Learning by Doing: Hands-On Experiences Help Children Learn and Dream

I recently visited a great hands-on, experiential learning site for young children.  The IntelliZeum, the brainchild of Executive Director Blanca Enriquez, is a one-of-a-kind interactive learning environment, created in El Paso, Texas 10 years ago. This stimulating learning center provides enriching experiences for the lucky area Head Start children who visit twice each year.

There were so many things I liked about the IntelliZeum. Each specialized learning area within the IntelliZeum has different clothing, tools, and unique things to do.  Children may enter a “space center” where they dress in space suits. They may visit a pretend doctor’s office where they don white coats and stethoscopes.  When the children travel to the “Arctic room,” it’s freezing cold; in the “rainforest room,” it’s hot and muggy.  In the “electricity and water center” they discover how water makes power — and they learn about water conservation.

The IntelliZeum sets high expectations for what children can learn. And children learn about all kinds of things, from parts of the solar system, to types of dinosaurs, to names of tools used for building construction. Before each visit, children are prepared with vocabulary and background knowledge so they can get the most out of the experience. And after the visit, learning is reinforced in the classroom by incorporating the concepts and rich oral language into reading, math, science, technology, social studies, and fine arts activities.

The learning environments are sophisticated and designed to stretch children’s minds, encouraging them — even at age 3 and 4 — to start thinking about interesting and important future careers. I know children leave dreaming of becoming doctors, architects, engineers, pilots, or reporters.

Something else that I really liked was the intentional inclusion of children with disabilities. A child in a wheelchair can get inside the time capsule for traveling to the age of the dinosaurs. The underwater “ocean,” an area enclosed by three giant aquariums, is also handicapped accessible, so a child in a wheel chair can wheel right in while the other children scramble under one of the aquariums. But all the kids end up in the same place.

I wish engaging learning centers like the IntelliZeum could be available to all children. But parents can help their children engage in rich learning experiences — at home and during daily activities.

For example, instead of watching television, families can take a trip to the airport, visit a train station, or observe a construction site in the neighborhood and take advantage of teachable moments within these experiences. Even errands to the store can be turned into solid learning experiences by exposing children to vocabulary words, letting the children participate by picking out and weighing fruits and vegetables, taking photos with a parent’s smartphone of something they like, or talking to a person at the store. We need to get back to experiential learning that is real, exciting, and meaningful — and summer can be a great time to do that.

Libby Doggett is the deputy assistant secretary for Policy and Early Learning in the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education at the U.S. Department of Education.

Six Students Tell Stories About Their Educational Successes

What does success in education look like? And what makes it possible? Six students recently sat down at a youth panel on social and emotional learning to talk about the educators that made the biggest differences in their lives.

The students provided real examples of what Professors Kimberly Schonert-Reichl and Gil Noam presented in lectures at a recent conference in Minnesota sponsored by St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, the National League of Cities, the U.S. Department of Education, and others.

The students’ stories illustrate the many ways that educators can play an important role in ensuring that young people succeed.

  • Rich Pennington is a recent college graduate. He talked about the difficulties he had to overcome when he was described as a stereotypical young black male. An employer who gave him a space to fail and two teachers who took time to really get to know him made it possible for him to succeed.
  • Brittany Eich describes herself as an introvert. She had teachers and family who challenged her, gave her options, and then asked her what she wanted to do.
  • Chava Gabrielle has trouble with time management. She found support from peers who were a little older, but they challenged and supported her.
  • David Kim is a college graduate. He had teachers who helped him develop the skill of expressing from the heart and not just from the mind. They showed him a technique that he is now sharing with others.
  • Gao Vue was told she had ADD, but her mother didn’t accept it. She talked about a father who was a negative influence, but taught her how to be strong.
  • Hannah Quartrom says she likes to take over and lead. Her mother was an example of how to solve problems and get through difficult situations.

Employers, teachers, family, and peers, everyone can play a role in helping students develop the social emotional skills they need to succeed.

Ken Bedell is a senior advisor in the Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships Center at the U.S. Department of Education.

Real Equality in Education Remains Elusive

This op-ed originally appeared in the National Journal.

