Raise the Bar: Comprehensive and Rigorous Education

Raise the Bar: Comprehensive and Rigorous Education

Goal: Develop a comprehensive and rigorous education for every student with high-quality instruction that prepares them to be active, engaged, and lifelong learners.

Raise the Bar


The Problem

For students to thrive academically and be globally competitive, they require access to a broad and challenging education that provides opportunities to build deep knowledge and useful life skills across many disciplines. However, access to a comprehensive and rigorous education is not equitable across all students and all communities, which prevents our young people from realizing their potential and succeeding.

Research shows that when students have access to rich learning experiences across the spectrum of education, they are more likely to be engaged in school, get better grades, attend school more, and graduate on time. While our high school graduation rate is at a high point for the nation, there are disparities when we look across states and populations of students, including students with disabilities.  

High School Graduation Rates SY 2020-2021
(download data as a spreadsheet)

Our Strategies

The Department is committed to working with state and local leaders to expand access to high-quality early learning; rigorous science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education; and arts programming along with protecting students’ civil rights in schools, supporting students’ financial literacy, and emphasizing the importance of focusing teaching and learning on the instructional core. Robust investments and strategic action in the areas below represent key levers to ensure every student has access to a well-rounded education.

Early Learning:

Preschool reduces achievement gaps and supports early school success for our students. The skills and knowledge that children acquire in their early years are the building blocks for future learning, setting the stage for literacy, numeracy, and social skills that will be used throughout their lives.

More children could benefit from high-quality early learning opportunities that begin before kindergarten. Currently, the average percentage of children ages 3 and 4 who are enrolled in state, special education, and federal and state Head Start preschool programs across the United States is 28.8 percent. For additional state-by-state information, visit the National Institute for Early Education Research.

Percentage of Children Enrolled in Preschool SY 2021-2022
(download data as a spreadsheet)

To promote a strong start in school and in life for our youngest learners, the Department is focusing its early education agenda on expanding preschool in Title I schools and positioning kindergarten as a sturdy bridge to the early grades.

Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Education:

The Department will continue to elevate and build on the "YOU belong in STEM" initiative that helps scale equitable, high-quality STEM education pathways for all students from prekindergarten through higher education to spark a lifelong love of learning and inquiry and to support their 21st-century career readiness and global competitiveness.

This work includes, in part, technical assistance to the early education community on promising practices for STEM education for young children, including those with disabilities, and the alignment of career and workforce pathways focused on innovation and technology.

The YOU Belong in STEM Initiative was launched at the Department's first-ever national summit on STEM education. YOU Belong in STEM included a new public-private partnership with Beyond100K to strengthen the national STEM educator pipeline. The initiative galvanized 275 national organizations to make commitments to advance key policy goals through actions totaling over $17 million and that will positively impact 12 million students and 100,000 STEM educators.

Arts Education:

Approximately $36 million in funds through the Assistance for Arts Education program is promoting the integration of arts in education, with a focus on students who are underserved and students with disabilities, in particular.

Additionally, $8 million in funds through the Assistance for Arts Education grant program to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts will help to grow large-scale, national-level, high-quality arts education programs and services for children and youth, with an emphasis on serving children from low-income families and children with disabilities, impacting about 1.5 million students and educators annually.

Financial Literacy:

The Department awards more than $1 billion annually to states under the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program to support summer school and afterschool programs, which can include financial literacy programs, alongside other priorities to help students access a wide array of learning opportunities and gain skills that they will need to live thriving lives.

Focus on the Instructional Core:

The Department is working to drive evidence-based supports that center the instructional core—which consists of engaged students, effective teaching, and quality content—through technical assistance, competitive grants, and other federal resources.

To further advance this work, the Department will continue to use the bully pulpit to promote the need for effective, high-quality professional development under the Title II, Part A program, for example, and positive student engagement through Full-Service Community Schools and other programs.

Fiscal Equity for Title I and IDEA Funding:

The Department is working with states to provide technical assistance in using $19 billion in Title I funding to increase academic achievement and graduation rates; support students' mental health; expand access to preschool; and improve teacher recruitment, retention, working conditions, and compensation.

In addition to ongoing monitoring, the Department also is providing support and assistance to states as they work with districts to review their resource allocations and oversee the maintenance of equity and maintenance of effort compliance levers, as well as push for equitable state funding for education.

Additionally, the Department will create new guidance to ensure that states enforce the requirements of the three IDEA state grant programs, an investment of more than $14 billion, to improve outcomes for children and students with disabilities.

Protecting Civil Rights in Schools:

The Office for Civil Rights will continue its civil rights enforcement in schools, including with respect to bullying and harassment, discriminatory discipline based on race and/or disability and/or sex, resource equity in schools, and equal access to rigorous coursework.

Grants and Resources:

  • The Department released a one-pager that highlights the agency’s commitment to advancing equitable access to STEM education nationwide. [PDF, 365K]
  • More than $8 million under the American History and Civics Education-National Activities grant program is helping to promote innovative instruction and learning strategies, and quality professional development in American history, civics, government, and geography.
  • The Department’s Student Engagement and Attendance Center (SEAC) is a dedicated resource for state and local educational agencies as they work to identify evidence-based practices for reducing rates of chronic absenteeism and promoting regular in-school attendance. SEAC offers peer learning opportunities for state and local leaders, delivers webinars and other training featuring nationally recognized content experts, and highlights effective data collection strategies and practices for improving student attendance.
  • $182 million in Education Innovation and Research (EIR) grant awards to 30 school districts, institutions of higher education, and nonprofit organizations is helping to create, develop, implement, or bring to scale evidence-based and innovative approaches to increasing students' academic achievement, with a specific focus on STEM education and student wellness. The EIR program also provides funds to evaluate these efforts.
  • Through the Jacob K. Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Program, the Department is awarding $16.5 million to support coordinated research, demonstration projects, innovative strategies, and other activities to build and enhance the capacity of elementary and secondary schools to identify gifted and talented students and meet their special education needs.