Giving Every Child in America a Fair Shot at a Great Education

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Giving Every Child in America a Fair Shot at a Great Education

January 14, 2016

In the days immediately following the State of the Union, Cabinet officials are embarking on the “State of the Union: Cabinet In Your Community” road tour to engage Americans in small towns, big cities and Indian country about the advancements the Administration has made on the most important issues facing the American people, as well as the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead. The President made clear in his State of the Union address that the true test is not the challenges we face, but how we approach those challenges. That’s why he and his Cabinet will keep their feet on the gas in this final stretch to continue driving toward solutions that will move this country forward for generations to come, while highlighting the progress that has been made over the past seven years.

Giving Every Child in America a Fair Shot at a Great Education

Today in El Paso, Texas, Acting U.S. Education Secretary John King will kick off his “Opportunity Across America” tour to discuss how the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) will build on progress made in education since the beginning of the Obama Administration to ensure that every student —regardless of disability, race, zip code, or family income—is prepared to succeed in school and in life.

Signed by President Obama, the new law helps ensure educational opportunity for all students by:

  • Holding all students to high academic standards that prepare them for success in college and careers.
  • Providing more children access to high-quality preschool.
  • Reducing the often onerous burden of testing on students and teachers, making sure that tests don't crowd out teaching and learning, without sacrificing clear, annual information parents and educators need to make sure our children are learning.
  • Empowering state and local decision-makers to develop their own strong systems for school improvement.
  • Promoting competitive programs that will build on the Administration’s efforts to spur reform, expand opportunity, and drive better outcomes for America’s students.

And, in recognition of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act’s legacy as a civil rights law, ESSA upholds critical protections for America’s disadvantaged students, including vulnerable children. The new law ensures that states and school districts will hold schools accountable for the progress of all students. To help accomplish this goal, it prescribes meaningful reforms to remedy underperformance, ensuring that steps are taken to help students who fall behind and their schools; especially the very lowest-performing schools, high schools with high dropout rates, and schools where certain groups of students are not achieving to their fullest potential.

In order to fully realize these critical protections contained in the law and to support state and local leaders, the Department is moving quickly to provide important support and guidance to states during the transition. In order to ensure that states and school districts meet new requirements and take advantage of new opportunities in the law, while ensuring equity for all students, the Department will need to provide regulations, guidance and technical assistance on key provisions of the law. To that end, the Department:

  • Issued a Dear Colleague Letter to states to clarify some initial steps as states, districts and schools transition to the new law and signal the Department’s commitment to facilitating a smooth transition to the new law—with minimal disruption to students, families, teachers, and schools.
  • Launched the rulemaking process by publishing in the Federal Register a Request for Information to solicit advice and recommendations from stakeholders about the implementation of the new law, and specifically whether there are areas for which regulations may be helpful. 
  • Will hold a second regional meeting this month to gather input on possible areas for regulation and guidance under the new law. It will be held on Tuesday, Jan. 19, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT, at UCLA in Los Angeles.

The new law builds on key areas of progress accomplished in recent years through the efforts of educators, communities, parents, and students from across the country, as the President highlighted in his State of the Union address. Those accomplishments include:

  • More preschoolers with access to high-quality early learning programs. The Administration invested billions of dollars in early childhood education, and is building and expanding high-quality preschool in over 200 high-need communities across 18 states that span the geographic and political spectrum.
  • The highest high school graduation rate. The nation’s high school graduation rate hit 82 percent in 2013-14, the highest level since states adopted a new uniform way of calculating graduation rates five years ago. The greatest progress has been among students of color. The dropout rate among Hispanics is half of what it was in 2000, and rates for African-American and low-income youths have been cut by more than a third.
  • Greater college opportunity. The Administration has dramatically increased investments in the Pell grant program, supporting 2 million more students to attend college each year than in 2008. And more students of color are attending college than ever before. Enrollment for African-American and Hispanic students has risen by more than 1 million since 2008.

