Career Pathways: Breaking Down Barriers to Employment for Individuals with Disabilities

The strength of the American economy is inextricably linked to the strength of our workforce. As the U.S. economy continues to grow, employers report difficulty in finding workers with the specific skills and knowledge that they need. In order to maintain America’s competitive edge, it is critical that employers have access to highly skilled workers to meet the challenges of today’s labor market. With nearly one in five people in the United States identified as having a disability, individuals with disabilities comprise a large group of potential employees who, with the necessary skills and credentials, could help fill this unmet need and participate fully in the labor market and our society.

We know, however, that only about 20 percent of people with disabilities are participating in the labor force, and, that rate is significantly lower for those with only a high school diploma or less. For employed people with disabilities, data reveal that they are underrepresented in management and professional/technical jobs, and overrepresented in service, production, and transportation jobs.

Too often, however, our systems for preparing low-skilled individuals with disabilities with marketable and in-demand skills can be complex and difficult to navigate for students, job seekers, and employers. Career pathways can offer an efficient and customer-centered approach to training and education by integrating the necessary educational instruction, workforce development, and human and social services and supports that are linked to labor market trends and employer needs, leading to stackable credentials.

The State Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) Agency often serves as the primary vehicle in the workforce development system for assisting individuals with disabilities, particularly individuals with the most significant disabilities, to prepare for, obtain, retain, or advance in competitive integrated employment. As partners in the one-stop service delivery system established under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), State VR agencies are well-positioned to coordinate and collaborate with other entities, such as secondary and postsecondary educational institutions, workforce centers and other training providers, human and social service agencies, employers, and other community stakeholders, to develop workforce approaches that are effective in assisting individuals to attain knowledge and skills that can lead to employment in high-demand occupations.

Accordingly,we are pleased to announce a notice of final priority and notice inviting applications to establish model demonstration projects to develop and use career pathways to help individuals with disabilities, including youth with disabilities, acquire necessary marketable skills and recognized postsecondary credentials. We expect to award $3.5 million to State VR agencies, in partnerships with other entities, to develop and implement a collaborative model project demonstrating promising practices and strategies in the use of career pathways to improve the skills of individuals with disabilities, including youth with disabilities, and help them attain the credentials to succeed in our 21st century economy.

We know that the use of career pathways is an effective workforce development strategy that can provide individuals, particularly those with the greatest barriers to employment, with seamless transitions into postsecondary education and employment in careers that provide a family-sustaining wage. Take, for example, the three seniors with disabilities from North Bend High School in Oregon who, with the help of the school transition specialist, a VR counselor, and the local community college, completed a program for Certified Nursing Assistance I (C.N.A). Students were required to attend a total of 75 hours of class training and complete an additional 80 hours of clinical training after school and weekends at a local assisted living center. These students are now enrolled in the C.N.A. II class.

We believe this career pathways investment by the Department of Education, and similar investments by this Administration, will serve to improve the well being of individuals with disabilities, the families they support, the communities in which they live, and our economy.

Michael Yudin is Assistant Secretary of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, and Johan Uvin is the Acting Assistant Secretary of the Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education

The Promise of Pell

Goucher College students work on a group project during a class at the Maryland Correctional Institute-Jessup on July 31, 2015

Goucher College students work on a group project during a class at the Maryland Correctional Institute-Jessup on July 31, 2015

A gallery of criminal justice experts, educators, and formerly incarcerated individuals gathered at a 2008 conference at SUNY Old Westbury to examine how access to higher education in prisons and for formerly incarcerated individuals could positively transform individual lives and communities. The conversations held at this conference revolved around the need to dedicate advocacy efforts towards eliminating barriers to higher education for currently and formerly incarcerated people. We were a lone wolf of sorts; a singular outlier in the field—at the time, no criminal justice reform organization exclusively addressed this issue. This conference was the first of its kind dedicated to expanding higher education access for the incarcerated.

We saw then, as we do now, that access to higher education must be the central element of any substantive effort to reform the criminal justice system, and to improve the lives of the individuals this system is intended to rehabilitate.

Our personal interest in the subject stems from the fact that each of us had a very different experience while incarcerated. Glenn Martin was incarcerated with the opportunity to earn a degree from the Niagara Consortium. He eagerly pursued this opportunity realizing that his in-prison education would grant him opportunities for a civically engaged life post-release. On the other hand, the facility where Vivian Nixon served her sentence lacked any postsecondary programs, thus squandering the potential of the women incarcerated within and creating additional barriers to successful reentry.

Education became a tool that Glenn could use to chip away at the barriers before him—his opportunities for employment and further postsecondary education were improved substantially. More than anything, though, having access to these classes empowered Glenn and allowed him to think critically about what had led him to prison and what he could do to ensure he never returned.

Both of us realized that to deprive anyone of access to higher education, when the circumstances themselves merited the highest kind of educational intervention, was to limit them from tapping into their full potential.

To adequately address these issues, we formed the Education from the Inside Out Coalition – currently led by the College and Community Fellowship, JustLeadershipUSA, and the Center for Community Alternatives. It is a national, non-partisan collaborative of organizations, individuals affected by the criminal justice system, advocates, and educators dedicated to increasing access to higher education.

