Let’s Read! Let’s Move! at the White House

Cross-posted from the Let’s Move blog.

Let’s Read! Let’s Move! hosted their first White House event on Wednesday to educate and entertain a group of local DC students on healthy and active living. The typically grandiose ballroom was transformed into a kaleidoscope of color with life-sized balloons, Seuss characters, and Cat-in-the-Hat accouterments to match! Forty students from Seaton, Kendall Demonstration, and Drew Elementary schools (DC Public Schools) participated in the event with the First Lady, Michelle Obama.

Let’s Move! Executive Director, Deb Eschmeyer, welcomed students and was joined by a student from Kendall Demonstration Elementary school to introduce the First Lady. Mrs. Obama treated students to a rousing read of the brand new Dr. Seuss book titled, Oh, the Things You Can Do That Are Good for You.  The First Lady was also joined by Dr. Seuss characters and local volunteers from the YMCA and AmeriCorps.

 

First Lady Michelle Obama, as part of her Let's Move! and Let’s Read! Let’s Move! initiatives, hosts local students for a special reading of Dr. Seuss's "Oh, The Things You Can Do That Are Good for You: All About Staying Healthy" during an event in the East Room of the White House, Jan. 21, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

First Lady Michelle Obama, as part of her Let’s Move! and Let’s Read! Let’s Move! initiatives, hosts local students for a special reading of Dr. Seuss’s “Oh, The Things You Can Do That Are Good for You: All About Staying Healthy” during an event in the East Room of the White House, Jan. 21, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

The team partnered together to lead students in interactive read-along exercises, and challenged students to incorporate physical activity into a traditionally sedentary story time. Throughout Oh, the Things You Can Do That Are Good for You, The Cat in the Hat explains the importance of eating right based on the latest USDA My Plate recommendations; staying active; getting enough sleep, and a host of other daily activities.

Following the story, students reenacted the highlights of the book with the First Lady, which included an impromptu limbo contest and plenty of dancing. Afterwards the students were treated to healthy snacks crafted from recipes in the back of the book and prepared by the White House Kitchen.  These tasty treats, and room with flare, demonstrated to the students that food can be healthy and still taste good.  

This book was made possible with the help of Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) who worked with Dr. Seuss Enterprises (DSE) and Random House Children’s Books (RHCB) to celebrate reading and healthy lifestyle choices for children and families, anchored by a newly updated edition of The Cat in the Hat’s Learning Library™ title, Oh, the Things You Can Do That Are Good For You. Thanks to the expertise of PHA, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to make healthier choices easier for busy children and families the book was updated with 15 pages of brand new content.

“Let’s Read! Let’s Move!” is the Let’s Move! sub-initiative that aims to increase awareness about the critical importance of summer learning, nutrition and physical activity. The U.S. Department of Education launched “Let’s Read! Let’s Move!” in 2010, following an Administration-wide effort by the Corporation for National and Community Service, the federal agency which administers AmeriCorps and other service programs. These events bring together hundreds of early learning students—pre-kindergarten through third grade—across a diverse demographic stretching from the Washington D.C. metropolitan area and beyond. To promote community service, volunteers from AmeriCorps and the YMCA assist at Let’s Read! Let’s Move! events.

Check out video from the event:

New Ed.gov Homepage and More

You may have noticed we launched our new Ed.gov homepage today. This completes the third and final phase of our visual refresh for our main website. We released the second phase of the refresh back in June.

So, what’s new?

Streamlined Homepage

The new homepage takes our efforts to streamline navigation on the website one big step further. There are fewer links and more open space on the homepage.

homepage-Ed.gov3.0

How did we decide what links and content are on the homepage? We used data that we get through the Digital Analytics Program and other feedback tools. The most popular, highest traffic sections and pages on the website have a spot on the homepage or in the navigation. Links that didn’t get many clicks moved to pages a level down.

The data shows that our customers use external search engines and site search as the primary ways to enter and navigate the site. In a way, every page is our homepage, and although it gets a lot of traffic, the homepage isn’t always the first stop or entry point.

After we rolled out the new top, bottom and side menus back in June, we’ve seen an upward trend in our online customer satisfaction score overall, and in navigation and look-and-feel in particular. More customers who reply to the satisfaction survey say they find what they’re looking for.

More Mobile-Friendly

Now the entire flagship Ed.gov site offers a mobile-friendly web experience. All of our main website and blog content layouts use responsive design and Bootstrap styling, which means each webpage automatically adjusts to the size of your smartphone or tablet. There’s no more need to do that reverse pinch gesture to zoom in and so you can read the text on your phone.

Online Press Room Updates

The press room content – press releases, media advisories, and speeches – are more easily readable anytime, anywhere and on any device.

You can get to the online press room quickly by visiting ed.gov/news or clicking on the “More News” link on the homepage.

We also launched a refreshed video page today that pulls in a feed of our most recently posted videos.

