Community Colleges: The Secret Sauce

Cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Work in Progress blog.

Motlow State Community College in Tennessee is working with Bridgestone Tire Company and other employers to expand their mechatronics program, creating a training facility on-site at Bridgestone to prepare students to move quickly into high-skill jobs.

Estrella Mountain Community College is leading a consortium of five Arizona colleges to develop the workforce and talent pipeline required by the region’s energy and mining industries.

Bellevue College in Washington state, together with eight other schools, is launching a program to train veterans and their eligible spouses in the high-demand, high-wage field of health information technology.

All three of these efforts – and many more – are the result of a bold, unprecedented investment the Obama administration has made to expand job-driven training at community colleges nationwide.

The program is called TAACCCT – that stands for Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training.  As acronyms go, I’m not going to say it’s our very best work. But as a commitment to building a 21st century workforce, as a tool to prepare people for the jobs of today and tomorrow, it is second-to-none.

Today, I joined Vice President Biden at the White House for the announcement of the fourth round of TAACCCT grants — 71 of them in all, worth a total of more than $450 million. That comes on top of the nearly $1.5 billion awarded in the first three rounds. With today’s announcement, roughly 700 colleges nationwide have received TAACCCT funding since 2011.

I’ve seen these grants and the programs they support in action. I saw it last year with Dr. Jill Biden when we traveled to a community college in North Carolina to tour their state-of-the-art program in critical infrastructure. The same day we hopped down to South Florida where another TAACCCT grantee has a top-notch aviation institute.

Most importantly, these grants change lives. Joining us at the White House today was Gary Pollard, a former Army medic who is starting a $60,000-a-year job thanks to cyber technology instruction he received through TAACCCT-supported programs at Anne Arundel Community College (AACC) in Maryland. Last year when I visited the college, I met both Gary and Ginny Quillen, a woman who’s faced considerable challenges in her life. Ginny was abused as a child; she was involved with drugs and served time. But through hard work and resilience, she’s overcome the adversity. And with the Information Assurance and Security certificate she earned at AACC, today she makes $52,000 a year in a job she loves and a field she’s passionate about.

No one receives a TAACCCT grant without putting industry partnerships front-and-center. The idea is to align curriculum with the needs of businesses – so ready-to-work Americans can move right into ready-to-be filled jobs. When employers go to hire graduates of these programs, they can have confidence in the relevance of the credential…because they helped design the credential.

What we’re doing is creating a foundation with a lasting impact. This is a Dwight Eisenhower moment — TAACCCT is to our skills infrastructure what the interstate highway system was to our physical infrastructure. President Eisenhower took the long view some 60 years ago and invested in the building blocks that continue to power our economy to this day. And decades from now, our grandchildren will benefit from the on-ramps to college and the off-ramps to middle-class jobs that we’re constructing today.

Community colleges are incubators of innovation and opportunity. They are the secret sauce of workforce development, empowering communities, strengthening businesses and invigorating local economies. Today, we’re not just investing in new facilities, technologies or classroom tools; we’re investing in people’s highest and best dreams. And we’re investing not just in today’s needs, but in American prosperity for generations to come.

Tom Perez is U.S. Secretary of Labor.

Working Together to Increase FAFSA Completion

In 2012, 32 percent of Indianapolis’ youth were living in poverty, and 57 percent of school-age youth were receiving free or reduced-price lunch. Yet, despite that high level of need, only a third of Indianapolis’ graduating high school seniors were completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Roderick Wheeler, community impact director for education with the Central Indiana Community Foundation, found those numbers frustrating. He decided to take action, and enlisted the help of the Indiana Youth Institute (IYI).

Wheeler and IYI believed the number of students filing the FAFSA would increase if they could connect schools with resources, information, and tools to help students complete their forms, and if they could change the perception that the FAFSA process was complicated. To test their theory, they worked to put the right pieces in place, and added a dash of competition. They created a county-wide Indianapolis FAFSA Completion Challenge. The Marion County high school with the highest percentage increase of senior FAFSA filing would win $5,000 for college and career readiness initiatives.

