NEWSLETTERS
August 24, 2012 ED Review
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 August 24, 2012
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Race to the Top
Back to School Tour
Turning Around Schools
Change Is Hard—But Necessary
Student Hunger and Nutrition
Odds and Ends
Quote to Note
Upcoming Events

Race to the Top

On August 12, the Department announced it had finalized the application for the 2012 Race to the Top-District competition, which will provide nearly $400 million to support school districts in implementing local education reforms that personalize instruction, close achievement gaps, and take full advantage of 21st century tools that prepare each student for college and careers. The program sets a high bar to fund those districts that have a track record of success, clear vision for reform, and innovative plans to transform the learning environment and accelerate student achievement. "Race to the Top helped bring about groundbreaking education reforms in states across the country. Building off that success, we're now going to help support reform at the local level," Secretary Duncan noted. "We want to help schools become engines of innovation through personalized learning, so that every child in America can receive the world-class public education they deserve."

The program criteria invites applications from districts or groups of districts proposing to serve at least 2,000 students—or groups of 10 or more districts proposing to serve less than 2,000 students—with at least 40% of participating students (across all participating schools) qualifying for free or reduced- price lunch. Districts will choose to apply for funding to support learning strategies that personalize education in all or a set of schools, within specific grade levels or select subjects. Moreover, districts must demonstrate a commitment to Race to the Top's four core reform areas and have sign-off on their plan from the local superintendent, local school board president, and local teacher union/association president (where applicable). The Department plans to support high-quality proposals from across a variety of districts, including rural and non-rural, as well as those participating in a Race to the Top state grant and those not participating. The program offers competitive preference to applicants that form partnerships with public and private organizations to sustain their work and provide services to help meet students' academic, social, and emotional needs and enhance their ability to succeed.

The Department expects to make 15 to 25 awards. Awards will range from $5 million to $40 million, depending on the population served through the plan. Districts are asked to submit an intent to apply by August 30. Applications are due October 30. Grants will be announced no later than December 31. (Note: To assist applicants in preparing the application, the agency is hosting technical assistance webinars and has posted answers to Frequently Asked Questions.)

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Back to School Tour

September 12-21, Secretary Duncan and senior Department officials will visit 12 states and dozens of cities across the nation as part of the Department's third annual Back to School bus tour. This year's theme is "Education Drives America." Various events will highlight education successes and engage communities in conversations about P-12 school reform, college affordability and completion, and the link between education and jobs.

Secretary Duncan will lead the tour from Redwood City, California, through Reno, Nevada; Denver, Colorado, through Kansas City, Missouri; and Charleston, West Virginia, through Washington, D.C. Deputy Secretary Tony Miller and Under Secretary Martha Kanter will also lead portions of the tour. In addition, senior officials are participating in more than 60 satellite events along the bus tour route.

The public will be able to follow the tour online. Also, there is an email list (subscribe here) for updates on the tour. Subscribers can expect to receive media advisories about the tour, press releases from the tour, and blog updates during the tour.

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Turning Around Schools

This week, the White House welcomed more than 100 state, district, and school leaders and educators from 45 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, and the Bureau of Indian Education for panel discussions on the transformative efforts underway in low-performing schools through the School Improvement Grants (SIG) program. During this event, 12 school turnaround leaders were honored as "Champions of Change." These leaders were recognized for their roles in building a culture of high expectations, improving instruction, creating safe environments for learning, and fostering professional development, among many other efforts to elevate the quality of education in their schools. SIG invests in locally driven efforts to turnaround schools characterized by years of low attendance rates, low student achievement, and low graduation rates, as well as high rates of student disciplinary action and staff turnover. Currently, over 1,300 schools are working to turnaround through the SIG program.

In related news, the Department has re-launched the School Turnaround Learning Community. The site features improved chat and search functions and a user-friendly reorganization of resources, aimed at allowing state, district, school, and community leaders to discuss innovative strategies and share promising practices. To date, the site has some 4,300 members, offers over 500 school turnaround resources, and has hosted nearly 60 webinars on critical topics, including early learning, increased learning time, teacher and leader effectiveness, family and community engagement, and supporting secondary and rural schools.

