Education Department Awards Nine Partnerships of School Districts and Nonprofits to Help Bolster Academic, Social and Health Services

(Oct. 9, 2014) The U.S. Department of Education has awarded $4.7 million to nine partnerships to help improve the quality of elementary and secondary education and bolster community-wide, comprehensive services for students, families and their communities. The Full-Service Community Schools (FSCS) program supports partnerships between schools, school districts, and community-based and nonprofit organizations.

Three of this year’s grantees will support Promise Zones, a federal interagency initiative that aligns a range of resources to build ladders of opportunity in economically distressed areas across the country. The 2014 FSCS program was among the first programs to include a focus on Promise Zones. Of the five current Promise Zones designations, the three supported by FSCS are the Youth Policy Institute (Los Angeles, California), Berea College (Berea, Kentucky), and the San Antonio Independent School District (San Antonio, Texas).

“Across the nation, we’ve seen schools come together to partner with key organizations to support comprehensive services for students and their families in some of our toughest communities,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “Great schools require the entire community to work together, and these grants will help leverage our resources to create a range of wraparound services that help all students grow in the classroom, and graduate ready for college and their careers.”

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Connecticut Magnets Offer High-Quality Education

Students at Metropolitan Business Academy participate in the Student Ambassador Program, which promotes positive character development and a healthy and safe school community. Photo by Coppola Photography, courtesy of New Haven Public Schools.

Students at Metropolitan Business Academy participate in the Student Ambassador Program, which promotes positive character development and a healthy and safe school community. (Photo by Coppola Photography, courtesy of New Haven Public Schools).

As this year marks the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision outlawing legal racial segregation in public schools, now is a good time to reflect on programs that promote diversity in schools. As a program officer for the Magnet Schools Assistance Program (MSAP), I’m part of a team that manages funding awarded to school districts nationwide to implement magnet programs in their schools. The MSAP has two primary goals: 1) to promote racial/ethnic diversity in schools; and 2) to improve student academic achievement.

Magnet schools offer a unique, rigorous curriculum and theme (e.g., performing arts; global and international studies; Montessori; science, technology, engineering and math), in order to “attract” a diverse set of students to attend. MSAP focuses its funds on schools that use a non-selective lottery system (rather than academic criteria) for admissions, which helps support schools that offer educational choices to a broad array of students.

Last month, when I attended the Magnet Schools of America national conference in Hartford, Conn., I had the opportunity to see some successful magnet schools in action. Connecticut has a unique school choice system that resulted from the 1996 Sheff v. O’Neill case, in which the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that the racial and socioeconomic isolation of Hartford school children violates the state constitution.

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Importance of District-Wide Reform is Focus of Annual Magnet Schools Meeting

On Dec. 5 and 6, the Magnet Schools Assistance Program (MSAP) team hosted the MSAP Project Directors Meeting in Washington, D.C. Each year, this two-day conference brings together more than 200 members of the MSAP community, including project directors, project evaluators, magnet school principals, magnet school coordinators, curriculum developers, content specialists, and recruitment staff, in order to network, discuss the administration of federal grants, and learn of available technical support, best practices, and resources. For the first time, superintendents of school districts that receive federal funding under the MSAP program participated in order to build support for magnet programs within the larger context of district-wide reform.

Houston Independent School District Superintendent Terry Grier talks with students during a Broad Foundation research team tour of Ortiz Middle School in May 2013. (Photo courtesy of the Houston Independent School District)

Houston Independent School District Superintendent Terry Grier talks with students during a Broad Foundation research team tour of Ortiz Middle School in May 2013. (Photo courtesy of the Houston Independent School District)

The conference keynote was offered by Superintendent Terry Grier of the Houston Independent School District (HISD). Under his leadership, HISD, the largest school district in Texas, has improved its student outcomes in remarkable ways — its dropout rate declined to an all-time low of 11.8 percent, while its graduation rate remains at an all-time high of 78.5 percent; scholarship dollars to graduating seniors have more than tripled; the number of students scoring a three or higher on AP exams has increased by 45 percent; and the achievement gap has shrunk in a noteworthy manner. All of this led HISD to be named a 2013 recipient of the prestigious Broad Prize for Urban Education — the only two-time winner of the prize. And in December, HISD was one of five school systems to receive federal Race to the Top-District grant funding. Most recently, the HISD placed fourth among more than 100 American school districts in The Education Choice and Competition Index, the Brown Center on Education Policy’s annual guide to the conditions of K-12 school choice in the nation’s largest school districts.

