In his speech, Duncan called for Congress to improve access to high-quality preschool in the law. He also announced that President Obama will include an extra $2.7 billion in his budget proposal for schools, including $1 billion for schools that serve the most vulnerable children.

Duncan also proposed new steps to reduce the burden of testing and test preparation on classroom time and to limit unnecessary testing in schools – without sacrificing annual statewide assessments that give educators and parents the information they need to help every child be successfu­­l. Duncan also pushed for more support for states and districts that pursue bold innovations and act on evidence about what works.

Duncan called for Congress to ensure that funds are distributed among schools so that all students–regardless of zip code–have access to excellent teaching and resources like technology, instructional materials and safe facilities.

Duncan said educators deserve fair, genuinely helpful systems for evaluation and professional growth that identify excellence and include measures of student learning–as part of multiple measures like classroom observations by peers and school leaders, additional professional growth opportunities, parent and student feedback, commitment to the school community and professionalism. And he called to modernize the teaching profession by amending the law to include improved preparation, support, resources and pay, while also recognizing the work of teachers and leaders in leading dramatic, transformational change.

America has seen progress for historically underserved students in recent years under a closer, more flexible federal partnership with states. High school graduation rates are at an all-time high (80 percent), dropout rates are at historical lows and more than 1 million additional black and Hispanic students have enrolled in college. Still, Duncan said, millions of children lack access to quality preschool, disadvantaged children have less access to qualified and experienced teachers and black and Hispanic students lag in access to Advanced Placement courses.

“Let me be clear: if we walk away from responsibility as a country–if we make our national education responsibilities optional–we would turn back the clock on educational progress,” Duncan said. “For the sake of our national promise and the health of our economy, every single young person should be able to look forward to a future that holds promise. And when so many states and districts have put in place the building blocks to sustain educational progress, when so many educators are working so hard to raise the bar for their students and support them in getting there, reversing course would be a terrible mistake.”

Material from a press release was used in this report.

About the Author:

Laura Ascione

Laura Ascione is the Managing Editor, Content Services at eSchool Media. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland's prestigious Philip Merrill College of Journalism. Find Laura on Twitter: @eSN_Laura