Celebrating Progress in a Year of Action

As part of his Year of Action, President Obama has taken a series of executive actions to close opportunity gaps and ensure that more students receive the high-quality education that will prepare them for success in college and careers.

Promise Zones Launched in Five Communities
On Jan. 9, President Obama announced the first five “Promise Zones,” where communities and businesses will work together to create jobs, increase economic security, expand educational opportunities, increase access to quality, affordable housing and improve public safety. Three of the Zones involve education-focused Promise Neighborhoods.

My Brother’s Keeper
On Feb. 27, the President joined with philanthropies and the private sector to launch the My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) initiative, an effort to close persistent opportunity gaps faced by boys and young men of color and ensure that all young people who are willing to work hard work are able to reach their full potential. On May 30, the MBK Federal Task Force issued its 90-day report with recommendations to improve preparation and success in early childhood education, 3rd grade reading, high school and postsecondary school completion, job-training and mentorship opportunities, and public safety.

Accountability for Unaffordable Student Debt
On March 14, ED proposed gainful employment regulations to identify career programs that leave students with debts they cannot afford. The regulations would give programs an opportunity to improve, and stop the flow of federal funding to the lowest-performing programs that fail to improve. Many career and for-profit colleges empower students to succeed by providing high-quality education and career training, but too many of these programs are failing to do so – at the expense of taxpayer dollars and students’ futures.

Increasing College Opportunity
The President is asking colleges, universities, nonprofits, and businesses to develop ways to improve students’ access to and completion of higher education, because a college education is a prerequisite for 21st-century jobs.On Jan. 16, more than 100 colleges, universities and other organizations made new commitments to expand college opportunity.

Redesigning High Schools for College & Career Success
On April 7, over $100 million in grants were awarded – using existing Department of Labor funds – to support high school models that better prepare students for college and career. DOL will finance 24 Youth CareerConnect awards to support partnerships between local education agencies, workforce investment boards, institutions of higher education and employer partners. These grants will help provide students with industry-relevant education and focus on engagement with employers through project-based learning, mentoring and postsecondary credit while in high school.

Job-Driven Training
On Jan. 30, Vice President Biden directed a review of all training programs to ensure they are “job-driven” – preparing and matching those who are ready to work with the skills needed to fill good jobs. Two new grant programs were announced on April 16 to spread models of job-driven training and apprenticeships, along with private-sector commitments that build on these efforts.

Teacher Preparation
On April 25, President Obama directed ED to lay out for public discussion a plan to strengthen America’s teacher preparation programs by this summer and to move forward to publish a final rule within the next year.

Making Progress on ConnectED
On Feb. 4, the Federal Communications Commission announced it would invest $2 billion to increase federal investment in school broadband and wireless. This includes commitments from top technology companies to provide free digital devices, content, and wireless access for K-12 students.

Bringing the Tech Revolution to to More Students
As part of the fourth White House Science Fair on May 27, President Obama announced new steps to help more students excel in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education, including a new $35 million teacher training competition. The plan also includes a major expansion of STEM AmeriCorps to provide learning opportunities for 18,000 low-income students.

Strengthening Tribal Communities
On June 13, the President and First Lady made their first trip to Indian Country. Building on the significant progress the President has already made in partnering with tribes on a nation-to-nation basis, the Administration announced actions to strengthen Native American communities through education and economic development. These actions include a Bureau of Indian Education “Blueprint for Reform” to provide a world-class education to all students attending BIE schools and listening sessions to identify ways to improve school climate.

Student Debt: Expanding Pay As You Earn
On June 9, the President directed Secretary Duncan to propose regulations that ensure student debt remains affordable for all students who borrowed federal direct loans by allowing them to cap their payments at 10 percent of their monthly incomes. The Department will aim to make the new plan available to borrowers by December 2015. The Administration is also taking additional steps to help students repay their loans, including providing relief to service members, and renegotiating contracts with federal loan servicers to strengthen incentives that help borrowers repay their loans on time.