This year the nation will commemorate two historic actions taken to protect equal rightsthe 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education — the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case that abolished state-sponsored segregation in public education — and the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

We are left with an important question: Has the promise of Brown and the Civil Rights Act been fulfilled?

Most people agree that despite progress made, educational equity and opportunity remains out of reach for many students from diverse language and cultural backgrounds. For example, of all students enrolled in low-performing schools, 42 percent are black and 33 percent are Latino. Furthermore, these students are much more likely to be taught by teachers with less experience than those leading classrooms in more affluent, mostly white school districts.

There is some good news. Communities that recognize the value of language and cultural diversity have contributed to the proliferation of dual-language programs in schools across the country. California, Illinois, and New York all offer students what’s known as the Seal of Bi-literacy, a distinction that appears on the diplomas and transcripts of students who have become proficient in two or more languages by high school graduation.Legislation that would create a similar student recognition is either pending or under consideration in 10 other states.

Boosting the number of students able to speak, read, and write in more than one language—what President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan sometimes refer to as “bi-literacy skills”—has become essential to America’s future economic prosperity and national security.

We also have more work to do. According to the Education Department’s latest Civil Rights Data Collection, information compiled from all 97,000 of the nation’s public schools, black students (57 percent), Latino students (67 percent), and English learners (65 percent) have less access than their white, English-speaking peers (71 percent) to the kinds of rigorous math and science courses needed for college and many careers.

The CRDC also provides other evidence of unequal opportunity. Students in the process of learning English represent 5 percent of the nation’s high school students but only 2 percent of those enrolled in advanced-placement courses. Among students already proficient in English, about 7 percent participate in gifted and talented programs at their schools. That figure is three and a half times larger than the paltry 2 percent of students in the process of learning English who participate in similar programs.

In a country where the share of students who come from households where languages other than English are spoken at home is expanding, one has to wonder how much untapped potential is being squandered. How many exceptional minds are insufficiently challenged each day?

A number of recent incidents have also served to remind us that we have much more to do to ensure supportive, inclusionary, and egalitarian environments for all our children. Recently a school principal in Texas made headlines when she described the act of speaking Spanish as “disruptive” and prohibited it at school. Although the principal’s contract was not renewed and the ban on speaking Spanish lifted, this incident had a chilling effect on students and the community. It opened old wounds left from a time when this kind of language oppression was common.

Sadly, in the past year alone Education Department staff has heard similar stories during visits to schools in California, Colorado, Illinois, and Nevada. Students, parents, and even Hispanic teachers have reported being prohibited from speaking Spanish in all settings, including parent-teacher conferences. The agency’s Office for Civil Rights has also investigated several complaints alleging that school districts discriminate on the basis of national origin by prohibiting, and sometimes punishing, students for speaking in their native language. In 2013, the division received almost 80 official complaints containing allegations of discrimination on the basis of national origin involving services for English-learner students and/or communication with parents of limited English proficiency.

In many of these cases, districts have not been able to show valid educational justifications for these actions. Ironically, the reason given by many school administrators and districts for prohibiting Spanish is what I see as the misguided notion that this promotes more rapid learning of the English language.

As a former bilingual-education teacher, principal, and district superintendent, I have a hard time conceptualizing any valid educational justification for barring languages other than English from schools, making it more difficult for parents and teachers to communicate or sending the message to students that speaking a second language is a bad thing. Instead, it seems clear that these sorts of actions leave students and parents feeling excluded. Devaluing other languages and cultures is not only harmful to student identity and self-confidence, but can also be disruptive to the learning process.

In this country, we have a civic duty and moral obligation to be vigilant and courageous in taking appropriate action when we witness cases of mistreatment and exclusion of any student. We must embrace the richness and diversity that is our cultural and linguistic heritage. And, as we collectively face increasing global economic and political interdependency, equipping more students with the skills to read, speak, and write in multiple languages represents not only an advantage but an essential part of our country’s security.

Only when schools consistently do both will we realize the promise of Brown and the broader civil-rights movement.

Libia S. Gil is the assistant deputy secretary in the Education Department’s Office of English Language Acquisition.

