Transforming American Education: An Urgent Priority
Under the Obama administration, education has become an urgent priority driven by two clear goals set by the President:
- By 2020, we will raise the proportion of college graduates from where it now stands (39%) so that 60% of our population holds a two-year or four-year degree (National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, 2008).
- We will close the achievement gap so that all students – regardless of race, income, or neighborhood – graduate from high school ready to succeed in college and careers.
To accomplish these goals, we must embrace a strategy of innovation, prompt implementation, regular evaluation, and continuous improvement. The programs and projects that work must be brought to scale so that every school has the opportunity to take advantage of that success. Our regulations, policies, actions, and investments must be strategic and coherent.
To this end, Secretary Duncan has identified four major areas where our investments and efforts can have the greatest impact:
- States should adopt standards and assessments that prepare students to succeed in college and the workplace and compete in the global economy.
- States should build data systems that measure student growth and success and inform educators about how they can improve instruction.
- States should recruit, reward, and retain effective educators, especially in underserved areas where they are needed most.
- States should turn around their lowest achieving schools.
In November 2009, President Obama launched the Educate to Innovate campaign to improve the participation and performance of U.S. students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The campaign brings together the federal government, leading companies, foundations, not-for-profits, and science and engineering societies to work with young people across the country to achieve the following goals:
- Increase STEM literacy so that all students can learn deeply and think critically in STEM subject areas
- Move American students from the middle of the pack internationally to the top in the next decade
- Expand STEM education and career opportunities for underrepresented groups, including girls and women.
Technology is critical to addressing each of these needs.
We are guided in these and other education initiatives by Secretary Duncan’s conviction that we need revolutionary transformation, not evolutionary tinkering, and we know that transformation cannot be achieved through outdated reform strategies that take decades to unfold.
We must be clear about the outcomes we seek. We must redesign processes, put them in place, and constantly evaluate them for effectiveness, efficiency, and flexibility. We must monitor and measure our performance to improve learning outcomes while managing costs. We must hold ourselves accountable.
We also must apply the advanced technology available in our daily lives to student learning and to our entire education system in innovative ways that improve designs, accelerate adoption, and measure outcomes. Above all, we must accept that we do not have the luxury of time. We must act now and commit to fine-tuning and midcourse corrections as we go. We must learn from other kinds of enterprises that have used technology to improve outcomes and increase productivity.
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