3 Options to Consider if You Can’t Afford Your Student Loan Payment

Frustrated man - 3 Things You Should Do If You Can't Afford Your Student LoansThe U.S. Department of Education offers a number of affordable repayment options for borrowers who are struggling to pay back their student loans. The important thing to remember about all the options below is that it’s completely free to apply! Also, if you ever have questions or need FREE advice about your student loans, you can always contact your Department of Education loan servicer.

1. Switch Your Repayment Plan

You may be able to lower your monthly student loan payment by switching to a different repayment plan. Use this calculator to compare what your monthly payment amount could be if you switched your plan.

If you don’t pick a different plan when entering repayment, you are automatically enrolled in the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan. However, many borrowers don’t realize that you can switch your plan at any time by contacting your loan servicer.

One of the most popular options for borrowers who are looking to lower their payments is the income-driven repayment plans.

We offer three income-driven repayment plans:

  1. Pay As You Earn
  2. Income-Based
  3. Income-Contingent

Benefits:

  • Your monthly payment will be a percentage of your income. Depending on the plan, that may be 10% or 15% of your discretionary income, or something else. What you ultimately pay depends on the plan you choose and when you borrowed, but in all cases, it should be something you can afford.
  • Your monthly payment amount will be lower than it would be under the 10-Year Standard Repayment Plan if you qualify to make payments based on your income. In fact, it could be as low as $0 per month!
  • Any remaining balance on your loans is forgiven if your federal student loans are not fully repaid at the end of the repayment period (20 or 25 years).

Income-driven repayment plans are a great option if you need lower monthly payments. However, like all benefits, there are also costs. All of these benefits will ultimately increase the amount of interest you pay over time. The income-driven repayment plans also have tax consequences for any forgiveness received.

Apply for an income-driven repayment plan now

If one of the income-driven repayment plans is not a good option for you, we offer other options. Your servicer can help you identify the best plan to fit your needs.

2. Consolidate your Student Loans

Loan consolidation can simplify your payments by combining multiple federal student loans into one loan. Consolidation can also lower your monthly payment.

Benefits:

  • Can lower your monthly payment by extending your repayment period (spreading your payment out over more years). The repayment term ranges from 10 to 30 years, depending on the amount of your consolidation loan, your other education loan debt, and the repayment plan you select.
  • Will allow you to qualify for additional repayment options. If you have FFEL or Direct PLUS Loans, consolidating your loans into a Direct Consolidation Loan will allow you to qualify for additional repayment plans, such as the Pay As You Earn or Income-Contingent Repayment Plans, that you wouldn’t have qualified for if you hadn’t consolidated.
  • Your variable interest rate loans will switch to a fixed interest rate. It’s important to note that consolidation will lock-in interest rates on variable-rate loans, but will not lower them further. This would be a benefit if, like now, interest rates are low.

The benefits listed could provide relief to some borrowers. However, it’s important that you also weigh the costs before consolidating. For example, because you’re restarting and possibly extending your repayment period, you’ll pay more interest over time. Additionally, you may lose borrower benefits, such as interest rate discounts and loan cancellation benefits, offered with the original loans.

Apply for a direct consolidation loan now

3. Postpone your Payments

Under certain circumstances, you can receive a deferment or forbearance that allows you to temporarily postpone or reduce your federal student loan payments.

Deferment and forbearance may be a good option for you if you are temporarily having a difficult time paying back your student loans. Deferment and forbearance are not good long-term solutions. If you think you’ll have trouble paying back your loans for more than a year or you’re uncertain, you should consider an income-driven repayment plan or consolidation.

Benefits:

  • You do not need to make student loan payments during a deferment or forbearance.
  • The federal government may pay the interest on your loan during a period of deferment. This depends on the type of loans you have.

Again, deferment and forbearance are not good long-term solutions for borrowers who are struggling to pay back their student loans. Some reasons why:

  • With a deferment, interest will continue to be charged on your unsubsidized loans (or on any PLUS loans).
  • With a forbearance, interest will continue to be charged on all loan types, including subsidized loans.
  • The interest you accrue during periods of deferment or forbearance may be capitalized (added to your principal balance), and the amount you pay in the future will be higher.