Our initial efforts centered on restoring Federal Pell Grants to incarcerated individuals.

In 1994, as part of the Violent Crimes Control and Law Enforcement Act passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bill Clinton, students incarcerated in Federal and State prisons, of which there were approximately 23,000 at the time, lost the ability to access Pell Grants to fund higher education. A product of the era’s “tough on crime” mentality, this legislation reflected the misguided belief that only heavy-handed tactics could solve the period’s soaring crime rates. Research in the intervening decades has helped shatter the myth that education for the incarcerated doesn’t reduce crime. This research clearly demonstrates that access to higher education is actually a boon for public safety; it drives down recidivism rates, improves the lives of incarcerated students and returning citizens, and improves the lives of their families and communities.

On July 31st, Secretary Duncan and Attorney General Lynch, along with several Obama Administration officials and members of Congress, announced an initiative that will waive the ban on Pell Grant eligibility for individuals in select Federal and State penal institutions. We hope that this announcement will be a step towards ultimately reversing the ban.

Goucher College students participate in a lecture at Maryland Correctional Institution-Jessup on July 31, 2015

Goucher College students participate in a lecture at Maryland Correctional Institution-Jessup on July 31, 2015

When Senator Claiborne Pell created Pell Grants, he wanted to ensure that everyone would have access to higher education, especially those on the lower rungs of the socioeconomic ladder. He was concerned with creating access for those who most needed education. Senator Pell saw education as a human right that could help lift up individuals, not a privilege that could be denied as a punitive measure.

While much work needs to be done to ensure that the full promise of Pell is fully restored, we are hopeful that the Obama Administration will continue to take steps towards making that future a reality. We applaud Secretary Duncan and Attorney General Lynch for their combined efforts to reverse the school-to-prison pipeline by making in-prison education accessible to those in need of a second chance. Because of our own disparate experiences in accessing higher education in prison, we know firsthand the transformative power education can have on the life of someone who involved in the justice system. It can take these individuals, the ones that society often overlooks and forgets, and forge them into future leaders and change makers.

Vivian Nixon is Executive Director of College and Community Fellowship (CCF), an organization committed to removing individual and structural barriers to higher education for women with criminal record histories and their families. Glenn E. Martin is the Founder and President of JustLeadershipUSA (JLUSA), a national advocacy organization dedicated to cutting the US correctional population in half by 2030.

Start Now, to Start the School Year Right

Three children in the classroom.In communities and homes all across the country, change is in the air, and families are thinking about back-to-school season. There are lots of ways to gear up for a great school year.

Sometimes the whole neighborhood plays a part! For example, this past weekend, my hometown of Chicago hosted an 86-year tradition: the largest back-to-school parade in the country. Hundreds of students, parents, teachers and their neighbors took to the streets with marching bands, floats and special activities to celebrate the last few weeks of summer and get the word out about the new school year.

“Now is the time for parents and kids to start getting set for success in the classroom.”
Arne Duncan

But even if there’s no parade or back-to-school block party in your area, now is still a great time for parents and kids to start getting set for success in the classroom. Here are some things you can do now, and in the weeks ahead:

Start adjusting early. Start bringing meal times, bed times, and morning routines back in line with the school year schedule. Reading before bedtime, getting enough sleep, and having a reliable weekday routine: all these activities contribute to a student’s readiness to do well in school from day one.

Brush up on skills and complete any summer assignments. Take time together for refresher activities like practicing math facts or playing math games. Also, many schools send home summer activities, like math packets or reading lists, or post them on their website. Look through these together and make sure all assignments are completed.

Make a back-to-school to-do list, and start checking off tasks. With less than a month to go, create a plan to take care of everything that’s needed for a great first day of school. This includes scheduling any remaining health check-ups including dental and vision screenings, contacting the school with any questions, completing all necessary forms, taking care of any insurance, meal plan and enrollment requirements, as well as stocking up on supplies, clothes and other back-to-school gear.

Plan a learning adventure. Do something fun together that’s focused on learning, whether indoors or out: from a kitchen craft project or backyard science experiment, to a trip to the library or a museum. Our minds are like muscles: help get them warmed up for academic success.

Help to beautify your school. This month, many schools will host events to get their buildings looking great for the first day, from planting flowers and picking up trash in the schoolyard, to painting walls and cleaning classrooms. It’s a great way to learn about service together and help create a welcoming environment for the whole school community. If your school doesn’t have a beautification day, ask whether there other ways you can help teachers and school staff prepare.

Make space for study and creativity. Identify a quiet place for your child to do homework. Set aside space to post school schedules and assignments, classwork, art, projects, and report cards, as well as messages and milestones.

Set some clear, achievable goals for the year. By setting and meeting academic goals, students do more than improve their performance in school – they also gain confidence, motivation, and pride in their accomplishments. Help your child set some clear goals, like improving math or vocabulary, along with timeframes and clear steps for reaching them. Write them down, post them, and check progress regularly.

