U.S. Department of Education Awards $39.7 Million in Grants to Expand High Quality Charter Schools

(Oct. 8, 2014) The U.S. Department of Education announced 27 new grants today totaling $39.7 million under the Charter Schools Program (CSP) to expand high quality charter schools, and open new charter schools across the nation. These grants will support charter schools’ efforts to increase high-need students’ success, especially in underserved areas, in 12 states.

“These charter school grants will help open new charter schools and expand or replicate those with a record of success to help ensure that every student has access to high-quality educational opportunities that prepare them for college, careers and life,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

These grants are awarded by two CSP programs: one program is focused on helping high-performing charter management organizations open new charter schools, and the other program supports new charter schools located in states that do not have a state-level CSP subgrant program. This year’s competitions included a focus on charter schools that serve geographies designated under President Obama’s Promise Zones initiative, as well as promoting diversity and supporting military families.

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U.S. Department of Education Awards $13.4 Million in Grants to 34 Organizations to Enhance Teaching and Learning Through Arts Education

(Oct. 8, 2014) The U.S. Department of Education has awarded $13.4 million to 34 organizations to help arts educators grow and improve arts instruction, and share effective models of arts in education that support student achievement in the arts and other areas.

“The arts are an essential part of a well-rounded educational experience, and all students deserve access to high-quality arts instruction,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “Great arts educators can help students grow and succeed inside and outside of the classroom.”

These grantees are supported by two distinct programs, Arts in Education Model Development and Dissemination (AEMDD), and Professional Development for Arts Educators (PDAE). AEMDD grants support school districts and non-profit organizations with arts expertise to create materials that can be integrated into arts disciplines across elementary and middle schools. The Professional Development for Arts Educators program supports professional development for arts educators that use innovative approaches to improve and expand arts education programs.

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Magnet Schools Work to Promote Diversity, STEM Opportunity

Heldelberg school: Students at Heidelberg Elementary School, in Clarksdale, Miss., work on iPads in the classroom. (Photo courtesy of    )

Students at Heidelberg Elementary School in Clarksdale, Miss., work on iPads in the classroom. (Photo courtesy of Clarksdale Municipal School District)

What’s the first thing you think about when you hear about magnet schools?

If you had asked me before this summer, I probably wouldn’t have been able to answer the question. I knew a lot of people who attended magnet schools as kids, but that was about it.

After this summer, however, I know a great deal more about magnet schools and the role they play in American education. As an intern for the Magnet Schools Assistance Program (MSAP), I spent my summer researching Office of Innovation and Improvement funding to magnet schools and the impact of that money in 12 states nationwide. Magnet schools are free public schools that offer a specialized curriculum — like performing arts, International Baccalaureate (IB), or science — to students interested in a particular theme or focus.

The MSAP provides federal grants to local education agencies (LEAs) or consortia of LEAs to implement magnet school programs to achieve the primary purposes of promoting racial/ethnic diversity in schools and improving academic achievement.

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24 New Teacher Quality Partnership Grants Totaling More Than $35 Million Awarded to Recruit, Train and Support More Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Teachers

Major Progress on President’s Goal to Prepare 100,000 Excellent STEM Teachers

(Sept. 25, 2014) U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan today announced the award of $35 million for 24 new partnerships between universities and high-need school districts that will recruit, train and support more than 11,000 teachers over the next five years—primarily in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields—to improve student achievement. These awards are the culmination of this year’s Teacher Quality Partnership (TQP) grant competition that President Obama announced in May at the White House Science Fair.

For the first time, this year’s TQP competition focuses on preparing STEM teachers, and increasing the participation of underrepresented groups—women, minorities and people with disabilities—in teaching STEM subjects. The 2014 TQP grantees will train teachers in a wide variety of approaches to STEM instruction, from early learning through high school levels. This advances on the goal that President Obama set in his 2011 State of the Union address to prepare 100,000 STEM teachers over the next decade with strong teaching skills and deep content knowledge. In addition, answering the President’s call to action, nearly 200 organizations have formed a coalition called 100Kin10, all committed to the goal of increasing the supply of excellent STEM teachers.