If you can, you should consider making interest payments on your loans during periods of deferment or forbearance

To request a deferment or forbearance, contact your loan servicer

If you need help deciding which of these options is best for you, contact your loan servicer. They can help you weigh the different options based on your unique situation.

Nicole Callahan is a Digital Engagement Strategist at Federal Student Aid.

Federal Student Aid PIN (1998 -2015)

Federal Student Aid PIN tombstone

Federal Student Aid PIN, known as PIN to his many friends, died on May 10, 2015, after a long life of public service. Born in Washington, D.C. in 1998, PIN immediately made his presence felt across the country as he helped students complete their FAFSAs electronically on the World Wide Web. For 17 years, PIN reduced the completion time of federal student aid applications by millions of hours. Success with the FAFSA led to an extended career spanning the entire student aid life cycle, ranging from the aforementioned FAFSA and the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, entrance and exit counseling, and signing Master Promissory Notes, all the way to loan history access on the National Student Loan Data System and—more recently—StudentAid.gov. PIN is survived by one child, FSA ID.

On May 10, 2015, we changed the way you log in to Federal Student Aid websites. Students, parents, and borrowers are now required to use an FSA ID, instead of a Federal Student Aid PIN, to log in. If you haven’t logged in to a Federal Student Aid website (such as fafsa.gov or StudentLoans.gov) since May 10, you will need to create an FSA ID before you can log on in the future.

Create an FSA ID here: StudentAid.gov/fsaid

Q: What is an FSA ID and why do I need one?

A: An FSA ID is a username and password you use to access your personal information on Federal Student Aid websites and to sign important documents.

Q: What happened to the Federal Student Aid PIN?

A: On May 10, 2015, after 17 years of dedicated service, the PIN was retired to make way for the more modern and secure FSA ID.

Q: If I already submitted my FAFSA this year, do I already have an FSA ID?

A: The FSA ID replaced the PIN on May 10, 2015. If you submitted your FAFSA before that, you used a PIN. In order to do anything with your FAFSA or any other Federal Student Aid websites, you will now need an FSA ID. You can create one at StudentAid.gov/fsaid

Q: Who needs an FSA ID?

A: Students, parents, and borrowers who need to log in or interact with Federal Student Aid websites need an FSA ID.

Q: Can I make an FSA ID for someone else, such as my child or my parent?

A: No. Only the FSA ID owner should create and use the FSA ID. Why? The FSA ID is a legal signature that should be used only by its owner. If you don’t create your own FSA ID, then you may not be able to access the websites you need to get your financial aid!

Q: How do I get an FSA ID?

A: Go to StudentAid.gov/fsaid to create an FSA ID. If you have a PIN, then you can enter your PIN during the FSA ID registration process so that you won’t need to wait for the Social Security Administration to verify your information. But, if you don’t have a PIN or don’t have it handy, you can still create an FSA ID.

Q: Do I have to wait before I use my FSA ID?

A: You can use your FSA ID to sign and submit a new FAFSA right away. For other tasks, if you didn’t link your PIN when you created your account, you’ll need to wait one–three days for us to confirm your identity with the Social Security Administration. You’ll get an e-mail when this process is complete.

Q: What if I forget my FSA ID username or password?

A: Don’t worry. On our log-in pages, you’ll find links that give you the option of retrieving your username or password through your verified e-mail address or by successfully answering your challenge questions.

For answers to other frequently asked questions about the new FSA ID, go here: StudentAid.gov/fsaid.

Active Civic Engagement-Creating a New Normal for Youth

EDyouthVoices

“This may not mean anything to somebody who is accustomed to civic action or to somebody who has always recognized the power they have. But for me, being a poor black girl from Baltimore, knowing I helped pass two pieces of important legislation makes me feel invincible.” –Taikira White, The Intersection

Through civic engagement, Taikira White and Dawnya Johnson, high school juniors from Baltimore, learned to advocate for themselves and their peers on issues that impact their daily lives. Both students participate in The Intersection, an organization that helps students from underserved areas in Baltimore attend and complete college, give back to their communities and engage in civic action. By canvassing their neighborhoods, organizing rallies, telling stories and holding press conferences, White and Johnson’s engagement contributed to Maryland’s adoption of the  Maryland DREAM Act last year and Governor Martin O’Malley’s Firearm Safety Act this year.

