The Obama administration's major priorities in education
"The America we want for our kidsa rising America where honest work is plentiful and communities are strong; where prosperity is widely shared and opportunity for all lets us go as far as our dreams and toil will take usnone of it is easy. But if we work together, if we summon what is best in us, with our feet planted firmly in today, but our eyes cast towards tomorrowI know it's within our reach."
-- Barack Obama, January 28, 2014
Every child in America deserves an education that opens opportunities—especially the opportunity to join a thriving middle class. Yet, too many children—particularly those in poverty—lack access to the education and supports that make the journey to the middle class possible. The Obama administration is committed to ensuring that every child has that opportunity.
Ensuring strong opportunity for every child in America and protecting the vulnerable and underserved have long comprised the mission of the U.S. Department of Education. Nearly three-quarters of Department funds go toward three major areas: Pell Grants that help families to afford college; Title I grants that support schools in low-income communities; and aid for special-needs students that ensures all children receive the educational services they need to reach their full potential. The Department's Office for Civil Rights helps to ensure that students do not face discrimination.
Equity of opportunity underlies initiatives introduced by the Obama administration. These efforts recognize that the best ideas for improving education do not come from Washington, D.C. This is why initiatives including Race to the Top and Investing in Innovation, along with ESEA flexibility, call for the best strategies to improve teaching and learning from educators and leaders in states and communities throughout the country.
In the Obama administration's first five years, America's schools have seen significant positive change—and America's students have made gains. The high school graduation rate is at its highest point in 30 years, in large part due to increases in the number of African-American and Hispanic students receiving diplomas. Since 2008, dropout rates are down steeply for African-American, Hispanic, and low-income young people, and college attendance by minorities has jumped sharply. To help more students afford college and graduate, the Obama administration has doubled federal investments in Pell Grants and college tax credits so that millions more Americans now can afford a higher education.
Despite progress, much work remains to be done. The President has set a goal of making America, once again, first in the world in college completion. Yet today, the United States ranks 12th, and students from low-income families complete college at one-seventh the rate of those from high-income families.
These statistics stand in the way of what President Obama calls "the basic American bargain"—the idea that people who are willing to learn and work hard should have the opportunity to succeed, regardless of their wealth, home language, zip code, gender, sexual orientation, race, or disability. America has long worked to make its public schools "the great equalizer," ensuring that every child would have the opportunity to join a thriving middle class. As a nation, we must work even harder now. Nearly every major federal education initiative, activity, and fund under the Obama administration aims to increase equity.
Learn more about efforts to increase equity of opportunity and key education initiatives:
Early learning: Making quality preschool available for all 4-year-olds
Children who have rich early learning experiences are better prepared to thrive in school. Yet, fewer than a third of the nation's 4-year-olds are enrolled in high-quality preschool. In one of the boldest expansions of opportunity in a generation, 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 early learning.
K-12: Accelerating change in strategic areas
Building on the momentum for state-level reform unleashed by Race to the Top and other competitive funding programs, President Obama has proposed a set of strategic investments that aim to drive change and support strong teaching and learning for America's children. Among these changes are redesigning the nation's high schools so that students are prepared for college and career; strengthening science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education; improving support for teachers and school leaders; and helping schools improve safety. Learn more about K-12 reform.
Strengthening science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education
Economists project strong growth in careers related to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), but far too few American students are proficient in mathematics and interested in a STEM career. The Obama administration proposes an aggressive push that will improve the delivery and impact of STEM education. Learn more about STEM.
A fast-growing world of technologies, and the extraordinary quantity and reach of content on the Internet, have the potential to bring remarkable new possibilities to teaching and learning—helping teachers work smarter and making learning more engaging for students. Our schools must have modern technology infrastructure and our students must have access to the best resources—regardless of where they live—so that they are prepared to thrive in a globally connected world. Learn more about ConnectED.
New technologies give teachers innovative tools and flexibility to engage students and work smarter. The ConnectEDucators program would help educators leverage technology and data to personalize learning, ensuring that as schools increase access to broadband Internet through the ConnectED Initiative, teachers and leaders are prepared to use these resources in a way that increases student learning and achievement. Learn more about ConnectEDucators.
Teachers and leaders
Nothing matters more to a child's experience in school than skilled, caring teachers and a strong principal. To help prepare our students to be engaged citizens and meet the demands of the increasingly complex and global economy, we need better systems to, recruit, prepare, support, retain, and reward outstanding teachers and leaders in America's schools. The Obama administration has laid out a plan to strengthen teaching and school leadership. Learn more about the teachers and leaders plan.
Schools are, generally, the safest places for children in America, but the nation's conscience has been shocked by recent acts of horrific violence in schools. While these acts have changed communities forever, less dramatic moments of violence each day decrease students' sense of security, which is essential to their healthy growth and learning. In response, 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 nurturing school climates. Learn more about school safety.
Making college affordable
Today, three-quarters of the fastest-growing occupations require more education and training than a high school diploma. Yet, among low-income students, less than one in 10 complete college. To address this challenge and ensure all students in America have the opportunity to attain higher education, the Obama administration is taking bold steps to reduce the escalating costs of college, including a signature initiative to provide unprecedented information to America's families. Learn more about making college affordable.
Equity of opportunity
Equity in education is vital because equality of opportunity is a core American value. All young people in this country must have the chance to learn and achieve. Our national identity and our economic strength depends on it. Yet today, far too many students, especially in underserved groups and communities, lack robust access to the core elements of a quality education. Recognizing this challenge, the Obama administration is profoundly committed to equity in education. Learn more about equity of opportunity.
Ladders of opportunity
Schools often struggle to take on the multiple challenges that face students growing up in communities of concentrated poverty. Too often, poverty endures from generation to generation, as schools work hard to meet the needs of the most vulnerable learners. Through "Ladders of Opportunity," the Obama administration will establish comprehensive, coordinated approaches to improving support for these students. Learn more about ladders of opportunity.
Race to the Top-Equity and Opportunity
Young people in this country—regardless of wealth, home language, zip code, gender, sexual orientation, race or disability—deserve the chance to learn and achieve. Education must provide a path to the middle class for everyone who strives to get there. Our national identity—and our economic strength—depend on it. Education cannot fix every challenge in a child’s life—but education has always served as the engine of opportunity in this country. Learn more about Race to the Top-Equity and Opportunity.
Learn more about key education priorities in the President’s fiscal 2015 budget.