Working to Protect Students and Borrowers as Corinthian Colleges Ceases Operation

Corinthian Colleges, Inc., today announced the effective end of all operations. Given the wide public interest in this matter, and our Departments involvement in it, I wanted to provide some background and explain what has happened, as I have done in the past.

Corinthian’s closure follows a series of enforcement actions by this Department and by states aimed at protecting students and safeguarding the interests of taxpayers. The Department took action in June 2014, when Corinthian failed to respond to the Departments repeated requests for answers about questionable practices, including concerns that Corinthian was using false and misleading job placement data to market its schools and recruit students, and that it might be changing student grade and attendance data to hide performance problems. To mitigate further damage, the Department intensified oversight of Corinthian, ultimately leading to an agreement that put Corinthian on the road to closure. As first step in that process, Corinthian sold 56 Everest and WyoTech brand campuses in November 2014.

As Corinthian was attempting to manage its closure plans, the Department’s enforcement actions against the school continued.  On April 14, the Department announced the results of one portion of its investigation – findings regarding Corinthian’s Heald campuses as it related to placement rate reporting.  Corinthian’s misrepresentations regarding placement rates were serious, and the Department initiated a fine action of approximately $30 million against the school.

At the time the Department first took action on Corinthian, approximately 72,000 students were enrolled; today, about 15,000 remain at 30 campuses under the control of Corinthian in five states. The closure decision was made by the company, following Corinthian’s failure to find a buyer for the remaining campuses willing to abide by conditions put in place by the Department to protect students, borrowers and taxpayers.

These actions are part of a larger effort by the Department of Education to take strong steps to protect the interest of students and taxpayers. The Obama Administration has led unprecedented efforts to protect consumers from predatory career colleges. It has established new gainful employment regulations to hold career training programs accountable and ensure that students are not saddled with debt they cannot repay. These regulations ensure that programs improve their outcomes for students or risk losing access to federal student aid. Last year, the Department announced a new federal interagency task force to help ensure proper oversight of for-profit institutions.

Taking strong actions on Corinthian has been an important part of that effort. Given today’s announcement by Corinthian, our first and most pressing concern is for the students who were enrolled. We will contact Corinthian students about their options, and will post additional information on our website. In addition, the Department will send staff from our Federal Student Aid team to as many campuses as possible to talk directly with students. We are working with state community college systems to ensure that students have options to continue their education. Students at schools that have closed may be eligible for closed-school loan discharges; students who were enrolled at Corinthian in the last 120 days will receive information about their options from the Department and from loan servicers.

We will do everything we can to ensure that Corinthian makes good on its obligations to students and taxpayers to the extent possible. In addition, we encourage Corinthian students to pursue debt relief with their state, especially as many states have tuition recovery funds. In all of this work, we ask states to prioritize students and their educational best interests.

As Secretary Duncan has said, we will continue to hold the career college industry accountable and demand reform for the good of students and taxpayers. We hope Congress will join us in that effort.

Students seeking better life options should be assured that their investments will pay off in increased knowledge, skills, and opportunity. As Corinthian closes its doors for good, the Department will continue to keep students at the heart of every decision we make and will communicate with Corinthian students about all their options going forward. What these students have experienced is unacceptable and we look forward to working with Congress in an effort to improve accountability and transparency in the career college industry. A college education remains the best investment a student can make in his or her future, and this Administration will continue to work to make a college degree affordable for all students, to hold colleges accountable, and to safeguard the interests of taxpayers.

 Ted Mitchell is the Under Secretary of Education

Addressing Sexual Assault as a Community

Cross-posted from the Department of Justice blog.

As we recognize Sexual Assault Awareness Month, I want to take a moment to reflect on the work of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division to address and prevent sexual assault in schools and communities across the country. The impact of sexual assault can reverberate throughout a community, and the response to sexual assault within a community – from a residential advisor in a college dorm to a special victim’s unit detective – has a profound and lasting impact on the health and well-being of a sexual assault survivor.

Over the past few years, the division has engaged with law enforcement, prosecutors and schools to promote a comprehensive, integrated and effective response to reports of sexual assault. In doing so, we look to assist both schools and law enforcement in their efforts to protect students and address the needs of sexual assault survivors. As more people across the country are working together to prevent and improve the response to sexual assault, questions are frequently asked about the role of colleges and universities and why sexual assault is not handled exclusively by law enforcement.

Let’s be clear. Sexual assault is a crime and must be dealt with appropriately. However, the responsibility for addressing sexual assault does not stop at law enforcement. Schools also have a civil rights obligation to respond appropriately to reports of sexual assault.

