Duncan Invites Student Feedback on College Access and Affordability

Student Voices Session

Students from the Washington, DC, metro area met with Secretary Duncan to discuss college access and affordability.

At a recent convening at the U.S. Department of Education’s headquarters, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan turned to a group of student experts for answers to the college accessibility, affordability, and completion challenges America faces today. The 15 high school and college students – who brought their firsthand knowledge to the Student Voices session from D.C., Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania — identified key improvements to the college application process throughout a conversation with Secretary Duncan and Under Secretary Martha Kanter.

While the national conversation often focuses on the cost of college courses, books, and housing, one student said that expenses begin before setting foot on a college campus. “I’ve already spent a lot of money just applying to colleges,” said the student.

Another student said that the Department should standardize and publicize fee waivers so that students know waivers exist and apply for them.

The Secretary said that most students who fill out the FAFSA apply to just one school. “We have the best [higher education] system in the world and we think [students] should have choices,” said Duncan. “How do we get more students to comparison shop?”

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Higher Education Student Leaders Talk Policy with Arne

During the recent State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO) meeting in Washington D.C., the focus was on high-level strategies and ideas. However, not too far away, there was a lesser-known meeting between Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and 17 college student leaders from across the country who were nominated by SHEEO members to meet with the Secretary.

The students were comprised of State Boards of Education representatives, state-wide student government association presidents, and campus leaders like Ryan Campione, an industrial engineering major and Student Government Association President at West Virginia University, and Alice Schneider, a senior at Texas A&M College Station and a student representative on the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Overall, these students ensure that their peers have a voice in education both at the institution and the statewide level.

During the meeting, the dialogue and policy recommendations were astounding, with Secretary Duncan noting that when he was the students’ age, “I wasn’t thinking about these complex policy issues. We need these innovative and creative ideas that students design.” The policy recommendations from the students included:

  • Ensure work study correlates to a student’s concentration area or public service.
  • As ED looks to make college more affordable, they should look into Oregon’s proposal to allow students to attend college tuition-free and debt-free but sign a contract pledging to pay to the State of Oregon or their institution a set percentage of their income for a set number of years.
    • Rethink the way Federal financial aid is disbursed, because many students are looking at school year round especially during the summers. Specifically allow students to plan their courses for the year, including summer, and allow them to decide where to allocate their aid. Additionally, disburse payouts in a two weekly format rather than a lump sum, because students can better manage their funds in small installments.

Towards the end of the session, two adult learners spoke up to Department of Education Senior Policy Advisor Leigh Arsenault when she probed further about ways to personalize the FAFSA. Lisa Latour, a non-traditional student at Towson University suggested, “Change the way FAFSA is calculated; specifically look into ways of ‘personalizing’ the form to include other metrics that are attached to an IRS form, for example mortgage an credit card debt.” Latour went on to suggest that ED could look into using IRS information to tailor a personalized holistic view of a person’s true economic value and it would better describe their financial need.

As the meeting came to a close, the students were energized and looked to keep the dialogue going, and Duncan relayed his commitment to having student voices integrated into the policy dialogue at the Department of Education.

Watch the video below for more about this meeting, and sign up to receive email updates from ED’s youth liaisons.


Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

Samuel Ryan is special assistant to the assistant secretary and youth liaison in the Office of Communications and Outreach

Adult Learners Share Stories of Personal Triumph

The inspiration for Alma Miller to obtain her GED started with a simple statement from her youngest son: “Mom I challenge you to finish your GED.”

Attaining the GED would be no easy feat for this mother of four who dropped out of school when she was sixteen. Fortunately for Alma, her children stepped up and volunteered to tutor her in preparation for the exam.

Today, Alma Miller is a proud GED  recipient but most importantly, she’s an inspiration to her children, just as much as they are an inspiration to her.

Miller is one of eleven adult learners who recently met with Secretary Arne Duncan and Assistant Secretary for Vocational and Adult Education Brenda Dann-Messier at the Department of Education (ED) to share their stories and make recommendations on how ED can improve services offered to adult learners.

