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ACT's Education Policy Wish List

As the Biden team prepares its transition to the White House, it has already signaled promising priorities for learning, education equity, and student success. At ACT, where we are actively working to fight for fairness in education so that all students are able to chase their dreams, we are encouraged by these signals. It is with this in mind that we set forth our “equity wish list” for the next Administration and Secretary of Education.

Ensure that all students—in particular those who are Black, Latinx, or Native/Indigenous, from low-income families, are first generation students and students with disabilities—are given the access and opportunity to succeed in K-12, postsecondary education, and beyond.

Addressing the digital divide, especially in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, is a critical matter that threatens the futures of countless students. Through our research, students have told us that they don’t always have access to connectivity or the devices necessary to support their learning; this includes both urban and rural schools.

ACT supports the Biden administration’s intention to greatly increase funding for Title 1 schools, as our research demonstrates that a focus on access and equity to rigorous coursework will help to close current achievement gaps among students. We share the belief that every student, regardless of economic status, race or ethnicity, age, gender, gender identity or geography should have the tools, support and resources to succeed. Where this does not occur—and that it too often impacts minority and socio-economically disadvantaged students—is where our focus must be to level the playing field and help ensure education and workplace success for all students. To this end, academic measures should shine a light on inequity, gauge progress towards eliminating it, and provide actionable data to inform instructional needs and guide individual interventions. With the educational upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, this it now more critical than ever before.

The nation needs to provide more opportunities for first-generation college students to be prepared for, transition to and fund a postsecondary education. President-elect Biden is himself a first-generation student, and so understands the unique challenges first-generation students face. It’s critical that these students are supported academically, financially, and emotionally. Students should have the opportunity to know they are prepared for a postsecondary education and will not be saddled with insurmountable debt. It is also critical that we impart to them the navigation skills needed throughout their education and career journeys that will be critical to their success.

Providing affordable postsecondary education, flexible Pell grants, and dual enrollment will help to ensure access and opportunity for all students, regardless of their education pathway after high school. ACT recognizes the importance of equity of choice—that career success might look different for each student. All students deserve to have the information and skills necessary to help them explore their options within whatever education and career pathway they ultimately choose.

Support students’ mental and social-emotional growth, as an integral part of the learning process.

We support the Biden administration’s vision of bringing needed supports for students and parents into the schools. Academic readiness is critical to student success, and teachers should have the ability to focus on teaching. President-elect Biden’s pledge to invest in mental health professionals will allow teachers to spend more time teaching while our schools help ensure students become physically and emotionally healthy adults.

Addressing the trauma and learning loss relative to the COVID-19 pandemic is paramount to preserving the very foundation of education. Students in high-need communities and, in particular, those from Black and Latinx backgrounds and those who have disabilities, who are suffering from the effects of the pandemic at higher rates, must be supported and equipped for success via comprehensive and culturally relevant social emotional learning efforts.

It is our belief that the whole learner must be supported in order to be successful, and that includes addressing students’ mental health and social and emotional development. Students have expressed, as noted in ACT research, that they need greater access to school counselors and mental health professionals at school. Rural students, in particular, have less access to these kinds of supports than their urban and suburban peers. Increasing the number of school counselors, psychologists, social workers, nurses, and other professionals who are able to support the diverse and complex needs of students will be vital for student growth and success.

Social and emotional learning is a critical component to the development and success of the whole learner. Curricula and tools that support that development—and the teacher professional development to accompany it—are key factors in ensuring that the whole student is nurtured and empowered for success.

Teaching is a critical profession to the health and future of our democracy, and we must protect and ensure it is attractive to diverse groups—both educators new to the profession, as well as those currently doing the hard work in schools across the country. Teachers must have the resources, tools, incentives, recognition and professional development supports needed to achieve success.

In order to ensure a robust and representative teaching profession, we must make certain that those currently in the teaching profession are supported and that those considering this career see it as a viable and attractive option. Students reported to ACT that they are not interested in teaching, in large measure because salary and career advancement can’t compete with other professions. This is a critical barrier to attracting and retaining educators—especially and including those from diverse backgrounds.

ACT believes that we must incentivize training, support, and professional development for teachers and principals to deepen and extend their ability to engage the whole learner, as an integral way to support and empower teachers for success.

Advance and sustain career and technical education as a transparent pathway to workforce engagement, 2-year or 4-year postsecondary success, and/or high-value credential and skills acquisition.

The demand for high-quality CTE programs is increasing and the evidence is strong that quality CTE can provide a powerful motivation for students to graduate from high school and go on to postsecondary education. Teachers and educators are also placing a greater emphasis on the benefits of contextual education that CTE programs can bring. In the full analysis, the opportunity for CTE growth is strong and the potential for increased student success is high.

Given this backdrop, we encourage further efforts to build a national system of data transparency and data accessibility for CTE programs while also building campaigns to promote CTE as an efficient pathway to fast growing industries and long-term educational success. CTE programs provide students with access to internships, apprenticeships and other avenues for workforce training and relationship building. Flexibility in funding models to incentivize and support these efforts are essential components to building a diverse learn and earn ecosystem for the 21st century.

It is our fervent hope to work in collaboration with the incoming administration and next Education Secretary on these priorities that will not only strengthen the educational system today, but help preserve and protect a robust democracy for the future.