Technical Upgrades

We made a number of improvements under the hood. We upgraded our content management system, Drupal, from version 6 to version 7, so we are keeping current with the version supported by the open source community. Moving from Drupal 6 to Drupal 7 also made it easier to convert to a mobile-friendly, responsive design theme. Other technical improvements should mean that our webpages load more quickly now.

We hope these updates improve your Ed.gov experience! If you have comments or suggestions, please share them here on the blog.

Jill James is web director at the U.S. Department of Education and co-chair of the Department’s Open Government Working Group.

America’s College Promise: A Ticket to the Middle Class

During last night’s State of the Union address, President Obama reiterated his commitment to make two years of community college free for all Americans who are willing to work hard toward graduation. Inspired by similar programs in Tennessee and Chicago, the President’s proposal—America’s College Promise—would allow students to complete a certificate, an associate’s degree or the first two years of a bachelor’s degree at no cost.

This proposal comes at a time when it’s never been more important to earn some form of higher education. In previous generations, a high school diploma was sufficient to secure a middle-class job and support a family. Today, however, going to college and earning a credential has become a prerequisite for joining the middle class. Labor market projections show this trend is only going to increase. By 2020, economists predict that nearly two thirds of jobs will require some level of education and training beyond high school.

Over the last three decades, however, the cost of earning a college degree has risen sharply. During this period, the tuition for in-state students at public, four-year colleges increased by more than 200 percent, and the charges at community colleges increased by 150 percent, even after taking inflation into account.

As a result, today’s college students have to take on much more debt than their parents’ generation to access middle-class jobs. All hard-working Americans should have the opportunity to attain the knowledge and skills they need for good, well-paying jobs without having to take on unmanageable debt.

Given the demands that individuals face in the job market today and our need as a country to have the most educated and competitive workforce in the world, we must make two years of college as free and universal as high school. America thrived in the 20th century in large part because the movement to make high school widely available allowed us to dramatically improve the education and skills of our population. But other countries have caught up with us, and some are passing us by. The time has come for America to once again “skill-up.”

Community colleges are the natural focus of this effort. They are the backbone of the U.S. higher education system, enrolling about 40 percent of all college students each year. As low-cost, open-access institutions, community colleges also serve a high percentage of low-income, first-generation, and older college students. Community colleges provide an affordable option for millions of Americans to start college and work toward a bachelor’s degree. Community colleges educate more African American and Hispanic undergraduate students than any other higher education segment. They also have strong partnerships with local and regional businesses to develop critical training programs to meet the skilled workforce needs of high-demand industries like nursing, information technology, and advanced manufacturing.

As the President has said, this proposal will require everyone to do his or her part. Community colleges will need to offer high-quality programs and implement evidence-based reforms to increase the number of students who persist, graduate or transfer. Additionally, participating states must contribute matching funds, invest in higher education and training, and allocate a significant portion of funding based on performance, not enrollment alone.. And students must enroll at least on a half-time basis and maintain at least a 2.5 GPA so they can stay on track to graduate.

America’s College Promise will yield tremendous benefits to an estimated 9 million hard-working Americans who dream of earning a college degree and joining the middle class. Pamela Garcia, a recent graduate of Valencia College and the University of Central Florida, is someone who comes to mind. Pamela grew up in a low-income family with seven children and didn’t have many options to attend college. But her parents believed strongly in the value of education. So Pamela enrolled at Valencia College in Orlando, where she earned two associate’s degrees in electrical engineering technology, one with a specialization in electronics and another focused on laser and photonics. Based on her talent and strong work ethic, one of her professors recommended Pamela for an internship with a defense contractor – and she was subsequently hired for a job.

Pamela Garcia with Dr. Jill Biden. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Pamela Garcia with Dr. Jill Biden. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

While working, Pamela chose to continue her education and eventually earned her bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering at the University of Central Florida. For the past 18 months, Pamela has been employed as an electrical engineer in Melbourne, Florida and earns more than $60,000 a year. Pamela credits her success to the affordable and high-quality education she received at Valencia College. America’s College Promise will ensure more hard-working students like Pamela have access to these kinds of life-changing opportunities.

Ted Mitchell is Under Secretary at the U.S. Department of Education.

Expanding Opportunity for Every American: Education and the State of the Union

President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address in the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address in the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)


“I want our actions to tell every child, in every neighborhood: your life matters; and we are as committed to improving your life chances as we are for our own kids.” – President Barack Obama


On Tuesday, President Obama delivered his sixth State of the Union address. The President’s speech reflected his strong belief that education is a vital investment in America’s economic competitiveness, in its communities, and in its people.

The President discussed America’s economic recovery, noting that since 2010, our nation has put more of its citizens back to work than Europe, Japan, and all advanced economies combined.  At a time when millions of Americans now work in jobs that didn’t exist even 10 or 20 years ago, education—particularly higher education—is more important than ever before in the effort to equip our young people with the skills they’ll need to succeed in the well-paying jobs of the 21st century knowledge economy.

