Barbershops Cutting Into the Achievement Gap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Future of Higher Education in America


“The degree students truly can’t afford is the one they don’t complete, or that employers don’t value.”


More students are graduating college than ever before. But for too many students, the nation’s higher education system isn’t delivering what they need and deserve. Earlier today, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan outlined a new vision for higher education in America at a speech at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Duncan called for a higher ed system that will not only make college affordable, but also focuses on whether students are actually graduating in a timely way with a meaningful degree that sets them up for future success.

Duncan giving a speech at UMUBC

Secretary Duncan gave a speech outlining a vision for higher education in America.

Nearly half of today’s students who begin college do not graduate within six years. The consequences of taking on debt but never receiving a degree can be severe. Students who borrow for college but never graduate are three times more likely to default. In his speech today, Duncan said:

“There is a path to a higher education system that serves many more students much better. And continuing to make college more accessible and affordable – including more tuition-free and debt-free degrees – is part of that. But it’s only part.

“If we confine the discussion to cost and debt, we will have failed. Because we will have only found better ways to pay for a system that fails far too many of our students.”

Doing More to Focus on Outcomes

Over the past six and a half years, the Obama Administration has taken strong action to counteract the rising cost of higher education, expanding Pell Grants, and making student debt more manageable by expanding loan repayment options that cap payments based on income. The administration has also pursued executive actions and put forward policy proposals to address flaws in the higher education system and create incentives for all actors to focus on student outcomes.

“We must shift incentives at every level to focus on student success, not just access,” Duncan said during his speech.

When students win, everyone wins. But when they lose, every part of the system should share responsibility.

Today, only students, families and taxpayers lose when students don’t succeed– that makes no sense. Institutions must be held accountable when they get paid by students and taxpayers but fail to deliver a quality education. So should states and accreditors who are responsible to oversee them under the law.

By the same token, schools should be rewarded for doing the right thing – like taking on students who are struggling and helping them succeed.

Despite the Administration’s historic actions and the leadership of innovative institutions, much work remains to meet our goal of once again having the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.

The Administration will continue to act within its power to control college costs and help students graduate on time with a meaningful degree. We need Congress, states, colleges and universities, and accreditors to join in that effort.

Teach to Lead: Looking Back, Moving Forward

On July 26th, the education community will celebrate the life of Ron Thorpe, president and CEO of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, who passed away after a battle with lung cancer.

I will always remember Ron as a relentless and unabashed supporter of the teaching profession. He championed the value of teachers’ expertise and experience, arguing passionately that teachers should be recruited, prepared, developed, paid and honored as the professionals that they are.

Ron was also a tremendous partner to me and to hundreds of teachers in developing and growing the Teach to Lead initiative. In the wake of his recent passing, it’s fitting to honor one part of his legacy by celebrating the significant impact Teach to Lead is making on teachers.

We announced Teach to Lead at a plenary session at the Teaching & Learning Conference in March 2014 as an idea. We followed that announcement with a panel discussion with teacher leaders who were candid about the challenges they faced. Citing the nation’s progress in addressing drop outs, improving graduation and college-going rates, I credited teachers, but said that their role has not been adequately recognized.

Group photo of Teach to Lead Denver participants.

Teachers gather for a photo at the Denver Teach to Lead Summit earlier this year.

According to a recent poll, 69 percent of teachers feel their voices are heard in their school, but only a third feel heard in their district, five percent in their state, and two percent at the national level. Failure to leverage the voices and expertise of teachers has deep implications for students, schools and the profession.

Ron and I had hoped to spur new commitments in teacher leadership and invite teachers to lead the change in their schools, districts and states. We never could have imagined our success. More than 80 organizations would join the effort, serving as critical friends and skill builders for teachers. Hundreds of teachers have participated in virtual and in-person convenings to take their best ideas for the profession and create action plans. And those teachers are telling their powerful stories to me and around the country. Here are a few:

  • Teachers Lesley Hagelgans, Renee Baril, Kristin Biggs, and Amanda Morick from Marshall Middle School (Marshall, Mich.) created an intervention-focused data project to close learning gaps. Their work has brought their whole community together around the shared mission of removing barriers to student learning.
  • Shawn Sheehan, a special education math teacher at Norman High School (Norman, Okla.) started the Teach Like Me campaign to improve teacher recruitment and retention by boosting the public perception of the teaching profession. Shawn and his team have developed a website and conducted significant in-person and online outreach for their project.
  • Jennifer Aponte, a geographically-isolated English instruction teacher at Davis A. Ellis Elementary School (Roxbury, Mass.) organized a team of teachers to research, present and publish their recommendations for how to achieve the Massachusetts state equity plan. Jennifer’s team is playing a critical part in closing opportunity gaps for low-income students and students of color in her state.

