Although the Department's plan is predicated upon partnerships with state and local education agencies, public and private postsecondary education institutions, and financial institutions to achieve its mission of education quality and access, some factors are largely outside the scope of this joint partnership for learning. These external factors include:
Effects from an economic downturn.
Departmental response: Consider increases in federal elementary and secondary education funding supporting expanded program needs generated from growing student enrollments. At the postsecondary level, the Department will continue to strengthen its information to students about flexible repayment options and its gatekeeping oversight, particularly during periods of economic slowdown or downturn.
Actions by individual families critical to education, especially early learning. The Department is limited in its ability to provide information to families. As a consequence, many families may not understand their role in their children's learning, particularly during the important early years of life, which new brain research finds is critical to future intellectual development.
Departmental response: Expand family involvement outreach strategies through the Partnership for Family Involvement in Education and federal programs reaching young children to inform families of the importance of early learning.
State capacity and willingness to implement challenging standards. It is ultimately a state decision to adopt and support challenging standards. States and communities need to continue to establish and be held accountable for high academic standards, even where these standards are initially very tough for a significant proportion of their students to meet.
Departmental response: Use federal leadership and recognition to reinforce state efforts in setting high standards. Encourage state participation in voluntary, Department-sponsored national tests that could provide them with uniform benchmarks to reinforce challenging state standards.
Local schools' capacity to invest in long-term improvements. School systems, under pressure to demonstrate short-term gains, may not make long-term investments. Yet, for the new and demanding reforms to succeed, school systems will need to undertake long-term investment in professional development and other capacity building activities.
Departmental response: Work with program and technical assistance providers to highlight the importance of sustained professional development aligned with standards. In addition, the Department will emphasize the importance of professional development in its performance indicators.
American society's tolerance for drug and alcohol use. Widespread social tolerance for drug and alcohol use is a countervailing influence to prevention activities by schools and educators who receive federal assistance for drug-education and prevention activities.
Departmental response: Work with others in the Administration to develop and disseminate the best information available on effective intervention strategies and use the visibility of federal leadership to discourage tolerance for drug use.
Other social supports for disadvantaged children and families. At the federal level, many social services supporting children and youth fall largely outside the jurisdiction of the Department of Education. The Department has limited ability to reinforce education reforms in high-risk communities through improved opportunities for low income children in health care, recreation and safe and drug-free environments.
Departmental response: Actively coordinate programs and activities with other federal agencies providing related services to children and youth.
Business community's support for education, particularly school-to-work. Short-term economic considerations may limit the willingness of employers to support Departmental efforts by undertaking effective school-to-work partnerships and linking hiring with a student's education achievement.
Departmental response: Persuade employers to build a stronger workforce through supporting high-quality school-to-work activities, including meaningful work experiences. Support efforts to provide employers with access to objective student performance information.