“Let us in education dream of an aristocracy of achievement rising out of a democracy of opportunity.” Thomas Jefferson
In 2010 President Obama announced a goal for the United States to become the world leader in the production of postsecondary graduates by the year 2020. Despite the goal’s positive intent, many recognize that the nation is not on target to meet it without urgent action to bring our policies, practices and investments into line with the goal’s underlying expectations. This will require adopting an aggressive and comprehensive approach to education reform with an emphasis on improving equity of opportunity, quality and access so that all children receive a substantive opportunity to learn that empowers them to become successful adults. The focus on equity of opportunity, quality and access is mandatory given powerful trends that are currently reshaping the national and global landscape.
Despite some areas of progress, in many ways the United States presents less opportunity today than it has for more than two generations. The economic crisis, complicated by the jobs and housing crises, a worldwide recession and long-term budgetary challenges, raises the prospect that today’s young Americans may be the first generation since the Great Depression to find the American Dream economically out of reach. And, judging by recent gridlock among prominent U.S. political institutions, they can no longer take access to a functional democracy for granted. Simply stated, America’s standing in the global marketplace has been dramatically altered by a new era of global competition that has shifted manufacturing jobs that require less education overseas while increasing the need for a highly functional democracy and highly educated, highly skilled workers in sectors strongly influenced by science, engineering, and technology at home.
Many experts agree that a robust system of quality public education is essential for an educated and productive citizenry, a functioning and responsive political system, and a robust economy. One of the most important variables determining the future prospects of the U.S. as global leader is whether we cultivate and grow the human capital necessary to meet and exceed the demands of the 21st century economy and a thriving democracy. The time has arrived to restore those students who have been left behind, provide broader access to the systemic components that work, and modernize our public education system to address 21st century realities.
The declining international performance of all U.S. students and the growth in populations that have been disadvantaged by systemic educational inequities means that there is an urgent need to invest in a comprehensive set high yield evidence-informed strategies that increase the quantity of students who succeed at every stage of the educational pipeline. Furthermore, the pace of implementing these evidence-informed reforms must be accelerated, not only to advance our national 2020 goal, but also because delaying action will force the nation to dig out of a nearly impossible deeper hole—at significantly greater expense—to achieve the same results in the future. The time to act in a big way is now!
Toward this goal, this document is designed to serve as a blueprint for comprehensive education reform. Different from most calls for reform, it considers the educational pipeline in its entirety—from early childhood through postsecondary attainment—and offers evidence-informed strategies to boost access, quantity and quality at every stage. The strategies offered in this blueprint provide policymakers, school officials, education advocates, and business and community leaders with the guidance they need to pursue policy and practice-based changes that will unleash the power and potential of our nation’s youth; a fundamental component of America’s economic engine and its most precious resource.
This document builds upon the Schott Foundation’s Opportunity to Learn framework which embraces four core elements that make students more likely to achieve state proficiency standards, graduate from high school, and have higher postsecondary education attainment rates. The core elements are: 1) universal early childhood education, 2) highly qualified and effective teachers, 3) college preparatory curricula, and 4) equitable instructional resources. Without systematically providing equitable access to these elements it is virtually impossible to sustain a high-performing educational system that provides a critical mass of the students a fair and substantive opportunity to learn.
Many of the recommendations in the blueprint are intended to reflect and support the efforts of foundations, non-profits and community-based coalitions that have been working diligently to tackle the most intractable aspects of the current system. These include:
- The Pew Center on the States Pre-K Now Campaign, the Campaign for Grade Level Reading coalition, The Broader, Bolder Approach to Education, Dignity in Schools Campaign, and Lumina Foundation's Big Goal; and America's Promise Civil Marshall Plan.
These and other initiatives offer many important insights that should be advanced as a part of a collective, comprehensive effort to build the public and political will for investing in transformational systemic reforms.
This document is organized by sections that correspond to each stage of the educational pipeline while also providing guidance on foundational crosscutting strategies that apply to more than one educational level. It is important to note that this document is not intended to be a research paper or report. Rather, it points to clear evidence-informed strategies and policies that must be pursued on a larger scale, and at every stage of the educational pipeline, in order to produce more post-secondary graduates prepared to succeed in life, work and citizenship.