Top 5 Ways to Prevent Rusty Summer Readers

With summer vacation started or on its way, as parents or guardians, it’s important to ensure that reading remains on your child’s schedule even while school is out. Reading over the summer is important not only because it improves literacy and language skills, but also because it prevents what has become known as the “summer slide”—a regression in reading ability.

A student reads a bookStudies show that children who don’t read or who read rarely over the summer encounter a stagnation or decline in their reading skills.

With that in mind, here are five of the best ways to keep your child reading this summer:

  1. Let your child choose what they want to read – or be read to – for 30 minutes each day. Children are much more likely to engage in material that interests them rather than materials that are forced on them.
  2. Use language and reading opportunities throughout the day.  Talk often with your child and point out reading materials wherever possible:  on menus, magazines and newspapers, signs, brochures, maps, guidebooks, smartphones, ipads, etc.
  3. Make daily reading a social event. Get the whole family to join in with their own books or take turns reading the same book aloud. Include telling stories as well.
  4. Connect reading to other summer events. If you take your child to the zoo, think about reading a book about animals before and afterward. This will place your child’s reading within a larger context.
  5. Make reading a lifestyle choice. Keep books all around the house to cultivate an atmosphere of reading, and set an example by reading yourself. Children need good models of reading books, magazines, or newspapers.

Madison Killen is a student at the University of California Berkeley and an intern in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach

Detroit Family Engagement Forum: Families Stepping Up for Student Success

In spite of the cold and drizzling rain, about 200 parents came out on a recent Saturday morning to Central High School in Detroit. They were “parents with a purpose,” the theme of the family engagement forum co-sponsored by Detroit Public Schools and ED.

Building on President Obama’s inspirational statement that “There is no program and no policy that can substitute for a parent who is involved in their child’s education from day one,” parents from diverse backgrounds came to learn how they can partner with their child’s teacher and school and what school, district, state and federal resources are available.

During a workshop, family members discuss ways to support their children’s education.

During a workshop, family members discuss ways to support their children’s education.

As part of the day’s activities, parents and other family members attended a series of workshops on such topics as: special education rights; what every parent needs to know about parent involvement in Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act; financial aid; responding to bullying; and protecting students from civil rights violations.

Secretary Duncan visited Detroit on his 2011 back-to-school bus tour and noted, “I couldn’t be more hopeful about Detroit.” He told parents and community leaders, “There’s an alignment of leadership and an alignment of commitment and courage here. My challenge to Detroit is to become the fastest improving district in the country.” The recent family engagement forum was one of many steps taken in collaboration with ED to meet that goal.

At the recent event, some of the tips for family engagement given to the parents included:

  • Make sure your child attends school every day.
  • Limit times for watching television and playing video games.
  • Read with your child 30 minutes every night.
  • Assist with homework.
  • Volunteer in the school.
  • Communicate with your child’s teacher throughout the school year.

With a revitalized purpose, Detroit Public Schools (DPS) is working to make parents and families partners in student academic success.  Linda Blanton, DPS’s Executive Director of the Department of State and Federal Programs, reinforced the need for family engagement by pointing out the importance of having the event at Central High.

One parent commented: “What a wonderful way to spend a Saturday! The workshops were great, [and] what stood out most was that presenters were attentive and compassionate with the parents,” she said. “They listened and valued our comments and concerns. I was grateful to walk away feeling respected.”

Shirley Jones is the family engagement liaison in ED’s Chicago Regional Office

Duncan Talks Obama Education Record at Mom Congress

Secretary Duncan speaks to Mom Congress

Secretary Duncan speaks to the 2012 Mom Congress delegates. Official Department of Education photo by Leslie Williams.

What is the proper role of the federal government in education? Secretary Arne Duncan answered this question Monday at Parenting‘s annual Mom Congress in Washington. “Under President Obama’s leadership, our role here in Washington is to support you,” Duncan said. There’s a transformation underway in public education at the state and local level, he said, that is raising expectations for students and educators.

At the Department of Education, our first three years were really about building a foundation for this transformation. We have challenged the status quo wherever it is needed and championed bold reform wherever it is happening along the educational pipeline from cradle to career.

Secretary Duncan explained how the Obama Administration has supported reforms by:

Strengthening K-12 Education

The Administration is investing in courageous leadership at the state and local level, taking to scale practices that close achievement gaps and raise the bar for all students. Investments include:

Investing in Early Learning

The Obama Administration has made an unprecedented investment in high-quality early childhood education with the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge.

Keeping Teachers on the Job

Under the Recovery Act and emergency jobs funding, more than 325,000 teachers were kept in classrooms during the height of the recession.

