​What’s Happened in Education

Opinion | Policy & Government

​What’s Happened in Education

By Betsy Corcoran     Jan 8, 2017

​What’s Happened in Education
Education Secretary John King reads to children.

Eight years ago, not only was the US economy in meltdown but the American public education system looked pretty wobbly, too. There were a host of worrisome dimensions including floundering graduation rates, sliding academic achievement, crumbling schools—all steadily eroding hope that public education could be a path for American children to build a strong life.

Although a dizzying number of problems confronted Barack Obama as he took the office of the President, education was on his mind and in his words from the moment go. And that personal commitment made all the difference.

This past week, President Obama shared a graceful letter about the accomplishments of his administration. He also asked his Cabinet officials, including Secretary of Education, John King, to write “exit letters,” summing up their departments’ work.

Again, education remains on the President’s mind, even as he runs through other powerful economic and political accomplishments. He notes that the US high school graduation rate is now at all time high of 83 percent, and college graduation is up, too. There are more programs for supporting those seeking a non-college path, including apprenticeships and job training programs.

King’s 14-page letter (here) offers a fine-grain account of the Department of Education's many programs, initiatives and successes. To name a few: Financial support for those pursuing college is more available. The drop out rate for 16- to 24-year olds is also down. And one hint that positive trend may well continue: 31 states have increased enrollment in state-funded preschools, putting those students in an even better position to succeed in school.

And yet the invisible theme through it all may be the most important: the rock-solid, literally life-long commitment, that President Obama and the people who have served in the Department Education have made to building the American education system into a vibrant, evolving and relevant part of our world.

King offers dozens of examples in his letter of ways that the administration tried to put students first—from supporting preschools, to boosting Pell grants to hosting science fairs and film festivals at the White House and so on. They also looked for ways to support teachers, starting with protecting teacher jobs in the Recovery Act, by providing money for professional growth, and by setting up training and grant programs. They found common threads among people with sometimes widely divergent interests—from policy makers to philanthropists to company leaders and technologists—and coaxed them into jointly supporting education. And they tried to give voice to those who all too often went unheard and unseen by the conventional power structure.

Anyone in school knows that real learning comes through practice and applied effort. These letters illustrate how President Obama and his team committed, again and again, to building the kind of education opportunities that we we all want for our nation's children.


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