In his speech, the President noted the significant educational progress that our nation’s schools, teachers, and students have made – including young students earning math and reading scores at record levels, a high school graduation rate at an all-time high, and more Americans finishing college than ever before.

While celebrating progress, the President noted we must work to ensure that education lives up to its promise of bolstering and expanding the middle class and helping more young people to achieve their greatest potential.

He stated: “America thrived in the 20th century because we made high school free, sent a generation of GIs to college, and trained the best workforce in the world. But in a 21st century economy that rewards knowledge like never before, we need to step up our game; we need to do more.”

By the end of this decade, two in three jobs will require some form of higher education. Yet, as the President noted, too many bright, hard-working students are priced out of college. In his address, the President laid out his top priorities – all aimed at expanding opportunity and opening the gateway to the middle class to more Americans.

He committed to his recently announced America’s College Promise proposal, which would make two years of community college free for responsible students; and he asked more businesses to offer educational benefits and paid apprenticeships, giving workers the chance to advance in their careers, even if they haven’t achieved higher education. The President also pledged to make quality childcare more available and more affordable for every middle-class and low-income family with young children, and to extend the reach of technology and the Internet into every classroom.

Each year, the First Lady invites exceptional Americans—whose stories often reflect key themes in the speech—to join her in her viewing box. This year, several educators and students were selected. Learn more about these special guests.

Below are education excerpts from the speech:

Higher Education:

“… I am sending this Congress a bold new plan to lower the cost of community college – to zero.

Keep in mind: forty percent of our college students choose community college.  Some are young and starting out.  Some are older and looking for a better job.  Some are veterans and single parents trying to transition back into the job market.  Whoever you are, this plan is your chance to graduate ready for the new economy, without a load of debt.  Understand, you’ve got to earn it – you’ve got to keep your grades up and graduate on time.  Tennessee, a state with Republican leadership, and Chicago, a city with Democratic leadership, are showing that free community college is possible.  I want to spread that idea all across America, so that two years of college becomes as free and universal in America as high school is today.  Let’s stay ahead of the curve. And I want to work with this Congress, to make sure those already burdened with student loans can reduce their monthly payments, so that student debt doesn’t derail anyone’s dreams.”

Job Training and Workforce Development:

“… To give working families a fair shot, we still need more employers to see beyond next quarter’s earnings and recognize that investing in their workforce is in their company’s long-term interest.”

“[T]o make sure folks keep earning higher wages down the road, we have to do more to help Americans upgrade their skills. …

Thanks to Vice President Biden’s great work to update our job training system, we’re connecting community colleges with local employers to train workers to fill high-paying jobs like coding, and nursing, and robotics.  Tonight, I’m also asking more businesses to follow the lead of companies like CVS and UPS, and offer more educational benefits and paid apprenticeships – opportunities that give workers the chance to earn higher-paying jobs even if they don’t have a higher education.”

Technology:

“I intend to protect a free and open internet, extend its reach to every classroom, and every community, and help folks build the fastest networks, so that the next generation of digital innovators and entrepreneurs have the platform to keep reshaping our world.”

Early Learning/Childcare:

“First – middle-class economics means helping working families feel more secure in a world of constant change.  That means helping folks afford childcare, college, health care, a home, retirement – and my budget will address each of these issues, lowering the taxes of working families and putting thousands of dollars back into their pockets each year. …

In today’s economy, when having both parents in the workforce is an economic necessity for many families, we need affordable, high-quality childcare more than ever.  It’s not a nice-to-have – it’s a must-have.  It’s time we stop treating childcare as a side issue, or as a women’s issue, and treat it like the national economic priority that it is for all of us.  And that’s why my plan will make quality childcare more available and more affordable, for every middle-class and low-income family with young children in America – by creating more slots and a new tax cut of up to $3,000 per child, per year.”

State of the Union Resources

Tiffany Taber is Chief of Staff for Communications Development at the U.S. Department of Education.

Email from Secretary Duncan: Why I’ll Be Watching Tonight

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Earlier today, Secretary Arne Duncan sent the following message to ED’s email list to let them know why he’ll be watching tonight’s State of the Union address. Didn’t get it? Sign up for email updates here.


Tonight, President Obama will deliver his sixth State of the Union address to the country.

In his past five addresses, the President has discussed big ideas to strengthen education, and to support and celebrate teachers, students, and parents.

There’s good reason the President devotes so much of his annual address to education. We have a lot to be proud of. The graduation rate is at its highest level, for the first time, four out of five students are completing high school on time, and a million more black and Hispanic students in college.

But we still have important work to do. America is at an educational crossroads, and we must ensure we are moving forward not back. We must recognize that educational opportunity is a national priority, and that equity and excellence matter more than ever.

Watch tonight to learn more about the President’s ideas on supporting success for America’s students.

Join me in watching the State of the Union, tonight at 9 p.m. ET. Visit wh.gov/SOTU to watch an enhanced version of the speech, and follow @USEdGov on Twitter for live updates.