Dann-Messier acknowledged that these adults face many barriers to success in the labor market. Some of the barriers she cited were: a lack of a high school diploma, no postsecondary degree or training, and an inability to speak, read, and write English well.

Each of the adult learners at our recent meeting displayed a tremendous amount of courage in order to overcome the odds associated with returning to school as adults, but what is more laudable is the strength they found in their families and in support organizations.

“I was an honor roll student in high school, but I just kind of lost my way,” said Shamika Hall, the state vice-president for the Delaware Career Association.

Hall lost her sister to an act of senseless gun violence, a devastating tragedy that altered her life’s course. She credits her family and the James H. Grove Adult High School in Wilmington, Del., for helping her get back on track. Watch Hall tell her story below:


Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

Secretary Duncan said that he was inspired by each of the adult learners resilience and tenacity. “It’s pretty remarkable to hear not just where you’ve been but how far you’ve come, and most importantly, where each of you are going,” he said.

Before the meeting concluded, Reuben Holguin, an ex-gang member and convicted felon, showed Secretary Duncan his inmate ID. He said that even though he acquired his GED, completed college courses and changed his life around, he will always carry his inmate ID with him to remind him just how far he’s come.

The adult learners who stopped by ED were in town to attend VALUEUSA’s National Adult Learner Leadership Institute, and Dann-Messier thanked VALUEUSA, the only national literacy organization governed and operated by current and former adult learners for helping to organize the meeting with Secretary Duncan.

This fall, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development will release the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC). The goal of PIAAC is to assess and compare the basic skills and the broad range of competencies of adults ages 16-65 around the world. PIAAC covers 23 countries, including the United States. OECD will also release a country report specific to the U.S. to accompany the data release. The report will identify policy implications for improving the skills of adults in the U.S.

De’Rell Bonner works in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach

Youth Succeed with Great Educators, Help from ED

Think back to that moment when you decided to pursue your dream. Who influenced your decision? A mentor? A parent? Or maybe a friend? For many people, their moment was sparked by an educator.

Earlier this month, the Department of Education (ED) welcomed four individuals to participate in an ‘ED Youth Voices’ panel discussion that introduced students, teachers, and communities to the policies and programs that the four youth credit with helping them succeed.

Let us introduce you to these inspiring individuals:

Student speaking

Linda Moktoi, senior at Trinity Washington University

Meet Linda Moktoi. As a current senior at Trinity Washington University, Moktoi is proud to say she’ll be achieving her dream of graduating college in just a few short weeks.  “I chose to pursue knowledge over ignorance,” she said. Moktoi did so with the financial support provided by Pell Grants from ED’s Office of Federal Student Aid. Moktoi’s grace, confidence, and determination shined through and will no doubt lead her to succeeding her next dream of becoming a news broadcaster.

 

 

Student speaking about GEAR UP program

Nicholas Robinson, junior at Potomac High School

Meet Nicholas Robinson. An enthusiastic junior at Potomac High School (Oxon Hill, Md.), spoke of how the early awareness college prep program GEAR UP, changed his “mind & heart” in 8th grade about whether to go to college. “Before I got involved in GEAR UP, I didn’t think I was going to college, but they were always asking me what I wanted to do, where I wanted to go and who I wanted to be.” That extra support and guidance has helped Nicholas stay on track to graduate and focus on his future goals.

 

Educator speaking about IDEA Act

Scott Wilburn, teacher at Pulley Career Center

Meet Scott Wilbur. As a current teacher and former student that struggled with learning disabilities, Wilbur shed light on how programs funded by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) helped him as a student and continues to help him serve others with disabilities as a teacher at the Pulley Career Center in Alexandria, Va. “IDEA provided me with access to support, helped me graduate college,” Wilbur said. Each year the IDEA Act helps thousands of students with disabilities receive support to assure success in the classroom and that they have the tools needed for employment and independent living in the future.

