Reimagining Education through Summer Learning Partnerships

Group meeting in the South Bronx

NYC School Chancellor Dennis Walcott joined community partners, school leaders, and students for the kickoff of Summer Quest at P.S. 211 in the South Bronx

As our students head back to school, we are reflecting on initiatives we saw this summer that can invigorate student engagement and learning year round. As part of Together for Tomorrow –our effort to strengthen partnerships among schools, families, and communities — we visited summer learning initiatives in the South Bronx, Pittsburgh, and Chicago. Director of the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships Brenda Girton-Mitchell and I led discussions in these communities to share promising practices and to provide feedback to shape the U.S. Department of Education’s community and family engagement efforts.

These discussions also extended work the Department began earlier this year, along with the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, on Reimagining Education. Each place we visited is home to a Hive Learning Network – a collective of organizations, made possible through MacArthur Foundation support, where young people can pursue a diversity of learning experiences in their community. The summer initiatives we explored were anchored by strong collaboration among schools, families, and community-based organizations (CBOs).

In the South Bronx, we visited Summer Quest, which brought together New York City schools, and CBOs to provide learning and enrichment activities for nearly 1,800 elementary and middle school students from low-income families. In preparation for Summer Quest, teachers and CBO staff participated in joint professional development around project-based learning and co-facilitation. Program organizers observed from their experience in 2012 that the deeper level of collaboration between schools and CBOs required by Summer Quest resulted in better-aligned and impactful programming during the regular school year.

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Cities Announced! 2013 Back-to-School Bus Tour

Bus Tour MapIt’s back-to-school time, which means that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and senior ED officials are hitting the road once again for the Department’s annual back-to-school bus tour. This year’s tour, themed Strong Start, Bright Future, will run September 9-13 and includes visits to states throughout the Southwest with stops in the following cities:

  • Santa, Fe, N.M.
  • Albuquerque, N.M.
  • Socorro, N.M.
  • El Paso, Texas
  • Columbus, N.M.
  • Tucson, Ariz.
  • Tempe, Ariz.
  • Phoenix
  • Scottsdale, Ariz.
  • Yuma, Ariz.
  • Chula Vista, Calif.

Each stop will highlight the importance of ensuring that all students benefit from high-quality educational opportunities, including Preschool for Allcollege affordabilityConnectEDfirst-term education efforts, and comprehensive immigration reform’s impact on education.

This is the fourth back-to-school bus tour for Secretary Duncan. Last year, the Department’s tour took us coast to coast, in 2011, the tour rolled through the Midwest, and in 2010, Duncan and his team visited the South and the Northeast.

Check back soon for additional information on the tour, or simply sign up to receive Strong Start, Bright Future tour updates in your email inbox.

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital strategy at the U.S. Department of Education

School Facilities That Go Beyond Beige

Green Ribbon Garden

Federal, state and local officials joined stakeholders, administrators, parents, teachers and students during a tour of Bedwell Elementary School’s garden during the New Jersey/ New York leg of the ‘Education Built to Last’ Facilities Best Practices tour on August 13th.

August 13, 2013, was a big day: the ‘Education Built to Last’ School Facilities Best Practices Tour visit by the U.S. Department of Education and Environmental Protection Agency, beginning at a Staten Island ED-Green Ribbon School (Hubert Humphreys) and continuing to three ED-GRS honorees in northern New Jersey. While I drove the 70 miles to the event through pouring rain and high winds, I was secure in my belief that, at the end of the day, my feelings toward school facilities would be unchanged. After many years of designing, building, managing, reviewing, and approving school facility projects for the State of New Jersey, I believed that my “Theory of Beige” would remain intact.

The “Theory of Beige” is quite simple. At one of the school districts where I was previously employed, all the classrooms were painted beige. They were intended to be neutral and unnoticed. As long as the walls remained in their beige state, they never received criticism. They were only noticed when they became damaged from desks or chairs scuffing the paint, water leaking through the ceiling, or graffiti marring the walls. Over many years of working for the district and attending more than 200 school board meetings, I do not recall a single instance that someone praised the pristine condition of the beige walls. They did, however, complain about dented walls, dirty floors, broken lockers, and the like.