Get connected and stay in touch. Parents who are active and engaged with their child’s school are a key ingredient to helping their kids thrive. Here are just some things parents can do:

  • Reach out to your school, and get to know your child’s teachers. Let them know the best ways to contact you, and that you’re ready to work closely with them to help your child succeed.
  • Start a calendar for parent-teacher conferences and school events, and to check in regularly with your child’s teachers throughout the year.
  • Plan ways to keep track of your child’s subjects, grades and progress, help with homework, and provide support throughout the year. Agree to talk often together about what’s happening at school, what your child is learning, what she enjoys and where she might need help.
  • Consider serving on your local parent-teacher organization, or joining in other activities that help support great teaching and learning.
  • Check out our month-by-month toolkit at:

Talk about what to expect and focus on skills for life. Each student is different: some kids love back-to-school time; others have concerns or questions. Each new school year means transitions – to a new grade, classroom, or school building. In case of any back-to-school jitters: take time to remember the highlights from last year, and point out things to look forward to this year. As a parent, you can share memories of your own school experiences – including favorite teachers, field trips, subjects and activities – as well as lessons learned. Most of all, help your child build the skills that make for long-term success in life, like flexibility and open-mindedness, persistence, and a positive attitude.

Working together, parents and children can help make sure the new school year is filled with progress, achievement and the wonder of learning. Let’s make it a year worth celebrating, for every child.

Arne Duncan is U.S. Secretary of Education

The American Dream is Not Optional

Memphis is a city rich with history, especially when it comes to civil rights. During a recent trip to Tennessee, we were profoundly inspired by the launch of new efforts to support undocumented youth, which will help to ensure the right to a quality education for more young people living in this country.

FullSizeRenderThese efforts will be made possible through a Commitment to Action from Christian Brothers University (CBU) in collaboration with Latino Memphis—an organization assisting Latinos in the Greater Memphis area with health, education, and justice issues, and through an anonymous grant. CBU and Latino Memphis answered a call to action to support and invest in the success of Latinos, from cradle-to-career, from the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics (Initiative). This commitment, totaling $12.4 million, will provide scholarships to help undocumented youth pursue their college dreams. More than 100 undocumented Latino students will now have the opportunity to get a college education because of this important investment.

While we were in Tennessee, we engaged with student leaders from CBU. Their grit, resilience and fierce dedication to their education were palpable. When we asked how the students would use their college degrees, the common thread in their responses was giving back to their communities. These students are part of the Latino Student Success program, a privately funded scholarship and loan program aimed at leveling the playing field for students ineligible for state and federal student aid.

“My parents did not finish middle school. It is not that they did not want to help, but they did not know how to and could now financially. I am thankful for the opportunities I have today, but I had to do it all on my own” – CBU Student

It’s critical to find more colleges, universities, and other partners across the country willing to make commitments that can honor and celebrate diversity in our higher education system and ensure that more young people have access to the life-changing opportunity that a quality postsecondary education can make possible.

“We cannot be a country that denies opportunity.” – John King

According to a 2012 study by The University of Tennessee Center for Business and Economic Research, the population of Hispanics in Tennessee increased 134 percent from 2000 – 2010, representing the third fastest Latino population growth in the country.

Our trip gave us a chance to highlight an emerging community that has answered the Initiative’s call to action. For CBU President John Smarrelli, this investment is at the very core of CBU’s mission, which acknowledges that the American dream is not—and should not—be optional.

IMG_0028We ended our trip with business leaders at the Greater Memphis Chamber to learn about the opportunities and solutions that may be helpful to better increase the educational attainment of Hispanic students.

It was a great day, indeed, but there is much more work to do to fulfill America’s promise as the land of opportunity. The challenge is as great as it’s ever been. That’s why we recognize that the health and prosperity of our country is a shared responsibility that takes all of us working together. Through the Initiative’s work and efforts across the Obama Administration, we aim to increase the success of the growing Latino community from preschool through college and careers.

Next month, the Initiative will celebrate its 25th anniversary, a historic milestone that will be commemorated with the announcement of even more public- and private-sector commitments to action that invest in and support the educational attainment of Hispanics. Learn more about our efforts by visiting the Initiative’s website or follow us Twitter.

Comencemos ahora para comenzar el año escolar bien

Three children in the classroom.

En las comunidades y hogares de todo el país, se siente el cambio en el aire, y las familias están pensando en el regreso a clases. Hay un montón de maneras de prepararse para un gran año escolar.

A veces todo el vecindario tiene un papel que jugar. Por ejemplo, este fin de semana pasado, mi ciudad natal de Chicago celebró una tradición de 86 años —el desfile de regreso a clases más grande del país. Cientos de estudiantes, padres, profesores y vecinos salieron a la calle con bandas de música, carrozas y actividades especiales para celebrar las últimas semanas del verano y anunciar el nuevo año escolar.

“Ahora es el momento para que padres y niños se empiecen a preparar para el éxito en el aula.”
Arne Duncan

Pero aun si no hay desfile o celebración de regreso a clases en su barrio, ahora todavía es un gran momento para que padres y chicos se preparen para el éxito en el aula. Aquí hay algunas cosas que usted puede hacer ahora, y en las próximas semanas:

Comience a hacer cambios. Comience a cambiar la hora de la comida, de ir a la cama, y rutina mañanera que sigue durante el año escolar. Leer antes de acostarse, dormir lo suficiente, y tener una rutina fiable de lunes a viernes, son las actividades que contribuyen para preparar al estudiante a triunfar en la escuela desde el primer día.