There are many of these stories to tell—example after example of leadership ideas created by teachers to solve the most pressing problems in education. They exist as proof that teachers—when given the time, opportunity and resources—are ready to lead.

This leadership is even extending beyond school and district boundaries as Teach to Lead is creating and expanding teacher leadership through systems change at the state level. I am hopeful for this work because I know that systems-level change driven by teachers’ voices can change the face of education in this country.

In May, Teach to Lead assembled teams from eight states, comprised of teachers and representatives from local and state educational agencies, at our first ever state summit. Together, these teams worked diligently to build action plans that would institutionalize teacher leadership at the state level. States are at different stages in developing teacher leadership strategies, but meaningful conversations and actions are underway all over the country. Here are a few examples.

  • New York is working extensively with educators across the state to gain a deep understanding of the systems and structures that will support the work of career pathways.  This June, the state presented to the Board of Regents on the Department’s proposed Framework for Career Ladder Pathways in New York State. Career ladder pathways are also viewed as a critical part of the New York’s strategy to ensure that every student has access to effective teaching. They are using teacher leadership as a tool to improve teaching and learning and ultimately close achievement gaps.
  • The 2014 and 2015 Maine Teachers of the Year, Karen MacDonald and Jennifer Dorman, worked with others who are active in teacher leadership work to organize teacher leadership, coordinating, streamlining and expanding opportunities in the state. They capitalized on structures and meetings that were already scheduled to take place to fortify their push for stronger collaboration in teacher leadership.

To date, Teach to Lead has engaged with more than 3,000 educators, in person and virtually, giving voice to more than 850 teacher leadership ideas, spanning 38 states. And we are not done yet. In the year to come, we hope to engage hundreds more teachers at Teach to Lead summits – including our largest yet in Washington, D.C. which is happening this week.

As more and more teachers join Teach to Lead, we’re committed to helping them develop their plans and connect with organizations that can support their work. We will continue to hold Summits with teams of teachers who have leadership ideas, connecting them with supporting organizations that can share their expertise and resources. We have set up Leadership Labs in teachers’ schools and districts, bringing the community together to support the teachers’ projects and work with them to move their work to the next level. We’re checking in and providing follow-up assistance to teachers and their teams.

With each summit, we see that the momentum around teacher leadership is spreading like wildfire. Teachers have sparked a conversation about the value of teacher leadership that is connecting in schools and districts across the country.

Looking at where we are and where Teach to Lead is headed, I know Ron would be proud.

Arne Duncan is U.S. Secretary of Education

Secretary Arne Duncan Joins LinkedIn

Earlier today, Secretary Duncan shared his first post on LinkedIn. In it, Duncan talks about the future of the teaching profession and how in many places, education is being put back in the hands of teachers.


“There is no better resource for a school than teachers who are empowered and equipped to solve problems using their own talent and experience.”


“It does not take a federal initiative or a state program for teachers to solve the biggest challenges in education,” Duncan said in the post. “Yet, for teachers to truly lead large-scale transformation, state and local systems must be willing to provide teachers both time and training to exercise leadership. We, at the federal level, support and encourage their efforts.”

Duncan also highlighted the exciting things happening at Lehigh Senior High School (watch the video below):

Read the entire LinkedIn piece and share it with your followers on Twitter.

 

 

 

Innovation and Quality in Higher Education

Much is changing in higher education.

Most fundamentally, students themselves are changing. After long decades of exclusion, college access has expanded opportunities for minority students, first-generation students, and low-income students. In 2015, students are more likely to attend community college than any other postsecondary option, and more likely to be older, living away from campus, and may be attending part-time while balancing work and family.


The iconic picture of an 18-year-old high school graduate walking across a leafy campus toward her dorm room no longer reflects the reality of today’s college student.


Institutions of higher education are responding to these changes, in part by making course delivery more flexible. Technology has made this even more possible, introducing teaching and learning that is less constrained by time and place. Technology is also making new kinds of embedded assessment and adaptive curriculum possible, allowing instructors and students to discern with greater accuracy a student’s mastery of material or skills.