Student speaking about School Improvement Grants

Carl Mitchell, senior at Frederick Douglass High School

Meet Carl Mitchell. Carl is just one of the many students that have benefited from the recent changes at Frederick Douglass High School spurred in part by an ED School Improvement Grant (SIG) which has helped turnaround their school and provide a better learning environment for students. Mitchell, a bright college bound senior who also doubles as the school mascot (Go Mighty Ducks!), attested to the sense of community that is fostered at Frederick Douglass. When asked what motivates him, he responded by saying “It’s not just about getting the degree for me, it’s for all the people that helped me. I owe them and don’t want to let them down.” An aspiring graphic designer, Mitchell will be the first in his family to attend college. His support team, including his principal, teachers, and peers joined him at ED as he proudly represented the Douglass community.

Linda, Nicholas, Scott, and Carl are just four of the millions of students and educators that are able to achieve their dreams with the help of great educators and federal programs from the Department of Education. Little do these individuals know though, that by sharing their story they are following in the footsteps of those who inspired them, and are inspiring us.

Kelsey Donohue is a senior at Marist College (N.Y.), and an intern in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach

Our next ED Youth Voices Policy Briefing Session will include students reforming education at the local level: teacher evaluations, DREAM act, school safety and more. Watch the session live on June 27th from 10-11:30am at edstream.ed.gov. 

The Time is Now: Students Talk School and Community Safety with Secretary Duncan

Duncan meets with students

Secretary Duncan talks with students about school safety as part of his ongoing Student Voices Series. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

The fight to end the school-to-jail track and reestablish restorative justice practices is personal for Jasmine Jauregui, a youth organizer from the Youth Justice Coalition.

“I have a family with a history of incarceration. My father is serving a life sentence at the moment and I don’t feel comfortable around [school resource] officers.”

Jauregui is just one of a number of students who recently met with Secretary Arne Duncan and David Esquith, director of the Office of Safe and Healthy Students (OSHS), at the Department of Education to discuss school safety. The students, who work to break down silos and make their schools and communities safer, represented coalition members of the Alliance for Educational Justice (AEJ), the Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) and Padres y Jovenes Unidos (Parents & Youth United).

One day before the students met with Secretary Duncan, they participated in a rally on Capitol Hill calling on Congress to implement positive approaches in response to gun violence and address the impact of school safety policies.

Secretary Duncan applauded the students’ efforts to make their voices heard to lawmakers and was interested in hearing some of the alternative recommendations they’ve developed.

“Rather than promote more school resources officers (SROs) in schools, we want school administrators to promote positive measures such as positive behavior intervention and restorative justice,” said Yuki Diaz, a youth organizer of Padres y Jovenes Unidos via video teleconference.

Other students agreed, saying that they felt their schools needed an increased presence in guidance counselors, social workers and psychologists.

Secretary Duncan said that he believes each school is unique and should have the flexibility to choose school resource officers or social workers and counselors in order to prevent violence.

Padres y Jovenes Uniodos recently reached a historic partnership with the Denver’s police department and school district that limits the role of police in schools. The organization is hoping that their interagency agreement will be used as a model for other urban schools confronted with alarming rates of misconduct and violence.

The Department of Education has already provided technical aid to help nearly 18,000 schools implement evidence-based strategies to improve school climate. “One of the things that the President is proposing is a new $50 million initiative to scale up positive behavioral interventions and supports,” said David Esquith.

Other youth activists such as Nicole Cheatom of the Baltimore Algebra Project said that it shouldn’t have taken the tragedy at Sandy Hook to build momentum on school and community safety. She cited that a school shooting occurred last year at Perry Hall high school in Baltimore, and that it didn’t receive national attention.

Earlier this month, ED’s Office of Safe and Healthy Students awarded more than $35,000 to the Baltimore, County, Md., high school. The Project School Emergency Response to Violence (Project SERV) grant will assist with ongoing recovery efforts.

Christina Cathey, a youth activist and college student at Tugaloo College said that she hopes the Department continues to support alternatives to a culture of zero-tolerance, punishment and push out in schools. She said that ED’s leadership can serve as a catalyst at the local-level.

Click here to read the President Obama’s plan to make our schools safer.

Click here to read the students’ joint issue briefing.