Investing in Higher Education

The Obama Administration has made the largest investment in higher education since the G.I. Bill.

    • Three million more students are going to college with Pell Grants, thanks to an increase in Pell funding by $40 billion. Rather than adding to the deficit, the Administration paid for the increase by cutting overly generous federal subsidies to big banks that make student loans.
    • Invested $2.5 billion to support adults attending community colleges.
    • Simplifying the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) has resulted in 50 percent more applications since President Obama took office.

“The bottom line today is: We can’t stop,” Secretary Duncan said. “The costs of educational stagnation and mediocrity are too high. President Obama has put us on a path to reach our goal of being the best-educated country in the world by 2020, and we have to keep going.”

Arne encouraged the education advocates in the audience—moms from all 50 states and D.C.—to continue working in their communities on behalf of their own children and all children. Parents need to be good partners with their children’s teachers, he told them, but “also need to be partners in bigger, systemic issues.”

Read the entire speech here.

Voices that Matter

I recently attended a convening sponsored by the Military Child Education Coalition (MCEC), Joining Forces (which is coming up to its first anniversary) and the US Department of Education.  The event was designed to identify a series of immediately implementable solutions to some of the challenges vexing military-connected children.

These young people confront a plethora of issues when one or both of their parents are in the armed services, including frequent moves causing academic and psycho-social disruption, parental absence for extended periods, and loss of or injury to a parent. We know there are more than a million school-aged children of current service members and many more whose parents served post 9-11, making a focus on military-connected children a responsibility we owe to our military families who have served our nation with honor.  It is an issue on which the US Department of Education has been focused, including encouraging the Interstate Compact that facilitates student transition from one school to another across state boarders.

The convening was led by Patty Shinseki, a member of the MCEC Science Advisory Board and wife Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Eric Shinseki, and Dr. Mary Keller, President of MCEC, both of whom ensured that the proceedings stayed on task and on target.  Also in attendance were a wide variety of committed, visionary senior stakeholders, all engaged in finding quality solutions.  In short, there was real talent in the room being leveraged to help military-connected children.

What was most powerful to me throughout the day, though, were voices of those needing our help — the children of military families.

The program commenced with two high school aged military-connected children on stage reading a script that revealed the array of struggles experienced by children of military families.  They described the common challenges military-connected children face when the family moves and parents deploy.  Then, there was a video, with military-connected children sharing their stories.   There were drawings done by children of military families in the meeting rooms where we worked. There were also copies of ON THE MOVE, the official magazine of MCEC, in the program packets, containing photos of military-connected children and, among other articles, a description of the MCEC student art displayed at the Department of Education in 2011.

But, the real way in which military-connected children’s voices were heard was in the suggestions that emanated from each adult group grappling with solutions.  As we strategized, every group’s final suggestions addressed the critical need to listen to the children of military families — to understand what they are experiencing and what suggestions they might have to address their situations.  For example, there was strong group support for use of social media and new apps to link military-connected children who had moved to the teachers and students they had known in their prior school.  Who better to design a prototype for such an app than military-connected children, including perhaps through a contest, including one with a prize attached?

Stated simply, the day was energized by a willingness to listen to the voices of those experiencing the effects of having a military parent – the voices of military-connected children.

There is a broader lesson here, too.  We are often tempted to come up with well-meaning solutions to the many problems we see in our world.  To be sure, these solutions are often informed by deep years of experience, academic literature and empirical assessment.   But, it is well worth pausing to remember, as the Dean of Students at the college I led kept reminding me, that the best source for information and solutions can often be found by listening to those experiencing the problems we seek to remediate.  We just need to create listening opportunities and then listen well and carefully. And, when we do, our solutions will stand a vastly better chance of demonstrating measurable positive outcomes.

Karen Gross is a Senior Policy Advisor at the Department of Education

It’s All About the Kids

“It’s all about the kids.” The more I heard teachers and leaders speak those five simple words, the more I knew I was in the right place to witness the power of a single school to change the lives of its students and provide hope to a community.

Last Thursday, I had the pleasure of visiting with Deputy Superintendent Pedro Martinez, Principal Neddy Alvarez and her dedicated staff at Western High School, located in the Clark County School District, in Las Vegas. With help from a three-year, $2.5 million School Improvement Grant (SIG) from the U.S. Department of Education, the school has seen improvements in student achievement and in the number of students who are on track to graduate on time. With support from district leadership, in the first year of implementing their SIG grant, the school reports it has increased the number freshmen who are on track to graduate from 60 percent in 2010-11 to 80 percent so far in 2011-12, and is on pace to greatly exceed the school’s goal of increasing by 10 percent the number of seniors who are on track to graduate.

