Press Room NEWSLETTERS
December 6, 2013

ED Review ... ...a bi-weekly update on U.S. Department of Education activities relevant to the Intergovernmental and Corporate community and other stakeholders

What's inside...
Financial Aid Toolkit
PISA 2012
Transition Flexibility
Principal Shadow Week
Graduation Rate Data
Odds and Ends
Quote to Note
Upcoming Events

Financial Aid Toolkit

On December 4, addressing some 5,600 participants attending the 2013 Federal Student Aid (FSA) Training Conference for Financial Aid Professionals in Las Vegas, Secretary Duncan introduced an online, "one-stop shop" aimed at guidance counselors and other advisers, such as staff and volunteers at community-based organizations, who assist students through the process of selecting and financing their higher education. The Financial Aid Toolkit consolidates financial aid resources and content into a searchable database, making it easy for individuals to quickly access the information they need to support students.

"By equipping counselors and mentors with financial aid information, we can help ensure current and potential students are getting the assistance they need to successfully navigate the process of planning and paying for a postsecondary education," the Secretary said. "This toolkit builds on the Administration's ongoing efforts to improve college access and affordability, and it is an important step toward meeting the President's 2020 goal of having the most college graduates in the world."

The toolkit provides access to resources covering the entire financial aid lifecycle—from applying for financial aid to repaying student loans. It includes Financial Aid Night materials, brochures, presentations, videos, and sample Facebook posts and tweets, as well as offers training opportunities and resources for self-instruction.

In related news:

  • President Obama has called for the Department to support new ideas in higher education through a limited number of experimental sites. Under Title IV of the Higher Education Act (HEA), the Secretary may waive specific HEA requirements of federal student financial assistance programs to allow for responsible innovations coupled with evaluations of their effectiveness. Starting today, the Department is asking the higher education community and other public and private agencies and organizations to submit ideas for experimental sites that will lead to a better-educated workforce and citizenry. For further information, review the Federal Register notice or the Dear Colleague letter. The deadline for submissions is January 31, 2014.
  • While Department officials have been listening to students, parents, college leaders, state officials, education organizations, and many others about their ideas on how to best craft a college rating system that would better inform students and encourage institutions to improve, the agency will be issuing a Request for Information (RFI) to ask experts and researchers to weigh-in. The RFI will complement ongoing engagement efforts. The Department continues to encourage the public to share feedback through collegefeedback@ed.gov.

(Note: More information about the call for ideas around innovative higher education programs can be found in a new blog post by Under Secretary Martha Kanter and Senior Policy Advisor David Soo and on the Department's College Affordability web site.)

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PISA 2012

Also this week, during a digital event with a live video feed, Secretary Duncan and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Secretary-General Angel Gurria announced the results of the latest Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) and discussed the implications for U.S. education policy. PISA is a test of reading, mathematics, and science literacy, given every three years to 15-year-olds around the world. In 2012, 65 education systems—including the 34 member countries of the OECD—participated in PISA.

Among the key findings:

  • While other nations moved ahead, there was no measurable change in U.S. average scores in reading, mathematics, or science literacy between 2012 and any of the previous U.S. results.
  • The U.S. remained below the OECD average score in mathematics literacy and was not measurably different from the OECD average scores in reading and science literacy.
  • In mathematics literacy, the U.S. had a higher percentage of low-performing students and a lower percentage of high-performing students, on average, than the OECD countries.

"While we are seeing some encouraging progress on many important measures, the United States' performance on the 2012 PISA is a picture of educational stagnation," the Secretary said in a statement. "This is a reality at odds with our aspiration to have the best-educated, most competitive workforce in the world. We must invest in early education, raise academic standards, make college affordable, and do more to recruit and retain top-notch educators. By taking those vital steps, we will ensure all of America's children have access to a high-quality education that prepares them for college and careers."

(Note: A recent blog post captures the PISA Day events and includes a video and a link to the Secretary's prepared remarks.)

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Transition Flexibility

The Secretary announced this summer that the Department was open to providing additional flexibility for states during the transition to new assessments aligned with college- and career-ready standards. As of November 22, a dozen states (Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, and Washington) had requested a waiver delaying personnel consequences for teachers and principals tied to the new assessments for up to one year beyond current plans, until no later than 2016-17. Also, 15 states (California, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Vermont, and Washington) had requested a waiver to allow schools that participate in a field test to have students take only one end-of-the-year test—either the current statewide assessment or the field test. These states also had the option of requesting flexibility to allow provisions for school-level accountability, as well as intervention plans that support low-performing students, to stay the same for a year. The agency is reviewing the waiver requests and will approve them on a rolling basis. (Note: On December 4, the Department approved Mississippi's and Nevada's requests for an additional year before using their teacher and leader evaluation systems to make personnel decisions.)