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Paving a New Path: The Growth of Illinois Charter Schools Outside of Chicago

Students at 8 Points Charter Middle School in Jacksonville, Ill., are prepared to succeed in high school academically, socially, and emotionally. (Photo courtesy of 8 Points Charter Schools)

Students at 8 Points Charter Middle School in Jacksonville, Ill., are prepared to succeed in high school academically, socially, and emotionally. (Photo courtesy of 8 Points Charter Schools)

During the past three years, the Illinois Network of Charter Schools (INCS) has dramatically expanded its work to educate Illinois residents about the charter school model, and to support charter school “design teams”— made up of teachers, former educators, and community organizations, for example — that seek to launch new, high-quality public schools in their respective communities. With support from the Office of Innovation and Improvement, INCS has grown its Charter Starter Consulting program to deliver consistent content and counsel to design teams while maintaining a strong focus on customized services. As a result, INCS has planted the seeds for additional charter schools to thrive, especially outside of Chicago, Illinois’ largest city, and to raise student achievement for increasing numbers of Illinois students.

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Success in Arizona: A Focus on Increasing Quality Schools in Phoenix’s Urban Core

Vista Prep founder Julia Meyerson (left) observes a small-group lesson to provide coaching and support for the teacher. Vista Prep is a New Schools For Phoenix pilot school that achieved impressive results in its inaugural year. (Photo courtesy of New Schools For Phoenix)

Vista College Prep founder Julia Meyerson (left) observes a small-group lesson to provide coaching and support for the teacher. Vista Prep is a New Schools For Phoenix pilot school that achieved impressive results in its inaugural year. (Photo courtesy of New Schools For Phoenix)

Phoenix charter school leaders Jenna Leahy and Tacey Clayton believe that something has to change for students in the nation’s sixth-largest city. The majority of the 215 public schools in the Phoenix urban core serve low-income, minority students, and of those schools, only 8 percent received an “A” — the highest academic performance label — in 2014.

After two years of leadership and school development, Jenna and Tacey are poised to help change the life paths of Phoenix students, as CASA Academy opened its doors to 149 students in kindergarten through second grade this August.

CASA and six other schools are part of a new initiative, New Schools For Phoenix, that grew out of a three-year, $1,179,855 National Leadership Activities grant from OII’s Charter Schools Program (CSP) to the Arizona Charter Schools Association in 2010.

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Webinar Will Explore Arts Education’s Impacts

How do in-school arts education programs affect student creativity, academics, or social outcomes? That is the central question for an August 27th webinar by the National Endowment for the Arts that will feature researchers from the Kennedy Center and Johns Hopkins University, who will share their investigation of these topics.

Ivonne Chand O’Neal, director of research and evaluation at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, will share her study on the Changing Education Through the Arts (CETA) program on Washington D.C.-area public school students, their parents, and teachers. The CETA program is supported by an OII Arts in Education National Program grant to the Kennedy Center. Mariale Hardiman, professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Education and former principal of Roland Park Elementary/Middle School in Baltimore, Maryland, will discuss her work at the intersection of cognitive research and effective teaching strategies.

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Illinois Principal Quality Efforts Nationally Recognized

Jeremy Anderson, President of Education Commission of the States; Dr. James Applegate, Executive Director, Illinois Board of Higher Education; Dr. Harry Berman, former Executive Director, Illinois Board of Higher Education; Dr. Erika Hunt,  Director of SLP funded IL-PART grant, Center for the Study of Education Policy; and Dr. Chris Koch, State Superintendent. of the State of Illinois receiving the Frank Newman Award for Innovation at the ECS Award Ceremony (Photo courtesy of the Education Commission of the State)."