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Free of Fear, Violence, and Bullying

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and staff from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) recently released an “It Gets Better” video to address the importance of fostering safe spaces for learning across the country. Part of the Department’s initiative is ensuring that students are protected from the harmful effects of bullying within their communities.

Home | StopBullying.govOne of the tools available to help is StopBullying.gov. The site offers a variety of resources for students, teachers, and parents to help with conflict resolution, provide support to those affected by bullying, and promote general acceptance within their local communities for the upcoming school year and beyond. Here are few tips from the site that you might find helpful:

    1. Assessing Bullying and Aiding in Conflict Resolution: It is important to confront bullying at its source and address conflicts between students as responsibly as possible. StopBullying.gov is a fantastic resource for understanding how parents, educators, teens and kids can all play a role in understanding bullying, stopping it at its source and keeping it from escalating further.
    2. Providing Support: It is critical to provide a strong support structure and network of allies for victims of bullying within local communities. Responding to bullying appropriately is critical for the well-being of all students involved.
      • Stop bullying on the spot by intervening and supporting those being bullied immediately if possible.
      • Find out what happened. Determining what actually occurred can help you best support victims of bullying.
      • Support the kids involved, whether this means simply communicating to victims of bullying that it is not their fault, or helping them gain access to counseling or mental health services to cope with the effects of bullying.
      • Be more than a bystander by being an ally to victims of bullying by reporting abuse, helping to resolve a situation, or by simply being a good friend.
    3. Promoting and Guaranteeing Acceptance in Your Community: While bullying in your community may be a local issue, there are many state and federal laws that protect victims of bullying.
      • There are a variety of laws that protect victims of bullying across the country against discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, disability, or religion. It is important for students and parents to know their rights and seek out the appropriate support if they feel that their or their child’s civil rights have been violated.
      • Students who identify as LGBT or youth with special needs are more likely to be targets of bullying and have a greater chance of feeling subjugated as an effect. It is important to support the individual needs of these students and there are resources available to help fight for the rights of these groups specifically.
      • Creating student-led organizations such as Gay-Straight Alliances (GSA) or Diversity organizations, something that Secretary Duncan underscored on National GSA Day, can help provide critical support for students who feel like they have nowhere else to go. The Equal Access Act of 1984 and many state and local laws guarantee the right to create these types of groups in schools if student need is demonstrated.

We hope that these resources can aid in stopping bullying at its source and give victims strategies to combat bullying, help individuals stand up to injustice in their communities, and ultimately improve the welfare of students.

Secretary Duncan recently noted that “all of us here at the Department of Education are committed to making sure that young people today can grow up free of fear, violence, and bullying and do everything we can to protect them.”

Adam Sperry is a student at New York University and a current intern in the Office of Communication & Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education.

Green Schools Concept Taking Root in Rural Alabama

John White in Talladega

Deputy Assistant Secretary for Rural Outreach John White visited Munford Elementary in Talladega County, Ala. as part of the “Education Built to Last” tour of U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools. Photo courtesy of Alabama Department of Education.

Last week, I traveled with Andrea Falken, director of the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools Program, to Talladega County public schools in the Appalachian Mountains of Alabama.

State Superintendent Tommy Bice, district staff, teachers, students and community leaders all turned out to show us why the green schools notion makes sense educationally and financially in rural areas during the first leg of the “Education Built to Last” tour of U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools.

Teachers have engaged students in their own learning by connecting lessons to research and discovery in the mountains, forests and streams right outside their classroom windows. Facility improvements have saved millions of dollars, hundreds of thousands of kilowatts of electrical power, and turned school buildings into tools for learning.

Partnerships with the Forest Service, local farms and other businesses have increased students’ awareness of health and nutrition, their personal impacts on the environment, and career pathways in their local communities.