Every school is responsible for providing a safe, nondiscriminatory environment to all students. Sexual assault can interfere with or destroy a student’s ability to get an education. We have heard from survivors of sexual assault who are fearful of being in the same classroom as their attackers or are subjected to harassment and retaliation by classmates for reporting the assault. We have heard from too many students who left school after being assaulted.

Under federal civil rights laws, schools must respond to reports of sexual assault, investigate where appropriate and provide a prompt, effective and impartial resolution. It is not enough just to respond to individual complaints from survivors. To effectively address and prevent sexual assault, schools need to respond to reports from all sources, especially when assaults are repeatedly perpetrated by the same student or at the same location. Having an appropriate and effective response system in place increases student confidence and trust in their school and the ability of the school to provide for their safety.

To provide a safe and nondiscriminatory learning environment, schools must be able to administer discipline where appropriate. This administrative response serves a unique and critically important function and must happen in addition to any criminal prosecution. A school disciplinary proceeding is not, however, a criminal proceeding, and should never be viewed as an alternative to criminal prosecution. Schools do not have the authority and are not asked to determine whether alleged perpetrators of sexual assault committed a crime.

That is the role of law enforcement. And law enforcement – including campus police, local police and prosecutors – play a critical role: as one of the key responders to reports of sexual assault, and as partners with schools, victim advocates and others in the effort to protect the community from sexual assault. Indeed, the importance of communication and coordination among each of these partners in both responding to and preventing sexual assault cannot be underestimated. In our experience, when everyone works together, survivors of sexual assault are more likely to report and to receive services, exhibit greater confidence in the criminal justice and school systems and feel far better supported throughout the process.

In Missoula, Montana, to address serious shortcomings in how the University of Montana-Missoula and local law enforcement investigated and responded to sexual assaults, the division reached agreements with the university, its campus police, the city police department and the county prosecutor’s office. This first of its kind multi-pronged approach to combating sexual assault – which reaches from the campus to the courthouse door – has resulted in significant improvements in the response to sexual assault within the Missoula community. We, along with our colleagues at the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, are working with leaders from across the community as they implement these agreements so that whenever sexual assaults are reported, policies and procedures are already in place; first responders and investigators are trained to handle the report appropriately; and supports and services are more readily available and better coordinated. It is with this kind of focused attention and collaboration that sexual assault can be eradicated from our communities and students can feel safe and supported in school.

Vanita Gupta is Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights.

Games for Learning Summit: Expanding the Conversation Between Educators and Game Designers

Cross-posted from Medium.

Whether it is using quick warm-ups like Game of Phones or highly immersive experiences with Mario Kart and Minecraft, digital games can be powerful motivators for learning. It is with this in mind that we are eager to expand the conversation between teachers and game developers.

The U.S. Department of Education and Games for Change, with support from the Entertainment Software Association, will host the Games for Learning Summit April 21 at the 2015 Games for Change (G4C) Festival. With more than 250 participants, including nationally recognized educators, the designers of some of today’s most popular video games, and members of the U.S. Department of Education, we are hopeful that this event will encourage collaboration focused on the learning needs and interests of young people in the U.S.

gamesforchange

Collaborating and designing with the learning interests of young people in mind requires a shift in thinking from all stakeholders. Based on the conversations we’ve had with teachers and students, there is a hunger for better games that support better learning today. With the recent release of The Ed Tech Developer’s Guide, the pathways for developing for impact are clearer than ever.

At the beginning of the school year, the two of us (along with a handful of amazing teachers) spent a weekend enmeshed with teams of game designers at the White House Education Game Jam. Focused on games that could provide powerful learning resources for schools, we have continued to be optimistic about the results that such collaboration can yield.

A recent game-design project in Chad’s classroom highlights some of what game-based learning has to offer us as teachers and students. Inspired by games ranging from Geometry Dash to Sissy’s Magical Ponycorn Adventure, students working in teams of four completed their own Scratch games like Wasteland Adventures, World Championship Soccer, and Sanic Pong. Each ‘studio’ of four students brainstormed genres, tropes, and mechanics for games they wanted to create and play. Then they got to work. Programmers started to code. Artists worked with platforms like Piskel and Google Draw. Sound Engineers scoured freesound.org and Sound Bible for sound effects and composed theme music with Online Sequencer. Student project managers kept everyone working and talking with one another through shared docs and folders.

The project helped students develop media literacy, soft skills like collaboration, and technical skills like managing an online repository of A/V assets, to say nothing of the logic, math, reading, and writing skills they demonstrated in navigating tutorials, communicating online, and building their games. Students even discussed gender norms in character design and traditional gaming narratives. Game-based learning isn’t about consuming a product to pick up a fact or two; it’s about learning to analyze or produce pieces of interactive media that require critical thinking, persistence, and problem-solving to master, critique, play, and make.

