Early Learning Competition
Completing the FAFSA
Helping African-American Students
Odds and Ends
Quote to Note
On February 4, at a middle school in Prince George's County, Maryland, President Obama announced major progress on the ConnectED initiative. Preparing America's students with the skills they need to get good jobs and compete in the global economy will rely increasingly on interactive, personalized learning experiences driven by new technology. But, millions of students lack high-speed broadband access, and fewer than 30% of schools have the broadband needed to teach today's technology. Under ConnectED, 99% of students will have access to next generation broadband by 2017. That connectivity will help transform the classroom experience for all students.
Before his remarks, the President stopped by a math class to chat with students and have some fun with technology. Borrowing a student's iPad, he recorded a quick video, highlighting one student's "outstanding calculations... describing right angles" while complimenting another student on his tie. Then, in remarks to the entire school body, he detailed how Buck Lodge Middle Schooland other schools that are also instituting new technologiesare helping students and teachers achieve better results.
The President announced that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will invest $2 billion over the next two years to dramatically expand high-speed Internet connectivity for America's schools and librariesconnecting more than 20 million students to next generation broadband and wireless. He also announced that private companies have committed more than $750 million to deliver cutting-edge technologies to classrooms. In addition, the Department of Agriculture has pledged $10 million in grants for rural schools. (Note: A White House fact sheet outlines these steps toward realizing the ConnectED goal.)
Moreover, to support teachers as they use new technology to improve learning enabled by ConnectED, the President will request new funding in his Fiscal Year 2015 budget proposal for school districts and schools to provide high-quality professional development as they transition to digital learning.
Meanwhile, on Digital Learning Day (February 5), the Department of Education released a Dear Colleague letter to states, offering guidance on ways that existing federal education funds can be leveraged to support schools and educators in the transition to digital learning.
Early Learning Competition
Also on February 4, on a conference call with more than 1,200 stakeholders (see audio file and transcript), Secretary Duncan and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius announced a major new competition to build, develop, and expand high-quality preschool programs, working closely with states and local communities across the country. This new, $250 million Race to the Top competition is distinct from the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge, a program that currently supports 20 states as they design and implement integrated systems of high-quality early learning programs and services to increase the number and percentage of children from low-income families that enter kindergarten ready for successfrom birth through age 5. This year's Race to the Top funding will support the President's call to provide high-quality preschool for all four-year-olds from low- and moderate-income families, through a new competition to expand and enhance preschool programs. Both agencies are very interested in input! Please submit ideas, suggestions, and comments regarding the new competition on the Homeroom blog, through February 26 at 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time. Once the initial input from the field is collected and reviewed, the agencies will draft an executive summary and post for comments that will, in turn, inform the final Notice Inviting Applications.
Plus, $500 million will be awarded competitively through the Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships to support states and communities in expanding high-quality early learning to over 100,000 infants and toddlers.
Completing the FAFSA
On February 5, First Lady Michelle Obama and Secretary Duncan visited T. C. Williams High School in northern Virginia, leading a workshop on completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). "FAFSA is quick, it's easy, it's free, and it can help you access thousands of dollars to help you and your family pay for college," the First Lady said in her remarks. "And, that's true no matter who you are. You don't have to be the valedictorian. You don't have to major in a certain subject. You don't have to be at the very bottom of the income ladder to receive the money. Almost everyone is eligible for some form of financial aid. All you have to do to access that aid is fill out this one little form. It's so simple." In his remarks, the Secretary noted recent changes have made filling out the FAFSA much easier. "About 98% of FAFSA applicants now use the web-based version," he stated. "The incorporation of skip-logic removed unnecessary and duplicative questions from the form. And, the addition of the IRS Data Retrieval Tool greatly simplified retrieving the financial information needed to fill out the form.... On average, students today are completing their online FAFSA applications in a little under half-an-hour. Those improvements have helped propel a 33% increase in the number of students who have completed the FAFSA over the last five years. We received 22 million FAFSA applications in the 2012-13 cycle, nearly five-and-a-half million more than we received just five years earlier. And our aim is to make the process even simpler. Someday, I hope students who qualify for financial aid based on their tax return will not have to complete a FAFSA at all."
Anyone can fill out the FAFSAfor freeon the official government web site at www.fafsa.gov. Also, to assist educators, counselors, and others with student financial aid awareness, the Department's Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) launched a Financial Aid Toolkit late last year. The toolkit consolidates financial aid resources and content into a searchable online database, making it easy for anyone to quickly access the information they need to support students.
