Teach to Lead: From Rubber Stamps to Voice and Vision

Panelists at Teaching and Learning

Panelists from left to right: Secretary Duncan, Maddie Fennell, Omari James, Kim Ursetta, Sarah Brown Wessling and James Liou.

“That was inspiring; I’m walking away giving myself permission to lead,” said Alan Chen, a teacher from L.A. Alan had just heard Secretary Duncan’s remarks and panel discussion with teachers at the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) Teaching and Learning Conference.

In the midst of discussing the tremendous changes now under way in American classrooms, Secretary Duncan announced that over the next year, he and Ron Thorpe, NBPTS President and CEO, will co-convene a new initiative called “Teach to Lead,” or T2L. The initiative will foster ambitious commitments on authentic opportunities for teachers to take up leadership roles without leaving the classroom. The goal is to ensure that when important decisions are being made about the work teachers do, they are there to help set the direction for their classrooms, schools, the profession, and ultimately ensure students have the best opportunities to learn.

The Secretary explicitly identified a few things teacher leadership is not (managing projects and initiatives in which you had no say; rubber stamping ideas that have already been decided) and also what it could be (hybrid roles that involve vision and voice). However, Secretary Duncan said, “Ultimately, it’ll be up to all the folks involved to define what powerful, ambitious commitments look like – this effort must be shaped by teachers.”

Teach to Lead will entail a series of meetings that engage teachers, principals, state chiefs, teachers’ groups and district leaders. In the course of the year, participants will commit to acting on the steps necessary to create more opportunities for teacher leadership in the field. The Secretary and President Thorpe will then report back on the commitments and activities from this diverse group at next year’s NBPTS meeting.

Secretary Duncan also promised ED’s support: “I am asking our team to make supporting teacher leadership a focus in all relevant funds, and to make sure we can build authentic teacher leadership into everything we do. We will also get information to states and districts about how those funds can be used to support teacher leaders.”

The foundation has already been laid for this work. In 2012 ED released the Blueprint for RESPECT, which was informed by input from thousands of educators and calls for strengthening and elevating the teaching profession in the United States. Importantly, rather than envisioning this teacher leadership as requiring teachers to leave their classrooms, RESPECT calls for career pathways so teachers can lead from their classrooms.

The U.S. Department of Education and NBPTS are currently working out a process for participation that will engage national organizations and educators across the country. More information, and video of the speech, will be posted on this blog when available.

While I am excited about this initiative, it alone cannot create cultures and structures that support teachers leading our profession in all schools. We, as teachers, must give ourselves permission to lead and we must encourage our colleagues to join us. This idea struck a chord for me personally. I had always challenged my students to seek out ways that they could change the world, but realized that I had restricted my own leadership to the classroom. And while there is much to be done in the classroom, for teachers to truly step into their roles as leaders, we must also look beyond our classrooms and participate in larger education debates in our schools, districts, states and nation.

Lisa Clarke is a Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow and social studies teacher on loan from Kent, Washington.

Boston School Turns Around With Focus on the Arts

First Graders

Orchard Gardens (MA) first graders recite a portion of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech during a school assembly earlier this week.

“I have a dream!” Orchard Gardens’ first graders shouted in unison before hundreds who had gathered for a school assembly earlier this week. Line by line, the students recited the entire ending of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous speech. The performance created a palpable energy in the room, and when the students finished, the audience—which included students, parents, teachers, state and local officials and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan—rose to its feet for a standing ovation.

Orchard Gardens is a K-8 school in Roxbury, Mass., which has undergone a dramatic transformation. When it opened in 2003, the school was designated as one of the lowest performing schools in the state. In 2009, the school became part of the Boston Public Schools’ Arts Expansion Initiative, and received a federal School Improvement Grant from the U.S. Department of Education. In 2012, Orchard Gardens became a Turnaround Arts Initiative school, through the President’s Committee on Arts and Humanities.

Classroom Visit

Secretary Duncan visits a classroom at Orchard Gardens K-8 school in Roxbury, Mass.

Since 2009, students’ math proficiency scores have improved from six percent to 34 percent. English scores improved from 13 percent to 43 percent proficiency, from 2009 to 2013. Orchard Gardens provides student-specific interventions, coordinated by two full-time school site coordinators. Through community partnerships, students receive health and social services supports.

