they are there to help set the direction for their classrooms, schools, the profession, and ultimately ensure students have the best opportunities to learn.

The Secretary explicitly identified a few things teacher leadership is not (managing projects and initiatives in which you had no say; rubber stamping ideas that have already been decided) and also what it could be (hybrid roles that involve vision and voice). However, Secretary Duncan said, “Ultimately, it’ll be up to all the folks involved to define what powerful, ambitious commitments look like – this effort must be shaped by teachers.”

Teach to Lead will entail a series of meetings that engage teachers, principals, state chiefs, teachers’ groups and district leaders. In the course of the year, participants will commit to acting on the steps necessary to create more opportunities for teacher leadership in the field. The Secretary and President Thorpe will then report back on the commitments and activities from this diverse group at next year’s NBPTS meeting.

Secretary Duncan also promised ED’s support: “I am asking our team to make supporting teacher leadership a focus in all relevant funds, and to make sure we can build authentic teacher leadership into everything we do. We will also get information to states and districts about how those funds can be used to support teacher leaders.”

The foundation has already been laid for this work. In 2012 ED released the Blueprint for RESPECT, which was informed by input from thousands of educators and calls for strengthening and elevating the teaching profession in the United States. Importantly, rather than envisioning this teacher leadership as requiring teachers to leave their classrooms, RESPECT calls for career pathways so teachers can lead from their classrooms.

The U.S. Department of Education and NBPTS are currently working out a process for participation that will engage national organizations and educators across the country. More information, and video of the speech, will be posted on this blog when available.

While I am excited about this initiative, it alone cannot create cultures and structures that support teachers leading our profession in all schools. We, as teachers, must give ourselves permission to lead and we must encourage our colleagues to join us. This idea struck a chord for me personally. I had always challenged my students to seek out ways that they could change the world, but realized that I had restricted my own leadership to the classroom. And while there is much to be done in the classroom, for teachers to truly step into their roles as leaders, we must also look beyond our classrooms and participate in larger education debates in our schools, districts, states and nation.

Lisa Clarke is a Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow and social studies teacher on loan from Kent, Washington.

Boston School Turns Around With Focus on the Arts

First Graders

Orchard Gardens (MA) first graders recite a portion of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech during a school assembly earlier this week.

“I have a dream!” Orchard Gardens’ first graders shouted in unison before hundreds who had gathered for a school assembly earlier this week. Line by line, the students recited the entire ending of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous speech. The performance created a palpable energy in the room, and when the students finished, the audience—which included students, parents, teachers, state and local officials and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan—rose to its feet for a standing ovation.

Orchard Gardens is a K-8 school in Roxbury, Mass., which has undergone a dramatic transformation. When it opened in 2003, the school was designated as one of the lowest performing schools in the state. In 2009, the school became part of the Boston Public Schools’ Arts Expansion Initiative, and received a federal School Improvement Grant from the U.S. Department of Education. In 2012, Orchard Gardens became a Turnaround Arts Initiative school, through the President’s Committee on Arts and Humanities.

Classroom Visit

Secretary Duncan visits a classroom at Orchard Gardens K-8 school in Roxbury, Mass.

Since 2009, students’ math proficiency scores have improved from six percent to 34 percent. English scores improved from 13 percent to 43 percent proficiency, from 2009 to 2013. Orchard Gardens provides student-specific interventions, coordinated by two full-time school site coordinators. Through community partnerships, students receive health and social services supports.

During Secretary Duncan’s visit he stopped by band class for an impromptu mini concert. One of the students told Duncan that playing the French horn makes him want to come to school each day. Following the assembly, Duncan toured several classrooms and participated in a roundtable discussion with educators and members of the President’s Committee on Arts and Humanities to discuss the importance of arts education.

Damian Woetzel, former Principal Dancer with New York City Ballet, and a Turnaround Artist for the Turnaround Arts Initiative, spoke about the importance of arts education during the day’s assembly. “It’s not how we can fit the arts in,” he said, “[but] how the arts can be part of a whole education.”

Secretary Duncan told the students and faculty that the eyes of the country are on them and they’re showing the country what’s possible.

Learn more about the Turnaround Arts Initiative.

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital strategy at the U.S. Department of Education 

Five Excellent Ways to Celebrate Pi Day on 3/14

It’s time to celebrate Pi! And if the very thought of the irrational number is making you hungry for knowledge, you’re not alone.