During the 2012-13 school year, seven county high schools participated. The schools were connected through the Educash program of EduGuide, a non-profit online training program designed to teach schools how to promote a college-going culture and assist students with FAFSA completion. In addition, IYI connected school counselors to local experts who could assist with financial aid nights, staff FAFSA completion events, and work at “College Goal Sunday” locations.

Through tremendous efforts, every school increased its FAFSA filing numbers – and the results were impressive. For instance, Perry Meridian High School, which had never hosted a FAFSA filing event, partnered with the office of the mayor of Indianapolis to offer both tax preparation and FAFSA filing for families. Ben Davis High School hosted several successful events, increasing its FAFSA completion by 23 percent that year – and winning the competition.

Building on these results, the program was expanded for the 2013-14 school year. Schools from the first year chose to participate again, and several new ones joined. Financial aid experts from ISM College Planning, a local nonprofit, helped families understand the financial aid process and explained the likelihood of qualifying for aid, not loans, while handling a host of other questions to reduce families’ anxiety about the FAFSA.

Indiana’s March 10 FAFSA deadline is the earliest in the nation. Yet, with a combination of federal and state financial aid and other supports, the cost of higher education and the college application process should be less daunting for students in the state. The Indianapolis FAFSA Completion project will keep working with schools and families to ensure the financial aid process is easy and understandable – so more students in the Hoosier State can fulfill their college dreams!

Kate Coffman is the Director of College and Career Counseling at the Indiana Youth Institute. IYI offers the free www.driveofyourlife.org and www.triptocollege.org websites, which allow Hoosier students to explore career and postsecondary options.

Kicking Off the Fourth Annual Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge

Cross-posted from the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships blog.

Acting on a recommendation by the first Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, President Obama established the Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge to build bridges of understanding across our differences, especially among rising leaders, and to serve our neighbors. Interfaith service involves people from different religious and non-religious backgrounds tackling community challenges together – for example, Protestants and Catholics, Hindus and Jews, and Muslims and non-believers – building a Habitat for Humanity house together. Interfaith service impacts specific community challenges, while building social capital and civility.

This week, the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, Department of Education, and Corporation for National and Community Service hosted a gathering to kick off the President’s Fourth Annual Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge. More than 500 college students, chaplains, faculty, and administrators – including over 50 college presidents – participated in the two-day event.

The Challenge has grown by leaps and bounds since 2011 when President Obama first encouraged college presidents to establish or expand programs in interfaith and community service. Currently, more than 400 institutions of higher education participate in the Challenge.

The national gathering this week began with Cecilia Muñoz, Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, welcoming college presidents and supporters. It concluded with remarks by Treasury Secretary and former member of the CNCS Board of Directors, Jack Lew, and a showing of the award-winning film, Of Many, which follows the friendship and interfaith partnership of New York University’s Imam Khalid Latif and Rabbi Yehuda Sarna. These two sessions bookended a series of fascinating panel discussions, presentations, and community conversations involving a diverse array of academics, students, advocates, governmental officials, and think tank scholars. 

A new step forward for the Challenge this year was the fact that recognition for interfaith community service was included in the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll. The Honor Roll, launched in 2006, annually highlights the role colleges and universities play in solving community problems and placing more students on a lifelong path of civic engagement by recognizing institutions that achieve meaningful, measureable outcomes in the communities they serve. The President’s Honor Roll now recognizes higher education institutions in four categories: General Community Service, Interfaith Community Service, Economic Opportunity, and Education. Also for the first time this year, a school was selected as a winner of a Presidential Award for Interfaith Community Service. That honor went to Loras College, a Catholic affiliated school in Dubuque, Iowa. One of the school’s many achievements is partnering with the AmeriCorps VISTA program to recruit and retain volunteers to tackle a range of challenges. This year and every year, the Campus Challenge demonstrates President Obama’s longstanding commitment to expanding and supporting national service, which he recently highlighted at the White House’s 20th Anniversary of AmeriCorps celebration.

Thanks to all who make the goals of interfaith and community service a priority, and a very special thanks to the Department of Education’s Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships for its leadership in planning and organizing this week’s event. We are excited about future of the Challenge.

If you’d like to learn more about the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge, contact the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the Department of Education at EdPartners@ed.gov.

Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell, Secretary Arne Duncan, Wendy Spencer, and Melissa Rogers present Loras College a Presidential Award for Interfaith Community Service through the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll at George Washington University.

Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell, Secretary Arne Duncan, Wendy Spencer, and Melissa Rogers present Loras College a Presidential Award for Interfaith Community Service through the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll at George Washington University.

Melissa Rogers is the Executive Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

Helping Federal Student Loan Borrowers Manage Debt, Repay Loans

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We’ve been telling you that new data shows that a lower percentage of students are defaulting on federal loans.

That’s great news for students, taxpayers and our economy. But we know there is still more work to do. We want every student to leave college without feeling burdened by their debt.

In the past few years, we’ve undertaken several new initiatives to help borrowers manage their debt and repay their loans.

Our financial aid counseling tool is now available. There is also extensive financial aid information on StudentAid.gov, including details on flexible loan repayment plans, which allow borrowers to repay their loans based on their income.

Also, as you probably remember, back in June President Obama directed Secretary Duncan to allow all federal student loan borrowers to cap their monthly payment amounts at 10 percent of their monthly income. We’ve begun to put that directive into effect, with the goal of making the new plan available to borrowers next year.

And thanks to a wide variety of outreach efforts, more than 2.5 million Direct Loan borrowers are currently enrolled in an income-driven repayment plan.

We’ve also recently renegotiated terms of the federal student loan servicer contracts to help federal student loan borrowers better manage their debt. We’ve created additional incentives for companies that service federal student loans to improve counseling and outreach to ensure borrowers select the repayment plan best-suited to their financial circumstances, reduce payment delinquency, and help avoid default.

And we’re taking steps to address growing concerns about burdensome student loan debt by requiring career colleges to do a better job of preparing students for gainful employment.

It is important to remember there are options for those who have defaulted, as well. There are resources and several options for getting back on track at studentaid.gov.

If you need help repaying your federal student loans, you can also always contact your loan service provider to learn about repayment options.

Remember: there is no application fee to consolidate student loans. Do not pay for services that the U.S. Department of Education offers for free!

Dorothy Amatucci is a digital engagement strategist at the U.S. Department of Education.

4 Things You Should Do Before Repaying Your Student Loans

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One perk of having a federal student loan instead of a private student loan is that you are not required to start making payments right away. In fact, many federal student loans have a grace period*, or a set amount of time after you graduate, leave school, or drop below half-time enrollment before you must begin repaying your student loans. For most student loans, the grace period is 6 months but in some instances, the grace period could be longer. The grace period gives you time to get financially settled and to select your repayment plan.

For those of you who graduated in the spring, you’re probably nearing the end of your grace period. Your loan servicer, a company that works on behalf of the U.S. Department of Education to process and manage student loan payments, has probably contacted you letting you know how the repayment process will work and when your first payment is due.

Here are four things you should do now, before you make that first student loan payment:

  1. Get Organized

Start by tracking down all of your student loans. Did you know that you can view all your federal student loans in one place?

Just log into StudentAid.gov/login using your Federal Student Aid PIN to view your loan balances, interest rate, loan servicer contact information, and more.

Note: Don’t forget to check your personal records to see if you have private student loans.

  1. Contact Your Loan Servicer

Your loan servicer is the company that will be collecting payments on your federal student loan on behalf of the U.S. Department of Education. They are also there to provide support. Your loan servicer can help you choose a repayment plan, understand loan consolidation, and complete other tasks related to your federal student loan, so it’s important to maintain contact with your loan servicer. If your circumstances change at any time during your repayment period, your loan servicer will be able to help.

To find out who your loan servicer is, log in to StudentAid.gov. You may have more than one loan servicer, so it is important that you look at each loan individually.

  1. Estimate Your Monthly Payments Under Different Repayment Plans

Federal Student Aid has a great repayment calculator that allows you to compare our different repayment plan options side by side. Once you log in, the calculator pulls in information about your federal student loans, such as your loan balance and your interest rates, and allows you to estimate what your monthly payment would be under each of our different repayment plans. It also allows you to compare the total amount you will pay for your loan over time and can tell you the amount of loan forgiveness you’re expected to qualify for if you choose one of our income-driven repayment plans. Try it!

