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5 education issues that should be on the presidential candidates’ radar


Many say the presidential candidates’ debates and discussions lack a focus on education—here are the issues the candidates should research

The presidential campaign and debates among candidates have shed light on the issues most important to the U.S. public—and among those issues is K-12 education, from new laws and policy, equity and broadband internet access, to open educational resources.

College affordability has been a topic of discussion, and some Republican candidates have argued over Common Core State Standards and even flirted with the idea of abolishing the U.S. Department of Education. But are the candidates really talking about K-12 education? Many education stakeholders would say no.

Here, we offer a handful of K-12 education issues, along with important developments pertaining to each issue, which should be on the presidential candidates’ radar and present in their debates as November nears.

1. New ESSA laws and moving away from NCLB

“The bipartisan reform of No Child Left Behind was an important start, and together, we’ve increased early childhood education, lifted high school graduation rates to new highs, and boosted graduates in fields like engineering,” President Obama said of ESSA during a brief mention of education in his Jan. 12 State of the Union address.

The Every Student Succeeds Act gives states the power to determine their own academic goals and measure progress toward those goals–a departure from NCLB, which aimed for 100 percent math and reading proficiency by 2014. States or districts will be in charge of determining how to improve persistently underperforming schools. Previously, NCLB gave the federal government a strong voice in what happened to those schools.

Next page: Four more K-12 education issues for presidential candidates to discuss

Ed-tech stakeholders have for several years lobbied for a dedicated ed-tech funding stream, which hasn’t existed since EETT was zero-funded. Title IV, Part A, of ESSA changes that—sort of. Called Student Support and Academic Enhancement Grants, the program combines several priorities such as Advanced Placement, physical education, school counseling, and educational technology into a single state block-grant program. States then would pass these funds on to their local school systems.

2. Broadband, digital equity

In 2013, President Obama unveiled ConnectED, a new initiative intended to connect 99 percent of America’s students to the internet through high-speed broadband and high-speed wireless within five years. In December 2014, the Federal Communications Commission modernized the federal E-rate program to meet that goal. That move increased the annual E-rate funding cap by $1.5 billion, from $2.4 billion to $3.9 billion.

School districts across the nation have noted that broadband affordability and district budgets are two of their top barriers to better school connectivity. Still, some states are moving to boost broadband speed and availability.

Often, state governors hold the key to kicking off successful broadband plans in their state school districts, said Evan Marwell, founder and CEO of the nonprofit EducationSuperHighway, which works to connect schools with high-speed broadband.

The EducationSuperHighway team helps governors identify the problems and obstacles around high-speed school internet connectivity, and then helps each governor formulate a plan to get fiber or a scalable connection to all schools lacking one, to put wi-fi in every classroom, and to make school broadband more affordable.

In January 2016, EducationSuperHighway launched a beta version of Compare & Connect K-12, an online tool that makes the internet services that schools receive more transparent. School district technology directors and superintendents can view broadband pricing and bandwidth information for school districts across the country.

3. College, career-readiness, CTE

More and more schools are evaluating what it means to be truly college- and career-ready, and are adjusting their education models accordingly.

For instance, Rancho Campana High School in California divides itself into separate learning academies, designed to immerse students in one of three distinct career fields: arts and entertainment, health services, and applied engineering.

And at the Kankakee School District in Illinois, students as young as preschool-age have repeated exposure to career possibilities. This exposure, research shows, helps students begin to expand those career definitions and begin to think about their futures.

With more studies showing that certain sectors will be in high demand in 5-10 years, the candidates should focus on how all students–not just those in affluent school districts with access to the latest technology tools–will be exposed to college and career possibilities consistently, and in a manner that encourages those students to believe that their life goals are attainable.

4. Open Educational Resources (OER)

Open educational resources, commonly called OER, are growing in popularity, with more and more educators creating OER and sharing them with colleagues in their school, district, and beyond. Many states have created OER repositories where educators can browse through existing OER or upload their own to share with others.

Ed-tech groups rallied for more funding to support OER, calling for policies to support OER use. Recently, the U.S. Department of Education launched a campaign to encourage schools to “go open” and use OER. As part of the campaign, the department will propose a new regulation requiring all copyrightable intellectual property created with Department of Education grant funds to have an open license.

5. STEM, STEAM, STREAM–what’s what, and is it all important?

From STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), to STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math), to STREAM (science, technology, reading, engineering, arts, and math), a skills in science, technology, and math—and integrating those topics throughout the curriculum in areas such as English/language arts and social studies—remains a top focus among educators.

Educators can use a STEAM approach to build deeper understanding within lessons, and technology can be woven in to reinforce concepts and boost engagement.

More STEAM-oriented tools have hit the market for educators and students in recent months, too.

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Laura Ascione

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