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10 high-need education policy areas for 2017

As a new administration takes over, federal and state policymakers should keep these important policy areas in mind.

Competition for jobs is increasing thanks to an ever-growing global economy. Today’s students are preparing for jobs that, in some cases, do not yet exist. In order to ensure students’ college and career readiness, the K-12 and higher education systems must be strengthened, according to a policy paper from New America, a non-partisan think tank.

Citing low student engagement, high dropout rates and gaping opportunity differences between high-income and low-income groups, New America’s Education Policy program identified a list of 10 essential education policy actions for the Trump administration, Congress, and state and local policymakers.

The education policy brief highlights actions for state leaders in particular, and encourages policymakers at that level to be aware of these 10 issues and look for opportunities to improve practice.

(Next page: 10 education policy concerns for lawmakers)

1. Expand access to quality early learning. Research consistently identifies early learning programs as essential to success in later life. States can support families with young children by improving access to child care and the quality of teaching and learning in those facilities. States that require school districts to offer full-day kindergarten and provide funding to help districts could be rewarded.

2. Smooth transition points from pre-K through higher education and into the workforce. States could develop professional learning systems that link early childhood teachers with teachers in early grades. They also might look into providing strong incentives for PreK-12 systems and higher-ed systems to align academic expectations and policies.

3. Transform the preparation and ongoing development of educators. Promote a focus on meaningful professional learning throughout the educator pipeline, and promote educator preparation programs and in-service professional learning systems that prepare educators for the digital age.

4. Align research and development to educational practice. Make publicly-funded educational materials freely available through open use policies that allow users to view content, as well as download, copy, keep, analyze, and reuse it for any purpose.

5. Build an infrastructure for supporting dual language learners. Use grants from the Office of English Language Acquisition to support the creation of alternate career pathways that help multilingual paraprofessionals and teacher assistants become fully-licensed teachers.

6. Improve access to and linkages between education and workforce data while protecting student privacy. Improve data access and quality in higher education by collecting and releasing additional, more specific institutional data on graduation rates, loans, and student living expenses.

7. Hold “bad actors” in the higher education system accountable. Overhaul the Education Department’s college gatekeeping standards to keep unscrupulous schools out of federal student aid programs to begin with.

8. Simplify and target financial aid to the students who need it most. Improve federal loans by switching to interest-free federal loans with total cost of loan displayed up front, and eliminating Grad PLUS loans and adding an ability-to-repay metric to Parent PLUS loans.

9. Repair the federal-state partnership in higher education. Require colleges to enroll a minimum number of low-income students and charge all students no more than their official Expected Family Contribution, in exchange for federal funding from a new block grant program financed by repurposing poorly-targeted and ineffective higher education tax credits.

10. Connect education and the labor market by moving beyond the “skills gap.” Provide more support for adult and non-traditional learners by expanding funding for, and access to, adult education and
English-as-a-Second-Language programs, particularly for immigrants and school dropouts.

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Laura Ascione

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