Special Education Strides Highlighted at National Charter Schools Conference

In his recent keynote address at the National Charter Schools Conference, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan challenged charter schools to improve outcomes for students with disabilities. “I want to see charters pioneering solutions that do a better job of educating students with disabilities,” he told the gathering last month of more than 4,000 charter school leaders in Washington, D.C.

The conference, organized annually by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, provided a variety of sessions with a special education focus. Was there a common thread? Yes, strong partnerships make for better services for students with disabilities.

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Growing Coalition Supports ConnectED

In today’s world, technology has changed and, for the most part, improved the way we do everything from shopping to connecting with friends and family to managing our finances and our healthcare. But for a number of reasons, technology has not yet transformed the way our students learn on a day-to-day basis — at least not on a broad scale. Of course, there are many exciting examples across the country of schools and districts that have harnessed the power of technology to improve student learning, but these are not yet the norm.

One of the main barriers standing in the way is a lack of modern technology infrastructure in our schools that can support exciting and innovative digital-learning opportunities. (Although nearly every classroom in the country has basic Internet connectivity, the majority do not have fast enough bandwidth speeds to support their current needs.) This is why, as part of his ConnectED initiative, President Obama challenged the Federal Communications Commission to modernize the existing E-Rate program to upgrade our schools’ technology infrastructure to support ultrafast broadband speeds.

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National Study Points to Charter Sector Gains

Charter schools are making gains in their overall performance, including the performance of minority and low-income students, compared to traditional public schools, according to the National Charter School Study 2013 from the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University. The independent national study of charters and matched traditional public schools in 26 states updates data and comparisons of charter and traditional public schools’ performance in CREDO’s landmark 2009 study that involved 16 states.

The average charter school student in the 26 states gained an additional eight days of learning each year in reading beyond their local peers in traditional public schools, according to the latest study. This compares with a loss of seven days each year in reading for the average charter school student in the 2009 study. In mathematics, charter students went from a 22-day deficit in learning compared to their traditional public school counterparts in 2009 to being on an even par with them in the 2013 study.

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Meet OII’s New Leader

Nadya Chinoy DabbyI wanted to take the time to introduce myself to all of you and to thank you for stopping by our corner of the Web. Through my work at the Department over the last few years — whether through some of its programs, like Investing in Innovation or Charter Schools, or through other initiatives like encouraging evidence-based funding — as well as through previous roles I held prior to joining the current administration, I have had the great opportunity to meet many of you.

On June 3, 2013, I became the acting assistant deputy secretary for Innovation and Improvement at the Department of Education. Succeeding former Assistant Deputy Secretary Jim Shelton, who is currently the Department’s acting deputy secretary, will no doubt be challenging, but I am looking forward to the work and rewards that lie ahead.

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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.

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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.

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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

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.

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.

“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 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.

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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.

National Charter Schools Week Proclaimed by President Obama

Charter schools play an important role in America meeting its obligation to “equip all our students with the education and skills that put them on the path to a bright future,” according to President Barack Obama, in proclaiming May 5 through 11 as National Charter Schools Week, 2013.

America’s approximately 6,000 charter schools are “learning laboratories [that] give educators the chance to try new models and methods that can encourage excellence in the classroom and prepare more of our children for college and careers,” according to President Obama.

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