Barbershops Cutting Into the Achievement Gap

IMG_5258_1

On June 29, staff from the Department listened and learned with a group of over twenty barbershop owners from around the country who were in Washington, D.C. for a hair battle.

As we celebrate, engage and Read Where You Are today, you might see tweets, Instagram and Facebook posts already on “newsfeeds” with great photos of reading in barbershops. What you might not know, and I am proud to share, is how this all began – when the Department of Education starting chatting with barbers about how we can use all of our tools, scissors included, to cut the achievement gap. At a meeting earlier this year about the importance of summer literacy, a colleague smartly mentioned a need to engage everyone in the community. Our brainstorming left us with a long list, and a colleague specifically mentioned barbershops knowing the important role they play in communities across our country, and especially in communities of color. I immediately thought of a friend, who also happens to be a barbershop owner from Washington Heights in New York City who has made it his priority to give back to his clients, their families and the larger community. As we often do in meetings, I took my “next steps” and reached out to my friend, excited about what could be in store. My work at ED is rooted in who I am, as a student, mentor, tutor, Posse Scholar and American raised in a working class neighborhood in Brooklyn. Having grown up around beauty salons and barbershops, I know what happens there and what’s been happening since has the potential to make a very big difference. In fact, my mother is a hair stylist and has worked in the field for decades.

DSC_0591

On June 29, thanks to some truly remarkable small-business barbershop owners, staff from the Department listened and learned with a group of over twenty barbershop owners from around the country who happened to be in Washington, D.C. for an industry event, a hair battle. Our conversation was about how to understand how barbershops can do more to help the students and kids we all care about, how barbers as individuals could be empowered, and how barbers can make a difference.

The two hour meeting was one of the most powerful meetings in my career. These barbers walked us through all that they are doing both formally and informally on a daily basis to change the lives of young people living in their communities – offering free haircuts for good grades, coaching sports teams, mentoring and employing at-risk and disconnected youth, teaching classes in correctional facilities, hosting holiday parties, etc. They are acutely aware of the powerful and influential role they play in their communities, which are often low-income and communities of color.

Like the ED staff in the room, the barbershop owners were there to learn too. They needed to know key statistics, data points and free resources that they could share with their clients while they had them in their seats to drive home the importance of reading. They wanted to be introduced to the Administration’s Place-based work, and the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force efforts, so they had an idea of the federal infrastructure that existed in their communities already. They wanted to learn from other groups and communities to better understand where they might fit in.

One month later, I am in awe of how quickly an idea, a conversation and a few phone calls have become a truly inspired effort of barbershop owners committed to make a difference. They are joining our #readwhereyouare Day of Action and were some of the first to tweet and Instagram. I have spent most of my career behind the scenes, working on strategic partnerships, working predominately with the corporate and philanthropic sectors. Today, as these barbershop owners create more awareness and helping kids read as you read this blog post, I can say with certainty that what is ahead of us is going to be big and I remain inspired, excited, and eager to see how these men are going to change lives.

Danielle Goonan is a Special Assistant working on strategic partnerships in the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education

Join Us in a Summer Reading Day of Action

RWYA graphic


“A person who won’t read has no advantage over one who can’t read.” —Mark Twain


The White House and the U.S. Department of Education are launching a Read Where You Are day of action on Wednesday July 29, to draw attention to the importance of summer reading. This is especially important in these remaining days and weeks of summer before students head back to school. Reading over the summer makes a huge difference during the school year, and helps prevent summer learning loss. When students keep reading, they keep learning, catch up, stay sharp and are more prepared when the new school year begins.

Children who don’t read over the summer don’t just feel like they’ve forgotten some of what they’ve learned — they actually do forget it. And the effect builds over time. Kids who lose reading skills over the summer – especially those who are disadvantaged – will be two years behind their classmates by the end of 6th grade. By participating in Read Where You Are, you can help prevent this from happening.

Everyone can and should be a part of this day of action. Here’s how:

  1. Spread the word: Tweet, retweet, post, snap, ‘gram and chat. Use social media and share widely! Make sure to use #ReadWhereYouAre.
  1. Read to the young people in your life and in your community. Take a picture and share it through social media using the #ReadWhereYouAre hashtag.
  1. Visit gov/readwhereyouare to learn more about other ways to keep reading and learning throughout the summer.