Pi Day

(Photo courtesy of djwtwo on Flickr.)

Pi Day (3/14) is the unofficial holiday dedicated to pi. Pi is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, and it’s an irrational number, so it can’t be expressed as a simple fraction of two integers. The number starts out with 3.14, but it goes on for infinity!

This special day is also the perfect time to plan STEM-themed activities for your classroom or with your children at home.

Here are five excellent ways to celebrate Pi:

          1. Head to your local or school library and check out a book about Pi! These three titles are a good place to start.
          2. Demonstrate Pi in the real world. San Francisco’s Exploratorium has an entire webpage devoted to simple and easy hands-on activities that introduce the concept of Pi using everyday objects.
          3. Make Pi plates. Have students trace the Pi symbol on a piece of construction paper and then cut it out a glue it to a paper plate. Decorate the border of the plate with Pi’s digits.
          4. Write a Pi-ku, a math version of the traditional 5-7-5 syllabic haiku. A Pi-ku of course, follows a 3-1-4 syllabic pattern.

For example:
Math is fun
When
Mixed with some pie

 5. And, of course, you could always bake a Pi-themed pie!

Find more fun Pi facts and resources free.ed.gov.

Dorothy Amatucci is a new media analyst in the Office of Communications and Outreach

President Obama Announces New FAFSA Completion Initiative

Earlier today at Coral Reef High School in Miami, President Obama announced the launch of an exciting initiative to help ensure that more of America’s students take the first step towards college success: completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form.

FAFSA GraphicThe FAFSA Completion Initiative helps states, districts and schools give students the support they need to complete the form which serves as the gateway to accessing financial aid for college, career school, or graduate school.

The FAFSA not only gives students access to the nearly $150 billion in grants, loans, and work-study funds that the federal government has available, but many states, schools, and private scholarships require you to submit the FAFSA before they will consider you for any financial aid they offer.

FAFSA Completion Initiative:

  • We will be partnering with states to enable them to provide to schools and districts limited, yet valuable information on student progress in completing the FAFSA  beginning in the 2014-15 school year.
  • Additionally, the Office of Federal Student Aid has updated the existing FAFSA completion tool with FAFSA completion numbers for the 2014 high school graduating class at over 25,000 high schools across the nation.
  • These new resources can help increase FAFSA completion rates, and by extension, promote college access and success.

Resources:

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital strategy at the U.S. Department of Education

Performance Partnership Pilots: An Opportunity to Improve Outcomes for Disconnected Youth

Over 5 million 14-to-24-year-olds in the U.S. are not working or in school and, in many cases, face the additional challenges of being homeless, in foster care, or involved in the justice system.  Often disconnected from their families and valuable social networks, these young people struggle to make successful transitions to adulthood and to reach the educational and employment milestones critical to escaping a lifetime of poverty.

Government and community partners have invested considerable attention and resources to meet the needs of these “disconnected youth.”  However, practitioners, youth advocates, and others on the front lines of service delivery point to significant obstacles to meaningful improvements in education, employment, health and well-being.  These challenges include limited evidence and knowledge of what works, poor coordination and alignment across the systems that serve youth, policies that make it hard to target the neediest youth and overcome gaps in services, fragmented data systems that inhibit the flow of information to improve results, and administrative requirements that impede holistic approaches to serving this population.  Many of these challenges can be addressed by improving coordination among programs and targeting resources on those approaches that get the best results for our most vulnerable youth.

A New Approach

In response to the Obama Administration’s proposal, the recently passed Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014 includes a new demonstration authority to establish up to 10 “Performance Partnership Pilots” that will provide unprecedented flexibility to states, local communities, and tribes intended to remove some of the barriers to effectively serving disconnected youth, including youth who are low income and either homeless, in foster care, involved in the juvenile justice system, unemployed, or not enrolled in or at risk of dropping out of an educational institution.

The participating federal agencies will solicit interested jurisdictions to submit proposals that detail their strategy and need for flexibility, along with clear metrics of success.  An interagency review process will select up to 10 pilots that will enable communities to blend together competitive and formula grant funding that they receive from the Departments of Education, Labor, and Health and Human Services, and the Corporation for National and Community Service.  Pilots also will be able to seek waivers of specific program requirements that inadvertently may hamper effective services for youth.  This flexibility only will be granted to high performing jurisdictions that then will be held accountable to a set of cross-agency, data-driven outcomes.

