Help Us Get the Word Out About the FAFSA

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For us at the U.S. Department of Education, the start of a new year provides a fresh opportunity to remind parents, students, educators and others about the importance of submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA ®). The Department’s office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) provides more than $150 billion in grants, loans, and work-study funds each year to help students pay for college or career school. Completing the FAFSA is the primary step for determining eligibility for federal student aid and subsequently accessing these funds. With the 2015-16 FAFSA having gone live on January 1, FSA is requesting your assistance in promoting FAFSA completion.

We are asking for your help in getting the message out through your social media channels about the importance of completing the FAFSA early in the year. To help you do that, FSA has developed some resources for you to use. They include sample Facebook posts, tweets, blogs, informative videos, photos and infographics. These and other great resources can be found on FSA’s Financial Aid Toolkit. These resources can be tailored to best fit your needs. If you’re new to social media or just looking for ideas on how to easily use these resources or how others are using them, view this presentation.

In addition, over the next few months, FSA’s Digital Engagement Group will be actively managing our own presence on social media with a strong focus on FAFSA completion. We highly encourage you to use and repost our content whenever applicable. Here are the places you can find us:

facebook      twitter     youtube     storify
Thanks for your support and commitment to advancing the higher education goals of students and families across the country.

Susan Thares is the Digital Engagement Lead at the Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid.

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.

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:

What You Need To Know: New Guidance on Ensuring English Learners Can Participate Meaningfully and Equally in Educational Programs

The U.S. Departments of Education (ED) and Justice (DOJ) today released joint guidance reminding states, school districts and schools of their obligations under federal law to ensure that students who are English learners have equal access to a high-quality education and the opportunity to achieve their full academic potential.

Almost five million students in the U.S. are English learners, making up about nine percent of all public school students. This is the first time that a single piece of guidance has addressed the array of federal laws that govern schools’ obligations to English learners. The guidance recognizes the recent milestone 40th anniversaries of Lau v. Nichols and the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 (EEOA), as well as the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

MUST SCHOOLS IDENTIFY AND ASSESS POTENTIAL ENGLISH LEARNER STUDENTS?

Yes. School districts must have procedures in place to identify potential EL students in an accurate and timely manner. School districts must then determine if potential EL students are in fact EL through a valid and reliable test that assesses English language proficiency in speaking, listening, reading and writing.

WHAT LANGUAGE ASSISTANCE MUST SCHOOLS PROVIDE TO ENGLISH LEARNER STUDENTS?

EL students are entitled to appropriate language services to become proficient in English and to participate equally in the standard instructional program within a reasonable period of time, as well as extracurricular programs and activities. EL students are entitled to EL programs with sufficient resources and districts must have qualified EL teachers, staff, and administrators to effectively implement their EL program. Districts must also monitor the progress of EL students, evaluate the effectiveness of their EL programs, and modify their programs in a timely manner when needed.

WHAT STEPS MUST SCHOOL DISTRICTS TAKE TO PROVIDE EFFECTIVE LANGUAGE ASSISTANCE TO LIMITED ENGLISH PROFICIENT PARENTS?

Districts must provide effective language assistance to limited English proficient parents, such as offering translated materials or a language interpreter. It is not sufficient for the staff merely to be bilingual. Districts should ensure that interpreters and translators have knowledge in both languages, and are trained in the role of an interpreter and translator—including the ethics of serving as one—and the need to maintain confidentiality.

WHAT DO I DO IF I BELIEVE A SCHOOL IS NOT COMPLYING WITH THESE REQUIREMENTS?

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 Myths about Financial Aid

College application deadlines are fast approaching and you may be wondering if you can even afford to go to college. What you might not know is that the federal government provides almost $150 billion a year to help students just like you pay for college. Right now, you’re probably thinking of all of the reasons why you won’t qualify for financial aid. Please don’t waste your time worrying- you could be using this time to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®). Here are some common myths about financial aid that you shouldn’t believe.

Myth #1: My family makes too much money for me to qualify for aid.