Now, with several White House Education Game Jam alumni and friends coming to the Games for Learning Summit, we are excited about focusing on articulating the thinking, dialogue, and spaces for collaboration between developers and educators.

We’re looking forward to continuing conversation far beyond the Games and Learning Summit. We need to work together to answer questions like: How can we help one another make and use games to fulfill educational needs in the classroom? How can we put the best interactive content in the hands of students for the most meaningful educational experiences — those focused on discovery and decision-making? Let’s figure out game-changing ways to harness the power of play for the work of learning in schools.

Join the conversation on Tuesday by watching the live stream and Tweeting your contributions with #G4L15.

Antero Garcia (@anterobot) is a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education and teaches pre-service teachers as an Assistant Professor at Colorado State University.

Chad Sansing (@chadsansing) teaches technology and project-based learning at the BETA Academy in Staunton, Virginia.

More Than a Checkmark – Together for Tomorrow

Downey TFT

For many school districts, the creation of a vibrant, educational community where students’ grades improve consistently and the educational environment is healthy and safe may seem to be a daunting task.

Yet, on a family and community engagement school site visit last month in Harrisburg, Penn., members of ED’s Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships (CFBNP) observed how Downey Elementary, under the guidance of the Harrisburg School District and in partnership with families, CBOs, and a college institution, defies these odds. Through Together for Tomorrow, an initiative that spotlights and fosters partnerships among schools, families, and national service organizations, the collective care and capacity of these stakeholders breathes life into the cultural fabric of Downey and inspires students to step into roles as academic leaders.

“When I grow up, I want to be a scientist. I want to cure all types of sickness and cancers. I am learning about some of this in my science class, and when I finish the fourth grade next year, I am going to the Math Science Academy where I can learn much more!” one third grader said.

These words echoed the similar sentiments of many Downey students who proudly communicated to CFBNP staff that they are leaders, plan to go to college, and will try to make their neighborhoods a better place.

Parents also spoke highly of the school.

“Months ago, my child was a victim of bullying at his former school. … Now here at Downey … my child is not only safe, but he is a respected leader. It is important to ask, ‘What it is about Downey that makes it such a positive and safe learning environment in the same neighborhood as my son’s former school, only right down the street?’” said one parent.

What is helping Downey Elementary to become a vibrant school community is its intentionality in making sure that all stakeholders have an equal share in providing for the life and educational needs of the students. Organizations, such as the Harrisburg Symphony, Salvation Army and United Way, have employed innovative methods to serve the school. Messiah College engages its students in various service learning projects that enhance Downey’s appearance and learning opportunities for students. Downey houses a Parents’ Academy that encourages participation and allows them to receive up to 15 college credits. Teachers train on engaging students and parents, while a Parent Engagement Specialist oversees Parent Liaisons and implements programs to help parents become better education advocates. Downey also contains on onsite health clinic. Additionally, the elementary school has a Corporation for National and Community Service Vista member who helps build the capacity of the school.

For Downey, engaging families and communities extends beyond addressing a simple requirement or “checking the box” for community inclusion. They recognize the power and benefits of working with families and CBO’s to raise student achievement.

Read more great stories from ED’s Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships on their blog.

Eddie Martin is a special assistant in the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the U.S. Department of Education.

Working to Stop Sexual Violence on U.S. College Campuses

Secretary Duncan heard from students from campuses across the country during a recent Student Voices session. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Secretary Duncan heard from students from campuses across the country during a recent Student Voices session. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

One sexual assault is too many, which is why the Obama Administration and the U.S. Department of Education (ED) are playing a strong role in working to address and prevent sexual assault on college campuses.

As part of these efforts, Secretary Duncan recently hosted a Student Voices session with students from campuses across the country to listen to their concerns and learn about the promising actions their colleges and universities are taking to tackle this pressing challenge.

The students represented institutions from California to Georgia and North Carolina to New York.

Under Secretary Ted Mitchell and Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon joined Secretary Duncan for the discussion.

“This roundtable is an opportunity for [us] to hear from diverse students from multiple institutions in order to inform our work. We hope this is the kind of conversation that can happen across all of our institutions – one that continues the work of identifying best practices, and increasing the focus on keeping students safe,” Mitchell said.

The roundtable allowed for young leaders – like Raymond Smeriglio, Temple University’s Student Body President – to share his school’s efforts to create awareness and tackle this troubling problem.

