5 Common Student Loan Mistakes

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1) Not figuring out how much you’ll need to pay each month

As you’re trying to plan your life after graduation, it’s important that you know how much you’ll need to pay each month toward your student loans so you can budget your other expenses accordingly. To estimate what you’ll need to pay based on your income and loan debt, use the repayment estimator.

2) Choosing the wrong repayment plan

The repayment plan you choose is a major factor in determining how much your monthly student loan payment will be and how long it will take you to pay back your loans. The Department of Education offers several different repayment plans. To compare these plans based on your student loan debt and income, use the repayment estimator.

Make sure you’re enrolled in a plan that you can afford. If you’re struggling to make your monthly payment, consider switching to an income-driven repayment plan, such as our “Income-Based” or “Pay As You Earn” plans. If you have questions, need advice, or would like to switch your repayment plan, contact your loan servicer.

3) Not paying extra when you can

If you are paying interest on your federal student loan, that interest accrues each day. An easy way to save money on your student loans is to pay more than what’s required whenever you can. Here are some ideas:

  • Make interest payments while you’re still in school and/or during your grace period
  • Use your tax refund to make an additional loan payment
  • Tack a few extra dollars onto your payment each month

4) Missing payments

If you’re feeling overwhelmed or don’t think you’ll be able to afford your next student loan payment, don’t just stop paying. Instead, contact your loan servicer as soon as possible. Not making your student loan payments is a big deal. It can result in default, which negatively impacts your credit score, and may affect your ability to borrow for things like a car or a home. Your loan servicer can recommend options to reduce or postpone your payment and keep your loan in good standing.

5) Paying for student loan help

There are countless ads online from companies offering to help you manage your student loan debt…for a fee, of course. But, did you know that you can get help with your student loans for free? The U.S. Department of Education provides FREE student loan help through our servicers.

Your loan servicer is the company hired by the U.S. Department of Education to help you manage, understand, and pay back your loans. They are there to help guide you through the loan repayment process, answering any questions you have along the way.

Their services are provided free of charge, but they can only help you if they can reach you. Graduating and moving away from campus? Changing your cell phone number or e-mail address? Make sure you let your loan servicer know.

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

Beware! You Don’t Have to Pay for Help with Your Student Loans

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There are countless ads online from companies offering to help you manage your student loan debt…for a fee, of course. But, did you know that you can get help with your student loans for free?

If you’re a federal student loan borrower, the U.S. Department of Education provides free assistance to help:

  • Lower Your Monthly Payment;
  • Consolidate Your Loans;
  • See If You Qualify For Loan Forgiveness; and
  • Get Out of Default

Lower Your Monthly Payment

Are you out of a job or not earning very much? The federal government makes it easy for you to switch to a more affordable repayment plan at any time at no cost.

Your loan servicer – the company that collects your payments, responds to your customer service inquiries, and does other tasks related to your federal student loan – can help you decide which repayment plan best suits you. Click here for a list of servicers’ contact information and to find out how to look up your servicer.

Before you contact your servicer, check out the Repayment Estimator to get an idea of plans that may be available to you and to see estimates for your monthly payments.

Consolidate Your Loans

If you have multiple loans that you want to combine, you can apply for loan consolidation through StudentLoans.gov. The application is free, and there are no extra processing fees.

Some people find it simpler to group all their student loans into a single loan with one interest rate and one monthly payment. If you choose to consolidate your federal student loans with the U.S. Department of Education, you, too, may be able to take advantage of flexible repayment plans, including ones that base your payments on your income and family size.

See If You Qualify For Loan Forgiveness

Loan forgiveness is the process by which a borrower is released from their obligation to repay all or a portion of the principal and interest on a student loan. This also is known as discharge or cancellation. Loan forgiveness programs were created to encourage people to take certain types of jobs, to help borrowers with lower income jobs, and to compensate for permanent disabilities.

Many student loan companies advertise that they can help you get your loans forgiven. And sometimes, they simply are using the Department of Education’s free resources to help you, but are charging you to do so.

In fact, your loan servicer can help you determine if you qualify for loan forgiveness … for free.

Get Out of Default

If your loan is already in default, the debt relief companies know it and may target you with online and mobile ads, phone calls, and maybe even letters to your home address. By being in default, you’ve already incurred added interest, and you’re subject to collection fees. There’s no reason to add additional fees by signing up with a debt relief company.