There is no income cut-off for federal student aid. Your eligibility for financial aid is based on a number of factors and not just your income. Plus, many states and schools use your FAFSA data to determine your eligibility for their aid. If you’re not sure what you will get, the best way to know for sure is to complete the application!

Myth #2: I need to file taxes before completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or (FAFSA).

You can use estimated information on your FAFSA so you’ll be able to submit it before you file taxes. In fact, many states and schools have financial aid deadlines well before the tax deadline. So completing your FAFSA earlier is a good idea. You might want to base your estimates on last year’s tax return, and once you file your taxes, you can log back in and update the information. You may even be able to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to automatically import your tax information into your FAFSA. 

Myth #3: The FAFSA is too hard to fill out.

This is a very common misconception, but the FAFSA has come a long way! It’s easier than ever to complete online. The form uses “skip logic,” so you are only asked the questions that are relevant to you. And if you’ve filed your taxes, you can transfer your tax return data into your FAFSA automatically. As a result of improvements like these, the average time to complete the FAFSA is now less than 21 minutes. If you do get stuck, help is available by Web chat, e-mail and phone.

Myth #4: My grades aren’t good enough for me to get aid.

Eligibility for most federal student aid programs is not linked to your academic performance. However, you will need to maintain grades that your school considers satisfactory in order to continue receiving financial aid. 

Myth #5: My ethnicity or age makes me ineligible for aid.

There are basic eligibility requirements, but ethnicity and age are not considered.

Myth #6: I support myself, so I don’t have to include parent info on the FAFSA.
This is not necessarily true. Even if you support yourself and file taxes on your own, you may still be considered a dependent student for federal student aid purposes. You can determine your dependency status by answering these questions. If you are independent, you won’t need to include your parents’ information on your FAFSA. But if you are dependent, you must provide your parents’ information.

Myth #7: I already completed the FAFSA so I don’t need to complete it again.
You need to complete the FAFSA every year you plan to attend college or career school. Don’t worry; it will be even easier the second or third time around since a lot of your information will be pre-populated on the application.

Millions of students complete the FAFSA each year and receive financial aid to help pay for college. Don’t let these myths stop you from achieving your goals. Take the first step by completing the FAFSA at fafsa.gov.

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

Parents: Tips To Help Your Child Complete the FAFSA

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If you’re a parent of a college-bound child, the financial aid process can seem a bit overwhelming.  Who’s considered the parent? Who do you include in household size?  How do assets and tax filing fit into the process? Does this have to be done every year?  Here are some common questions that parents have when helping their children prepare for and pay for college or career school: 

Why does my child need to provide my information on the FAFSA®?

While the federal government provides nearly $150 billion in financial aid each year, dependency guidelines for the FAFSA are determined by Congress. Even if your child supports himself, he may still be considered a dependent student for federal student aid purposes. If your child was born on or after January 1, 1992, then he or she is most likely considered a dependent student and you’ll need to include your information on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Who’s considered a parent when completing the FAFSA?

If your child needs to report parent information, here are some guidelines to help:

  • If the child’s legal parents (biological and/or adoptive parents) are married to each other, answer the questions about both of them.
  • If the child’s legal parents are not married to each other and live together, answer the questions about both of them.
  • If the child’s parent is widowed or was never married, answer the questions about that parent.
  • If the child’s parents are divorced or separated, follow these guidelines.

More information on who’s considered the parent can be found here: http://1.usa.gov/1AbWmp6

Who’s considered part of the household?

When completing your child’s FAFSA, you should include in the household size: parents, any dependent student(s), and any other child who lives at home and receives more than half of their support from you.  Also include any people who are not your children but who live with you and for whom you provide more than half of their support.

Do we need to wait to apply until I file my income taxes?

Deadlines in some states are before the tax filing deadline so you’ll want to ensure your child files his or her FAFSA as soon as possible after January 1st to maximize financial aid. You do not need to wait until you file your federal tax return.  If you haven’t done your taxes by the time your child completes the FAFSA, you can estimate amounts based on the previous year if nothing has drastically changed.  After you file your taxes, you’ll need to log back in to the FAFSA and correct any estimated information.  If you’ve already filed your taxes, you can use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to automatically pull in your tax information directly from the IRS into the FAFSA. The IRS Data Retrieval Tool will be available February 1, 2015.