During Secretary Duncan’s visit he stopped by band class for an impromptu mini concert. One of the students told Duncan that playing the French horn makes him want to come to school each day. Following the assembly, Duncan toured several classrooms and participated in a roundtable discussion with educators and members of the President’s Committee on Arts and Humanities to discuss the importance of arts education.

Damian Woetzel, former Principal Dancer with New York City Ballet, and a Turnaround Artist for the Turnaround Arts Initiative, spoke about the importance of arts education during the day’s assembly. “It’s not how we can fit the arts in,” he said, “[but] how the arts can be part of a whole education.”

Secretary Duncan told the students and faculty that the eyes of the country are on them and they’re showing the country what’s possible.

Learn more about the Turnaround Arts Initiative.

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital strategy at the U.S. Department of Education 

Five Excellent Ways to Celebrate Pi Day on 3/14

It’s time to celebrate Pi! And if the very thought of the irrational number is making you hungry for knowledge, you’re not alone.

Pi Day

(Photo courtesy of djwtwo on Flickr.)

Pi Day (3/14) is the unofficial holiday dedicated to pi. Pi is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, and it’s an irrational number, so it can’t be expressed as a simple fraction of two integers. The number starts out with 3.14, but it goes on for infinity!

This special day is also the perfect time to plan STEM-themed activities for your classroom or with your children at home.

Here are five excellent ways to celebrate Pi:

          1. Head to your local or school library and check out a book about Pi! These three titles are a good place to start.
          2. Demonstrate Pi in the real world. San Francisco’s Exploratorium has an entire webpage devoted to simple and easy hands-on activities that introduce the concept of Pi using everyday objects.
          3. Make Pi plates. Have students trace the Pi symbol on a piece of construction paper and then cut it out a glue it to a paper plate. Decorate the border of the plate with Pi’s digits.
          4. Write a Pi-ku, a math version of the traditional 5-7-5 syllabic haiku. A Pi-ku of course, follows a 3-1-4 syllabic pattern.

For example:
Math is fun
When
Mixed with some pie

 5. And, of course, you could always bake a Pi-themed pie!

Find more fun Pi facts and resources free.ed.gov.

Dorothy Amatucci is a new media analyst in the Office of Communications and Outreach

President Obama Announces New FAFSA Completion Initiative

Earlier today at Coral Reef High School in Miami, President Obama announced the launch of an exciting initiative to help ensure that more of America’s students take the first step towards college success: completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form.

FAFSA GraphicThe FAFSA Completion Initiative helps states, districts and schools give students the support they need to complete the form which serves as the gateway to accessing financial aid for college, career school, or graduate school.

The FAFSA not only gives students access to the nearly $150 billion in grants, loans, and work-study funds that the federal government has available, but many states, schools, and private scholarships require you to submit the FAFSA before they will consider you for any financial aid they offer.

FAFSA Completion Initiative:

  • We will be partnering with states to enable them to provide to schools and districts limited, yet valuable information on student progress in completing the FAFSA  beginning in the 2014-15 school year.
  • Additionally, the Office of Federal Student Aid has updated the existing FAFSA completion tool with FAFSA completion numbers for the 2014 high school graduating class at over 25,000 high schools across the nation.
  • These new resources can help increase FAFSA completion rates, and by extension, promote college access and success.

Resources:

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital strategy at the U.S. Department of Education

Performance Partnership Pilots: An Opportunity to Improve Outcomes for Disconnected Youth

Over 5 million 14-to-24-year-olds in the U.S. are not working or in school and, in many cases, face the additional challenges of being homeless, in foster care, or involved in the justice system.  Often disconnected from their families and valuable social networks, these young people struggle to make successful transitions to adulthood and to reach the educational and employment milestones critical to escaping a lifetime of poverty.