Even if your loan is in default, loan consolidation is free and so is getting on a loan rehabilitation plan. Find out how to get out of default.

Protecting Your Log-In and Account Information

When student loan debt relief companies offer to manage your loan account, to do so, they will ask you to provide them with your federal student aid log-in information, or sign a Power of Attorney. Think about it: your log-in information is the equivalent of your signature on documents related to your student loan. If you share this information or sign a Power of Attorney, you are giving that person the power, literally, to take actions on your student loan on your behalf.

And if the debt relief company collects fees from you, but never actually makes any payments on your loan for you, you still will be responsible for those outstanding payments and late fees. You should protect your federal student aid log-in and account information as securely as you guard your ATM PIN.

Do You Think You’ve Been Scammed or Need a Resolution?

If you’ve already signed a contract with a debt relief company, and you think they have cheated you, call the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) at 1-855-411-2372, or submit a complaint online. Under “What type of service is your complaint about?” select Debt Settlement. Then, choose I have a problem with a company that I hired to help reduce or settle my debt.

Also, many state governments have an Office of Consumer Affairs or Consumer Protection either within or affiliated with the office of the state’s Attorney General.

If you’ve tried to work out your student loan debt issues with your servicer without success, you can contact the Federal Student Aid Ombudsman Group, which helps resolve disputes related to Direct Loans, Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program loans, Guaranteed Student Loans, and Perkins Loans.

Remember, there are no student loan companies affiliated with the Department of Education that charge fees to help you manage your loan repayment. With the resources available to you through the Department of Education, you can successfully manage your loan repayment for free.

April Jordan is a senior communications specialist at Federal Student Aid.

Recognizing Green Schools and Districts – and Colleges! – This Earth Day

U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS) began in 2011-2012, recognizing 78 green schools. In 2012-2013, ED added a District Sustainability Award and honored 64 schools and 14 districts. The 2013-2014 cycle had 48 school honorees and 9 district honorees. 2015 is the inaugural year of the Postsecondary Sustainability Award.

To celebrate Earth Day, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the 2015 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS), District Sustainability Awardees, and the first-ever Postsecondary Sustainability Awardees. Joined by Managing Director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality Christy Goldfuss, Secretary Duncan celebrated the 58 schools, 14 districts, and nine postsecondary institutions chosen for their progress in reducing environmental impact and utility costs, promoting better health for students and staff, and offering effective environmental education, including civics, STEM and green career pathways.

Reiterating the Department’s support for sustainable schools, Secretary Duncan praised the honorees, “They demonstrate how sustainability concepts allow students to expand their traditional learning into the real world and to create change for the betterment of communities. This authentic learning engages students in all subjects, and bolsters their critical thinking, collaboration, and problem-solving capacities.”

The honorees were selected from a pool of candidates voluntarily nominated by thirty state education agencies across the country, with honorees selected from 28 of these jurisdictions. The schools serve diverse populations, with 52 public and six private schools, including 35 elementary, 19 middle, and 17 high schools, with several offering various K-12 variations. Forty-seven percent of this year’s honorees serve disadvantaged students, 22 percent are rural, and one-third of the postsecondary honorees are community colleges. Many also serve pre-K students, demonstrating that health, wellness, and environmental concepts can be taught to every student at every level. Honorees also show that their efforts not only improve health and learning, but also save schools money in utility costs which can be applied directly back to the classroom.

Read about this year’s honorees and their achievements in this year’s state-by-state .

There are many tools and resources available to all schools, prekindergarten to postsecondary, to help with sustainable facilities, wellness practices, and environmental learning. You can find free resources available through the U.S. Department of Education’s Green Strides portal. You can also stay up to date through the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools’ webpage, where you can connect with us through Facebook, Twitter, and the newsletter.

With the help of these tools, your school, district, or postsecondary institution may be eligible to apply in your state for one if its nominations to U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools in an upcoming year. Schools, districts and postsecondary institutions are encouraged to contact their state education authorities for more information on state applications. While a few state authorities don’t yet participate, hearing from interested schools may change that.

Andrea Suarez Falken is Director of U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools and ED’s Facilities, Health, and Environment Liaison.

