Superintendent Monthly: July 2011

Superintendent Monthly is a regular e-newsletter for superintendents and district staff that provides updates from Dr. Thelma Meléndez de Santa Ana, Assistant Secretary of Elementary and Secondary Education at the U.S. Department of Education.
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JULY 2011

Message from Dr. Meléndez 

Photo: U.S. Department of EducationAs some of you may have heard, I recently accepted a position as superintendent of the Santa Ana Unified School District in my home state of California. While I'm absolutely thrilled to return to the field, I leave the Department of Education with mixed emotions, as I truly enjoyed this opportunity to affect education policy at the national level and to bring voices from the field into the work of the Department. During my time as assistant secretary, it was so important for me to focus our work on supporting you and helping to build the capacity of states, districts, and schools. Moving forward, I know that the Secretary is commited to continuing this work on supporting grantees and maintaining our focus on improving teaching and learning in our classrooms.

In my new role as superintendent in Santa Ana, I will oversee a district with a student population of about 58,000 students. The district also serves a high percentage of low-income, Latino, and English language learner populations.

My last day at the Department will be August 5. At this time, Michael Yudin, who currently serves as a deputy assistant secretary, will step in as acting assistant secretary of the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education. Michael is an incredible leader who will do a wonderful job in this time of transition, and I know that he is excited to work with all of you.

It's been my absolute honor to serve as assistant secretary of elementary and secondary education on behalf of the superintendent community. I can't tell you how excited I am to return to a school district and work with students, families, communities, and school and district staff. I am grateful for the support that I received from the superintendent community throughout my tenure here, and I look forward to continuing our dialogue as we continue our work on behalf of children across the country.


Title I Allocations

To aid in some key calculations, the Department has published Fiscal Year 2011 Title I allocations by school district. Under No Child Left Behind, districts must spend up to 20% of their Title I, Part A allocation to cover school choice-related transportation costs and pay for supplemental educational services. Districts have some discretion to determine the allocation of funds between transportation and supplemental services, but all districts must spend at least a quarter (5%) of the 20% “reservation” on each activity if there is demand for both. Further, for supplemental services, districts are required to pay the lesser of the actual cost or an amount equal to the district’s Title I, Part A allocation divided by poor students in the district, as determined by estimates produced by the Census Bureau. Learn more: http://1.usa.gov/pfZqB3.


School Turnarounds

Introducing the School Turnaround Learning Community

Photo: Tudochi

OESE recently launched the School Turnaround Learning Community (STLC), an online community of practice for state, district, and school leaders implementing school turnarounds. The STLC provides one-stop access to resources on school turnaround, and it promotes and facilitates sharing across states and districts to deepen learning on the issue over time. Available resources on the STLC include research-based practices and practical examples from states, districts, and schools inventing on-the-ground solutions. The STLC also facilitates regular activities such as training, discussions, and Q&A sessions with experts on school turnaround implementation. Learn more and join the community: http://www.schoolturnaroundsupport.org.


Grant Information

Investing in Innovation Program

On June 3, the Department of Education kicked-off the 2011 Investing in Innovation (i3) grant competition to continue support for evidence-based practices in education. This second round of i3 makes $150 million available to individual school districts, consortia of districts, and non-profit organizations in partnership with districts or groups of schools. Three absolute priorities remain from last year’s grant competition: supporting effective teachers and principals, implementing high standards and quality assessments, and turning around persistently low-performing schools.  For this year’s competition, the Department has included two new absolute priorities focusing on achievement and high school graduation rates in rural schools and promoting science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education.
Deadline to Apply: August 2, 2011
Type of Grant: Discretionary/Competitive
Who May Apply: Local Educational Agencies (LEAs) and non-profit organizations
Learn More: http://1.usa.gov/nxI1C8

Promise Neighborhoods

On July 6, the Department released the application for the next phase of the Promise Neighborhoods program, including a second round of planning grants and new implementation grants, totaling $30 million. At the core of Promise Neighborhoods is a focus on improving education outcomes from cradle to career, as well and family and community support outcomes that include health, safety, community stability, family and community support of learning, and access to learning technology. Nonprofits, institutions of higher education and Indian tribes are eligible to apply for the $30 million fund to develop or execute plans that will improve educational and developmental outcomes for students in distressed neighborhoods.
Deadline to Apply: September 6, 2011
Type of Grant: Discretionary/Competitive
Who May Apply: Nonprofits, institutes of higher education, and Indian tribes
Learn More: http://1.usa.gov/am4umE