The demand for higher education is increasing, well beyond the capacity of traditional institutions. It’s easy to see why. As President Obama has said, the time when a high school diploma could lead to a good middle class job is gone. In today’s economy and tomorrow’s, some kind of postsecondary degree or credential is essential. That’s why we are committed to policies that increase access to high-quality programs, to keeping those programs affordable for all, and to ensuring quality outcomes for students.

Outside of the traditional colleges and universities, a vibrant marketplace for learning is emerging, whether through stand-alone MOOCS, “boot camps” that focus on training students for particular skills like computer coding, online skills courses, and institutional experimentation with competency-based programs and degrees. We applaud this wave of innovation and believe that the innovators are leading the way to a system of higher education that is more open, often less costly, more customizable to the needs of students, and more transparent in terms of its outcomes.

Many of the programs now offered outside of traditional higher education are of high quality and many earn learners access to new knowledge, new skills, and new opportunities. Some, however, are not. That’s not the problem, though. The problem is that we have few tools to differentiate the high-quality programs from the poor-quality ones. The normal mechanism we use to assess quality in higher education, accreditation, was not built to assess these kinds of providers. Moreover, even if they were, even the best programs and those serving low-income students would not, under current rules, be certified to receive federal financial aid because they are “programs” or “courses,” and not “institutions.”

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) is interested in accelerating and focusing the ongoing conversations about what quality assurance might look like in the era of rapidly expanding educational options that are not traditional institutions of higher education. We are particularly interested in thinking about quality assurance through the lens of measurable student outcomes and competencies. We have no stake in supporting one or another specific set of learning outcomes. Rather, we are interested in the fact that outcomes matter and ought to be the centerpiece of any kind of quality assurance. Outcomes, in this vision of the future, are clear claims for student learning, move beyond mere statements of knowledge to what students can do with that knowledge, and are measurable.

Join a Conversation

Over the coming weeks and months, we seek to engage broadly with the field to help deepen our understanding of how to recognize high-quality non-traditional programs. We think that a new set of quality assurance questions will need to be developed to ask hard, important questions about student learning and outcomes. These questions will help students, taxpayers, and those evaluating educational programs separate programs that are high-quality from those that do not meet the bar. Such a quality assurance process will rely much less on inputs, where the emphasis of much accreditation still rests, and will instead focus on outputs and evidence.

Based on some preliminary input we have received, we have identified several general categories in which questions should be asked:

  • Claims: What are the measurable claims that a provider is making about student learning?  Do those individual claims combine into a coherent program of study?  Are they relevant and do they have value; how do we know?
  • Assessments: How is it clear that the student has achieved the learning outcomes?  Are the assessments reliable and valid? Do the assessments measure what students can do with what they have learned?
  • Outcomes: What outcomes do program completers achieve, both in terms of academic transfer or employment and salary, where relevant?  What are other outcomes we should ask about?

These quality assurance questions are designed to focus on student learning and other critical outcomes at a much more granular level. We welcome feedback and sustained dialogue on how to foster and improve quality assurance, particularly in this moment of tremendous innovation and change. We seek to convene, participate in, and hear the results of many conversations with diverse stakeholders.  To join those conversations, please fill out the form below, or send us your thoughts, questions, and ideas for engagement at collegefeedback@ed.gov.

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Send your thoughts, questions, and ideas for engagement:

 Sign me up for higher education email updates

Ted Mitchell is U.S. Under Secretary of Education

Edcamp Goes to Washington


It’s been a few weeks since I attended Edcamp at the U.S. Department of Education (ED) in Washington, DC, which has given me time to soak in the experience. Over 750 Edcamp events have been held around the world, and this is the second to be held at ED.

Being one of the 100 selected educators to attend Edcamp US DoEd out of 800 who entered the lottery to attend, was not only one of the highlights of my professional career, but it also afforded me the priceless opportunity to explore our nation’s capital. Having met several attendees in the Twitterverse and other digital spaces, I eagerly anticipated the face-to-face, sit-down connections, conversations and collaborations that awaited me.

The event itself—hosted at ED headquarters—was monumental, in my mind. Here we were, in a federal building, greeted by welcoming ED staff, convening to discuss, brainstorm, share and learn about issues pressing us all in education nationwide.

Sandwiched between a sincere welcome from ED staffers and a final heartfelt thank you from Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, were far too many sessions (all attendee-created, mind you) from which to choose.