Over the past seven years, the Obama Administration has laid the groundwork for generational change in America’s education system. The new law extends many of the key reforms the Administration has encouraged states and districts to adopt in exchange for relief from the more onerous provisions of No Child Left Behind, and as a part of the Administration’s competitive grant programs. The nation has seen tremendous efforts to improve education from cradle to career, with substantial progress made—thanks to the hard work of students, educators, and state and local education officials. The Administration’s efforts include:

  • Spurring Comprehensive Change. President Obama’s Race to the Top initiative offered strong incentives to states willing to enact systemic changes that would improve teaching and learning in America’s schools, including adopting higher standards, turning around the lowest performing schools, building strong data systems, and recruiting, developing, rewarding, and retaining effective teachers and principals.
  • Investments in Innovation. The 15 new experimental sites launched during the Administration, including the Dual Enrollment program and Second Chance Pell, and the Investing in Innovation (i3) program, have helped develop a culture of evidence-based decision-making that accelerates student achievement in pre-K-12 and postsecondary education.
  • Creation of Promise Neighborhoods. Since 2010, the Administration’s Promise Neighborhoods program has sought to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty by investing $270 million in more than 50 of our nation’s most distressed communities, representing more than 700 schools.
  • A campaign to prepare 100,000 excellent science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) teachers: In his 2011 State of the Union address, the President called for a new effort to prepare 100,000 STEM teachers over the next decade with strong teaching skills and deep content knowledge. The President’s Educate to Innovate campaign has resulted in more than $1 billion in direct and in-kind support for STEM education.
  • Expanded access to technology students need to succeed. Since President Obama launched his ConnectED initiative in 2013, 20 million more students have access to high-speed Internet. Today, 77 percent of school districts meet minimum standards for high-speed broadband, compared to 30 percent in 2013.

Making college more affordable: Our historic investments in student aid for college, a far simpler Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), and the new College Scorecard are helping to give all students the opportunity to go to college by providing them with more scholarship support and the clearest information possible to make informed college choices. We’ve increased the maximum Pell Grant by more than $1,000, expanded education tax credits, kept student loan interest rates low, and helped more than 4 million borrowers manage their debt through plans like the President’s “Pay as You Earn” plan, which caps payments at 10 percent of monthly income. 

In Texas, King will hear from local students, educators, and community leaders about the unique challenges and opportunities faced by border communities. The Obama Administration is committed to expanding opportunity for all students, including English learners and immigrant students. The Administration’s efforts in this area include providing:

  • Guidance to ensure equal access for all children to public schools, regardless of immigration status. The guidance is intended to help schools understand their responsibilities under the Supreme Court's decision in Plyler v. Doe and federal civil rights laws to provide all children with equal access to an education regardless of their or their parents' immigration status.
  • An English Learner Tool Kit prepared by the Office of English Language Acquisition for states, school districts and school administrations to help them meet their legal obligations to English learner students and to provide students with the support needed to attain English language proficiency while meeting college- and career-ready standards. The tools and resources in the kit are free, available in multiple languages, and accessible on the Department of Education’s website.
  • A Resource Guide: Supporting Undocumented Youth to help schools, colleges, teachers, and other personnel seeking to support the college and career success of undocumented youth in secondary and postsecondary institutions, including information about requesting consideration for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) announced in 2012. The Department is currently in the process of developing a separate Resource Guide on early learning and elementary education that includes promising practices for serving undocumented children and children of undocumented parents.
  • A Dear Colleague Letter to school districts, colleges, and universities on promoting and maintaining safe, respectful and nondiscriminatory learning environments for all students by protecting students against discrimination or harassment based on their actual or perceived race, religion, or national origin. The letter urges schools to ensure that systems for reporting and responding to bullying and harassment are understood by all students and staff and ensure that the well-being of students and their ability to learn is not negatively affected. It includes several links to federal resources on issues like student harassment, discrimination on the basis of religion or national origin, and refugee and asylee students.
  • More than $118 million to states on the southwest border (Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas) to turn around chronically low-performing schools which have demonstrated the greatest need and the strongest commitment to implementing rigorous reforms to raise student achievement.

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