  1. Select the Repayment Plan That Works for You

One of the greatest benefits of federal student loans is the flexible repayment options. Take advantage of them! Although you may select or be assigned a repayment plan when you first begin repaying your student loan, you can change repayment plans at any time. There are options to tie your monthly payments to your income and even ways you can have your loans forgiven if you are a teacher or employed in certain public service jobs. Once you have determined which repayment plan is right for you, you must contact your loan servicer to officially change your repayment plan.

* Not all federal student loans have a grace period. Note that for many loans, interest will accrue during your grace period.

Nicole Callahan is a digital engagement analyst at the Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid.

Secretary Duncan Hears From Veterans on Challenges to College Success

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Secretary Duncan recently met with student veterans. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

How do we as a country provide supports on college campuses for veterans and ensure they have access to high-quality education at an affordable price? This question helped focus a Student Voices Session that recently took place with Secretary Duncan in Washington, D.C. The goal of the conversation was to understand the issues student veterans face, identify institutions of higher education that are providing comprehensive supports, and take action at the local, state, and federal levels.

The Obama administration is encouraging institutions to sign on to the 8 Keys to Veterans’ Success, a voluntary initiative through the Departments of Education and Veterans Affairs by which colleges and universities can support veterans as they pursue their education and employment goals. Already, over 1,000 schools have signed on to support service members in transitioning to higher education, completing their college programs, obtaining career-ready skills, and building toward long-term success.

Abby Kinch, a current Florida State University (FSU) student and former Air Force Cryptologic Linguist, spoke about FSU’s Veterans Center, which provides veterans with a one-stop shop for on-campus support and a place to enhance their development as student leaders. Many of the students in attendance were impressed by the resources available for veterans at FSU and said they would like to see them replicated in their colleges and universities.

Franchesca Rivera, a former Marine and current Art Institute of Washington student and certifying official, passionately spoke about the need for transparency with regard to the cost of college, what the GI Bill will actually cover, and what student veterans should expect to pay. Rivera mentioned that, while most schools serving veterans have a dedicated VA certifying official, the people in this position have a high level of turnover and therefore it is hard to get accurate information.

Veterans Affairs Undersecretary Allison Hickey responded that the VA partially covers the school’s reporting costs and that her office will look into how these positions are trained to ensure certifying officials have the knowledge needed to assist veterans pursuing higher education. Additionally, she notes that the VA has just released a more robust GI Bill Comparison Tool, which will help students find the best programs that fit their needs.

As the secretary was discussing follow-up opportunities, Samuel Innocent, a senior at the City College of New York, suggested that the Student Veterans of America and other student-led veterans’ chapters could create a nationwide student survey to provide tangible feedback on schools’ services for veterans, and on state and federal assistance programs. The goal of the survey would be to strengthen what works and re-tool programs that are not having desired outcomes for meeting veterans’ needs.

This session was a part of the ongoing “Student Voices” series at the Department in which students engage with senior staff members to help develop recommendations on current and future education programs and policies. 

Samuel Ryan is a special assistant and youth liaison in the Office of Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education

Huntsville Shows Off Impressive STEM Learning Resources

Reposted from the OII Blog

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Alabama A&M University leaders (l. to r.) Provost Daniel Wims; President Andrew Hugine, Jr.; senior-year computer science student Charlevester Wims; and College of Engineering, Technology, and Physical Sciences Dean Chance Glenn join OII’s STEM executive director, Russell Shilling (second from right), following Education Secretary Arne’s Duncan’s visit to NASA’s Space and Rocket Center. (Photo courtesy of Alabama A&M University)

As Education Secretary Duncan’s bus tour departed Huntsville, Ala., on September 9th, I remained to explore the STEM and technology education programs in the area. Huntsville, home to NASA’s Space and Rocket Center, has the advantage of being a small city with huge resources to support education. I wanted to see what they were doing that might be exported to a wide range of schools across the U.S.

After Secretary Duncan’s visit to the Space and Rocket Center and its Space Camp, I was greeted by the president of Alabama A&M University (AAMU), Dr. Andrew Hugine, Jr., along with staff and students. Once on their beautiful campus, Dr. Chance Glenn, dean of the College of Engineering, Technology, and Physical Sciences, discussed the various programs AAMU has developed to help students pursue and excel in STEM fields.

