NEWSLETTERS
February 15, 2013 ED Review

 February 15, 2013
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State of the Union
Completing the FAFSA
Testimony: ESEA Flexibility
Testimony: Sequestration
Sustainability Plans
Odds and Ends
Quote to Note
Upcoming Events

State of the Union

In his 2013 State of the Union address, President Obama outlined a series of proposals to increase access to a high-quality education. Among them were initiatives to make quality early education accessible to every child, to redesign the country's high schools to meet the needs of the real world, and to tackle the spiraling cost of college. The proposals complemented other efforts to strengthen the middle class, including calls to raise the minimum age and reform immigration.

Among the education excerpts from the speech:

  • Expanding Early Learning. "Study after study shows that the sooner a child begins learning, the better he or she does down the road. But, today, fewer than 3 in 10 four-year-olds are enrolled in a high-quality preschool program. Most middle class parents can't afford a few hundred bucks a week for private preschool, and, for poor kids who need help the most, this lack of access to preschool education can shadow them for the rest of their lives. Tonight, I propose working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America.... Every dollar we invest in high-quality early education can save more than seven dollars later on—by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime. In states that make it a priority to educate our youngest children—like Georgia or Oklahoma—studies show students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, and form more stable families of their own. So, let's do what works, and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind."

  • Redesigning High Schools. "Let's also make sure that a high school diploma puts our kids on a path to a good job. Right now, countries like Germany focus on graduating their students with the equivalent of a technical degree from one of our community colleges, so that they're ready for a job. At schools like P-Tech in Brooklyn—a collaboration between New York City Public Schools, the City University of New York, and IBM—students will graduate with a high school diploma and an associate's degree in computers or engineering.... Four years ago, we started Race to the Top—a competition that convinced almost every state to develop smarter curricula and higher standards, all for about 1% of what we spend on education each year. Tonight, I'm announcing a new challenge to redesign America's high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy. And, we'll reward schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM)—the skills today's employers are looking for to fill the jobs that are there now and will be there in the future."

  • Holding Colleges Accountable. "Now, even with better high schools, most young people will need some higher education. It's a simple fact that the more education you have, the more likely you are to have a job and work your way into the middle class. But, today, skyrocketing costs price too many young people out of a higher education, or saddle them with unsustainable debt. Through tax credits, grants, and better loans, we've made college more affordable for millions of students and families over the last few years, but taxpayers can't keep on subsidizing higher and higher costs for higher education. Colleges must do their part to keep costs down, and it's our job to make sure that they do. So, tonight, I ask Congress to change the Higher Education Act so affordability and value are included in determining which colleges receive certain types of federal aid. And, tomorrow, my Administration will release a new College Scorecard (see below) that students and parents can use to compare schools based on a simple criteria: where you can get the most bang for your educational buck."

Also:

A day after the State of the Union address, the Department released an interactive College Scorecard, supplying students and families the critical information they need to make smart decisions about where to enroll for higher education. The scorecard—part of the President's continued efforts to hold colleges accountable for cost, value, and quality—includes five basic pieces of data about an institution: costs, graduation rate, loan default rate, average amount borrowed, and employment. The data will be updated periodically, and the agency plans to publish information on earnings potential in the coming year.

Then, yesterday, President Obama visited College Heights Early Childhood Learning Center in Decatur, Georgia, to see first-hand how the programs they have put in place are making a difference in the lives of our youngest citizens. (Note: A fact sheet on the President's plan for early education for all children is posted online.)

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Completing the FAFSA

In March 2012, the Department's Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) announced a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) Completion Tool to help guidance professionals, school administrators, and practitioners track and subsequently increase FAFSA completions at high schools across the country. Earlier this month, FSA enhanced the tool by revealing FAFSA submission and completion totals for the current year, as well as FAFSA submission and completion totals for the same time last year. With this add-on, the FAFSA Completion Tool—updated bi-weekly during the peak application period—provides every U.S. high school whose students have completed five or more FAFSAs with information about how many applications were submitted and completed during the 2013-14 application year and comparison data from the 2012-13 application year.