From left to right: Jeremy Anderson, president of the Education Commission of the States; James Applegate, executive director of the Illinois Board of Higher Education; Harry Berman, former executive director of the Illinois Board of Higher Education; Erika Hunt, director of SLP-funded IL-PART grant, Center for the Study of Education Policy; and Christopher Koch, Illinois State Superintendent receiving the 2014 Frank Newman Award for Innovation. (Photo courtesy of the Education Commission of the States)

Since 2005, Illinois has pursued improving the quality of school principals as a top priority to reform K-12 education. A Commission on School Leader Preparation, followed by an Illinois School Leader Task Force, paved the way for groundbreaking state legislation in 2011, requiring alignment with new criteria for principal preparation programs and certification standards.

Behind this progress is a strong collaboration between the Illinois Board of Higher Education, the State Board of Education, and the Center for Study of Education Policy at Illinois State University. On July 1, the Education Commission of the States (ECS) presented the 2014 Frank Newman Award for State Innovations to the three entities for their work. “In improving our schools, there is little that matters more than the quality of our principals,” said ECS President Jeremy Anderson, in a press release. “Illinois’ work exemplifies what can happen when stakeholders collaborate in such a critical area.”

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National History Day Contest Deepens Understanding and Appreciation of History

My colleague, Mia Howerton, and I were invited to serve as judges for the National History Day (NHD) competition finals in College Park, Md., on June 17, 2014. History is an area of special interest for us, as we both serve as program officers for the Teaching American History program. Mia also taught social studies at the middle school level for six years in Richmond, Va. It was refreshing to have the opportunity to leave our Washington, D.C. office for a day and interact with students. Being able to see the exemplary projects students have created in pursuit of their quest for historical knowledge and understanding helped us to better appreciate the impact that national education programs can have on individual students.

Students from Whittier Middle School in Sioux Falls, S.D., in the group documentary “The Mark of McCarthy.” (Photo by  Route 1 Multimedia, courtesy of National History Day)

Students from Whittier Middle School in Sioux Falls, S.D., in the group documentary The Mark of McCarthy. (Photo by Route 1 Multimedia, courtesy of National History Day)

NHD offers middle and high school students the opportunity to create a history project of their choosing based on an annual theme — Rights and Responsibilities in History for 2014. The project categories are exhibit, performance, documentary, paper, and website. All project types can be done by individuals or groups, except for papers, which must be individual. Projects are judged on three evaluation criteria: historical quality (60 percent), relation to the theme (20 percent), and clarity of presentation (20 percent). Prizes are also awarded to projects that focus on particular themes in history, such as the Civil War History prize sponsored by the Civil War Trust, the Outstanding Entry on an International Theme prize sponsored by The History Channel, and the Native American History prize sponsored by the National Park Service.

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Teacher Residency Program Provides Tools for Classroom Success

The 31 graduate students in the Richmond Teacher Residency (RTR) are not your typical teacher candidates, and the Virginia Commonwealth University master of teaching degree program is not your typical graduate program for new teachers. Like other urban school districts, the Richmond Public Schools (RPS) faces unique challenges, not the least of which is providing its 25,000 students with outstanding teachers. For RTR, that means persons with “extensive content knowledge, along with the heart and vision to create a more equitable outcome for all students.”

Among the 31 aspiring teachers in this year’s RTR program, several are Peace Corps veterans, some have come to teaching from other professional careers following college, and others are fresh from their undergraduate degree programs, but often without undergraduate teaching experience. These “nontraditional” teacher candidates experience an intensive, year-long residency in Richmond City Schools’ classrooms, in a teacher-training model adapted from the field of medicine.

Creating a pipeline of extraordinary teachers

The RTR program is part of a national effort — the Urban Teacher Residency United Network — and a grantee of ED’s Teacher Quality Partnerships (TQP) grant program, which supports model teacher preparation programs through reforms by higher education institutions working in collaboration with high-need schools and districts. As it is with the RTR program, TQP places an emphasis on recruiting effective individuals, including minorities and persons from outside the teaching profession.

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