Press Room NEWSLETTERS
December 20, 2013 (Happy Holidays!)

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...
New Grant Awards
TUDA 2013
Focus on Higher Education
Principal Fellowships
Bookshelf and Progress Blog
Odds and Ends
Quote to Note
Upcoming Events

New Grant Awards

Before the end of the calendar year, the Department announced grants under three major programs.

First, on December 13, the agency announced that all 25 of the highest-rated applicants from the 2013 Investing in Innovation (i3) grant competition secured their required private matching funds and became official grantees. Together, they will share more than $134 million in federal funding to expand innovative practices designed to improve student achievement. The i3 program announced the 25 highest-rated applicants—selected from 618 applications and representing a cross-section of school districts, institutions of higher education, and non-profit organizations—in November. Applicants had four weeks to secure private matching funds. Of the 25 grantees, 18 are in the "Development" category—grants that will support implementing new and promising, but relatively untested, projects—and seven are in the "Validation" category—grants that will support building organization capacity of projects that have evidence of effectiveness. As in the past, the grantees address a variety of issues, including five projects focusing on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) course content and instructional practices, four projects focusing on family and parent engagement, and four projects serving rural students and communities. With the addition of this latest cohort, the i3 program encompasses 117 grantees using approximately $1 billion in federal funds and $200 million in private funds to tackle some of the important challenges in education.

Next, on December 17, the agency announced that five applicants—representing 25 districts—will receive a share of $120 million in funding under the 2013 Race to the Top-District (RTT-D) grant competition. These grants will support locally developed plans to personalize and improve student learning, increase student achievement and educator effectiveness, close achievement gaps, and prepare every student for success in college and careers. These grantees were selected from 31 finalists—the highest scorers among over 200 applications received in October that were evaluated and scored by independent peer reviewers. They particularly shine a light on the innovative work going on in rural districts across the country to tailor education for all students and provide teachers and leaders with key tools that support them in meeting students' needs. As Secretary Duncan emphasized in a blog post, RTT-D plans also show that technology can be a powerful equalizer for schools in such communities.

Then, on December 19, Secretary Duncan and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius announced that six states—Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Vermont—will receive a share of $280 million in funding under the 2013 Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC) grant competition. RTT-ELC supports states in systemic efforts to align, coordinate, and improve the quality of existing early learning and development programs across multiple funding streams that support children from birth through age 5. These grantees were the top scorers among 17 applications received in October, evaluated and scored by independent peer reviewers. Since 2011, RTT-ELC has awarded $1 billion to 20 states. RTT-ELC is a part of the Administration's comprehensive early learning agenda, in combination with President Obama's Preschool for All proposal. As senior staff raised in a blog post, quoting Secretary Duncan, "We have to quit 'playing catch-up and level the playing field for our children before they start kindergarten.'"

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TUDA 2013

The 2013 Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) reports the achievement of fourth- and eighth-grade public school students in 21 urban districts on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Students in eight districts scored higher in 2013 than in 2011 in at least one subject and grade combination, with some districts making gains across multiple subjects and/or grades. The District of Columbia Public Schools scored higher at both grades in reading and math. Los Angeles students scored higher in three subject and grade combinations, and Fresno eighth-graders scored higher in both subjects. Additionally, while the average scores in most TUDA districts were lower than the average scores for students in their states and the nation, reading and math scores in Austin, Charlotte, and Hillsborough County (Florida) were higher than the scores for large cities, and fourth-graders in Atlanta, Chicago, the District of Columbia, and Los Angeles posted larger increases in math than their peers nationwide. (Note: Secretary Duncan issued a statement and penned a special blog post on the results.)

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Focus on Higher Education

The Department recently took a number of important actions to assist students and families pursuing postsecondary education.

As a first step, the agency released an updated version of the Administration's financial aid model award letter, known as the Shopping Sheet, and announced that nearly 2,000 institutions of higher education have voluntarily committed to using this important consumer tool. Developed jointly by the Department and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the Shopping Sheet gives students a standardized yet personalized template that clearly spells out—before they enroll—how much grant money they will receive and how much they may need to take out in loans to cover out-of-pocket expenses. Since the initial release, the Department and CFPB have received feedback from students, counselors, and financial aid administrators on ways to modify the tool, which are now reflected in the revised version, effective for the 2014-15 academic year. Beyond language changes to improve clarity, the Shopping Sheet has added a glossary to better explain financial aid terms. A breakdown of all the updates is available in a blog post.

Moreover, as part of its ongoing efforts to implement inclusive policies that reflect the diversity of American families and are consistent with the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, the Department announced new guidance on the use of "marriage" and "spouse" across federal student aid programs, including completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Under the guidance, the agency will recognize a student or a parent as married if the couple was legally married in any jurisdiction that recognizes the marriage, regardless of whether the marriage is between a couple of the opposite sex or same sex and regardless of where the student or couple lives or the student is attending school. Collecting parental information from both of a dependent student's legal parents will result in a fair treatment of all families—information provided by students and parents on the FAFSA is used to calculate the student's expected family contribution (EFC)—by eliminating long-standing inequities based on parents' relationships with each other, rather than on their relationship with their child.