Arne

5 Things To Do After Filing Your FAFSA

Congratulations! You submitted your 2015-2016 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®)! Wondering what happens next? Here are a few things to look out for:

  1. Review Your Student Aid Report (SAR)

After you submit your FAFSA, you’ll get a Student Aid Report (SAR). Your SAR is a summary of the FAFSA data you submitted. Once you have submitted your FAFSA, you’ll get your SAR within three days (if you signed your FAFSA online) to three weeks (if you mailed a signature page.)

Any student with a Federal Student Aid PIN can view and print his or her SAR by logging in to fafsa.gov and clicking on the appropriate school year. This is also where you can check the status of your application if you have not received your SAR yet. Once you get your SAR, you should review it carefully to make sure it’s correct and complete. 

  1. Review Your EFC

When reviewing your SAR, look for the Expected Family Contribution (EFC)  number. Your EFC can be found in the box at the top of the first page of your SAR, under your Social Security number.

Your EFC is a measure of your family’s financial strength and is calculated according to a formula established by law. This formula considers your family’s taxed and untaxed income, assets, and benefits (such as unemployment or Social Security) as well as your family size and the number of family members who will attend college during the year.

Schools use your EFC to determine your federal student aid eligibility and your financial aid award. However, it’s important to remember that your EFC is not the amount of money your family will have to pay for college nor is it the amount of federal student aid you will receive. It is a number used by your school to calculate how much financial aid you are eligible to receive. Contact your school’s financial aid office if you have any questions about how they calculate financial aid. 

  1. Make Corrections If You Need To

It’s important to make sure that everything on your FAFSA is correct and complete, as your school may ask you to verify some of the information.

Do you need to update any information?

  • It’s easy to make corrections at gov. Simply log in and click “Make FAFSA Corrections.” You’ll need to enter your Federal Student Aid PIN to make any corrections. Corrections should be processed in 3-5 days and you should receive a revised SAR. Detailed instructions here.
  • Did you submit your FAFSA using income and tax estimates?
    To correct your application after filing your taxes, click “Make FAFSA Corrections” after logging in to gov. Navigate to the “Finances” section and indicate that you have already completed your taxes. More details here.
  • Has your situation changed?
    Most information cannot be updated because it must be accurate as of the day you originally signed your FAFSA. You should speak to the financial aid office at the school you plan to attend if there will be a significant change in your or your parent’s income for the present year or if your family has other circumstances that cannot be reported on the FAFSA. There are, however, certain items that you must update. Click here to find out what those are.
  1. Review Your Financial Aid History

The last page of your SAR includes information about your financial aid history, specifically the student loans you have taken out. It’s important to keep track of how much you’re borrowing and to understand the terms and conditions of the loan. Click here to learn more about federal student loans.

Remember: You can always access your financial aid history by logging into My Federal Student Aid. Make sure you have your PIN and Social Security number ready.

  1. Double-Check With Your Schools

Lastly, make sure that you double-check with the financial aid offices at the schools you applied to.  Sometimes schools need additional paperwork or have other deadlines. You never want to leave money on the table!

Sandra Vuong is a Digital Engagement Strategist at Federal Student Aid.

Top 5 FAFSA FAQs

Got Questions About the FAFSA

Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) is the first step in accessing the more than $150 billion available in federal student aid. Since the 2015-16 FAFSA launched, the Digital Engagement Team at Federal Student Aid has responded to hundreds of FAFSA questions via Federal Student Aid’s social media accounts. (Yes, believe it or not, we do actually read what you tweet at us or write on our wall and do our best to respond to as much as we can!) In doing this, we’ve found that there are a few FAFSA questions that are asked a lot. We want to help clear up any confusion, so let’s go through them:

Why do I have to pay to complete the FAFSA?

You don’t! You never have to pay to complete the FAFSA. After all, the first “F” in FAFSA stands for FREE! There are companies that will charge you a fee to file your FAFSA, but you can always complete the FAFSA for free on the official government website: fafsa.gov. (Notice the .GOV!) If you need help with the application, we have resources available for free.

How can I complete the FAFSA if my parents or I haven’t filed my 2014 taxes yet?

When filling out the 2015-16 FAFSA, you’ll want to use financial information from the 2014 tax year. At this point in the year, many people haven’t received their Form W-2, let alone completed their 2014 taxes. But that shouldn’t stop you from completing the FAFSA! If you or your parents have not completed your taxes yet, you can estimate your income and other tax return information, and then correct your application after you have filed your taxes.

If your 2014 income is similar to your 2013 income, use your 2013 tax return to provide estimates for questions about your income. If your income is not similar, use the Income Estimator for assistance estimating your adjusted gross income, and answer the remaining questions about your income to the best of your ability.

Note: Once you complete your 2014 taxes, you’ll need to update your FAFSA. When you do so, you may be eligible to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to access the IRS tax return information needed to complete the FAFSA, and transfer the data directly into your FAFSA from the IRS website.

