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A Primer: The Seven Priorities of the U.S. Department of Education

President Clinton called for national testing in his State of the Union Address. Discussion about national testing has recently been front-page news -- but testing is only part of the story.

Recent education news has focused on congressional discussion about national testing. Agreement appears hard to come by. President Clinton has threatened to veto an education bill which does not include national testing, one aspect of his education program.

Testing may be the hot news item, but it is only one part of the bigger picture. The United States Department of Education is addressing seven priorities. Each priority works with and builds on the others. The priorities were developed by the department from earlier work, including the National Education Goals of 1989 and the President's "Call to Action" earlier this year.

WHAT ARE THE SEVEN PRIORITIES?

The seven priorities of the U.S. Department of Education (taken from the Department's working document) are:

  • Reading independently and well by the end of the third grade
  • Mastering challenging mathematics, including the foundations of algebra and geometry, by the end of eighth grade
  • By 18 years of age, being prepared for and able to afford college
  • Challenging and clear standards of achievement and accountability for all children and effective strategies for reaching those standards.
  • A talented, dedicated and well-prepared teacher in every classroom
  • Every classroom will be connected to the Internet by the year 2000 and all students will be technologically literate
  • Every school will be strong, safe, drug-free and disciplined

According to the document, "The first three priorities focus on specific results all students should achieve at critical points in their schooling... Priorities four through seven are key strategies to enable students to achieve these results."

PRIORITY ONE:
READING INDEPENDENTLY AND WELL BY THE END OF THIRD GRADE

This priority forms the base for the others because reading becomes more important in the later years of elementary school. "By the fourth grade, we expect children to be good readers so they can then learn the rest of the core curriculum," the document states. The Department of Education has launched the Family Involvement Partnership for Learning and the Read*Write*Now! initiatives to stress the importance of family and public involvement. The Department of Education's activities are designed to "build on and support [state and local] efforts."

The strategy for supporting Priority One involves three simultaneous steps.

  • The America Reads Challenge addresses national literacy. It calls for supporting actively involved parents; quality pre-school opportunities; extra individualized attention from Pre-K through grade 3, where needed; and high quality in-school instruction (K-3). This initiative "strives to provide all children with the reading supports that only some children now have."
  • Research, development, and dissemination of information by the Department of Education will support the America Reads Challenge. The Department will "take advantage of its national voice" both to raise public expectations of education and to enlist public participation in raising expectations. It will also provide information to the public and to educators.
  • A new voluntary national test of fourth grade reading would stimulate change "[b]y showing parents and teachers where individual students stand in relation to rigorous national standards and by demonstrating the kind of work that will be essential for success in the next century. ...And the public will be better able to make sure all young people are mastering the basics because they will have a clear standard against which to judge success."

PRIORITY TWO:
MASTERING CHALLENGING MATHEMATICS, INCLUDING THE FOUNDATIONS OF ALGEBRA AND GEOMETRY, BY THE END OF EIGHTH GRADE

Employers in the United States "have been clear that competency in mathematics, including qualitative and problem-solving skills, is a prerequisite for participation in the current job market," the DOE's priorities document states. Priority Two addresses that need. Students who have not been exposed to meaningful math and science before high school face limited options both in their choice of high school courses and in education and career choices after high school. United States math achievement, compared to the achievement of other countries, decreases between fourth and eighth grade. The Third International Math and Science Study (TIMSS) found that, by international standards, U.S. students are one year behind on math topics taught in other countries. The department's document states "[I]n much of the rest of the industrialized world, including Japan, 100 percent of all eighth graders have taken or are taking algebra." The study also found that U.S. students "learn how to do mathematical operations mechanically while students in other countries can understand and discuss mathematical concepts."

The strategy for supporting Priority Two involves taking two steps.

  • Providing the opportunity to master more rigorous mathematics by building public understanding of and support for challenging mathematics; reinforcing the efforts of parents, educators, business groups, and mathematics groups to help students achieve in mathematics; supporting teachers' efforts to improve instruction; working with the National Science Foundation and other agencies on an interagency task force; and upgrading curriculum in schools.
  • A new voluntary national test of eighth grade mathematics would stimulate change by raising the public's awareness of the more challenging standards all students should meet. Like the fourth grade reading test, the math test would allow parents, teachers, and students a means to compare their performance to national and international standards.

PRIORITY THREE:
BY 18 YEARS OF AGE, BEING PREPARED FOR AND ABLE TO AFFORD COLLEGE

"Priority Three calls for "making two years of college-the 13th and 14th years of education-as universally available for young Americans as the first 12 are today," states the document. This priority recognizes the need of post-high school education to qualify for the new jobs becoming available. Educating parents and students about this necessity and making college affordable for everyone are keys to this third priority.

The Department of Education's strategy for supporting Priority Three involves two critical steps.

  • Helping students and families pay for college is part of the budget agreement. Included are: the biggest increase in Pell Grants in 20 years; $1,500 HOPE Scholarships to make the first two years of college universally available; a 20% tuition tax credit for college juniors, seniors, graduate students and for working Americans pursuing lifelong learning to upgrade their skills; and the use of Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) for educational savings.
  • Changing the ethic about postsecondary education: Think college early. "Students and parents need to embrace the importance of going to college, to give priority to the preparation for college, and to learn what it takes to reach the goal of attending and graduating from college," states the DOE document. "They must be aware of the typical costs of college and their options for paying them. And they must take rigorous courses starting in middle and junior high school all the way through high school so they are prepared academically to enroll and succeed in college." Some school personnel must also change their expectations-to increase their expectations for all students, to expect to prepare all students for college. Teachers, counselors, and administrators will need to provide students with information, encouragement and support as the students tackle courses that are more rigorous.