Meanwhile, in a new blog post, Deputy Under Secretary of Education Jamie Studley outlined the feedback the Department has received during the past few months on its "College Ratings Listening Tour." "It was very good to hear, over and over and from all quarters, how many people share the President's fundamental commitments to affordability, access, completion, innovation, and transparency," she stated. "At the same time, we heard many probing questions, thoughtful suggestions, and serious concerns about the design of the system, its reliability and clarity, and the effects it might have." Staff are now evaluating comments received, while working with data experts, soliciting technical recommendations, and assessing existing rating systems in higher education and other fields. The goal is to publish a draft in mid-2014 for public review. (Note: This week, a notice requesting "technical expertise" for a Postsecondary Institution Ratings System was published in the Federal Register.)

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Principal Fellowships

Last week, Secretary Duncan announced the three principals selected to participate in the Department's inaugural Principal Ambassador Fellowship program. The principals will serve until August 2014 as part-time employees, to lend the perspective of school leaders to the agency's work. As the first such fellows, they will also help design the program for future participants. "Each year, I have the opportunity to visit schools and meet with leaders across the country who are committed to improving educational outcomes for students," the Secretary said. "Principals are a linchpin in the effort to improve student success and raise achievement at any scale, and I look forward to working with 2013 fellows to continue a thoughtful conversation on the best ways to support and sustain leaders for the long haul." The fellows were selected from a pool of over 450 applicants who serve in a range of traditional public and charter schools, as well as alternative and private schools. Applications came from principals in nearly every state, from urban, suburban, and rural settings. The Principal Ambassador Fellowship program will complement and build upon the benefits of the Department's Teaching Ambassador Fellowship, now in its sixth year.

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Bookshelf and Progress Blog

To assist the public, the Department has released a messaging Bookshelf—a series of ready-made presentations that highlight many focus areas in education. These slide decks present facts, charts, data, and other information reflecting progress and challenges in improving education, as well as Department programs and initiatives that aim to close achievement gaps and foster equal educational opportunities. Overall, the Bookshelf tells a story about the progress in education reform, the work still left to be done, and the agency's top priorities.

The Department has also created a new Progress blog that focuses on success stories and innovative ideas. Posts will offer insight into the transformation taking place in classrooms, schools, and systems through the creativity and leadership of teachers, school, district, and state leaders, and parents.

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Odds and Ends

  • 'Tis the season: check out "Five Tips to Keep Kids Learning During the Holidays."

  • During Computer Science Education Week (December 9-15), the non-profit group Code.org drove activities in some 150 countries around the world and sponsored an "Hour of Code" campaign that encouraged students, teachers, and parents to devote an hour to get a taste of computer programming. (Note: President Obama recorded a video message regarding the importance of computer science.)

  • On successive days, Secretary Duncan announced Project School Emergency Response to Violence (SERV) grants to Danvers High School in Massachusetts and Placerville Union School District in California to help with ongoing recovery efforts following traumatic events.

  • The Secretary met with Fast for Families, a group of faith-based, immigrant rights, and labor leaders assembled near the U.S. Capitol calling for action on needed, sensible immigration reform.

  • The Secretary also met with students from the School-Based Health Alliance and Young Invincibles to discuss affordable health care.

  • In a detailed blog post, Under Secretary of Education Martha Kanter and Executive Director of the White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education Bill Mendoza explain what they heard at the White House Tribal Nations Conference.

  • On December 9, the Secretary announced five appointments to the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity, which advises him on accreditation issues and the eligibility and certification process for postsecondary institutions.

  • A new report from the President's Council on Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) underscores the tremendous promise of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and related technologies in postsecondary education.

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Quote to Note

"As a nation, we can't stop every act of violence. We can't heal every troubled mind. But, if we want to live in a country where we can go to work, send our kids to school, and walk our streets free from fear, we have to keep trying. We have to keep caring. We have to treat every child like they're our child. Like those in Sandy Hook, we must choose love. And together, we must make a change."

        President Barack Obama (12/14/13), in his weekly address marking the one-year anniversary of the tragic shooting in Newtown, Connecticut

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Upcoming Events

To date, Department officials have hosted regional engagement sessions in Philadelphia and Chicago on a national action plan to improve the preparedness of low-skilled U.S. adults. Three more sessions are planned in January in Redwood City, California; Cleveland, Mississippi; and the Boston metropolitan area. The agency has also created a toolkit for communities and organizations to host their own sessions and contribute their ideas to the development of the plan.

Through January 10, the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) is accepting nominations for 2014 HBCU All-Star Students.

The deadline for registration for the 2014 Real World Design Challenge has been extended to January 20. This year's challenge focuses on precision agriculture. Each member of the national winning team will receive a $50,000 scholarship from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and there is a $1,000 stipend for the teacher who best integrates the challenge into their curriculum.

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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: 12/20/2013