Addressing Sexual Assault as a Community

Cross-posted from the Department of Justice blog.

As we recognize Sexual Assault Awareness Month, I want to take a moment to reflect on the work of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division to address and prevent sexual assault in schools and communities across the country. The impact of sexual assault can reverberate throughout a community, and the response to sexual assault within a community – from a residential advisor in a college dorm to a special victim’s unit detective – has a profound and lasting impact on the health and well-being of a sexual assault survivor.

Over the past few years, the division has engaged with law enforcement, prosecutors and schools to promote a comprehensive, integrated and effective response to reports of sexual assault. In doing so, we look to assist both schools and law enforcement in their efforts to protect students and address the needs of sexual assault survivors. As more people across the country are working together to prevent and improve the response to sexual assault, questions are frequently asked about the role of colleges and universities and why sexual assault is not handled exclusively by law enforcement.

Let’s be clear. Sexual assault is a crime and must be dealt with appropriately. However, the responsibility for addressing sexual assault does not stop at law enforcement. Schools also have a civil rights obligation to respond appropriately to reports of sexual assault.

Every school is responsible for providing a safe, nondiscriminatory environment to all students. Sexual assault can interfere with or destroy a student’s ability to get an education. We have heard from survivors of sexual assault who are fearful of being in the same classroom as their attackers or are subjected to harassment and retaliation by classmates for reporting the assault. We have heard from too many students who left school after being assaulted.

Under federal civil rights laws, schools must respond to reports of sexual assault, investigate where appropriate and provide a prompt, effective and impartial resolution. It is not enough just to respond to individual complaints from survivors. To effectively address and prevent sexual assault, schools need to respond to reports from all sources, especially when assaults are repeatedly perpetrated by the same student or at the same location. Having an appropriate and effective response system in place increases student confidence and trust in their school and the ability of the school to provide for their safety.

To provide a safe and nondiscriminatory learning environment, schools must be able to administer discipline where appropriate. This administrative response serves a unique and critically important function and must happen in addition to any criminal prosecution. A school disciplinary proceeding is not, however, a criminal proceeding, and should never be viewed as an alternative to criminal prosecution. Schools do not have the authority and are not asked to determine whether alleged perpetrators of sexual assault committed a crime.

That is the role of law enforcement. And law enforcement – including campus police, local police and prosecutors – play a critical role: as one of the key responders to reports of sexual assault, and as partners with schools, victim advocates and others in the effort to protect the community from sexual assault. Indeed, the importance of communication and coordination among each of these partners in both responding to and preventing sexual assault cannot be underestimated. In our experience, when everyone works together, survivors of sexual assault are more likely to report and to receive services, exhibit greater confidence in the criminal justice and school systems and feel far better supported throughout the process.

In Missoula, Montana, to address serious shortcomings in how the University of Montana-Missoula and local law enforcement investigated and responded to sexual assaults, the division reached agreements with the university, its campus police, the city police department and the county prosecutor’s office. This first of its kind multi-pronged approach to combating sexual assault – which reaches from the campus to the courthouse door – has resulted in significant improvements in the response to sexual assault within the Missoula community. We, along with our colleagues at the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, are working with leaders from across the community as they implement these agreements so that whenever sexual assaults are reported, policies and procedures are already in place; first responders and investigators are trained to handle the report appropriately; and supports and services are more readily available and better coordinated. It is with this kind of focused attention and collaboration that sexual assault can be eradicated from our communities and students can feel safe and supported in school.

Vanita Gupta is Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights.

Secretary Arne Duncan Joins Medium

Secretary Duncan on Medium

Earlier today, Secretary of Education Arne joined Medium, a new self-publishing platform that encourages people to share ideas and stories that matter.

In his inaugural Medium post, Secretary Duncan discusses how technological tools can “empower students to become who they want to be, and who we need them to be — the kind of children and young people who ask, ‘What can I improve? How can I help? What can I build?'”

“Technology can just as easily widen the lead for those who already have every advantage. If the technology revolution only happens for families that already have money and education, then it’s not really a revolution.”  

Read the Secretary’s full post and follow us to keep the conversation going.

We’re always looking for new ways to connect with the public, which is why you can also follow Secretary Duncan on Facebook and Twitter, too.

Games for Learning Summit: Expanding the Conversation Between Educators and Game Designers

Cross-posted from Medium.

