STEM Programs at the Department of Education: Supporting Teachers and Students

This week, the President recognized some of the best and brightest science and engineering students from across the country during the 2015 White House Science Fair. At the Department of Education (the Department), we share the President’s commitment to supporting science education that is student-centered and grounded in real-world settings. We have made great strides in improving and broadening science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education for all students by including STEM priorities in dozens of competitive grant programs in recent years. Most recently, the Department announced that the 2015 Ready-to-Learn Television grant competition will, for the first time, include a priority to support the development of television and digital media focused on science.

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Update on OII’s FY 2015 Grant Competitions

For the current fiscal year, which ends on September 30, 2015, the Office of Innovation and Improvement (OII) will conduct 11 grant competitions in six program areas: Arts in Education, Charter Schools, Investing in Innovation, Opportunity Scholarship, Ready to Learn Television, and Supporting Effective Educator Development. Announcements of these competitions began this month and will continue through this spring and summer.

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Teaching and Learning are Personal and Collaborative at Jones Elementary

At Jones Elementary School in Springdale, Ark., the number of students reading on grade level has almost tripled — from 26 to 73 percent — in eight years. “Our students succeed because we have teachers who expect them to succeed,” explains Principal Melissa Fink about this and other achievements of the schools’ nearly 600 students, 99 percent of whom live in poverty. In addition to believing in each student’s potential, she and the Jones Elementary faculty work to strategically remove obstacles to learning, make teacher teamwork a top priority, and effectively use data to improve teaching and learning.

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ED Celebrates Award-Winning Student Art in the National PTA’s Exhibit Believe, Dream, Inspire!

Travez Bradford, recipient of a National Award of Excellence for Music Composition/High School Division, performs his winning rap Believe, Dream, and Inspire. (Photo credit: Paul Wood/U.S. Department of Education)

Travez Bradford, recipient of a National Award of Excellence for Music Composition/High School Division, performs his winning rap Believe, Dream, and Inspire. (Photo credit: Paul Wood/U.S. Department of Education)

On January 13, 2015, more than 200 teachers, family members, arts education leaders, PTA members, policymakers, and local-area students came together to honor student artists from 21 states at the U.S. Department of Education (ED) auditorium and art gallery. The young artists — winners of the 2014 National PTA Reflections program — came to celebrate their works of visual art, film, dance, music, and creative writing based on the theme Dream, Believe, Inspire.

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Creating an Engine for Breakthrough Innovation in STEM Education

Every organization can benefit from an internal group that focuses on promoting and creating game-changing innovations.1 To avoid falling behind, organizations must look to the future while also improving performance and practices in the present. Here at the U.S. Department of Education (ED), we’re working hard to build the foundation for an advanced research infrastructure that can uncover breakthrough innovations so that our schools, educators, and students once again lead the world.

Before joining the team at ED, I spent 22 years in different Department of Defense (DoD) research settings, working closely with a variety of civilian research agencies. What I learned leading projects at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Office of Naval Research (ONR) is that most research (both public and private) is stove-piped into two categories: basic and applied. Basic research seeks new knowledge and understanding, while applied research — as the name suggests — takes existing knowledge (i.e., the results of basic research) and creates new applications for it. Applied research can improve performance incrementally by leveraging the results of already-established basic research. This is an important and essential function. But by definition, the impact of applied research is limited by the horizon of current knowledge, which means it is not well-suited to producing dramatic breakthroughs.

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ED Celebrates Student Art with ‘Yo soy … Je Suis … I am … My Neighborhood’ Exhibit

The entrance halls and ground floor public spaces of the U.S. Department of Education are filled year-round with color, creativity, and powerful ideas, thanks to the talents of young artists from the United States and around the world. In November, ED conducted a host of special activities celebrating the 15th anniversary of International Education Week, including an opening reception and ribbon cutting for the 2014 VSA international children’s art exhibit Yo soy…Je Suis…I am…My Neighborhood, presented by the Office of Very Special Arts (VSA) & Accessibility and the Department’s Student Art Exhibit Program. Each year VSA, a Jean Kennedy Smith Arts and Disability Program of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, receives over 700 international and national entries from students with disabilities, ages 3–22, and competition winners display their artwork at ED.

