News from National Convention—Education Secretary Arne Duncan

At the 2015 National PTA Convention, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan unveiled a set of rights that outlined what families should be able to expect for their children’s education. These three key rights aimed at three pivotal stages of a child’s life are:

  • Free, quality preschool;
  • High, challenging standards and engaging teaching and leadership in a safe, supportive, well-resourced school; and
  • An affordable, quality college degree.

The announcement complements work by the Education Department to reach out to parents—from the Dual Capacity-Building Framework for Family-School Partnerships, to tools that can help families and students select the best colleges for their needs, to support of Parent Training and Information Centers and Resource Centers.

Parents are critical assets in education. Beginning in 1990, Dr. Tony Bryk and his team conducted a 15-year study across hundreds of elementary schools in Chicago where he discovered five features of a school that determine whether or not learning can thrive:

  • a clear vision for instruction;
  • a staff with the capacity to see that vision through;
  • a student-centered learning environment;
  • skilled leadership; and
  • active and engaged parents.

Schools that contained all five features at once were 10 times more likely to improve than schools that didn’t. Dr. Bryk also identified a “special sauce” that emerged whenever you mixed all five features together thoroughly: a deep wellspring of trust between parents and educators.

When it comes to making the set of rights announced today a reality for every child, few voices will be as powerful as those of parents. Often parents want to be involved in their child’s education, but they aren’t sure of the best ways to support their child or the right questions to ask to ensure their child is getting the education she deserves. The set of rights is meant to help empower parents to demand a world-class education for their children.

 

Free Quality Preschool

All children need access to high-quality preschool to prepare them for kindergarten and to close opportunity and achievement gaps. According to the Department of Education’s recent report, A Matter of Equity: Preschool in America, of the approximately 4 million 4-year olds in the United States, about 60 percent—or nearly 2.5 million—are not enrolled in publicly funded preschool programs, including state preschool programs, Head Start, and programs serving children with disabilities. Even fewer are enrolled in the highest-quality programs.

There have been significant investments in early learning through the Early Learning Challenge and the Preschool Development Grants programs. The grants lay the groundwork for states to be prepared for the proposed Preschool for All program. President Obama has asked Congress for an increase of $500 million for Preschool Development Grants to expand this program to serve more children as part of the President’s FY16 budget request.

 

High Standards, Engaging Teaching and Leadership in a Safe, Supportive, Well-Resourced School

Every child deserves to attend a school that will prepare them for success in college and careers. That means parents have the right to know whether their child is on track to success, with an accurate measuring stick, and assurance that their child is held to the same high expectations regardless of where they live in the state.

In elementary and secondary school, our nation’s students also have a right to high standards and engaging teaching and leadership in a safe, supportive, well-resourced school. And, across the country, we’re making important progress. This year, more than 40 states are moving forward with high academic standards and next-generation assessments that can better help teachers and parents understand what students are learning. Graduation rates are at an all-time high.

Parents can play a critical role in ensuring that we continue on a path to increase access to an excellent education for every student. Every parent wants to ensure that their child is engaged in learning and supported, and that means teachers and principals need ongoing feedback and support. States have developed unique plans to ensure that their schools improve the quality of instruction, increase equity, and close achievement gaps. Secretary Duncan has called on Congress to replace the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB), with a strong, bipartisan law that delivers on the promise of equity and real opportunity for every child.

 

Affordable, Quality College Degree

As they prepare to graduate from high school, students need access to affordable, quality post-secondary education or training. Creating a clear path to the middle class and ensuring our nation’s economic prosperity means opening the doors of higher education to more Americans. Today, three-quarters of the fastest-growing occupations require education and training beyond a high school diploma. A generation ago, America led the world in college attainment of young adults; now, we rank twelfth. The President has laid out a path to restore our world leadership in college completion and to ensure that every student has access to an affordable and high-quality postsecondary education.