De’Rell Bonner works in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach

Asst Secretary Delisle and Youth Lend Their Voices to Combatting the School-to-Prison Pipeline

Last week I met José, who visited the U.S. Department of Education for a roundtable discussion on school discipline policies. He described experiences at his Chicago high school that left him with the uneasy feeling that he had to keep his “guard up” while trying to learn. José came to Washington for a congressional hearing on discipline, where I testified, and we invited him and other students from the Voices of Youth in Chicago Education (VOYCE) project to come back to ED to talk more.

In our ongoing “Student Voices” series at the Department, students engage with senior staff members to help develop recommendations on current and future education programs and policies.

Delisle at Senate Hearing

At a Senate hearing on Dec. 12, Assistant Secretary Deb Delisle testified about the importance of keeping students in school, and out of the judicial system and prison.

At last week’s session, the Chicago youth offered their ideas for improving school discipline practices and ending the “school-to-prison pipeline,” a widespread pattern of pushing students – particularly those who are disadvantaged – out of school and into the juvenile justice or prison systems.

While all educators strive to demonstrate positive, caring discipline practices in their classrooms, and a large number of schools and districts implement effective strategies for managing student behavior, far too many schools overly rely on discipline policies that remove students from the learning environment. Across the country, during the 2009-2010 academic year, upwards of three million students were suspended, nearly 110,000 were expelled, and more than 240,000 were referred to law enforcement.

I was heartened by the words of Tiara, a youth participant at the roundtable, when she described why she feels so strongly about stopping this trend. She said, “There is a racial issue here, too, when Black and Latino students are being punished more severely than their White peers and being incarcerated at higher rates.”

Recent data support Tiara’s observation. African-American students are more than three-and-a-half times as likely to be suspended or expelled than White students. Disparities in discipline rates are also apparent for students with disabilities, who are more than twice as likely to receive out-of-school suspensions as their non-disabled peers. These disparities, which also exist between male and female students, raise concerns that some schools are not providing all youth with equal access to education, which potentially violates civil rights laws.

We also know that when students are removed from school as a disciplinary measure, the likelihood that they will drop out or become involved in the juvenile justice system dramatically increases. A 2011 longitudinal study of nearly one million students in Texas by the Council of State Governments revealed that about 15 percent were suspended or expelled 11 times or more and nearly half of those students also became involved in the juvenile justice system. During the roundtable, Brian, a graduate of Chicago’s Kelvyn Park High School, noted that teachers and principals can help to eliminate the school-to-prison pipeline by learning how to implement discipline policies that respond to students’ needs and the root causes of their misbehavior.

I echoed Brian’s sentiment prior to my discussion with him and his peers during my testimony before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights on December 12. I appreciate that Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, who represents the students from VOYCE, convened a hearing on school discipline, a topic that comes up often when Secretary Duncan and my colleagues at ED talk with students. I talked with the subcommittee about the importance of providing teachers and school leaders with appropriate alternatives to suspensions and expulsions. That work begins when we focus on helping educators to build the competencies and skills they need to maintain safe, engaging classrooms.

We also must increase capacity at the local level for developing positive school climates and supporting students through promising, evidence-based discipline practices. Currently, the Department is reviewing behavioral frameworks – including Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports – to determine if such approaches might help ED better focus its technical assistance to schools. Encouraging states and districts to review their discipline policies also is critical to ensuring that every school has in place an equitable code of conduct that does not more frequently or more harshly impact particular student groups.

Partnerships across the education, health, child welfare, and justice sectors are vital to keep all students safe, in school, and learning. To find out more about the Department’s work in this area and how the agency is collaborating with other organizations and federal stakeholders, read my full Senate testimony here.

Deb Delisle is the assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education at the U.S. Department of Education.

Back on Track after Being Behind Bars

Student Voices

Secretary Duncan and Assistant Secretary Dann-Messier listen to previously incarcerated youth during a recent Student Voices Series. Official Department of Education photo by Leslie Williams.

Returning to society after being incarcerated isn’t easy. Yet a group of formerly incarcerated youth that recently met with Secretary Arne Duncan and Assistant Secretary for Vocational and Adult Education Brenda Dann-Messier are refusing to let their past lives determine their future. They’re overcoming challenges– and building better lives for themselves through grit and resilience.