When is the FAFSA deadline?

States, schools, and the federal government each have their own FAFSA filing deadlines. It is important that you research all of these deadlines and complete the FAFSA by your earliest deadline. That being said, because some types of aid are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, it is highly recommended that you fill out the FAFSA as soon as you can to ensure that you do not miss out on available aid.

Do I have to complete the FAFSA every year?

Yes, you need to fill out the FAFSA each school year because your eligibility for financial aid can differ from year to year for various reasons, including your family’s financial situation and the number of your family members enrolled in college. If you filled out a FAFSA last year and want to renew it, go to fafsa.gov, click “Login”, and be sure to select “FAFSA Renewal” once given the option. That way, many of the (nonfinancial) questions will be pre-filled for you. Just be sure to update any information that has changed since last year.

Which FAFSA should I complete?

When you log into www.fafsa.gov, you will be given two different options: “Start a 2014-15 FAFSA” and “Start a 2015-16 FAFSA.” Which should you choose?

If you’ll be attending college between July 1, 2014 and June 30, 2015, select “Start a 2014-15 FAFSA.”

If you’ll be attending college between July 1, 2015 and June 30, 2016, select “Start a 2015-16 FAFSA.”

Remember, you must complete the FAFSA each school year, so if you’ll be attending college during both periods of time, you should fill out both applications.

TIP: If you need to fill out both applications, complete the 2014-15 FAFSA first. That way, when you complete the 2015-16 FAFSA, a lot of your info will automatically roll over.

If you are applying for a summer session, or just don’t know which application to complete, check with the college you are planning to attend.

We hope that helps answer some of your questions. If you have additional questions about the FAFSA, you can send us your questions via Facebook and Twitter. For more information about completing the FAFSA, visit StudentAid.gov/fafsa.

Nicole Callahan is a Digital Engagement Strategist at Federal Student Aid.

Teamwork + Data = Big Gains at Jones Elementary School

Students at Jones Elementary School in Springdale, Arkansas face many potential obstacles to learning, including poverty, hunger, and trouble speaking and reading English. Eight years ago, only 26 percent of students were reading on grade level. With effective use of data, and real collaboration, the principal and teachers at Jones raised that to 73 percent.

“Poverty isn’t destiny,” says Principal Melissa Fink. Her team is overcoming students’ challenges by believing that every child can succeed at very high levels and creating a culture of excellence.

Teachers across the nation come to school every day hoping to make a difference in their students’ lives, and they are making meaningful changes in their classrooms. At Jones, they are doing it with a whole new level of teamwork. As teacher Jennifer Mills put it, “I used to think about just my classroom. Now, I care about the collective whole of fourth grade.” With help from principals like Fink and other educators, teachers can collaborate and set goals to challenge themselves and their students.

In this new video, see how teachers at Jones are helping their students excel. Improving Education: The View from Jones Elementary School shows how teachers and the school principal work together to encourage their students to succeed.

Fink and the teachers at Jones Elementary School work as a team to receive feedback, and they listen to and learn from each other. They also put data to work for them.

“We make all decisions at our school based on what the data tell us. We’re not just talking about test score data,” says Fink. “We’re talking about the data that teachers are collecting on a day-to-day basis in their classroom.”

We will continue highlighting extraordinary educators doing remarkable things in classrooms nationwide in our video series. To learn more, visit our Partners in Progress page.

Opportunity Is Not Optional: Secretary Duncan’s Vision for America’s Landmark Education Law

Secretary Duncan laid out a bold vision for the ESEA that continues a focus on the nation’s most vulnerable students. (Photo credit: Leslie Williams/U.S. Department of Education)

Secretary Duncan laid out a bold vision for the ESEA that continues a focus on the nation’s most vulnerable students. (Photo credit: Leslie Williams/U.S. Department of Education)

Secretary Arne Duncan laid out a sweeping vision for the nation’s landmark education law, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) in a speech today at Seaton Elementary School in Washington, D.C. On the 50th anniversary of the introduction of the ESEA bill, he called for a new law that will work to ensure strong opportunities for all students, and protect the most vulnerable.

In his speech, Duncan said that as the country moves away from No Child Left Behind—the latest version of ESEA—Congress faces a choice of whether to take a path that moves towards President Johnson’s promise of equity, or a path that walks away from it. He said:

Let’s choose the path that makes good on the original promise of this law. Let’s choose the path that says that we, as a nation, are serious about real opportunity for every single child.

I believe we can work together – Republicans and Democrats – to move beyond the out-of-date, and tired, and prescriptive No Child Left Behind law.

I believe we can replace it with a law that recognizes that schools need more support – and more money, more resources – than they receive today.

A law that recognizes that no family should be denied preschool for their children, and reflects the real scientific understanding that learning begins at birth, not somehow at age 5.

A law that recognizes the critically hard, important work educators across America are doing to support and raise expectations for our children, and lifts up the profession of teaching by recognizing that teachers need better preparation, better support, and more resources to do their hugely important job.