Afine las habilidades y complete cualquier tarea de verano. Pasen tiempo junto en actividades de perfeccionamiento, tal como practicar las tablas matemáticas y juegos de matemática. Además, muchas escuelas envían a casa actividades de aprendizaje durante el verano, incluso tareas de matemática y listas de lectura, o los cuelgan en su sitio web. Revisen juntos tales actividades y asegúrese de que todas las tareas se han completado.

Haga una lista de quehaceres para el regreso a la escuela, y empiece a tachar los ya cumplidos. Con menos de un mes para el regreso a clases, prepare un plan para hacer todo lo necesario para que su hijo esté completamente preparado el primer día de clases. Esto incluye programar chequeos de salud pendientes, incluyendo exámenes dentales y de visión; contactar a la escuela si tiene alguna pregunta, completar todos los formularios necesarios, obtener cualquier seguro requerido, planear la alimentación y requisitos de la matrícula, y abastecer todos los suministros, ropa y útiles escolares.

Planee una aventura de aprendizaje. Haga una actividad divertida que se enfoque en el aprendizaje, ya sea dentro o fuera de casa: tal como un proyecto de arte en la cocina o un experimento científico en el patio, hasta una excursión a la biblioteca o al museo. La mente es como los músculos, hay que ejercitarla (para que esté lista y fuerte) para el éxito académico.

Ayude a remozar su escuela. Este mes, muchas escuelas tendrán eventos para que las instalaciones se vean bien (estén limpias, lindas y listas) para el primer día de clases, desde sembrar flores en los jardines y recoger la basura del patio de la escuela, hasta pintar paredes, y limpiar las aulas. Es una gran manera de colaborar para crear un ambiente acogedor para toda la comunidad escolar. Si su escuela no tiene un día de mejoramiento, pregunte si hay otras maneras de ayudar a prepararse a los maestros y al personal de la escuela.

Haga un espacio para el estudio y la creatividad. Escoja un lugar tranquilo para que su hijo haga las tareas. Separe un espacio para colgar los horarios escolares y tareas, trabajos de clase, arte, proyectos y calificaciones, así como los mensajes y logros.

Ponga metas claras y realistas para el año. Cuando se les ponen metas académicas, los estudiantes hacen más que mejorar su rendimiento académico, y ganan confianza, motivación y orgullo en sus logros. Ayude a su hijo a establecer objetivos claros, tal como mejorar en matemática o en vocabulario, junto con plazos y pasos claros para lograrlos. Escríbalas, cuélguelas, y mida el progreso con regularidad.

Conéctese y manténgase en contacto. Los padres que se involucran activamente en la escuela son un ingrediente clave para ayudar a que sus hijos prosperen. Éstas son sólo algunas cosas que los padres pueden hacer:

  • Visite la escuela y conozca los maestrosde su hijo. Dígales cómo pueden contactarse con usted y que usted está listo para colaborar apegado con ellos en la educación y el éxito de su hijo.
  • Establezca un calendario para reuniones entre padres y maestros, eventos escolares, y para hablar a menudo con los maestros de su hijo durante todo el año.
  • Haga un plan par dar seguimiento a las asignaturas, las calificaciones y el progreso de su hijo, ayúdele con la tarea, y déle apoyo durante todo el año. Hablen con frecuencia juntos sobre lo que pasa en la escuela, lo que su hijo está aprendiendo, lo que le gusta y en qué necesite ayuda.
  • Considere servir en su organización local de padres y maestros, o participe en otras actividades que den apoyo a la buena enseñanza y aprendizaje.
  • Revise nuestra guía de mes a mes en:

Hable sobre las expectativas y céntrese en las destrezas de por vida. Cada estudiante es diferente, ya que a algunos niños les encanta la temporada de regresar a la escuela, mientras otros tienen preocupaciones o preguntas. Cada nuevo año escolar es una transición —a un nuevo grado, aula, o edificio de la escuela. En caso de nerviosismo por el regreso a la escuela, tome tiempo para recordar los aspectos más destacados del año pasado, y señale las cosas buenas que vendrán con el nuevo año. Como padre, usted puede compartir los recuerdos de sus propias experiencias escolares, incluido sus maestros favoritos, excursiones, asignaturas, actividades, y lecciones aprendidas. Sobre todo, ayude a su niño a adquirir las habilidades necesarias para el éxito duradero en la vida, tal como ser flexible y mantener una mente abierta, persistente, y tener una actitud positiva.

Trabajando juntos, padres y niños, pueden ayudar a asegurar que el nuevo año escolar esté lleno de progreso, aprovechamiento y lleno de las maravillas del aprendizaje. Hagamos que sea un año que valga la pena celebrarlo para todos los niños.

Arne Duncan es el secretario de Educación de EE.UU.

7 Options to Consider if You Didn’t Receive Enough Financial Aid

The reality of college costs is that many families find themselves struggling to pay the entire college bill, despite having already filed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and receiving federal, state, and institutional financial aid resources. If you find yourself in this position, here are some ideas to consider to help fill the gap between what your financial aid covers and what you owe the institution.

Federal Student Aid image


TIP: The financial aid office at your college is a great resource. If you didn’t receive enough financial aid, contact your school’s financial aid office. They can help you explore your options.