Western’s progress illustrates that change is possible when courageous leaders unleash bold and creative strategies that put the needs of students first. With a newly-awarded SIG grant, Principal Alvarez began implementing the turnaround model, one of four intervention models required under the SIG program.  The school undertook a comprehensive effort to completely transform the culture of the school and added a motivated group of talented teachers.  Western altered the school day to add opportunities for students to get additional credits toward graduation and created smaller learning communities. As part of these comprehensive changes, the school’s leadership also focused on four core reforms to transform their school.

First, improvements started with a fundamental and deliberate shift in the relationship between the school and students to create a caring atmosphere at the school. Using the “Capturing Kids’ Hearts” strategies, school leadership and teachers began building a trusting environment and students and families described seeing changes aimed at improving student outcomes and ensuring the success of every student.  The school day was altered to add more options for students to obtain additional credits toward graduation. Students and teachers were grouped into “houses,” so that smaller cohorts of teachers and counselors could create one-on-one relationships with students.  Teachers and counselors said that the altered school day provides time to address student’s individual concerns and develop individualized learning plans to put every student on a path to graduation.

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Announcing the New

Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius recently unveiled the revitalized Stop Bullying website

The site encourages children, parents, educators, and communities to take action to stop and prevent bullying, and provides a map with detailed information on state laws and policies, interactive webisodes and videos for young people, practical strategies for schools and communities to ensure safe environments, and suggestions on how parents can talk about this sensitive subject with their children. The site also explores the dangers of cyberbullying and steps youngsters and parents can take to fight it.

Watch Secretary Duncan announce the new site, and follow StopBullying.Gov on Twitter and Facebook for more information on how to take action to stop bullying.

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

ED Releases New Report on Arts Education in U.S. Public Schools

On Monday, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), part of the U.S. Department of Education, released the findings of the first nationwide arts survey in a decade that comprehensively documents the state of arts education in U.S. public schools.

Arts Report Cover PhotoAt the announcement, Secretary Arne Duncan pointed to the importance of the report because it allows us to compare changes in arts education over time, and it’s the first survey that enables us to get a clear sense of how the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law has affected arts education.

“It’s a good news, bad news story,” according to Secretary Duncan.  On the one hand, there have not been significant national declines in the availability of music and visual arts instruction in elementary and secondary schools. However, for theater and dance in elementary schools, the percentages of schools making these art forms available went from 20 percent 10 years ago to only 4 and 3 percent, respectively, in the 2009-10 school year.  In addition, at more than 40 percent of secondary schools, coursework in arts was not required for graduation in the 2009-10 school year.

Most troubling is an “equity gap” between the availability of arts instruction as well as the richness of course offerings for students in low-poverty schools compared to those in high-poverty schools, leading students who are economically disadvantaged to not get the enrichment experiences of affluent students.

The Department of Education is tackling this equity gap by allowing states flexibility under NCLB, and through a competitive priority for the arts and humanities in the Promise Neighborhood competition.

“A well-rounded education is simply too vital to our students’ success to let the teaching of the arts and humanities erode,” Secretary Duncan concluded at the announcement.

Arts Education in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools: 1999-2000 and 2009-10 is a product of the National Center for Education Statistics at the Institute of Education Sciences.

To view the full report please visit here, and click here to read Secretary Duncan’s prepared remarks.

ED Celebrates National Financial Literacy Month

Financial literacy plays an important role in promoting the financial health and stability of individuals, families, and our national economy. The economic crisis has highlighted how essential it is to have information, education, and tools to help people make informed financial decisions.

Piggy BankIn honor of National Financial Literacy Month, experts from federal and state agencies and nonprofit, educational, and private sector organizations will be providing valuable resources to help Americans improve understanding of their personal finances throughout the month of April.

In support of this effort, The U.S. Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid plans to provide daily financial management advice for students and borrowers on Twitter. Over the course of April, you can follow @FAFSA  for information and resources on being financially savvy at all stages of your education.

Here are some topics we’ll discuss:


    • Types of financial aid
    • Comparing financial aid packages


    • Completing the FAFSA
    • IRS Data Retrieval Tool


    • Maintaining your financial aid
    • Keeping track of your student loans


    • Know what you owe
    • Flexible repayment options

We will close out the month by hosting our April edition of #AskFAFSA Office Hours which will focus on financial literacy topics.

We encourage you to join the conversation. Starting now, if you have advice or tips for ways students and borrowers can be smart about their finances, share them with us using the hashtag #dollarsense. We look forward to hearing from you!