Whether it is using quick warm-ups like Game of Phones or highly immersive experiences with Mario Kart and Minecraft, digital games can be powerful motivators for learning. It is with this in mind that we are eager to expand the conversation between teachers and game developers.

The U.S. Department of Education and Games for Change, with support from the Entertainment Software Association, will host the Games for Learning Summit April 21 at the 2015 Games for Change (G4C) Festival. With more than 250 participants, including nationally recognized educators, the designers of some of today’s most popular video games, and members of the U.S. Department of Education, we are hopeful that this event will encourage collaboration focused on the learning needs and interests of young people in the U.S.

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Collaborating and designing with the learning interests of young people in mind requires a shift in thinking from all stakeholders. Based on the conversations we’ve had with teachers and students, there is a hunger for better games that support better learning today. With the recent release of The Ed Tech Developer’s Guide, the pathways for developing for impact are clearer than ever.

At the beginning of the school year, the two of us (along with a handful of amazing teachers) spent a weekend enmeshed with teams of game designers at the White House Education Game Jam. Focused on games that could provide powerful learning resources for schools, we have continued to be optimistic about the results that such collaboration can yield.

A recent game-design project in Chad’s classroom highlights some of what game-based learning has to offer us as teachers and students. Inspired by games ranging from Geometry Dash to Sissy’s Magical Ponycorn Adventure, students working in teams of four completed their own Scratch games like Wasteland Adventures, World Championship Soccer, and Sanic Pong. Each ‘studio’ of four students brainstormed genres, tropes, and mechanics for games they wanted to create and play. Then they got to work. Programmers started to code. Artists worked with platforms like Piskel and Google Draw. Sound Engineers scoured freesound.org and Sound Bible for sound effects and composed theme music with Online Sequencer. Student project managers kept everyone working and talking with one another through shared docs and folders.

The project helped students develop media literacy, soft skills like collaboration, and technical skills like managing an online repository of A/V assets, to say nothing of the logic, math, reading, and writing skills they demonstrated in navigating tutorials, communicating online, and building their games. Students even discussed gender norms in character design and traditional gaming narratives. Game-based learning isn’t about consuming a product to pick up a fact or two; it’s about learning to analyze or produce pieces of interactive media that require critical thinking, persistence, and problem-solving to master, critique, play, and make.

Now, with several White House Education Game Jam alumni and friends coming to the Games for Learning Summit, we are excited about focusing on articulating the thinking, dialogue, and spaces for collaboration between developers and educators.

We’re looking forward to continuing conversation far beyond the Games and Learning Summit. We need to work together to answer questions like: How can we help one another make and use games to fulfill educational needs in the classroom? How can we put the best interactive content in the hands of students for the most meaningful educational experiences — those focused on discovery and decision-making? Let’s figure out game-changing ways to harness the power of play for the work of learning in schools.

Join the conversation on Tuesday by watching the live stream and Tweeting your contributions with #G4L15.

Antero Garcia (@anterobot) is a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education and teaches pre-service teachers as an Assistant Professor at Colorado State University.

Chad Sansing (@chadsansing) teaches technology and project-based learning at the BETA Academy in Staunton, Virginia.

6 Things You MUST Know About Repaying Your Student Loans

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If you’re already repaying your student loans or about to begin making payments for the first time, it’s easy to get intimidated. Although you have lots of options to consider, there’s no reason to be alarmed. In just a few minutes, you can get a good handle on your student loans and who knows, you may even save yourself some time and money in the long run.

And REMEMBER: If you ever need any one-on-one help understanding your repayment options, you can get it (for FREE!) through your loan servicer. You should never have to pay for help with your federal student loans.

Here are six things you should know about your student loans.

1. When to start making payments

You don’t have to begin repaying most federal student loans until after you leave college or drop below half-time enrollment. Many federal student loans will even have a grace period. The grace period gives you time to get financially settled and to select your repayment plan. Note that for most loans, interest will accrue during your grace period. If you are able, you might want to consider making interest payments during your grace period so your principal balance doesn’t increase.

Your loan servicer or lender will provide you with a loan repayment schedule that states when your first payment is due, the number and frequency of payments, and the amount of each payment.

