It’s Women’s History Month, and this year’s national theme—Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories—honors women of all ages and backgrounds who shape and share the story of America, while expanding our understanding of the human condition and strengthening our connections with each other and our world.
Each January, we have an opportunity to rededicate ourselves to advancing equality, as we honor the life and legacy of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Education is one of the greatest levers to advance equality and empowerment. That’s because with great educators, high expectations, and an excellent, equitable education, all students, of all backgrounds, can do all things they set out to achieve.
Giving all students access to an education that helps them reach their potential is one of the greatest civil rights issues of our time.
Each of our children has limitless potential and unique value. Every day, we must fight for them and their futures. And each of us involved in that work is part of the civil rights movement that Dr. King led.
I’m humbled to be in that movement with you.
And I’m proud that since the President’s first day in office, the Biden-Harris administration has been fighting to dismantle disparities in our public policies, institutions, and communities that take us further from what our country stands for: opportunity for all.
In our first two years, we’ve safely reopened our public schools and taken important steps to address what I call “the ABCs of the teaching profession”—agency, better working conditions, and competitive salaries for our educators.
We’re delivering vital improvements in infrastructure and school safety. We canceled $48 billion in student debt for 1.9 million borrowers, including public servants, Americans with disabilities, and students cheated by colleges that promised them a better life, but failed to deliver. We announced and continue to fight for historic student debt relief for 40 million low-and-middle-income people. In addition to providing funding and calling for reimagined mental health supports in our schools, we’ve launched ambitious new public-private initiatives for recruiting and training new tutors and mentors to help our students feel seen and supported, and for erasing inequities in access to afterschool and summer learning programs.
And we’re intentionally partnering with other federal agencies to reimagine high school, so students have more pathways to earn industry credentials and college credits, and graduate better prepared for careers and higher education.
Throughout this process, we have proudly and unapologetically stood up for students whose rights to an education free from discrimination have been under attack. Our schools are places of inclusion and respecting the differences that make all our students special. That is what makes us unique; that’s what makes us American.
With the President’s leadership and historic support from the American Rescue Plan and the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, we have more funding to do more in education than ever before. These investments and efforts are a down payment on transformational change.
We have a chance to be the generation that truly transforms our education system into one that makes Dr. King’s dream a reality … by working together and by recognizing that all of us are connected.
In a 1968 speech Dr. King said, “[W]e are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. … I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. …”
When we provide our children—regardless of background or circumstance—with a high-quality, rich education, we empower them to be what they can be.
So, especially today and in the days ahead, let’s follow Dr. King’s example of leadership and service, finding ways to give a hand up to others and make a difference in our communities.
Together, let’s work harder than ever to raise the bar for learners of all ages and backgrounds … to reimagine education … and to bring the transformative change that this moment requires and that our students and families deserve.
By the end of this week, more than 62 percent of students across the country will complete their first day of school.
As a teacher, a principal, and a parent, I always loved those first few days – students seeing each other for the first time after summer break, getting to know their teachers, reading a book or participating in a club or a sport that sparked a new passion.
But this year, the joy that students and educators are feeling as they return to in-person learning is mixed with uncertainty and a sense of urgency as a result of the pandemic. As educators, we know in our hearts how important in-person learning is for student success—even before the data emerged on the devastating impact of school building closures during the past 18 months.
Para fines de esta semana, más del 62 por ciento de los estudiantes de todo el país completarán su primer día de clases.
Como maestro, director de escuela y padre, siempre me han gustado los primeros días de clase, porque es cuando los estudiantes se ven por primera vez después de las vacaciones de verano, conocen a sus nuevos maestros, leen sus libros, y se unen a un nuevo club escolar o equipo deportivo.
Pero este año la alegría que normalmente sienten los estudiantes y educadores cuando regresan al aula está ensombrecida por las preocupaciones de la pandemia. Como educadores, entendemos muy bien lo importante que es el aprendizaje en el aula para el éxito de los estudiantes, incluso antes de tener los datos que demuestran el impacto devastador que ha tenido el cierre de las escuelas sobre los estudiantes en los últimos 18 meses.
The teaching of civics and history – an opportunity to better understand our past and how our government works so we can engage in and influence our future – has long provided the foundation for students to be active participants in society and help our nation live up to its highest ideals. These values have been championed over the years by Americans of all backgrounds, and they are deeply embedded in our commitment to both patriotism and progress.
I never could predict what might happen in Mr. O’Neil’s art classes; I just knew I couldn’t wait for the next assignment. Back then I didn’t realize all the ways this dynamic educator, a rare man of color leading our diverse classroom of second graders, was serving as a pioneer and role model for me and my peers in John Barry Elementary School. But I’ll never forget how his teaching made me feel. As a second grader, I remember looking up — watching him encourage, challenge and guide us – and thinking: “I want to be like him.”
To our Nation’s Parents and Students:
I write first, as your new Secretary of Education, to acknowledge the extraordinarily challenging year you’ve endured. Between the health crisis, economic hardship, staunch national division, and the struggle to make progress in learning while apart from teachers and peers, the impact of the pandemic is still very real and will be felt for years to come.