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President Obama has said that we are stronger when America fields a full team. Unfortunately, too many of the 6.5 million children and youth with disabilities in this country leave high school without the knowledge and skills they need to be successful in a 21st century, global economy. While the vast majority of students in special education do not have significant cognitive impairments that prohibit them from learning rigorous academic content, fewer than 10 percent of eighth graders with disabilities are proficient in reading and math on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Too often, students’ educational opportunities are limited by low expectations. We must do better.
That’s why the Department is changing the way it holds states accountable for the education of students with disabilities. For many years, the Department primarily focused on whether states were meeting the procedural requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Generally, we have seen significant improvement in compliance.
But if kids are leaving high school without the ability to read or do math at a high-school level, compliance is simply not enough. This year, we also focused on improving results when we made determinations as to whether states are effective in meeting the requirements and purposes of IDEA.
With this year’s IDEA determinations, we looked at multiple outcome measures of student performance, including the participation of students with disabilities in state assessments, proficiency gaps in reading and math between students with disabilities and all students, and performance in reading and math on NAEP.
I believe this change in accountability represents a significant and long-overdue raising of the bar for special education. Last year, when we only considered compliance data in making annual determinations, 41 states and territories met requirements.
This year, however, when we include data on how students are actually performing, only 18 states and territories meet requirements.
In enacting IDEA, Congress recognized that improving educational results for children with disabilities is an essential element of our national policy of ensuring equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for individuals with disabilities. We must do everything we can to support states, school districts, and educators to improve results for students with disabilities. We must have higher expectations for our children, and hold ourselves as a nation accountable for their success.
Michael Yudin is Acting Assistant Secretary for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services at the U.S. Department of Education.
Institutions want to protect their students, but some worry that campuses are being thrust into a law-enforcement role.
Proposals for helping student borrowers have proliferated lately. Here’s a look at ways of defining the problem, and potential solutions for each.
Republicans and Democrats each present plans to reauthorize the key law, with many similar goals but conflicting means to achieve them.
NYU, Duke, and other universities with branch campuses in China are part of new association to help the country modernize its higher-education system.
The National PTA has designated June as the Month of the Rural Child, a time when parents and communities explore ways to become involved and support students in rural schools.
Otha Thornton, President of the National PTA has noted, “Nearly one in four high school students in rural areas won’t graduate. To help address the unique challenges rural schools face and ensure all students graduate and reach their full potential, it is essential that families are engaged and that strong partnerships are built between families, schools and communities.”
For one rural Kentucky school district, technology is helping to create strong partnerships between schools and the community, and federal GEAR UP funds are helping to make this possible. Alonzo Fugate, GEAR UP Academic Specialist for Breathitt County Schools in eastern Kentucky, works with students on a weekly news program using iPads purchased with GEAR UP funds.
“Many of our students do not have access to technology at home, so it is vital that they are able to use it effectively in the schools,” he said. The program, featured on the school website, serves as a source of pride for the students and teachers involved and provides an avenue for parent and community involvement.
Some students are even planning their career paths based on their experiences. Fourteen-year-old Brooke started working with the school news program when she was in fifth grade and has been interested in becoming a news reporter ever since. The iPads also are important to other class projects. For example, Brooke and another student recently created an app called “Fashion SOS” for a science fair project, which blended their personal interests in the fashion industry with technology, resulting in a unique educational experience.
In the heart of the Appalachian Mountains, students in Breathitt County face the challenges of going to school in rural America: traveling longer distances to get to school, having limited access to technology at home, overcoming geographic isolation, and contending with limited financial and educational resources. Thanks to the introduction of technology in the classroom, students there are now provided with the tools that can help them graduate high school college-and-career ready.
In his recent remarks to the National PTA, Secretary Arne Duncan referenced nearby Leslie County High School in Hayden, Kentucky, as another model of success in rural education. In 2010, it was ranked 224 out of the state’s 230 high schools. Today, the school is ranked 16th in the state and graduates 99 percent of its students thanks to the extraordinary commitment from the leaders and educators who joined forces to turn things around.
“Every student – no matter where they come from, what zip code they live in, or challenges they face – deserves the opportunity to truly learn and succeed,” Secretary Duncan said. That statement rings true this June—during the Month of the Rural Child—and every day.
McKenzie Baecker is an intern in ED’s Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education and is a student at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.
There’s a school in Nevada with an unusual name that is helping students to achieve promising results: Bracken STEAM Academy of Las Vegas.
The STEAM in Bracken’s name comes from its focus on science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics, with the largest emphasis on engineering. The school also is placing a renewed focus on holding all students to rigorous, college- and career-ready standards.
