NEWSLETTERS
August 21, 2009 ED Review
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 August 21, 2009
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Back to School
H1N1 Flu Virus
ARRA Outreach
Arts in Schools
Special Analysis: International Assessments
Odds and Ends
Quote to Note
Upcoming Events

Back to School

On September 8—the first day of school for many children across America—President Obama will deliver a speech about the importance of persisting and succeeding in school. The Department is encouraging students, parents, and educators to use this opportunity to help students get focused and begin the school year strongly. The speech will be broadcast live at 1:00 p.m. ET. The Department has also asked a group of its Teaching Ambassador Fellows to develop some suggested classroom activities around the speech to help engage students and stimulate discussion on the importance of education. The suggested activities will be posted online.

Also, the next "Education News Parents Can Use" broadcast (September 15, 8:00-9:00 p.m. ET) will feature Secretary Duncan in a special town hall meeting, subtitled "America Goes Back to School." Since May, the Secretary has been traveling throughout the country to engage a broad group of stakeholders—including parents—in an open and honest conversation about federal education policy in anticipation of the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act. Already, he has met with hundreds of students, parents, teachers, principals, education support staff, superintendents, professors, higher education administrators, and community leaders during his tour: "Listening and Learning: A Conversation About Education Reform" (see more below). Now, for his latest tour "stop," the Secretary will engage in a live, interactive discussion via telephone, email, and video. To contribute to the discussion:

  • call the show during the live broadcast, at 1-888-493-9382, between 8:00-9:00 p.m. ET;
  • email your comments by 5:00 p.m. ET on Wednesday, September 9; or
  • submit original video comments by Wednesday, September 2.

In addition, on August 10, the Secretary kicked-off Back to School with a lesson from preschoolers about kitchen tools—old and new—and how they might be used. Children from the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center, located in the National Museum of American History, showed the Secretary what they have learned about these tools that might have been used in Julia Child's kitchen, which served as the backdrop. At the museum, the Secretary and newly appointed Senior Advisor on Early Learning Jacqueline Jones also read to three- and four-year-olds.

Note: The federal government's web portal, USA.gov, has an extensive list of web sites, with resources for students, parents, and educators. In particular, browse the Census Bureau's annual Back to School feature, which highlights customary statistics on students, teachers, and learning, as well as data concerning back to school shopping ($7.6 billion was spent at clothing stores in August 2008), lunchtime (9.9 billion apples were produced in the U.S. in 2008, more than half from the State of Washington), and the rewards of staying in school (with an advanced degree, the average annual earnings of workers 18 and older in 2007 was $80,977; with a bachelor's degree, $57,181; with only a high school diploma, $31,286; and without a diploma, $21,484).

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H1N1 Flu Virus

The Departments of Education and Health and Human Services and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have released new guidance for institutions of higher education to plan for and respond to the upcoming flu season. This important information comes on the heels of similar guidance for K-12 schools and businesses and employers. Also, the Department of Education's own flu web site has audio of conference calls with higher education media and higher education stakeholders and communications toolkits for schools, colleges, and universities. More Information.

And, in an August 10 letter to Chief State School Officers, Secretary Duncan and Secretary Vilsack discuss assistance and flexibility to schools as they engage in community planning to promote the health of children and families and minimize the loss of school meals in the event a fall or winter recurrence of the H1N1 virus leads to school dismissals.

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ARRA Outreach

Yesterday (August 20), Secretary Duncan and Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement Jim Shelton briefed school district superintendents and non-profit organization leaders on the Department's $650 million "Investing in Innovation Fund," also known as the i3 Fund. In his remarks, available via webcast, the Secretary highlighted the impact that innovations have had on education, discussed exactly what "innovation" means to the Obama Administration, and explained how the unprecedented i3 Fund will support that vision and identify the innovations driving the next generation of education reforms. In the coming weeks, the Department will be releasing for public comment the criteria for this new grant program. Districts and non-profits will be asked to partner on i3 Fund applications.

Also this week, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary Duncan visited Orlando's Jackson Middle School to spotlight how the ARRA is saving tens of thousands of teaching jobs and providing the resources necessary to prepare students for the 21st century economy.

Earlier, the Department published a proposal in the Federal Register to allow states to reserve more administrative funds under Title I, Part A and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to help defray data collection costs under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), such as those related to administering, monitoring, and reporting on use of ARRA funding. The proposal specifies a maximum additional amount of administrative funds that each state may reserve. The proposal is open for public comment through September 16.

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Arts in Schools

On August 18, the NAMM Foundation hosted on behalf of the SupportMusic Coalition a teleconference with Secretary Duncan to discuss his recent letter to school and education community leaders outlining the importance of the arts as a core academic subject—in public schools. Over 1.75 million national arts and music education advocates were encouraged—through a national network of coalitions—to participate in the call. "At this time, when you are making critical and far-reaching budget and program decisions for the upcoming school year, I write to bring to your attention the importance of the arts as a core academic subject and part of a complete education for all students," the Secretary stated in the letter. "The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) defines the arts as a core subject, and the arts play a significant role in children's development and the learning process." During the call, he reminded listeners that, under the ESEA, states and districts have the flexibility to support the arts through federal Title programs and Department of Education programs. Also, districts can use funds under the ARRA's State Fiscal Stabilization Fund for the arts, along with other district expenses. And, the Secretary went into detail on the National Center for Education Statistics' (NCES) next steps for supporting the arts as part of a well-rounded curriculum: (1) conducting a survey to assess the condition of arts education in grades K-12; (2) surveying elementary school teachers, as well as arts and music specialists at the elementary and secondary levels, about their relevant programs and resources; and (3) reporting findings from this comprehensive profile in 2011—the first such report since the 1999-2000 school year. More Information.