“That’s real world stuff,” said Talladega County school board member Johnny Ponder, while giving a tour of Munford Elementary, one of six U.S. Forest Service-adopted schools nationwide. Its interactive, museum-quality exhibits were produced with support from public and private sector partners. They include visual and audio information on birds, other wildlife and their habitats, fire prevention, jobs in the forest, and they are routinely used to enhance the school’s curriculum across all subject areas.

The 2013 ED-Green Ribbon Schools and District Sustainability Award winners were recognized for reducing their environmental impacts, including energy use, waste and water; creating healthy learning environments, fostering wellness practices, and providing effective environmental education that includes STEM, green careers, and civics to prepare students to succeed in the 21st century. The tour is a chance to share best practices by connecting schools to ED’s Green Strides resources. In the coming weeks, the tour will continue in New England, the Great Lakes and the West Coast.

“We want to get the word out about what works in these schools. It’s not because they are uniquely rich. They are resourceful, have great partnerships, and are using cutting-edge educational practices,” Falken said.

At Fayetteville High School in Sylacauga, Ala., students have used classroom computers to research environmental science before heading outdoors to construct and plant gardens, follow forest rangers into the marsh to test water quality and conduct other experiments with the forest service.

Like many rural schools, Winterboro High School in Alpine, Ala., is a hub of community activity. In fact, community members brought stone from the foothills in wagons pulled by mules to build the school in the 1930s. Recovery Act funds were used to purchase and install insulation in Winterboro High for the first time in 2009. Other facility improvements have led to Energy Star certification at Winterboro and 14 other Talladega County Schools for a district-wide energy cost avoidance of $4 million annually.

Today, Winterboro High is a modern 21st Century Community Learning Center that extends learning with a project-based curriculum that is infused with technology and links science, math and language arts with environmental education during the day and after school.

John White is deputy assistant secretary for rural outreach at the U.S. Department of Education.

Hope, Perseverance, Family, & Access to Education

On June 6, 2013, the U.S. Department of Education hosted an internal immigration reform briefing in which we shared how comprehensive immigration reform relates to the work we do at the Department of Education.  Immigration reform is not only about how the country deals with undocumented workers and the children they bring with them; it is also about how we help all immigrants assimilate and integrate into American society.

The briefing featured three student speakers who shared personal stories about their experiences with the immigration system.  These stories highlighted challenges faced by many immigrant students in financing their educations.

Claudia Rojas, a Northern Virginia Community College student hoping to one day pursue a Ph.D. in creative writing, shared her story of moving to Virginia twelve years ago under Temporary Protected Status (TPS) after an earthquake destroyed her town in El Salvador. Claudia explained that her single mother works tirelessly to make ends meet and help pay for Claudia’s education, and, in Claudia’s words: “Though I often feel guilty attending college, as a first generation student, I remind myself that my degree will not be mine alone; it will belong to my mother, who couldn’t finish elementary school.”

Diego Sanchez, who is a recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and is now pursuing a Master’s Degree in International Affairs and Public Policy, shared his story of how he did not fully comprehend his undocumented status until his academic advisor, at the age of 15, told him that he could not go to college. Diego explained that he felt his world was going to end, but instead of giving up, he applied and was accepted into a private college and thanks to his high standardized test scores, was given a scholarship that covered half his tuition. In order to pay the rest of his tuition, he joined the school choir, ran cross-country and joined the student government to obtain institutional funds.

Another student speaker, Angelo Mathay, is also a DACA recipient and currently serves as a law fellow at the National Immigration Law Center.   Angelo shared his experience that “the vast majority of immigrants I have worked with have fled poverty, violence and discrimination; they bring little except an unrelenting desire to work hard, contribute to society, and educate their children to become the next generation’s doctors, lawyers, and teachers.”  Angelo explained that he plans to practice immigration law to “help ensure social justice and equality for all.”