Department of Education Updates

Testing and Teaching

In the wake of new cheating allegations in districts, the Washington Post convened a roundtable on how best to approach teacher incentives in the education system, featuring opinion pieces by Secretary Duncan, Duke University behavioral economics professor Dan Ariely, Harvard Graduate School of Education professor Howard Gardner, and Washington Post columnist Steven Pearlstein. Below are some excerpts from the Secretary’s submission:
 
“Recent news reports of widespread or suspected cheating on standardized tests in several school districts around the country have been taken by some as evidence that we must reduce reliance on testing to measure student growth and achievement. Others have gone even farther, claiming that cheating is an inevitable consequence of ‘high-stakes testing’ and that we should abandon testing altogether. To be sure, there are lessons to be learned from these jarring incidents, but the existence of cheating says nothing about the merits of testing. Instead, cheating reflects a willingness to lie at children’s expense to avoid accountability -- an approach I reject entirely.”

Learn more: http://1.usa.gov/nEjNeH.

Supportive School Discipline Initiative

On July 21, Secretary Duncan joined Attorney General Eric Holder to announce the launch of the Supportive School Discipline Initiative, a collaborative project between the two agencies that will address the “school-to-prison pipeline” and the disciplinary policies and practices that can push students out of school and into the justice system. The initiative aims to support good discipline practices to foster safe and productive learning environments in all classrooms. To implement the initiative, the agencies will coordinate with other organizations in the non-profit and philanthropic communities who are working to help ensure students succeed by dealing with inappropriate school discipline. Learn more: http://1.usa.gov/nbkBhn.

Early Learning Grants

Photo: U.S. Department of EducationOn July 1, the Obama Administration published proposed competition criteria for the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC) and invited public input through Monday, July 11, at 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time. The proposal outlines draft requirements, priorities, selection criteria, and definitions, in accordance with the program’s stated purpose: to improve the quality of early childhood programs in order to close the achievement gap for high-need children. Proposed criteria ask applicants to approve a common set of standards for children and early learning and development programs, promote high-level outcomes, implement high-quality, accountable programs, and support a strong early childhood education workforce. Learn more: http://1.usa.gov/jIa1Nw.

College Costs

The Department released several college affordability and transparency lists as part of its effort to help students make informed decisions about their choice for higher education. “The lists are a helpful tool for students and families as they determine what college or university is the best fit for them,” said Secretary Duncan. “We hope this information will encourage schools to continue their efforts to make the cost of college more transparent so students make informed decisions and aren’t saddled with unmanageable debts.” The Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 called for these lists to be created by July 1 of this year. Under the requirements, six lists will be created. Three lists will focus on tuition and fees, while three lists will look at the institution’s “average net price,” which is the average price of attendance that is paid by full-time students after grants and scholarships are accounted for. Each list is broken out into nine different sectors, to allow students to compare costs at similar types of institutions. In addition, users can look up information on the prices of career and technical programs. Learn more: http://collegecost.ed.gov/.

Civil Rights Data Collection

The Department recently released Part 1 of a two-part biennial survey: the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC). The survey covers approximately 7,000 school districts and over 72,000 schools and has been enhanced and made further accessible through improved data collection, additional data indicators, and publicly accessible online tools for analysis. The data provides parents, educators, and policymakers with critical information to assist them in identifying inequalities and targeting solutions to close the persistent achievement gap in America.

Part 2 of the CRDC is expected to be released this fall. It will include the numbers of students passing Algebra I, taking AP tests, and passing AP tests, expanded discipline data, data on restraint and seclusion, retention data by grade, teacher absenteeism data, school funding data, and data on incidents of harassment and bullying. State and national projections, based on the sample data collected, will also be available before the end of the year. Learn more: http://ocrdata.ed.gov/.


Upcoming Events

Summer Seminars at Six

Starting July 14 and continuing every other Thursday through August 25, from 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. ET, the Department is hosting “Summer Seminars at Six,” a four-part summer information series for teachers. The seminars are designed to share information about education policy that will help educators to be engaged and participate in policy discussions at the federal, state, and local level. Led by teachers working at the Department, along with other agency staff, there will be opportunities for questions and conversations in person and online. Learn more: http://1.usa.gov/nztsAh.

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