For far too long, there have been invisible walls between K-12, higher education, and workforce systems treated like they’re set in stone. That you need to complete one before moving on to the next. But the reality is that there’s a lot more overlap, and it’s time to Raise the Bar and reimagine high school in this country.
Parents across the country, with different lived experiences, are united by our belief that we can be the catalysts to create transformative change that benefits all children in our public education system. That change can only happen when we commit to truly embracing the power of parent participation, collaboration, and shared responsibility in creating a more equitable and inclusive education system. We are more than just participants in parent-teacher conferences and Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings. We are on the frontline, fighting for and actively changing policies that will positively impact not only our children today, but also future generations of students.
Being on the frontline means refusing to accept the status quo, choosing instead to harness our frustration into a drive for change and standing shoulder-to-shoulder with schools and teachers to face the challenges ahead and ensure children have what they need to be successful. For example, as schools began to reopen following the pandemic, a bus driver shortage in Buffalo, NY threatened to halt access to afterschool programs. The children who rely on buses to go to and from school are our lower-income, children of color – the same children who were most impacted by learning loss and the mental health toll caused by the pandemic. School closures during the pandemic and the subsequent lack of transportation left our children feeling further disconnected and facing more instability. This, in turn, led to more frustration, more fighting at school, and higher school suspension rates at a time when they were already higher than ever before.
In response, parents mobilized other parents, joining forces with the University of Buffalo, as well as local stakeholders and organizations, to form the Buffalo Education Equity Task Force. The task force met weekly with educators and leaders at every level of government to address the transportation crisis and lack of equitable access to afterschool programs. Working together, we arrived at a resolution that ensured equal access and reliable transportation to programs for all our children.
That is transformation with tangible results.
Of course, transformation is an ongoing process and relies on trust as the cornerstone of successful partnerships. By fostering trusting relationships between parents and school leaders, we lay the groundwork for collaboration and positive change. For teachers, this might look like reaching out not only to address challenging classroom behaviors, but also to tell us when our children are achieving and thriving. This seemingly small action can be transformational, bringing perspective and building the trust needed to move mountains. It shows parents that educators see our children as precious, complicated, still-growing human beings, while also allowing them to understand the depth of our commitment and investment.
Parents and families must also do our part. By actively embracing our crucial role in our children’s education, we unlock the key to their academic and personal growth. We must continue partnering with educators to develop strategies that address the needs of our children, ensuring they receive the support and resources necessary to succeed and thrive in life, not just pass through K-12 education. Only by working together can we create an environment that fosters a love for learning, embraces diversity, and promotes equity.
Our commitment to transforming the education system extends beyond our individual experiences. We advocate for systemic changes that benefit all underserved communities. Among other issues, we have pushed for legislation to minimize suspensions by supporting the mental health needs of our students in restorative – rather than punitive – ways. By joining forces with other parents, community leaders, and policymakers, we amplify our collective voice and advocate for policies that promote equity and dismantle systemic barriers.
We strive to create a more inclusive and just education system for all children. Children should be free to learn about, express, and celebrate their identities while also demanding the right to read proficiently and have a pathway to success and opportunity in the future. Working together, we can overcome the historical barriers and biases that have hindered our children’s educational journeys. Through open dialogue, mutual respect, and shared goals, we forge a path toward an inclusive and supportive education system. Our children’s generation and generations to come are counting on us.
Samuel, Pascale and Tonya are parent leaders with National Parents Union (NPU). With more than 1,000 affiliated parent organizations in all 50 states, Washington, DC and Puerto Rico, NPU is an authentically parent-led organization that seeks to channel the power of parents to improve the lives of children, families and community across the United States.
Now that we’re in July, we’ve gone through Mental Health Awareness Month (May) and Pride Month (June). In these two months, we’ve seen so many examples of efforts around the country to support LGBTQI+ youth and provide these students with more access to high-quality mental health support. However, we don’t hear a lot about rural LGBTQI+ students. What is being done to make sure that students from some of our most isolated communities have access to the community and resources needed to flourish?
Being a queer student in a rural area comes with a unique set of challenges. In my experience, to be queer in Wyoming is to be isolated and alienated. We face the challenges of having little to no access to mental health professionals specializing in our needs, having low acceptance and support from peers and/or family, and growing up hearing heartbreaking stories like Matthew Shepard’s.
These factors have led to generally poor mental health and higher suicide rates among queer youth in rural areas. There is a constant struggle of feeling both ignored in the ways we need support and targeted in areas where we are weaker by political forces and societal bias. Wyoming’s LGBTQI+ youth community faces increasing levels of bias as information about the queer community and our many identities becomes more accessible.