Changing the existing belief that the need for education after high school is not universal will demand a unified approach from the Department of Education, the education establishment, parents, employers, and the public.

PRIORITY FOUR:
ALL STATES AND THEIR SCHOOLS WILL HAVE CHALLENGING AND CLEAR STANDARDS OF ACHIEVEMENT AND ACCOUNTABILITY FOR ALL CHILDREN AND EFFECTIVE STRATEGIES FOR REACHING THOSE STANDARDS

Progress has been made in raising standards in the United States since 1989. "Forty-eight of the fifty states have content standards of some kind," according to "The Seven Priorities of the U.S. Department of Education." Priority Four addresses "the lack of challenging standards" for some children in the United States. Recent efforts of the Department of Education have supported state reforms and standards that require high achievement for all students. The challenging standards would raise achievement by

  • providing guideposts for what children should know and be able to do.
  • helping parents hold schools accountable by providing clear answers to often-asked questions.
  • leading students to take courses that are more challenging and assume more responsibility.
  • serving as a guide for school personnel and the public.
  • supporting higher student achievement for all children and destroying the belief that some groups of children cannot achieve at high levels.
  • supporting the efforts of teachers and principals to improve curriculum and instruction.

"The Department of Education will continue supporting states', districts', and schools' efforts to address these challenges and strengthen their reforms geared to challenging standards," the document states. Activities will include:

  • Promoting concrete national standards of excellence in 4th grade reading and 8th grade math.
  • Helping states meet Title I's requirement that they have challenging content and performance standards in at least math and English/language arts by the fall of 1997 and high-quality aligned assessments by 2000-2001.
  • Promoting its pending reauthorization proposals for Voc-ed, Adult-ed, and Voc-rehab.
  • Proposing funding increases in (fiscal year) 1998 for Department programs supporting challenging standards.
  • Emphasizing to the public the importance of fixing failing schools.

PRIORITY FIVE:
A TALENTED, DEDICATED AND WELL-PREPARED TEACHER IN EVERY CLASSROOM

"Priority Five is particularly important," the document states, "because the nation will have to hire 2 million teachers in the next decade to accommodate the second baby boom and a retiring teacher force."

A high-quality teaching force is necessary to accomplish the previously discussed priorities. Today many teachers are working without the proper certification or background in their teaching areas.

The strategy for supporting Priority Five includes two steps.

  • Identifying critical areas affecting teacher quality. The Department has identified six areas: teacher recruitment; preservice training for future teachers; licensing; retaining beginning teachers; in-service professional development for existing staff; and teacher incentives and accountability.
  • Identifying how the department can support Priority Five. The Department of Education is supporting activities to stimulate improvement in teacher quality. These activities include: The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards; a Report Card on improving teacher quality; a Title V Task force; existing Department programs; and continued support of research and dissemination of such.

PRIORITY SIX:
EVERY CLASSROOM WILL BE CONNECTED TO THE INTERNET BY THE YEAR 2000 AND ALL STUDENTS WILL BE TECHNOLOGICALLY LITERATE

"As the nation moves toward the next century," the documents states, "a student's ability to learn to higher standards will be inseparable from his or her ability to access and understand technology." The citizen's ability to qualify for jobs and promotions will also be related to technological literacy. The Department's goals, if met, would assure that all students in all schools would be able to access the same information in the same ways.

"The strategy for supporting Priority Six focuses first on identifying four pillars to guide the goal of technological literacy and then pursuing initiatives to support them," according to the document.

Four major pillars guiding the technology literacy agenda are

  • Connect every school and classroom in America to the information highway.
  • Provide access to modern computers for all teachers and students.
  • Develop effective and engaging software and on-line learning resources as an integral part of school curriculum.
  • Provide all teachers the training and support they need to help students learn using computers and the information superhighway.

Identifying department initiatives to bring "technology to the hardest-to-reach and neediest populations, both in the inner city and rural areas" through four major strategies.

  • NetDays connect local schools to the information superhighway.
  • The E-Rate assures sharp discounts for technology installations, connection charges, and monthly service costs to the neediest schools and libraries.
  • The Technology Literacy Challenge Fund will support "private-sector partnerships" that lead to the four pillars (above).
  • Technology Innovation Challenge Grants are available to develop "creative ways to use technology for learning."

PRIORITY SEVEN:
EVERY SCHOOL WILL BE STRONG, SAFE, DRUG-FREE AND DISCIPLINED

"Priority Seven aims to ensure strong and healthy school environments where children can learn best and achieve to their potential," the document states. "School environment encompasses the culture of the school, the physical surroundings of the school, and the school's health and safety." This priority includes the major areas of school construction; safe and drug-free schools; and charter schools. ("The Clinton Administration is committed to increasing the number of charter schools from 400 to 3,000 by the year 2000 by expanding start-up funds; promoting excellence; and ensuring equity," states the document.)

The Department of Education has put their working document, "The Seven Priorities of the U.S. Department of Education (July, 1997)," on the Internet. The Department is asking for input on each of the priorities. You can read the entire working document and share your reactions with the Department of Education by sending an e-mail to 7priorities@ed.gov. Click here for additional information about initiatives that support the DOE's seven priorities.

Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World®
Copyright © 2006 Education World

09/29/1997



 

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