Michelle Wheatfill, who teaches Bracken fifth-graders and has taught at the school for nine years, sees a difference in the classroom after teaching with heightened standards. “The students are learning exponentially,” Wheatfill said. “And because of the technology we have, they take charge of a lot of their learning. We’re there just to help guide them, instead of teaching every lesson with direct instruction.”
Victoria Zblewski, a fourth-grade teacher with seven years of experience at Bracken, agrees. “As a result of the higher standards, my students are able to explain why we’re doing something,” she said. “We actually have kids write out their thinking, not just write their answer.”
But what do the students think of how they’re being taught? Wynn, a third-grader, said that she likes the opportunities that are presented. “Bracken is so good because the teachers don’t stop you at certain levels. They keep pushing you so you can keep going higher and get better.”
“Bracken is such a good school because the teachers push us to our level,” said Aden, a fifth-grade student. “I like when we get to do accelerated levels.”
Principal Kathleen Decker, who has led Bracken for 13 years, also sees the differences. “I’m in the classrooms all the time,” Decker said. “I do see teachers using a lot more hands-on, a lot more project-based learning, and a lot more differentiated and individualized instruction than in the past.”
Bracken’s commitment to higher standards is supported with two grants from the U.S. Department of Education (ED). The Bracken STEAM Academy’s collaboration with Las Vegas’ Smith Center for the Performing Arts is funded by the Kennedy Center’s Partners in Education Program which, in turn, is supported by ED’s Arts in Education National Program.
In addition, ED provides the school with $27,000 per year in a Title I grant, which helps keep the computer labs open before and after school, and funds a parent volunteer coordinator.
Principal Decker emphasized that teaching the children is the top priority and, one way or another, supporting the kids will always get done. At the same time, Decker said, “The federal money we receive at Bracken helps us engage everybody. The dollars do make a difference.”
Joe Barison is the director of communications and outreach for ED’s San Francisco Regional Office.
One out of every three children in America —more than 24 million in total — live in a home without their biological father present, according to a 2012 White House Fatherhood Report. Roughly one out of every three Hispanic children and more than half of African-American children also live in homes without their biological fathers.
The presence and involvement of a child’s parents protect children from a number of vulnerabilities. More engaged fathers — whether living with or apart from their children — can help foster a child’s healthy physical, emotional, and social development. While evidence shows that children benefit most from the involvement of resident fathers, research also has highlighted the positive effect that nonresident fathers can have on their children’s lives.
Recognizing the importance of fathers in children’s physical, emotional, and social development, Shirley Jones, a program specialist in the Department of Education’s regional office in Chicago, partnered with the Detroit Area Dad’s PTA and the Detroit Public School system. Together, they organized the “Dads to Dads” forum at Detroit Collegiate Preparatory High School at Northwestern, where 350 men, women, and young adults committed to a day of discussion on how to best support children in their communities.
National PTA President Otha Thornton, one of the speakers at the forum, challenged the parent participants to identify the barriers that prevent them from being more involved in their children’s education and lives. He also talked about finding ways to overcome these barriers and encouraged dads to develop visions for their kids’ futures.
Mentoring programs, support groups, and other resources – such as places of worship, school PTA’s, and local governments – were also presented as places where fathers might turn for support.
Panelist Rev. Dr. James Perkins spoke during the final session and stated, “Your sons and daughters will learn what’s important by what’s important to you.” He stressed that fathers can encourage their children by spending time with them, which will have a lasting impact.
Anna Leach is a confidential assistant for the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the U.S. Department of Education.
Some campuses will be sold. Some may close. What’s next?
The question was a central topic in the last of a series of discussions convened by Sen. Claire McCaskill, who plans legislation on sexual violence at colleges.
“Who thinks college is affordable?”
Secretary Duncan and new Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell posed that question to a packed room of college students and freshly-minted graduates at a recent town hall on college costs and access.
Almost no one raised a hand.
A college education is still the best investment students can make in their future. It is also a critical investment that we can make as a nation. But right now, this important rung on the ladder to opportunity is slipping out of reach for many low- and middle-income families in America.
That’s something President Obama is determined to change. Since taking office, the President has made key investments in education and advanced an ambitious agenda to combat rising college costs; to make college more affordable; to increase quality; and to improve educational outcomes. On June 9, 2014, the President signed a Presidential Memorandum that will allow an additional 5 million borrowers with federal student loans to cap their monthly payments at just 10 percent of their income.
But during the town hall meeting, the feeling in the room was clear: this country needs to do so much more, to ensure that students – regardless of their circumstances – have the information they need to make good choices and the financial support to pay for and complete their education.
The town hall was part of a series of events to encourage conversations and gain insights from the people most directly affected by the rising costs of college. Secretary Duncan and Under Secretary Mitchell were there with one purpose: to hear from students. This was an opportunity to listen to students’ stories, needs, and ideas.