Do I need to do this every year?

Yes, you and your child need to complete the FAFSA each year in order for your child to be considered for federal student aid.  The good news is that each subsequent year you can use the Renewal Application option so you only have to update information that has changed from the previous year!

What else do I need to know before I begin?

You’ll need to get a PIN and have all the necessary documents before you begin.  Here’s a handy checklist: http://studentaid.ed.gov/fafsa/filling-out

Susan Thares is the Digital Engagement Lead at the Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid.

Now is the Time for Safe and Equal Access to Education for All Children All Over the World

On October 9th 2012, Malala Yousafzai was on a school bus returning to her home in Pakistan’s Swat Valley. A masked gunman boarded the bus and asked for her by name. When her classmates could not help but to glance at her, the gunman approached Malala and shot three times, hitting her in the head and neck. She was 15 years old and her only crime was advocating for equal access to education for all children.

On December 8th of this year, UNICEF declared that 2014 was a devastating year for children. Two years after the brutal attack on Malala, as many as 10,000 children have been recruited to fight by armed groups in the Central African Republic. In Syria, there have been more than 35 attacks on schools and 1.7 million children are now refugees. And a mere eight days after the UNICEF report was released, Taliban gunman launched an unimaginable attack on a Pakistani school, killing 132 students.

These are just some of the challenges that world leaders and non-governmental organizations face in their efforts to establish a new set of sustainable development goals. Technical experts and advocates from Save the Children and other groups are engaging in a series of global consultations on post-2015 education indicators. What has emerged is this: the only way to offer children a future free of violence and extreme poverty is to provide every child safe and equitable access to quality education. Simply counting the number of children in schools is not enough.

Of course, violence against children is not limited to countries outside our borders. Speaking to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute in October, Secretary Arne Duncan referenced the impact violence has had on his own experience. He said, “I saw children who happened to come from a very violent community; who happened to all be African-American; who happened to be very poor. Despite many real challenges, many went on to do extraordinary things.”

Duncan also pointed out that students of color in the U.S. are more likely to be assigned inexperienced teachers; that they have less access to advanced classes; and that they are more likely to go to schools with lower-quality facilities, such as temporary structures. These are circumstances we can and must change.

In October, ED’s Office of Civil Rights issued guidance to states, school districts, and schools to help ensure students in the U.S. have equal access to educational resources. Initiatives such as My Brother’s Keeper and Excellent Educators for All are designed to help level the playing field for U.S. students who face an uphill battle in attaining an education. The goal is to ensure that our children – no matter their circumstances – have every opportunity to reach their full potential.

In the wake of the brutal attack in Peshawar and the seemingly never-ending violence against children in our own country, there is a tremendous amount of work left to be done. It’s in our nation’s best interest to prepare all of our children, not just a privileged few, for the challenges of the global economy. With the world’s focus turned to safe and equitable access to quality education, now is the time for us to make good on our promises.

Rebecca Miller is an International Affairs Specialist in the International Affairs Office at the U.S. Department of Education.

2015-2016 Teaching and Principal Ambassador Fellowship Program Applications Now Available!

“The Ambassador Fellows are a critical investment in ensuring that the decisions affecting students are informed and implemented by our nation’s best teachers and leaders. The answers to our most challenging educational problems lie in the voices of the courageous principals and passionate teachers our Fellows bring us every day.”
– Secretary Arne Duncan

Teaching Ambassador Fellows gathered at the Teaching and Learning conference for the announcement of the Teach to Lead initiative earlier this year. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Teaching Ambassador Fellows gathered at the Teaching and Learning conference for the announcement of the Teach to Lead initiative earlier this year. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Applications for the U.S. Department of Education’s 2015-2016 cohort of Teaching and Principal Ambassador Fellows opened on December 18, 2014 and are scheduled to close on January 20, 2015 at 11:59 pm EST. For more information about the application process, visit our Teaching and Principal Ambassador Fellows program pages or go directly to the applications for the Teaching and Principal Fellowships on USAJobs.gov.