Luckily, for digital tools like Twitter (#EdcampUSA), Periscope (Twitter’s live-streaming app) and Google Docs, collaborative notes were shared so that learning could take place far beyond the one-day time frame of Edcamp. Although each session I attended was rich with conversation and ideas, some of the most value-laden connections took place in the hotel lobby, during lunch, and social gatherings outside of the day itself. It was during those “extra innings” of Edcamp US DoEd that I discovered my most impactful connections.

As an educator of over 25 years, my biggest takeaways from Edcamp US DoEd were numerous and far-reaching; however, one that still has me thinking (and acting) include the powerful connections made. I arrived to a room full of strangers, and I left with a plethora of additions to my PLN and yes, those I would consider friends.

Secondly, as an Edcamp attendee (as opposed to Edcamp planner) I witnessed firsthand the power of learner voice. As my fellow Wisconsinite attendee, Tammy Lind, stated, “It’s incredible what happens when we take time to listen to each other!” That sticks with me. What if we took time to truly listen to our teachers? What if we took time to truly listen to our students?

Lastly, the takeaway that will likely impact me the most was the mind-numbing potential of leveraging the Edcamp model of professional learning on students, when you put 100 (or whatever number) educators in a room for a day of focused, intentional and purposeful learning.

No telling what can happen when we intentionally and purposefully unite for one basic thing: Doing Better. For Kids. I eagerly await the ripple effect as I continue my look back into the Edcamp US DoEd reflection pool.

Kaye Henrickson is an Instructional Services Director for Digital Learning at CESA #4 in West Salem, WI. She serves 26 school districts in West Central Wisconsin.

Together for Tomorrow: Connecting the Dots

We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. For some strange reason, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be – this is the interrelated structure of reality. -Martin Luther King, Jr.

Staff with panelists

A primary key to strong partnerships is examining and truly understanding what it is like to function in a role different than one’s own where expectations and priorities may differ.  Recently, at the Institution for Educational Learning’s (IEL’s) National Family and Community Engagement Conference, The U.S. Department of Education Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships (ED CBNFP) created the space for such an opportunity where CBOs, families, and educators gathered to understand how to 1) become more sympathetic and empathetic regarding another’s needs, requests, and concerns in the educational sphere and 2) foster an atmosphere more conducive to initiating and maintaining long lasting relationships and partnerships that benefit students and promote high academic success.

The workshop entitled, Together for Tomorrow:  Connecting the Dots, included education advocates and employees from various backgrounds who demonstrated how educational improvement is everyone’s responsibility – including students, principals, teachers, school staff, families, CBOs and volunteers.  The workshop provided its attendees a) specific examples of where communities and schools have connected the dots and b) general guidelines for successful partnerships.

Dr. William Truesdale, Principal of Taylor Elementary School in Chicago, spoke about his role in integrating families into the school to participate in advancing the school’s mission.  He mentioned how he framed the engagement around six fundamental human needs as expressed by Steven Covey and Tony Robbins. Ms. Jamillah Rashad, Elev8 Director who serves as a community liaison and parent/student advocate for the Marquette School of Excellence, voiced how the power of one-on-one relationships can strengthen efforts in raising school achievement.  As an example of how these relationships work, Ms. Rashad directed the audience to engage in a brief conversation with someone with whom they were not familiar as a demonstration of the role and importance relationship building plays in helping schools and students thrive.  Becoming a Man (BAM), an organization which currently serves over 2,400 young males in 20 schools in the Chicago area in an effort to “develop social-cognitive skills strongly correlated with reductions in violent and anti-social behavior” in “at-risk male students,” also presented in the workshop.  Led by Youth Counselor, Zachary Strother, who expounded upon how BAM’s six core values positively impacted its students, four BAM youth expressed how the organization has helped to improve their success in the classroom and changed their lives for the better.

One of the most important takeaways from the workshop was that parents and extended family members can serve as bridge builders between schools and community groups.  They often serve as leaders or members of CBO’s that can partner with schools.  The session allowed both its participants and audience members to leave with a greater confidence in their own ability to encourage and support school, family, and CBO partnerships that support student success.

Eddie Martin is a special assistant in the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships

Fixing ESEA: Looking Out For All Students

The demands of the real world have changed – and with them, the educational needs of our young people.

This week, the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives will make important decisions that will have real impact on our children’s learning—and whether high expectations and equal opportunity for all groups of students will translate into action, or just a talking point.