The primary focus of this new approach will be providing disconnected youth in these communities with more effective supports to climb ladders of opportunity.  These pilots will help to unleash innovative partnerships across local governments, non-profits, businesses and other sectors that would have been impossible or convoluted under existing requirements.  In some cases, pilots will help propel collaborative and evidence-based work that jurisdictions already have underway.  Finally, the pilots as a group will provide a valuable opportunity to learn whether this model for Federal partnership improves outcomes on the ground, and how it could be extended to other Federal programs.

To enable partners to focus on what works, the Administration will use outcome-focused criteria rather than placing up-front restrictions on pilot design or content.   As a result, pilots could take diverse approaches based on community needs and priorities.  Pilots afford the opportunity to address these priority problems by integrating previously stove-piped government activities, such as creating a “no wrong door” intake process to ensure at-risk youth get the wrap-around services they need.  Pilots could also support outcome-focused public-private partnerships in which non-profits deliver specific interventions that will be measured and rigorously evaluated using real-time performance and outcome data.  Pilots would focus on improving education, employment, or other key goals, such as health or criminal justice, and should include a plan to track outcomes and measure impact.

In addition, the new flexibility afforded by pilots can accelerate the work of local leaders involved in Administration initiatives like Promise Zones or under ongoing programs, where performance could significantly be enhanced by additional flexibility.  Although funds from Department of Justice and Department of Housing and Urban Development grants cannot be blended with other Performance Partnership funds, pilots could involve close coordination with juvenile justice and housing activities that can be carried out under current law.

Making a Significant Impact

The Performance Partnership Pilots are one of several examples of the Obama Administration’s approach to empowering community-led, comprehensive strategies for improving opportunity and social mobility, including Promise Zones and My Brother’s Keeper.   This approach recognizes the importance of building coalitions across traditional silos; of bringing federal, state, local, and private resources to the table; and of making use of data and evidence to guide policies that address local needs.   Participating Federal agencies will solicit public input on how Federal, State, and local partners, along with private sector partners, can make these pilots successful, enabling them to use data and evidence to guide decisions about how to improve outcomes for vulnerable youth.

While criteria for selecting pilots are still being developed, the Administration may look to factors that can demonstrate a State or community’s potential for making a significant impact, including:

  1. A strong outcome-focused plan based on a needs assessment that targets services to those youth most in need.  Applicants would select practices that are most likely to improve outcomes for target populations as well as the cost-effectiveness of government services.  Plans would identify outcome metrics and key interim indicators for measuring progress, including education, employment, and other measures in areas such as health or criminal justice, and also specific data sources that can be used to effectively capture progress.
  2. Capacity to effectively implement an innovative pilot project through strong partnerships with the necessary State, local, nonprofit and private sector partners, and a strong governance structure that effectively manages the partners and their resources.  Pilots must demonstrate having the data capacity that will enable State or local leaders to manage for results, using outcome-focused performance agreements and continuously improving performance by tracking key indicators.  Sites must also have a strong track record of proper stewardship of Federal funds.
  3. A plan to use and build knowledge about what works by adopting research-based practices and interventions that have shown promise in earlier high quality studies, by embedding appropriate evaluation designs into the pilot and by participating in a network of other pilot communities that will share best practices and lessons learned
  4. Need for flexibility to improve outcomes. Proposals should present a compelling case for how their requested flexibilities under the pilot would allow them to better serve the target population.

Johan Uvin is deputy assistant secretary in the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education at the U.S. Department of Education, and Kathy Stack is advisor for evidence and innovation at the Office of Management and Budget

Top 10 Reasons Why the Expansion of High-Quality Early Learning is Inevitable

Throughout the country, there is a tremendous unmet need for high-quality early learning. Fewer than three in ten 4-year-olds are enrolled in high-quality preschool programs, and yet, the importance of early learning is clear. Studies prove that children who have rich early learning experiences are better prepared to thrive in kindergarten and beyond.

In a recent speech during the National Governors Association’s winter meeting, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said that we have reached an important turning point in the debate over early learning. “Demographic, economic, and ideological forces are all combining today to propel a big expansion of high-quality early learning,” Duncan said. “We just need Congress to catch up with the rest of the country.”