It is inspiring to learn what these students have all accomplished despite their challenges. Like other students across America, they are driven by a purpose to improve the world, a commitment to public service, and a belief that their education is the key to their success. Immigration reform is important not only for students like Angelo, Diego, and Claudia but for America’s future.

Gabriella Gomez, Assistant Secretary for The Office of Legislation and Congressional Affairs. 

Seize the Summer: Keep Kids Active & Engaged in Learning

Did you know? Students can experience learning loss when they do not engage in educational activities during the summer months. On average, students lose the equivalent of two months of math and reading skills during the summer months. More than half of the achievement gap between lower- and higher-income youth can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities.

ReadingThis summer, let’s work to change that. Together, parents, guardians, and community members can help give our children the best foundation for the upcoming school year.

Stay Engaged:

Encourage reading all summer long. This will help prevent the “summer slide” and provide benefits that can be seen year-round.

  • Visit the local library and help your child put together a summer reading list. Celebrate each time he or she finishes a book, this will encourage them to complete the list by the time the summer ends.

Be Creative:

Summer is the perfect time to let your child’s imagination run wild and stimulate creativity. Kids.gov provides resources for arts and crafts projects that will keep children engaged and their minds active while having fun.

  • NGA Kids – Choose from a variety of activities or projects from the National Gallery of Art, enjoy an animated musical adventure, take a tour through the sculpture garden, and more.
  • Smithsonian – Are your children fans of Night at the Museum? Then this is the perfect activity for them. Here you are magically taken to the museums at night. To get back home, you have to solve mysteries and help your new friends find their artworks.

Stay Active & Healthy:

In addition to academic risks, children can also be at an increased risk of weight gain when they are out of school during the summer months. Take advantage of the warmer weather and keep youth active outdoors.

  • KidsHealth.org – How do you feed a picky eater or encourage a child to play outside? Learn how to keep your child healthy with the right foods and exercise.
  • Let’s Move! – Opportunities for kids to be physically active, both in and out of school and create new opportunities for families to be moving together.
  • USDA Summer Food Program-  This U.S. Department of Agriculture program provides free meals to all children 18 years old and under in areas with significant concentrations of low-income children.

For additional tips throughout the summer, follow @usedgov on Twitter, and check out the U.S. Department of Education Facebook page.

Kelsey Donohue works in the Office of Communication and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education

Duncan Stops in Kentucky and Ohio to Talk Early Learning

Secretary Duncan and student

Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

The United States has to get out of the “catch up game” Secretary Arne Duncan said last week during a visit to an early childhood center in Kentucky. “Investing in high-quality early childhood education will help all our children get off to a strong start,” he said. Duncan joined local business, education, law enforcement, military, faith-based, and state leaders in Louisville last Thursday for a round table discussion at the St. Benedict Center for Early Childhood Education.

Duncan also participated in a community town hall later in the day at the YMCA Children’s Center in Middletown, Ohio. Both centers have been accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).

“Everywhere I go, there’s great work but tremendous unmet need,” Duncan said during his two-state visit. “We want to invest in and partner with states to provide services to more children.”

Duncan also spoke of the importance of providing a high-quality pre-kindergarten experience because it not only sets children on a positive trajectory for later school success, but also helps to develop their cognitive, social, and emotional development.

Research shows that children who participate in high-quality preschool programs demonstrate higher achievement levels in the elementary grades, show greater interest in learning, are less likely to require special education, and are more likely to graduate from high school. Research also shows early learning is a great investment: there is a documented $7 to $1 return on investment over time.

Earlier this year, President Obama put forward a plan to make access to high-quality early learning a reality for every 4-year-old in America. The proposal will drive states and local school districts to be more engaged in improving outcomes for their youngest learners and will ensure that all children start kindergarten prepared for success in school and life.

Visit www.ed.gov/early-learning to learn more.