Government and community partners have invested considerable attention and resources to meet the needs of these “disconnected youth.”  However, practitioners, youth advocates, and others on the front lines of service delivery point to significant obstacles to meaningful improvements in education, employment, health and well-being.  These challenges include limited evidence and knowledge of what works, poor coordination and alignment across the systems that serve youth, policies that make it hard to target the neediest youth and overcome gaps in services, fragmented data systems that inhibit the flow of information to improve results, and administrative requirements that impede holistic approaches to serving this population.  Many of these challenges can be addressed by improving coordination among programs and targeting resources on those approaches that get the best results for our most vulnerable youth.

A New Approach

In response to the Obama Administration’s proposal, the recently passed Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014 includes a new demonstration authority to establish up to 10 “Performance Partnership Pilots” that will provide unprecedented flexibility to states, local communities, and tribes intended to remove some of the barriers to effectively serving disconnected youth, including youth who are low income and either homeless, in foster care, involved in the juvenile justice system, unemployed, or not enrolled in or at risk of dropping out of an educational institution.

The participating federal agencies will solicit interested jurisdictions to submit proposals that detail their strategy and need for flexibility, along with clear metrics of success.  An interagency review process will select up to 10 pilots that will enable communities to blend together competitive and formula grant funding that they receive from the Departments of Education, Labor, and Health and Human Services, and the Corporation for National and Community Service.  Pilots also will be able to seek waivers of specific program requirements that inadvertently may hamper effective services for youth.  This flexibility only will be granted to high performing jurisdictions that then will be held accountable to a set of cross-agency, data-driven outcomes.

The primary focus of this new approach will be providing disconnected youth in these communities with more effective supports to climb ladders of opportunity.  These pilots will help to unleash innovative partnerships across local governments, non-profits, businesses and other sectors that would have been impossible or convoluted under existing requirements.  In some cases, pilots will help propel collaborative and evidence-based work that jurisdictions already have underway.  Finally, the pilots as a group will provide a valuable opportunity to learn whether this model for Federal partnership improves outcomes on the ground, and how it could be extended to other Federal programs.

To enable partners to focus on what works, the Administration will use outcome-focused criteria rather than placing up-front restrictions on pilot design or content.   As a result, pilots could take diverse approaches based on community needs and priorities.  Pilots afford the opportunity to address these priority problems by integrating previously stove-piped government activities, such as creating a “no wrong door” intake process to ensure at-risk youth get the wrap-around services they need.  Pilots could also support outcome-focused public-private partnerships in which non-profits deliver specific interventions that will be measured and rigorously evaluated using real-time performance and outcome data.  Pilots would focus on improving education, employment, or other key goals, such as health or criminal justice, and should include a plan to track outcomes and measure impact.

In addition, the new flexibility afforded by pilots can accelerate the work of local leaders involved in Administration initiatives like Promise Zones or under ongoing programs, where performance could significantly be enhanced by additional flexibility.  Although funds from Department of Justice and Department of Housing and Urban Development grants cannot be blended with other Performance Partnership funds, pilots could involve close coordination with juvenile justice and housing activities that can be carried out under current law.

Making a Significant Impact

The Performance Partnership Pilots are one of several examples of the Obama Administration’s approach to empowering community-led, comprehensive strategies for improving opportunity and social mobility, including Promise Zones and My Brother’s Keeper.   This approach recognizes the importance of building coalitions across traditional silos; of bringing federal, state, local, and private resources to the table; and of making use of data and evidence to guide policies that address local needs.   Participating Federal agencies will solicit public input on how Federal, State, and local partners, along with private sector partners, can make these pilots successful, enabling them to use data and evidence to guide decisions about how to improve outcomes for vulnerable youth.

While criteria for selecting pilots are still being developed, the Administration may look to factors that can demonstrate a State or community’s potential for making a significant impact, including:

  1. A strong outcome-focused plan based on a needs assessment that targets services to those youth most in need.  Applicants would select practices that are most likely to improve outcomes for target populations as well as the cost-effectiveness of government services.  Plans would identify outcome metrics and key interim indicators for measuring progress, including education, employment, and other measures in areas such as health or criminal justice, and also specific data sources that can be used to effectively capture progress.
  2. Capacity to effectively implement an innovative pilot project through strong partnerships with the necessary State, local, nonprofit and private sector partners, and a strong governance structure that effectively manages the partners and their resources.  Pilots must demonstrate having the data capacity that will enable State or local leaders to manage for results, using outcome-focused performance agreements and continuously improving performance by tracking key indicators.  Sites must also have a strong track record of proper stewardship of Federal funds.
  3. A plan to use and build knowledge about what works by adopting research-based practices and interventions that have shown promise in earlier high quality studies, by embedding appropriate evaluation designs into the pilot and by participating in a network of other pilot communities that will share best practices and lessons learned
  4. Need for flexibility to improve outcomes. Proposals should present a compelling case for how their requested flexibilities under the pilot would allow them to better serve the target population.