2. Who to pay

You will make your federal student loan payments to your loan servicer*, not the U.S. Department of Education (ED) directly. ED uses several loan servicers to handle the billing and other services on federal student loans. Your loan servicer can work with you to choose a repayment plan and can answer any questions you have about your federal student loans. It’s important to maintain contact with your loan servicer and keep your servicer informed of any changes to your mailing address, e-mail, or phone number so they know where to send correspondence and how to contact you.

3. How much to pay

Your bill will tell you how much to pay. Your payment (usually made monthly) depends on

  • the type of loan you received,
  • how much money you borrowed,
  • the interest rate on your loan, and
  • the repayment plan you choose.

You can use our repayment estimator to estimate your monthly payments under different repayment plans to determine which option is right for you. To switch repayment plans, contact your loan servicer.

4. How to Make Your Payments

There are several ways you can submit payments to your loan servicer, including options to submit your payment online through your loan servicer’s website.

TIP: Your servicer may offer the option to have your payments automatically withdrawn from your bank account each month. You may want to consider this option so you don’t forget to make your payments. And if you choose to enroll in automatic debit, you may even qualify for a special interest rate reduction.

5. What to do if you can’t make your payment

Contact your loan servicer as soon as possible if you are confused or can’t afford your monthly payment. You do have options to lower your payment, such as changing your repayment plan to one that will allow you to have a longer repayment period or to one that is based on your income. If switching repayment plans isn’t a good option for you, ask your loan servicer about loan consolidation or postponing your payments.

Note: Several third-party companies offer student loan assistance for a fee. Most of these services can be obtained for free from your loan servicer.

6. What could happen if you don’t make your payments

Not making your student loan payments is a big deal. It can result in default, which negatively impacts your credit score, and may affect your ability to borrow for things like buying a car or purchasing a home. Your tax refunds may also be withheld and applied to your outstanding student loan debt. There is never a reason to default. The Department of Education offers several options to ensure that you can successfully manage your student loans. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or having difficulty making payments, contact your loan servicer for help.

*If you are repaying federal student loans made by a private lender (before July 1, 2010), you may be required to make payments directly to that lender.

Tara Marini is a communications specialist at the Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid.

4 Must-DOs Before Repaying Your Student Loans

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Congratulations, Class of 2015! Your hard work paid off. You did it! There’s a lot to think about as you begin the next chapter. Let me help you with the student loan part.

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

  1. Find out what you owe

Start by tracking down all of your student loans. Just go to StudentAid.gov/login and log in to view your federal student 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 as well.

Login

  1. Enroll in a repayment plan that you can afford

If you take no action after you graduate, leave school, or drop below half-time enrollment, you will be automatically enrolled in the 10-Year Standard Repayment Plan. Find out what your monthly payment amount is going to be if you stick with this plan. If you don’t think you can afford that amount, consider switching to an income-driven repayment plan instead.

Income-driven repayment plans are designed to make your student loan debt more manageable by reducing your monthly payment amount to an affordable amount based on your income.

The easiest way to compare the different repayment plans based on your loan amount and income is to use our repayment calculator. 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:

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Estimate

Once you select a plan, contact your servicer to apply or enroll.

  1. Figure out how to pay

If you have federal student loans, you won’t pay the U.S. Department of Education directly. You will make payments to your loan servicer. Your loan servicer is a company that works on behalf of the U.S. Department of Education to process and manage student loan payments. 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.

Automatic Debit: The easiest way to pay

If you want to make repaying your student loans as easy as possible, sign up for automatic debit through your loan servicer. If you choose this option, your loan payments will be automatically deducted from your bank account each month, ensuring that your payments are made on time. If that isn’t good enough, you may also qualify for a 0.25% interest rate reduction when you enroll in automatic debit. To enroll in automatic debit, go to your servicer’s website.

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  1. Know who to contact if you need help

If you ever have questions or need help with your student loans contact your loan servicer. Your loan servicer can help you choose a repayment plan, understand loan consolidation, apply for an income-driven repayment plan, and complete other tasks related to your federal student loan. It’s important to remember that you NEVER have to pay for help with your student loans. That’s what your loan servicer is there for. Their help is FREE.

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.