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital strategy at the U.S. Department of Education

Las Vegas Parents Get Fired Up for Education

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Keynote speaker Helen Littlejohn told parents they are critical to the success of their students

Like many around the country, parents in Nevada’s Clark County School District are hungry for information about how they can support their children’s education.  At a recent event hosted by the school district and its community partners, Las Vegas-area moms and dads had the chance to learn new information and find practical answers to their questions in a supportive atmosphere. “Family Enrichment Day provides an opportunity for families to connect to learning and to foster school-to-home relationships,” said Eva Melendrez, the District’s Parent Services Coordinator. “The event makes learning fun, through interactive workshops and activities for the entire family,” she added.

The Clark County School District focuses on increasing parent participation in a number of ways, with community partnerships and Parent Centers and Family Resource Centers on several campuses. Staffed by AmeriCorps volunteers, the centers focus on communities experiencing high dropout rates. They also have a district-wide Parent Engagement Forum that provides valuable two-way information and feedback concerning social and academic issues.

For the first time, the Las Vegas Alliance of Black School Educators was a co-sponsor of the event. “It was a great experience for us to start getting more African American parents and families to participate,” said Tracey Lewis, local chapter president. “We are looking forward to continuing this collaboration with the district and expanding our efforts,” she said. “This is about getting important information to families in clear, understandable ways,” she added, “so they can prepare their students for college.”

Over 400 parents representing 53 schools joined students at the Clark County family engagement fair.  Staff from the U.S. Department of Education were on hand with a clear message: parents are critical partners in the educational success of their children. “We must teach our children to be critical, creative thinkers, problem solvers who will invent the next great things, who will fearlessly attack the challenges of our time and those of the future,” said keynoter Helen Littlejohn, the Department’s communications director for the western states. Littlejohn led a chant of “¡Tú tienes la fuerza!” – “You have the power!” – and shared stories of parents in communities of color supporting education.

Participants were entertained as well as informed. The day was packed with academically enriching activities in math, science and literacy, in addition to a “Let’s Go to College!” session offered by the state-funded campaign Go to College Nevada.  Parents also learned some effective ways to engage with teachers, in order to better support their students.

parents2

Clark County parents filled the breakout session rooms to learn about ways to support their children.

The event was held on a college campus, to “demystify” the college environment and allow participants to grow comfortable navigating the grounds.   For students and parents alike, the day at UNLV underscored the importance of great teaching and learning, and fostered the desire to finish high school and pursue higher education.  Participating parents gave the day high marks, and highlighted what they’d learned, from the importance of reading with their children, to a new found confidence that the students in their family could earn a college degree.

While Nevada moves forward in developing evaluations that will hold teachers and administrators accountable for family engagement, officials are working to design additional opportunities for district-wide parent engagement, as well as supporting schools as they create school-family engagement plans. As Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky says, “Together, we can ensure the success of every student in every classroom – without exceptions, and without excuses!”

Department of Education Staff

Announcing the Principal Ambassador Fellowship

The Department of Education is proud to announce that the first-ever Principal Ambassador Fellowship has officially launched!

The Principal Ambassador Fellowship has been modeled after the Teacher Ambassador Fellowship that the Department has offered since 2008. Secretary Arne Duncan unveiled the program to the public at a National Association of Secondary School Principals conference on February 28 this year.  The Secretary noted that after Department staff spent a day shadowing principals across the DC area, one of the participants highlighted the lack of principals’ voices in dialogues surrounding education policy. The PAF program is meant to recognize the important impact that a principal has on instructional leadership, the school environment, and talent management.

Like the Department’s Teaching Ambassador Fellows, Principal Ambassador Fellows will spend a year gaining greater knowledge of the content of key federal programs and policies, in addition to the context and process by which they are designed and implemented. Fellows will share their expertise with federal staff members; provide outreach and communication about federal initiatives to other educators on behalf of the Department; and facilitate the involvement and understanding of educators in developing and implementing these efforts at the federal, state and local levels, to improve the likelihood of their success.