For those heading to college this fall, most scholarship decisions for the academic year have already been made. However, we recommend you begin a routine of searching and applying for scholarships regularly. You should first consider scholarships local to where you graduated from high school or live; try community, religious, and fraternal organizations. You may also consider businesses in your community or those that employ your parent(s).

Then, look for scholarship resources available statewide, especially from organizations with which you may have been involved or companies in your state that are in the field for which you plan to study.

National scholarships can be very competitive, but don’t let that keep you from applying. Ask your financial aid office or academic unit about institutional or departmental scholarships (decisions may have been made for this year, but ask how to make sure you don’t miss deadlines for next year!). With scholarship opportunities, it’s always important to be careful of fraud. If you are ever concerned about the legitimacy of a scholarship, your school’s financial aid office might be able to help you make the determination.

Part-Time Work

You may have been awarded Federal Work-Study, which at most schools still requires you to find the work-study position yourself. This can help you cover some costs throughout the semester since these funds are paid as you earn them through working. If you were not awarded work-study funds, most schools have other part-time on-campus positions that can help you with some college costs. Working part-time on campus can be beneficial to your educational experience. Be cautious of working too many hours if you can avoid it. Ask your financial aid office or career services office how to apply for on-campus positions.

Payment Plans

Your school’s billing office, sometimes referred to as the bursar’s office or cashier’s office, may have payment plans available to help you spread the remaining costs you owe the school over several payments throughout a semester. The payment plan can help you budget the payments rather than paying in one lump sum, possibly helping you avoid costly late fees.

Special Circumstances Reevaluation

Sometimes a family’s finances are not accurately reflected on the FAFSA because of changes that have occurred recently, such as job loss, divorce or separation, or other special circumstance. Schools are not required to consider special circumstances, but those that do have a process by which you can petition for a reevaluation of the information on the FAFSA. This process may require you to submit documentation, and the financial aid office will recalculate your eligibility, possibly resulting in a change of financial aid awards.

Additional Federal Student Loans

If you’ve exhausted all your free and earned money options and still need additional funds to help you pay for school, contact your school’s financial aid office to find out if you’re eligible for additional federal student loans. For example, you might have reached a level of increased student loan eligibility if you completed coursework after your college awarded your aid.

Federal Direct PLUS Loans: Also, if you are a dependent student and still need assistance, your parent can apply for a Direct PLUS Loan. Some schools use the application on and others have their own application. The PLUS loan application process does include a credit check. If your parent is not approved, he or she may still receive a Direct PLUS Loan by obtaining an endorser (cosigner.) If a parent borrower is unable to secure a PLUS loan, the student may be eligible for additional unsubsidized student loans of up to $4,000 (and sometimes more.)

Emergency Advances or Institutional Loans

Sometimes you may have college-related costs, such as housing costs or other living expenses, before your financial aid is disbursed to you. Your school may offer an option to advance your financial aid early or offer a school-based loan program. Ask your financial aid office if this is an option and always make sure you are aware of the terms and conditions (such as interest rates or repayment terms) of your agreement.

Private or Alternative Loans

Some private institutions offer education loans that do not require the FAFSA. While we recommend federal aid first, we realize it does not always cover the cost, especially for pricier schools. These types of loans will almost always require a cosigner and usually have higher fees or interest rates depending on your credit. We encourage you to first ask your financial aid office if they have a list of lenders for you to consider, but not all schools maintain such a list. If not, you can search for lenders on your own, but compare products before making your choice: look at interest rates, fees, repayment terms, creditworthiness requirements, satisfactory academic progress requirements, etc.

Before making any final decisions on how to fill the gap between your aid and your costs, it is always recommended that you meet with a representative in your financial aid office to determine what campus resources might be available before going out on your own. It might also be possible that you still have the time to change some of your choices before the semester begins: Can you change the type of meal plan you chose? The type of housing? The number of classes in which you are enrolled? Check with campus officials to see if you still have time to select a different, more affordable option.

Justin Chase Brown is Director of Scholarships and Financial Aid at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Promoting Common-Ground Reforms of Social Service Partnerships

Cross-posted from the White House blog.

Today, the Obama Administration is taking an important step toward common-ground reforms that strengthen the partnerships the federal government forms with faith-based and community organizations for the purpose of serving people in need. Nine federal agencies are issuing notices of proposed rulemaking (NPRMs) today that would clarify rules that apply to these partnerships and extend added protections for social service beneficiaries.

The impetus for these reforms came from a diverse Advisory Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships (Advisory Council). In 2009, President Obama asked this Council to make recommendations for strengthening the social service partnerships the government forms with nongovernmental providers, including strengthening the constitutional and legal footing of these partnerships. The Advisory Council issued its recommendations in a report entitled A New Era of Partnerships: Report of Recommendations to the President. While Council members differed on some important issues in this area, they were able come to an agreement on a number of significant recommendations. I had the honor of chairing this Advisory Council before I took my job at the White House.

In response to the Advisory Council’s recommendations, President Obama signed Executive Order 13559. Today, agencies are issuing proposed rules to accomplish some of the aims of that Executive Order.