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Community Schools: Supporting Students in Baltimore

Baltimore, Md., is a community on the rise. According to the latest Maryland State Department of Education Report Card, between 2010 and 2013, Baltimore City Public Schools (BCPS) raised its four-year graduation rate from 61.5 to 68.5 percent. In the same period, its four-year cohort dropout rates were cut nearly in half, down to 12.1 percent in 2013. While many factors, individuals, and efforts have led to these upward trends, one in particular that stands out is the Baltimore City Community Schools Initiative (BCCSI), led with BCPS partner the Family League of Baltimore. Last month, a group of more than 30 staff from congressional offices and the federal departments of Education (ED), Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, and Justice traveled to Baltimore to learn about their work firsthand.

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New PBS KIDS Series Combines Television and Technology to Make Math Accessible

Special agents Olive (Dalila Bela) and Otto (Filip Geljo) are ready to get their first assignment in the Nov. 26th series premiere of ODD SQUAD. (Photo courtesy of ODD SQUAD© 2014 The Fred Rogers Company)

Special agents Olive (Dalila Bela) and Otto (Filip Geljo) are ready to get their first assignment in the Nov. 26th series premiere of ODD SQUAD. (Photo courtesy of ODD SQUAD© 2014 The Fred Rogers Company)

As parents and educators seek to develop the next generation of mathematicians, scientists, and engineers, one question remains constant: How do we make learning math and science accessible and fun for students? On Nov. 26th, PBS stations will premier ODD SQUAD, the network’s latest contribution to informal math education. A live-action television series, the show is designed to build curiosity and interest in math among early elementary school viewers.

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Opportunity to Succeed: A Jesuit Approach to Education

When the Washington Jesuit Academy (WJA) was founded in 2002, its leaders sought to answer an important question: “What more can we do for our students, our families, and our community to change the face of urban education?” During a recent visit, staff from the Office of Non-Public Education sought to identify lessons that could be shared with other educational leaders who are trying to answer this same question. WJA, a Catholic middle school for boys from low-income neighborhoods in Washington, D.C., has established a model that seeks to defy the city’s opportunity gap and prepare its students for long-term success. The school provides tuition assistance as well as social, nutritional, and health services to nearly 100 students, an enrollment intentionally kept low to ensure students receive focused, individualized attention.

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Tools for State and District Leaders: Personalized Learning Case Studies

Miami RTT-D 4

Middle school students work at their own pace in iPrep Math classrooms in Miami-Dade County. (Photo courtesy of the Miami-Dade County Public Schools)

More than 100 exemplary school superintendents will convene at the White House today, November 19th, for the ConnectED to the Future Summit. As part of the President’s ConnectED Initiative, these leaders have committed to advancing technology-enabled instruction in their districts. The Office of Innovation and Improvement (OII) supports several of these districts’ efforts to use technology to personalize and enhance student learning. OII is pleased to release a report that highlights some of these districts’ initial experiences, which is intended to serve as a resource for school leaders pursuing a path to personalizing student learning.

Personalized Learning in Progress: Case Studies of Four Race to the Top-District Grantees’ Early Implementation shares the experiences of four diverse school districts as they adopt personalized learning approaches that will prepare their students to succeed in the 21st century global economy. The four districts — Iredell-Statesville Schools (N.C.), Miami-Dade County Public Schools (Fla.), New Haven Unified School District (Calif.), and Metropolitan School District of Warren Township (Ind.) — are highlighted in part because of their diversity, including the range in geographies, size of student populations, differing academic content areas, and their varied approaches to personalized learning.

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