Since 2008, the Department has employed 87 outstanding teachers on a full- or part-time basis through the Teaching Ambassador Fellowship program. Last year, ED piloted a Principal Ambassador Fellowship that brought three highly-talented principals to work for the Department on a full- and part-time basis.

Teaching and Principal Ambassador Fellows are outstanding educators, with a record of leadership in the school community, strong communication skills, and insights on education policy based in their school and classroom expertise. They come with networks of support from their professional communities and have participated in a variety of activities that have prepared them to write and speak frequently about instruction, school culture and climate, educational leadership and policy.

Both of the highly selective programs reflect the belief that teachers and principals should have meaningful opportunities to learn about and shape the policies that impact students and school communities nationwide. As teachers and principals are often the most trusted sources of information about education policy for parents, community members, colleagues, and students themselves, it is imperative to create more ways to link the Department’s programs, policies, and resources directly to the field.

The 2013-2015 Principal Ambassador Fellows and Secretary Duncan. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

The 2013-2015 Principal Ambassador Fellows and Secretary Duncan. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

The Ambassador Fellows have directly contributed to hundreds of activities at the Department and captured the voices of thousands of teachers and principals from every state. They were particularly instrumental in the RESPECT project and in inspiring and executing the Department’s current Teach to Lead initiative. They were also critical partners in offering flexibility around tying teacher evaluations to new assessments and addressing a culture of over-testing.

There are two different options for candidates. The Washington Fellowship is a full-time appointment, based at the Department’s Headquarters in Washington. The Classroom Fellowship, on the other hand, enables teachers and principals to participate on a part-time basis, while still allowing them to fulfill their regular school responsibilities.

All Teaching Ambassador Fellows spend one year learning about key federal programs and policies, sharing their expertise with federal staff members, and providing background on federal initiatives to other educators. This helps teachers better understand and implement these efforts at the federal, state and local levels. For the Fellows, the program provides greater knowledge of federal educational policy, strengthens their leadership skills, and gives them the firsthand opportunity to address some of the  challenging issues facing education today.

“Being a Teaching Ambassador Fellow has been the best professional learning of my career,” says Tami Fitzgerald. “I have learned about educational policy, but more than that, I have discovered that my voice can be heard, and our collective voices can make a difference.”  Principal Ambassador Fellow, Rachel Skerritt adds, “The Principal Ambassador Fellowship is intended to be a beneficial resource to the Department, allowing ED to hear valuable input from school leaders. However, the experience has been just as beneficial to my own learning and leadership. I constantly bring back best practices to my own school, having had the privilege of meeting passionate principals nationwide.”

Great teachers and principals—please consider applying and sharing this information with your colleagues! Sign up for updates on the Teaching and Principal application processes, call 1-800-USA-Learn, or email us at TeacherFellowship@ed.gov or PrincipalFellowship@ed.gov with questions.

Gillian Cohen-Boyer is Director of the Principal and Teaching Ambassador Fellowships Programs at the U.S. Department of Education.

Student Voices Session: Shining a Spotlight on Native Youth in Foster Care

Youth from every ethnicity and population group experience challenges. American Indian and Alaska Native youth in the foster care system often also must contend with a disconnection from their tribal communities and cultures.

On Dec. 8th, I attended a Student Voices session at the White House hosted by the Department of Education (ED) and Department of Interior. During this time, I witnessed the Obama Administration turn a corner on an issue that is too often invisible to the general public and politicians – understanding the plight of Native youth in foster care.