As families everywhere recognize, success in today’s world is no longer just about what you know. It’s about what you can do with what you know—it’s about creativity, critical thinking, and teamwork to develop new solutions to new problems. Success for our nation depends on providing every student in this country with the opportunity to learn at high levels—and on an expectation that, when schools or vulnerable groups of students fall behind, leaders will take action.

Low-income children now make up the majority of our nation’s public school students. Leaving them behind is no longer just a moral failing, it’s also an unmitigated disaster for America’s ability to compete in the global economy.

We join with numerous other civil rights, education and business groups in urging Congress to make a critical choice for our children—whether or not to roll back important federal protections for vulnerable students. It’s a deliberate choice for excellence and equity–to insist that all children deserve a world-class education, no matter their background, family’s income, zip code, or skin color.

Both the Senate and the House are debating whether or not to gut the most important tool the federal government has to ensure that all students have a fair shot, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as No Child Left Behind. The law today doesn’t serve states, educators or students well, and it’s time to fix what’s broken.

But as that change happens, Congress faces a choice that has profound moral and economic consequences. Congress must not compromise the nation’s vital interest in protecting our most vulnerable, ensuring that all students have the opportunity to reach their full potential, and providing educators and schools with the support and resources that they need to do their vitally important work.

For decades, this law has provided funds and set guidelines to help ensure that factors such as poverty, race, disability, and language don’t limit the education that a child receives. And it has aimed to protect students who are most in need of additional supports so that they, their families, and their teachers have the same prospects and access to resources as their more advantaged peers.

There are many praiseworthy aspects of the bill that the Senate will consider this week, but if ESEA is to live up to its legacy as a civil rights law, both the Senate and House bills must do much more to ensure accountability for the lowest-performing five percent of schools, schools where groups of students are not meeting academic goals, and those where too many students are not graduating.

All parents and communities should be guaranteed that if schools are not sufficiently supporting students to graduate from high school ready for college and career, states, districts, and educators will implement interventions that correct course. They should be guaranteed that there will be additional resources and supports in those schools, with especially comprehensive supports in the lowest performing schools.

Without those guarantees, high expectations could become a matter of lip service rather than a reason for action—with dangerous consequences for individuals and our society.

We applaud the leadership of Senator Lamar Alexander, chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP); Senator Patty Murray, the Committee’s senior Democrat; and the other members of the HELP committee for the important steps that they’ve taken to advance a bipartisan proposal to reauthorize ESEA. But we urge them and their colleagues, as they begin to debate the bill this week, to make critically needed improvements.

Every school in every city and town across the country should be a hub for success. This is the essential step we must take for the reality of America to live up to the promise that is America.

In this country, education always has been a bipartisan cause—and it must continue to be. Unfortunately, the version of ESEA reauthorization that the House of Representatives is considering this week is a bill that has been written with virtually no bipartisan input, and would represent a major step backwards for our nation and its children.

At a time when our public schools are more diverse than ever before and our nation’s welfare depends to an unprecedented degree on developing the potential of every student in America, we must demand an education law that provides meaningful accountability and upholds principles of equity and excellence for all students. We urge Congress to pass a law that does just that.

Arne Duncan is U.S. Secretary of Education, Marc Morial is President and CEO of the National Urban League, and Wade Henderson is the President and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

Take the Summer Reading Challenge

Two Children ReadingSummer break is an exciting time for students to go on vacation, spend time with their families, and get involved in sports and enrichment activities. The summer is also a great time for students to experience new and stimulating opportunities to learn.

Often times the former overshadows the latter, but when families engage in summer reading together they are able to create new memories, meaningful conversations, shared adventures and experiences to cherish while also making an impact on their child’s learning.

Studies show that reading daily during summer break is the most important activity to prevent summer learning loss, especially for younger children. Children who have parents that read to them five to seven nights a week do exceptionally better in school and are more likely to read for fun throughout the rest of their school careers. Even if children are able to read on their own, reading as a family has a positive effect on their knowledge of social and cognitive skills.

Throughout the summer many organizations are encouraging students and their families to participate in summer reading. Here at the U.S. Department of Education we are holding Let’s Read! Let’s Move! events around Washington, D.C., to increase awareness about the critical importance of summer learning, nutrition and physical activity.

Organizations such as the National PTA have launched a Family Reading Challenge through July, Book It! Summer Reading Challenge runs through August, and the Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge launched in May. These challenges are designed to inspire families to read together. The National PTA is using social media to encourage families across the country to explain in their own voices why reading together is a fun and rewarding family activity, in the summer and throughout the school year. Scholastic is awarding the highest scoring elementary and middle schools the opportunity to meet with authors. With the Book It! challenge young readers will have the opportunity to chat and earn daily rewards.