“Temple recently conducted a six-month review of the school including three months of groundwork to see what additional resources were needed on campus, and what the campus was already doing right,” Smeriglio explained.

Students also discussed the most effective ways to align awareness efforts between K-12 and institutions of higher education.

Youth leaders like Kevin William Harvey, a senior at Morehouse College in Atlanta, shared what their schools are currently doing to help build strong partnerships with city leadership, raise awareness, and collaborate with experts in the local community.

Molly Walker, from Duke University, shared that many Duke students participate in a program called “Duke Splash,” where students have taught weekend classes to high school youth about gender violence.

Spelman College’s Briana Brownlow discussed her school’s Survivor organization, which coordinates a mentorship program using the arts to help elementary school students begin to be aware of the issues surrounding sexual violence.

Students also talked about the many ways the Obama Administration engages students to address this problem, including the recent launch of the“It’s On Us” campaign, which encourages all members of campus communities to actively think about ways to prevent sexual assault.

The Administration is very concerned about sexual violence on U.S. campuses, and has launched several initiatives to address this issue. In January 2014, President Obama and Vice President Biden established the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault.

In April of that year, the Task Force released its first report to the President, which includes recommendations to colleges and universities on how to eliminate sexual violence on their campuses. In conjunction with the release of this report, ED’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued a frequently asked questions document to follow up on our Dear Colleague Letter. The Task Force also created NotAlone.gov, which the students praised for including resources from across the government on preventing and addressing sexual assaults in schools.

OCR has also increased transparency around its investigations of this issue. For the first time, the office made public the list of colleges and universities under investigation for their handling of sexual violence complaints.

No one should feel the threat of sexual assault as they pursue their education. This country’s college campuses should be free of violence, and it is our shared responsibility as a nation to end this outrage.

As the students and Department staff who attended this important Student Voices session agreed, finding the solution really is on all of us.

Devon King is an intern in the Office of Communications and Outreach and a senior at Boston University.

Increasing Transparency and Accountability for Students

Higher education remains the most important investment any person can make in their future. In the several months I’ve been at the U.S. Department of Education, I have had a number of conversations with students and families that have inspired me to double down on our commitment to making college more affordable and accessible. A big part of our work toward that goal has been to increase both the quantity and quality of information that students, families, borrowers and the public have about higher education.

Today we are taking another step to increase transparency and accountability. We are releasing a list of colleges and universities that are on what we call Heightened Cash Monitoring. There were about 560 institutions on this list as of March 1. The list has been released to members of the press that requested it, and will be published on the Department website in the coming days and updated on a regular basis.

Heightened Cash Monitoring is a step that our Federal Student Aid office can take with institutions to provide additional oversight for a number of financial or federal compliance issues, some of which may be serious and others that may be less troublesome. Institutions may be on this list for a variety of specific reasons – for example, late financial statements, outstanding liabilities, accreditation issues, concerns about a school’s financial responsibility or possibly severe findings uncovered during a program review. For each institution that is on Heightened Cash Monitoring, we are also providing information as to why.

Heightened Cash Monitoring is not necessarily a red flag to students and taxpayers, but it can serve as a caution light. It means we are watching these institutions more closely to ensure that institutions are using federal student aid in a way that is accountable to both students and taxpayers.

Transparency and accountability are priorities for our entire Administration, and this Department and the Federal Student Aid office are no exceptions. We are taking a thoughtful approach to considering what data and information makes sense to provide publicly. Today’s decision follows our own discussions along with those we have had with multiple stakeholders, including news organizations.

From the start of the Obama Administration, we at the Department of Education have been committed to increasing transparency across the spectrum. We have worked to provide more – and better quality – data, including:

We also continually release a wealth of information aimed at helping students and families make smart decisions about where to go to college, including a comprehensive set of data about each institution on College Navigator – which contains enrollment, cost, graduation rates, students’ default rates, and campus security information. In addition, the Department already discloses a number of other pieces of information that can point at an institution’s financial health and other accountability metrics, including Default Rates, Clery Act Reports, 90/10 Reports, Foreign Gift and Contract Reports, Financial Responsibility Composite Scores and Final Program Review Determinations. And, of course, we have undertaken a historic effort to increase transparency and accountability for career colleges through our Gainful Employment regulations.

We have made enormous progress in providing information that helps students, families and borrowers. But we know we still have further to go, and we’re committed to pushing for greater transparency. Every single day we take seriously our commitment to doing more for students, and every action falls within that goal.

Ted Mitchell is the Under Secretary of Education.