As of 2012, the college, according to the American Society for Engineering Education, ranked No. 4 of 352 in the production of African American engineers and No. 11 for female engineers. This success is credited to multiple programs that support students at various points in their academic careers. AAMU, for example, provides full, four-year scholarships to 12 STEM Star Scholars, covering their tuitions and fees. The Summer Bridge program, which brings students to the campus for two weeks prior to starting their freshman year, focuses on mathematics, social development, and study skills, as well as a providing a campus orientation.

A roundtable discussion with faculty, staff, and current and past students from engineering, computer science, and the basic sciences concluded a very motivating visit to the AAMU campus.

The following day, I met with the Huntsville City Schools superintendent, Dr. Casey Wardynski, and his staff to discuss their STEM and technology strategies and tour a few of the local schools. At Blossomwood Elementary, I chatted with teachers and students about their work in robotics, information technology, and math. The Huntsville strategy has been to provide iPads for classroom use up to second grade and laptops for the rest of the student population to use at home and in school. Technology use was particularly well integrated in mathematics instruction, but also evident across the curriculum.

At Huntsville Middle School, laptops were again being well utilized in classroom instruction, especially in mathematics. Students were also actively learning to develop computer games in classrooms that have been well adapted for group work. I was particularly impressed by the school’s collaboration with the Elizabeth Forward school system in Pennsylvania. A particularly innovative application developed at Elizabeth Forward was being used to demonstrate linear progressions. In the application, students physically interact with a room-sized screen projected on the floor combined with sensors to track their movements. It’s a very good example of how hubs of innovation in local areas can propagate leading practices and why we need to continue to build opportunities to bring these innovators together.

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Russell Shilling (center) joins faculty and students at the Huntsville Center for Technology to learn about Greenpower Team USA. The Huntsville City Schools, which was the only U.S. competitor in last year’s international Greenpower competition, is expanding participation in the unique STEM learning initiative. (Photo courtesy of the Huntsville City Schools)

One of the most interesting aspects of the schools tour was the visit to the Huntsville Center for Technology, where I was introduced to Greenpower Team USA. Last October, Huntsville students competed in an international competition held in the U.K. to design, build, and test electric cars. The cars are built from scratch, including the aerodynamic composite bodies.

The Huntsville team won the Best Newcomer Award and the Siemens Innovator Award their first time out, placing 10th out of 32 competitors in the 90-minute race and 32nd out of 74 competitors in the four-hour race. Speeds average around 30 mph, but duration and durability are the primary goals. They were the only team outside of the U.K. in the finals. Team Huntsville has brought the concept home to the U.S., building test tracks around several Huntsville high schools to increase student participation citywide. And with the U.K. competitions including a category for 9- to 11-year-olds, which uses “Goblin Car” kits that average top speeds of 15 mph, Greenpower is an engaging way for STEM learning to reach a wide age range of students.

Clearly, Huntsville benefits from some unique local assets not available to all school systems, but many others could learn from the city’s leadership in developing technology integration strategies and their hands-on approach to STEM education.

Russell Shilling is Executive Director of STEM in the Office of Innovation and Improvement.

One District’s Quest to Transform Learning through Technology

What does it mean to be a “Future Ready” school district?

More than 160 teachers, parents, students, and business and district leaders from across Tennessee recently gathered at the Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools’ Martin Center to discuss the answer to this question and talk about the upcoming Future Ready District Pledge.

The Pledge establishes a framework for districts to achieve the goals laid out by the White House ConnectED Initiative. Some of these goals include: upgrading high-speed Internet connectivity, providing access to educational devices and digital content, and preparing teachers to use technology effectively to improve student learning and their own professional development.

The event – part of the U.S. Department of Education’s fifth annual back-to-school bus tour – was hosted by Kecia Ray, Executive Director of Learning Technology for the Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) and Richard Culatta, Director of the Department’s Office of Educational Technology.

Some of those who attended the event demonstrated what #FutureReady meant to them. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Some of those who attended the event demonstrated what #FutureReady meant to them. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

During the discussion, teachers, students, administrators, and community leaders talked about their roles in shaping the way technology can transform learning.