While queer students face a lot of struggles, it isn’t all bad. I’ve found that it can be isolating to be queer in Wyoming, but it can still be possible to have a close community with those around you. Our community has built itself to withstand the challenges that come our way and support each other in times of struggle. With youth-centered events put together by Laramie PrideFest and various student clubs centering queerness across Wyoming, many students have the opportunity to connect with and build community if they actively seek it out. This comes in the form of weekends with students from Laramie and Cheyenne, gathering together for conferences, queer history trivia, and events like Pride flag making or book clubs throughout Pride month.
While my journey has had and continues to have its challenges, I am fortunate that I have been able to find community and support from my family. Many of my rural peers have not had access to this support and face an uncertain and often scary future as a result. Work from the U.S. Department of Education to support the mental health of students, particularly queer students in rural America, is incredibly important and potentially lifesaving, along with the Department’s resources like Creating Inclusive and Nondiscriminatory Environments for LGBTQI+ Students in School. There needs to be not only more mental health providers in our rural schools, but also ones who are prepared to support the unique needs of rural LGBTQI+ students. I am eternally grateful to the mental health experts who have supported me on my continuing journey to affirm my identity, and every rural and queer student deserves the same.
Kai Edwards is a sophomore at Laramie High School. He is focused hard on his goal to educate those around him and create a safer, more comfortable world for himself and his peers.
By: David Greenberg & Dr. Linh Dang
The challenges we face in today’s education landscape rarely have simple policy solutions. The youth mental health crisis, insufficient community and family engagement, and lack of access to early childhood learning are only a handful of the complex issues that require innovative strategies that extend beyond the school walls. Thanks to recent investments at the federal and state level, thousands of public schools are transforming into hubs that facilitate community-wide collaboration on these and other challenges by embracing a “community school” framework.
Since February, the U.S. Department of Education has invited national, regional, and local non-profits, foundations, businesses, and community-based organizations to share their bold commitment(s) to advance school sustainability, encompassing infrastructure, health, environmental sustainability education, climate, and environmental justice in America. Over 30 organizations made commitments, ranging from local efforts to national campaigns. These commitments demonstrate the wide range and scope of actions needed to ensure sustainable schools for all students.
By: Loredana Valtierra, U.S. Department of Education Policy Advisor
As schools reopened during the COVID-19 pandemic, indoor air quality arose as a top concern among K-12 education stakeholders. Many school administrators, parents, and others in school communities were wondering: What should we do to address indoor air quality? What will help most when school buildings are old? Do we need HVAC upgrades to comply with the highest recommended standard of air ventilation, and aren’t those expensive?
“Raise the Bar: Lead the World” is the U.S. Department of Education’s call to action to transform P-12 education and unite around what truly works. Raising the bar means recognizing that our nation already has what it takes to continue leading the world. Through initiatives such as the Parent Empowerment Pop-Ups, which are interactive sessions in which parents and representatives from the Department of Education have the opportunity to meet in-person, we are creating opportunities to harness the human and social capital of parents across the nation by inviting them to play a leading role in creating effective and sustainable support systems to meet student needs. Our efforts anchor in the belief that parents desire what is best for their children and are willing and eager to support the dreams of students.
The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to ensuring all students are guaranteed an educational environment free from discrimination on the basis of sex. To that end, amending the Department of Education’s (Department’s) regulations that implement Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX) is a top priority to ensure full protection against sex discrimination for all students in federally funded education programs and activities.
The Title IX proposed regulations that the Department released in July 2022 are historic. They would strengthen protections for students who experience sexual harassment and assault at school, and they would help protect LGBTQI+ students from discrimination. The Department received more than 240,000 public comments on the proposed rule – nearly twice as many comments as the Department received during its last rulemaking on Title IX.Carefully considering and reviewing these comments takes time, and is essential to ensuring the final rule is enduring. That is why the Department is updating its Spring Unified Agenda to now reflect an anticipated date of October 2023 for the final Title IX rule. In addition, the Department is updating its Spring Unified Agenda to reflect an anticipated date of October 2023 for its proposed Athletics regulation, which received over 150,000 comments during its recent public comment period from April 12 – May 15, 2023. The Department is currently reviewing each of these comments, and is grateful for the extensive public participation and comments received in this rulemaking process.
You can access the July 2022 NPRM here, view submitted comments here and find a fact sheet about the July 2022 NPRM here. You can access the Athletics NPRM here, view submitted comments here, and find a fact sheet about the Athletics NPRM here.
