Choosing a Federal Student Loan Repayment Plan

Choosing a Federal Student Loan Repayment PlanIf you have federal student loans, it’s important that you understand your loan repayment options. For example, did you know that you have the option to choose a repayment plan? That’s right. While your loan servicer (the company that handles the billing and other services on your federal education loan) will automatically place your loan on the Standard Repayment Plan, you CAN choose another plan.

The Department of Education offers several traditional and income-driven repayment plans with different payment options. So, make sure to take the time to understand these options and find the plan that works best for you.

Generally, our repayment plans offer three types of payments:

  • Fixed Payments: Our Standard Repayment Plan and Extended Repayment Plan offer payments that remain the same amount for the life of the loan.
  • Graduated Payments: Our Graduated Repayment Plan and Extended-Graduated Plan offer payments that start out low and gradually increase every two years.
  • Income-Driven Payments: Our three income-driven repayment plans offer payments that are calculated based on your income.

Choosing a repayment plan can feel overwhelming. Don’t worry—there are several resources available to help you understand the repayments plans, determine your eligibility for each plan, and make the right decision for you.

  • Watch our Repayment: What to Expect video to get a high-level overview of the repayment plans.
  • Check out our Repayment Plans infographic for an easy-to-understand visual that will give you some key points to keep in mind as you are choosing a repayment plan.
  • Read our Repay Your Federal Student Loans fact sheet for additional information on loan repayment and the repayment plans.
  • Get detailed information about each repayment plan on our website.
  • Use our online Repayment Estimator to find out which plans you may be eligible for and to estimate how much you would pay under each plan. (If you log-in, the Repayment Estimator will use your actual loan balance to estimate your eligibility and payment information.)
  • Contact your loan servicer to discuss your options and choose a federal student loan repayment plan that’s best for you.

Remember, the repayment plans discussed here are for federal loans only. If you have private loans, check with your lender about available repayment options.

For more information on federal student loan repayment plans, visit Studentaid.ed.gov/repay-loans.

Tara Marini is a communication analyst at the Department of Education’s office of Federal 

The Great Society, 50 Years Later

LBJFifty years ago today, President Lyndon Johnson gave a commencement speech that changed the relationship between our country and its people. In that speech, he offered a vision of a “Great Society,” and in few places has the mark of his vision remained stronger than in education.

Johnson, who himself had struggled to afford school to become a teacher, had a finely tuned sense of human potential, of justice, and of what was possible with hard work and a good education. In his speech at the University of Michigan, he asked America to see the powerful connection between educational opportunity and the nation’s economic and moral health. And he asked us to recognize that it was within our power, collectively, to change outcomes, to ensure decent opportunity for every child. Indeed, he knew our future depended on our seeing that truth.

He said:

Our society will not be great until every young mind is set free to scan the farthest reaches of thought and imagination. We are still far from that goal.

Today, eight million adult Americans, more than the entire population of Michigan, have not finished five years of school. Nearly 20 million have not finished eight years of school. Nearly 54 million — more than one-quarter of all America — have not even finished high school.

Each year more than 100,000 high school graduates with proved ability do not enter college because they cannot afford it. And if we cannot educate today’s youth, what will we do in 1970 when elementary school enrollment will be five million greater than 1960?

… Poverty must not be a bar to learning, and learning must offer an escape from poverty.

By some measures, we are far closer to the country Johnson knew we could become. As he noted, a quarter of this country hadn’t completed high school at the time of his speech; now, that figure is less than a tenth. Thanks in large part to federal grants and loans, college is a reality for millions of students who could not attend otherwise.

Perhaps just as important, we now have far greater proof of Johnson’s belief that education can change life trajectories, and far greater understanding of what it takes to make that opportunity possible.

Yet, as I arrive to work each day at the Department of Education — itself a descendant of his vision for a more equitable society, housed in the Lyndon Baines Johnson Building — I recognize that poverty and other circumstances of one’s birth, far too often, remain “a bar to learning.” And the need for education is, frankly, greater today than it was half a century ago. Today, paths to a good life without a good education have essentially vanished. Yet at every level, poverty and race are still far too closely tied to educational opportunity and educational success. From course offerings to suspension and expulsion rates to college enrollment and graduation, we are not yet the equitable society Johnson knew we were capable of becoming.