One student panelist, Johnathan, said, “My mom always told me I could go to my dream college. Then when we started to look at the cost, we had to slow down and think again. It’s not something parents want to have to say: ‘Let’s see what we can afford. Let’s pick something lower on your list.”
Johnathan saved on expenses for his family by spending his freshman year at a lower-cost college before transferring to that dream school, Morehouse College in Atlanta.
Wendy, a doctoral student at the University of Pennsylvania and daughter of immigrant parents, shared her mother’s response when she was asked if the family was saving money for Wendy’s college education. She quoted her mother, “Are you kidding me? I’ve been trying to survive in this country. You have to figure it out.”
Student after student took the microphone, eager to share experiences and challenges, and offer ideas about how the federal government, states, and individual colleges and universities could help ease the financial aid process for students and families. Student participants attended institutions coast-to-coast—from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, to the University of California at Berkeley.
Several students recommended community college as a strong option for securing the first two years of a 4-year degree at a reasonable cost. One explained, “I feel like there is a stigma about promoting community colleges; [but] I have been able to stay debt free until my senior year.” Still many others raised their hands when asked if they were working their way through school. Several students described the challenge of juggling studies and the need to keep their grades high with the demand to work, in order to keep their loan balances down. Others spoke about the realities of being first-generation Americans, with parents who value a college education, but who encounter cultural taboos about borrowing money to pay for it. Still others spoke about having parents who attended college abroad and were unsure about helping their kids navigate the U.S. higher education system.
The consistent message at the town hall was that with better information, students and families can make informed decisions about higher education, manage their loans and finances wisely, and not have to defer their dreams.
“I want to be clear,” Under Secretary Mitchell told the room of promising young people, “the balance has shifted in ways that are not fair to students and families. We need to be guided by righting that balance on the side of students.”
Robert Gomez is the director of higher education outreach at the U.S. Department of Education.
We’ve developed social media tip sheets specifically to help state and local education agencies expand online engagement.
ED’s Reform Support Network (RSN) got feedback from state education agencies (SEAs) and local education agencies (LEAs) and found that more than 95 of these agencies use or plan on using Twitter or Facebook. Additionally, 8 in 10 are active or plan to be active on YouTube and more than half are either currently blogging or plan to blog in the near future.
The four tip sheets cover a variety of topics and include comprehensive information regarding key aspects of digital engagement that any educator can use.
The first tip sheet, released today, focuses on innovative engagement.
Thinking about new ways to present information to constituents is never easy, but it can be especially challenging for educators and administrators who are juggling the challenges of teaching, too.
This tip sheet showcases ways in which states are engaging with audiences in new and innovative ways, including using state chiefs to lead department social media efforts and using new and different social media platforms to reach key audiences including teachers.
During the next three weeks we will present more tip sheets that will highlight interesting and innovative aspects of digital communications within the education sphere. Next week, we’ll discuss ideas for building staff capacity in the social media arena.
Dorothy Amatucci is a digital engagement strategist at the U.S. Department of Education.
The lab's director avoided jail time, but experts say the precedent-setting case still adds to pressure on institutions to improve lab safety.
The dispute, featuring accusations of bullying and a comparison with Rosa Parks, prompts the question: Is the fuss about ego or science?
Blending a traditional liberal-arts education with practical real-world projects can make students more valuable contributors to the organizations they will work for when they graduate, says David P. Angel, Clark University’s president.
One senator asked the Education Department’s top civil-rights official if her office needed more enforcement power. Another suggested it had overstepped its bounds.
“I ask you to hear my remarks not as information, nor as argument, but as a call to action.” Secretary Arne Duncan, National Convention of the Parent Teacher Association, Austin, Texas, June 20, 2014
Secretary Arne Duncan spoke these words today during the National Convention of the Parent Teacher Association, when he addressed a crowd of about 1,200 parents, teachers, and students gathered in Austin, Texas. The Secretary outlined the changes needed to improve public education and talked about the need to challenge and prepare students for their future, taking questions and sharing his vision for moving education forward.
The Secretary shared stories of his experience as a parent and the state of education nationally. He urged parents to work together to create the types of schools that will meet the needs of future careers by advocating for the advancement of the teaching profession, as well as college- and career-ready standards, preschool for all, and college affordability.
As I listened, I thought of all the volunteers that have come through my classroom and of my own young niece and nephews and the paths that lay ahead of them as they begin school. As a teacher, PTA member, and proud aunt of preschool and public school children, I share Secretary Duncan’s call to action to improve education and his invitation to work together.
