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June 19, 2009 ED Review
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 June 19, 2009
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Race to the Top (Four Assurances)
Race to the Top (Charter Schools)
Student Aid Changes
NAEP 2008: Arts Assessment
H1N1 Flu Virus
Odds And Ends
Quote to Note
Upcoming Events

Race to the Top (Four Assurances)

Over the last two weeks, Secretary Duncan delivered two of four major policy speeches on priorities for the "Race to the Top" Fund. Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), states must offer assurances that they are making progress in four critical areas of reform: adopting rigorous standards that prepare students for success in college and the workforce; recruiting and retaining effective teachers, especially in classrooms where they are needed most; turning around low-performing schools; and building data systems to track student achievement and teacher effectiveness. States must report on their progress toward completing these assurances in their applications to receive formula funding under the $48.6 billion State Fiscal Stabilization Fund (SFSF). The Department will evaluate states' success in meeting assurances when reviewing states' applications for competitive grants under the $4.35 billion "Race to the Top" Fund.

First, on June 8, at the fourth annual conference of the Department's Institute of Education Sciences, the Secretary told education researchers that supporting states' efforts to build warehouses of data on student achievement is a top priority. "I am a deep believer in the power of data to drive our decisions," he said. "Data gives us the roadmap to reform. Its tells us where we are, where we need to go, and who is most at risk." The Secretary specifically urged researchers to work on improving accountability models based on the growth of student test scores and developing fair models of compensating teachers and other school staff based on the achievement of their students. Ultimately, he added, the data should be used to ensure that students are on track to graduation and success in college. "Hopefully, some day, we can track children from preschool to high school, from high school to college, and from college to career," he stated. "We must track high-growth children in classrooms to their great teachers, and great teachers to their schools of education."

Then, on June 15, during an address at the 2009 Governors Education Symposium in North Carolina, the Secretary urged the nation's governors and state education leaders to continue the movement toward adopting internationally benchmarked standards for K-12 education. He also applauded the 46 states and three territories that agreed this month to develop common standards, announcing the Department will commit up to $350 million of the "Race to the Top" Fund to support the states in the creation of rigorous assessments that are linked to those common standards. "With higher standards that are common across states, we can share best practices and collaborate on curricula," he noted. "We can learn together about how to improve teacher preparation and development so that far more teachers can help students master challenging standards. This can accelerate all of your [education] reform work." Regarding assessments, "You will create these tests. You will drive the process. You will call the shots," he said. "We just want tests that are aligned with rigorous standards and that accurately reflect what is happening in the classroom so that teachers, parents, and students can trust the results."

The Secretary will shortly deliver two more major policy speeches. He will discuss turning around low-performing schools on June 22 at the National Charter School Conference (Washington, D.C.). He will discuss teacher quality on July 2 at the National Education Association's Annual Meeting (San Diego).

"Race to the Top" grants will be made in two rounds. States that miss in the first round may reapply for the second round. The Secretary has laid out the following timeline:

  • late July 2009—the Department will publish a notice of proposed rulemaking in the Federal Register, inviting public comment for 30 days on the proposed grant application and evaluation criteria
  • October 2009—notice inviting applications will be published in the Federal Register
  • December 2009—Phase 1 applications will be due
  • March 2010—Phase 1 grants awarded
  • June 2010—Phase 2 applications will be due
  • September 2010—Phase 2 grants awarded
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Race to the Top (Charter Schools)

Prefacing his speech on school turnarounds, the Secretary told reporters on a June 8 conference call that states must be open to charter schools. "States that do not have public charter laws or put artificial caps on the growth of charter schools will jeopardize their applications under the 'Race to the Top' Fund," he declared. "To be clear, the administration is not looking to open unregulated and unaccountable schools. We want real autonomy for charters, combined with a rigorous authorization process and higher performance standards." Currently, 10 states lack laws allowing public charter schools, and, in the 40 states with charters, 26 put artificial caps on the number of charters. Such actions, stressed the Secretary, are "restricting reforms, limiting choices for parents and students, and denying children full access to new, high-quality instruction."

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Student Aid Changes

The first of July is an important date for federal student aid, when interest rates and other terms change. This year, besides the decrease in costs for many loans, a major new student loan repayment option will become available for the first time. Among the July 1 changes:

  • Interest Rate Drop. The fixed interest rate for new, subsidized Stafford loans will drop from 6.0% to 5.6% for undergraduates. Subsidized Stafford loans go primarily to students with family incomes under $80,000, and the government pays the interest while the student is in school (or in deferment). Also, the origination fees for all Stafford loans (subsidized and unsubsidized, undergraduate and graduate) will drop by half a percentage point, to 1.5% of the amount borrowed.
  • More Grants Available. Funding provided by the ARRA and the College Cost Reduction and Access Act (CCRAA) increases the maximum Pell Grant for the 2009-10 school year to $5,350—a $600 increase over last year's award. Pell Grants are awarded mainly to students with family incomes under $50,000. Also, students will now be eligible to receive Pell Grants year round.
  • Income-Based Repayment (IBR) Program. IBR caps eligible borrowers' monthly federal loan payments at 15% of their discretionary income, or, more technically, 15% of what a borrower earns above 150% of the poverty level for their family size. The program covers nearly all federal loans made to undergraduate and graduate students, past, present, or future, including Direct Loans and federal loans from a private lender. The debt and interest remaining after 25 years of payments will be forgiven. Moreover, under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, if the borrower works in a government, non-profit, or other public service job, debts could be forgiven in as few as 10 years under IBR or other qualifying payment options. Yet, only Direct consolidated loans are eligible for this program. Borrowers can use the Department's IBR Calculator to estimate if they will benefit from IBR.