The proposed rules clarify the principle that organizations offering explicitly religious activities may not subsidize those activities with direct federal financial assistance and must separate such activities in time or location from programs supported with direct federal financial assistance. For example, if a faith-based provider offers a Bible study as well as a federally supported job training program, the Bible study must be privately funded and separated in time or location from the job training program.

The NPRMs also propose new protections for beneficiaries or prospective beneficiaries of social service programs that are supported by direct federal financial assistance. In the proposed rules, the agencies set forth a notice to beneficiaries and prospective beneficiaries that informs them of these protections. These notices would make it clear, for example, that beneficiaries may not be discriminated against on the basis of religion or religious belief or be required to participate in any religious activities and advises beneficiaries that they may request an alternative provider if they object to the religious character of their current provider.

At the same time, the NPRMs assure religious providers of their equal ability to compete for government funds and of continuing protections for their religious identity like the ability of providers to use religious terms in their organizational names and to include religious references in mission statements and in other organizational documents. The NPRMs also state that the standards in the proposed regulations apply to sub-awards as well as prime awards, and set forth definitions of “direct” and “indirect” federal financial assistance. These areas have been sources of confusion for some providers.

The agencies are encouraging interested parties to submit comments on the proposed rules during the next 60 days. Once those comments have been received and analyzed, the final rules can be issued. Separate from the rulemaking process, agencies are continuing to work toward other modifications to their guidance, practices and communications strategies consistent with the Executive Order.

At the time the first Advisory Council made its recommendations to the President, its members stated in their report to the President:

As far as we know, this is the first time a governmental entity has convened individuals with serious differences on some church-state issues and asked them to seek common ground in this area. It should not be the last time a government body does so. Policies that enjoy broad support are more durable. And finding common ground on church-state issues frees up more time and energy to focus on the needs of people who are struggling. If adopted, these recommendations would improve social services delivery and strengthen religious liberty. They also would reduce litigation, enhance public understanding of these partnerships, and otherwise advance the common good.

We join the agencies in welcoming this news and look forward to continuing the important rulemaking process.

For each agency’s NPRM, click on the relevant link below:

Melissa Rogers is the Director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

Be Bold! How a teacher-led summit changed my career

Here I stood at the Teach to Lead Summit in Washington, D.C. hosted by the U. S. Department of Education and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. Not knowing what to expect — feeling discouraged from an arduous school year working as an Elementary Special Education Teacher, trying to meet the many needs of all of my students— I was not sure whether I belonged.

What brought me to the Summit was an idea devised by my colleague, Jane Tiernan. She submitted responses to an invitation from Teach to Lead regarding our students at P. S. 62 in the Bronx, New York, who face a variety of challenges and obstacles, which prevent them from reaching their full potential.

Intrigued by Jane’s plan for a school community that establishes connections between the school, families, students, health care facilities and outside agencies, I decided to become a member of her team. A school of this type would focus on the wellness of the whole child.

On day one of the Summit in late July, I sat through the panel discussion and intensely listened and ferociously wrote notes to reflect on later. I was so captivated by the entire forum for the evening. What an amazing sight to see! I was just in awe to be a participant in the room surrounded by so many individuals from across the nation; all here for education!

It was a lot to take in, but the energy and passion from the first day made me realize that we were all here because of our passion for education. Every person seemed to have a personal calling to become leaders at our schools—without needing to leave our classrooms or most importantly our students. Of course we all understand real change was not going to happen in two days. But that’s why Teach to Lead is helping move this work, by giving teachers a platform to share ideas and express the true obstacles we face in education, while also making sure we are heard by policy-makers.

During day two, I felt that even though there were numerous professionals in the room, I mattered, and they embraced me because I was here to make an impact on education for students at P. S. 62 and beyond.

After a few presentations and keynote speakers, it was time to work. And do I mean work. This was not about providing frivolous teacher leadership development. With the guidance and mentoring from the best critical friend ever, Brian Bishop from The Hope Street Group, (as well as observers who became honorary team members), we came together for the task at hand. Teachers led teachers as teams of professionals with expertise from various forums discussed logic models, problem statements, goals, inputs, outputs and outcomes…all for the betterment of student achievement. Yes!

The Teach to Lead DC Summit had my inner voice shouting, “Yes…Our teams small original idea had evolved and was still evolving into an actionable plan that was going to bring about real tangible change!”

The true essence of the Summit came to me at the end of day two. We were shown a video of an impromptu speech by Ruthanne Buck, Senior Advisor to the Secretary of Education at the U. S. Department of Education. All I remembered from the video during the day was hearing the words “Be Bold!”

It was not until 1AM the next morning that Ruthanne’s words fully resonated with my spirit. It brought me back to my first year of teaching and reminded me of why I became a career changer twelve years ago. Two simple words—Be Bold—told me what I was doing, despite the many difficulties and daily frustrations within the profession, that I had a purpose.

Sitting in that room, repeatedly saying “Be Bold,” “Be Bold,” “Be Bold!” I felt like Ruthanne and Teach to Lead knew that I was contemplating leaving the field, and she was personally speaking to me to stay in the fight. There it was…a personal message that is priceless! Watch the video below to see the moment I shared my revelation — with Secretary Duncan in the room!

I left the Teach to Lead Summit reminded that if I do not advocate for my students, then who will? And if I don’t do it now and make connections and build networks, then when?