In another commencement speech Johnson gave, at Howard University in 1965, he said, “It is not enough just to open the gates of opportunity—all our must citizens must have the ability to walk through those gates.”

Those words rang true five decades ago, and they ring true today.

Arne Duncan is U.S. Secretary of Education 

The “Softer” Side of Summer Learning

softsummer

It can be challenging helping children with reading, writing, math and science skills during the summer months to combat the “summer slide,” the learning loss than can occur when school is out.  Parents work hard helping their children stay engaged in summer packets and reading lists to reinforce academic skills, or “hard skills,” which though beneficial are often difficult to assist and not very motivating to students during the carefree days of summer.

Instead, a focus on “soft skills,” often called “people skills” can be a more inviting focus of summer learning, can be developed in children of any age and can be the start of successful life-long habits. Skills such as cultivating a growth mindset, setting goals, journaling, reflecting, collaborating, and communicating are just to name a few.

A national survey reports 77% of employers believe that soft skills are just as important as hard skills in the workplace. Some “soft skills” and ways you can help your child cultivate them this summer are:

  • Work ethic – This is also known as “grit.” Grit allows us to keep going and not give up. Give your child a difficult task to complete and encourage them throughout the process for not giving up and teach them how to bounce back from failure.
  • Goal Setting – Have your child write goals for each week and then have them check them off as they get done and celebrate success!
  • Dependability – Make your child responsible for tasks that they can complete independently. Give them a chance to be the leader at a family meeting, or decision-maker for family activities for a day.
  • Positive attitude – Create a gratitude calendar with your child where each day they write down one thing they are grateful for in their lives.
  • Teamwork – Get your child involved with athletics or other activities where they will need to work as a part of a team. Create family and friend activities where all members must work together to accomplish a fun task.
  • Problem solving –Think about ways to make everyday routines and activities a puzzle, such as leaving clues around the house that lead kids to solving puzzles while doing chores. Have them interact with online simulations to solve problems.
  • Reflection – Help your child begin a journal. Each day have them write about the events of the day, observations in nature, or things they have learned. Younger students can use pictures to express thoughts.
  • Communication – Create opportunities for your child to speak to you, family and friends. Use pictures, online field trips, role-play scenarios, or educational videos as conversation starters to get your child thinking and talking.

The most important thing you can do to support these skills is to model them daily. By engaging in activities with your children that focus on the “softer” side of learning this summer you will send them back to school in the fall with critical skills that will impact their future college, career and personal lives.

Dr. Toni Hull, a 2010 Teaching Ambassador Fellow, currently is an Instructional Specialist and Science teacher at Mesa Middle School in Las Cruces, NM. You can follow her on twitter @enchantedleader.

Making it Easier to Pick and Pay for College through Ratings

For so many, this season of college commencements is a joyful one filled with visions of the future. College holds the promise of a good job, lifelong learning and community engagement. Yet for too many families the price of that vital ticket to the middle class is increasingly out of reach. That undermines the opportunity that is core to our American values, and threatens our economic growth and the common good. As a nation, we have to make college more accessible and affordable and assure that students graduate with an education of real value.

President Obama has set a goal of regaining our world leadership in college completion, and has made a commitment to keep college within reach for all students. He has also set forth specific steps to ensure that quality education beyond high school can be a reality for all families. As part of a broad plan to promote postsecondary access, affordability and meaningful outcomes, President Obama charged the Department of Education to design a college ratings system to promote these goals by increasing accountability for the federal investment in higher education and making better information available to consumers.

This is my second update on that plan, following an earlier post in December.

The President’s call for a ratings system is already driving a necessary conversation about exactly the right kind of questions: What colleges are taking on the vitally important role of educating low-income students, and assuring that they graduate with good results? What educational practices might help schools lower the cost to students while improving or sustaining quality learning? Across the country, from Georgia State to Franklin & Marshall, Purdue to Arizona State, Los Rios Community College to University of Central Missouri to CUNY and SUNY, there are exciting examples of colleges and universities engaging constructively with those questions and shaping their priorities to advance the same goals.

In an effort to build this system thoughtfully and wisely, we are listening actively to recommendations and concerns, starting with a student leader session, four open forums in California, Iowa, Louisiana and Virginia, and a national listening tour that grew to 80-plus meetings with 4,000 participants.