Teaching and Leading at the 5th International Summit on the Teaching Profession

Each March I look forward to joining colleagues from around the world at the International Summit on the Teaching Profession to learn from high-performing and rapidly improving education systems about ways to elevate and enhance the teaching profession in order to improve student learning. I never imagined when we started the International Summit in New York City in 2011 that it would become a vibrant and lasting international community of practice. But the thirst among countries to learn from each other is strong and on March 29 and 30, Canada is hosting the 5th Summit, Implementing Highly Effective Teacher Policy and Practice, in Banff, Alberta.

We’ve learned so much from past Summit discussions and can see a real connection to education policy and practice in the U.S. over the years, as well as significant progress on commitments made by the U.S. delegation at the end of each Summit. I am particularly excited about this year’s Summit because teacher leadership — one of our three Summit commitments last year — will be highlighted this year.

Last week Secretary Duncan reported back on the first year of Teach to Lead, an initiative in partnership with the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards that is designed to advance the national conversation around the future of the profession and promote meaningful opportunities for teacher leadership that improve outcomes for students. Teach to Lead is teacher-designed and teacher-led and has the support of more than 70 organizations, including the AFT and NEA which, along with Secretary Duncan, are part of the U.S. delegation to the International Summit. As Secretary Duncan said in front of a crowd of thousands, “I was hopeful [about teacher leadership] last year. I am convinced we are onto something really important and special now. Change has to come from teachers who own it and lead it.”

The progress and excitement in Teach to Lead over the past year has been phenomenal. Thousands of teachers have engaged in Teach to Lead through the online ‘Commit to Lead’ community, and more than 500 teachers, administrators, and representatives from supporting organizations have been at our regional summits and local leadership labs. Teach to Lead has truly been about elevating the teaching profession and supporting teachers by giving them opportunities to collaborate, plan and shape their own roles for their own contexts from the school to the state.

A real question for Teach to Lead is — what next? How does teacher leadership expand and grow? This year’s Summit agenda poses three questions that can help the U.S. to reflect on possible future paths.

  • How do high-performing countries promote deeper and more collaborative forms of leadership at all levels within education systems?
  • What strategies allow education systems to exercise consistent and widespread teacher leadership?
  • What should be the role of teachers and their unions and associations in creating conditions for teacher leadership?

Six amazing U.S. teachers who have been actively involved in Teach to Lead – from Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky and Massachusetts — are part of the U.S. delegation to this year’s Summit.   This is an opportunity for them to share their work, to hear what other countries are doing to support and encourage teacher leadership, and to reflect on next steps to elevate and advance teacher leadership back home.

I am eager to learn from our Canadian hosts and other international colleagues and excited to do so with creative, committed teacher leaders from around the United States.

Maureen McLaughlin is senior advisor to the Secretary and director of International Affairs at the U.S. Department of Education.

4 Reasons to Apply for the 2015 President’s Education Awards Program

Principals! It’s time, once again, to nominate students for the President’s Education Awards Program!

We’ve got four great reasons as to why you should nominate students in your school.

1) Motivation!

Create the defining moment in a student’s life. As a principal, you aspire to make a difference in the accomplishments and success of your students. Through this program, you have the opportunity to be the catalyst that sets them on an upward path. Since 1983, these prestigious awards provide individual recognition from the President and the U.S. Secretary of Education for both student achievement and hard work.

The program has two recognition categories: The President’s Award for Educational Excellence and The President’s Award for Educational Achievement. The criteria for both are rigorous. Students who receive either of these awards know they’ve achieved something extraordinary.

2) Reward Academic Success!

The President’s Award for Educational Excellence recognizes academic success in the classroom. To be eligible, students must meet requirements including grade point average, school-set criteria and choice of states or teacher recommendations. 

3) Honor Educational Growth!

This award recognizes students that show outstanding educational growth, improvement, commitment or intellectual development in their academic subjects but do not meet the criteria for the Educational Excellence Award. Its purpose is to encourage and reward students who give their best effort, often in the face of special obstacles. Criteria for this award is developed at each school.

4) Celebrate Great Students!

Each year, thousands of elementary, middle, and high school principals participate by recognizing deserving students. The school principal determines the number of qualifying students based on program criteria and verifies the order for awards. There is no limit on the number of awards, as long as students meet the criteria for each award. Award orders can only be placed by a school administrator.

The award includes a certificate and congratulatory letter signed by the President, the Secretary of Education, and the school principal. School principals have final authority to determine which students receive an award.

Last year, nearly 3 million students from over 30,000 schools were recognized by the PEAP. 1.7 million students were honored for educational excellence and 1.1 million were cited for outstanding educational achievement.