In June 2011, Dawnya’s cousin, her closest friend and mentor, was shot on the streets of Baltimore and died before an ambulance arrived. “I lost hope,” she said, “I came extremely close to dropping out of school…and I didn’t care about anything or anyone, least of all myself.” Since becoming involved with The Intersection, Dawnya transformed herself from “that bad kid,” as her teachers called her, to the honor roll student and community leader she is today.

These two powerful young women recently spoke to staff from the U.S. Department of Education at the  “ED Youth Voices: Students Transforming Schools and Communities” policy briefing. We learned how their work has empowered them to be better students and leaders, both inside the classroom and out. “Too often, our voices are overlooked because we are students, because we are not able to vote! We are not roaming black mobs of youth, we are tomorrow’s leaders,” Taikira declared passionately.

Ed youth voices briefing

Heaven Reda, a recent high school graduate, spoke at the event on behalf of the  Boston Student Advisory Council (BSAC) describing how their civic engagement efforts to include student input in official teacher evaluations gave Massachusetts’ students a voice in their education. “There was a huge disconnect,” Reda explained, between what teachers were teaching and what students were actually learning.

BSAC’s campaign, “We’re the Ones in the Classroom: Ask Us!” to address this issue was successful, but told the audience that there is always more we can do. “So often we see a budget as a limit, when there is so much you can do with so little,” she said. “Let a student teach for a day, or help them build a curriculum or a strong student government. There needs to be someone who tells them, look, you are powerful.”

The briefing, organized by ED’s Youth Engagement Team, brought together over 100 ED staff and even more watching via online, to hear the students stories. For the past two years, ED’s Youth Engagement Initiative has worked with young people to better understand their needs and the obstacles to their successes, and ED has used that information to better align federal programs with the needs of young people. Thanks to incredible students like Taikira, Dawnya, and Heaven, our job is made easier as they step up as leaders in their communities and lend young people everywhere a voice in their government.

If you are interested in learning how to engage youth in your school or districts or are already doing that please reach out to the ED Youth Engagement Team at youth@ed.gov.

Elena Saltzman, OCO Intern attending Brown University and Samuel Ryan, Special Assistant and Youth Liaison

It Gets Better

Today, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) released a new video where Department staff share personal stories and identify tools that support students experiencing bullying. In response to students suffering bullying in schools, ED has redoubled efforts to give parents, educators, and students the tools they need to stop harassment, including through the website Stopbullying.gov and civil rights enforcement.

We have also joined thousands of supportive messages, and numerous fellow agencies and Obama Administration colleagues, in the “It Gets Better” project.  And while ED staff explain that their experiences got better over time, we also want to emphasize that students shouldn’t have to wait – together we can help make it better today, not tomorrow.


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

Jessica McKinney works in the Office of the Deputy Secretary at the U.S. Department of Education 

A Student’s Perspective: Five Reasons to Study Languages

international education panel

Marianne Zape speaking at ED’s “Succeeding Globally through International Education and Engagement Panel”

Recently, I participated in a panel discussion on ED’s international strategy, “Succeeding Globally Through International Education and Engagement.”  Maureen McLaughlin, senior advisor to Secretary Duncan and director of international affairs, asked me what advice I would give to U.S. students contemplating whether or not to study another language.

My suggestion? You absolutely should! For one, it’s fun, and beyond that, there are countless benefits. Here are my top five reasons for learning another language:

  1. Learn about new cultures and ideas. Language and culture are intertwined. Whatever language you choose to learn, it will always tell you something about the society in which it is spoken. Whether it’s through words whose meanings have evolved over time, popular sayings, or knowing cultural faux pas to avoid, you will learn more than just grammar and vocabulary.
  2. Better understand your own language. When you learn a new language, your natural reaction will probably be to compare it to your own. You’ll start to notice similarities and differences in mechanics and structure that will make you think more about your first language.
  3. Establish meaningful connections. Making an effort to speak to someone in his or her native language, even if you’re not the best at it, shows how interested you are in getting to know them. I’ve also learned that there is no better way to improve than to have a native speaker help you. They may not know that you’re familiar with their language at first glance, but when you make the effort, you might just get a really good tutor and a new friend. I did!
  4. Gain a professional advantage. Having foreign language skills can set you apart and give you an edge over the competition. Many sectors hire bilingual or multilingual candidates to avoid costly mistranslations, deliver services to non-English speakers more efficiently, and to gain access to documents unavailable in English. While researching the French Revolution for a class, I found so many intriguing sources–journals and letters–that weren’t in English. Familiarity with French allowed me to incorporate them in my work.
  5. Build resilience, confidence, and independence. Like all new things, learning languages can be daunting, but the challenges you face are part of the process that make it even more of an achievement! Knowing that you have the skills to navigate on your own and communicate effectively provides a sense of security and comfort even in an unfamiliar environment.

Be it personal or professional, learning another language is a truly meaningful experience with benefits that can last a lifetime.

Please click on this link to watch the full May 23 panel discussion.

Marianne Zape, an intern with ED’s International Affairs Office and a student at UC San Diego, speaks Tagalog, English and French.

Join the Conversation to Improve Transition from School to Work for Youth with Disabilities

Today’s young people must graduate from high school with the skills necessary to succeed in the 21st century global economy.  And that certainly includes youth with disabilities.  To that end, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy are working closely together to create opportunities for youth with disabilities to graduate college and career ready.

Our economy demands a talented and diverse workforce.  President Obama has called on the Federal Government to hire an additional 100,000 workers with disabilities by 2015.  Senator Harkin joined with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in setting a goal to increase the size of the disability workforce from under five million to six million by 2015.  Delaware’s Governor Markell, as Chair of the National Governor’s Association, has called on state governments to identify business partners who will work with them to develop strategic plans for the employment and retention of workers with disabilities.

We believe that all youth, including youth with disabilities, must graduate from high school with the knowledge and skills to be successful in the workforce. While in school, students with disabilities must be held to high expectations, participate in the general curriculum, be exposed to rigorous coursework, and have meaningful and relevant transition goals and services aligned to college- and career-ready standards. Research has shown that effective transition services are directly linked to better postsecondary outcomes for students with disabilities. Research also tells us that to flourish in the workplace youth with disabilities must also be provided with the opportunity to develop leadership skills, to engage in self-determination and career exploration, and to participate in paid work-based experiences while in high school.  With only 20.7 percent of working age people with disabilities participating in the labor force, compared to 68.8 percent of those without disabilities, we must do better!

That is why we’re currently hosting, in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Social Security Administration, the first-ever national online dialogue to help shape federal agency strategies for helping young people with disabilities successfully transition from school to work. We know that we cannot do this alone. To bring about lasting change, we need educators, service providers, disability advocates, policymakers, and youth with disabilities and their families to provide input. We want and need to hear from you!

Akin to a “virtual town hall,” this dialogue invites members of the public to help us learn what’s working, what’s not, and where change is needed, with particular focus on how various federal laws and regulations impact the ability of youth with disabilities to be successful in today’s global economy. This “Conversation for Change” started on May 13 and runs through May 27th. More than 2,000 people have participated, and we want you to join-in also! We encourage everyone who is interested in improving transition outcomes for youth with disabilities to contribute.

We hope you will lend your voice to our efforts to ensure inclusion, equity and opportunity on behalf of America’s youth with disabilities.

Join the online dialogue!

Michael Yudin is the acting assistant secretary of education for special education and rehabilitative services.  Kathy Martinez is the assistant secretary of labor for disability employment policy. 

Technology Gives Students with Disabilities Access to College Courses

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Program Coordinator Jennifer Lang-Jolliff (green sweater) speaks about Mission Middle College program with guest Michael Yudin, seated on right.

Last week, I met with a group of high school students with learning disabilities who attend a dual-enrollment high school/college program at Mission Middle College in Santa Clara, California. The program emphasizes the use of technology, including the Bookshare accessible library, to help students earn college credit while still in high school.

The Mission Middle College educational program is a collaboration of Santa Clara Unified School District and Mission Community College. The program takes on a student-centered learning environment where seniors can complete required high school courses while accumulating college credits. Each student focuses on individual educational choices and academic and vocational studies relevant to future goals. The idea is to provide learning choices and empowerment for students.  The program is inclusive of all students, with or without a disability.