So get involved. It’s not just a fun and affordable way to connect with your kids during the summer months. It’s a surefire way to build a strong foundation for our children’s future.

Engaging Families and Communities to Bridge the Word Gap

This post originally appeared on the Too Small to Fail blog.

7

Children begin learning from the moment they are born. By seeing, hearing, and exploring the world around them, particularly through close loving relationships with their families and caregivers, babies’ brains rapidly develop. The more enriching experiences they have with those who love and care for them, the more they grow – especially when words are involved. Research has found that providing infants, toddlers, and young children with consistent, language-rich experiences –talking, reading, and singing – greatly benefits their brain development and school readiness.

However, many families lack access to the types of information and resources that can help them make everyday moments into learning opportunities that are rich in language. Researchers have found that some children are exposed to more language-rich environments than others during the early years, which can result in a gap in the quantity and quality of words that children hear and learn. The richness of children’s language environment can impact school success and outcomes later in life. .

That’s why, the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services and Education, in partnership with Too Small to Fail, are providing these critical resources to families, caregivers, and early learning providers. Last week, we proudly released  “Talk, Read, Sing Together Every Day”, a free suite of resources that can help enrich children’s early language experiences by providing tips for talking, reading, and singing with young children every day beginning from birth and extending into the early years.

This toolkit is a result of a commitment made at the 2014 White House convening on “bridging the word gap.” The resources include:

Talking matters, and, no matter what language you speak – the more words the better. To make these resources as accessible and inclusive as possible, all tip sheets are available in English and Spanish, and can be downloaded for free.

Talking, reading, and singing are teaching. But more than that, talking, reading, and singing are simple gateways to opportunities for children and their families. They are brain building activities that set the foundation for school readiness and school success. These everyday activities are ones that all families and communities can engage in to ensure that their young children have the best start in life.

When families, caregivers and teachers partner to promote children’s early education, children win.

To read more about these resources, or to download them visit the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services websites or Too Small to Fail.

Libby Doggett is Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Early Learning at the U.S. Department of Education, Linda Smith is Deputy Assistant Secretary and Inter-Departmental Liaison for Early Childhood Development for the Administration for Children and Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Kara Dukakis is the Director of Too Small to Fail.

The Future of Higher Education in America


“The degree students truly can’t afford is the one they don’t complete, or that employers don’t value.”


More students are graduating college than ever before. But for too many students, the nation’s higher education system isn’t delivering what they need and deserve. Earlier today, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan outlined a new vision for higher education in America at a speech at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Duncan called for a higher ed system that will not only make college affordable, but also focuses on whether students are actually graduating in a timely way with a meaningful degree that sets them up for future success.

Duncan giving a speech at UMUBC

Secretary Duncan gave a speech outlining a vision for higher education in America.

Nearly half of today’s students who begin college do not graduate within six years. The consequences of taking on debt but never receiving a degree can be severe. Students who borrow for college but never graduate are three times more likely to default. In his speech today, Duncan said:

“There is a path to a higher education system that serves many more students much better. And continuing to make college more accessible and affordable – including more tuition-free and debt-free degrees – is part of that. But it’s only part.

“If we confine the discussion to cost and debt, we will have failed. Because we will have only found better ways to pay for a system that fails far too many of our students.”

Doing More to Focus on Outcomes

Over the past six and a half years, the Obama Administration has taken strong action to counteract the rising cost of higher education, expanding Pell Grants, and making student debt more manageable by expanding loan repayment options that cap payments based on income. The administration has also pursued executive actions and put forward policy proposals to address flaws in the higher education system and create incentives for all actors to focus on student outcomes.

“We must shift incentives at every level to focus on student success, not just access,” Duncan said during his speech.

When students win, everyone wins. But when they lose, every part of the system should share responsibility.

Today, only students, families and taxpayers lose when students don’t succeed– that makes no sense. Institutions must be held accountable when they get paid by students and taxpayers but fail to deliver a quality education. So should states and accreditors who are responsible to oversee them under the law.