By: Amy Loyd, Assistant Secretary for the Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education
On the first work day of April, during which we celebrate Second Chance Month, I had the honor of joining colleagues from the Department of Justice and local and state leadership at an event held at a Miami-Dade College campus located within Everglades Correctional Institution in Florida. The event celebrated the upcoming reinstatement of federal Pell Grant eligibility to incarcerated individuals and was an important reminder of how essential postsecondary education in prison is for students, their families, correctional staff, and our communities. As we come to the close of Second Chance Month, the Department of Education (ED) lifts up and reaffirms our commitment to providing equitable access to and engagement in high-quality education and training for people who are justice-involved, including people who are incarcerated and those returning home from jail and prison. Education has the power to transform lives and communities and open doors to rewarding careers and meaningful community engagement. Research demonstrates that people who obtain their high school equivalencies while in prison increase their earnings by 24-29% within the first year of release, and those who participate in correctional education programs are 13% less likely to recidivate than those who do not. The Department calls upon institutions of higher education (institutions) to join us in celebrating Second Chance Month and treating all people who are justice-involved with dignity and respect by banning the box and equitably mitigating barriers to high-quality postsecondary education.
By Dr. Mary S. Graham, Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College president
As president of a large community college in South Mississippi, I have the privilege of investing in our community and local economy and the responsibility to ensure the training we provide to our students is innovative, relevant, and career-advancing. We partner with local businesses to train quality employees they need while strengthening student employment opportunities here in our region in the information sciences, health care, and maritime.
Our students are trailblazers. We have advanced cybersecurity training so our students find employment protecting the government, business, industry, education, and the military from fraud at the state and national levels. To deliver the highest-quality cyber skills training to our students, we are partnering with Microsoft and the American Association of Community Colleges for the Cyberskills for All initiative, including grant money to further expand this program. The college values our role in community economic development and works hard to foster industry partnerships to play an integral role in student success. We have the distinction of being a Center for Academic Excellence in Cybersecurity—a point of pride for both our college and students who hold our credentials.
Beyond Cybersecurity, every year we engage nearly 200 students in Coding, Computer Networking, Computer Programming, Data Analytics, IT Specialist, and Simulation and Game Design training. These programs are CompTIA, CIW, and Cisco certified, so students have documentation demonstrating they meet or exceed industry standards to work in these high-demand fields—and they do! This year, Cisco chose two students in information technology programs to serve on teams to provide network security and technology troubleshooting at large, national events.
Health care is another high-demand field, and we offer eighteen credit and nine non-credit health care programs. The more than 500 students we train annually through MGCCC’s nursing programs are leading the state and nation in health care training. The Bryant Center at Tradition, home to all our nursing programs, has a state-of-the-art health care simulation center accredited by the Society for Simulation in Healthcare. The Associate Degree Nursing program ranks sixth in the nation and first in the state. The Practical Nursing program ranked as the number one online program in the nation last year. In our health care programs, students have a ninety percent pass rate or better on national exams, demonstrating their hard work in applying their outstanding training.
Additional programs significant to our region include our Kubota Tech and National Coalition of Certification Centers (NC3) training in Maritime Multi-Craft and Maritime Technology programs, training in underwater drone construction, and maintenance in the Unmanned Maritime Systems program. MGCCC also is an official training provider for Commercial Truck Driving through the U.S. Department of Transportation.
At MGCCC we want our students to thrive, and we empower them to do so through high-quality, industry-specific, and certified training, opening matchless opportunities for advancement in their careers. We are proud to vitalize our community through preparing students for success and providing local businesses with highly qualified employees: we build legacies—one career and one generation at a time.
Dr. Mary S. Graham has served as president of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College since 2011. A native of Mississippi, and a proud graduate of MGCCC alumna, she embraces the philosophy of the community college and the rich tradition of excellence in education. Dr. Graham is the recipient of numerous awards and honors and has led at the local, state, and national levels, including as Chair of the American Association of Community Colleges.
By: Frances W. Hopkins is Director of the Recognizing Inspiring School Employees Award, as well as Director of President’s Education Awards Program.
A charge: Shine a Light on the staff that have been designed to have such impact within the school walls. These staff are often not highlighted nor recognized nearly enough. The U.S. Department of Education (ED) is thrilled, along with the RISE Coalition, to honor one extraordinary education support professional annually and to generate appreciation for all classified school employees under the Recognizing Inspiring School Employees (RISE) Award. This is the third year of the award, with nominations from governors and state education agencies, often working together, due by November 1 annually.
By: Roberto J. Rodríguez, Assistant Secretary, Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development
We need a system that’s inclusive, that delivers value, and that produces equitable outcomes. We need transparency in data more now than ever before.– Secretary Miguel Cardona
The U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard is a free online tool to help students of all ages, families, educators, counselors, and other college access professionals make data-informed decisions when choosing a college or university to attend. Through an open and easy-to-use website, the Scorecard supports students on their pathway to college and future careers by increasing the transparency of information that will help them understand the benefits of a higher education, such as college costs, student debt, graduation rates, admissions test scores and acceptance rates, student body diversity, post-college earnings, and much more.