It’s common for new leadership within the U.S. Department of Education (ED) to develop new priorities for ED, such as the proposed list of supplemental priorities for grant programs the Department announced in mid-October this year. These priorities provide guiding incentives for the grant programs that ED administers and, as a result, they have the potential to shape our education system. Unfortunately, this most recent proposal steers the Department’s focus away from issues that are critical to IHEP’s mission.
This week, IHEP sent a letter to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos as a public comment on the list of priorities, responding to the proposal and asking that the Department do a better job of prioritizing three key things: data and evidence, postsecondary access and success, and diversity and equity.
First, the Education Department should prioritize data collection, data security, and appropriate data-use.
In May of last year, IHEP and PostsecData partners published an 11-paper series on ways to improve the national data infrastructure. Just this past September, the final report of the Commission on Evidence-based Policymaking highlighted the fundamental role of data in strengthening federal evidence-building capacity. ED’s current proposal refers to evidence-based strategies, but doesn’t acknowledge the role of data in evidence-building or the need for high-quality data and metrics that would increase transparency and efficiency in policymaking.
Second, the Department should include a priority around postsecondary access and success.
The current proposal highlights the importance of postsecondary credentials for today’s job market, and the array of choices that are theoretically available to prospective college students, but doesn’t address widespread concerns about college affordability or the importance of getting more students both into and through college successfully. These issues of postsecondary access, college affordability, and student outcomes should be square in the sights of education policymakers, just as they are for everyday Americans. Focusing on choice when so many choices are out of reach for good students from low-income and minority backgrounds, without addressing deeper concerns, rings hollow to hard-working Americans who are struggling to get by. Colleges are key to driving intergenerational mobility in the United States, which is foundational to the idea that all Americans should be free to forge their own path, regardless of their social or economic background.
Third, ED must continue to emphasize diversity and equity in education.
We were dismayed to see the proposed priorities place little emphasis on diversity and equity in education. The proposed priorities focus too narrowly on diversity among educators only, and they restrict efforts to create educational opportunities for minorities to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs. Priorities that highlight the benefits of educational opportunities for incarcerated individuals and other high-need students don’t feature in ED’s updated list, either. The Department of Education plays a central role in ensuring that meeting the needs of these underserved individuals in our society is properly incentivized within our education system.
In summation, IHEP’s letter urges Secretary DeVos and her staff to address these oversights, and to send three clear messages:
- We should be using data and evidence to guide policymaking in education.
- Efforts to increase postsecondary access and success have been, and will continue to be, essential to improving Americans’ lives and driving our national economy.
- We expect our education system to respect our nation’s diversity and serve all Americans equitably—especially those from low-income backgrounds, people of color, and other historically disadvantaged populations.
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