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Special Analysis: International Assessments

According to " U.S. Performance Across International Assessments of Student Achievement: Special Supplement to 'The Condition of Education 2009,'" students in a number of countries outperformed their U.S. peers across the board in reading, math, and science on the latest international tests. This report, for the first time, pulls together the evidence from the international tests taken by nearly a million students from 85 nations worldwide. This includes three key exams: the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), and the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). While the math scores of U.S. students have improved since 1995, there have been no gains in reading and science. Moreover:

  • In reading, the average scores of U.S. students are the same or higher than their peers in roughly three-quarters of the other countries that have participated in PIRLS and PISA tests, but the number of countries outperforming the U.S. on PIRLS increased from three in 2001 to seven in 2006, among the 28 nations that participated in both tests.
  • In math, results from the 2007 TIMSS test show that U.S. students have improved in fourth- and eighth-grade since the first administration of TIMSS in 1995, but the 2006 PISA results suggest that U.S. 15-year-olds are not as successful in applying math knowledge and skills to real world tasks as their peers in several other developed nations.
  • In science, results from the 2007 TIMSS test show that U.S. fourth-graders have fallen behind peers in many countries, even thought their average scores in science have not declined since the first administration of TIMSS in 1995.

"Today's report is another wake-up call that our students are treading the waters of academic achievement while other countries' students are swimming faster and farther," the Secretary said in a statement. "The results show that for us to stay competitive and move forward, we have to get our students ready for global competition. That's why I so strongly support the work of our governors and Chief State School Officers to develop a set of common, internationally benchmarked, college- and career-ready standards that will help put our students' performance on par with other top-performing countries."

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Odds and Ends

  • For Scott Coleman, principal at Mount Vernon Community School in Alexandria, VA, the ARRA is not only about reforming the education system. It is also about investing in future generations.

  • As part of the Administration's Rural Tour, Secretary Duncan recently joined three Cabinet secretaries in Alaska (Anchorage and Bethel and Hooper Bay) and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack in south central North Carolina (Hamlet).

  • The fall, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and civil rights leader Al Sharpton will join Secretary Duncan on a tour to underline the Administration's efforts to reform public education, spur innovation, and discuss challenges facing U.S. school systems. The tour, an outgrowth of their meeting with President Obama last spring, will consist of school visits, key stakeholder meetings, and media briefings. The main goal of the tour is to stimulate conversation and engagement on issues of education reform. The first stop will be Philadelphia, on September 29, followed by New Orleans on November 3 and Baltimore on November 13. More stops, such as a rural site, will be added as the tour progresses.

  • The percentage of U.S. high school graduates meeting all four of ACT's College Readiness Benchmarks increased slightly from 22% in 2008 to 23% in 2009, even as the "pool" of students taking the ACT continued to expand. Based on the actual performance of successful students in college, these readiness benchmarks specify the minimum scores needed on each ACT subject area test to indicate a student is ready to succeed (a 50% chance of earning a "B" or higher or a 75% chance of earning a "C" or higher) in a typical first-year, credit-bearing college class in that subject area. Lack of college readiness is again most evident in the areas of math and science; just 42% of ACT-tested 2009 graduates are ready for college-level algebra, while only 28% are ready for college-level biology.

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Quote to Note

"We are on the cusp of a new era of innovation and entrepreneurship in education that was almost unimaginable a decade ago. But, we still have a long way to go. And the responsibility for speeding that transformation lies not just in school districts but at the doors of the U.S. Department of Education.... The Department has, historically, been an agency that monitored compliance with federal regulations. The Department did not open its Office of Innovation and Improvement until 2002, more than two decades after its founding. Even then the Department's programs to promote innovation have been modest. I want to fundamentally change the historical relationship. I want the Department to become an engine of innovation, not a compliance machine. I want the Department to provide powerful incentives to states, districts, and non-profits to innovate, but at the same time leave most of the creative thinking and entrepreneurship for achieving our common goals in local hands."

        Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (8/20/09), speaking about education innovation

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Upcoming Events

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

On August 24, the Department will hold its next web conference designed to assist grantees and subgrantees in managing ARRA grants. The topic is cash management requirements; representatives from the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund program office will be on the call. Also, archived webcasts, PowerPoint slides, and transcripts for both the July 30 Office of Inspector General "Fraud Prevention in Recovery Act Programs" and the August 10 Department of Education "Guidance and Suggestions for Completing the Recovery Act Section 1512 Quarterly Reports" web conferences are now available.

Planning is underway for the Department's tenth annual International Education Week (November 16-20, coinciding with American Education Week). The week supplies schools, colleges and universities, and communities the opportunity to promote and celebrate the benefits of international education worldwide. This year's theme is "Creating a Vision for a Better Future." Individuals and institutions are encouraged to join the listserv and submit a report on planned activities.

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Last Modified: 06/15/2012