A law that says that educational opportunity isn’t an option, it’s a civil right, a moral imperative, and the best way we can strengthen our nation and attract and retain great jobs that expand the middle class.

Duncan pointed to the progress our country has made, but warned that, “we cannot allow ourselves to believe we are yet doing justice by all of our young people.”

Not when other countries are leaping ahead of us in preparing their children both for college and the world of work. We’re not there yet when millions of children start kindergarten already too far behind simply because their parents couldn’t afford preschool.

Not when thousands of preschoolers are being suspended. And sadly, we know exactly who many of the 3- and 4-year olds often are – our young boys of color.

Not when a third of black students attend high schools that don’t even offer calculus.

Not when across the nation, far too many students of all races and all backgrounds take, and pass the required classes for high school graduation – and are still not qualified to go on to public university and take real college-level classes.

Collectively, we owe our children, and our nation, something so much better.

In laying out the path forward, Secretary Duncan said that reauthorization must be one that expands opportunity for every child, “strengthens our nation economically, improves resources for schools, and supports and helps to modernize the teaching profession.”


“This country can’t afford to replace ‘The fierce urgency of now’ with the soft bigotry of ‘It’s optional.'”


Duncan made clear what a “responsible reauthorization” of ESEA must accomplish, including ensuring every child receives an education that sets him or her up for success in college, careers and life. He said that every child deserves the opportunity for a strong start through high-quality preschool, and that education that includes arts, history, foreign languages, and advanced math and science is essential, not a luxury.

ESEA must also give schools and teachers the resources they need to help students achieve, including teacher pay that reflects the importance of the work they do—regardless of the tax base of their community. Secretary Duncan also spoke to excessive testing, stating that parents, teachers, and students should be able to know what progress students are making, but that tests—and preparation for them—shouldn’t take up too much time away from instruction. “I believe we need to take action to support a better balance,” Duncan said.

Read all of the details of Secretary Duncan’s plan for a responsible reauthorization.

Duncan made clear that he believes that schools and teachers need more resources to do their vital work, and made clear that he believes that schools and teachers need greater resources and funds to do their vital work, and announced that President Obama will seek an increase of $2.7 billion in ESEA funding in his 2016 budget request.

Secretary Duncan concluded his speech by warning that we must not turn back the clock on education progress:

The moral and economic consequences of turning back the clock are simply unacceptable.

We would be accepting the morally and economically unsupportable notion that we have some kids to spare. We don’t.

And while there is much to debate in reauthorizing ESEA, Duncan noted there are areas for productive compromise, and that traditionally, education has been, and must continue to be, a bipartisan cause.

We are at an educational crossroads in America, with two distinct paths for moving forward.

This choice, this crossroads, has profound moral and economic consequences.

In making choices for our children’s future, we will decide who we are as a nation.

For the sake of our children, our communities, and our country, let’s make the right choice.

Resources:

Top 10 Reasons Why You Should Enroll Your Child in a High-Quality Early Learning Program

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When I first looked into my son’s eyes, I knew: I was lucky.

But I also knew that raising a child that is prepared for emotional, physical, and academic success wouldn’t be easy. Enrolling my son in a high-quality early learning program would promote his learning and development, making his prospects in school and in life that much brighter.

Here are the top ten reasons why you should consider enrolling your child in high-quality early education:

  1. About 70 percent of the brain is developed by age one and 90 percent is developed by age three. It is during these early years that genes interact with experience, providing a foundation—weak or strong—for all future learning, behavior, and health.
  2. Preschool-aged children have the ability to learn more, and faster, than you might think. Kids have an innate number sense that, by preschool, makes them ready to start learning math.
  3. The early years are important in shaping the long-term health and success of our children and our communities. Economist James Heckman analyzed research of a decades-long study that began in 1972. He found that kids who received full-day care—along with meals, games, and activity—are actually healthier as adults, with lower rates of high blood pressure and obesity, than kids who didn’t receive such services.
  4. Well-qualified caregivers and educators are fundamental to high-quality early learning programs. As a parent, you can have peace of mind knowing that your child is safe, and with adults who know how to support your child’s early development.
  5. Supportive learning environments are vital at every juncture—especially during the first five years of your child’s life. Great early learning programs can be tailored for our youngest children, whose brains develop important connections during their formative years.
  6. Studies demonstrate that children who have rich early learning experiences are better prepared to thrive in kindergarten and beyond.
  7. Preschool can help your child to achieve school readiness goals—setting him or her up with skills, knowledge, and attitudes necessary for success in school and life.
  8. Early and regular check-ins and assessments can help families track and celebrate their child’s developmental milestones, and ensure that their children get early and specialized support, if needed.
  9. High-quality early learning is critical to sustaining our country’s economic competitiveness. Children in countries as diverse as Mexico, France, and Singapore have a better chance of receiving preschool education than do children in the United States.
  10. There is a growing recognition that quality matters tremendously when it comes to early learning. Programs that are high-quality have high staff qualifications, including a bachelor of arts for teachers; professional development for teachers and staff; low staff-child ratios and small class sizes; a full-day program; and more.

