Progress for America's Children

Progress for America's Children

The Obama Administration's major priorities in education

"The America we want for our kids—a 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 us—none 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 tomorrow—I 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 students with special-needs that ensures all children receive the educational services they need to reach their full potential. Additionally, 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 history, 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 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.

Progress in our schools

Building on the momentum for state-level reform and innovation in our K-12 public schools unleashed by Race to the Top and other competitive funding programs, the Obama Administration has advanced strategic investments that aim to drive positive change and support strong teaching and learning for America's children. Among these changes are strengthening science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education; improving support for teachers and school leaders; and helping schools improve safety. Learn more about progress in our schools, from kindergarten through 12th grade.


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 is committed to ensuring that all students have access to high-quality STEM learning opportunities that help them develop crucial critical thinking and problem-solving skills. 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.

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 to 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 continues to support initiatives and programs that can strengthen teaching and school leadership. Learn more about the need for excellent teachers and leaders.

School climate and discipline

Schools are, generally, the safest places for children in America, but the nation's conscience has been shocked by acts of 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, Obama Administration has made important investments not only to prepare schools for emergencies, but also to create nurturing school climates. Learn more about school safety.

College access, affordability, and success

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 and ensuring students can be successful in higher education.

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 depend 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.

Family and community engagement

If our students are to be successful in school and beyond, families and communities must be involved. All of us have a role to play in ensuring that every child has the education that is her civil right. Parents, families, and communities should be able to expect a set of educational rights for all students that prepares them for success in college and careers and as engaged and productive citizens. Learn more about these rights and the importance of family and community engagement in education.