We hear over and over – from students and families, college presidents and high school counselors, low-income students, business people and researchers – that, done right, a ratings system will push innovations and systems changes that will benefit students. We’ve heard strong support for the President’s plan from state education leaders, who are working to figure out sensible ways to drive positive change, and also from students, educators and parents who have spoken passionately about the need to improve access to higher education.

At the same time, we’ve received useful feedback on the creation of the system and dangers to avoid. Many have spoken strongly about the need to reward schools for completion in ways that do not lead them to turn away struggling students. A viable system, they remind us, must capture the wide variety of schools and students with sensitivity. And it must thoughtfully measure indicators like earnings, to avoid overemphasizing income or first jobs, penalizing relatively lower paid and public service careers, or minimizing the less tangible benefits of a college education such as civic engagement and critical thinking.

In all of these conversations, nothing has touched me more than a young woman who testified with remarkable openness at our forum in Los Angeles.  “I want to repay the government and private lenders for the unforgettable education I received, but it’s nearly impossible,” she said. “I feel like I’m drowning every day.”

Her college debt was destroying her and her brother’s credit records. We’ve met many students, from Iowa farm families to Louisiana working adults, struggling to find a good and affordable college option and worried about debt and repayment. By contrast, I think of the astonishment and delight of a Hispanic mom at a community center parent meeting who discovered that her family didn’t have to rule out for cost reasons the respected and selective schools for which her daughter was well qualified. Sensible college ratings could help all of them.

As this conversation has evolved we’ve sought the help of higher education leaders and experts. In December, we asked technical and subject-matter experts about measures, data sources, and formulas that might be used to generate ratings. We received more than 140 responses, including some fully-developed recommendations for designing an effective system. In February, we convened a technical symposium on ratings systems with people knowledgeable about measures developed by institutions, states, and publications. The scope of responses, complexity of the task, and importance of doing this thoughtfully and usefully led us to decide that it is worth taking more time before publishing a proposal for comment, interchange and improvement. In the meantime we are continuing conversations with educators, families, leaders and researchers. We are on track to come out with a proposal by this fall and a final version of the new ratings system before the 2015-16 school year. I look forward to updating you again on progress in the coming months.

Ultimately, we are committed to significantly increasing college access, affordability and results for the good of America’s students and of our national competitiveness. Fair, clear and powerful incentives and information will let us recognize colleges’ success and scale their innovations.

Washington doesn’t have all the answers. But with the guidance of thousands of wise voices, we can take action that will help more Americans realize the dream of a college education.

 Jamienne Studley is deputy under secretary of the U.S. Department of Education.

Is Student Loan Consolidation Right For You?

ConsolidateLoans

A Direct Consolidation Loan allows you to combine multiple federal education loans into one loan. Before making the decision to consolidate your loans, you’ll want to carefully consider whether loan consolidation is the best option for you. Keep in mind, once your loans are combined into a Direct Consolidation Loan, they cannot be removed.

Advantages of consolidating your student loans:

  • Simplified Payments
    You’ll have a single monthly payment and a single lender (the U.S. Department of Education) instead of multiple payments and multiple lenders.
  • It’s free!
    It’s free to apply to consolidate your federal student loans. If you are contacted by someone offering to consolidate your loans for a fee, you are not dealing with the U.S. Department of Education.
  • Fixed Interest Rate
    Direct Consolidation Loans have a fixed interest rate, meaning your interest rate won’t change year to year. The fixed interest rate is based on the weighted average of the interest rates on the loans being consolidated, rounded up to the nearest one-eighth of 1%.
  • Lower Monthly Payments
    You may get a longer time to repay your loans, often resulting in lower monthly payments.

Disadvantages of consolidating your student loans:

  • Loss of Borrower Benefits
    You may lose any borrower benefits, such as interest rate discounts, principal rebates, or some loan cancellation benefits, offered with the original loans.
  • More Interest Paid Over Time
    You will likely pay more money in interest over the life of the loan. The amount of time you have to repay your Direct Consolidation Loan can vary from 10-30 years depending on the amount of your Direct Consolidation Loan and the amount of your other student loan debt. The longer it takes to repay your loan, the more you will make in interest payments.