Some of the students have print and learning disabilities that impede their ability to easily read and comprehend grade-level text and complex curricula in print. Many of these students felt stuck and considered dropping out of school. Their instructors believe in every student’s learning potential and set high expectations. They teach students first to choose appropriate reading technologies for their learning needs, and then to find the reading assignments in digital accessible format, such as DAISY text and DAISY audio.

“We expect high standards from all students,” said Jennifer Lang-Jolliff, the Program Coordinator at Mission Middle College. “And we provide them with the instruction, tools, and resources to rise to the challenge of learning rigorous curriculum. Individualized instruction and timely access to curriculum in digital formats enable many students to feel more confident and prepared. Our high expectations and the e-literacy services available to students helped to shift their views of themselves personally and academically. They see their way through to college, community service, and good careers.”

Indeed, I was pleased to learn that starting with the graduating class of 2009, 100% of graduates at Mission Middle College had a viable postsecondary plan that included a college or university. This is right in line with President Obama’s key goal of being first in the world in college completion by 2020, and Mission Middle College is helping America meet that goal.

The students at Mission Middle College with print disabilities (including visual impairments, physical disabilities, and severe learning disabilities) are empowered to find the right assistive technology, computer software application, or device to help them achieve academically.

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A senior demonstrates technology for Michael Yudin (center) and Benetech’s GM, Betsy Beaumon (standing). Kate Finnerty observes the tech demo.

The students I met are members of Bookshare, a free and federally funded online library from the U.S. Department of Education. Bookshare is an initiative of Benetech, a Palo Alto, CA-based nonprofit that creates sustainable technology to solve pressing social needs. Bookshare provides timely access to curriculum in digital formats and offers a large collection of eBooks (currently over 190,000 books and growing) as well as reading technologies to enable students to experience multimodal learning—the ability to see and hear text read aloud.

I met Kate Finnerty, a high school senior with dyslexia, who qualifies for Bookshare. Kate has an Individualized Education Program (IEP) that requires technology accommodations to aid her in her studies. She told me, “The library is very helpful. I use it to keep up with reading and research. Without it, I would have fallen behind.”  Kate is pursuing graphic design—she received acceptance letters from five U.S. colleges!

During the roundtable discussion, students, educators, parents, and administrators explored how Mission Middle College’s use of assistive technologies (AT) helps each student face their learning challenges with individualized approaches, which include digital books and reading technologies. Roundtable takeaways include:

  • The emphasis on self-advocacy. The students set clear goals and high expectations for their future.
  • Teachers give each student individualized attention, creating plans for their future and how to get there.
  • Students who qualify with print disabilities can receive timely access to curriculum and feel more independent and empowered in the reading process through Bookshare and the AT it provides.
  • Many of the students will be doing internships at Benetech this summer and will get work-based experience that will help prepare them for college and career.
  • Technologies can deliver flexible instruction based on learning needs and preferences, including multimodal reading (to see and hear text aloud) that may unlock the reader’s ability to decode words and more fully comprehend information.

Programs like this at Mission Middle College are about making sure every student graduates from high school and is college and career ready. Students who once had to wait for books now receive timely access to the curriculum in alternative formats. Many activities are streamlined for students who may not fit traditional models, and those who once felt like academic failures are now completing high school courses and are on track to college.

I often speak about the broad values of inclusion, equity, and opportunity for youth with disabilities to actively participate in all aspects of school and life. Programs like that of Mission Middle College, which use assistive technologies and digital accessible books provided by Bookshare, are truly models for others. They promote high academic standards for all, enabling more students to be college and career ready.

Michael Yudin is acting assistant secretary for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services at the U.S. Department of Education.  

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 

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

ED and Its Art

As I transitioned to the Department of Education from my prior life as a college president, I experienced a concern I had every time I changed positions: I worried that I would lose some of the most important aspects of my prior job.  For example, when I moved from private law practice into a professorship at a law school, I was concerned that I would forget what “real” lawyers did and what “real” clients needed — key information for helping to prepare law students to become quality lawyers.  As I now increasingly focus on higher education policy in DC, I do not want to lose sight of why that policy matters.