Max Luong is an intern in the Office of Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education.

President’s Education Awards Program Honors Student Achievement

The first school in Germantown, Maryland, was built in 1860. The school was just one large room with a wood stove in the center to keep the students warm in the winter, double desks, and a chalkboard. It served a few dozen children from the first to the 8th grade.

The school itself and the students and staff have come a long way since then. Today, Germantown Elementary School serves a diverse student population of about 300 students from Pre-K through 5th grade. And on June 12, I had the honor of joining them to congratulate 32 amazing students who were being recognized for their hard work by earning the President’s Education Award at Germantown’s 5th grade promotion ceremony.

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

Surrounded by excited and teary-eyed parents, I joined Principal Amy Bryant and others to celebrate their academic success and urged them to continue setting an example for other students. As we were told by one of the former students, who had returned to offer words of inspiration, “more homework will come [in middle school] — and along with that is more responsibility.”

The President’s Education Awards Program honors student achievement and hard work in the classroom. This award, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education in partnership with the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) and the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP),recognizes students who meet key criteria. Since 1983, the program has provided individual recognition from the President and U.S. Secretary of Education to those students whose outstanding efforts have enabled them to meet challenging standards of excellence. These students often are pushing the traditional standards of thinking to come up with creative solutions to problems. Overall, these students deliver their best and bring out the best in those around them.

This year’s students received a certificate signed by President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, as well as a congratulatory letter signed by the President.

The 5th grade students of Germantown Elementary School have left their mark for the classes to follow. We applaud their success in fulfilling Germantown’s mission: a learning community where students, staff, and parents work together to create a caring, safe, and positive school environment in which everyone succeeds.

Frances Hopkins is director of the President’s Education Awards Program at the U.S. Department of Education.

Become an “Education Coach” and Keep the Summer Slide at Bay All Season

Summer is upon us – and with that comes what some call the “summer slide” in students’ academic skills while out of school. There are things that you as a parent can do, though, to take charge and make learning a priority even as the dog days of the season approach.

Below are some ways you can make learning like a sports game. As an “education coach” you can challenge and encourage any child in your life:

  • Set goals – What will you and your child accomplish by a set time?  Examples:  “After two weeks we will know how to count by twos to 50.” Or “After one week we will know how to print your first name.”
  • Practice – Take 15 to 20 minutes a day to work on each goal. Talk about the importance of practice and grit – patience and resilience — in making steady progress.
  • Put some plays into effect – Look for different ways to apply the skills being developed.  Example: Take your child to the store and have her add up the items you have purchased. Get some fresh and free ideas from FREE (Federal Registry for Educational Excellence).
  • Make some touchdowns that will make a difference in their upcoming school year. Help your child to see how what he has done over the summer will put him ahead in the fall. Get a workbook or reading book at the grade level in which she will be.  By mid-summer take out the book and let her begin to work on the areas she has been practicing.
  • Take your team on the road – Have fun and incorporate learning into a summer adventure. Example: Visit a museum, zoo, aquarium, beach or park. Look at maps together and identify where you will visit and how far you will travel. Have your child draw and write about their favorite parts of the trip in the order the events happened.
  • Celebrate – Have a mid-summer reward and really celebrate at the end of the summer for all the goals set that your champion has accomplished!

Carrie Jasper is director of outreach to parents and families at the U.S. Department of Education.

Four-year-old Talks About San Antonio’s Promise Zone

Too many of our children grow up in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty where zip codes determine destinies. To address this inequality, President Obama has laid out a comprehensive strategy to create ladders of opportunity to ensure that all children can achieve social mobility.  Education plays a critical role in this strategy, particularly in the President’s Promise Zone initiative.