In weighing your options, be sure to compare your current monthly payments to what your monthly payments would be if you consolidated your loans. If you’re just interested in temporarily lowering your monthly payment, consolidation might not be the answer.  Contact your loan servicer to consider alternative options such as deferment or forbearance.

To find out more information about loan consolidation, including eligibility requirements, visit https://studentaid.ed.gov/repay-loans/consolidation.

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

Special Education is Not a Place

IDEA_middleschool

Imagine living in an institution as a child with disabilities. You are isolated from your peers, your abilities are underestimated, and you are deprived of the special attention and education that you deserve. You are separated from other kids who live on your same street, only because you have a disability. After living in segregation for years, a law is passed that gives equal education rights to you – the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

When people see our website that we created for the competition, we want them to go forth with the knowledge of how much IDEA has helped children since 1975. The law has changed the lives of countless children in the United States. When Isabel, Chloe, and I originally made our website for the National History Day (NHD) competition, “Special Education is Not a Place: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act,” we would never have guessed we, three 7th grade girls, would end up with a guest blog on the Department of Education website. It’s been a long journey for us; we have learned so much! However, it has been an even longer journey for children with disabilities to gain educational rights.

We go to George Washington Middle School in Alexandria, Va., which participates in the NHD competition. This year, the theme is “Rights and Responsibilities.” We chose the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act as our topic for several reasons. We were inspired by “Including Samuel,” a video about a boy with disabilities and his struggles and successes of inclusion, told by his father. Between the three of us we have three relatives who are involved with special education, but we realized many people have no idea what the IDEA stands for and what it does (even us!). We also realized that though civil rights and women’s rights are taught in school, the rights of people with disabilities are mostly left out.

As part of our website, we interviewed the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) Acting Assistant Secretary Michael Yudin to gain additional information on IDEA and special education. We enjoyed speaking with him so much and learned more during the interview about placing and educating students in the “least restrictive environment” and making sure children with disabilities are not discriminated against in the schools.   This interview will be available on our website soon.

We are proud that our work has been recognized and we won first place in our category at the National History Day competition at our school, in regionals, and in our state! Now, our goal is not only to do well in the National competition (fingers crossed!), but to teach as many people as possible about the law that gave everyone the right to learn. IDEA will be 40 years old next year—that’s a lot older than we are! We are so happy that it has helped many before our time, and that it continues to make education better for all of us!

Lily Clausen, Chloe Marsh, and Isabel Frye are 7th grade students at George Washington Middle School in Alexandria, Virginia.

Teacher Shadowing from a Teacher’s Perspective

Teacher Flora

Diana Schneider, an education program specialist at the U.S. Department of Education, helps a student with work. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Diana Schneider, the U.S. Department of Education employee who visited my classroom during ED Goes Back to School Day,  proved to be a wonderful thought partner to me the entire time. We have a lot in common: we both were English Language Learners and we share a passion for helping students develop their English language skills, while also fostering a respect for their heritage languages and cultures. Diana definitely showed this passion when she co-taught a few lessons with me throughout the day. She helped me add layers of connections and critical thinking to our reading tasks and also forged relationships with my students who continue to talk about her to this day. Diana even volunteered to help chaperone a future field trip so that she could sustain these newfound relationships with our 3rd graders.

I hope that Diana saw how much collaboration goes into being an ESL teacher and how much job-embedded professional development schools provide nowadays. I’m glad that Diana could experience a professional development session as well as a grade-level planning meeting. Hopefully, these experiences captured how teachers use every spare moment to learn from each other and grow their practice.

I’m glad that Diana was able to see the multiple reading levels of the ELLs with whom I work and the amount of differentiation that goes into planning lessons that target their varied interests, decoding abilities, and comprehension skills, while also ensuring that all students are challenged to think critically. Diana noted that even lunch duty was infused with inquiry and academic discussions with the students. Every minute was used purposefully and it was wonderful to share that experience with her.

It would be great for Diana to also observe the ways in which I co-plan and co-teach with my entire 3rd grade team. I am extremely fortunate to collaborate with three dynamic and flexible general education teachers, each of whom has their own unique style of planning and teaching. We often experiment with different approaches and try to tailor our instruction to the needs of the different students in each classroom. Diana saw some parallel teaching, but didn’t get a chance to observe the team teaching or station teaching that I have done.