My mother was my class’s “room mom” throughout my elementary school experience and both my parents actively supported schools throughout the time they had kids in public schools. My mom and dad still volunteer and support my classroom, and they’re also involved in their grandchildren’s school lives. They have always been models for me regarding the importance of service to others and have demonstrated how to be involved and supportive without becoming “helicopter parents.”
Parent volunteers have been a lifeline for me and have enriched my classroom more than they will ever know. Every time a parent volunteers to take a task that saves a teacher time, he or she enables that teacher to be a better educator. Parents have raised money to fill in budget gaps and have routinely provided items not in the budget. I am so thankful for parents that have dutifully read e-mails, checked homework, attended parent conferences, and kept their children reading through the summer, all to support their child and their school.
Parents, you are important learning partners and teachers are so thankful for all you do!
Yet parents have another valuable role, and that is in making their voices heard regarding education policy. I am so thankful that my parents taught me how to be my own best advocate and demonstrated for me the importance of speaking up. During his speech, Secretary Duncan urged parents to use their collective voice to support ideas to build schools that will meet the needs of the next generation.
So, what exactly can parents do? Here are some suggestions:
- Be a voice for higher expectations;
- Be a voice for elevating the teaching profession; and
- Be a voice for the kinds of changes our schools must make to truly prepare our young people for the future they will face.
Improving schools is an important job and one that teachers, parents, and policymakers should do together.
JoLisa Hoover is a 2008 and 2014 U.S. Department of Education Teaching Ambassador Fellow and educator in Leander, Texas.
My belief that a failing education system is one of the biggest problems faced by many societies is what compelled me to pursue an internship at the Department of Education. Working in the international affairs office (IAO) has offered me the perfect opportunity to combine my two passions: international affairs and education policy.
I have learned more about improving access to a quality education and that education can be an effective tool in eradicating poverty, advancing gender equality, ensuring healthy lives, supporting environmental sustainability, promoting good governance, and enhancing peace and security.
Engaging with numerous organizations such as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Organization of American States (OAS), and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) has provided me with a substantial body of knowledge.
As an intern, I am exposed to the multifaceted ways ED engages with the international community to improve education.
During my first couple weeks, I was able to meet the Chinese Vice Minister of Education and his delegation during a meeting to discuss issues such as student exchanges, K-12 policy development, and higher education collaboration. I also met representatives from the Center for Universal Education, Save the Children, and Women Thrive Worldwide to discuss post-2015 education goals and targets to enhance equitable education for all.
I’ve seen the IAO’s involvement with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the State Department, and the Peace Corps, and I have worked on updating and developing new content for the APEC Education Wiki that spans decades of cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region. I believe education initiatives within APEC are particularly important and timely, as President Obama’s “Pivot to Asia” stresses the significance of enhanced partnerships and diplomatic ties in the region. I am so humbled by this experience and I feel as though I’ve already become a more globalized citizen — and this is only the beginning.
Even though I have grown up during a time where Facebook, Twitter, Skype, and smart phones are the norm, I’ve never questioned that we are more interconnected today than ever before. But accepting how inextricably tied we are to each other can be daunting. I can confidently say that interning in the IAO has already strengthened my ties to the world outside of Peachtree Corners, Georgia.
After graduation, I plan to apply for a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Grant in the Asia-Pacific region so I can utilize the skills I am acquiring during my internship within the framework of a totally new education system.
In the long-term, I plan to be a lifelong international nomad in hopes that I can continue to learn about the people and cultures with whom we share this earth. In a society running toward innovation and advancement, there is no telling where we will be decades from now. To quote Secretary Duncan, “expanding educational attainment everywhere is the best way to grow the economic pie for all.”
Wherever we go from here, we’re going together as an interconnected network of nations. I’m excited to see what’s to come.
Rebecca Nasuti is an intern in the International Affairs Office at the U.S. Department of Education.
The Department of Education has redesigned its website!
As you’ve probably noticed at first glance, our entire site has a more modern look and feel. We’ve also streamlined a lot of our site navigation elements, which we encourage you to explore.
We’ve also improved our site search. We’re now using DigitalGov Search, GSA’s free search box solution that allows users to search all of our public-facing content. Additionally, the tool is powered by Bing’s index.
Our site is also now completely mobile-friendly. We know that the general public is increasingly accessing all sorts of websites on their phones, and we want to make sure that you can access all of our information, even when you’re on the go. This latest website facelift now makes it possible for you to read our content on your smartphone or tablet without having to pinch and scroll.
We’re not done improving our website, though. Coming later this summer all of our blogs will have a new look and feel. And coming in early 2015, we will have completed redesigning our homepage to make it even easier for you to find what you’re looking for.
Jill James is web director at the U.S. Department of Education and co-chair of the Department’s Open Government Working Group.