The U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services continue to support the expansion of high-quality preschool programs through the Preschool Development Grants (PDG) competition.

These grants will assist states in building or enhancing their preschool program infrastructure and will help to expand high-quality preschool programs to more 4-year-olds from low- and moderate-income families. Look out for more information about the PDG program now that grants have been awarded. You’ll be able to find out if your community will benefit.

All children—not just some—should have access to high-quality early learning opportunities that prepare them for success in school and beyond. I know that is what I want for my child.

Monica Bates is an Information Resource Specialist in the Office of Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education.

7 Common FAFSA Mistakes

  1. Not Completing the FAFSA®

I hear all kinds of reasons: “The FAFSA is too hard,” “It takes to long to complete,” I never qualify anyway, so why does it matter.” It does matter. By not completing the FAFSA, you are missing out on the opportunity to qualify for what could be thousands of dollars to help you pay for college. The FAFSA takes most people 21 minutes to complete, and there is help provided throughout the application. Oh, and contrary to popular belief, there is no income cut-off when it comes to federal student aid.

  1. Not Being Prepared

The online FAFSA has gotten a lot easier over the last few years. We’ve added skip logic, so you only see questions that are applicable to you. There is also an option to import your tax information from the IRS directly into the FAFSA application. But, the key to making the FAFSA simple is being prepared. You’ll save yourself a lot of time by gathering everything you need to complete the FAFSA before you start the application.

  1. Not Reading Carefully

You’re on winter break and probably enjoying a vacation from reading for a couple weeks. I get it. But when it comes to completing the FAFSA, you want to read each question carefully. Too many students see delays in their financial aid for simple mistakes that could have been easily avoided.

Don’t rush through these questions:

  • Your Number of Family Members (Household size): The FAFSA has a specific definition of how your or your parents’ household size should be determined. Read the instructions carefully. Many students incorrectly report this number.
  • Amount of Your Income Tax: Income tax is not the same as income. It is the amount of tax that you (and if married, your spouse) paid on your income earned from work. Your income tax amount should not be the same as your adjusted gross income (AGI). Where you find the amount of your income tax depends on which IRS form you filed.

Tip: If you use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, this number will be pulled for you, directly from your income tax return.

  • Legal Guardianship: One question on the FAFSA asks: “As determined by a court in your state of legal residence, are you or were you in legal guardianship?” Many students incorrectly answer “yes” here. For this question, the definition of legal guardianship does not include your parents, even if they were appointed by a court to be your guardian. You are also not considered a legal guardian of yourself.
  1. Inputting Incorrect Information

The FAFSA is an official government form. You must enter your information as it appears on official government documents like your birth certificate and social security card. Examples:

  • Entering the Wrong Name (Yes, I’m serious): You wouldn’t believe how many people have issues with their FAFSA because they entered an incorrect name on the application. It doesn’t matter if you’re Madonna, or Drake, or whatever Snoop Lion is calling himself these days. You must enter your full name as it appears on official government documents. No nicknames.
  • Entering the Wrong Social Security Number (SSN): When we process FAFSAs, we cross check your social security number with the Social Security Administration. To avoid delays in processing your application, triple check that you have entered the correct SSN. If you meet our basic eligibility criteria, but you or your parents don’t have a SSN, follow these instructions.
  1. Not Reporting Parent Information

Even if you fully support yourself, pay your own bills, file your own taxes, you may still be considered a dependent student for federal student aid purposes, and therefore, you’ll need to provide parent information on your FAFSA. Dependency guidelines for the FAFSA are determined by Congress and are different from those of the IRS. Find out whether or not you need to provide parent information by answering these questions.

Bonus: Who is my parent when I fill out the FAFSA?

who-is-my-parent

  1. Not Using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool

For many, the most difficult part about filling out the FAFSA is entering in the financial information. But now, thanks to a partnership with the IRS, students and parents who are eligible can automatically transfer the necessary tax info into the FAFSA using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. This year, the tool will launch on February 1, 2015. In most cases, your information will be available from the IRS two weeks after you file. It’s also one of the best ways to prevent errors on your FAFSA and avoid any processing delays.

Tip: If you used income estimates to file your FAFSA early, you can use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to update your FAFSA two weeks after you file your 2014 taxes.

  1. Not Signing the FAFSA

So many students answer every single question that is asked, but fail to actually sign the FAFSA with their PIN and submit it. This happens for many reasons, maybe they forgot their PIN, or their parent isn’t with them to sign with the parent PIN, so the FAFSA is left incomplete. Don’t let this happen to you. If you don’t have or don’t know your PIN, apply for one. If you would like confirmation that your FAFSA has been submitted, you can check your status immediately after you submit your FAFSA online.

