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Our next president’s education agenda

Aggressively raising the bar for our nation’s public schools and students is President Obama’s greatest unsung accomplishment. One of the first decisions for the next President will be whether to expand upon Obama’s legacy – or reject it by surrendering to those regressive interests that seek to roll back accountability for continued improvements in our schools.

No decision will have a greater impact on our nation’s children.  Entrance into the 21st century’s competitive knowledge economy requires access to a quality education.  But too many of our schools aren’t preparing our children for higher education. Families are trapped in school districts that have underperformed for years, with no high quality options available. And many students who do make it to college are unprepared when they get there.

{mosads}President Obama boldly challenged the education status quo in launching the Race to the Top competition, promoting accountability, and expanding public school choice. He coupled those reforms with massive investments in our schools, including a nationwide effort to better recruit, prepare, retain, and reward America’s teachers and school leaders.  And the results are clear: a record number of children graduating high school, improved student achievement in the lowest performing schools, and more resources being directed into classrooms. The next President can work on behalf of our nation’s families to extend this progress –continuing the strategy of coupling resources and reform – or turn back the clock by weakening accountability and reducing the urgency with which we tackle underperformance and inequities.

It’s clear the only candidate prepared to lead on behalf of our kids is Secretary Hillary Clinton whose record includes decades of public service and a lifelong dedication to fighting for children and families. Dating back to her time in Arkansas, Clinton pushed for higher standards and expanded public school choice.  Recently, she made a couple of comments that raise concerns that her support for increased resources and reform for schools and children might be softening, but she has since publicly reassured parents that she continues to embrace these policies. 

Clinton’s proposals to expand access to high-quality preschool and curb the crushing costs of higher education are steps in the right direction, but they are not enough. If Clinton is to embrace and build upon President Obama’s truly progressive education legacy, she must commit to ensuring: 

(i)       a great public school choice for every family,

(ii)      a quality teacher in everyclassroom – well-trained, supported, and ready to teach on day one,

(iii)    the resources to provide a fair chance for everychild to achieve at high levels, and

(iv)    a quality college experience, as well as an affordable one, for every family.  

That agenda is going to require fully funding access to more high quality charter schools, upgrading teacher preparation, continuing incentives for school districts to improve their performance, and making clear to all, including colleges receiving large amounts of federal aid, that results matter.

The lack of constructive ideas on the Republican side is unfortunate and deeply disturbing.  Donald Trump and his party are campaigning to eliminate the Department of Education and roll back the very benchmarks that tell us whether our schools are offering a quality education. They’re selling cheap rhetoric rather than thoughtful policies, never mind badly needed additional resources, and in the process are ignoring the harm their approach would impose on the students who need the most support.

No parent should be forced to send their child to a failing school because there is no public alternative. Between the overwhelming demand – more than 1 million students are on waiting lists to enroll in public charter schools – and proven gains in student learning and success at many charter schools like KIPP, Achievement First, and Success Academies, it’s clear that we must find more ways to invest in these types of schools.

No teacher should enter the teaching force on day one “unprepared for classroom realities,” as over two-thirds school of education and alternative route program graduates report. Open up federal aid beyond the cartel of current teacher preparation providers and hold all teacher education programs accountable for success at the K-12 level.

No school district should be able to supplant basic education funding with what is supposed to be supplemental federal aid for extra needy students. The kids who need the most should get the most.

Finally, no family should be hoodwinked to take on college loan debt and high interest rates with little prospect of degree attainment.  It’s disgraceful that over 100 four-year colleges have six-year graduation rates below 15 percent, and the federal government does virtually nothing to help those schools or protect their students.

The choice for Secretary Clinton is clear.  Move forward on the Obama legacy of high expectations and increased investment for our schools and expanded public school choices for our children – or relegate students to a system that perpetuates inequality and underprepares them for today’s economy. We are confident that she will make the right choice.

Shavar Jeffries is national president of Democrats for Education Reform (DFER).

Tags Donald Trump Hillary Clinton

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