Lessons Learned: The Importance of Summer Experiential Learning

Last Friday, I found myself in an elementary school classroom engaging with students on the topic of summer learning. Studies demonstrate that there is a notable trend of learning loss when young people do not engage in educational opportunities during summer months; thus, summer programs and activities are paramount to preventing the “summer slide”.

As I worked with the students, a light went on in my head as to how I conduct my own academic journey. Learning through action, discovery, and self-exploration can be as valuable as classroom experiences. These instances of experiential learning give me the chance to take classroom theories and practice them. What better time to engage in experiential learning than during the months away from school!

Whether it is getting involved with an internship or simply a local service organization, I challenge all students—especially those in high school and college— to step out of their comfort zones and try something new:

  1. Start your search by determining if your school has a service program; my college has an “Applied Study Term” option that allows us to take a semester off from coursework to grow in the community. These programs are often paired with grant and scholarship opportunities to cover incidental costs. If you’re still in high school, reach out to local organizations, like a community center, a museum, a youth group, or even your own school or library.
  2. Once you’ve narrowed your interests, contact relevant organizations for an interview. I dare you to pick an organization based on the personal contribution you can make to it rather than its name or prestige. Being able to “own” your assignments will help you discover your passions.
  3. Now that you have found a niche, make sure to have fun and connect your experiences over the summer with classroom knowledge. Your mind grows brighter with every light bulb moment.

They always say that the most important lessons in life come from experiencing it; ironically, my lesson still happened in a classroom through my summer internship with ED, just 822 miles away from home.

Michael Lotspeich is an intern in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach and a junior at the University of Illinois-Springfield.

Supporting the Economy by Helping Student Loan Borrowers Manage Debt

Cross-posted from the Department of the Treasury ‘Treasury Notes’ blog.

In today’s global economy, a higher education is one of the most important investments students can make in their own futures.  But for too many lower and middle-income families​, this essential rung on the ladder to opportunity is slipping out of reach as tuition continues to rise, and more students than ever are relying on loans to pay for college.

As the President takes further steps today to make a college education more affordable, there are now more tools available to help students and families manage their debt.

The Obama Administration is working to make college more accessible and affordable.  As part of these efforts, the Treasury Department and the Department of Education teamed up with Intuit Inc. during the 2014 tax season to launch a pilot program to raise awareness about income-driven repayment plans with millions of tax filers. The pilot resulted in nearly 100,000 clicks by individuals taking action to visit the Department of Education’s Repayment Estimator website and evaluate their repayment options.

Users of Intuit’s TurboTax service were able to determine their eligibility for lower student loan payments based on their income by connecting to the Repayment Estimator. Income-driven repayment plans allow borrowers to fully repay their student debt on a sliding scale that adjusts monthly payments based on factors like changing income and growing families. These tools are helping lower and middle-income families pay their debts and avoid default.

The partnership helped spread the word about tools available to borrowers. Intuit’s research suggests that many of its TurboTax online customers have student loans and many may not be aware of Department of Education’s loan repayment options. Building on this collaboration, today the White House announced an expanded partnership with Intuit and a new partnership with H&R Block to reach even more individuals who could benefit from income-driven repayment options, both during tax season, and beyond.

President Obama has said, “Higher education can’t be a luxury — it is an economic imperative that every family in America should be able to afford.” As part of our mission of promoting economic growth and job opportunities, the Treasury Department will continue to explore ways to help student borrowers responsibly manage their debt.

In addition to the Repayment Estimator, the Department of Education offers federal student loan borrowers several repayment options and loan counseling tools to help students and families make informed decisions on financing a college education.

Melissa Koide is the deputy assistant secretary in the Office of Consumer Policy at the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

 

President Obama on Student Loan Debt: “No Hardworking Young Person Should Be Priced Out of a Higher Education”

Cross-posted from the White House blog.

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President Barack Obama signs a Presidential Memorandum on reducing the burden of student loan debt, in the East Room of the White House, June 9, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

More students than ever before are relying on student loans to pay for their college education. 71 percent of students earning a bachelor’s degree graduate with debt, averaging $29,400. While most students are able to repay their loans, many feel burdened by debt, especially as they seek to start a family, buy a home, launch a business, or save for retirement.