Johan Uvin is deputy assistant secretary in the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education at the U.S. Department of Education, and Kathy Stack is advisor for evidence and innovation at the Office of Management and Budget

Top 10 Reasons Why the Expansion of High-Quality Early Learning is Inevitable

Throughout the country, there is a tremendous unmet need for high-quality early learning. Fewer than three in ten 4-year-olds are enrolled in high-quality preschool programs, and yet, the importance of early learning is clear. Studies prove that children who have rich early learning experiences are better prepared to thrive in kindergarten and beyond.

In a recent speech during the National Governors Association’s winter meeting, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said that we have reached an important turning point in the debate over early learning. “Demographic, economic, and ideological forces are all combining today to propel a big expansion of high-quality early learning,” Duncan said. “We just need Congress to catch up with the rest of the country.”

In his speech, Duncan provided ten reasons why states and the country will see a dramatic expansion of high-quality early learning over the coming few years:

President with Student

A young student uses a stethoscope to hear President Barack Obama’s heartbeat during a classroom visit at Powell Elementary School in Washington, D.C., March 4, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

10. There is much greater public awareness today of the importance of the early years to the long-term health, learning, and success of our children and our communities–and it is coupled with widespread public support for a big expansion of early learning.

9. A powerful, bipartisan coalition of governors are funding expansions in the states—in some cases, big expansions—of high-quality early learning programs.

8. There is a remarkably diverse and robust coalition of law enforcement officials, military leaders, clergy, CEOs, unions, parents, and others that strongly support expanding high-quality early learning opportunities.

7. The old arguments that states should have no role in providing low- and moderate-income families with voluntary access to early learning and child care have lost force.

6. There is a growing recognition that quality matters tremendously when it comes to early learning.

5. For the first time, a majority of the states are now assessing the school readiness of children when they enter kindergarten.

4. The enactment of third grade reading laws in many of your states is going to propel an expansion of high-quality early learning.

3. America is way behind high-performing countries in our provision of early learning–and there is a growing awareness that high-quality early learning is critical to sustaining our international economic competitiveness.

2. America is currently in the midst of an unprecedented wave of innovation and capacity-building when it comes to early learning–and a new federal-state partnership helped unleash this wave of innovation.

1. The enormous unmet need and demand for high-quality early learning.

Visit ed.gov/early-learning for more information on the Obama administration’s plan to expand high-quality early learning, and read Secretary Duncan’s full speech.

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital strategy at the U.S. Department of Education

2015 Education Budget: What You Need to Know

President Obama’s 2015 budget request reflects his belief not only that education is a top priority, but that America’s public schools offer the clearest path to the middle class. Investing in education now will make us more competitive in the global economy tomorrow, and will help ensure equity of opportunity for every child.

Budget Proposal GraphicThe administration’s request for about $69 billion in discretionary appropriations represents an increase of nearly 2 percent over the previous year and slightly more than the 2012 discretionary level for education before the sequester.

Three-quarters of that $69 billion goes to financial aid to students in college, special education, and high-poverty schools (Title I). The remaining 23 percent targets specific areas designed to leverage major changes in the educational opportunity and excellence for all students, including expansion of access to high-quality preschool, data-driven instruction based on college- and career-ready standards, making college more affordable, and mitigating the effects of poverty on educational outcomes.

Education priorities for Fiscal Year (FY) 2015:

Increasing Equity and Opportunity for All Students

Despite major progress for America’s students, deep gaps of opportunity and achievement endure. The Obama administration is committed to driving new energy to solving those problems. Nearly every element of the federal education budget aims to ensure equity of opportunity, and a new proposed fund, Race to the Top-Equity and Opportunity would complement existing efforts by further supporting strong state and local efforts to improve equity.