Students benefit from seeing skills modeled in two different ways or from getting more individualized support from targeted grouping when two teachers are present and both viewed as resources equally capable of leading instruction. I think that ELLs benefit from positive co-teaching relationships and inclusive settings that foster language and communication development.

diana


Flora Lerenman, an ESL teacher at H.D. Cooke Elementary School, teaching a student. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

In 2014, there are still too many ESL programs in which general education and ESL instruction are far too separated. Collaboration ensures that teachers are partnering to meet all students needs together.

The field of ESL is growing and the Office of English Language Acquisition at ED has the potential to spearhead national innovation and research in best practices while advocating for our ELL students that have been historically marginalized. The ED Goes Back to School experience allows for teachers and policy-makers to collaborate on certain issues that require seeing student learning in action in order to debrief what student and teacher needs truly are — Diana and I were able to talk afterwards about what she saw and it caused me to think more critically about what ELLs need and what is possible for them.

Flora Lerenman is an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher at H.D. Cooke Elementary School in Washington, D.C.

Fueling Innovation through First in the World

Last August, President Obama outlined an ambitious plan to increase value and affordability in higher education and help the U.S. once again lead the world in college attainment rates.  Among his priorities, which include developing a college ratings system and ensuring that student debt is manageable, innovation remains a central theme.  The President called on the Department of Education to spur innovation, foster constructive competition, and remove barriers to empower college and universities in developing and testing new strategies to enroll and graduate more students.

In response to the President’s call, the Department announced a new $75 million grant competition called First in the World that will provide funding for innovative strategies and approaches to improve college attainment and make higher education more affordable for students and families.  The program will invite colleges and universities across the country to submit innovative proposals to help students – particularly underprepared, underrepresented, or low-income students – to access, persist in, and complete higher education.

We know that innovation to improve student outcomes can take many forms, from new educational programming and resources on campuses to technological innovations that enhance learning and student supports.  For example, some institutions are developing programs of study using competency-based education, which allows students to progress based on student mastery of learning.  Other institutions are working to improve student learning and student supports through adaptive learning and personalization.  The President is calling on all institutions to provide us with their best thinking on how to make college more accessible and affordable for all students, and through the First in the World program, the Department welcomes a wide range of promising, creative ideas to help more students affordably access and graduate from college.

In addition to stimulating innovation, another key goal of the FITW program is to increase the evidence we have about what works in higher education.  As part of their applications, FITW applicants must describe their programs and the theory of change they seek to enact, and will be awarded additional points for providing supplemental evidence of promise around the project they are proposing. Additional, institutions receiving funding will be required to implement a robust evaluation that will provide evidence of its effectiveness so that other colleges and universities can learn from successful strategies and scale them up to reach more students.

The Department hopes to receive applications from an array of colleges and universities that serve a diverse range of students, and up to $20 million of the $75 million available in FY2014 will be set aside to fund innovations at Minority Serving Institutions.  This funding will build on the important work that institutions all across the country are engaged in to continue to expand and evaluate promising practices for serving underprepared, underrepresented, and low-income students and empowering their success. The Notice Inviting Applications, which contains additional details about the competition, is available on the Federal Register website and the Department will host webinars for potential applicants on the FY2014 FITW competition in the coming weeks.

The First in the World program gets its name from the goal that President Obama set for the nation early on in his Administration – that by the year 2020, the United States will again be first in the world in college completion. With this vision, we are excited to ask colleges and universities nationwide for their most promising ideas to improve college attainment and affordability, and we look forward to unleashing a new wave of innovation when awards are announced this fall.

Mary Wall and David Soo are both senior policy advisors in the Office of the Undersecretary at the U.S. Department of Education.

The Story of Tennessee’s Normal Park Museum Magnet

When I was hired in 2002 as the Principal of Normal Park Museum Magnet School in Chattanooga, Tenn., the school was in crisis – with failing test scores, a dilapidated building, and low enrollment. My job was to transform the school into a museum magnet school, which utilized research-based teaching practices; organized weekly, hands-on learning expeditions to local museums; and provided students with the academic support and resources to deeply explore academic content through creative and cross-disciplinary projects.