That’s why, as part of his year of action to expand opportunity for all Americans, President Obama is taking steps to make student loan debt more affordable and manageable to repay.

On Monday afternoon, the President signed a memorandum directing the Secretary of Education to propose regulations that would allow nearly 5 million federal direct student loan borrowers the opportunity to cap their student loan payments at 10 percent of their income. The memorandum also outlines new executive actions to support federal student loan borrowers, especially vulnerable borrowers who may be at greater risk of defaulting on their loans.

But in his remarks at the signing, the President made clear that Congress needs to take action as well, saying that today’s executive action will “make progress, but not enough.” He brought up the bill written by Sen. Elizabeth Warren that would allow students to refinance their student loans at today’s lower interest rates, noting that “it pays for itself by closing loopholes that allow some millionaires to pay a lower tax rate than middle-class families.”

The President then detoured briefly from his prepared remarks, explaining why it’s a “no-brainer” for Congress to pass the bill:

You would think that if somebody like me has done really well in part because the country has invested in them, that they wouldn’t mind at least paying the same rate as a teacher or a nurse.  There’s not a good economic argument for it, that they should pay a lower rate.  It’s just clout, that’s all.  So it’s bad enough that that’s already happening.  It would be scandalous if we allowed those kinds of tax loopholes for the very, very fortunate to survive while students are having trouble just getting started in their lives.

So you’ve got a pretty straightforward bill here.  And this week, Congress will vote on that bill.  And I want Americans to pay attention to see where their lawmakers’ priorities lie here:  lower tax bills for millionaires, or lower student loan bills for the middle class.

“This week, [Congress has] a chance to help millions of young people,” President Obama said. “I hope they do. … And in the meantime, I’m going to take these actions today on behalf of all these young people here, and every striving young American who shares my belief that this is a place where you can still make it if you try.”

Read the President’s full remarks from Monday’s signing, and learn more about how the President is working to make college more affordable.

And in case you missed it, the President will take to Tumblr this afternoon to answer your questions about education, college affordability, and reducing student loan debt. Tune in today at 4:00 p.m. ET.

David Hudson is associate director of content for the Office of Digital Strategy at the White House.

Partnering to Prepare High School Students for College and Careers

Cross-posted from the Department of Labor’s (Work in Progress) blog.

Making sure our high school students are college and career-ready is major focus of President Obama’s jobs-driven training agenda, and is also central his goal for the United States to lead the world in college completion by 2020.

That’s why, as we prepare for the upcoming school year, the departments of Education, Health and Human Services and Labor are working together to help local school systems around the country makes use of federal resources to help ensure our young people are the best-prepared workers in the world.

Secretary Tom Perez visits the Sarah E. Goode STEM Academy in Chicago, a school that aims to prepare students for college and the world of work. (Photo credit: Department of Labor)

Secretary Tom Perez visits the Sarah E. Goode STEM Academy in Chicago, a school that aims to prepare students for college and the world of work.
(Photo credit: Department of Labor)

School counselors on are the front lines of preparing our students for college and careers. However, the number of counselors in schools today is not keeping up with the growing student population, which may mean not every student is getting the attention they need to get started on the right career path.

This is where federal job training services can help. By leveraging the resources available from the nearly 2,500 American Job Centers around the country, schools can ensure their students are getting the most up-to-date information about the job market and what education and training is necessary to land their dream job.

American Job Centers can supplement the great work of school counselors by providing career development services and local labor market information; offering career counseling, resume and interview help; sharing information about Registered Apprenticeships and high school alternative programs like Job Corps and YouthBuild; and helping connect students to summer and year-around employment opportunities.

Some states have already begun to integrate these services: for example, in Nebraska, state education and labor officials helped establish the Nebraska Career Education program, which provides career exploration resources for educators, students, job seekers and employers.

Or take Minneapolis Promise, a local initiative that uses private funding to locate College and Career Centers inside all seven Minneapolis public high schools and eight specialty high schools. The centers offer students with career and college planning resources, trained career counselors to guide students and an online career planning tool to help each ninth-grader develop a personalized “My Life Plan.”