Many other organizations have an array of summer reading resources to keep kids reading, including Reading Rockets, PBS Kids, Reading is Fundamental, and Common Sense Media, among others. Young readers have many options to choose from when it comes to reading.

Children look up to their parents and often mirror many of their habits later in life. Make reading for fun one of those habits. Take time today to head to a local library or bookstore and find an exciting book to read.

Chareese Ross is Liaison to National Organizations on the National Engagement Team at the U.S. Department of Education

Leaders Supporting Teachers: The Lehigh Way

The field of education requires MANY “tools for the tool-belt.” Whether educators need to learn how to manage a classroom of students or to learn how to engage students more fully, continual learning is simply required! So often today I find teachers who have the heart and desire to impact students; they are just unequipped with the knowledge or skills to fully engage students in rigorous learning. As a leader, it is my number one priority to support teachers, so they don’t drown as educators. It is all comes down simply to systems for support. We call this The Lehigh Way.

How does it work?

Our keys to success at Lehigh Senior High School:

  • Empower teacher leaders to model and support other teachers.
  • Identify weaknesses and provide learning opportunities.
  • Coach and mentor teachers to lead them to success.
  • Provide continuous, ongoing professional development.
  • Build focused and productive Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) to increase collaboration.

Create Specific Systems:

Our systems at Lehigh Senior High School:

  • Common Planning PLCs: All of our teachers of like subject areas have common planning. This means that all algebra one teachers are off the same period. PLCs are much more than teachers’ meetings. Once a week, educators meet to unpack their standards, create common assessments, share and review data and to create engaging lessons. They work off of shared norms, set goals, talk through challenges and make plans to solve them.
  • Instructional Leaders: Each department has an instructional coach funded through the Teacher Incentive Fund, TIF Grant. This grant allows us to recruit our most talented teachers to teach half of the time and share their gifts to help other educators the remaining time. These model teachers lead common planning groups to a path of success and spend time in the classroom coaching and supporting teachers with the implementation of good strategies.
  • Strategy Walks. Each month the administration and instructional leaders discuss what areas need support based on our classroom visits. We then identify teachers in the building that can model exceptionally well the teaching strategies our teachers need. Then we provide teachers with options to visit classrooms during their planning time and watch the strategies in action. Teachers are empowered to be leaders by seeing a strategy in action with real students, as well as providing support to those teachers needing growth opportunities.
  • Targeted Weekly Training. Each week we provide optional training after school on Wednesdays, so that teachers have the opportunity to build upon the “tools in their tool-belt.” During coaching sessions, the administration or instructional leaders may suggest certain opportunities to teachers or teachers may go to engage in learning on their own.
  • Apples Program. Our district has a great first-year teacher induction program, called Apples. We meet with our Apples once a month and deliver hands-on professional development. Novice teachers walk out with relevant strategies they can take back to the classroom. They are also provided with an experienced mentor teacher who assists them as they build classroom systems and coaches them during their first year.
  • Coaching: The leaders in our building function as coaches. Our top priority is visiting classrooms frequently and having ongoing discussions about teaching and learning. Whether a new or veteran teacher, all teachers need to experience affirmation and opportunities to grow. We coach and build trusting relationships with teachers, offering constructively and meaningful feedback.
  • Culture for Learning: We are an AVID National Demonstration School. We frame all of our instructional practices around WICOR: Writing, Inquiry, Collaboration, Organization and Reading. Teachers in our building work hard to develop lessons and focus their development around learning content-specific strategies connecting to these five areas. We open our doors to other educators to come and learn best practices real time in our classrooms, creating a collaborative culture focused on continual learning.

In an ever changing hyper-connected global society, we educators must continue to embrace learning. It is the only way we will be able to prepare ourselves with the skills to meet our student’s ever changing needs. Education is no longer a one-size-fits-all proposition, and students don’t thrive under teachers who stand and deliver. When our teachers need preparation, we as leaders must prepare them. We cannot rely on post-secondary programs, as they are outdated at an ever-increasing rate, unable to keep up with the increasing demands. It is our job as leaders to stay current and support teachers with continuous learning and development. Not too ironic, considering we are educators!

Jackie Corey is the principal of Lehigh Senior High School in Lehigh Acres, Florida.

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.