Normal Park opened its doors with just 214 students in August of 2002. At the beginning of that school year, it was very hard to convince parents to send their children to our school.

With the help of a federal Magnet Schools Assistance Program grant during the first three years of our transformation, and with support and encouragement from Magnet Schools of America, in just three years, Normal Park was recognized with the Ronald P. Simpson Award—considered the most prestigious award for magnet schools in the nation.

Throughout all this success, families began moving into the school zone to enroll in Normal Park. Our magnet applications increased dramatically, creating a waiting list of more than 600 students. In the years since, we have extended our program to include pre-K through eighth grade, expanded to two campuses, and enrolled more than 850 students.

Magnet schools can be an important part of a school turnaround effort. These schools often work within the existing structure of a school district while developing exciting theme-based instruction across the curriculum, which can provide incredible opportunities for students. Whether a magnet school is arts-based, technology-based, or focused on student leadership, students take part in meaningful learning opportunities that engage them in non-traditional ways.

In our nation’s data-driven education reform efforts, it is important to recognize that the avenue to increasing test scores can be found through student engagement in meaningful learning, rather than a “drill and kill” focus on test preparation. Recognizing schools that involve students in learning in creative, collaborative, and challenging ways is incredibly important.

Whether students are learning though dancing or debate, painting or poetry, graphic design or film editing, students who take part in high-quality, rigorous and meaningful experiences often become engaged and excited learners who achieve strong outcomes. Schools should be places where students love to learn and teachers love to teach.  In my experience, magnet schools can be those places!

Jill Levine is the principal of Normal Park Museum Magnet in Chattanooga, TN, and a 2013-14 Principal Ambassador Fellow of the U.S. Department of Education.

This month, Jill Levine and Normal Park were recognized with a Value-Added Achievement Award from the nonprofit Education Consumers Foundation. For more, visit here.   

Progress and Challenges 60 Years After Brown v. Board

Anniversaries that commemorate milestones in our nation’s history give us the opportunity to reflect and also to look ahead. For me, this week provides such a moment, as we mark the 60th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in the case of Oliver Brown et al. v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansaswhich struck down Jim Crow segregation in our public schools.

Secretary Duncan stands with students at the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site during the 2012 Back-to-School Bus Tour. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Secretary Duncan stands with students at the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site during the 2012 Back-to-School Bus Tour. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Has our country made progress since the 1950s? Absolutely. Nationally, our high school graduation rate is the highest ever, boosted especially by increases for black and Latino students. In our larger cities, where low-income families and students of color are concentrated, growth in student achievement is outpacing the rest of the country. And at America’s colleges and universities, non-white students now represent 40 percent of enrollment—more than double their proportion in 1980, shortly after the U.S. Department of Education opened with a mission to ensure equal educational opportunities for all students.

As someone born a decade after the Supreme Court decided Brown v. Board, I wish I could say that I can only imagine what a segregated school looked like. But in the 50 states and more than 300 schools I have visited as Secretary of Education, far too often I see lingering opportunity gaps, in communities isolated by race and income.

Brown outlawed the notion of “separate but equal” schooling or legal segregation, but it did not stop de facto segregation. Many school districts today are intensely segregated–as much as they have been at any time since after the death of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Many school districts that were desegregating in the 1960s and 1970s have since resegregated. And within metropolitan areas, educational opportunity and diversity can vary widely among dozens of urban and suburban school districts within a short drive of each other.

Today, about four in 10 black and Latino students attend intensely segregated schools, and white students are similarly isolated from their peers of color—only 14 percent of white students attend schools that you could consider multicultural.

By another measure — the roughly 10,000 complaints that my department’s Office for Civil Rights receives each year — inexcusable discrimination continues in too many places. Last year we resolved a case in an Alabama county where the predominately black high school did not offer the same level of challenging college prep courses as the district’s mostly white high school, which offered an array of Advanced Placement classes. In other places, harassment of students, teachers and school administrators has involved the use of Ku Klux Klan robes, nooses, and racist epithets.