By the same token, schools should be rewarded for doing the right thing – like taking on students who are struggling and helping them succeed.

Despite the Administration’s historic actions and the leadership of innovative institutions, much work remains to meet our goal of once again having the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.

The Administration will continue to act within its power to control college costs and help students graduate on time with a meaningful degree. We need Congress, states, colleges and universities, and accreditors to join in that effort.

Teach to Lead: Looking Back, Moving Forward

On July 26th, the education community will celebrate the life of Ron Thorpe, president and CEO of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, who passed away after a battle with lung cancer.

I will always remember Ron as a relentless and unabashed supporter of the teaching profession. He championed the value of teachers’ expertise and experience, arguing passionately that teachers should be recruited, prepared, developed, paid and honored as the professionals that they are.

Ron was also a tremendous partner to me and to hundreds of teachers in developing and growing the Teach to Lead initiative. In the wake of his recent passing, it’s fitting to honor one part of his legacy by celebrating the significant impact Teach to Lead is making on teachers.

We announced Teach to Lead at a plenary session at the Teaching & Learning Conference in March 2014 as an idea. We followed that announcement with a panel discussion with teacher leaders who were candid about the challenges they faced. Citing the nation’s progress in addressing drop outs, improving graduation and college-going rates, I credited teachers, but said that their role has not been adequately recognized.

Group photo of Teach to Lead Denver participants.

Teachers gather for a photo at the Denver Teach to Lead Summit earlier this year.

According to a recent poll, 69 percent of teachers feel their voices are heard in their school, but only a third feel heard in their district, five percent in their state, and two percent at the national level. Failure to leverage the voices and expertise of teachers has deep implications for students, schools and the profession.

Ron and I had hoped to spur new commitments in teacher leadership and invite teachers to lead the change in their schools, districts and states. We never could have imagined our success. More than 80 organizations would join the effort, serving as critical friends and skill builders for teachers. Hundreds of teachers have participated in virtual and in-person convenings to take their best ideas for the profession and create action plans. And those teachers are telling their powerful stories to me and around the country. Here are a few:

  • Teachers Lesley Hagelgans, Renee Baril, Kristin Biggs, and Amanda Morick from Marshall Middle School (Marshall, Mich.) created an intervention-focused data project to close learning gaps. Their work has brought their whole community together around the shared mission of removing barriers to student learning.
  • Shawn Sheehan, a special education math teacher at Norman High School (Norman, Okla.) started the Teach Like Me campaign to improve teacher recruitment and retention by boosting the public perception of the teaching profession. Shawn and his team have developed a website and conducted significant in-person and online outreach for their project.
  • Jennifer Aponte, a geographically-isolated English instruction teacher at Davis A. Ellis Elementary School (Roxbury, Mass.) organized a team of teachers to research, present and publish their recommendations for how to achieve the Massachusetts state equity plan. Jennifer’s team is playing a critical part in closing opportunity gaps for low-income students and students of color in her state.

There are many of these stories to tell—example after example of leadership ideas created by teachers to solve the most pressing problems in education. They exist as proof that teachers—when given the time, opportunity and resources—are ready to lead.

This leadership is even extending beyond school and district boundaries as Teach to Lead is creating and expanding teacher leadership through systems change at the state level. I am hopeful for this work because I know that systems-level change driven by teachers’ voices can change the face of education in this country.

In May, Teach to Lead assembled teams from eight states, comprised of teachers and representatives from local and state educational agencies, at our first ever state summit. Together, these teams worked diligently to build action plans that would institutionalize teacher leadership at the state level. States are at different stages in developing teacher leadership strategies, but meaningful conversations and actions are underway all over the country. Here are a few examples.

  • New York is working extensively with educators across the state to gain a deep understanding of the systems and structures that will support the work of career pathways.  This June, the state presented to the Board of Regents on the Department’s proposed Framework for Career Ladder Pathways in New York State. Career ladder pathways are also viewed as a critical part of the New York’s strategy to ensure that every student has access to effective teaching. They are using teacher leadership as a tool to improve teaching and learning and ultimately close achievement gaps.
  • The 2014 and 2015 Maine Teachers of the Year, Karen MacDonald and Jennifer Dorman, worked with others who are active in teacher leadership work to organize teacher leadership, coordinating, streamlining and expanding opportunities in the state. They capitalized on structures and meetings that were already scheduled to take place to fortify their push for stronger collaboration in teacher leadership.