Student art

"Environmental Changes" by Kelly Pifer, age 16, a 2011 Scholastic Award winner, is on display at ED headquarters.

The question is simple: How can I stay connected with students while in Washington, linking theory to practice? Little did I realize at first that right here in the windows, walls and halls of the Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) Department of Education Building, there is a constant reminder of those who depend on our success.

Even before one enters either side of the LBJ building, there are photographs on the outside windows of diverse students of all ages — students learning in classrooms and labs, participating in athletics, and experiencing graduation.

These photographic images, installed in 2008, are repeated on the elevator doors, and on each floor there are photographs of students as one exits the elevators. I know I’m headed in the right direction each day because I see students playing cello. And, at the end of halls on many floors, there are historic, black and white photographs of students and schools; the image of young dancers at the ballet bar on the 6th floor is particularly compelling.

Art

"Untitled" by student Hin Ling, is displayed at ED headquarters

But, the halls have more than photographs.  Starting on the first floor, there is original student art from grades pre-K through professional art school.  There are works, which hang anew each year, created by students who received Scholastic Art and Writing Awards.  This exhibit, now in its ninth year, represents a collaboration among The Alliance for Young Artists and Writers and the U.S. Department of Education.

Every two to three months, other student groups display their art on the Maryland Ave. side of the first floor.  Since its inception in 2004, this program has included works from the Native American Student Art Competition, Duke Ellington School for the Arts, the Military Child Education Coalition and the National PTA Reflections Exhibition, among many others. Each exhibit is also accompanied by a public event, with the student artists and their families in attendance, with an added bonus of student performances. The popularity of these temporary exhibits is evidenced by the fact that the exhibit space is booked through 2015!

Student art

"My Sisters' Room" by Munira, age 13, is displayed at ED headquarters

And, then, there is student art on each of the floors — watercolors and collages and acrylics from all parts of the country and from all age groups.  And, schools with vibrant art programs create important engagement for their students.

Even if we are not explicitly paying attention to the art on the walls every day, the student works inform, to use Tony Hiss’ phrase, our experience of place and space.

One of the comments in the Student Art Exhibit Guest Book in the lobby, made by an ED employee about a recent exhibit, expresses gratitude for the experience: “Thank you for bringing such joy and beauty into the Department.”  I would add to that this thought: “And thank you for reminding us of the people served by the important work we do.”

Karen Gross is a Senior Policy Advisor in the Office of the Under Secretary

Who Are the Changemakers in Your Community?

Editor’s note: Fernando Otero is a senior at Arizona State University. Here he shares his own impressions from the recent launch at ASU of the White House’s Young American Series.

In Phoenix, Arizona’s Young Americans are the changemakers. Earlier this month the White House, in partnership with the U.S Department of Education, kicked off the White House Young America Series at Arizona State University with 150 Young Americans in attendance.

Launch of the Young American Series at ASU

Ronnie Cho, Associate Director and Young Americans Liaison, White House Office of Public Engagement, and Arizona State University students at the recent Young American Series launch.

We, Young Americans, created the agenda, discussed the most pertinent issues impacting us and shared our solutions. The energy in the room was electric! The issues discussed included food policy, civic engagement and education.

In the largest group, the concept of education was deconstructed and re-envisioned.

Our breakout group discussed and identified many problems within education and pinpointed a few that, once solved, could cause a trickle effect and reform education in our country as a whole. Some of the issues we discussed were the literacy problems that currently exist, as well as the unfortunate reality of teachers “teaching to the test” in order for students to pass standardized exams. We believe that all of these things further contribute to the challenges facing America’s educational system.

The preparation programs in our colleges need to focus more on practice rather than theory. There is a wide range of challenges in our nation affecting our students that can’t simply be reduced to some arbitrary theory. Our teachers need to understand the diverse needs of the American student and how to effectively address them. The education system has allowed too many students to slip between the cracks and it is up to us to revive the passion that will help unleash the potential those students have within them.

If our teachers fail to understand the needs of their students, they will not be able to effectively reach or teach them.

-Fernando Otero, Arizona State University Class of 2012