Recipients of the 2014 PEAP stand proudly at Germantown Elementary School in Germantown, Maryland. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Recipients of the 2014 PEAP stand proudly at Germantown Elementary School in Germantown, Maryland. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Get more information about the program and how to apply.

Frances W. Hopkins is director of President’s Education Awards Program in the Office of Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education.

Know It 2 Own It: Helping People with Disabilities Access Middle Class Careers

March is National Disability Awareness Month, a month dedicated to promoting awareness of the strengths and achievements of Americans with disabilities. Today, many people with disabilities are living and working in the community and pursuing higher education. Yet, even now folks with significant disabilities often face additional barriers when trying to find jobs.

Robert Williams understands exactly what it takes to pursue and advance in one’s career as an individual with a significant disability. He’s currently Senior Advisor to the Deputy Commissioner for Retirement and Disability Policy at the Social Security Administration. He’s been working for over 20 years to raise awareness about the significantly disabled community in the workplace. He also worked tirelessly to ensure the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Learn more about his incredible journey by watching the video below:

Williams’ story, combined with those of others, is one of the many reasons the Department of Education has joined with leaders from 10 other agencies to develop the Curb Cuts to the Middle Class Initiative.

Announced at a Champions of Change last October, this Initiative brings ingenuity and common sense solutions to ensure that workers with disabilities, like all Americans, have opportunities to obtain and succeed at work. This month, officials from both the Initiative and the White House hosted a Summit on Disability and Employment, bringing together federal agencies, disability groups, philanthropic organizations, and employers. Participants heard from Department of Education Senior Advisor to the Secretary Michael Yudin; RSA Commissioner Janet LaBreck; Labor Secretary Tom Perez; and Senior Advisor to the President, Valerie Jarrett, about federal programs supporting employment of people with disabilities. Attendees also worked together to generate creative solutions and develop partnership projects to increase employment of people with disabilities.

This year, as we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the ADA, partners will work together to build and strengthen cooperation and collaboration between education, public benefits, health care, and employment. Already the value of these partnerships has been realized in the posting of the Initiative’s Resource Guide for Employers, the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) expanded Ticket-to-Work Call Center, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) revised ABC’s of Schedule A for Applicants with Disabilities, and a partnership between the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and SSA to recruit SSDI beneficiaries into federal careers.

Over the coming year, these agencies will continue to work together in a Year of Action to Expand Equal Employment Opportunities and Economic Mobility for Individuals with Disabilities.

Together, we will:

  • Develop a user-friendly portal to connect job seekers with disabilities to employers
  • Expand and share OPM’s screened list of job seekers with disabilities with federal contractors
  • The EEOC will issue proposed rules updating its regulations for federal employment under Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act
  • The Department of Labor will train federal contracting officers on Section 503 requirements
  • Through the Pathways to Careers: Community Colleges for Youth and Young Adults with Disabilities Demonstration Project, the Department of Labor is helping community colleges to equip students with disabilities with skills and credentials for high-skill careers
  • The Department of Education will ensure that VR counselors have the knowledge and skills to meet the demands of employers and to promote employment of individuals with disabilities

Chai Feldblum is Commissioner of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. 

Robert Williams is Senior Advisor to the Deputy Commissioner for Retirement and Disability Policy at the Social Security Administration.

Eve Hill is Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. 

All are co-chairs of the Curb Cuts to the Middle Class Initiative.

D.C. Public School Students Celebrate Their Creativity and Knowledge in the Arts at ED

Students from Stoddert Elementary School, in collaboration with Fillmore Arts Center, perform their piece, “Swinging at Fillmore,” on the ED stage.  (Photo Credit: Joshua Hoover/U.S. Department of Education)

Students from Stoddert Elementary School, in collaboration with Fillmore Arts Center, perform their piece, “Swinging at Fillmore,” on the ED stage. (Photo Credit: Joshua Hoover/U.S. Department of Education)

Student artists from 14 District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) gathered at the U.S. Department of Education (ED) headquarters on March 4, 2015, to exhibit their creative work in the visual arts, film, dance and music. More than 200 educators, family members, arts leaders, DCPS community partners and ED employees also joined in the festivities to honor these students.

ED’s Principal Ambassador Fellow and 2012 Magnet Schools of America National Principal of the Year, Jill Levine, kicked off the presentation and recounted the moving story of one of her students whose education experience was transformed by the arts, “When kids feel important … when they feel part of something bigger, when they feel inspired about going to school, we don’t need [candy, home visits, court hearings, and other such measures] to make them go to school because they are drawn to the school through the arts.”