To date, Teach to Lead has engaged with more than 3,000 educators, in person and virtually, giving voice to more than 850 teacher leadership ideas, spanning 38 states. And we are not done yet. In the year to come, we hope to engage hundreds more teachers at Teach to Lead summits – including our largest yet in Washington, D.C. which is happening this week.

As more and more teachers join Teach to Lead, we’re committed to helping them develop their plans and connect with organizations that can support their work. We will continue to hold Summits with teams of teachers who have leadership ideas, connecting them with supporting organizations that can share their expertise and resources. We have set up Leadership Labs in teachers’ schools and districts, bringing the community together to support the teachers’ projects and work with them to move their work to the next level. We’re checking in and providing follow-up assistance to teachers and their teams.

With each summit, we see that the momentum around teacher leadership is spreading like wildfire. Teachers have sparked a conversation about the value of teacher leadership that is connecting in schools and districts across the country.

Looking at where we are and where Teach to Lead is headed, I know Ron would be proud.

Arne Duncan is U.S. Secretary of Education

Celebrating 25 Years of Progress: Civil Rights and the Americans with Disabilities Act

On July 26, 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) first became law. Since then, it has stood as an important piece of civil rights legislation, prohibiting discrimination and ensuring that people with disabilities share the same opportunities available to all Americans.

For twenty-five years, the ADA has helped to transform perceptions, promote access, and support success. One of the law’s greatest results has been to affirm the right of self-determination for people with disabilities. It used to be that many life decisions were made for people with disabilities. Today, millions of Americans have the freedom to shape their own lives and determine their own destinies, whether they have physical disabilities, intellectual disabilities, psychiatric disabilities, learning disabilities, or any other disability.

In the field of education, thanks to the ADA and other civil rights laws, students with disabilities are now entitled to equal opportunities to participate in extracurricular sports. Schools that use online education or electronic devices must provide students with disabilities with equal access to those learning experiences, as well as to educational opportunities outside the classroom. We’re working to ensure positive school climates for all students, including students with disabilities, from addressing bullying and harassment, to ensuring that schools don’t discriminate in how they discipline students. And educational facilities and programs must meet appropriate accessibility standards.

I’ve seen proof of the ADA’s impact on students around the country. I’ve been inspired by the many leaders and advocates who work hard every day to advance the rights of people with disabilities, and by the students with disabilities who are fully participating and excelling in school, including sports and other extracurricular activities.

I’m proud of what we at the Department have been able to achieve – with the help of partners at the national, state, and local levels – to support children and adults with disabilities, from pre-school to college, and beyond. The data show we’re making progress on educational outcomes for students with disabilities in ways that are transformative for students, schools, and society. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, for example, the nation’s high school graduation rate is the highest ever – and from 2011 to 2013, the graduation rate of students with disabilities rose by nearly 3 percentage points.

On the civil rights front, between 2009 and 2014, our Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has resolved more than 25,000 ADA-related complaints. These include cases involving school discipline and use of restraint and seclusion; whether students received a free appropriate public education as defined and required by law; equal access to educational opportunities; academic adjustments for postsecondary students; access to appropriate technology, services, and facilities; disability-based bullying and harassment; and retaliation for exercising civil rights.

Since 2009, OCR has issued groundbreaking policy guidance on topics like the use of electronic book readers and other emerging technology in compliance with federal civil rights laws; schools’ obligations to respond to bullying and harassment of students with disabilities; the rights of students with hepatitis B in postsecondary health-related programs; effective communication requirements for students with hearing, vision, or speech disabilities in public elementary and secondary schools; and how schools may follow CDC recommendations for protecting against Ebola and the measles without discriminating against students with disabilities.