With the knowledge and insight gained from the Teach to Lead DC Summit, our project – Team Making Connections – we are already taking steps to develop and implement a multi-faceted school community that is responsive to the whole child and will lead to all children making better life choices. We are committed to developing a wraparound school (I learned this term during the Summit).

Thank you Secretary Duncan, Ruthanne Buck and the Teach to Lead team for saying that REAL change in education cannot happen without teachers as key, respected stakeholders in development and implementation!

Natasha Bodden is an Elementary Special Education Teacher at P. S. 62 Bronx, New York

Study Abroad: Developing Global Competencies

Rachel Warner studied abroad in India and has been collecting and presenting data on how well students in the United States develop global competencies as part of her internship at ED.

Rachel Warner studied abroad in India and has been collecting and presenting data on how well students in the United States develop global competencies as part of her internship at ED.

As an intern in the International Affairs Office at ED, my main project of the summer has been collecting and presenting data on how well students in the United States develop global competencies. Globally competent people have knowledge about the world and use it to investigate beyond their immediate environment, recognize various perspectives, communicate with others, and translate ideas into actions. In schools this is done through international-based subjects such as foreign languages or world history, global knowledge entwined in other subjects, digital exchanges, and study abroad programs. Unfortunately, the data on study abroad show a dismal tale of how students are developing global competencies.

My study abroad experience in India was one of the best opportunities I have ever had, but unfortunately only 14% of U.S. students study abroad at some point during their degree program. I learned about Indian culture, religion, history, and development, all while interacting with diverse people. I also worked on what I believe is one of the most important skills: asking critical questions with humility and respect. Whether I continue to travel to different cultures or stay at home in our increasingly diverse communities, engaging with others in a respectful way is necessary to having positive and peaceful interactions.

Study abroad also teaches students how to be leaders and engage with the interconnected problems that our world faces today. Research about leaders in 30 different countries reported that nearly half of them had international experience. Our world is becoming increasingly interconnected. One in five U.S. jobs is tied to international trade and hiring managers view international skills as increasingly important. Having the ability to engage with those from different backgrounds and communicate effectively enables positive change to occur. In order to handle global challenges and be leaders in the globalized future, students need to have international experiences that expose them to people of different backgrounds and beliefs.

Next spring, I have the opportunity to participate in a Semester at Sea voyage around Asia and Africa. SAS is a study abroad program where you learn on a ship and travel between 15 ports, which you then have the opportunity to explore. On the ship each student takes a comparative lens course, which connects course content to each country we visit. The reason I choose SAS for my semester abroad, however, was their idea of integrating global content into courses. One of the courses I plan on taking is International Management. In the course, students apply case studies from the countries visited to business concepts, and also participate in a field lab. I will gain firsthand experiences that will help me gain greater comprehension and appreciation of the material.

Although the data was disheartening, it can help us formulate a vision for how the development of global competencies can be promoted in the future. There are many great programs out there that help teach students about the world and how to apply that knowledge. Interning at the Department has allowed me to meet many people who are passionate about helping students succeed. I have faith that international education can be promoted and encouraged and our students can succeed in the changing international arena.

Rachel Warner is a rising junior at the College of William & Mary. She interned in the International Affairs Office in Summer 2015.

Feedback: Disconnected Youth

Earlier today Secretary of Education Arne Duncan posted a piece on Medium on the need to connect more youth.

All young people — no matter where they grow up — need havens of hope and safety. They need skills to succeed in society and the workplace. They need positive adult role models, mentors, support and structure, as well as clear pathways to a bright future.

He goes on to say that we need an all-hands-on-deck effort to reconnect these youth:

If we care about our country’s future, we must work together – at the local, state and federal levels –to reconnect all young people with the education and career pathways that lead away from poverty, desperation and violence and toward a renewed sense of community, stability, and success.

Secretary Duncan asked to hear your ideas:

Now it’s your turn to weigh in and highlight success. Share with us how people and organizations are helping recconnect youth in your community. We want to hear what’s working and to share examples with communities across the country. To do what’s right for our young people, we have no time to lose.

We want to hear from you! Fill out the form below to tell us your story.

Your Name

Your Email

Your City and State

Tell us what your ESEA looks like:

 Sign me up for email updates

Note: Stories submitted through this web form along with your first name may be featured on and may be posted on ED's social media channels.

Suicide and Race

This post originally appeared on the SAMHSA blog.

In 2013, there were more than 41,000 deaths as a result of suicide in the U.S.  Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death, claiming more lives each year than death due to motor vehicle crashes. Especially alarming, it is the second leading cause of death for young people age 10 to 24.

Suicide rates vary considerably within different population subgroups and are affected by factors such as socioeconomic status, employment, occupation, sexual orientation, and gender identity. For example, the rates of suicide were almost four times higher for men than for women and were highest among Whites. In 2013, suicide rates were 11.7 per 100,000 for American Indians/Alaska Natives, 6.0 per 100,000 for Asians/Pacific Islanders, 5.3 per 100,000 for Hispanics, and 5.4 per 100,000 for African Americans.

However, racial and ethnic disparities can be deceptive.

