Progressive Education Agenda

Education is a fundamental civil right in the United States of America. Our K-12 public education system, however, remains a work in progress and deep and disturbing opportunity gaps persist in our country. We need a progressive reformation of our public education system that takes a comprehensive approach to achieving equity. This approach must consider both the instruction our children receive and the conditions they need – in and out of the classroom – to succeed.

I. Defend and recommit to public education

All students have a fundamental right to a high-quality education. Public schools have been the bedrock of the American education system. They have created communities, fostered social cohesion, and remain one of the only sources of mobility for working families across unique backgrounds. In the face of political and profit-based ideologies that seek to dismantle our public education system, we must recommit to defending and investing in our public schools as universally accessible and inherently democratic institutions. 

II. Expand access to early childhood education

Research shows that the fastest brain development occurs between birth and age five. Early childhood education programs ensure that young children are developing emotionally, socially, and ready to enter kindergarten – all of the components that will lead to future success and improving education outcomes. All children deserve an equal chance to succeed and high-quality early childhood education and child care helps level the playing field so that kids from lower income and middle income homes have the same opportunities to grow and learn. Therefore, we must strengthen and increase access to early childhood education and child care programs so that more children are being served, ensuring all children have running start before school.

III. Ensure our K-12 public education system is providing equitable access to quality education and resources for all students, including the most disadvantaged 

Resource equity 

While adequate funding for our K-12 public education system is essential, alone it is not enough. We need equitable funding, and equitable does not necessarily mean equal because some students need more support than others.K-12 funding should be allocated based on which schools and students need it the most, addressing inequities and deficiencies such as overcrowded classrooms, outdated textbooks, and aging facilities. 

Key Policies

  • State support – Federal funds must be used to provide additional support, not to allow states to redirect their own education funding elsewhere. Congress must preserve “Maintenance of Effort” and “Supplement not Supplant” requirements that help ensure that states and localities are investing in education.
  • Title I Schoolwide Programs – We must preserve the current policy that only schools with 40% or more low-income families may implement schoolwide Title I programs.
  • No Portability or Vouchers – We will defeat proposals to make funding for disadvantaged students portable or to offer private school vouchers, which shifts funding away from the highest-poverty public schools that need the most support. 
  • Charter Schools – We should return to the original intent of the charter school system, which is to serve as incubators of innovation where best practices are developed for our public schools. In addition, we must require far more accountability and transparency from charter schools than is currently mandated.

Serving all students

K-12 schools must have the funding and resources they need to serve the most vulnerable students, including those with disabilities, the growing population of English learners, and foster and homeless youth. 

Key Policies

  • Separate, Targeted Funding – We will maintain dedicated and separate funding streams for English learners, migratory children, neglected and delinquent students, and rural education.
  • Educator Training – We will provide adequate funding to states and school districts for professional development for educators on teaching English learners, students with disabilities (including learning disabilities), foster and homeless youth, and other vulnerable populations. 
  • Appropriate Accommodations – We will require states and school districts to offer appropriate accommodations, during instruction and assessment, to English learners, students with disabilities, foster and homeless youth, and other vulnerable populations.
  • Data Disaggregation – States should be required to collect and report disaggregated K-12 data. This data should be disaggregated by subgroup as currently defined under ESEA , but also disaggregated by AAPI subgroups and by English language proficiency, as well as cross-tabulated by gender. This data provides important diagnostic information for educators so that they can help their students reach their full potential, but should not be used to expand the number of schools negatively impacted by the existing test-and-punish system. 

Serving the Whole Child

We support and encourage the expansion of wrap-around services in our K-12 schools, including those that address family engagement; physical, dental, and mental health services; child nutrition; and extended learning opportunities. 

Key Policies

  • Community Schools – Community schools unite teachers, families, members of the community, and service providers (which may include health departments and hospitals, institutions of higher education, and non-profits dedicated to serving children and communities)  to address both academic and non-academic needs of students and neighborhoods. Congress should provide funding to expand this model nationwide. 
  • Health Services – We should provide funding to incentivize schools to provide physical, dental, and mental health services to their students and families.
  • Child Nutrition – We must reauthorize our nation’s child nutrition law. That reauthorization must maintain current nutritional standards, while expanding access to breakfast and summer meals.  

Safe and Welcoming Schools

States and school districts must be required to provide a safe, welcoming, and healthy environment for all students. 

Key Policies

  • Suspension and Expulsion Alternatives – We should fund programs that provide alternatives to out-of-school suspensions and offer meaningful education opportunities for students. In addition, we should encourage schools to replace zero-tolerance policies with restorative justice and fairer enforcement. 
  • Bullying Prevention – Schools should have the necessary resources to implement lesson plans focused on identifying and preventing bullying (including cyberbullying) and provide resources and guidance to parents. 
  • Recognizing Abuse – Educators must receive training that helps them better recognize signs of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse in their students.

IV. Ensure our K-12 public education system is preparing our students for college or a career

College and Career-Ready Standards

Public K-12 curricula should be aligned with common, college and career-ready standards.