Our Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) has facilitated a major shift in how the Department oversees the effectiveness of states’ early intervention services and special education programs by developing a new results-driven accountability framework under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Our aim is to achieve better outcomes for the country’s 6.5 million children with disabilities.  This approach pivots from a primary emphasis on compliance to a focus on improved results and outcomes for students with disabilities, including performance on assessments, graduation rates, and early childhood outcomes. In addition, OSERS is also working to build stronger bridges between K-12 and postsecondary education and career pathways for young people with disabilities through the passage of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) signed by President Obama one year ago. WIOA encourages greater alignment and coordination across federal, state and local programs to increase people with disabilities’ access to high quality workforce, education and rehabilitation services provided in the most effective and efficient manner.

But while these gains are promising, we must do even better – from addressing the new realities of the digital age by ensuring equal access for people with disabilities in online learning – to raising high school graduation, postsecondary completion, and career readiness for people with disabilities – to curbing inequity and civil rights violations experienced by students with disabilities.

The 25th anniversary of the passage of the ADA is more than a celebration. It’s an opportunity to rededicate ourselves to the values that the ADA represents and to renew our commitment to helping all Americans succeed – in schools, workplaces, and every part of public life.

We at the Department remain steadfast in our goal – working together with schools, parents and guardians, and stakeholders – to realize the promise of the ADA.

Catherine Lhamon is the assistant secretary for Civil Rights

Sweating the Small Stuff is Key to Improving School Climate and Discipline

It was the first day of school for 6th grader Zuliet Cabrera at The Urban Assembly Bronx School for Law, Government and Justice, or LGJ, as our school is known in the Bronx and in New York City. She, along with 97 other new 6th graders, stood eagerly, though anxiously, in the lobby waiting for directions. My assistant principals (APs) and I were standing in the lobby to meet new students and welcome returning students back to school.

I looked over at Zuliet with a smile on my face, said good morning, and she immediately burst into tears. One of my APs, Ms. Hernandez, said, “This is Raylyn’s little sister; let me find her.” Raylyn soon arrived and we all talked and welcomed Zuliet to LGJ with hugs all around. It wasn’t too long before tears were dry and Zuliet was ready to move forward.

As districts and schools across the country are rethinking school discipline, it’s important to note that creating a positive school culture—one that is safe and supportive of all students and lays the foundation for high student achievement—is not about creating enough rules to cover every infraction a student could possibly violate. It is about creating systematic routines and rituals that students, faculty, staff, and families are invested in, and that encourage young people and adults alike to always do the right thing, whether the right thing to is follow certain school rules or give a tearful 6th grader a reassuring hug.

Each morning, my three APs and I greet our students and sweat what some might call the “small stuff.” We smile and welcome students to school; check and remind them about dress code; look directly at them for any hint of a problem, worry or concern; and, if we see or sense that one of our students is in need, we ask and address it immediately.

Many of our students’ challenges are identified and addressed because we simply don’t allow anyone to walk by in the morning without greeting them with a smile. Some concerns require a quick conversation, while other issues are more complicated and require the expertise of our social worker. What’s critical is that adults at LGJ work together and quickly so our students aren’t going through the day carrying the weight of worry on their shoulders. Creating a safe and supportive school climate at LGJ would be impossible without constantly communicating about the small stuff.

From Zuliet’s first day at LGJ, our priority was that she and her peers felt safe, supported, and part of our school family. At LGJ, we work to ensure the elements of any strong family – love, care, concern, communication, high expectations, and belief that all members of the family can achieve success.

Zuliet will begin the 10th grade this September. Four years later, we don’t talk much about the tears that flowed on her first day of school. But we often look at each other and share that silent memory, and when we do, she knows the LGJ family is and will always be there for her. And it all started with a hug.

Meisha Ross-Porter is Principal at The Urban Assembly Bronx School for Law, Government, and Justice in New York City.

Secretary Arne Duncan Joins LinkedIn

Earlier today, Secretary Duncan shared his first post on LinkedIn. In it, Duncan talks about the future of the teaching profession and how in many places, education is being put back in the hands of teachers.


“There is no better resource for a school than teachers who are empowered and equipped to solve problems using their own talent and experience.”


“It does not take a federal initiative or a state program for teachers to solve the biggest challenges in education,” Duncan said in the post. “Yet, for teachers to truly lead large-scale transformation, state and local systems must be willing to provide teachers both time and training to exercise leadership. We, at the federal level, support and encourage their efforts.”