Connecting workforce services to education makes common sense. These connections – which already help job seekers and employers to connect with one another – will help students better understand the skills they need to succeed in today’s job market, while they are in a position to make those decisions at an earlier age.

My federal colleagues and I have sent a jointly signed letter to education, workforce development, social services and private-sector leaders around the country asking them to join us in our commitment to help high schools take advantage of the resources available through their local American Job Centers.

Working together at the federal, state and local level, we can prepare our students for future jobs and secure the United States’ place in the global economy for decades to come.

Portia Wu is the assistant secretary of labor for employment and training. Explore job training and career resources at www.dol.gov/FindYourPath, and join the conversation on Twitter using #FindYourPath.

i3 Arts-Integration Project Delivers Content in Special Education Classrooms

Cross-posted from the OII blog.

For teachers in New York City’s District 75, which serves more than 20,000 special needs students across the city, an innovative arts-integration approach to instruction is improving students’ social-emotional and communications skills and helping students and teachers to achieve both individual and classroom goals.

Supported by a $4.6 million Investing in Innovation (i3) grant from OII in 2010, the Everyday Arts for Special Education (EASE) project is also being adapted by the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), where special education leaders are using the project’s arts-integration techniques to help achieve a system-wide goal of reducing the number of self-contained classrooms and schools. The Urban Arts Partnership, which manages the EASE grant for District 75, began leading professional development sessions for LAUSD teachers two years ago, and this year is working with 45 teachers in L.A. and nearly 350 in New York City.

The EASE arts-integration approach is “simple yet elegant,” according to Kathy London, the arts instructional specialist for District 75. “These are things anybody can learn,” she told Education Week recently. The arts, rather than being just an add-on to existing lessons, become an organizing framework for lessons. The arts are “a vehicle for delivering content,” noted London.

Participating teachers in grades K-5 have two dozen arts activities that are adapted to fit with content in other curriculum areas. Most District 75 students have behavioral goals — following directions, exercising self-control, and communicating with other students, for example — and EASE is proving very effective in achieving those outcomes. In the 2012-13 school year, for example, more than 75 percent of participating students made progress in each of five of the social-emotional goal areas.

EASE evaluation researchers at Teachers College, Columbia University are analyzing substantial amounts of both quantitative and qualitative data gathered during the past four years, and plan to issue two impact studies, one based on the state’s alternative assessment for students with disabilities, when the project concludes in 2015.

To read the Education Week article, Arts Program Shows Promise in Special Ed. Classes, click here.

Cooling Off Summer Melt: From High School Graduation to the First Day on Campus

Having worked tirelessly towards this culminating moment, June is always an exciting time of year for graduating seniors and their families. Filled with college-going tasks and deadlines, the senior year is intense, and students look forward to the brief reprieve of summer. With the bulk of the college-readiness tasks behind them, all that is left for a student to do is attend commencement, update Instagram with a celebratory selfie, and report to college the first day of class, right? Well, not entirely.

Summer is a critical time for college-going seniors and an optimal time to continue to reach out and engage them in the college process. Having access to a rich social network that will continue to advise them on how to navigate their college pathway, remind them of deadlines and tasks, and help them to overcome their barriers over the summer months, is one of the most valuable tools a graduating senior can have. Here are a few resources to consider for your students social network:

  • Educators: Encourage your student to stay connected with school counselors, teachers, administrators, and college advisors over the summer months. School counselors are uniquely trained to help students navigate the college-going process and are a great resource. Some school districts specifically employ school counselors over the summer months to advise and assist seniors with challenges that may arise.
  • Parents/Guardians: Talk with your student often about the college process. Studies show that speaking frequently to your student about college increases the likelihood of enrollment by seven percentage points.
  • Peers: Connect your student with others going to college for the first time or students already enrolled in the college he or she will attend. Peer influence increases the likeliness of enrollment by over 14 percentage points.
  • Colleges & Universities: Link your student with the new learning community early. Most colleges and universities offer programs that connect with students over the summer months. While some do so through social media, reminding them about mandatory deadlines and tasks, others offer in-person programs such as freshman orientation and bridge programs. Contact your student’s admission office and inquire about such opportunities.