Secretary Duncan praised the youth for their perseverance and willingness to challenge the system. “Obviously there are a lot of young men and women coming up beneath you who have your talent and potential,” he said. “But they may not have your toughness to get through.”

Michael Kemp of the Campaign for Youth Justice (CFYJ) explained how his slide toward the juvenile and criminal justice system started with school suspension. Kemp said that such punishments might not be beneficial for students or society.

Brandon McMillan told Duncan and Dann-Messier that he has learned from his experience of being incarcerated and is now hoping to inspire others. He recommended that ED increase Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs. “Some people don’t want to go to college,” he said. “So automotive, HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) and other vocational career program should be put back in high schools.”

Secretary Duncan agreed with McMillan’s point and said that young people should be both college and career ready and allowed to follow their career passion.

The Department of Education recently hosted a Correctional Education Summit and released a Reentry Education Model guidance document to support individuals leaving prison to successfully transition back into society through education and career advancement.

“The prison industry has job skills training programs for careers that no longer exist,” Assistant Secretary Dann-Messier said. “So we are trying to modernize that and make sure there are funds available for those incarcerated to help them be successful.”

Reverend Jesse Jackson

Reverend Jesse Jackson briefly stopped by the Student Voices discussion. Official Department of Education photo by Leslie Williams.

The Department also recently announced a $1 million grant program called Promoting Reentry Success through Continuity of Educational Opportunities that will invest in innovative programs to help incarcerated individuals become productive members of society.

After hearing the youth’s seven recommendations to improve the quality of educational services for detained and incarcerated youth, Duncan welcomed Reverend Jesse Jackson—who was at ED for other meetings—to offer his encouragement to the youth.

Additional educational resources for incarcerated individuals reintegrating into society is available through the Department’s Office of Vocational and Adult Education’s Take Charge of Your Future.

De’Rell Bonner works in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach

This discussion is part of the ongoing Student Voices Series, where students engage with the Secretary of Education and senior staff to solicit and help develop recommendations on current programs and future policies. 

Secretary Duncan Hosts First Meeting with National Council of Young Leaders

Students meet with Duncan

Leaders from the National Council of Young Leaders met with Secretary Duncan as part of his regular Student Voices series. Official Department of Education photo by Leslie Williams.

They are resilient. They are smart. They are united. They have beaten the odds and last week six leaders from the National Council of Young Leaders met with Secretary Arne Duncan and Deb Delisle, assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education to share their recommendations for increasing opportunities for youth and decreasing poverty.

The National Council of Young Leaders is a newly established council with a diverse group of young people. The council, which launched on September 19, has 14 founding members ranging in ages 18-34, representing both urban and rural low- income areas, who advise policy makers, business leaders and foundations on issues affecting low-income youth and their communities.

Secretary Duncan encouraged the students to be straight forward, “We’re always trying to have a real candid conversation about what we’re doing well, and what we’re not doing well,” he said. “We feel this huge sense of urgency to improve what’s going on around the country.”

In August and September the council researched issues and used their personal experiences to create a comprehensive list of six recommendations they believe will help create safe, welcoming, opportunity-rich communities for every child born in America.

Ending the school-to-prison pipeline was of great concern to the council. Ladine Daniels shared his experience of struggling to re-enter society having been through the school-to-prison pipeline.  “One of my biggest problems with the criminal justice system,” Daniels explained. “Is that too often the time doesn’t fit the crime and we don’t have a lot of opportunities when we get out of jail because we’re still looked upon as criminals.”

What kept Daniels from re-incarceration was a mentor who introduced him to the “Pathways to a Green Economy” program. The program provides people who are ex-offenders, a single parent, or low-income the opportunity to learn marketable skills for the green economy. Secretary Duncan mentioned restorative justice concept, emphasizing repairing the harm caused by criminal behavior, which is incorporated in ED’s Correctional Education work.

Council member, Anays Antongiorgi, discussed the importance of keeping students engaged in school by providing them culturally relevant curriculum and high-quality teachers who are passionate, culturally competent and incorporate strengths-based youth development in their approaches to teaching.

