Posts Tagged ‘ arne duncan ’

Pushing For More Preschool

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan held a small round table for editors in Washington D.C. Monday, and I was among those in attendance. Duncan invited us to discuss what he and President Obama hope will be their biggest legacy in the area of education: the vast expansion of public preschool availability for America’s children. In particular, the proposed initiative is designed to reach underprivileged kids who have no other quality early-education option. “The average child from a disadvantaged community enters school 12 to 18 months behind,” says Duncan, who adds that the U.S ranks 25 out of 29 industrialized nations in offering quality public preschool. Only 28 percent of 4-year-olds are enrolled in state-funded programs. And, sadly, the trend appears to be headed in the wrong direction. According to a study released yesterday by the National Institute for Early Education Research, state funding for pre-K fell by more than $500 million dollars last year, the largest one-year drop ever. Funding has fallen more than 20 percent during the past decade.

To change that, Duncan is proposing a $75 billion plan over the next decade to support states that expand their preschool offerings, at first to those that live near the poverty line but also, eventually, to middle-income families as well. The Administration has proposed funding the program with a 94-cent tax on tobacco products, in part because he cites projections that the added tariff will prevent nearly 250,000 kids from developing a smoking habit during that time.

At a time when Washington is mired in legislative gridlock, the preschool plan seems ambitious at the least. But Duncan believes it is essential to help our nation make up ground with other countries so that our kids are well-prepared for school and ready to succeed in an ever-more-competitive global economy. Duncan cites surveys showing that for every dollar that goes into preschool and early-childhood education, there’s a 7-to-1 return in the future payoff. “It’s the best bang for an educational buck,” he says. Children who attend quality preschool enter kindergarten with better prereading and social skills, stronger vocabularies and math knowledge, and a greater chance of graduating from high school and becoming productive members of the work force later on. That’s why the Federal government would pay states up to 90 percent of the preschool expansion costs at first (though that figure would diminish over time). In return, the program would require that the pre-K programs be high-quality and, ideally, full-day, taught by certified teachers and with an instructor-to-student ratio of 10 to 1 or less. Can Duncan and the Administration rally Congress to allocate the money and convince states to play ball? Duncan concedes it’s a challenge. But as he and other supporters are quick to point out, this is not a Democratic or Republican issue. It is an American issue.

What do you think—would you support a tobacco tax to be used to expand quality public pre-K programs?

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The White House: Committed to Transforming and Elevating America’s Educational Standards

Wednesday, June 20th, 2012

White HouseSecretary of Education Arne Duncan introduced the first White House Online Summit on Education yesterday morning, to talk about the current state of America’s education and the improvements the Obama Administration is making.

The summit took place on White House grounds, and I had the opportunity to be part of a diverse group of online media outlets that focused parenting, education, financial, and current news.

Secretary Duncan kicked off his speech with some sobering statistics: The U.S. currently ranks #16 in college education rates around the world (down from #1), and our country has a 25% college drop-out rate, with more than 1 million kids leaving school with no employable skills to find a job.  And these lack of skills is increasingly a bigger crisis than our job crisis, impeding young adults from finding and keeping good jobs.

To help with the skills crisis, there is increased investment in long-term early childhood education, especially on K-12 reform for the next 15-20 years.  Launching and investing $600 million behind the Race to the Top initiative has been one solution to help a future generation learn basic skills, such as reading, before reaching kindergarten.  Also, 46 states have chosen to raise their educational standards, and more support been given to the bottom 5% of schools in the U.S., which has increased reading and math skills and decreased violence and discipline problems.

The Secretary also acknowledged that the No Child Left Behind Act is essentially “broken” and has caused states to “dumb down” academic standards during the past few years.  The the White House is now partnering with 20 states to provide waivers and “empower” them to be more innovative with educational plans.  Another goal is to train and retain talented teachers, to “elevate and strengthen” 1 million new professionals in the next 4-6 years.  All this will work toward a challenge President Obama has set: to have the U.S. be the world leader in higher education by 2020.

After Secretary Duncan’s brief, we had a few more policy briefings by other staff members from the U.S. Dept. of Education and the White House Domestic Policy Council.  Some interesting facts:

  • The starting age of the education gap is 3 years old.
  • It’ll take at least two years to overhaul No Child Left Behind and redirect focus on Race to the Top.
  • At this year’s second annual White House Science Fair, a marshmallow projector by 14-year-old Joey Hudy stole the show.

For parents concerned about the education of their school-age kids, look out for more progress to be made on the Race to the Top initiative and the Educate to Innovate campaign that focuses on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). Watch a video with Secretary Duncan from yesterday’s summit:

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