King Calls for Return to Well-Rounded Education

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King Calls for Return to Well-Rounded Education

April 14, 2016

U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. today called for a renewed focus on well-rounded education for all students, as states work to implement the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

In a speech at the Las Vegas Academy of the Arts in Nevada, King said the new law, signed by President Obama in December to replace the outdated No Child Left Behind act, gives schools, districts and states a chance to reset after years of focusing heavily on math and reading while other important classes—like science, social studies, the arts and world languages—took a back seat.

“Strong literacy and math skills are surely necessary for success in college, careers and life – but they just as surely are not sufficient. Being a well-educated person and passionate about learning isn't just about reading and computing well,” said King, a former social studies teacher. “It’s about being skilled and knowledgeable about a wide range of subjects, expert and passionate about a few, and confident in the quest for more knowledge.”

Research shows that students—particularly historically underserved students—engage more deeply in learning when they are exposed to a variety of topics and can better connect what they are learning in the classroom with the world outside the school house. For example, there’s evidence that students improve at math when they’ve taken classes that connect science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) with the arts. And research from the University of Virginia’s Daniel Willingham shows that students with broad knowledge are stronger readers.

That’s why the U.S. Department of Education is taking action to support states and districts in ensuring schools provide a rich range of offerings—from arts and social studies to computer science and world language. The Department released guidance Wednesday on how to leverage federal funds to expand STEM offerings in schools.

Proposals in the President’s 2017 budget would provide significant support for a well-rounded education. For example, the budget requests $500 million for the new Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants, nearly double the funding available for the programs focused on STEM, school counseling, physical education and rigorous coursework—which are such important parts of promoting students’ success. In addition, the budget includes the $4 billion Computer Science for All initiative; a $125 million Teacher and Principal Pathways program; $10 million for a new STEM Master Teacher Corps; and $1.8 million for the American History and Civics Academies Program, which supports workshops and programs for teachers and students to develop a deeper understanding of American history and civics. And the new Skills for Success grants are helping middle school students develop social and emotional skills they will need to achieve and complete a higher education.

“The good news here is that the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act makes the work to provide a well-rounded education to all students easier,” King said. “Under the new law, states now have the opportunity to broaden their definition of educational excellence, to include providing students strong learning experiences in science, social studies, world languages, and the arts, as well as AP and International Baccalaureate classes – and even supporting students’ socioemotional development. That's a huge and welcome change.”

King will also visit Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Springdale, Arkansas, as part of a series of school visits this week on well-rounded education. Excerpts of his speech are attached.