Fifteen current and former foster care youth representing American Indian and Alaska Native nations from across the United States sat down with Secretaries Arne Duncan and Sally Jewell/ (Photo credit: Paul Wood/U.S. Department of Education)

Blog author Seanna Pieper-Jordan (far right) joined fourteen other current and former foster care youth representing American Indian and Alaska Native nations from across the United States in a discussion with Secretaries Arne Duncan and Sally Jewell. (Photo credit: Paul Wood/U.S. Department of Education)

Fifteen current and former foster care youth representing American Indian and Alaska Native nations from across the United States sat down with Secretaries Arne Duncan and Sally Jewell at the event to discuss the unique struggles that Native youth face.

They all courageously shared stories of survival before entering foster care and of a heartbreaking desire to remain connected to their tribes when placed in foster homes far from their tribal communities. For me, their stories and my own share a key message — take us away from our homes and our culture, and you take us away from our identity and our drive to achieve.

After the meeting, Secretary Duncan asked how ED could help improve academic achievement and the well-being of Native youth in the foster care system.

With 566 federally recognized tribes—each with its own history, language and customs—no one curriculum plan or program can adequately provide the needed emotional, cultural and academic support for all Native youth. Fortunately, numerous tribes and tribal organizations desire a chance to partner with the government to improve the situation. My hope is that new tribal partnerships – specifically for American Indian and Alaska native foster youth – could make schools a safe and trusted alternative to the turmoil these students often encounter outside the school environment.

For me, school was my only haven, allowing me a few hours each day to forget the abuse and neglect I suffered in my most formative years. But, unfortunately, my educational experience is not the norm. My teachers did not address my behavioral problems, frequent absences from school, and lack of foundational skills, such as phonics, because I was always the brightest student in class. I also had thick skin to the racism I experienced in public school. Being Native Hawaiian, as well as American Indian, enabled me to attend Kamehameha Schools, a K-12 boarding-and-day institution that immerses students in Native Hawaiian culture. Kamehameha became my advocate, protector and family. Eventually, my school counselor became my foster mother.

I know firsthand that educational institutions can be not only a source of academic and emotional support for all students with unfortunate circumstances at home, but also a place of cultural opportunity for American Indian and Alaska Native youth disconnected from their tribal communities. So, I am happy to say that my time at the White House and with Secretaries Duncan and Jewell has shown me that the Administration is searching for new ways to improve the lives of Native foster youth. And, more personally, it showed me that people do care about what happens to the invisible.

Seanna Pieper-Jordan is a former foster care youth of Native Hawaiian and American Indian (Blackfeet) descent. She graduated from Yale University with a Bachelors of Arts degree in Sociology in 2013 and Kamehameha High School with honors in 2008. She currently works as a public policy specialist in Washington, D.C.

Improving Education One Classroom at a Time

Elise Patterson faces challenges in her classroom every day, but there’s nothing else she’d rather be doing than teaching. Patterson is an English teacher who, like so many educators across the country, is tackling challenges and making a difference in her classroom and in her students’ lives.

Now is a time of profound change in education, perhaps the greatest change in decades. Teachers are leading the change, taking on the hard work of implementing higher standards in their own classrooms, and, like Patterson, discovering that they can do what they love with even greater results for their students.

See what it’s like to teach today through Patterson’s eyes in the first installment of a new video series that takes viewers behind the scenes with teachers and other educators who are doing the hard work to lead change, innovation, and improvement in classrooms throughout the country.

Improving Education: The View from Ms. Patterson’s Classroom, shows how a teacher at Eastern Senior High School in Washington, D.C., is helping her students to excel.

“I’m passionate about teaching because I get to interact with so many people in such a meaningful way,” she says. “The reason I decided to make this my career is because I think there’s such a need for good teaching … [and] because I see how much of a change you can make on a day-to-day basis with individual students.”

Her tips include more collaboration with other teachers and between departments, and really challenging students to improve upon their leadership and critical-thinking skills. Her passion has helped her successfully implement higher standards in her classroom. Learn more about Patterson’s story below:

As we continue to highlight extraordinary educators doing remarkable things in classrooms nationwide we want to hear from teachers. Get in touch with us, and help us share your inspiring stories.

To learn more about Patterson and her classroom tips, visit our Partners in Progress page.