In his speech, Duncan provided ten reasons why states and the country will see a dramatic expansion of high-quality early learning over the coming few years:

President with Student

A young student uses a stethoscope to hear President Barack Obama’s heartbeat during a classroom visit at Powell Elementary School in Washington, D.C., March 4, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

10. There is much greater public awareness today of the importance of the early years to the long-term health, learning, and success of our children and our communities–and it is coupled with widespread public support for a big expansion of early learning.

9. A powerful, bipartisan coalition of governors are funding expansions in the states—in some cases, big expansions—of high-quality early learning programs.

8. There is a remarkably diverse and robust coalition of law enforcement officials, military leaders, clergy, CEOs, unions, parents, and others that strongly support expanding high-quality early learning opportunities.

7. The old arguments that states should have no role in providing low- and moderate-income families with voluntary access to early learning and child care have lost force.

6. There is a growing recognition that quality matters tremendously when it comes to early learning.

5. For the first time, a majority of the states are now assessing the school readiness of children when they enter kindergarten.

4. The enactment of third grade reading laws in many of your states is going to propel an expansion of high-quality early learning.

3. America is way behind high-performing countries in our provision of early learning–and there is a growing awareness that high-quality early learning is critical to sustaining our international economic competitiveness.

2. America is currently in the midst of an unprecedented wave of innovation and capacity-building when it comes to early learning–and a new federal-state partnership helped unleash this wave of innovation.

1. The enormous unmet need and demand for high-quality early learning.

Visit ed.gov/early-learning for more information on the Obama administration’s plan to expand high-quality early learning, and read Secretary Duncan’s full speech.

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital strategy at the U.S. Department of Education

2015 Education Budget: What You Need to Know

President Obama’s 2015 budget request reflects his belief not only that education is a top priority, but that America’s public schools offer the clearest path to the middle class. Investing in education now will make us more competitive in the global economy tomorrow, and will help ensure equity of opportunity for every child.

Budget Proposal GraphicThe administration’s request for about $69 billion in discretionary appropriations represents an increase of nearly 2 percent over the previous year and slightly more than the 2012 discretionary level for education before the sequester.

Three-quarters of that $69 billion goes to financial aid to students in college, special education, and high-poverty schools (Title I). The remaining 23 percent targets specific areas designed to leverage major changes in the educational opportunity and excellence for all students, including expansion of access to high-quality preschool, data-driven instruction based on college- and career-ready standards, making college more affordable, and mitigating the effects of poverty on educational outcomes.

Education priorities for Fiscal Year (FY) 2015:

Increasing Equity and Opportunity for All Students

Despite major progress for America’s students, deep gaps of opportunity and achievement endure. The Obama administration is committed to driving new energy to solving those problems. Nearly every element of the federal education budget aims to ensure equity of opportunity, and a new proposed fund, Race to the Top-Equity and Opportunity would complement existing efforts by further supporting strong state and local efforts to improve equity.

Learn more about Race to the Top-Equity and Opportunity.

Making Quality Preschool Available for All 4-Year-Olds

In one of the boldest efforts to expand educational opportunity in the last 50 years, President Obama has committed to a historic new investment in preschool education that supports universal access to high-quality preschool for all 4-year olds from low- and moderate-income families and creates an incentive for states to serve additional middle-class children.

Learn more about support for early learning.

Strengthening Support for Teachers and School Leaders

All educators should have the resources and support they need to provide effective instruction and to personalize learning to students’ needs. Technology can help teachers do this. Teachers and school leaders must know how to make the best use of technology. The new ConnectEDucators proposal would provide funding to help educators leverage technology and data to provide high-quality college- and career-ready instruction that meets the needs of all students.

Learn more about the new ConnectEDucators proposal.

Improving Affordability, Quality, and Success in Postsecondary Education

Improving college access and completion is an economic necessity and a moral imperative. Few good career options exist for those whose education ends with high school. College has long represented the surest route to the middle class—but the middle class is increasingly being priced out of college. America once ranked first in the college completion rate of its young people; we now rank twelfth. Reclaiming the top spot in college completion is essential for maximizing both individual opportunity and our economic prosperity, which is why the President has made increasing college affordability and improving college completion a major focus of his 2015 budget.

Learn more about improving college affordability.

Making Schools Safer and Creating Positive Learning Environments

The President’s plan to increase school safety and to decrease gun violence includes investments not only to prepare schools for emergencies, but also to create positive school climates and help children recover from the effects of living in communities plagued by persistent violence.

Learn more about the fiscal year 2015 budget request.

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital strategy at the U.S. Department of Education