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Principal Shadow Week

Last month, partnering with the National Association of Elementary School Principals, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, and New Leaders, 45 Department officials spent time learning about the work of principals by shadowing them at school. Many shadowed principals in the Washington, D.C., metro area. Others were in schools in Massachusetts, Maryland, and Virginia. Also, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Deputy Secretary Jim Shelton shadowed Principal Viola Jackson at Capitol Middle School. Subsequently, Secretary Duncan met with shadowers and shadowees to debrief on their experiences and how they may apply to work at the agency.

Also: Next week, the Department will welcome its initial cohort of Campus Principal Ambassador Fellows. This fellowship program was conceived at last year's debrief on principal shadowing.

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Graduation Rate Data

According to new, preliminary data available here, many states improved their four-year high school graduation rates in the 2011-12 school year. The data shows that 16 states reported graduation rates at or above 85%, versus just nine states who reported the same graduation rates in 2010-11. This is the second year for which all states used a common, rigorous measure to indicate how many students received diplomas. Building off this new data, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) will release a report in early 2014 regarding on-time graduation rates for school years 2010-11 and 2011-12. On-time graduation rate indicators provide a measure of the percentage of students that complete high school in four years with a regular high school diploma.

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Odds and Ends

  • On November 26, the White House honored 10 "Champions of Change" who are taking creative approaches in using technology to enhance learning for students in communities across the country.

  • A new practice guide from the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) provides pre-kindergarten and kindergarten teachers with concrete recommendations on how to support the mastery of early math concepts.

  • Also, as college application deadlines loom, practice guides and single study reviews offer practical tips to help students enroll and stay in college.

  • A new NCES "First Look" report describes the overall price of attendance (including tuition and fees, books and materials, housing, food, transportation, and personal expenses) associated with attending two- and four-year institutions, as well as examines the net price (attendance minus financial aid).

  • Also, a NCES statistical analysis report presents recent national statistics on beginning bachelor's and associate's degree students' entrance into, and attrition from, STEM fields.

  • A blog post, penned by the Department's Office of Safe and Healthy Students (OSHS), discusses "Addressing and Preventing Sexual Assault on Campus."

  • Another blog post, by Milton Chen of the George Lucas Educational Foundation, highlights America's National Parks as the "best idea" for authentic learning.

  • Additional blog posts recap Secretary Duncan's visits to Wheeling High School in Chicago (on STEM), Brightwood Elementary School in Washington, D.C. (on early learning, the arts, and STEM), and West Caldwell Tech High School in northern New Jersey (on school turnarounds).

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Quote to Note

"Contrary to the myth one sometimes hears, the 2012 PISA also highlights that the vast majority of high-performing countries have demanding and high-stakes assessments. Most high-performing countries have gateway exams for entrance into postsecondary education—and sometimes even for secondary education. Whether it is Singapore's PSLE and GCE assessments, China's Gaokao, South Korea's CSAT, Germany's Abitur, or Poland's Matura, assessments linked to high standards propel good instruction and higher-order learning around the world. As Linda Darling-Hammond has said, 'The question for U.S. policymakers has shifted—from Can the U.S. afford assessments of deeper learning? to Can the U.S. afford not to have such high-quality assessments?'"

        Secretary Arne Duncan (12/3/13), in remarks at the release of the 2012 PISA

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Upcoming Events

The next public meeting of the President's Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics is December 11, from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Eastern Time, at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in Washington, D.C. The commission will review the 2013-16 Second Term Action Workplan, including activities and engagement efforts for 2014 on key priorities, and hold breakout sessions with subcommittees. All are welcome.

The White House has announced its first-ever video contest for K-12 students. Submissions must be under three minutes and spotlight at least one of the following themes: how technology is currently used in the classroom or school or what role technology will play in education in the future. Submissions are due January 29, 2014. Finalists will have their films shown at the White House. Final videos may also be featured on the White House web site, YouTube channel, and social media pages.

The President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, in partnership with other federal agencies, is seeking applications from after-school and out-of-school programs for the 2014 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards. Twelve applicants will receive $10,000. The deadline for applications is February 10, 2014.

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Credits, Subscribe & Unsubscribe

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Program Analyst—Adam Honeysett, (202) 401-3003, Adam.Honeysett@ed.gov
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Last Modified: 12/09/2013