Secretary DeVos has proposed 11 priorities and related definitions for use in the Department of Education’s discretionary grant programs. These proposed priorities and definitions are intended to replace the Department’s supplemental priorities published on December 10, 2014.
Though the bulk of the Department’s money funds programs that operate under a set formula – like Title I, ELL and IDEA – roughly $700 million is devoted to competitive grant programs. Promise Neighborhoods, the Teacher and School Leader Incentive Fund, American History and Civics Academies; Opening Doors, Expanding Opportunities, Upward Bound, GEAR UP and many other small and relatively obscure programs operate as competitive grants. Applicants can earn additional points based on how well they address any competitive preference priorities identified in the Notice for Applications.
There are several very broad statements in the priority list and together the proposed priorities comprise a large menu of possible initiatives, giving the Department a lot of flexibility about what it ultimately chooses to emphasize in any given grant program. The proposed priorities are:
- Empowering families to choose a high-quality education that meets their child’s unique needs
- Promoting innovation and efficiency, streamlining education with an increased focus on improving student outcomes, and providing increased value to students and taxpayers
- Fostering flexible and affordable paths to obtaining knowledge and skills
- Fostering knowledge and promoting the development of skills that prepare students to be informed, thoughtful and productive individual and citizens
- Meeting the unique needs of students including those with disabilities or with unique gifts and talents
- Promoting science, technology, engineering, and math (stem) with a particular focus on computer science
- Promoting literacy
- Promoting effective instruction in classrooms and schools
- Promoting economic opportunity
- Encouraging improved school climate and safer and more-respectful interactions in a positive and safe and educational environment
- Ensuring that service members, veterans and their families have access to high-quality educational choice
The priority document makes liberal use of the words evidence and evidence-based as it details potential projects that might meet given priorities. In most cases the reference is to the use of a program or instructional approach that is supported by strong evidence. However, in the discussion of the priority about promoting effective classroom instruction, the document notes that the priority seeks to develop evidence on effective professional development and programs that support teachers and leaders. There’s no question that anyone working in the school market needs to be aware of the increased importance of evidence. There is also strong support throughout the document for providing effective professional development.
The Department’s official document includes a background statement for each priority that provides a brief rational for its inclusion, followed by a list that specifies aspects of the priority that are of particular interest. This is especially helpful for gaining a sense of the Department’s understanding of several of the broader priorities, such as promoting economic opportunity. It’s well worth reading this initial document as well as the announcement of the final priorities, where the Department responds to comments received and explains why or why not it has changed any priority in light of the public comments.
The priority list was published in the Federal Register on October 12. It is open for public comment until November 13.