Learn more about Race to the Top-Equity and Opportunity.

Making Quality Preschool Available for All 4-Year-Olds

In one of the boldest efforts to expand educational opportunity in the last 50 years, President Obama has committed to a historic new investment in preschool education that supports universal access to high-quality preschool for all 4-year olds from low- and moderate-income families and creates an incentive for states to serve additional middle-class children.

Learn more about support for early learning.

Strengthening Support for Teachers and School Leaders

All educators should have the resources and support they need to provide effective instruction and to personalize learning to students’ needs. Technology can help teachers do this. Teachers and school leaders must know how to make the best use of technology. The new ConnectEDucators proposal would provide funding to help educators leverage technology and data to provide high-quality college- and career-ready instruction that meets the needs of all students.

Learn more about the new ConnectEDucators proposal.

Improving Affordability, Quality, and Success in Postsecondary Education

Improving college access and completion is an economic necessity and a moral imperative. Few good career options exist for those whose education ends with high school. College has long represented the surest route to the middle class—but the middle class is increasingly being priced out of college. America once ranked first in the college completion rate of its young people; we now rank twelfth. Reclaiming the top spot in college completion is essential for maximizing both individual opportunity and our economic prosperity, which is why the President has made increasing college affordability and improving college completion a major focus of his 2015 budget.

Learn more about improving college affordability.

Making Schools Safer and Creating Positive Learning Environments

The President’s plan to increase school safety and to decrease gun violence includes investments not only to prepare schools for emergencies, but also to create positive school climates and help children recover from the effects of living in communities plagued by persistent violence.

Learn more about the fiscal year 2015 budget request.

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital strategy at the U.S. Department of Education

My Brother’s Keeper: A New White House Initiative to Empower Boys and Young Men of Color

Keeper Event

A student eyes the Emancipation Proclamation as the President gave students from William R. Harper High School in Chicago a tour of the Oval Office, June 5, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Cross-posted from the White House Blog.

Today, from the East Room of the White House, President Obama will launch a new effort aimed at empowering boys and young men of color, a segment of our society which too often faces disproportionate challenges and obstacles to success. These obstacles are found in our schools, our communities, our criminal justice system, our families, and even in the minds of our young people themselves. The President is committed to build a broad coalition of backers to help break down barriers, clear pathways to opportunity, and reverse troubling trends which show too many of our boys and young men of color slipping through the cracks in our society.

To launch the “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative, the President will be joined by local and national leaders in philanthropy, business, government, faith communities, and media.  The challenges facing boys and young men of color are broad and multidimensional, and so must be the team we bring to the table to begin fostering solutions.

On hand today will be General Colin Powell, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Adam Silver, Congresswoman Marcia Fudge, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Congressman Ruben Hinojosa, Magic Johnson, and many more leaders from key national and regional philanthropic foundations and major businesses, all of whom understand what is at stake with this effort.  When we let this many boys and young men fall behind – we are crippling our ability to reach our full potential as a nation.

Read More

New Guidance: Tech and Protecting Student Data

Today, more than ever, schools and districts are managing a lot of digital data. Some of that has to do with teaching and learning, but there’s plenty more: from bus routes, to food service records, to enrollment and attendance information. Districts and schools are working to be more efficient and smarter about storing and using data. Many have chosen to move data “in the cloud,” meaning off-site data centers that securely store information.

PTAC VideoThis advancement in data storage has created some important and reasonable questions about what steps are being taken to insure that student data is kept secure and private. In a speech yesterday at the Common Sense Media Privacy Zone Conference, in Washington, D.C., Secretary of Education Arne Duncan reaffirmed that school systems “owe families the highest standard of security and privacy.”

What I want to say to you today is that the benefits for students of technological advancement can’t be a trade-off with the security and privacy of our children.

We must provide our schools, teachers and students cutting-edge learning tools. And we must protect our children’s privacy. We can and must accomplish both goals – but we will have to get smarter to do it.

Duncan noted that many school systems are showing leadership on the privacy front, such as the Kansas State Department of Education, which has developed an innovative data quality certification program to train staff on data quality practices and techniques, including privacy and security.