Duncan also highlighted the exciting things happening at Lehigh Senior High School (watch the video below):

Read the entire LinkedIn piece and share it with your followers on Twitter.

 

 

 

Una nueva guía para padres habilita la participación de las familias en la educación

Como padre de dos niños en las escuelas públicas, aprecio que las escuelas me informan con frecuencia sobre el progreso de mis hijos — a menudo hasta una vez por semana. Pero aun así a veces me pregunto cuál es el nivel de mis hijos en comparación con otros niños de su edad en el distrito, estado y país. Y aun como empleado del Departamento de Educación, no siempre sé cuáles preguntas debo hacer.

20150716-SPANISH-Parent-Check-List

Por esta razón estoy contento por la nueva guía para padres que hoy lanzamos en colaboración con America Achieves, el Consejo Nacional de La Raza, National PTA, y el United Negro College Fund. La guía incluye preguntas que los padres deben hacer y recursos que pueden utilizar los padres y cuidadores para asegurar que sus niños reciban la educación que merecen. La guía sugiere preguntas importantes que hacer, consejos para el éxito educativo y recursos para obtener más información.

La guía complementa el conjunto de derechos que el Departamento publicó recientemente, donde se expone lo que las familias deben esperar de la educación de sus hijos. Los derechos se aplican a toda la trayectoria educativa y cubren todos los niveles educativos, incluido el acceso a una educación preescolar de calidad; escuelas primarias y secundarias seguras, con buenos recursos y normas altas de rendimiento para los estudiantes; y acceso a una educación universitaria de calidad a un precio asequible.

La guía sugiere las siguientes “preguntas básicas” que los padres deben plantear a los educadores de sus hijos, incluyendo:

Calidad: ¿Recibe mi hijo una buena educación?

  • ¿Cómo me mantendrán ustedes regularmente informado sobre el progreso de mi hijo? ¿Cómo podemos colaborar juntos si mi hijo se retrasa?
  • ¿Está mi hijo a nivel de grado y en camino de preparación para la universidad y el trabajo? ¿Cómo lo sabré?

Listos para el éxito: ¿Estará mi hijo preparado para triunfar en el futuro?

  • ¿Cómo se medirá el progreso y la capacidad de mi hijo en materias como lectura, matemática, ciencia, artes, desarrollo social y emocional, y otras actividades y materias?
  • ¿Cuánto tiempo pasará mi hijo preparándose y tomando pruebas del estado y del distrito? ¿Cómo sabré yo y el maestro de mi hijo cómo utilizar los resultados para ayudar a mi hijo a avanzar?

Seguros y saludables: ¿Se cuida y mantiene seguro a mi hijo en la escuela?

  • ¿Qué programas existen para que la escuela sea un entorno seguro, enriquecedor y positivo? ¿Cuáles son las políticas de la escuela sobre la disciplina y para evitar el acoso en la escuela?
  • ¿Son saludables las comidas y meriendas proporcionadas en la escuela? ¿Cuánto tiempo se dedica al recreo o el ejercicio?

Buenos maestros: ¿Participa y aprende mi hijo en la escuela cada día?

  • ¿Cómo sabré si los maestros de mi hijo son eficaces?
  • ¿Cuánto tiempo pasan los maestros colaborando entre sí?
  • ¿Qué tipo de desarrollo profesional hay para los maestros aquí?

Equidad y justicia: ¿Tienen mi hijo y los demás niños de la escuela o programa, la misma oportunidad de triunfar y de ser tratados justamente?

  • Cómo asegura la escuela que todos los estudiantes reciban un trato justo? (Por ejemplo, ¿existen diferencias en las tasas de suspensión o expulsión por raza o sexo?).
  • ¿Ofrece la escuela a todos los estudiantes acceso a las clases que necesitan para prepararse para el éxito, incluidos los estudiantes de inglés y los estudiantes con necesidades especiales (por ejemplo, Álgebra I y II, clases para dotados y talentosos, laboratorios de ciencia, clases AP o IB, arte, y música)?

Guíese por la guía.