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Mauricio, a four-year-old student at Tynan Early Childhood Education Center, became the star of the event. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

On June 19, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan traveled to San Antonio, one of the first of five Promise Zones, to participate in a town hall discussion on how the initiative has impacted the community. The discussion took place at Tynan Early Childhood Education Center, where Principal Gregorio Velazquez kicked off the event by introducing an unexpected guest to give the opening remarks and welcome Secretary Duncan. The speaker was Mauricio, a four-year-old student at Tynan who would prove to be the star of the event.

Principal Velazquez describes Mauricio as a remarkably intelligent student. Throughout the school year when he visited Mauricio’s classroom, he was struck by Mauricio’s inquisitiveness and politeness. He stood out among his peers, always asking thoughtful questions and exhibiting extraordinary manners.

The crowd of parents and school administrators was gleaming with pride as young Mauricio, with the help of a step stool, marched up to the podium and confidently began to speak. With incredible poise, Mauricio thanked Secretary Duncan, San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, and the parents and community members in the crowd for visiting Tynan.

“We will continue to need your support as we move up to the next level of our education,” he read. “We appreciate all you do to help us with our journey on becoming responsible students and citizens.”

As Mauricio finished, the audience erupted with cheering and applause. Secretary Duncan was beaming, clearly moved by Mauricio’s stellar performance. It was not only the eloquence of Mauricio that touched the audience, but also what his performance symbolized.  Mauricio was the epitome of the great success of Tynan and the progress of its surrounding community as one of the Administration’s first designated Zones.  He demonstrated that, especially for early learners, a good education goes a long way and has a profound impact on future success.

To date, the Department has awarded more than $200 million in Promise Neighborhood grants.  The Promise Zone Initiative has worked to foster partnerships between communities and businesses to create jobs; increase economic security; expand educational opportunities; increase access to quality, affordable housing; and improve public safety. The first five zones are in San Antonio, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, southeastern Kentucky, and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. Promise Neighborhoods will play an important role in several of the zones.

Anna Kamen is a rising senior at Princeton University. She is interning with the Press Office at the U.S. Department of Education.

 

The Importance of Hearing from Teachers Around the World

A sweeping majority of secondary school teachers in the U.S. report that they are satisfied with their jobs — that is one of the main takeaways from a new survey, called the Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS). The survey provides a unique opportunity to hear from U.S. teachers and to compare the views of educators in this country with those from educators around the globe.

According to the report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), 89 percent of U.S. teachers are satisfied with their job – nearly the same as the international average of 91 percent. According to the survey, which reflects self-report by “lower secondary” teachers (grades 7, 8 and 9 in the United States), 84 percent of U.S. teachers surveyed stated that they’d choose teaching if they could decide on a career path again. This positive response is higher than the average (78 percent) for other TALIS countries.

In 2013, TALIS surveyed more than 100,000 lower secondary teachers and principals in 34 education systems around the world, asking them for their views on job satisfaction, working and classroom conditions, professional development, teacher appraisal, and more.

Unfortunately, while U.S. teachers and principals are positive about their jobs, their optimism doesn’t extend to believing that society values their work. Only one-third of U.S. lower secondary teachers believe the teaching profession is valued in U.S. society, which is slightly above the TALIS average, but well below other high-performing education systems. In Singapore, 68 percent of teachers believe their society values their profession; in Korea, 67 percent do; and in Finland, 59 percent feel that way.

TALIS shows highs and lows in the area of teacher training and professional development as well. Lower secondary teachers in the U.S. report higher-than-average levels of education and participation rates in professional development (PD), but they are less positive about the impact of PD. For example, nearly all U.S. lower secondary teachers have completed higher education. And, 84 percent of U.S. teachers report that they attend courses or workshops, compared with the TALIS average of 71 percent. But in every PD content category, U.S. lower secondary teachers are less likely to report a moderate or large impact on their teaching.

TALIS also shows that U.S. lower secondary teachers tend to work independently, with 42 percent of teachers reporting that they never engage in joint activities across classes and age groups. Half of U.S. teachers report that they never observe another teacher’s classes or provide feedback to peers.