Helping African-American Students
Starting this spring in Atlanta and continuing throughout the year, the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African-Americans is holding summits on improving learning and development for African-American children and youth. Co-sponsored by Ebony magazine (see March issue), the summit series was conceived to identify ways to improve the academic achievement of African-American students and better prepare them for college and careers. The series will bring together leaders in education, business, and other fields for conversations about what is needed to keep students engaged in school and supported in learning and development opportunities beginning at birth. The series will also highlight individuals and organizations that are successfully supporting educational excellence for African-Americans. And, there is a clear focus on creating opportunities for parents, grandparents, guardians, and other caring adults to increase the number of African-Americans who graduate from high school prepared for future success.
This month, during Career and Technical Education Month, the Department announced that the name of the Office of Vocational and Adult Education has been changed to the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE), acknowledging that "career and technical education" is a more accurate term to describe what and how students are studying to be career-ready. The office has a rich history of being in the forefront of career, technical, and adult education, providing critical funding and technical resources, for example, to the career pathways movement. OCTAE continues to be the office responsible for administering federal CTE programs, as well as the partner adult education programs. Two years ago, the office issued blueprint calling for effective, high-quality CTE programs aligned with college- and career-ready standards. Students in such CTE programs graduate with industry certifications/licenses and postsecondary certificates/degrees that prepare them for in-demand careers within high-growth sectors.
Odds and Ends
On February 10, Secretary Duncan and Chief Executive Officer of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) Wendy Spencer visited DC Scholars Stanton Elementary to observe students' progress and participate in a roundtable discussion highlighting the importance of partnerships in efforts to dramatically improve teaching and learning in persistently low-achieving schools.
The Department is offering each state that was approved to begin implementing Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) flexibility in the 2012-13 school year the opportunity to request a one-year extensionthrough the 2014-15 school yearof its flexibility request.
The Secretary announced that six statesDelaware, Georgia, Mississippi, Nebraska, Virginia, and West Virginiaand the District of Columbia will receive more than $38 million in new awards from the School Improvement Grants (SIG) program to continue efforts to turn around their persistently lowest-achieving schools.
The White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities announced its first class of HBCU All-Stars, recognizing 75 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students for accomplishments in academics, leadership, and civic engagement.
Take a few minutes to get to know Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine Lhamon.
To enrich students' understanding of the Olympic Winter Games, now underway in Sochi, Russia, the Federal Registry for Educational Excellence (FREE) web site has 14 suggestions for the home, the classroom, and the outdoors.
A report, based on surveys completed by all 50 states and the District of Columbia in 2011, examines which states were implementing the key education reform strategies promoted under the Recovery Act.
The College Board's latest "Advanced Placement Report to the Nation" shows 20.1% of the Class of 2013 achieved mastery (at least a 3 on a 5-point scale) on one or more AP exams.
President Obama has asked every American who knows someone without insurance to help them get covered between now and March 31. There are 5.7 million uninsured children in the country. Yet, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, families have greater access to quality health care.
Quote to Note
"Today, the average American school has the same Internet bandwidth as the average American home, but it serves 200 times as many people. Think about it. So, you've got the same bandwidth, but it's a schoolit's not your house. Only around 30% of our students have true high-speed Internet in the classroom. In countries like South Korea, that's 100%. We shouldn't give that kind of competitive advantage over to other countries.... In a country where we expect free Wi-Fi with our coffee, we should definitely demand it in our schools."
|||President Barack Obama (2/4/14), speaking on the ConnectED initiative|
Tonight, at 7:00 p.m. ET, Secretary Duncan will take the court for the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game. ESPN will televise the game. Tune in to learn more about the educational significance of the Secretary's jersey number: 80.
The Department is accepting applications for summer 2014 internships through March 15.
The Library of Congress is accepting applications for its week-long summer programs for K-12 educators through March 24. Held at the Library of Congress, the professional development provides educators with tools and resources to effectively integrate primary sources into classroom teachingwith an emphasis on student engagement, critical thinking, and construction of knowledge.
Also, the Library of Congress Literacy Awards Program, which honors organizations that have made outstanding contributions to increasing literacy in the U.S. or abroad, is accepting applications for 2014 awards through March 31. The winners will be announced at the National Book Festival on August 30.
Schools around the world are encouraged to celebrate International School Meals Day (March 6) by promoting healthy eating and learning, using the theme "Food Stories."
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