Back to School: Bus Tour
Managing Student Loans
School Improvement Grants
Future Ready Districts
Odds and Ends
Quote to Note
Back to School: Bus Tour
This week was the Department's fifth annual Back to School bus tour, entitled "Partners in Progress." Over four days, Secretary Duncan and senior Department officials held roughly 30 events in 11 cities and four states across the American Southeast. The agency's blog has a wealth of stories, pictures, and videos chronicling the tourincluding daily recaps of the Secretary's events on September 8 [Atlanta and Carrollton, Georgia], September 9 [Birmingham and Huntsville, Alabama, and Chattanooga, Tennessee]; and September 10 [Nashville and Memphis, Tennessee]. The agency also published a Partners in Progress booklet and bookmark. In addition, throughout the tour, participants have been utilizing social media.
At Booker T. Washington High School in Atlanta, the Secretary was joined by First Lady Michelle Obama. She spoke about her Reach Higher initiative, which seeks to inspire all American students to take charge of their future by completing some postsecondary education. "Completing high school is not the end but the beginning of your life's journey," she said. "In today's world, in order to compete in an ever-globalizing economy, you've got to continue your education after you graduate from high school. And, fortunately, there are many paths that you can takewhether that's a professional training program, a community college, or a four-year school (see blog post).
At John Herbert Phillips Academy in Birmingham, the Secretary was joined by Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro for a roundtable discussion with 10 young students on the President's My Brother's Keeper initiative. He raised the opportunities that can be created for young people when all levels and sectors of government work together, including education, housing, economic development, public safety, and transportation. This is the theory behind the Promise Zones initiative, a cross-administration initiative to support high-poverty urban, rural, and tribal communities.
At William Henry Oliver Middle School in Nashville, the Secretary was joined by National PTA President Otha Thornton and parents and teachers from the school district to discuss the impact in classrooms of some of the greatest changes schools have seen in decades. Tennesseelike nearly every other state in the countryis in the early stages of implementing higher standards, better assessments, and ways to use data and technology to boost student learning, as well as new efforts to support teachers and principalsall aimed at ensuring every student is college- and career-ready. These changes are beginning to show results, but challenges remain.
Managing Student Loans
The Department has announced new steps to help federal student loan borrowers better manage debt.
First, following up on the commitments outlined by President Obama this summer, the agency re-negotiated terms of contracts with federal student loan servicers in order to strengthen incentives for them to provide excellent customer service and help borrowers stay up-to-date on their payments. The re-negotiated terms focus on the Department's priorities: effective counseling and outreach to ensure that borrowers select the best repayment option for them and enhanced customer satisfaction for student and parent borrowers at all stages of the loan life cycle. These incentives include:
- revised performance metrics that increase the weight of the existing customer satisfaction survey from 20% to 35% of the overall score (the most recent scores are available here);
- a payment plan supporting servicers' success in keeping borrowers in on-time repayment status and helping borrowers avoid default; and
- other incentives tied to each servicer's success in reducing delinquency in payments across its portfolio.
Second, Secretary Duncan directed Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell to explore action that will further strengthen the federal Direct Loan program to be responsive to the needs of borrowersnow and in the future. In the coming weeks, the Department's Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) will unveil a series of opportunities to hear directly from federal student loan borrowers and other stakeholders about ideas for improving the federal student loan program. By the end of the year, the Under Secretary will use this feedback to make key recommendations on ways to help struggling borrowers.
Third, the agency will begin the process to amend regulations and allow more borrowers to cap their payments at 10% of their monthly incomes under an expanded Pay as You Earn repayment plan option.
Note: On September 3, the Department published a notice in the Federal Register announcing its intention to establish a negotiated rulemaking committee to prepare proposed regulations and hold public hearings.
September 17 is Constitution Day/Citizenship Day, commemorating the September 17, 1787, signing of the U.S. Constitution. In recognition, Congress has mandated that every educational institution receiving federal funding hold an educational program about this seminal document. To assist students and educators in their studies, free online resources are available from the Department's Federal Registry for Educational Excellence (FREE) web site. Specifically, a feature details "8 Ways for Kids to Learn About Our Nation's History." Also, the National Archives and Records Administration has published new tools: "The Constitution at Work," a match game connecting primary resources to constitutional articles, and "Exploring the U.S. Constitution," an eBook that explores the roots of the three branches of government.
School Improvement Grants
The Department recently proposed new requirements for the School Improvement Grants (SIG) program. The proposed requirementsimplementing language from the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014 -- would allow school districts to execute additional interventions, provide flexibility for rural districts, and extend the grant period from three to five years. Also, the proposed requirements would make changes reflecting lessons learned from four years of SIG implementation. Public comments must be received by October 8. The agency will issue final requirements later this year.