Contact-Servicer

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

Teacher Leadership on the Global Stage

During the last weekend in March, union leaders, state education leaders, teacher leaders, one of ED’s Principal Ambassador Fellows and I joined delegations from 15 high-performing education systems across the globe for the 5thInternational Summit on the Teaching Profession in Banff, Canada. As countries around the world share a common desire to give every child a chance in life and to support teachers who devote their lives to that goal, the summit is a unique opportunity to learn from each other’s successes and challenges and to look for ways to replicate or adapt back home what other countries are doing well. We all appreciated the hospitality of Alberta Minister Gordon Dirks and his colleagues from across Canada for providing us the opportunity to grow and learn in such a beautiful setting.

Each year at the international summit each participating country commits to work in key areas over the course of the year and then report back on progress at the next summit. Together with the AFT, NEA, and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), we reported on the progress of our commitments from 2014 on teacher leadership, early learning and labor-management collaboration to increase learning for all students.

This year, the U.S. delegation introduced Teach to Lead, an initiative that seeks to advance student outcomes by expanding opportunities for teacher leadership both in and out of the classroom, to the global stage sparking international interest in this teacher-led and designed initiative to promote meaningful opportunities for teacher leadership that improve student outcomes. Teach to Lead has become an important vehicle through which so many teachers are fighting to make their leadership dreams a reality.

While at the summit our U.S. teachers, including six who have been active in Teach to Lead, convened a meeting with Canadian, Dutch, German and Estonian teachers and are now creating an international team of teachers exchanging ideas and working to advance teacher leadership and innovation across the globe. The teachers who attended are also getting the word out to educators across the U.S. and are beginning conversations about one of the commitments we made this year–a domestic summit modeled after the international summit to highlight and expand teacher leadership opportunities in the U.S.

During the summit, countries discussed their different approaches to leadership and the importance of collaboration. The Ontario Minister described their competitive Teacher Learning and Leadership Program to fund teacher projects; Singapore builds leadership development into each of its three career tracks; Finland starts leadership training in its initial teacher preparation; and New Zealand discussed its new Communities of Schools initiative and Teacher-led Innovation Fund.

I came away from the summit discussions with a renewed energy and commitment to teacher leadership and collaboration at all levels of education. With Jeff Charbonneau, 2013 National Teacher of the Year, presenting, the U.S. delegation committed publicly to:

  • Convene a summit in the U.S. to highlight teacher leadership and expand leadership opportunities.
  • Continue to work to increase the number of children with access to high-quality early learning and encourage teacher leadership in this regard.
  • Work to increase access for learners of all ages to high-quality career and technical education and encourage teacher leadership in this regard.

As Sharif El-Mekki, principal of Mastery Charter School-Shoemaker Campus in Philadelphia, said “I was proud that teachers and principals were a part of the decision making process for establishing the United States’ commitments for this coming year. A classroom teacher (and leader) presented our commitments to the world. The significance of this was profound, and lauded by the other international teachers in attendance. It was a proud moment for teacher leadership, nationally and internationally.”

With our teachers in the lead, we are already moving ahead on our commitments and will report back on our progress to the international community next year at the 6th summit in Berlin, Germany. As Mark Sass, high school teacher leader from Colorado, said “It is exciting to know that the work we are doing around teacher leadership is building nationally, as well as internationally. I left the Summit empowered and energized knowing there is a global collective focused on elevating the profession.”

When we hosted the first international summit in New York City in 2011, it wasn’t evident that it would create an ongoing international community of practice dedicated to enhancing the teaching profession, and dedicated to improving learning for all students. But it has and that reflects the global view that all teachers and principals need and deserve excellent preparation, support and opportunities for growth. Our educators and students deserve nothing less.

Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education.

Healthy Lunchtime Challenge Returns

Cross-posted from Let’s Move!

The Healthy Lunchtime Challenge is back!

This year, First Lady Michelle Obama is teaming up with PBS flagship station WGBH Boston, the U.S. Department of Education, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to host the fourth-annual Healthy Lunchtime Challenge to promote cooking and healthy eating among young people across the nation.

The challenge invites kids ages 8-12 to join a parent or guardian in creating an original recipe that is healthy, affordable, and delicious.

One winner from each U.S. state, territory, and the District of Columbia will be selected and have the opportunity to attend a Kids’ “State Dinner” here at the White House later this summer where a selection of the winning recipes will be served.