Students from School Without Walls Senior High School perform their piece, “Scripts and Scores,” which examines the relationship between music and silent film.  (Photo Credit: Joshua Hoover/U.S. Department of Education)

Students from School Without Walls Senior High School perform their piece, “Scripts and Scores,” which examines the relationship between music and silent film. (Photo Credit: Joshua Hoover/U.S. Department of Education)

Demonstrating such inspiration through the arts were three vibrant student groups. The Capital String Ensemble, from John Eaton Elementary School in partnership with Washington Performing Arts, performed a call-and-response piece and the Baroque piece, Pachelbel’s Canon. Four students from School Without Walls Senior High School presented their powerful composition of guitars and silent film, Scripts and Scores, to explore the difference between reality and perception. Stoddert Elementary School partnered with Fillmore Arts Center to help students create Swinging at Fillmore, a performance using dance, music and history to explore the work of legendary swing dancer Norma Miller.

Students in the Capital String Ensemble perform during the DCPS art exhibit opening. (Photo Credit: Joshua Hoover/U.S. Department of Education)

Students in the Capital String Ensemble perform during the DCPS art exhibit opening. (Photo Credit: Joshua Hoover/U.S. Department of Education)

Kaya Henderson, chancellor of DCPS, deservedly proud of her school system’s students and teachers, stressed the significance of arts education, “A world-class education includes the arts. … [T]o compete against children all over the world, then our young people have to have a well-rounded education, and that includes the arts.”

The director of the arts at DCPS, Nathan Diamond, emphasized the value not only of arts education but also of the collaborative nature of the exhibit, “This is a particularly special show in that it really highlights what happens when the public school system and the arts community come together to work for students.”

One student examines the work of her student artist peers following the performances and ribbon-cutting ceremony. (Photo Credit: Joshua Hoover/U.S. Department of Education)

One student examines the work of her student artist peers following the performances and ribbon-cutting ceremony. (Photo Credit: Joshua Hoover/U.S. Department of Education)

In fact, 13 community arts organizations that partnered with DCPS are featured in the exhibit. Dancer and choreographer Mickey Davidson from the Fillmore Arts Center’s collaboration with Stoddert Elementary reiterated Diamond’s perspective, “One of the biggest challenges was the continuity … but by [working with the students] once a week [and] being consistent … what we did, we did it solid.”

The students shared her sentiment, using “amazing,” “excellent” and “gold” to describe their performance. And the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities’ Executive Director Lionell Thomas stated the high goals of such collaborations with DCPS, “To have arts education at the forefront of what we do,” in order to contribute to the cognitive, socialization and creative skills of every student.

Following the performances, a ribbon cutting formally opened the exhibit. Some students from King Elementary discussed their portraits of famous people. These works, they explained, encapsulate the intersection between art and inspiration as a means of self-expression — one of the greatest forms of learning.

Perhaps the highest accolade of the day came from Andy Finch of the Association of Art Museum Directors, “Wow – I am proud to be a citizen of the District!”

Students excitedly take part in the ribbon-cutting ceremony, which represents the official opening of the DCPS Intersections student art exhibit. (Photo Credit: Joshua Hoover/U.S. Department of Education)

Students excitedly take part in the ribbon-cutting ceremony, which represents the official opening of the DCPS Intersections student art exhibit. (Photo Credit: Joshua Hoover/U.S. Department of Education)

Jessica Dillow is an intern in the Editorial Policy, Print and Art Services Office at the U.S. Department of Education and a senior at the Ohio State University.

All photos in this blog are by Joshua Hoover. More photos from the event may be viewed on the Department of Education’s Flickr.

Blog articles on Homeroom provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. The articles do not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.

The Department’s Student Art Exhibit Program provides students and teachers an opportunity to display creative work from the classroom in a highly public space that honors their work as an effective path to learning and knowledge for all. To visit the exhibits or for information about exhibiting, contact Jackye Zimmermann.

Look and Listen: 10 Reasons Why We Can’t Afford to Cut Education Funding

Cross-posted from The White House Blog.

As you might have seen, House Republicans released their Fiscal Year 2016 budget this week — and to put it very simply, its priorities are pretty different from those in the President’s budget. The House GOP would cut taxes for millionaires and billionaires, all while slashing investments in the middle class that we know would grow the economy — particularly in job training, manufacturing, and education.

Their budget would cut funding for pre-k through 12 education (also known as “Title I Funding”) by $3.1 billion. That money could fund 4,500 schools, 17,000 teachers and aides, and 1.9 million students.

Earlier this week, the President met with superintendents and other school officials from all across the country. Each of them brought at least one object — from photos to books to charts — that represented what this vital funding means to their school districts.

Every American should know exactly what disinvestment in Pre-K through 12 education would mean for school districts around the country. Listen to each of these school leaders describe the vital programs in their districts that Title I helps fund.


