Fact Sheet: Empowering States to Transform the Education Landscape

Fact Sheet: Empowering States to Transform the Education Landscape

November 12, 2015

In today's increasingly global, knowledge-based economy, education has never been more important. Students need to master important skills like problem-solving, critical thinking, creativity, and team work in order to be prepared for the jobs of today and tomorrow and to lead fulfilling, successful lives. Over the past six years, the U.S. Department of Education has empowered states to develop locally tailored solutions to ensure students—regardless of disability, race, zip code, or family income—graduate from high school ready for college, careers, and life.

The Department is helping to support the transformation of the education landscape by working with states, districts, and educators to put in place the building blocks for schools to provide a world-class education for all students including, students of color, students with disabilities, low-income students, English learners, and other traditionally underserved populations. Over the course of the Obama Administration, the Department has provided states with resources and flexibility aimed at supporting state-level innovation and spurring change at the local level. Today, the Department released two reports documenting how states and school districts have responded to this new way of doing business at the Department of Education through two of the Administration's signature initiatives: Fundamental Change: Innovation in America's Schools under Race to the Top, and School Improvement Grants National Summary: School Year 2012-13.

Race to the Top: Spurring Comprehensive Reforms

Race to the Top supported the most comprehensive, far-reaching reform of public schools in a generation, improving how students are prepared for success in school and in life. With an investment of $4 billion—less than 1 percent of total federal education funding—Race to the Top was a catalyst for change for more than 10 million students and 700,000 teachers in the first two rounds of the grant competition and for many more students and teachers in states that applied for the grant but that did not receive funding.

Fundamental Change: Innovation in America's Schools under Race to the Top focuses on the 11 states (Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island and Tennessee) and the District of Columbia that received funding in the first two rounds of the competition. Race to the Top enabled these states to transform education by implementing their own ideas and plans in four key areas:

  • Establishing high college- and career-ready standards
  • Developing and supporting great teachers and leaders
  • Leveraging data systems and technology to improve instruction
  • Turning around the lowest-performing schools

For example, in southeastern Ohio, 21 rural districts serving 14,000 students formed the Ohio Appalachian Collaborative to improve college readiness. Through training and collaboration sessions, teachers across the districts developed skills to track student progress, use data to tailor their instruction, and design and implement higher-level course content.

Tennessee selected 700 high-performing teachers, called Core Coaches, to lead the state's transition to college- and career-ready standards by providing professional development that reached 45,000 of their colleagues in training sessions over three years.

Delaware teachers took a collaborative approach to professional development. Teachers in every school met weekly for 90 minutes in professional learning communities to analyze student work and share ways to modify instruction to bridge gaps identified in student learning.

Even in states that did not win awards, the work to develop an application and establish the conditions for positive change unleashed an incredible amount of courage and creativity at the local level. According to research from William Howell, a professor at the University of Chicago who has tracked trends in education policy enactment across all 50 states and D.C., after Race to the Top, every state experienced a surge in the adoption of education improvement policies. Between 2001 and 2008, states only enacted about 10 percent of proposed education policies. But between 2009 and 2014, 68 percent of education policy proposals passed and became state law.

In addition to the 12 Race to the Top state grants, students also are benefiting from the Race to the Top Phase 3, Race to the Top—District, and Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge grants. In fact, according to a recently released Department of Education report, states rapidly are improving the quality of early learning programs while enrolling more children, especially from low- and moderate- income families, in the highest-quality programs.

School Improvement Grants: Turning Around our Worst Schools

Since 2010, the School Improvement Grants (SIG) program has provided support to more than 1,800 of the country's lowest performing schools that have demonstrated the greatest need and the strongest commitment to implementing rigorous reforms to raise student achievement. Turning around chronically low-performing schools, which have been failing students for decades and possibly generations, is some of the hardest and most important work in education, with direct impact on the life outcomes of young people.

The new report, School Improvement Grants National Summary: School Year 2012-13, focuses on the 1,399 schools serving more than 800,000 students in the first three cohorts of SIG funding. Key findings include:

  • SIG schools are improving faster than other schools.
  • SIG schools with available data are making gains in mathematics and reading proficiency. Cohort 1 schools, which have implemented SIG reforms for three years (2010-11 to 2012-13), on average increased the percentage of students who are proficient by 8 points in mathematics and by 6 points in reading.
  • Graduation rates are improving in many SIG high schools. Nearly half of Cohort 1 high schools and 38 percent of Cohort 2 high schools increased their graduation rates by 6 or more percentage points from 2010-11 to 2012-13, compared to a quarter of all public high schools.
  • SIG schools are providing students with multiple opportunities for increased learning time. Fifty percent of Cohort 1 schools, 54 percent of Cohort 2 schools, and 43 percent of Cohort 3 schools offered more than one type of increased learning time for students in 2012-13.

Making Progress

With new resources and flexibility from the federal government, states and school districts are making unprecedented changes in education. Most importantly, America's students are making progress:

  • The high school graduation rate is the highest ever at 81 percent.
  • The high school dropout rate is at a historic low, following steady decreases. The greatest progress has been among students of color.
  • College enrollment for black and Hispanic students is up by more than a million since 2008.

More than 40 states are moving forward with college- and career-ready standards. These higher standards promote critical thinking and problem solving—skills our students will need for 21st century jobs, and that the American economy will need to grow and stay competitive.

More than 40 states have implemented new policies that incorporate student learning into the definition of effective teaching.

New research from Robert Balfanz at Johns Hopkins University shows the number of so-called "dropout factories" across the nation has been cut in half since 2002—going from 2,000 to fewer than 1,000 today, with the change accelerating since 2008.

Accelerating Educational Innovation and Improvement

While there has been tremendous progress in expanding equity and opportunity in education, more work remains to be done. In order to maintain and accelerate the progress that educators, families, communities, and students are making, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is calling for a strong, bipartisan reauthorization of ESEA. More specifically, Congress should reauthorize the ESEA to:

  • Give teachers and principals the resources they need and invest in districts and states to create innovative approaches to improving student outcomes;
  • Make real investments in high-poverty schools and districts, and in expanding high-quality preschool;
  • Hold high expectations for all students, and require extra supports for groups of students or schools that are not making progress;
  • Identify schools that are consistently not making progress and dedicate extra resources and support, including the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools; and high schools where too many students are not graduating; and
  • Address funding inequities for schools that serve high proportions of low-income students.