LEARN MORE

More Than a Checkmark – Together for Tomorrow

Downey TFT

For many school districts, the creation of a vibrant, educational community where students’ grades improve consistently and the educational environment is healthy and safe may seem to be a daunting task.

Yet, on a family and community engagement school site visit last month in Harrisburg, Penn., members of ED’s Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships (CFBNP) observed how Downey Elementary, under the guidance of the Harrisburg School District and in partnership with families, CBOs, and a college institution, defies these odds. Through Together for Tomorrow, an initiative that spotlights and fosters partnerships among schools, families, and national service organizations, the collective care and capacity of these stakeholders breathes life into the cultural fabric of Downey and inspires students to step into roles as academic leaders.

“When I grow up, I want to be a scientist. I want to cure all types of sickness and cancers. I am learning about some of this in my science class, and when I finish the fourth grade next year, I am going to the Math Science Academy where I can learn much more!” one third grader said.

These words echoed the similar sentiments of many Downey students who proudly communicated to CFBNP staff that they are leaders, plan to go to college, and will try to make their neighborhoods a better place.

Parents also spoke highly of the school.

“Months ago, my child was a victim of bullying at his former school. … Now here at Downey … my child is not only safe, but he is a respected leader. It is important to ask, ‘What it is about Downey that makes it such a positive and safe learning environment in the same neighborhood as my son’s former school, only right down the street?’” said one parent.

What is helping Downey Elementary to become a vibrant school community is its intentionality in making sure that all stakeholders have an equal share in providing for the life and educational needs of the students. Organizations, such as the Harrisburg Symphony, Salvation Army and United Way, have employed innovative methods to serve the school. Messiah College engages its students in various service learning projects that enhance Downey’s appearance and learning opportunities for students. Downey houses a Parents’ Academy that encourages participation and allows them to receive up to 15 college credits. Teachers train on engaging students and parents, while a Parent Engagement Specialist oversees Parent Liaisons and implements programs to help parents become better education advocates. Downey also contains on onsite health clinic. Additionally, the elementary school has a Corporation for National and Community Service Vista member who helps build the capacity of the school.

For Downey, engaging families and communities extends beyond addressing a simple requirement or “checking the box” for community inclusion. They recognize the power and benefits of working with families and CBO’s to raise student achievement.

Read more great stories from ED’s Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships on their blog.

Eddie Martin is a special assistant in the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the U.S. Department of Education.

Marking the 50th Anniversary of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act

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Yesterday, joined by civil rights leaders, students, and educators, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), at the Martin Luther King Jr., Memorial Library in Washington, D.C.

In a speech, followed by a question and answer, Duncan discussed the education progress that America has seen in the past half-century and the work still ahead in closing achievement gaps – including the need for Congress to reauthorize a strong ESEA–also known as No Child Left Behind.

ESEA marked an extraordinary step for education, and for civil rights. The fight for educational opportunity and the fight for civil rights always have been and always will be inextricably linked.

ESEA has built a foundation under our nation’s schools, helping to raise the bar for every child, and to ensure that the resources are there for those most in need. It’s helped create an expectation that no matter where you live in this country, when students aren’t making progress, local leaders will come together to make change—especially if they are students with disabilities, students who are still learning English, students from a particular racial group, students who live in poverty, or students coming from particular school.

But Duncan said that there is still work to go:

“Our work will not be done until we ensure that opportunity is not just a possibility, but a promise.”

Duncan told the audience that teachers and principals know that ESEA is long overdue for repairs, and what needs to be done to fix the bill.

It is broken and it is wildly out of date. We need a new law that does a lot more to support innovation and creativity by educators and communities—and a lot less to stifle that creativity.

A new law must stay true to the vision that opportunity isn’t somehow optional; it’s a right—for every child in this country. We cannot afford to leave any of our talent on the sidelines.

Opportunity is a right that inspires teachers and principals to literally dedicate their lives to empowering our children.

It’s a right that encourages parents to expect their child will graduate from college and succeed in life, even if, even maybe especially if, those parents never had that chance themselves.

Our work is not done until we have lived up to that promise. To do that, we need a strong new ESEA that fulfills the right of all children to have a real opportunity to succeed.

Watch highlights from today’s speech:

Learn More:

Patrick Kerr is a member of the Communications Development division in the Office of Communications and Outreach