One teacher from the MNPS Virtual School said his staff was already “rockin’ Future Ready but could certainly use the infrastructure attention, as well as community involvement.” Other educators emphasized the importance of professional development and training. One MNPS teacher said teachers needed professional development on how to use devices for specific instructional purposes, while another teacher suggested, “Our perception needs to change from technology being ‘another thing’ we need to learn, to being ‘the way’ we teach and learn.”

The educators expressed the importance of building the right infrastructure, imagining the classrooms of the future, ensuring teachers are ready to utilize and benefit from technology, and bringing into the work parents, community members, school board members, and others . District leaders also recognized the value of mentoring other districts, noting, “The only way to be successful is to collaborate, just like we expect our teachers to do.”

Parents talked about blended learning, which combines classroom and online instruction, noting that without consistency across the country, individual districts would need to clearly define this learning approach for their teachers and students. Some parents also emphasized the importance of understanding what was going on at school, suggesting that “if parents knew what was happening in the classroom, they would know the right questions to ask their students.”

Students also gave their points of view.

Tenth-grade Big Picture High School student Jarred Enyart facilitated a conversation with nearly 30 middle and high school students. The teens expressed excitement about incorporating Future Ready into their learning experiences.

One student wondered, “If students had 45 minutes of rich learning online, would they have more motivation to succeed and learn?” Another offered an example of the personalized learning available in Future Ready schools, noting, “I had maxed out on AP classes and was interested in medicine. I was able to access a variety of opportunities because of the internet.”

As the event concluded, one student offered some excellent advice, urging the participants to use technology “as a tool, not a crutch.”

We will continue to bring you details about the Future Ready pledge. Follow the hashtag #FutureReady on Facebook and Twitter for updates.

James Liou is a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education.

Blue Skies and Sustainable Cultures in Colorado’s Green Schools

Note: U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools recognizes schools, districts and postsecondary institutions that are 1) reducing environmental impact and costs; 2) improving health and wellness; and 3) teaching environmental education. To share innovative practices in these three ‘Pillars,’ the Department conducts an annual Green Strides Best Practices Tour of honorees.

September 17th was a time of celebration for Colorado as we became the focus of the Green Strides Best Practices Tour. Andrea Suarez Falken, ED Green Ribbon Schools Director, and other federal, state, and local government officials, visited schools and districts throughout the state that have demonstrated sustainable practices and environmental leadership in public education. As a science teacher and school administrator at Kinard Middle School in Fort Collins, Colorado, I was honored to have these visitors witness firsthand what we have accomplished and celebrate our commitment to environmental stewardship, health, and environmental education.

At Kinard Middle School, we believe in providing students with an authentic, engaging learning environment that reflects the civic responsibilities they will face in the real world. It is our responsibility as teachers to empower students to own their learning through practical applications that let them impact their school and community in meaningful, healthy ways. This is what gets me out of bed every day: I want students to leave a lasting legacy on their world.

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The Kinard C.A.R.E.S. class composts over 20,000 lbs. of food waste each year. (Photo credit: Kinard Core Knowledge Middle School)

Eight years ago, my students and I initiated an environmental leadership class at our school called Kinard C.A.R.E.S. (Community, Action, Results, Environment, Service) focused on inspiring change in our school and community through service-learning projects. The effort has resulted in composting over 20,000 lbs. of food waste each year at our school and diverting approximately 70 percent of our trash from the landfill each year.

Our environmental leadership curriculum replaces the traditional “learning silos” with an interdisciplinary curriculum that focuses on the complexities of systems in the real world. We are developing 21st century skills through team-building exercises to promote creativity, innovation, problem solving, and effective communication, as demonstrated by our students during a guided tour of school facilities.

When I heard that the Green Strides Tour was coming, it was a no-brainer that students would lead the event. Visitors were impressed with how articulately they described unique energy features like geothermal heating and cooling, wind-powered electricity, and natural daylight, all of which contribute to make Kinard the most energy- efficient school in the state of Colorado. This wasn’t rote learning; students clearly showed that they owned these concepts and their school as well as any architect or designer.