Elizabeth Coogan is the Senior Advisor for Financial Literacy at Federal Student Aid

A Preliminary Progress Report on Turning Around the Lowest-Performing Schools

As Secretary Duncan highlighted earlier this month at the Grad Nation Summit, we are now starting to get preliminary achievement data on the first year of state and local efforts to turn around the nation’s lowest-performing schools. The results, while preliminary, are encouraging: A significant share of persistently low-performing schools are seeing substantial gains in student learning in just the first year of the “SIG” program, the shorthand label for the groundbreaking School Improvement Grants initiative.

SIG seeks to accelerate achievement in our nation’s lowest-performing schools through rigorous, comprehensive interventions. Each school gets a three-year grant of up to two million dollars per year. The grants support school leaders, teachers, parents, and community partners to undertake the difficult, demanding, and rewarding work of turning around a chronically low-performing school.

For the first time, the Administration has put serious resources into supporting state and local school turnaround efforts—more than four billion dollars to date. For the first time, federal grants require states and districts to undertake rigorous interventions in chronically low-performing schools. And for the first time, so-called high school “dropout factories”—high schools where graduation is not the norm—are a major target of school turnaround efforts.

Nationwide, about 830 schools were in the first SIG cohort, and roughly 45 percent were high schools. We now have preliminary achievement data from 43 states, covering about 700 of the 830 schools.

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The Hard Work of School Turnarounds—When a Struggling School Becomes a Place Where Students Want to Be

Hammond High School junior Katherine Lopez has seen a big change in teachers’ attitudes since her freshman year at the northwest Indiana school in 2009/10.

“Teachers seem much more involved with students and with what they’re teaching,” she said. “If they love what they’re doing, then we care too.”

When Lopez first arrived at Hammond High, she and other students felt that too many students and teachers were apathetic about education. That apathy contributed to chronically low student achievement and graduation rates at their school, located in the small “Rust Belt” city of Hammond, just east of Chicago.

Deputy Assistant Secretary Jason Snyder joins a freshman English class to hear student presentations during his March 23 visit to Hammond High School in Hammond, Ind.

Deputy Assistant Secretary Jason Snyder joins a freshman English class to hear student presentations during his March 23 visit to Hammond High School in Hammond, Ind.

Those indicators of poor performance are now beginning to reverse—thanks in part to a double dose of help from the U.S. Department of Education in the form of School Improvement Grant and Teacher Incentive Fund  grants, both awarded in 2010.  I had the opportunity to join Jason Snyder, deputy assistant secretary for policy in the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education to learn firsthand about the school’s progress during a March 23 visit to the school. The day included chats with state and district administrators, Hammond High teachers and students, as well as classroom visits.

“Our goal here is to learn what’s working and to share those lessons across the country,” said Snyder. “Turnaround is really hard work–and it can’t be done alone.”

What’s changed at Hammond High? It has a dynamic new principal, Leslie Yanders, who was given autonomy to replace more than half of the teachers. The school has new social workers and family liaisons to help support both students and parents in their efforts to overcome social, emotional, and health barriers to academic success. More than 80 percent of students come from low-income families at Hammond High, and families frequently move in and out of the community, adding to the academic challenges of the classroom.

Hammond High instituted another pivotal change, extending the school day by a full hour, enabling students to accelerate learning and get additional instructional support. With the support of the SIG and TIF grants, and under the leadership of Principal Yanders and veteran teachers at the school, teachers now get additional time for collaboration and training, and they have new opportunities for professional growth and performance-based pay.

As part of the more than $70 million that the Indiana Department of Education received from ED in 2010 and 2011 for SIG, Hammond was awarded nearly $6 million with the agreement to make dramatic changes over the course of three years. The school chose to implement the turnaround model, one of four intervention models for SIG grantees. To date, ED has awarded more than $4 billion through the SIG program to help accelerate academic achievement in over 1,200 of the nation’s lowest-performing schools.

Hammond High is also one of 44 Indiana schools participating in the $47 million TIF grant awarded by ED to the state in 2010.  The Teacher Incentive Fund, a five-year federal grant program, supports the development and implementation of performance-based pay systems.

Even though the SIG and TIF grants require teachers to invest more time in their jobs, Hammond teachers see it as a worthwhile effort. “At first, we didn’t want to give up our Saturdays [for professional development], but we all went into it with a common goal of improving attendance and graduation rates,” said Conja Halliburton, chair of Hammond’s special education department.

The early results of that hard work are encouraging.   The school’s graduation rate—just 62.5 percent in 2010—climbed to 74 percent last year.   Attendance has grown to nearly 95 percent—a two percent increase from the previous year.   The percentage of students passing Indiana’s end-of-course assessments in English and Algebra has more than doubled in one year, to nearly 40 percent.  Discipline problems have been reduced by nearly a third.