TALIS presents an opportunity for teachers, principals, policymakers and others to delve more deeply into data that can be beneficial in the effort to support and elevate the teaching profession in this country.

Engaging with teachers in discussions on teacher leadership through new initiatives like Teach to Lead and the Department of Education’s RESPECT (Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence, and Collaborative Teaching) project are important parts of the effort to make teaching a valued and respected profession on par with medicine, law, and engineering in this country. It’s our hope that the next TALIS survey, which will be conducted in 2018, shows even further increases in teacher satisfaction, collaboration, and their perception about the value of their critical profession.

For more information, please see TALIS data tables at NCES, the OECD’s U.S. country report, and the OECD’s international report.

Maureen McLaughlin is senior advisor to the Secretary and director of international affairs and Curtis Valentine is a Council on Foreign Relations fellow working with the International Affairs Office.

2014 U.S. Presidential Scholars Reflect on Their Experiences

The U.S. Presidential Scholars Program was established by executive order of the President 50 years ago. The program recognizes and honors some of our nation’s most distinguished graduating high school seniors and was expanded in 1979 to recognize students who demonstrate exceptional talent in the visual, creative, and performing arts.

Each year, 141 students are named Presidential Scholars, one of the nation’s highest honors for high school students.

In a previous post, as part of the 50th anniversary of the program, ED collected reflections from past winners. Now we look at reflections from current winners who recently experienced their National Recognition Program.

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First Lady Michelle Obama participates in a group photo with Presidential Scholars in the East Room of the White House, June 23, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

Erika Carrera, U.S. Presidential Scholar from Nevada

The Presidential Scholars Program was, without a doubt, the best program I have had the privilege and honor of participating in. I was able to create a permanent connection with so many outstanding individuals, from all across the United States. I learned about other cultures and customs. Although we were all different, we had a unique bond and  unique stories to tell. This program taught me that everyone holds different values and ideas; yet when we come together, it is our differences — our viewing the world from dissimilar perspectives — that helps us solve the problems we face.

Being a Presidential Scholar is something I will keep with me for the rest of my life. I only hope to be able to return in future years to help another generation of scholars on their path toward success.

Michael Chen, U.S. Presidential Scholar from Colorado

My favorite part of the National Recognition Program was the diversity of talents and passion that I saw within each individual scholar and in the group as a whole. The incredible performances by the Arts Scholars and the unique presentations of talent at the talent show on the last day, really exemplify what it means to be a Presidential Scholar: we are a group that can succeed at anything we put our minds to. Indeed, I am looking forward to hearing about the amazing things that all of you will do in the future! #psp4life

Ray Lu, U.S. Presidential Scholar from Texas

The National Recognition Program was an experience I will never forget–considering all of the amazing people I met, experiences I had, and thoughts I shared. From inspired and brilliant peers, to congressmen and the First Lady herself, each and every person had a profound impact on me, in terms of understanding other people, recognizing the nuances of the world around us, and discovering more about my passions. The fellow Presidential Scholars I encountered were some of the most engaging individuals I had ever held conversations with, and we had much in common through our virtues and values in life. The Program itself was a catalyst for us to create this network of people that could serve as both a support system and a friend group. Lastly, the pensive atmosphere was enhanced by the questions we asked and the answers we gave in return. The most lasting memory from my time in DC will be a conversation I had late at night on the final day with 20 fellow Scholars. We shared our future goals and gave thoughtful answers to the question, “Why were we selected as Presidential Scholars?” The responses opened my eyes in terms of perspective, and I realized, at the very end, how humanizing the entire process was. In essence, my time at the National Recognition Program was not only a moment of celebration, but also a vivid period of growth as I turn to face what the future holds.