Those are anecdotal instances of blatant discrimination and inequity in schools, and fortunately they are rare. Still, new civil rights data from all U.S. schools shows that as early as preschool, black students are disproportionately suspended and expelled. Students of color continue to attend schools that are disproportionately staffed by inexperienced teachers, with fewer resources and opportunities. These schools are commonly among the lowest-performing in their state.

brownvboard

In May 1954, the Supreme Court concluded that the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ had no place in U.S. public education. In May of the following year, the Justices handed down a plan for how schools were to proceed with desegregation. (Photo credit: National Archives and Records Administration)

As the most flagrant examples of race discrimination have declined, new examples of discrimination and inequity have emerged. Cases involving mistreatment of LGBT students and immigrants learning English are all too common. And earlier this year, our civil rights office stepped in to end the practice in a New York school district of systemically reducing the grades of students simply because of their disabilities. So, if your child who needed accommodations due to his difficulty with reading got an A+ on his math test, that accomplishment got knocked down to a demoralizing D. What parent would be OK with that?

As a father, I want my children to attend school in a place that looks like where they will one day work, a school that reflects the diversity of the country in which they were fortunate to be born. Today’s de facto segregation denies students the many benefits that come from diversity, including the opportunity to learn from students of different backgrounds and prepare for the mix of viewpoints, abilities and global cultures they will encounter in their careers.

I reject the notion that we can’t reduce or eliminate the opportunity gaps that we see today. There are big things we can do, and there are big things we are doing now at the federal level.

Nearly every major policy initiative that the Obama Administration has advanced in education aims to improve outcomes for underserved students—from partnering with states to expand preschool programs to raising expectations for all students, ensuring quality teaching in every classroom, expanding the opportunities of technology through broadband, turning around chronically low-performing schools and expanding Pell Grants to pay for college. For the upcoming year, we are proposing a new program called Race to the Top-Equity and Opportunity, which would help states and districts close opportunity gaps and support teachers, leaders and students in high-need communities.

In 1954, Brown v. Board may have seemed like the end of a long struggle for educational equality. In fact, it was the beginning. We face a lot of challenges today in our communities, our country and on our planet. To solve the big problems we need everyone to be able to work together. No one’s talent can go to waste.

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

For teaching and learning resources about this landmark court case, head here.

Learning from Teachers Across the Country During Teacher Appreciation Week

One-hundred percent of Middle College High School’s graduating class is college-bound – and that’s no small feat, considering that a significant number of the students at the San Pablo, Calif., school are the first in their families to pursue higher education. Students there told our own Tayyaba Shafique that they credit this achievement to MCHS educators like social studies teacher Stephen Hoffman for building a family-like culture and providing one-on-one nurturing.

TAWvisit

Students of pre-kindergarten teacher Anthony Bennett learn Spanish at the Elaine P. Drager Model Teaching Center in Atlanta, Ga. during a visit from ED’s Jonava Johnson. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Shafique, who works at our San Francisco office, was among nearly 70 Department of Education communicators from nine regional offices across the U.S. and Washington, D.C., to “shadow” educators in celebration of Teacher Appreciation Week May 5 – 9.   While regional team members routinely visit schools, this was a unique annual opportunity to see firsthand how some teachers are facing day-to-day challenges within their classrooms, which ranged from preschool to college in urban, rural, and suburban settings.

Martin Richburg, who works out of our Atlanta office, knows that gaining consensus among 4th grade boys is no easy task; however, he learned that math teacher Sharif Muhammad’s students consider him “their second father,” when he visited Hickory Flatt Charter Elementary School in McDonough, Ga. last week. Muhammad’s class is among the highest-achieving in the state, which Richburg credits to the teacher’s “no excuses” style.

With middle school achievement considered a vital link to adult success, several of our staffers observed innovative ways that teachers across the country are engaging pre-teens in learning:

  • Patrick Kerr, who works in our Kansas City office, went to Summit Lakes Middle School in Lees Summit, Mo., and observed science teacher Jenna Nelson’s class. Kerr watched the students describe weather phenomena while dancing to music, which is one of the many fun and interactive approaches Nelson uses to encourage her students to consider STEM careers.
  • A portrait of an ideal spouse was among many poignant stories presented by 7th graders in Rachel Rydzewski’s English class at Waunakee Middle School in Waunakee, Wis. Their performances showed Julie Ewart, who works in our Chicago office, how Rydzewski — 2010 Wisconsin Teacher of the Year — helps students understand why their stories matter and how they can become more confident writers.
  • Small teams of sixth-graders in award-winning math teacher Tangelia King’s class created models while learning to add and subtract integers in teams and impressed ED’s Malissa Coleman of Atlanta with their concentration at Carrie D. Kendrick Middle School in Riverdale, Ga.