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Change Is Hard—But Necessary

Also this week, Secretary Duncan met with more than 800 language arts teachers from Baltimore County Public Schools at a professional development conference to kick-off the new school year. He thanked teachers for their commitment to students and encouraged them to continue to support the hard work of implementing higher student academic standards, transitioning to better accountability systems, and rethinking the teaching profession. "We know the quality of a school system is only as good as the quality of its teachers and leaders, and we consider it our solemn duty to support you and honor your good work," he said. "We also know that many of the changes underway are difficult and will take time, but we all have to meet this challenge together, because the children who will be in front of you [next] Monday only get one chance at an education."

That afternoon, 190 language arts teachers from each middle and high school across the district took part in roundtables with the Department's Teaching Ambassador Fellows to discuss the Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence, and Collaborative Teaching (RESPECT) Project.

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Student Hunger and Nutrition

According to a national survey by Share Our Strength, released August 23 at a school in Prince George's County, Maryland, 60% of teachers said that they have students who regularly come to school hungry. The survey also found that students who are hungry have lower academic performance and suffer from health issues and behavioral problems. "When students are hungry and distracted, they're not learning," stressed Secretary Duncan at the release. "To set kids up for academic success, we must make sure they're getting the healthy food they need at breakfast and lunch, so they can concentrate in the classroom throughout the day." Share Our Strength has many resources to help educators have an impact on hunger at school.

Meanwhile, First Lady Michelle Obama recently hosted the first Kids' State Dinner at the White House, showcasing 54 budding chefs—between the ages of 8 and 12—representing all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and several territories.

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Odds and Ends

  • A new White House report, "Investing in Our Future: Returning Teachers to the Classroom," reveals that more than 300,000 local education jobs have been lost since the end of the recession. As a result, the national student-teacher ratio increased by 4.6% from 2008 to 2010, rolling back gains made since 2000. The President has proposed a plan that would provide $25 billion to prevent teacher layoffs and support hundreds of thousands of teacher and other educator jobs.

  • Earlier this month, the Secretary spoke at the State Higher Education Executive Officers' (SHEEO) Higher Education Policy Conference, discussing states' progress toward reaching President Obama's 2020 college completion goal and initiatives to expand college access and increase transparency around college costs.

  • The percentage of U.S. high school graduates meeting all four of ACT's College Readiness Benchmarks (25%) is unchanged from last year. Based on the actual performance of successful students in college, these 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 46% of 2012 graduates are ready for college-level algebra, and only 31% are ready for college-level biology.

  • The federal government's web portal has a Back to School landing page with resources and tips to help students, parents, and educators prepare for the new school year.

  • The Census Bureau's latest "Facts for Features" edition presents statistics associated with the return to classrooms by students and teachers.

  • The Department has launched a web page aimed at parent and family engagement.

  • The Federal Partners in Bullying Prevention is encouraging youth to submit Public Service Announcements (PSAs)—30- to 60-seconds in length—that showcase ways they are taking action against bullying and promoting a culture of kindness and respect in their communities. The deadline for submissions is October 14. The top prize is $2,000.

  • The National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB), which sets policy for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (also known as The Nation's Report Card), is seeking nominations of qualified individuals to serve as board members for a four-year term starting October 1, 2013. NAGB is soliciting the broadest representation to fill positions in four categories: elementary school principal, testing/measurement expert, state legislator (Democrat), and general public representative (two openings). The deadline for all nominations is September 30.

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Quote to Note

"America's future is directly linked to the quality of education we provide our children, young people, and adults. It is the key to a vibrant middle class, strong national security, and global economic competitiveness.... In the past three years, I've traveled to 47 states, visited hundreds of schools, and meet with thousands of students, teachers, and parents who are finding new and innovative ways to teach and learn. This year's bus tour is an opportunity to highlight what's working and create momentum for education reforms that improve the lives of all students."

        Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (8/15/12), announcing a cross-country Back to School bus tour

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Upcoming Events

Today, at 11:00 a.m. Eastern Time, Secretary Duncan will join NBC Today Money for a live web chat. He will answer questions about higher education-related topics, such as student loan debt and the cost of college.

The September 11 National Day of Service and Remembrance is the culmination of efforts launched by the non-profit organization MyGoodDeed in 2002, with wide support by the 9/11 community and leading national service organizations. As in years past, there will be opportunities for hundreds of thousands of volunteers to spruce up schools, paint and refurbish homes, run food drives, reclaim neighborhoods, and support veterans, soldiers, military families, and first responders.

Planning is underway for International Education Week 2012 (November 12-16, coinciding with American Education Week), jointly sponsored by the Departments of Education and State. The week provides educational institutions and communities the opportunity to promote and celebrate the benefits of international education.

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Last Modified: 08/28/2012