The U.S. Department of Education believes that principals should have meaningful opportunities to both contribute to and understand the policies that impact their students, faculty and staff, and school communities. In order to implement needed reforms, all stakeholders, especially principals, must understand the intent of policy and be engaged in the outcomes.

As the Principal Ambassador Fellowship is just getting underway, ED is only considering Campus Principal Ambassador Fellows for 2013-2014. The Campus Principal Ambassador Fellowship enables principals to participate on a part-time basis from their home locations for the Department, in addition to their regular school responsibilities, working in collaboration with the Department’s Regional and Federal Offices.

We recognize that the two programs, the Principal Ambassador Fellowship and Teacher Ambassador Fellowship, will need to differ because of the different nature and responsibilities associated with each job. The first class of Fellows will therefore also be tasked with helping us design and shape the program for future years to be more beneficial for the role of principals.

We invite principals to apply for the 2013-2014 school year by July 16, 2013 at 11:59 PM EDT. To access the application and view eligibility requirements, please visit www.usajobs.gov and apply for the Campus Principal Ambassador Fellowship.

We hope you consider applying, and encourage you to share this information with your colleagues! You can also sign up to receive further updates, and call 1-800-USA-LEARN or email us at PrincipalFellowship@ed.gov with questions.

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

Note:  Some schools may use different terminology than “principal.” A candidate is considered eligible despite titling differences, provided that s/he is the highest administrative official in the school building.

Joshua Klaris is the  2013- 2014 Resident Principal at the U.S. Department of Education

Cooking up Change – Students Transforming the Future of Food in Our Schools

healthy schools logo
Today’s Lunch Menu: Tenacious Turkey Chili with a side of Sunshine Fries and a helping of Jalapeno- Infused Peach Crumble for dessert. Sounds delicious, right? Well believe it or not, this mouth-watering meal is not only tasty, affordable, and healthy- but was made entirely by high school students.

students prepareing for cooking up change

On Monday, June 10th, the U.S. Department of Education hosted student chefs from high school culinary programs as part of Cooking up Change, presented by the Healthy Schools Campaign. This healthy cooking contest puts student front and center by challenging them to create a great-tasting lunch that meets nutrition standards on a tight budget. After winning first place in their local Cooking up Change competition, eight teams of student chefs traveled to Washington to lend their voices, and their culinary creativity, to the national conversation about the future of food in our schools.

Picking the winner went beyond the taste buds. Each team was asked to discuss the inspiration for their meal and the various challenges they faced throughout the process. Many cited their culture as the basis for their dish. Team Memphis gave a shout out to famous Southern BBQ with their BBQ Chicken Tacos while Team Los Angeles stayed true to their roots with their Tex-Mex Cornbread and Black Bean Mountain dish- both equally delicious! The challenges were a common theme throughout the teams. Each team was given strict guidelines of 10 ingredients with a budget that mirrors the constraints that schools face across the country. These student-designed meals have been seen on school lunch menus across the country, including their very own cafeterias, proving that cafeteria food can truly be both balanced and delicious!

students distributing food

With full stomachs and smiles all around, the winning team was chosen. Team Orange County, Cesar Amezcua, Cecilia Magana and Carlos Ortiz, culinary students from Valley High School took home the top prize for their dish “Pita Packs a Punch,” with Hot and Sweet Slaw and Delicious Apple Crepes. Not only was their dish healthy and packed with flavor, but their stories were inspirational. The students spoke of their plans to attend vocational colleges to achieve their dream of becoming executive chefs, each will be the first in his or her family to attend college.

“This was so important to us because we want to make a difference in our school”, said Amezcua, and he was able to achieve just that.

Congrats Team Orange County and to all the student chefs! And of course, many thanks to those who help our students learn the importance of healthy lifestyles.

For more information on the Healthy School Campaign, follow @HealthySchools and join the conversation with #CookingUpChange.

Kelsey Donohue works in the Office of Communication and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education. 

