By John B. King Jr. and Arne Duncan
From a young age, we both learned that education has the power to change lives.
On the Southside of Chicago and in New York’s borough of Brooklyn, we saw how students’ lives were lost or saved, depending on whether or not great schools, teachers or responsible adults were there to help them. We took with us these life lessons throughout our separate careers, and to Washington D.C., where serving our country as Secretary of Education has been the greatest honor in each of our lives.
In the past eight years, public education has made significant strides in becoming the system our students deserve. We made real progress at every stage of the education pipeline, from increasing the percentage of four-year-olds enrolled in preschool to raising high school graduation rates and college enrollment rates.
We issued proactive and comprehensive guidance to schools, districts, and states to ensure the educational and civil rights of our most vulnerable students. Our Office for Civil Rights pursued an unprecedented caseload, entering into more than 5,000 resolution agreements from preschool to college. Efforts to chip away at the achievement gap were married with a focus on closing opportunity gaps. Federal grant funding for additional learning resources, services, and opportunities – like programs to expand advanced placement courses or provide school-based wraparound services – was consistently prioritized for historically underserved students.
Not least of all, we helped shepherd in the Every Student Succeeds Act, which requires — for the first time — that all students in America be taught college- and career-ready academic standards. A broken federal education law that was loose on goals but tight on means is now replaced with one that sets realistic but ambitious goals while giving states and districts more ways to meet them.
We made progress because we spent every day motivated by one question: What are we doing for students?
Education44 will secure the legacy of our efforts to provide all students with a high-quality education. It will be a space to follow the work that goes unfinished. Many of our plans to build a stronger pipeline from the classroom to career are left in limbo. The updated federal education law will be further defined leading up to the 2017-18 school year when states implement new accountability and intervention systems. Innovative pilot programs to rethink testing and pursue better education funding formulas are yet to take shape. Congress has largely left it to states to continue the momentum in expanding high-quality early childhood education. And the cost of college continues to rise.
Now, we find ourselves asking: What does the future look like for students?
Students will only pursue paths that live up to the greatness of this country if they are given the opportunity to do so. It is up to leaders at every level – local, state and federal – to create opportunities worthy of their potential.
No matter what side of the political aisle you sit on or at which level you influence education, this platform will be for those who wish to spotlight honest, fact-based efforts to serve students. Stories, ideas, and efforts in achieving an equal public education for all students are welcome here at Education44.
John B. King, Jr. was the U.S. Secretary of Education from Jan. 1, 2016 – Jan. 20, 2017
Arne Duncan was the U.S. Secretary of Education from Jan. 21, 2009 – Dec. 31, 2015