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Testimony: ESEA Flexibility

Last week, in a hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, Secretary Duncan promoted the value of providing flexibility to states under the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, the latest reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). He noted that granting states new flexibility through waivers—which the Department began offering in 2011—was not his first choice; he would have preferred that Congress reauthorize the law instead. Yet, in light of congressional gridlock over reauthorization, he said he was "not willing to stand by idly and do nothing while students and educators continue to suffer under NCLB."

In his testimony and in response to questions from committee members, he sketched in detail the ways in which state flexibility has strengthened accountability for at-risk students, improved evaluation and professional development for teachers and principals, and unleashed a wave of state-driven innovation.

In the end, the Secretary asserted he did not have "a moment's doubt" that state flexibility "is a major improvement for children and for adults over NCLB." He also stressed the need to learn from any mistakes in the waiver process, correct them quickly, and share that learning across the country. "We can never let the perfect become the enemy of the good. And, that is what we have done for far too long in education." Ensuring a world-class education for every child "is both a demanding challenge and an urgent imperative for our children, our communities, and our nation."

That same day, Kentucky Commissioner of Education Terry Holliday and New York Commissioner of Education John King, who also testified at the hearing, and New Jersey Commissioner of Education Chris Cerf discussed their states' new accountability systems and the implications of waivers on state and federal policies and practice at a Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) forum.

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Testimony: Sequestration

This week, Secretary Duncan testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee on the impacts of sequestration. The sequester—automatic spending cuts to most federal programs—is scheduled to go into affect March 1. "Education is the last place to be reducing our investment as the nation continues to climb out of the recent recession and to prepare all of its citizens to meet those challenges created by global economic competitiveness in the 21st century," he said. "I can assure you that our economic competitors are increasing, not decreasing, their investments in education..." Some core programs would be impacted immediately. For other, forward-funded programs, sequestration would not reduce funds until the 2013-14 school year, although school districts will be making hiring decisions this spring and will have to plan on less funding. "In particular," he explained, "sequestration would hit hard at federal, state, and local efforts to improve educational opportunities for the nation's neediest students and families." "Sequestration is a bad policy," the Secretary concluded. "It cuts all programs by the same percentage—no matter the purpose or the performance. We need to replace sequestration with balanced deficit reduction..."

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Sustainability Plans

On February 7, continuing the Administration's commitment to lead by example and cut costs, waste, and pollution in federal operations, federal agencies released 2012 Strategic Sustainability Performance Plans. The plans build on three years of progress under Executive Order 13514 and provide an overview of how agencies are saving taxpayer dollars, cutting waste, and saving energy. This year, these plans also include Climate Change Adaptation Plans, outlining initiatives to reduce the vulnerability of federal programs, assets, and investments to the impacts of climate change. (Note: The Department of Education's sustainability plan is available here.)

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Odds and Ends

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Quote to Note

"I propose a 'Fix-It-First' program to put people to work as soon as possible on our most urgent repairs.... And, to make sure taxpayers don't shoulder the whole burden, I'm also proposing a Partnership to Rebuild America that attracts private capital to upgrade what our businesses need most: modern ports to move our goods, modern pipelines to withstand a storm, modern schools worthy of our children. Let's prove that there's no better place to do business than here in the United States of America, and let's start right away. We can get this done."

        President Barack Obama (2/12/13), proposing a program focused on urgent infrastructure repairs, including schools

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Upcoming Events

Secretary Duncan is in Houston this weekend to hold a roundtable discussion on school turnarounds and participate in NBA All-Star Weekend activities.

On February 21, in a live webcast at 12:00 noon Eastern Time, the National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB) will release the results of a new National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) report covering trends in student achievement in California, Florida, Illinois, New York, and Texas in reading, math, and science at grades 4 and 8. Nearly 40% of U.S. students attend schools in these "mega-states." These states offer lessons about the condition and future of education in the country as a whole.

Through March 8, the Department's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) is administering assessments at grades 4, 8, and 12 in reading and math, as well as the technology and engineering literacy (TEL) pilot assessment. Participation in NAEP 2013 is important to the nation. In support, NCES has released some helpful background and introductory videos for students and teachers.

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Credits, Subscribe & Unsubscribe

Please feel free to contact the Office of Communications and Outreach with any questions:
Deputy Assistant Secretary, Intergovernmental Affairs—Stacey Jordan, (202) 401-0026, Stacey.Jordan@ed.gov
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Last Modified: 02/21/2013