Read Secretary Duncan’s speech – Technology in Education: Privacy and Progress

In a panel following the speech, Acting Deputy Education Sec. Jim Shelton talked with Julie Brill of the Federal Trade Commission about further actions the federal government can take to protect student privacy in education, floating the possibility of joint efforts between the two agencies.

Earlier today, the U.S. Department of Education’s Privacy Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) released new guidance to help school systems and educators interpret and understand the major laws and best practices protecting student privacy while using online educational services. The guidance addresses a range of concerns regarding the security and privacy of student data.

Click here to read the new guidance.

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital strategy at the U.S. Department of Education

The Road to Opportunity: Education and the State of the Union

Obama at SOTUOn Tuesday, during President Obama’s fifth State of the Union address, he reinforced the message that education plays an important role in our country. The President began his speech by noting the critical part that educators play: “Today in America, a teacher spent extra time with a student who needed it, and did her part to lift America’s graduation rate to its highest level in more than three decades.”

President Obama laid out his top priorities, rooted in three key principles: opportunity, action, and optimism. Among the education topics discussed, the President recommitted to making high-quality preschool available to every 4-year-old, connecting 99 percent of students to high-speed broadband over the next four years, redesigning high schools to offer more real-world education and hands-on training, and increasing college opportunity and success.

Educators and students also were well represented in the First Lady’s viewing box. Read more about them here. Below are the education excerpts from the speech:

Of course, it’s not enough to train today’s workforce.  We also have to prepare tomorrow’s workforce, by guaranteeing every child access to a world-class education.

Estiven Rodriguez couldn’t speak a word of English when he moved to New York City at age nine.  But last month, thanks to the support of great teachers and an innovative tutoring program, he led a march of his classmates – through a crowd of cheering parents and neighbors – from their high school to the post office, where they mailed off their college applications.  And this son of a factory worker just found out he’s going to college this fall.

Five years ago, we set out to change the odds for all our kids.  We worked with lenders to reform student loans, and today, more young people are earning college degrees than ever before.  Race to the Top, with the help of governors from both parties, has helped states raise expectations and performance.  Teachers and principals in schools from Tennessee to Washington, D.C. are making big strides in preparing students with skills for the new economy – problem solving, critical thinking, science, technology, engineering, and math.  Some of this change is hard.  It requires everything from more challenging curriculums and more demanding parents to better support for teachers and new ways to measure how well our kids think, not how well they can fill in a bubble on a test.  But it’s worth it – and it’s working.

The problem is we’re still not reaching enough kids, and we’re not reaching them in time.  That has to change.

Early Learning

Research shows that one of the best investments we can make in a child’s life is high-quality early education.  Last year, I asked this Congress to help states make high-quality pre-K available to every four year-old.  As a parent as well as a President, I repeat that request tonight. But in the meantime, thirty states have raised pre-k funding on their own.  They know we can’t wait.  So just as we worked with states to reform our schools, this year, we’ll invest in new partnerships with states and communities across the country in a race to the top for our youngest children.  And as Congress decides what it’s going to do, I’m going to pull together a coalition of elected officials, business leaders, and philanthropists willing to help more kids access the high-quality pre-K they need.

ConnectED

Last year, I also pledged to connect 99 percent of our students to high-speed broadband over the next four years.  Tonight, I can announce that with the support of the FCC and companies like Apple, Microsoft, Sprint, and Verizon, we’ve got a down payment to start connecting more than 15,000 schools and twenty million students over the next two years, without adding a dime to the deficit.

High School Redesign and Student Loans

We’re working to redesign high schools and partner them with colleges and employers that offer the real-world education and hands-on training that can lead directly to a job and career.  We’re shaking up our system of higher education to give parents more information, and colleges more incentives to offer better value, so that no middle-class kid is priced out of a college education.  We’re offering millions the opportunity to cap their monthly student loan payments to ten percent of their income, and I want to work with Congress to see how we can help even more Americans who feel trapped by student loan debt.  And I’m reaching out to some of America’s leading foundations and corporations on a new initiative to help more young men of color facing tough odds stay on track and reach their full potential.