Steps Forward to Improving Quality and Strengthening Accreditation

Every student who wants the opportunity deserves a high-quality postsecondary education. For what? For lifelong success, not only in his or her educational pursuits, but for long-term success in the workforce, in civic life and – ultimately – for the personal and professional rewards that come from living a life of accomplishment, contribution, and satisfaction! At the U.S. Department of Education, we are keenly focused on how to use the various federal levers for change and improvement at our disposal to encourage successful student outcomes and improved educational performance, institutional, state-level and national. As the president has said, we all share responsibility to provide educational opportunity and value. The accreditation community is an important partner in this work and plays a key role both in assuring a basic level of quality and in improving quality.univeristy photo

While the United States has some of the world’s best postsecondary institutions, we also have too many that are of poor quality, with track records that give their students little chance of attaining the postsecondary credentials and preparation that they intended to earn—and that are so vital in today’s society and economy.  The College Scorecard that we introduced earlier this year highlights the differences among different institutions related to net price, degree completion and student debt repayment all too starkly. Making performance transparent is a lever we are using to highlight success and fix the most pressing of our problems.

But these indicators are only indicative of a part of educational performance.  We also need to know whether students are successfully achieving the level of learning they need for lifelong success in work, civic participation, and life.  And we need to ensure that high-quality learning is affordable.

President Obama and Secretary Duncan are strongly committed to strengthening collaboration for results with the nation’s diverse accreditation stakeholders to clarify, simplify and improve accreditation processes, with a more targeted, rigorous focus on value and affordability. When President Obama announced his proposals for the FY2014 budget, he called on the accreditation community to work with the Administration to:

“…consider value, affordability, and student outcomes in making determinations about which colleges and universities receive access to federal student aid, either by incorporating measures of value and affordability into the existing accreditation system; or by establishing a new, alternative system of accreditation that would provide pathways for higher education models and colleges to receive federal student aid based on performance and results.”

Responding to recommendations of the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI), last week our Department announced its intention to strengthen and better focus the accrediting agency recognition process.  Eight regional and 47 national accrediting organizations seeking renewal of their recognition from the federal government will benefit from a streamlined review process, which will focus in more depth on about 25 of up to 93 criteria that are most relevant to assessing institutional quality and the quality of student learning. This will result in a better, more targeted process that is simpler and less burdensome for accrediting agencies, NACIQI and the federal government. It is our hope and expectation that these improvements will also enable the postsecondary institutions they accredit to focus additional time and effort on quality enhancement and value.

With the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act commencing next year, the Department is also eager to engage in broader conversations with the postsecondary education community and its stakeholders (e.g., students, families, businesses, non-profits, states, philanthropies, etc.) about proposals to improve the accreditation processes to increase quality—with particular attention to value and affordability.

If we define value as high quality at an affordable cost, how can we help to ensure that we achieve it?  We are looking to the accreditation community and stakeholders to help us understand and measure such concepts as “quality,” “affordability” and “value” in ways that honor and preserve the diversity of our postsecondary landscape, yet hold all of us accountable for learning and completion outcomes and their improvement. We need far more attention to qualitative and quantitative methods that can strengthen institutional quality and student learning outcomes.

This effort to strengthen the accreditation process is just one example of how the Department is working to improve quality, while also increasing access, affordability, and completion. We will also continue to address value by encouraging innovation, whether through new developments in competency-based education, new validation models that can demonstrate what students know and can do, new attention to the faculty role in high quality learning, and/or alternative accreditation systems designed to produce high quality student outcomes at an affordable price. Experimentation, innovation and reliable evidence must drive the effort to achieve better student outcomes, both in terms of completion and in terms of demonstrated achievement; thus the great need for more and better postsecondary R&D.

In the months ahead, we look forward to engaging in an ongoing and robust national dialogue with our partners and stakeholders about accreditation and other ways we can improve quality in America’s postsecondary education, with a far clearer understanding of, and focus on, value and affordability.

Martha J. Kanter is the Under Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education and David Soo is a Policy Advisor for the Office of the Under Secretary.