The group also visited two of our neighboring schools: Wellington Middle School and Lesher Middle School. At Wellington, the school’s Eco-Club is made up of students who work to keep the school focused on saving energy, recycling, and tracking the school’s wind turbine energy data. Students visit a local dairy, and sewage and water treatment facilities to experience first-hand the concepts they learn in classes, and is host for Innovation Camp, a STEM camp for middle school students across northern Colorado. At Lesher, we heard about an impressive Bike-to-School Week, when 40 percent of students and staff log 4,000 miles, an Iron Viking Adventure Race, a sustainability class, and a 2006 $3.7 million remodel resulting in a new media center, fitness center, art room, and general education classrooms with energy-efficient features, including unit ventilators, solar tubes, double-pane thermal windows, solar shades, and new lighting.

In creating a comprehensive green school, my colleagues and I helped students identify how their actions influence our interconnected world; maximized learning with collaborative green building practices and conservation behaviors; discovered that student success is a product of a healthy school environment; and ultimately realized that the three Pillars of ED-GRS are profound guideposts for all schools, whatever their starting point.

Here in Poudre School District, the tour felt like a celebration and culmination of the vision we’ve been striving for over many years. I’ve never been more proud of our students and the work that they have contributed to our school culture. 

Chris Bergmann is Assistant Principal at Kinard Core Knowledge Middle School in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Historic Milestones Present Opportunities and Challenges in Education

As the school year gets into full swing, it’s worth reflecting on a couple of historic milestones that make this year unique.

For the first time in our nation’s history, America’s public school population is majority-minority, according to this Department’s projections. Actual counts will come after a year or more, but we estimate that as of this month, non-white students make up 50.2 percent of all public school students.

Secretary Duncan announced this shift in April during a speech to the Grad Nation Summit, noting the growing imperative to serve all students better.

“All — all — of America’s children are our children,” he said. “When we think about preparing our young people today for the possibilities of tomorrow — which increasingly means preparing them for some form of college — then that’s about all our kids. This is about both equity and excellence. And I believe it’s going to take a sea change in our classrooms to get there.”

Fortunately, there are signs that change is under way, as shown in another vital statistic: the highest high school graduation rate in America’s history – 80 percent. Graduation rate increases between just 2008 and 2012 helped an additional 100,000 Latino students and an additional 40,000 African-American students to graduate from high school.

“As a country, we owe a debt of gratitude to the teachers, administrators, and families whose hard work made [this] achievement possible,” Secretary Duncan said.

ED used the cohort graduation rate, the most accurate measure of high school graduation rates, to calculate the 80 percent. First reported on the state level in 2012, the cohort rate is a common metric for states, districts, and schools to promote greater transparency and accountability. The measure also accounts for students who drop out, or who don’t earn a regular high school diploma.

But Duncan also said that success rates for some students, including those of color, must improve. Hispanic and African-American students graduated at lower rates than their peers – 76 and 68 percent, respectively.

We continue our work to address these prevailing achievement and opportunity gaps today. To level the playing field, we will continue to promote equitable access to high-quality preschool, strong teachers, and advanced coursework; to speak out against unfair disciplinary practices; and to ensure students in all zip codes have access to advanced technology.

Meredith Bajgier is a member of the Communications Development Team in the Office of Communications and Outreach. 

Ed Games Week Highlights the Emergence of Video Games in Education

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Ed Games Week wrapped up with a 48-hour Education Game Jam that brought together over one hundred veteran and independent game developers, teachers, and students. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Games and play are a central part of childhood and can stimulate creativity and learning. As technology grows as a tool for teachers, one question has been: what role might educational video games play in the classroom?

Today, increasing numbers of teachers are incorporating games to supplement and enrich classroom instruction. In addition, students of all ages are developing their own games, as showcased in competitions and hackathons in communities across the country.

Ed Games Week brought the discussion on educational games to Washington, D.C. The Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the U.S. Department of Education (ED) collaboratively planned a series of events including the Ed Games Expo, the Ed Games Workshop, and the White House Education Game Jam.

The Ed Games Expo

The Ed Games Expo showcased 25 newly developed learning games developed with funding from the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) programs at ED’s Institute of Education Sciences (ED/IES SBIR) and other federal programs. More than 150 attendees met face-to-face with the developers and played games that covered a range of topics – from STEM, history, and foreign languages – and used a wide variety of genres for gameplay. For example:

  • Addimal Adventure challenges children to solve mathematical equations with support of friendly characters.
  • Zoo U helps grade school students navigate a series of challenging social situations.
  • Reach for the Sun encourages deep understanding of photosynthesis as students grow a virtual sunflower from seed to full plant.