All unconsolidated Stafford loans that originated before July 1, 2006, have variable interest rates that reset each year. This year, the variable rate is dropping from 4.21% to 2.48%. And, for Class of 2009 graduates, the news is even better: if they consolidate during the six-month grace period, they can lock in a rate of 1.88%.

Also: This week, Secretary Duncan announced that four companies were awarded new contracts to service a portion of the nearly $550 billion outstanding federal student loan portfolio held by the Department. The contractors will also service loans originated by and sold to the agency in the future. The awarding of these contracts provides the Department with the capacity necessary to support anticipated increases in the number of loans owned by the Department and ensures borrowers receive the assistance they need to effectively manage their federal student loan obligations.

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NAEP 2008: Arts Assessment

A nationally representative sample of 7,900 eighth-grade students from 260 public and private schools participated in the 2008 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) assessment in arts. Approximately one-half of the students were assessed in music; the other half were assessed in visual arts. Two separate scores were reported for the assessment: average responding score (reflecting students' ability to observe, describe, analyze, and evaluate works), reported for both music and visual arts, and average creating task score (reflecting students' ability to express ideas in the form of an original work), reported only for visual arts. Since this assessment differed substantially from the previous assessment, a trend could not be reported on overall scores. Yet, compared to 1997, about the same percentage of students correctly answered a set of multiple choice questions in visual arts; in music, there was a decline from 53% to 51%. In addition, 57% of eighth-graders in 2008 attended schools where students received music instruction at least three or four times a week (not significantly different from the 43% reported in 1997), and 47% of eighth-graders in 2008 attended schools where students received visual arts instruction at least three or four times a week (not significantly different from the 52% reported in 1997). (The Secretary's statement on the results is available online.)

Also: New survey research from the National Endowment for the Arts finds that American audiences for the arts are getting older, and their numbers are declining.

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H1N1 Flu Virus

In a joint letter, Secretary Duncan and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius commended parents and educators for addressing challenges "faced as a result of the H1N1 flu outbreak, particularly balancing health and safety requirements with the educational, business, and social needs of the community." They also urged stakeholders "to begin thinking about the next school year, and how we can work together to keep our students and local communities safe." Among their recommendations: updating school emergency plans; considering ways to promote good hand hygiene, regular cleaning and disinfection of surfaces in schools, and other infection control measures; and considering alternative mechanisms for the delivery of education content. The recommendations are linked with federal resources.

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Odds and Ends

  • The Department's State Fiscal Stabilization Fund resources page includes states' initial applications, approved applications, and any amendments.

  • "The Opportunity Equation: Transforming Mathematics and Science Education for Citizenship and the Global Economy," from the Carnegie Corporation, offers concrete actions to a range of organizations who must coalesce to "do school differently" to transform math and science education.

  • "Late High School Dropouts: Characteristics, Experiences, and Changes Across Cohorts," from the Department's National Center for Education Statistics, presents selected information about high school sophomores in 2002 who, subsequently, dropped out of school.

  • The Department recently announced the awarding of $18.5 million to enhance libraries in 57 low-income school districts across the U.S. The grants will help schools improve reading achievement by providing students with increased access to current school library materials, technologically advanced media centers, and professionally certified media specialists.

  • The Department also recently announced the awarding of $3.4 million for 14 programs in 11 states to enhance American Indian preschool preparation and prepare American Indian high school students to transition to and succeed in college or other postsecondary education options, and $3.8 million for 11 programs in seven states to provide training programs to recruit and graduate new American Indian teachers and administrators.

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Quote to Note

"You must resist the temptation to make [common] standards too easy. Our children deserve to graduate from high school prepared for college and the jobs of the future. The standards must be rigorous, and they must also be tightly focused on the most important things students need to know. Right now, standards are too broad.... Teachers scramble to cover everything—a little of this, a little of that—and not enough of what's really important. They can't dig deeper on a challenging subject that excites students. And, students can't master material when they are racing thorough it."

        Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (6/14/09), at the Governors Education Symposium

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Upcoming Events

On a weekly basis, the Secretary's public schedule is posted online.

President Obama has unveiled United We Serve—a sustained effort to expand the size and impact of volunteer efforts in addressing challenges facing the nation. The initiative, led by the Corporation for National and Community Service, officially kicks off on June 22 and runs for 81 days, all the way through to new National Day of Service and Remembrance on September 11. To make it easy to get involved, the President is urging Americans to visit the Corporation's web site, where individuals can search for local volunteer opportunities, recruit volunteers by posting their organization's projects, or get ideas for creating their own projects with families and friends.

Hold on! Over the next two weeks, the Department will exhibit at the National Charter Schools Conference in Washington, D.C. (June 21-24), the Council of Chief State School Officers' National Conference on Student Assessment in Los Angeles (June 21-24), the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials' Annual Conference in Los Angeles (June 25-27), the National Parent Teacher Association's National Convention in Fort Lauderdale (June 26-29), and the National School Public Relations Association's National Seminar in San Francisco (June 28-July 1). If you are attending any of these events, please stop by the Department's booth.

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Last Modified: 04/30/2012