I’ve spoken to thousands of students over the years, and when asked who had the greatest influence in their accomplishments, without fail, nine out of ten times, they name a parent or guardian. Your support and encouragement not only inspires them to go to college, but will sustain them through their pursuit of their degree. As a Professional School Counselor, I’ve watched this moment play out in the lives of numerous families. I encourage you to stop, be present, and tell your student how proud you are of them.

Jasmine Mcleod is the 2014 Scholar-in-Residence for the American Counseling Association and Instructional Systems Specialist for  School Counseling & Psychology at DoDEA schools.

#GEARUP Alumni Hector Araujo’s Success Maximized through Educational Partnership

Lacking a strong role model, Hector Araujo’s community told him that an education was not necessary to be successful. He spent his life running races; the only problem is, this race would have led him into the criminal justice system.

That changed, though, when Emily Johnson — a Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) Coordinator from Boise, Idaho — transplanted herself into Hector’s school. He was awe-struck when he found that someone believed in him.

“She has been the greatest factor in my life,” Hector said on stage at the 2014 Building a GradNation Summit hosted by America’s Promise Alliance, before introducing Secretary Arne Duncan. “What is [most] important is that there are people in your life that are going to support you and nurture you to achieve the dreams that God has put in your heart.”

Today, the U.S. Department of Education is announcing the availability of $75 million for two new Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) competitions. The aim of this year’s GEAR UP competition is to improve college fit and readiness, so all students graduate from high school prepared for college without needing remedial courses – a problem for millions of beginning college students each year – and enroll in an institution that will help them maximize their success. This follows up on a commitment the Department made at the White House College Opportunity summit in January to help students achieve the necessary milestones that provide a pathway to college success.

This year’s competition also focuses on projects that are designed to serve and coordinate with a Promise Zone, which are high-poverty communities where the federal government has partnered and invested to create jobs, leverage private investment, increase economic activity, improve educational opportunities, and improve public safety. This year’s GEAR UP program also places a priority on helping to improve students’ non-cognitive skills and behaviors, including academic mindset, perseverance, motivation, and mastery of social and emotional skills that improve student success.

Thanks to the GEAR UP grant program, Hector was the first person in his family to graduate from high school and is now pursuing his masters in higher education at the University of Arizona. He wanted to pursue a career in education because of the powerful feeling gained when helping America’s students — especially those who may lack exposure to higher education opportunities. Hector wrote in his GEAR UP Alumni Leadership Academy biography that “it is critical to let youth know that they are important, beautiful and capable of achieving anything.”

Secretary Duncan agrees. “We have to make sure all of our young people — all of them — have the kind of education that truly prepares them for that future,” he said at this year’s Building a GradNation Summit, adding, “We have to redouble our efforts for those who aren’t even making it to the starting line. Because high school graduation may once have been the finish line, but now it’s the beginning.”

GEAR UP grants currently fund 87 programs across the country that serves approximately 420,000 middle and high school students who often come from historically underserved backgrounds. This program offers the federal government, states, nonprofits, districts and schools an opportunity to partner together to increase these students’ chances for success.

Applications for the state and partnership grants are due by July 7, and grants will be awarded by the end of September. The Department will post further information on the GEAR UP web page.

Michael Lotspeich is an intern in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach and a junior at the University of Illinois-Springfield.

ED Accepting Applications for Fall 2014 Internships Through July 15

interns

The Department of Education (ED) is the place where you can explore your interests in education policy research and analysis, or intergovernmental relations and public affairs, or even work with social media while learning about the role Federal Government plays in education.

If the above appeals to you, then an internship at ED may be right for you. Not only will an internship at ED provide an opportunity to learn first-hand about federal education policy while developing a variety of other skills, including writing, researching, communication and time-management skills, but interns also participate in group intern events, such as brownbag lunches with ED officials, movie nights and local tours. One of the many advantages to an ED internship is the proximity to some of the most historic and celebrated sites in our nation’s capital, all accessible by walking or taking the metro.

ED is accepting applications for Fall 2014 through July 15. If you are interested in interning for the upcoming fall term, there are three materials you must send before being considered for an interview:

  1. A cover letter summarizing why you wish to work at ED and stating your previous experiences in the line of education, if any. Include here what particular offices interest you, keeping in mind that due to the volume of applications received, you may not be awarded with your first-choice office upon acceptance.
  2. An updated resume.
  3. A completed copy of the Intern Application.