For more, check out the Office of Educational Technology YouTube channel:

Ed Games Workshop

The Ed Games Workshop brought together the Expo game developers and a team of federal experts. Workshop collaborators strategized exciting possibilities to create regional, national, or even international STEM game competitions featuring games that motivate as well as teach, such as through an X-Prize model. For more, see this article on the Clinton Foundation blog.

The White House Education Game Jam

Ed Games Week wrapped up with a 48-hour Education Game Jam that brought together over one hundred veteran and independent game developers, teachers, and students with the goal of creating educational games that make challenging K-12 topics easier for students to learn and for teachers to teach. Organized by the White House and Department of Education, developers were challenged to develop playable prototypes during the event. On Monday, Sept. 8, Game Jam participants presented videos of their games and demonstrated the prototypes at the White House. Twenty-three educational games were developed over the weekend including:

You can find videos of all the game prototypes on the Office of Educational Technology YouTube channel:

ED is committed to tracking the emergence of technology-based games in education as a way to enrich in-and-out of classroom learning opportunities for students. Follow @OfficeofEdTech and @IESResearch on Twitter for the latest!

Ed Metz is a developmental psychologist and the Program Manager for the Small Business Innovation Research Program at the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences.

Russell Shilling is an experimental psychologist and the Executive Director of STEM Initiatives at the U.S. Department of Education.

Mark DeLoura is Senior Advisor for Digital Media at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Secretary Duncan Wants to Hear from You

Cross-posted from the White House blog.


This morning, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan sent the following message to the White House email list.

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Last week, I met Brittany.

She’s a hardworking student at West Georgia Technical College who is now just months away from being certified as a nursing assistant, but there was a point when she didn’t think she’d be here. In high school, Brittany became pregnant and her future suddenly became uncertain. Her high school counselor suggested she apply for the 12 for Life program, a local program that offers students who have fallen behind in high school the opportunity to attend class, work and get back on their feet.

As I talked with Brittany and her fellow students — many of whom were the first in their family to graduate high school — they spoke powerfully and tearfully of the program’s success, and how it had given them hope for the future.

Brittany’s inspiring story is just one of many I heard last week during the Department of Education’s annual back-to-school bus tour. This year’s tour took us to Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee, and provided my team and me with the opportunity to see innovations in education and to discuss progress, promise, and results.

I wish I could see every innovative program — every initiative creating promise for our children — happening across the country, but even after visiting all 50 states and more than 350 schools during my time as Secretary, I can’t visit every school. So that’s where you come in.

What cutting-edge programs are your local schools undertaking? Or, if you don’t know of any, what would you like to see them do?

We’ll share some of your stories and suggestions on the White House blog.

meet_brittany

Brittany tells Secretary Arne Duncan about her positive experience in the 12 for Life Program during a stop on his back-to-school bus tour in Carrolton, Ga. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Education by Joshua Hoover.

This was my fifth back-to-school bus tour, and with each tour, I become increasingly optimistic about our country’s ability to elevate and strengthen education. High school graduation rates are at an all-time high, college enrollment has hit record levels, dropout rates are dramatically down, and principals, teachers, parents, and students are taking the lead on improving education for all students.

But during the bus tour and around the country, I also hear a lot of people worried that our children won’t inherit a better America than we did. That’s why we have such an important shared mission: to make sure that every student, everywhere, gets an effective education. It’s a mission that we can all agree on, and it’s one that matters immensely.

The best ideas in education will never come from Washington, which is why the Obama Administration is working hard to help states and communities strengthen schools — in particular, through supports for great teaching, and higher standards. It’s inspiring to see states and local communities stepping up to expand access to high-quality early education, transition to college- and career-ready standards, and support innovation in education.

So I want to know what’s happening in your community. Share the innovative things the schools in your area are doing — or what you’d like to see happen.

We should celebrate the gains we’ve made these past couple years, but we can’t be fully satisfied. There’s still more to do to support all students so they may reach their full potential. So, in this new school year, let’s get to work.

Thanks for sharing,

Arne

Secretary Arne Duncan
Department of Education
@arneduncan