While teachers’ ability to inspire students is key, Department of Education regional staffers also heard how educators are renewed by pupils’ energy and growth:

  • Jamison Chandler, director of jazz studies at KIPP AMP Middle School in Brooklyn, N.Y., told our own Jacquelyn Pitta that, “watching students grow from their first time picking-up instruments  to developing the competencies to perform gigs as artisans drives me to be the best educator I can be each and every day.”
  • Elaine Venard, an employee at our Kansas City office , observed New Mark Middle School teacher Jeremy Schneider talking to 8th grade choir students. During the visit, Schneider told the students that their singing put, “goose bumps on top of goose bumps”.
  • As she approaches the end of her teaching career, 7th grade math teacher Ellen Eckman of E.T. Richardson Middle School in Springfield, Pa. told Department of Education employee Elizabeth Williamson of Philadelphia that the most rewarding thing for her is seeing her students, “mature and achieve.”

Teachers are also finding fulfillment from school models that enable them to be leaders while they continue to teach.

BarisonTAW

Teacher Joan Maurer explains an exercise to a student in her 8th-grade English class at Roots International Academy, in Oakland, Calif., during a visit from ED’s Joe Barison. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Helen Littlejohn of our Denver office learned first-hand about the inspiring impact that the teacher-led structure at the Mathematics and Science Leadership Academy has had on bilingual kindergarten teacher Kim Ursetta. Ursetta participated in a roundtable discussion with Secretary Duncan and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock regarding the Teach to Lead initiative.

“We hold each other accountable for what we do every day,” Ursetta told the leaders and her colleagues during the discussion.

Julie Ewart is the director of communications and outreach in the U.S. Department of Education’s Chicago Regional Office.

Staff from the Office of Innovation and Improvement also shadowed teachers in the D.C. area for ED Goes Back to School. Learn more about their experiences.

A School Counselor’s Tips on Tying up Loose Ends before You Head Off to College

before_college

As a high school counselor in a rural community I’ve been fortunate to work with students and families and guide them through planning and preparing for college.  I’m also a single parent of two kids who survived the college going experience and graduated so I understand the somewhat overwhelming and daunting task it can be, especially for families who have not been through it before.   Once those scholarship applications have been submitted, the FAFSA completed and college acceptances received there are still some things students and parents need to do.

  1. Be courteous and notify the colleges and universities that you applied to but are not planning to attend of your decision.  It will free up their resources to assist other students.
  2. Follow through on scholarship requirements.  Some students, even though they were initially awarded a scholarship, didn’t actually receive the money because they didn’t complete all the requirements.  It may have been that they didn’t file all the necessary paperwork, or meet with their advisor or failed to make the necessary grades. Also remember, scholarships are free/gift money.  Don’t forget to follow up with a simple thank you note to the donor or organization.
  3. Make a financial plan and discuss expectations.  Apply for a debit/credit card if you don’t already have one.  Set limits and create a realistic budget that will carry you through the school year.  StudentAid.gov/budget is a great resource for college budget planning.
  4. Get connected with your new college email system.  This is how you’ll receive information from them.  Reply promptly to requests for information or documentation or you might lose out on some financial aid or end up with the least popular option for your on-campus work study job.
  5. Get credit for your classes. If you took college classes in high school be sure to request an official transcript from the college that you took the classes from be mailed to your future college.  There might be a small fee involved.  What is listed on your high school transcript isn’t enough.
  6.  Attend summer orientation with at least one parent.  Try to schedule it for one of the earlier options.  Typically you’ll be registering for fall classes during your orientation. Waiting until later in the summer means some classes you want to take are already full and you have fewer options to choose from.

You’ve worked hard to get this far but college may be even harder.  Don’t be discouraged.  Focus on the end result and the new heights a college degree will take you to.

Cheryl Knudson is a school counselor for Irene-Wakonda Public Schools in South Dakota