Cameron Brenchley es subsecretario adjunto de comunicaciones en el Departamento de Educación de EE.UU.

New Parent Checklist Empowers Families

As a parent of two children in public schools, I appreciate how often I get updates on how they’re doing in school—sometimes as often as once a week! But it often leaves me wondering how my kids are stacking up against other kids their age in the district, state and country. And even as an employee at the Department of Education, I’m not always sure what questions I should be asking.

20150716-Parent-Check-List

This is why I’m excited about a new parent checklist we’re releasing today in collaboration with America Achieves, National Council of La Raza, National PTA, and the United Negro College Fund. The parent checklist includes questions and resources that parents and caregivers can use to help ensure their children are getting the education they deserve. The checklist suggests key questions, tips for educational success and resources for more information.

The checklist follows the set of rights that the Department recently released outlining what families should be able to expect for their children’s education. The rights follow the educational journey of a student—from access to quality preschool; to engagement in safe, well-resourced elementary and secondary schools that hold all students to high standards; to access to an affordable, quality college degree.

The checklist suggests these “key questions” that parents should pose to their child’s educators, including:

Quality: Is my child getting a great education?

  • How will you keep me informed about how my child is doing on a regular basis? How can we work together if my child falls behind?
  • Is my child on grade level, and on track to be ready for college and a career? How do I know?

Ready for Success: Will my child be prepared to succeed in whatever comes next?

  • How will you measure my child’s progress and ability in subjects including reading, math, science, the arts, social and emotional development, and other activities?
  • How much time will my child spend preparing for and taking state and district tests? How will my child’s teacher and I know how to use the results to help my child make progress?

Safe and Healthy: Is my child safe and cared for at school?

  • What programs are in place to ensure that the school is a safe, nurturing and positive environment? What are the discipline and bullying policies at the school?
  • Are the meals and snacks provided healthy? How much time is there for recess and/or exercise?

Great Teachers: Is my child engaged and learning every day?

  • How do I know my child’s teachers are effective?
  • How much time do teachers get to collaborate with one another?
  • What kind of professional development is available to teachers here?

Equity and Fairness: Does my child, and every child at my child’s school or program, have the opportunity to succeed and be treated fairly?

  • How does the school make sure that all students are treated fairly? (For example, are there any differences in suspension/expulsion rates by race or gender?)
  • Does the school offer all students access to the classes they need to prepare them for success, including English language learners and students with special needs (for example, Algebra I and II, gifted and talented classes, science labs, AP or IB classes, art, music)?

Check out the checklist for yourself.

Cameron Brenchley is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Communications at the U.S. Department of Education

Innovation and Quality in Higher Education

Much is changing in higher education.

Most fundamentally, students themselves are changing. After long decades of exclusion, college access has expanded opportunities for minority students, first-generation students, and low-income students. In 2015, students are more likely to attend community college than any other postsecondary option, and more likely to be older, living away from campus, and may be attending part-time while balancing work and family.


The iconic picture of an 18-year-old high school graduate walking across a leafy campus toward her dorm room no longer reflects the reality of today’s college student.


Institutions of higher education are responding to these changes, in part by making course delivery more flexible. Technology has made this even more possible, introducing teaching and learning that is less constrained by time and place. Technology is also making new kinds of embedded assessment and adaptive curriculum possible, allowing instructors and students to discern with greater accuracy a student’s mastery of material or skills.

The demand for higher education is increasing, well beyond the capacity of traditional institutions. It’s easy to see why. As President Obama has said, the time when a high school diploma could lead to a good middle class job is gone. In today’s economy and tomorrow’s, some kind of postsecondary degree or credential is essential. That’s why we are committed to policies that increase access to high-quality programs, to keeping those programs affordable for all, and to ensuring quality outcomes for students.

Outside of the traditional colleges and universities, a vibrant marketplace for learning is emerging, whether through stand-alone MOOCS, “boot camps” that focus on training students for particular skills like computer coding, online skills courses, and institutional experimentation with competency-based programs and degrees. We applaud this wave of innovation and believe that the innovators are leading the way to a system of higher education that is more open, often less costly, more customizable to the needs of students, and more transparent in terms of its outcomes.