1. “Acceleration Academies” that provide a month’s worth of learning in one week’s time.

Michael O’Neill, Chairperson of the Boston School Committee (Boston, MA)

2. A “Parent Academy” that has helped more than 3,000 parents prepare their kids to apply for college.

Barbara Jenkins, Superintendent, Orange County Public Schools (Orange County, FL)

3. “Parent University” college bus tours that make college a reality for more underserved kids.

Eric Gordon, Superintendent, Cleveland Metropolitan School District (Cleveland, OH)

4. A “Focus on Freshman” mentorship program that has increased graduation rates by more than 10 percent.

Valeria Silva, Superintendent, ISD 625 – St. Paul Public Schools (St. Paul, MN)

5. Extended school days that result in double-digit gains in math and reading scores.

Kaya Henderson, D.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction (Washington, D.C.)

6. Professional mentorship programs that connect students with professionals in cutting-edge fields.

Juan Cabrera, Superintendent, El Paso Independent School District (El Paso, TX)

7. Smaller classes that provide more direct attention to students in need of support.

Richard Carranza, Superintendent, San Francisco Unified School District (San Francisco, CA)

8. College and career-preparation programs that make sure students are ready to succeed.

Darienne Driver, Superintendent, Milwaukee Public Schools (Milwaukee, WI)

9. Development classes that have reduced truancy issues among young black students.

Jumoke Hinton, Board Member, Oakland Unified School District (Oakland, CA)

10. An after-school robotics team that competes regionally.

Airick West, Board Member, Kansas City Public Schools (Kansas City, MO)

At a time when it’s more important than ever to make sure young people have the skills they need to compete in a modern economy, the House Republican budget would bring per-pupil education funding to its lowest levels since 2000.

If you don’t want to see that happen, then make sure as many people as possible know what’s at stake.


Roberto J. Rodríguez is Deputy Assistant to the President for Education.

15 Principals, One United Voice

Melissa Fink poses with Secretary Duncan during her visit to ED. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Melissa Fink poses with Secretary Duncan during her visit to ED. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

A version of this post originally appeared on the Jones Elementary School blog.

What happens when you pull together 15 principals from Arkansas, Indiana, New York, Montana, California, Louisiana, Illinois, New Jersey, Tennessee, Kansas and Idaho together for a meeting? One united voice begins to emerge working to improve the quality of education for children in America.

I was recently invited to Washington, D.C., to participate in a round table discussion at the U.S. Department of Education. We were privileged to meet with Secretary Arne Duncan, Assistant Secretary of Education Deb Delisle and other senior staff members.

Prior to attending the meeting, I was very reluctant to voice my opinion in public. I had a preconceived notion no one cared what a principal from Arkansas thought. I never imagined myself talking to leaders of a federal agency.

When I received the invitation to visit ED, I felt many emotions. I felt humbled and honored to be selected to be part of a prestigious group. I felt scared because I was traveling far away to a place where I didn’t know anyone. I felt intimidated because I had never been placed in the political spotlight. I felt inadequate to speak to such important people.

My fears and insecurities began to melt away the first evening in D.C. We had an informal dinner to meet our colleagues. I started to feel more comfortable as we talked about our schools, our communities and our personal lives. It became apparent that although we came from different backgrounds, served in different communities, led diverse staffs, taught children from all ethnic backgrounds and social statuses, we had many similar ideas regarding best educational practices.

The next morning, we arrived at ED ready to meet with leadership.

As we met with different officials, it was apparent that they all wanted to learn from us. The day was spent with reciprocal learning happening around us — us learning from them — them learning from us.

The time we spent with Secretary Duncan felt very natural and relaxed, as well. He entered into the room with his sleeves rolled up and was eager to learn from us. It was a great meeting!

If I had to sum up my experience with one word, I would say it was empowering. My experience in Washington, D.C. has opened my world. I am now serving on several state level committees to improve education for Arkansas students. I have also begun to contact my state legislators and representatives to encourage policy makers to make decisions in the best interest of students. I’ve also been given the opportunity to address the Arkansas State Board of Education to discuss best teaching and leadership practices.

Before my trip, I was nervous about taking action. Now, after stepping out of my comfort zone, I feel empowered to be the voice for children everywhere. I take comfort in knowing the other 14 administrators I became friends with are also fighting this courageous battle with me although we are miles apart. It was a great experience and one I would highly recommend to anyone.

Melissa Fink is Principal of Jones Elementary School in Springdale, Arkansas.

Learn more about Jones Elementary and how the teachers work with Fink to encourage their students to succeed.