Michael Mei, U.S. Presidential Scholar from Pennsylvania

We met. All fifty states rolled from our tongues and suddenly we felt everywhere at once. We savored the taste of that complete and eclectic cornucopia of places. We relished the “Oh, you know him!?” and the “What’s it like out there?” alike. We knew as we talked that each of us harbored remarkable stories and had done remarkable things. And we knew that even the piles of accolades upon which we sat could not come close to defining us completely. We were defined by our smiles, our reckless aspirations, our passionate and unwavering voices. And we were defined by the solemn and bursting pride with which we received an award, meant not just for us, but also for our parents, friends, and communities. As we stood at the East Room of the White House in our best attire, we had the sense of having arrived, not at a final peak, but at a sort of springboard to higher summits. Some inexplicable and wildly sure sense of hope. And as our senators took the podium and urged us to political engagement, we silently pledged ourselves to new and daunting responsibilities. Most memorable? Seeing the Presidential Arts Scholars perform at the Kennedy Center: their show, at once electric and contemplative, moved some of us to tears. Dances and stanzas poured with terrifying spontaneity, sometimes unfathomable and discomforting (as art should be) but always virtuosic. A performance, I learned, is different when the people on stage are not only the premier young artists of the country, but also good friends. Then, all too soon, the final night: “See all those kids fist-pumping and going crazy?” Someone marveled. “They’re some of the best students in the country.”

Aaron Orbey, U.S. Presidential Scholar from Massachusetts

Having never before toured D.C., I enjoyed the distinct pleasure of visiting our Capitol with such humble and humbling, such inspired and inspiring, new friends—artistic scholars and scholarly artists alike. Exciting too, was the guidance of past scholars serving as advisors, whose presence reminded me that this network of awesome people will continue to grow and stay with us. I don’t ever want to forget the hush of voices as the First Lady strolled into the East Room or the tessellating of shadows on the Kennedy Center stage as the lights dimmed and an audience, enraptured, erupted into applause. But I’m not worried because I think I’ll always remember. And I’m so grateful for the experience.

Six Months of PROGRESS

Six months ago, the Department of Education launched a new blog, PROGRESS, to highlight innovative ideas, promising practices, and lessons learned through K-12 education reforms across the country.

Incredible work is happening throughout the U.S. in schools, districts, and states to improve teaching and learning, and, as Secretary Duncan has pointed out, the best ideas do not come from Washington, but from individuals in the field working to improve outcomes for students.

PROGRESS has focused on showcasing the exciting transformations that are taking place in classrooms and communities from the perspective of students, teachers, principals, and local leaders on the ground. It has featured states and districts that are actively preparing their students for college and careers upon graduation, ensuring that educators are receiving the kind of high-quality support and opportunities they need to be effective, and transforming systems and structures so that every student can succeed.

For example, over the past six months, PROGRESS has explored how states like Kentucky and Massachusetts are promoting college and career readiness for their students; Colorado and the District of Columbia are involving teachers in the creation of new, more rigorous curricula and empowering teacher leaders to guide change in their districts; Delaware, Tennessee, and institutions of higher education in California are building more effective teacher and leader preparation and career pathways; districts in Florida and Maryland are providing opportunities for students to explore STEM fields; Hawaii and Delaware are using data systems to support instruction;  Baltimore City is engaging its communities and parents to transform schools; and Ohio is making strides to improve its lowest-performing schools.

In the coming weeks, you’ll also be able to read about Rhode Island’s efforts to recognize and bolster the impact that support professionals are making on student achievement. You’ll also learn about Florida’s rigorous job-embedded principal preparation programs, a New York district’s effort to engage parents in their quest to raise standards in their classrooms, and much more.  Stay tuned!

We are excited and encouraged to celebrate the progress that teachers, students, schools, and school systems are making every day.  To stay updated on these efforts, sign up for email updates from PROGRESS or visit us at www.ed.gov/edblogs/progress.