“I had two teachers that were very caring, however they were teaching 200+ students so they didn’t have time to provide me with individual attention,” Antongiorgi said. “Nor did they provide classroom materials that supported my learning style.”

In reflecting on the meeting, Secretary Duncan noted that “it is powerful to see a Council with different mix of people ethnically and geographically- rural, urban, suburban speak with one voice, even though you don’t agree on everything. You are all leaders and could teach us here in Washington a thing or two.”

Read the Council’s policy call to action Recommendations to Increase Opportunity and Decrease Poverty in America.

Samuel Ryan is a regional and youth outreach associate in the Office of Communications and Outreach 

College Students Discuss Higher Education Affordability with Secretary Duncan

Secretary Duncan and Undersecretary Kanter talk with StudentsStudents are a crucial voice in education, particularly when it comes to policy debates. To continue its transparency efforts and ensure students have a seat at the table, the Obama Administration has engaged youth, parents, and higher education leaders regarding college affordability and accessibility through roundtables, forums and Secretary Duncan’s Student Voices Series.

Secretary Arne Duncan and Under Secretary Martha Kanter heard directly from college students and youth leaders from the United States Student Association during the most recent Student Voices Series.

Students shared stories on how the Pell Grant and TRIO programs have positively impacted their lives. “Without these programs, I would have not been able to continue my college education and graduate with a degree,” said one youth. Since President Obama took office the maximum award increasing more than $900 dollars and the number of students relying on Pell Grants to pay for college has risen by more than 50 percent.

After hearing from the students, Kanter told them “there are not enough real stories about students who are benefiting from programs that help them manage their educational debt. These stories could help others become aware of opportunities that they may also be able to benefit from.”

”The Obama Administration has made an unprecedented commitment to improve college access and completion for millions of American families,” Secretary Duncan said. The expanded income-based repayment program (IBR) and the new Pay as You Earn plan will help students better manage their debt, and the American Opportunity Tax Credit has lowered the cost of attendance for 9.4 million students and families annually. In addition, the FAFSA or Free Application for Federal Student Aid has also been simplified in order to make federal financial aid more accessible to students. And click here to read President Obama’s blueprint for college affordability.

Secretary Duncan told students their input is important and requested feedback from the youth on the new studentaid.ed.gov website, which outlines many programs to help Americans with educational debt.

Do you have a story of how the Pell grant, IBR or a TRIO program has helped you? If so, we would love to hear it.

Robert Gomez is a higher education and youth liaison in the Office of Communications and Outreach

Leaders from NEA Student Program Talk Teacher Prep with Secretary Duncan

Earlier this month, future teachers from the National Education Association (NEA) Student Program met with Secretary Duncan to discuss ways to reinvigorate teacher preparation and enhance communications with the Department of Education.

“These future teachers were frank,” Mary Ellen Flannery of the NEA wrote about the discussion. “They want to be respected for their choice to serve students, schools, and communities, they said. And they want to be better supported as they make the transition from student to teacher.”

Over the past year, ED has launched the RESPECT project to elevate the status of teaching profession. The Department’s top officials and Teaching Ambassador Fellows have held 250 roundtables with more than 3500 teachers to discuss and gain feedback on transforming the teaching profession so that teachers are as well prepared, developed, compensated and respected as other professions.

Click here to read more Student Voices Sessions, which are designed to engage young Americans with policy issues so that ED can learn from their perspectives to connect policies with student needs.

Samuel Ryan, OCO Regional and Youth Outreach Associate 

LGBT Students Give Secretary Duncan Homework

Duncan talks with LGBT students

Official Department of Education photo by Paul Wood.

While many students sign yearbooks and trade digits and Twitter handles as school closes, Secretary Arne Duncan began June on assignment: using student input to expand Department efforts to help eliminate bullying against the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) student community.

June is LGBT Pride Month, and to kick off the month, and as part of ED’s Student Voices Sessions, the Secretary met with eight students from the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) and the Gay-Straight Alliance Network to hear directly from the students about their experiences and to discuss bullying and possible solutions.