Once these three documents are finalized, prospective interns should send them in one email to StudentInterns@ed.gov with the subject line formatted as follows: Last Name, First Name: Fall Intern Application.

(Note: For candidates also interested in applying specifically to the Office of General Counsel (OGC), please see application requirements here.)

An internship at ED is one of the best ways a student can learn about education policy and working in the civil service, but it is not limited to this. Your internship at ED is where you will develop crucial workplace skills that will help you in whatever career path you choose, and it is also where you will meet fellow students like yourself, who share your passions for education, learning, and engagement.

Click here for more information or to get started on your application today.

De’Rell Bonner is a special assistant and youth liaison in the Office of Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education.

Cities Can’t Wait When it Comes to Early Learning

earlylearning

A remarkable thing is happening. Local leaders in cities across the country are plowing ahead — in some areas, without additional funding from federal or state governments — and making commitments to quality early education. Increasingly, cities are seeing high-quality early learning programs as a way to improve their communities and to become more competitive sites for the high-skills jobs of the future.

I recently visited two very different communities—Dallas and Salt Lake City. Each city is experiencing disparate challenges and moving forward on early learning in a distinctive way, determined, in part, by the preschool policies of each state.

Let’s look at Texas first.

Texas provides preschool to more than 50 percent of its four-year-olds through the Texas Public School Prekindergarten Initiative, launched 30 years ago.  But in Texas, success shouldn’t be measured in quantity, but in quality. Unless the local districts go above state requirements, the quality of early learning programs can be low. No limit is put on class size so one teacher can have 24 four-year olds without an assistant teacher. Additionally many districts must give educators specialized training because the generalist teaching certificate doesn’t adequately prepare teachers for preschool.

Dallas is boldly addressing these challenges by improving the quality of instruction and the reach of the program. Last year school officials realized many eligible children were not signed up for preschool, so the mayor and others, with backing from the Dallas area foundations, launched a public education campaign and have now signed up more than 3,000 of the 4-year-olds who were previously going unserved.

Seeing these efforts in Dallas is heartening, making me hopeful for strengthened preschool across Texas.

Now let’s look at Utah.

If you searched the latest State of Preschool Yearbook for information on the preschool program in Utah, you’d find a page that says, “No Program” because there is no direct state funding for preschool in Utah.

Despite this, Salt Lake County offers a strong preschool program serving many at-risk children.

The Granite School District works with United Way of Salt Lake and Voices for Utah Children to provide preschool services in the 11 schools most impacted by poverty.

The program uses a sustainable financing model (sometimes called Social Impact Bonds) for funding. This model quantifies the cost savings achieved through reduced special education use and reinvests the savings into the preschool program to serve more children in the future. Early results from the Granite School District in Utah are promising, showing both significant cost savings and improved child outcomes. Other districts in the county are using Title I funding to ensure their children get a strong start.

Finally, both Salt Lake and the state have embraced technology as a way to reach more children and families. The Utah Education Network connects all Utah school districts, schools, and higher education institutions to a robust network and quality educational resources. Every Utah teacher, caregiver, and family with a young child has free access to a “Preschool Pioneer Online Library.”

The U.S. Department of Education also recently awarded an i3 grant to expand the reach of UPSTART to children from rural districts in Utah who have traditionally had less access to educational resources.  This at-home school readiness program is designed to provide preschool children with an individualized reading, math, and science curriculum (with a focus on literacy).

Many other cities also are actively promoting early learning: San Antonio, San Francisco, Seattle, Cleveland, Kansas City—just to name a few. But cities can’t do this work alone. Nor can states. We need every governmental entity to do more to support early learning, which is why the President proposed his Preschool for All initiative, which would greatly expand services for children from birth to preschool in our nation. As the examples of Salt Lake and Dallas show, cities are moving forward in exciting ways, but they need help to reach all children.

Libby Doggett is the deputy assistant secretary for Policy and Early Learning in the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education at the U.S. Department of Education.