Hammond administrators recognize that there is still much work to be done to ensure that the short-term improvement under the grants will be sustained for the long haul. Yanders and district administrators are already thinking about how to further propel the school’s progress after the SIG and TIF grants’ funding ends.

“In the end, our teachers will still know what effective instruction is all about,” said Jana Abshire, district turnaround officer.

Snyder agreed that the progress occurring at Hammond High and other SIG schools across the U.S. is not about funding alone. “It’s about transforming schools into places that students and teachers want to be,” he said. Changing school culture is hard work—but the principal, teachers, and students of Hammond High are showing it can be done, working together. Just ask Katherine Lopez.

Julie Ewart is the communications director in ED’s Chicago Regional Office

What Happened in February at ED?

In the February edition of “School Days,” the U.S. Department of Education’s monthly video journal, President Obama names the first states to receive flexibility from the requirements of No Child Left Behind, Secretary Arne Duncan visits the Green Schools National Conference, the Administration proposes new education investments in the Fiscal Year 2013 budget, and ED unveils the RESPECT project aimed at transforming the teaching profession – and lots more.  Don’t miss clips from the NBA Celebrity All-Star Game and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

Watch “School Days”:

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

Teaming Up in Philly to Promote Childhood Literacy

For the almost 8,000 students in the 14 square-mile radius of West Philadelphia, discovering the world of books isn’t easy. Many of the area’s schools lack library facilities, and, if libraries are on school grounds, they often have few books. Research tells us that early literacy can positively affect the course of a student’s educational career, and children without access to books are not only missing an essential component of a well-rounded education, but may also be restricted in imagination and creativity.

During a recent Askwith Forum at Harvard, Secretary Duncan said that he knows “what’s possible when we give young people long-term guidance, educational opportunities, and the commitment and connection of a caring adult. I know our students can be successful, regardless of their zip code and background.”

David Florig, Dianne Williams, and Mica Navarro Lopez pose in the WePAC office, which is adorned with student thank-you notes and artwork.

David Florig, Dianne Williams, and Mica Navarro Lopez pose in the WePAC office, which is adorned with student thank-you notes and artwork.

The West Philadelphia Alliance for Children (WePAC) is working to promote those education opportunities Duncan spoke of by revitalizing Philadelphia school libraries, facilitating academic mentoring, and sponsoring after-school enrichment activities. WePAC volunteers, who not only staff libraries but also run newspaper clubs for students in the 5th through 7th grades, donated more than 6,600 hours of time in schools during the 2010-2011 school year. These volunteers involve students in conducting interviews and writing both creative and informative articles. In this way, WePAC promotes childhood literacy and also a love of language through writing.

In recent months, staff at the U.S. Departments of Education and Housing and Urban Development teamed up to donate nearly 400 books to support WePAC’s contributions to the Philadelphia community.

“HUD seeks to use housing as a platform to improve the quality of life for communities by addressing the issues of education, health care, and transportation systems,” said HUD Regional Administrator Jane C.W. Vincent. “So, providing books to WePAC in partnership with ED is just one of many ways we can collaborate to improve the quality of education in communities throughout Philadelphia and the region.”

Since its inception in 2003, WePAC has opened 11 libraries. The organization’s 12th library, at Edward Heston School, will open in February. Heston, like other schools in which WePAC works, predominantly serves African-American students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. In this way, WePAC has helped to realize Secretary Duncan’s challenge to remove the barriers of zip code and background.

In less than 10 years, the organization has donated over 25,000 books, circulated more than 2,500 books per month, and reached over 3,000 students. David Florig, WePAC executive director, however, suggests that as many as 24 libraries in the area have the capacity to be restored or reopened. Administrators, teachers, and parents often approach WePAC volunteers and staff asking for the organization’s assistance in their schools.

“We view ourselves as filling a gap, but at the same time, we serve as a ‘wake-up call’ for many people,” said Mica Navarro Lopez, library programs coordinator. “People assume library access is still available.”

“Students check out books to read to their younger siblings. Even if their parents don’t read to them, [children] still have access to books,” said Navarro Lopez.

Students’ literary “altruism” extends beyond the school and home and into the communities in which WePAC serves. In 2011, a school whose library was transformed by WePAC held a book drive for another WePAC school.

“Students feel more empowered around reading,” said Florig. “We’re hoping to make school fun and reading interesting to kids.”

–Meredith Bajgier is a part-time employee in ED’s Philadelphia Regional Office through Drexel University’s work-study program.