Students shared examples of their school’s environment and the steps they’re taking to improve the climate for LGBT students. Each student mentioned the need for teachers to have sensitivity training, because many have not encountered discrimination against LGBT students and do not know how to address it.  One student approached the problem by holding a session on a teacher professional development day with the support of the principal. The student said this approach  was wildly successful, and the teachers started showing their support for LGBT students by wearing “I support” pins. “We are no longer ‘those students,’ he said. “Teachers see us as their students along with everyone else.”

Students talk with Secretary Duncan

Official Department of Education photo by Paul Wood

The students were emphatic about the need for comprehensive data to  prove the widespread bullying and harassment of LGBT youth. They urged Secretary Duncan to start collecting information about behavior toward the LGBT community through the Civil Rights Data Collection. By identifying the severity and scope of LGBT bullying and harassment across the country, schools, students and families will be informed and advocates will be able to communicate concerns to schools and communities, as well as to policymakers. Knowing the nature and breadth of problems will help everyone create comprehensive solutions that work for both schools and students.

ED has helped fuel the national dialogue around bullying through two national bullying summits over the past two years, which brought together federal officials from several agencies, nonprofit leaders, researchers, parents, and youth to begin a national discussion around the issue and identify areas that need additional guidance and clarification to support bullying prevention efforts. A third summit will be held later this year. Later this week, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Russlynn Ali will testify in a Senate hearing on bullying in schools held by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) in, Des Moines, Iowa.

Read more from our Student Voices Sessions, which are designed to engage young Americans with policy issues so that ED can learn from their perspectives to connect policies with student needs.

Samuel Ryan, Regional & Youth Outreach Associate, Office of Communications and Outreach 

Student Voices of Military-Connected Children Inspire Guidance from Secretary Duncan

Students talk with Secretary Duncan at the Department of Education

Students from MD, VA, and DC explain the challenges of having parents in the military to Secretary Duncan and Patty Shinseki.

The men and women serving in our Armed Forces make incredible sacrifices in service to our country. And so do their family members. Through multiple deployments and frequent moves, the spouses and children of service members live in constant transition.

In April—the Month of the Military Child–Secretary Duncan released a letter to school superintendents providing guidance on meeting the unique challenges faced by military-connected students.

During their K-12 education, these children move from six to nine times, and Duncan’s letter calls for school districts across the country to plan smooth transitions for them.

The letter provides additional guidance for school districts and schools (read the letter here), but what the letter fails to mention is what inspired the letter in the first place.

Earlier in April, Secretary Duncan, along with Mrs. Patty Shinseki, and Department of Defense Education Activity Director Marilee Fitzgerald, conducted a Student Voices roundtable with 21 children of service members who attend high schools in the DC area.

The discussion was part of Secretary Duncan’s Student Voices Series, which regularly engages students and increases connections between ED policies and student needs.  The students’ descriptions of their educational experiences were thoughtful and poignant, often revealing heartfelt and persuasive arguments for why we need to do more to assist school personnel in understanding the needs of 1.2 million military-connected children.

The students spoke candidly about their challenges. Many talked about the hardships one experiences when moving to new schools, including transferring course credits.  For several students, when their credits did not transfer, they could not progress through high school with their peers, and in several instances, they were not identified as “graduating seniors” at their new schools, despite the fact that they would have been “seniors” at their prior schools.

One student talked about her challenge of communicating with a deployed parent during school hours because of a “no cell phone” policy, and another explained her frustration that her high school wouldn’t be live streaming graduation so that her deployed father could watch the ceremony.

The conversation during this meeting helped Secretary Duncan understand how children are affected by policy, and contributed to the letter’s urging  schools to take immediate steps to provide assistance, including adopting and/or implementing the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children.

The Secretary’s Student Voices sessions are designed for the Secretary and his senior staff to listen and learn from young Americans. But they also have an impact on policy, and in this case produced almost immediate action.  That’s one powerful example of why listening to student voices matters, and the Secretary looks forward to more such conversations,

Samuel Ryan is the co-lead for outreach to students in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach