Deborah Delisle Details Federal Priorities in Education


Despite the size of the U.S. Education Department and the number of programs under her purview, Deborah S. Delisle emphasized the importance tailoring approaches to individual districts and schools in her recent talk at The College of New Rochelle.

The assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education provided an overview of her role, and the administration's agenda for President Obama's second term in a presentation presented by the Lower Hudson Council of Administrative Women in Education and the Westchester-Putnam School Boards Association, along with CNR.

Delisle, with 39 years in the education field, oversees the largest program office in the department, with over 100 programs in her portfolion and a budget of nearly $30 billion.

She noted that there has been a lot of emphasis on reforming the educational system. "You can't pick up a newspaper or news magazine these days without reading about some kind of reform," Delisle said. Some of these changes are good, and some come with unintended consequences. And what works for one community doesn't always work exactly the same way elsewhere.

"Best practices are best in the context of where they're done," Delisle said.

Delisle said the agenda for President Obama's second term is built on five major pillars: providing quality preschool for all; continuing to reform the K-12 educational system; college affordability; school climate and safety; and ensuring all students have access to high-quality educational opportunities.

The push for universal pre-K, Delisle said, has led to the establishment of the Office of Early Learning, a first.

Safety in schools is also a high priority, with the vice president asked to work with the departments of Education, Human Services, and Justice, along with FEMA and the FBI, in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings.

"We really worked hard to allow school districts to make their own choices," Delisle said. Districts could, for instance, use money originally designated for armed guards as they saw fit, such as funding mental health counselors. 

Delisle noted findings that students of color and students with disabilities have been suspended and expelled from school at disproportionately higher rates, and urged districts to examine their policies and look at the data to help improve the climate in schools.

The department has also worked with the FCC to bring broadband internet access to classrooms, and otherwise improving the use of technology.

Delisle closed by saying that "we know what to do" about reinventing the education system -- there's no need for another blue ribbon committee, or a white paper. "We just need the willpower to do it." She also urged educators to rethink the term "achievement gaps."

"When we think about gaps, it usually goes back to the kids," she said. "We're not putting it back onto the adults."

Delisle's presentation was followed by a Q&A session.