Future Ready Districts
Last week, the Department's Office of Educational Technology (OET) released the Future Ready District Pledge, a roadmap to achieve success in the transition to personalized digital learning, and called on superintendents to demonstrate their commitment to leading this transformation by signing the pledge. Selected signatories will be invited to the Connected Superintendents' Summit at the White House on October 7, while others will participate digitally in a virtual signing ceremony. Signatories will also be invited to attend regional summits, where they will learn more about the cutting edge of personalized digital learning, how to implement the technical infrastructure to support it, and how to access millions of dollars in funding to help actualize the commitments outlined in the Future Ready pledge.
Odds and Ends
The Department has now approved 23 states and the District of Columbia for one-year extensions of flexibility from certain provisions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA): Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia. These extensions allow states to move forward with the critical work of implementing the bold reforms they committed to in their original flexibility requestswhich expired this summerwith the goal of improving achievement for all students. The Department is reviewing state requests for one-year extensions on a rolling basis and anticipates approving additional requests over the next several weeks. (Note: The Department has posted here approved flexibility requests and highlights of each state's plan.)
On September 3, the Department announced a new, $3.1 million Project School Emergency Response to Violence (SERV) grant to the Newtown Public School District in Connecticut to help with ongoing recovery efforts over the next two school years in response to the tragic shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012. The grant, combined with a $1.3 million grant for the 2012-13 school year and a $1.9 million grant for the 2013-14 school year, brings the total amount provided to the district to more than $6.4 million, one of the largest Project SERV grants ever awarded. While the earlier grants addressed needs of the entire school community, this latest grant is focused on students and staff who were directly impacted by the incident.
The Department's Progress blog spotlights state and local innovative ideas, promising practices, lessons learned, and resources informed by the implementation of K-12 education reforms. Currently, one can read about District of Columbia Public Schools' Educator Portal Plus, which is full of resources for educators, from high-quality lesson plans to professional development opportunities to videos that illustrate best practices or innovative ideas to implement in the classroom. Ideas for content may be sent to email@example.com.
With a federal Charter Schools Program grant, the Illinois Network of Charter Schools has expanded its work to educate residents about the charter school model and to support "design teams" that seek to launch new, high-quality public schools in their communities.
A new Department web page is dedicated to providing information and resources for students who are newly arrived or who have received, or are planning to request, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). For example, the Secretary issued a September 10 letter to educators on DACA.
"Education at a Glance," the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's (OECD) annual report, compares education systems in 34 member countries using a range of indicators, such as student participation and achievement, public and private spending, conditions for students and educators, and the state of lifelong learning.
Quote to Note
"It's time for our children to head back to school, and, as classrooms and notebooks begin to fill up, I'm increasingly optimistic about our country's ability to elevate and strengthen education. With high school graduation rates at an all-time high, and big jumps in the number of students going to college over the last few years, it's a good time to celebrate the teachers, principals, families, and students who have driven that success. And, it's a good time to talk about the work ahead in ensuring that strong educational opportunities are a reality for every child in America."
|||Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (9/8/14), in a blog post preceding the Back to School bus tour|
U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools Director Andrea Falken and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services Sue Swenson will visit schools in Colorado (September 16 and 17) and Minnesota (September 23 and 24), as part of the agency's second annual Green Strides Best Practices Tour. This year's tour, entitled "Healthy Schools, High-Achieving Students," is focused on environmental health. Federal, state, and local visitors will bring attention to best practices of honored schools and districts. The tour, which has already traveled through West Virginia, Kentucky, and Florida, will later stop in Maryland. Events are open to the public.
All parties are welcome to join the transparency webinar on September 16 at 3 p.m. Eastern Time. Michael Hawes from the Department and Baron Rodriguez from the Privacy Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) will give a general overview of federal privacy laws. They will also offer best practice recommendations for improving transparency, including how to respond to parent inquiries.
On September 19, at 11 a.m. ET, the Department will open an exhibit of 2014 Scholastic Art Awards winners, with a special exhibit of Portland, Oregon, winners. The ribbon-cutting ceremony will feature remarks by Deputy Under Secretary of Education Jamie Studley, Executive Director of the Alliance for Young Artists and Writers Virginia McEnerney, and Executive Director of the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities Rachel Goslins, as well as poetry from the five new National Student Poets. To RSVP to attend or learn more about the agency's year-round exhibit program, please contact Jacquelyn.Zimmermann@ed.gov.
The Department is accepting applications for winter/spring 2015 internships through October 1.
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