Educational Improvement
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The Beginning of a Movement

I recently had the opportunity to participate in an action-oriented summit, Reimagining Education: Empowering Learners in a Connected World, co-hosted by the Department of Education and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. It was a fascinating event, and I witnessed and participated in what felt like the beginning of a movement.

We know that the world today is more connected than ever. In particular, through advancements in technology, we now can stay connected — to each other, our jobs, our interests, and our passions — essentially all the time. The same ought to be true for our students and their education — students should have learning experiences that relate to and take advantage of their passions and interests. What they learn in an after-school program or activity should inform and relate to what they learn in school. And all of that should extend to what they learn at home with their families. This represents a shift in how we think about learning and education. Learning now happens all the time and everywhere, and we shouldn’t feel bound by narrow conceptions of when and where learning takes place (i.e., in school, during school hours). The challenge going forward will be designing and creating learning experiences for our students that properly match our modern, connected world (both in the literal, technical sense, and the broader, conceptual sense). That was the main challenge tackled by the participants in the Reimagining Education summit.

Two Charter Schools Program Competitions Announced

Last year, when the Department announced 20 grants awarded for the Charter Schools Program (CSP) Non-SEA program competitions, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said; "High-quality charter schools across the country are making amazing differences in our children's lives. These grantees serve a range of students, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds, and prepare them for college and careers." The Non-SEA (State education agency) competitions provide support for charter schools located in states that are not receiving funds from the CSP's SEA competition; currently 19 States and the District of Columbia receive SEA funding. Non-SEA grant funds support planning and implementation of program designs for new or existing charter schools or the sharing and dissemination of information about best practices for charter schools.

Last week, CSP announced the start of the 2013 competition with the publication of two Non-SEA notices inviting applicants (NIA) in the Federal Register. Since its inception, CSP has worked to increase understanding of charter schools and to support high-quality charter schools in communities nationwide. The CSP team is excited for that work to continue this year with the non-SEA competitions. The Department plans to award up to $2 million to grantees of both the Non-SEA Planning, Program Design and Implementation and the Non-SEA Dissemination competitions, and estimates making between 10 and 14 awards.

President Obama Announces ConnectED Initiative

We live in a highly connected world, but unfortunately, many of our students aren’t attending class in highly connected schools. Recent data suggests that 80 percent of K-12 schools do not have the infrastructure to access broadband Internet, meaning they don’t have the basic foundation to support digital learning in the 21st century. It also means the nation’s teachers don’t have access to tools to support their instruction or bring new technology into their classrooms.

Yesterday, President Obama called on the federal government, states and districts, rural and urban communities alike, and the private sector to tackle this problem together, as he outlined his ConnectED initiative. All children in the nation need to be career and college ready, prepared with knowledge and armed with 21st-century skills. ConnectED will help to ensure that this happens by bringing high-speed Internet within their reach.

Read more about Bringing America’s Students into the Digital Age, from the White House’s Director of the Domestic Policy Council, Cecilia Munoz, and the Director of the National Economic Council, Gene Sperling. Also, click here to read an overview on closing the broadband gap by the Acting Director of the Office of Education Technology, Richard Culatta.

i3 Projects Look Back on Progress and Lessons Learned

“We’re in the middle of the work and it’s a time to look back, also see the finish line, review data we’ve gathered, and do some reflecting,” is how Acting Deputy Secretary Jim Shelton began a May 30th Education Policy Briefing i3 grantee representatives (left to right) Justin Jones (The Achievement Network), Debbie Kasak (Schools to Watch: School Transformation Network), and Robert Balfanz (Diplomas Now) with Acting Deputy Secretary Jim Shelton. that featured three Investing in Innovation (i3) grantees whose work began two-and-one-half years ago. All are working to improve student achievement in low-performing schools with the support of national reform networks.

The grantees ─ Schools to Watch: School Transformation Network; Diplomas Now; and The Achievement Network ─ shared data and lessons learned with an audience of both ED staff and interested stakeholders that included the International Reading Association, the Learning First Alliance, the National PTA, the National Title I Association, and the Rural Education Trust.

The School Transformation Network i3 project is building on the Schools to Watch (STW) initiative of the National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform that began in 2002 to recognize academically excellent and socially equitable middle schools. With an i3 Development grant, the National Forum is engaging 18 high-poverty, low-performing middle schools in three states to adapt some of the core ideas that drove the Schools to Watch initiative and apply them to school turnaround.

Assistant Deputy Secretary Helps Kick-off Teacher Appreciation Week

Jim Shelton, assistant deputy secretary for innovation and improvement, participated in a Google+ Hangout on Monday, May 6, 2013, as part of the kick-off to 2013’s Teacher Appreciation Week. The panel discussion, hosted by the U.S. Department of Education and moderated by Tamron Hall of NBC News, celebrated African American educators and explored issues in education pertinent to all teachers, including the challenges they face in preparing students for college and careers.

“One of the things we have to recognize overall is that in order for teachers to be successful, the context has to be right for them to do their best work,” Jim Shelton observed. The discussion, he said, is about “what kind of support and resources we can give them, what kind of school environments they operate in, … as well as what the individual teachers do.”

To read more about and watch an archived version of the Hangout, click here.

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