In July of this year, JAMA PediatricsExternal Web Site Policy published a research paper analyzing childhood suicide trends from 1993 to 2012. One critical issue the authors found was that while school-aged suicide trends have stayed constant, trends on a racial level have changed substantially. In fact, the stable overall suicide rate has “obscured a significant increase in suicide incidence in black children.”

Obviously, this finding is concerning on many levels. However, more research is needed to understand the risk and protective factors for African American children and youth and to see if they are experiencing more exposure to violence, traumatic stress, and/or aggressive school discipline. Another example where more research is needed includes studies on earlier puberty in African American children to determine whether it is a risk for depression, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts. Also, more knowledge is needed from the research lens to determine if there is sufficient evidence that religiosity and social support are in fact protective factors for this population or if the protective factors have changed over time.

It is essential to understand how culture and identity impact development and health.  The White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans visits communities around the country to engage with students, families, educators and other partners to better understand how we can work collectively to support African American students.  Toxic stress in urban communities as well as stressors such as micro aggressions in affluent ones are regularly raised as issues by students and the caring adults who support them. According to The National Institutes of Health, one in threeExternal Web Site Policy African Americans who need mental health care receive it.  To support President Obama’s goal of restoring the country to its role as the global leader in education, and to improve educational outcomes for African Americans of all ages, we must address mental health concerns.

Learning the answers to these and other questions will help us address this troubling trend. Suicide is a serious and preventable public health problem in the United States. SAMHSA is working with our partners across the country on suicide prevention, but we know that we cannot do this work alone and need the help of educators, parents, brothers, sisters, pastors, and many others. Please consider joining the National Action Alliance for Suicide PreventionExternal Web Site Policy. Also know the signs of suicidal behavior and seek help by contacting the National Suicide Prevention LifelineExternal Web Site Policy if you or someone you know is thinking about attempting suicide. If you don’t know where to find help, SAMHSA can help you find local resources for behavioral health through the Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator and our toll free helpline 1-800-662-HELP(4357). If you are part of the healthcare and social services workforce, download our newest suicide prevention app Suicide Safe. Together we must address and work to decrease and eliminate suicide in all populations.

Find more information on suicide prevention

Jorielle R. Brown, Director of the Division of Systems Development at the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and David J. Johns is the Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans

Barbershops Cutting Into the Achievement Gap


On June 29, staff from the Department listened and learned with a group of over twenty barbershop owners from around the country who were in Washington, D.C. for a hair battle.

As we celebrate, engage and Read Where You Are today, you might see tweets, Instagram and Facebook posts already on “newsfeeds” with great photos of reading in barbershops. What you might not know, and I am proud to share, is how this all began – when the Department of Education starting chatting with barbers about how we can use all of our tools, scissors included, to cut the achievement gap. At a meeting earlier this year about the importance of summer literacy, a colleague smartly mentioned a need to engage everyone in the community. Our brainstorming left us with a long list, and a colleague specifically mentioned barbershops knowing the important role they play in communities across our country, and especially in communities of color. I immediately thought of a friend, who also happens to be a barbershop owner from Washington Heights in New York City who has made it his priority to give back to his clients, their families and the larger community. As we often do in meetings, I took my “next steps” and reached out to my friend, excited about what could be in store. My work at ED is rooted in who I am, as a student, mentor, tutor, Posse Scholar and American raised in a working class neighborhood in Brooklyn. Having grown up around beauty salons and barbershops, I know what happens there and what’s been happening since has the potential to make a very big difference. In fact, my mother is a hair stylist and has worked in the field for decades.


On June 29, thanks to some truly remarkable small-business barbershop owners, staff from the Department listened and learned with a group of over twenty barbershop owners from around the country who happened to be in Washington, D.C. for an industry event, a hair battle. Our conversation was about how to understand how barbershops can do more to help the students and kids we all care about, how barbers as individuals could be empowered, and how barbers can make a difference.

The two hour meeting was one of the most powerful meetings in my career. These barbers walked us through all that they are doing both formally and informally on a daily basis to change the lives of young people living in their communities – offering free haircuts for good grades, coaching sports teams, mentoring and employing at-risk and disconnected youth, teaching classes in correctional facilities, hosting holiday parties, etc. They are acutely aware of the powerful and influential role they play in their communities, which are often low-income and communities of color.

Like the ED staff in the room, the barbershop owners were there to learn too. They needed to know key statistics, data points and free resources that they could share with their clients while they had them in their seats to drive home the importance of reading. They wanted to be introduced to the Administration’s Place-based work, and the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force efforts, so they had an idea of the federal infrastructure that existed in their communities already. They wanted to learn from other groups and communities to better understand where they might fit in.

One month later, I am in awe of how quickly an idea, a conversation and a few phone calls have become a truly inspired effort of barbershop owners committed to make a difference. They are joining our #readwhereyouare Day of Action and were some of the first to tweet and Instagram. I have spent most of my career behind the scenes, working on strategic partnerships, working predominately with the corporate and philanthropic sectors. Today, as these barbershop owners create more awareness and helping kids read as you read this blog post, I can say with certainty that what is ahead of us is going to be big and I remain inspired, excited, and eager to see how these men are going to change lives.

Danielle Goonan is a Special Assistant working on strategic partnerships in the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education