The bottom line is, Michelle and I want every child to have the same chance this country gave us. But we know our opportunity agenda won’t be complete – and too many young people entering the workforce today will see the American Dream as an empty promise – unless we do more to make sure our economy honors the dignity of work, and hard work pays off for every single American.

State of the Union Resources

Learn more about the Obama administration’s major priorities in education:

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital strategy at the U.S. Department of Education

Students, Educators to Join First Lady During State of the Union

In less than 12 hours, President Barack Obama will deliver his fifth State of the Union Address. Education is sure to be one of the topics the President addresses in a speech that will lay out “practical proposals to grow the economy, strengthen the middle class, and empower all who hope to join it.”

For decades, First Ladies have invited extraordinary Americans that match the themes of the State of the Union Address to join them in her viewing box. This year, educators and students are well represented:

Joey Hudy
“Maker” and Intel Intern – Anthem, Ariz.

joeyhudy_blog

Joey Hudy is a self-described “Maker,” part of a growing community of young people, adults, and entrepreneurs who are designing and building things on their own time. Joey first shot to fame in 2012 when, at 14-years-old, he attended the White House Science Fair where the President took a turn using the contraption he had made — the “extreme marshmallow cannon” – and launched a marshmallow across the East Room. Joey then handed the President a card with his credo: “Don’t be bored, make something.” Now 16, he has continued to live by his motto, appearing at Maker Faires all across the country. Joey, a proponent of STEM education, is determined to teach other kids about how they can make and do anything they want. Joey lives in Anthem, Arizona with his mom, dad, and older sister. Earlier this month, he started as Intel’s youngest intern, a position Intel CEO Brian Krzanich offered him on the spot at his Maker Faire exhibit.

Kathy Hollowell-Makle
2013 DCPS Teacher of the Year – Washington, D.C.

kathyhollowellmakle_blog

Kathy Hollowell-Makle was named 2013’s District of Columbia Public School’s Teacher of the Year after more than 15 years teaching in the District. Kathy began as a Teach for America corps member in the District in 1998 and currently teaches at Abram Simon Elementary in Southeast Washington, DC. By the school year’s end, more than 90 percent of her students demonstrate early literacy at proficient or advanced levels and last year, more than 80 percent of her students advanced two or more reading levels. Kathy contributed some of her experience and expertise to a roundtable with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan regarding early childhood education. Kathy emphasizes a positive attitude and focuses on fluency in reading, writing and counting, explaining: “The best part of teaching is having former students recognize me, and being able to see how wonderful they turned out to be.” Kathy lives in Washington, DC with her husband Stephen and two sons Amir and Ian. She is originally from New Orleans, Louisiana.

Aliana Arzola- Piñero
2013 Kids State Dinner Attendee – San Juan, Puerto Rico

alianaarzolapinero_blog

Aliana Arzola-Piñero, from San Juan, Puerto Rico, is in fourth grade at the Colegio Puertorriqueño de Niñas. Aliana is an avid reader and gymnast who loves to cook with her grandma, something she’s done since she was two-years-old. She participated in the 2012 Healthy Lunchtime Challenge sponsored by the First Lady. While she didn’t win, she worked hard, tried again, and her perseverance paid off as she proudly represented Puerto Rico at the 2013 Kid’s State Dinner hosted by the First Lady. Her winning recipe “Yummy Eggplant Lasagna Rolls,” incorporates the “My Plate” guidelines. Aliana has worked hard to translate her experience visiting the White House into concrete steps to benefit her community, championing healthy eating and an active lifestyle for kids.

Cristian Avila
DREAMer, “Core Faster” and Voter Engagement Coordinator, Mi Familia Vota – Phoenix, Ariz.

christianavila_blog

Cristian Avila, 23, was brought to the United States with his younger brother and sister when he was nine-years-old. Though Cristian became an All-American scholar by 7th grade and received a full scholarship to a private Jesuit high school, he was limited by his undocumented status. Last year he received temporary relief from deportation through Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). The 23-year-old Arizona resident started volunteering with Mi Familia Vota, a non-profit Latino civic engagement program, at the age of 16, and he was one of the core fasters in the Fast for Families demonstration late last year at the foot of the Capitol, which the President, Vice President, First Lady and Cabinet and Administration officials visited. After 22 days, he passed on the fast to others but has continued to push Congress to take up comprehensive immigration reform. Cristian is fighting for commonsense immigration reform so he can one day join the US Marine Corps and serve our country in uniform.