Many of the programs now offered outside of traditional higher education are of high quality and many earn learners access to new knowledge, new skills, and new opportunities. Some, however, are not. That’s not the problem, though. The problem is that we have few tools to differentiate the high-quality programs from the poor-quality ones. The normal mechanism we use to assess quality in higher education, accreditation, was not built to assess these kinds of providers. Moreover, even if they were, even the best programs and those serving low-income students would not, under current rules, be certified to receive federal financial aid because they are “programs” or “courses,” and not “institutions.”

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) is interested in accelerating and focusing the ongoing conversations about what quality assurance might look like in the era of rapidly expanding educational options that are not traditional institutions of higher education. We are particularly interested in thinking about quality assurance through the lens of measurable student outcomes and competencies. We have no stake in supporting one or another specific set of learning outcomes. Rather, we are interested in the fact that outcomes matter and ought to be the centerpiece of any kind of quality assurance. Outcomes, in this vision of the future, are clear claims for student learning, move beyond mere statements of knowledge to what students can do with that knowledge, and are measurable.

Join a Conversation

Over the coming weeks and months, we seek to engage broadly with the field to help deepen our understanding of how to recognize high-quality non-traditional programs. We think that a new set of quality assurance questions will need to be developed to ask hard, important questions about student learning and outcomes. These questions will help students, taxpayers, and those evaluating educational programs separate programs that are high-quality from those that do not meet the bar. Such a quality assurance process will rely much less on inputs, where the emphasis of much accreditation still rests, and will instead focus on outputs and evidence.

Based on some preliminary input we have received, we have identified several general categories in which questions should be asked:

  • Claims: What are the measurable claims that a provider is making about student learning?  Do those individual claims combine into a coherent program of study?  Are they relevant and do they have value; how do we know?
  • Assessments: How is it clear that the student has achieved the learning outcomes?  Are the assessments reliable and valid? Do the assessments measure what students can do with what they have learned?
  • Outcomes: What outcomes do program completers achieve, both in terms of academic transfer or employment and salary, where relevant?  What are other outcomes we should ask about?

These quality assurance questions are designed to focus on student learning and other critical outcomes at a much more granular level. We welcome feedback and sustained dialogue on how to foster and improve quality assurance, particularly in this moment of tremendous innovation and change. We seek to convene, participate in, and hear the results of many conversations with diverse stakeholders.  To join those conversations, please fill out the form below, or send us your thoughts, questions, and ideas for engagement at collegefeedback@ed.gov.

Your Name

Your Email

Send your thoughts, questions, and ideas for engagement:

 Sign me up for higher education email updates

Ted Mitchell is U.S. Under Secretary of Education

Transgender Students Share School Experiences with ED Officials

Transgender students from across America shared their stories with Secretary Duncan. (Photo by Leslie Williams/U.S. Department of Education)

Transgender students share their stories with Secretary Duncan. (Photo by Leslie Williams/U.S. Department of Education)

ED recently invited a group of transgender students to speak about their school experiences at a roundtable discussion with Secretary Duncan and senior officials.

During the roundtable in the Secretary’s conference room, students expressed the need for greater awareness of and school support for addressing issues affecting transgender students. They emphasized the importance of having their gender identity and expression respected within their learning community and feeling safe in school.

During the discussion, students talked about their experiences in school, such as being prevented from using the proper bathroom as well as being punished as a victim of bullies’ physical assaults. They also talked about what a tremendous difference it makes to their ability to learn and feel safe at school when they have the support of educators who believe in them.

ED officials listened to the students’ recommendations about how we can foster safer educational communities for transgender youth and ensure that all students can learn in safe and healthy environments. Among other things, students advocated for:

  • schools to implement proper bathroom and locker room utilization,
  • consistent recognition of appropriate names and pronouns, and
  • elimination of the school to prison pipeline.

ED welcomed the dialogue and the chance to hear from these students. As one student explained, “It’s all about being true to yourself.” Embracing individuality and authenticity is a lesson that we all can learn from these courageous students.

Samuel Ryan is the Special Assistant and Youth Liaison and Hannah Pomfret attends McGill University and is an intern at U.S. Department of Education.