In his remarks, Superintendent Grier outlined his vision for magnet schools within the larger context of district reform in Houston ISD and discussed the role that HISD’s approximately 100 magnet schools play in both fostering equity and diversity in the public school system and expanding community/business partnerships. Audience members characterized his keynote as both highly engaging and inspiring.

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New OII Grants to Increase Access to High-Quality Schools, Effectiveness of School Leadership, and Role of Arts Education Nationwide

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan this week announced nearly $105 million in Office of Innovation and Improvement (OII) grants that will help to ensure high-quality leadership in high-need schools, develop model arts education efforts nationwide, and increase public school choices for parents.

In announcing $13.3 million to 20 projects under the School Leadership Program (SLP), Secretary Duncan said, “High-quality examples of leadership can help shape a school’s culture and create an environment where students are excited to learn.”  The five-year grants will help prepare individuals to meet state certification requirements to become principals or assistant principals as well as provide professional development to current principals and assistant principals. More than 1,500 aspiring or current school leaders in almost 100 high-need school districts across 15 states will be served by the grantees’ programs and services. Full information about the new SLP awards can be found here.

Acknowledging the role the arts play in helping students gain the skills needed to succeed in college and careers, the $2 million awarded under the Arts in Education Model Development and Dissemination program (AEMDD), according to Secretary Duncan, “… will help organizations establish and implement sound practices that can be used in classrooms across the nation.” The eight grantees vary from nonprofit arts education organizations to a higher education institution to both charter and traditional public schools, all of which have strong partnerships to develop and implement their projects. Click here for the ED press release on the AEMDD awards.

Magnet schools can increase public school options for parents and students, and the $89.8 million in Magnet School Assistance Program (MSAP) grants will “help students gain access to challenging curricula that will help prepare them for college and 21st century careers,” said Secretary Duncan in announcing the grants to 27 school districts in 12 states. The districts will use the up-to-three-year grants to establish new magnet schools or expand existing magnet programs. Click here for complete information on the MSAP grants.

Secretary Duncan Announces Seventeen 2012 Promise Neighborhoods Winners in School Safety Address

(December 21, 2012) U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced 17 winners of the 2012 Promise Neighborhoods $60 million grant fund during a school safety speech at Neval Thomas Elementary School in Washington, D.C.

“Children must be safe, healthy, and supported by adults across an entire community to reach their fullest potential,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “Against all odds, Promise Neighborhoods work to provide families and children with the support they need to help break the cycle of poverty that threatens too many of our nation’s communities.”

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Feature: A Conversation with Dr. Karen Mapp, Consultant on Family Engagement

Like other areas of education innovation, there are no silver bullets when it comes to pressing questions of how best to engage parents and families, particularly in high-need schools, in order to raise student achievement. But there are informative studies as well as researchers and practitioners on the front lines of family engagement who possess insights that can point the way. With the prospect of doubling the amount of Title I funds set aside for parental and family engagement, promising policies and practices that can be pursued and brought to scale in this area of education reform are more important than ever before.

Dr. Karen Mapp, lecturer on education and director of the Education Policy and Management Program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, has joined the Office of Parental Options and Information (POI) as a consultant to explore a number of pressing issues of both policy and practice – ones that will inform and improve not only POI’s work, but also the broader policy framework of parental and family engagement as it applies to Title I and other nationwide federal school improvement efforts.

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Community Schools: A National Discussion on Academic, Health and Social Supports for Students and Families

Schools do not operate in total isolation from the communities in which they are located. Recognizing this, the Department of Education in conjunction with the Coalition for Community Schools held a national policy discussion in February to share the experiences of Community schools.

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