Nicole Callahan is a Digital Engagement Strategist at the U.S. Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid.

Our 10 Favorite Photos from 2014

2014 was an eventful year for Secretary Duncan and the Department of Education. Below are some of our favorite photos:

The Importance of Early Learning: Secretary Duncan  visited the Child & Family Network Centers in Alexandria, Va., in March to discuss the President’s budget proposal for early learning. In December, 18 states were awarded Preschool Development Grants. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

The Importance of Early Learning: Secretary Duncan visited the Child & Family Network Centers in Alexandria, Va., in March to discuss the President’s budget proposal for early learning. In December, 18 states were awarded new Preschool Development Grants to increase access to high-quality preschool programs. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

 

Education for All: Secretary Duncan stopped by Orchard Gardens K-8 Pilot School in Roxbury, Mass., in March as part of the Partners in Progress tour, highlighting America’s ingenuity in education at work. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Education for All: Secretary Duncan stopped by Orchard Gardens K-8 Pilot School in Roxbury, Mass., in March as part of the Partners in Progress tour, highlighting America’s ingenuity in education at work. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

 

Secretary Duncan joined Attorney General Eric Holder in March of this year at J.O. Wilson Elementary School in Washington, D.C., to announce the findings of expansive survey of America's public schools and discuss the importance of universal access to preschool, the need to reduce unnecessary and unfair school discipline practices, and address other barriers to opportunity for students that may prevent them from reaching their full potential at all levels of education. (Photo credit; U.S. Department of Education)

Ensuring Civil Rights in Education: Secretary Duncan joined Attorney General Eric Holder in March of this year at J.O. Wilson Elementary School in Washington, D.C., to announce the findings of expansive survey of America’s public schools, including the need to reduce unnecessary and unfair school discipline practices. (Photo credit; U.S. Department of Education)

 

Teacher Appreciation Week: ED employees across the country visited classrooms and shadowed teachers, principals and educators during May 5-9 of this year. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Teacher Appreciation Week: ED employees across the country visited classrooms and shadowed teachers, principals and educators during May 5-9 of this year. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

 

Cooking Up Change: In June, ED hosted the finalists of Cooking Up Change, a culinary competition sponsored by the Healthy Schools Campaign, a non-profit Chicago organization. The meals were required to be between 750-850 calories and needed to cost around one dollar per meal, showing the possibility of executing nutrition, taste, and low budgets. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Cooking Up Change: In June, ED hosted the finalists of Cooking Up Change, a culinary competition sponsored by the Healthy Schools Campaign, a non-profit Chicago organization. The meals were required to be between 750-850 calories and needed to cost around one dollar per meal, showing the possibility of executing nutrition, taste, and low budgets. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

 

Reflecting on Civil Rights: On Wednesday, July 2, ED commemorated the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 with a Civil Rights Bus Ride. Some of the original Freedom Riders and current student leaders took a trip from Washington, D.C., to Richmond, Virginia, for a symbolic and celebratory returning ride. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Reflecting on Civil Rights: On Wednesday, July 2, ED commemorated the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 with a Civil Rights Bus Ride. Some of the original Freedom Riders and current student leaders took a trip from Washington, D.C., to Richmond, Virginia, for a symbolic and celebratory returning ride. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

 

Let's Read, Let's Move!: The third installment of ED’s summer series Let’s Read! Let’s Move! blasted into space at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum on July 23. Learn more about First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative and our Let's Read, Let's Move! events. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Let’s Read, Let’s Move!: The third installment of ED’s summer series Let’s Read! Let’s Move! blasted into space at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum on July 23. Learn more about First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative and our Let’s Read, Let’s Move! events. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

 

Partners in Progress: 'Lemme take a selfie!' Secretary Duncan poses with two students during his visit to Spelman College in Atlanta, Ga., in August. The HBCU was the first stop during the 2014 Back to School Bus Tour. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Partners in Progress: ‘Lemme take a selfie!’ Secretary Duncan poses with two students during his visit to Spelman College in Atlanta, Ga., in August. The HBCU was the first stop during the 2014 Back to School Bus Tour. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

 

Building Strong Foundations: Secretary Duncan discussed the importance of investment in early learning during an event on Capitol Hill in September. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Building Strong Foundations: Secretary Duncan discussed the importance of investment in early learning during an event on Capitol Hill in September. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

#BlackLivesMatter: On Saturday, December 13, Secretary Duncan joined the Rev. Al Sharpton, Marc Morial, President & CEO of the National Urban League, and hundreds of protestors during a #BlackLivesMatter march in Washington, D.C. (Photo credit: Joe Portnoy/U.S. Department of Education)

#BlackLivesMatter: On Saturday, December 13, Secretary Duncan joined the Rev. Al Sharpton, Marc Morial, President & CEO of the National Urban League, and hundreds of protestors during a #BlackLivesMatter march in Washington, D.C. (Photo credit: Joe Portnoy/U.S. Department of Education)

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