Key Policies 

  • Meaningful Standards – K-12 public schools, institutions of higher education, and industries must collaborate to identify standards that, when achieved, prepare students for college without need for remediation, or for direct entry into the workforce.
  • Back-mapping – K-12 public school curricula must be back-mapped so that each year of school takes students a step closer to the end goal of being college or career-ready.

Engaging Curricula

States, districts, and schools should have the flexibility and resources to develop well-rounded, engaging curricula.

Key Policies

  • Deeper Learning – We should incentivize states and districts to emphasize project-based learning, investigation and experimentation, critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, and collaboration.
  • Variety – States and districts should have the necessary funding to introduce or expand access to classes such as music and arts, foreign languages, civics and government, economics, history, geography, and physical education and health.

High School Redesign

We should encourage innovative models and methods to improve graduation rates and ensure students meet college and career-ready standards. 

Key Policies

  • Earning College Credit: We should provide funding to create and expand models designed to allow students to earn college credit while still in high school, such as dual enrollment, concurrent enrollment, and early college high school programs.
  • STEAM Education: Jobs in science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEM) will continue to grow at a much faster pace than jobs in non-STEAM fields. We must strengthen our investment in STEAM education.

Career and Technical Education (CTE)

Providing high school students with real-world training and education, particularly in STEAM fields, will prepare them for postsecondary education and the workforce. 

Key Policies

  • Access – We must ensure that all populations have access to CTE, particularly the most underserved students.
  • Partnerships – Secondary schools, college and universities, and private industry should form partnerships to develop relevant curricula and to offer apprenticeships and hands-on training to students.
  • Experienced Educators – CTE instructors must have both the subject-specific technical knowledge and appropriate pedagogical training to serve all types of students, including English learners and students with disabilities. 

V. Support our educators and strengthen educator training programs 

Leverage All-Star Teachers

Rather than devoting so much time and energy to punishing the few, unsatisfactory teachers in our K-12 public schools, we should be raising up and supporting our educators. 

Key Policies 

  • Evaluations – The federal government should return decisions making regarding teacher evaluation systems back to the states and districts. We should end the current federal mandate of teacher evaluation.
  • Working Conditions – States and districts should have the funding they need to assess and address educators’ working conditions. Improving the teaching environment will increase educator retention and success in the classroom.

Highly Qualified Teachers and Education Support Professionals

Our schools need fully qualified educators who are prepared to serve all students, and teaching should be treated as a high-skilled and rewarding career. 

Key Policies

  • Comprehensive Professional Development – Professional development opportunities for educators should cover a broad range of topics, from serving the most vulnerable student populations to using data to customize instruction to leadership opportunities. 
  • Meaningful Training and Preparation – We should improve entry and exit standards for training programs and raise expectations for educators entering the classroom. We should also provide funding to increase innovative models, like teacher residencies, mentoring, and teacher leadership and induction programs that truly prepare teachers for their first day in the classroom. We should reject proposals that extend test-based accountability systems into these programs.
  • Paraeducators – States, districts, and schools should include paraeducators, or education support professionals, in decision making and should provide them with the resources and support they need to be successful.
  • Teacher Diversity – Our nation’s diversity is reflected in our public school students and continues to grow, and research has shown that students of color do better when taught by teachers from a similar background. Yet, teachers of color comprise less than 20 percent of the teaching profession. We should dedicate resources to programs that identify and increase the number of qualified minority individuals entering the teaching profession, and provide the professional development and mentoring services needed to retain these teachers.

VI. Support diversity and inclusivity in schools

Enforce Civil Rights Protections

Education does not occur independently of historical patterns of inequality and injustice, and the protection of civil rights is crucial to ensuring the success of all students.

Key policies

  • LGBT Youth – Schools should be prohibited from discriminating against students on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.
  • Students With Disabilities – Schools and districts must comply with federal statute and provide all students with disabilities with an appropriate, high-quality, and inclusive education.
  • Citizenship Status – Our public schools have a responsibility to serve every student, regardless of their country of origin. 

School diversity

Our schools remain segregated along race and class lines. These divisions, while not insurmountable, are predictors in the quality of a student’s education. 

Key policies

  • Integration – Separate is never equal. Students in segregated schools have vastly different educational experiences. This is in part because students experience racial isolation despite our racially diverse nation, and it is also affected by a public divestment from schools that serve primarily students of color in favor of schools that serve white students. We must create policies that help to integrate our schools, invest in all of our schools equitably, and ensure that every student has universal access to high-quality instruction and resources.
  • School Choice – Many schools of choice, such as charter schools, are more segregated by race and class than traditional schools are. School choice programs should not be used to exacerbate segregation. Moreover, school choice may even be used to integrate our schools; for example, magnet schools have roots in the civil rights movement of the 60s and have historically been used as a means of voluntary desegregation.

In the words of Nelson Mandela, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” As our nation continues to strive to ensure equal opportunity for all and to secure America’s future economic prosperity, providing high-quality and equitable education to every child will be our greatest tool.