PROGRESS is always looking for great examples of reform in action from the field.  If you have an idea that you would like to share with us, please email us at progress@ed.gov.

We Want to Hear from You: New and Improved Feedback Platform Now Online

The U.S. Department of Education has created a “one stop shop” to make it easier for you to give us feedback.

Our Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review webpage is now online. This resource offers all of the information you will need to submit comments on current and proposed regulations, which could go a long way to help reduce regulatory burdens and generate results that are efficient and easier to understand.

When you visit the page, you will find a link to all Education regulations open for public comment via regulations.gov, a link to all existing Education rules via the electronic Code of Federal Regulations (e-CFR), and a link to the easy-to-use form for submitting comments on existing regulations.  All links are conveniently found in the same location as the Department’s plan for retrospective analysis, status reports, and contact information.

ED recognizes the importance of maintaining a consistent culture of retrospective review of regulations. We’re dedicated to streamlining and modifying ineffective and inefficient regulations, while ensuring our rules are concise and minimize burden to the greatest extent possible.

Above all else, we’re committed to implementing regulations that support states, local communities and schools, institutions of higher education, and others in improving education nationwide and in helping to ensure that all Americans receive a quality education.

We continue to seek greater and more useful public participation in our rulemaking activities and welcome your comments, ideas, and suggestions!

Elizabeth McFadden is the Deputy General Counsel for Ethics, Legislative Counsel, and Regulatory Services at the U.S. Department of Education.

Building on Progress: Closing the Gender Gap and Expanding Women’s Access to Non-Traditional Occupations

Fifty years after the passage of the Equal Pay Act, women in the United States still earn 77 cents to every dollar earned by men. The pay gap for women of color is even greater. One of the primary reasons for this persistent gap is the concentration of women in comparatively lower-paying and non-supervisory professions – well over half of all women continue to be employed in lower-paying sales, service, and administrative support positions. President Obama’s Equal Pay Task Force sees this issue as one of the greatest barriers to pay equality and is working with the Departments of Education (ED) and Labor (DOL) to expand women’s access to non-traditional occupations.

ED’s Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE) is commissioning a study that will examine gender equity in secondary career and technical education. Specifically, it will look at whether girls and young women in high school have access to high-quality programs that prepare them for careers in non-traditional occupations – for example, law enforcement, construction, and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) professions. Similarly, DOL has commissioned several studies that identify barriers women face in accessing these occupations, as well as successful evidence-based strategies to increase employment opportunities in these professions.

Later this year, ED and Georgetown University will convene thought leaders, policymakers, practitioners, researchers, advocates, and girls and young women for a conversation on ways to improve the prospects of girls and women in career and technical education and other rigorous college- and career-preparation programs. The aim is to develop a forward-looking strategy to prepare women and girls for in-demand careers within high-growth industry sectors.

Both agencies also are working with unions and labor management to expand quality training programs. To date, over 40 unions and labor management partnerships have pledged to expand low-skilled workers’ access to their training programs and share best practices on effective workforce and career pathway programs. This collaboration represents almost 8,000 employers and will provide unprecedented access to educational and training opportunities, as well as supportive services necessary for women and working families to be successful.

Despite progress over the years, there is still a long way to go to fulfill the vision of equal opportunity and equal pay for equal work.

“Our nation has made great progress in expanding economic and educational opportunities for women, but business, industry, labor, and government at all levels still have so much work to do to ensure that every American, regardless of their gender, is treated fairly and gets equal pay for equal work,” said Secretary Duncan.

While women increasingly are the primary breadwinners in American households, many other women remain stuck in comparatively lower paying jobs with fewer benefits. The promise of equal pay for equal work means, for many, a promise of equal preparation for and access to better paying, non-traditional occupations and inclusive workplaces that are free of discrimination and offer policies that support working families. The Administration is doing its part to make sure that promise is kept.

Patrick Kerr is the Director of Communications and Outreach in ED’s Kansas City regional office.