Sabrina Simone Jenkins – Charleston, S.C.

sabrinasimonejenkins_blog

Sabrina Simone Jenkins – through obstacle after obstacle – has persevered in getting herself educated, determined to make a better life for herself and her family. Sabrina is a single mother to her teenage daughter Kenya. After serving in the Air Force, Sabrina took classes at DeVry University while working full time, graduating with a 3.7 GPA at the age of 42 – all while caring for ailing family members and becoming seriously ill herself. Sabrina then earned her master’s degree in human resources in 2012. Sabrina is currently saddled with nearly $90,000 in student loan debt, something that will only worsen as she pays for Kenya to go to college. Sabrina’s remarkable resolve through incredibly difficult circumstances brought her to the attention of The Shriver Report, which seeks to highlight the 1 in 3 American women living on the brink of poverty. The President is determined to help people like Sabrina – Americans who are working hard and doing the right things – get ahead.

Antoinette Tuff
DeKalb County Bookkeeper – Atlanta, Ga.

antoinettetuff-_blog

On August 20, 2013, the world learned of the compassion and heroism of Antoinette Tuff, the DeKalb County bookkeeper who prevented a shooting at Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy, an elementary school in the suburbs of Atlanta. Tuff, a mother of one daughter and one son, talked the would-be shooter down, sharing her personal struggles, discussing love and doing her best to connect with him until he surrendered before harming anyone. Now, instead of being known for another tragic school shooting, August 20, 2013 is remembered for one woman’s grace under pressure. The President called Tuff after the ordeal and has said what she did was “remarkable.” Antoinette has been nominated for the Carnegie Medal for civilian heroism.

Estiven Rodriguez
Student, Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School – New York, N.Y.
estivenrodriguez
Estiven Rodriguez is the son of a Dominican immigrant, he arrived in the United States when he was nine years old and didn’t speak any English. When he entered Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School (WHEELS) in the sixth grade, he still spoke and understood very limited English. Now a high school senior, Estiven is one of the top students in his class and will attend Dickinson College in the fall on a Posse Foundation Scholarship, making him a first-generation college student. “At only 16, 17 years old, he, in many ways, embodies the spirit of a life-long learner. He is a model student,” said Erick Espin, Estiven’s 11th grade United States history teacher. Outside of his academic studies, Estiven is also a member of the school’s math club, and soccer and track teams. Earlier this month, Estiven attended an event at the White House on expanding college opportunity.  His story underscores the importance of the President’s goal to give all kids a chance to get ahead, regardless of the circumstances of their birth.

Watch an enhanced version of the State of the Union on WhiteHouse.gov, and find out how you can engage with the Administration following the address.

 Cameron Brenchley is director of digital strategy at the U.S. Department of Education

TurboTax Users to Have New Tools to Learn About Student Loan Repayment Options

Sometimes life throws us curveballs. Maybe that curveball means losing a job, or having a hard time finding one after college. Some borrowers may have a growing family or just struggle to pay a high monthly bill. These circumstances may make it difficult for some to afford their monthly federal student loan payments. If you’ve found yourself in a similar situation, you may be eligible for a repayment plan that bases your monthly payment on your income.

Income based repayment graphicBorrowers interested in these income-driven repayment plans can visit studentaid.gov to learn more, and for those that use TurboTax Online tax preparation software, a new collaboration among the U.S. Department of Education, the Treasury Department and Intuit Inc. (the company behind TurboTax) will make it easier to learn about their repayment choices.

This tax-filing season, a banner will be featured on the TurboTax software that lets users know they have options for repaying federal student loans. The banner will link to ED’s online Repayment Estimator, where users will be able to determine if they could lower their monthly student loan payments through an income-driven repayment plan. From there, users can apply for the plan that makes the most sense for them.

This new collaboration is just one step the Obama Administration is taking to make college more affordable and to tackle rising college costs. Read more about today’s announcement on our website.

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital strategy at the U.S. Department of Education