Press Room NEWSLETTERS
November 7, 2014

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...
Reach Higher Challenges
Preschool Development Grants
Innovation Grants
Gainful Employment Rules
Game-Changing Evaluations
Recognition Day/Weeks/Month
Quote to Note
Upcoming Events

Reach Higher Challenges

On October 30, First Lady Michelle Obama announced via video two commencement challenges as part of her Reach Higher initiative. Schools choosing to participate in the challenges will create video submissions to capture their efforts to make attending and completing college a reality for all students. Finalists could have the opportunity to hear from the First Lady at their commencement ceremonies in the spring of 2015.

The First Lady's "FAFSA Completion Challenge" urges high schools to increase Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) completion rates among their seniors. Each year, the Department provides more than $134 billion in loans, grants, and work-study programs through FAFSA to help students and families pay for college. (Note: Submissions will be accepted between January 1 and March 16, 2015.)

The First Lady's "Near-Peer Mentoring College Challenge" urges institutions of higher education and college communities to increase and enhance near-peer mentoring and college immersion experiences on campus for high school students. Research shows that students connecting with other students can make a significant difference in motivating them to pursue higher education. (Note: Submissions will be accepted through February 27, 2015.)

Also: The First Lady recently took to Tumblr for the first time to answer questions on education, ranging from "What were some of your struggles as a first-generation college student?" to "What do you believe is the most important thing to look for in a college or university?"

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Preschool Development Grants

Last week, Secretary Duncan and Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell announced 35 states and Puerto Rico have applied for grants under the $250 million Preschool Development Grants program. Over 25 high-need communities in 12-15 states will benefit from program funding by significantly expanding their preschool programs so that a large portion of their at-risk four-year-olds start school prepared. States with either small (currently serve less than 10% of four-year-olds) or no state-funded preschool programs are eligible for Development Grants, while states with more robust (currently serve at least 10% of four-year-olds) state-funded preschool programs or a Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge Grant are eligible for Expansion Grants. Preschool programs funded under either category will need to meet the program's criteria for high-quality. Awards will be announced on December 10 at a White House Summit on Early Education.

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Innovation Grants

This week, at the University of North Carolina campus in Greensboro, Secretary Duncan announced the 26 highest-rated applications for grants under this year's $129 million Investing in Innovation (i3) competition, aimed at developing innovative approaches to improve student achievement and replicating effective strategies across the nation. These potential grantees—representing 14 states and the District of Columbia—must secure matching funds by December 10 in order to receive program funding. (Note: In previous years, all highest-rated applications have secured their matching funds and become grantees.) Of the highest-rated applications, 21 are in the Development category (supporting promising new ideas for further development; a maximum $3 million each), four are in the Validation category (supporting expanded implementation of established approaches with moderate evidence of effectiveness; a maximum $12 million each); and one is in the Scale-Up category (supporting the growth of models with strong evidence of effectiveness; a maximum $20 million each). Awards will be made in December 2014. To date, i3 has funded 117 projects.

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Gainful Employment Rules

To protect students at career colleges from becoming burdened by student loan debt they cannot repay, the Department has issued regulations to ensure that these institutions improve their outcomes for students—or risk losing access to federal student aid. These regulations will hold career training programs accountable for putting their students on the path to success. They complement action by the Administration to protect consumers and prevent and investigate fraud, waste, and abuse—particularly at for-profit colleges (see fact sheet and blog post).

"Career colleges must be a stepping stone to the middle class. But too many hard-working students find themselves buried in debt with little to show for it. That is simply unacceptable," said Secretary Duncan. "These regulations are a necessary step to make sure that colleges accepting federal funds protect students, cut costs, and improve outcomes. We will continue to take action as needed."

To qualify for federal student aid, the law requires most for-profit programs and certificate programs at public and private non-profit institutions prepare students for "gainful employment in a recognized occupation." Under these regulations, a program would be considered to lead to gainful employment if the estimated annual loan payment of a typical graduate does not exceed 20% of discretionary income or 8% of total earnings. Programs that exceed these levels would be at risk of losing the ability to participate in taxpayer-funded student aid programs.

The gainful employment regulations follow an extensive rulemaking process involving public hearings, negotiations, and about 95,000 public comments. The regulations, which go into effect on July 1, 2015, reflect the feedback the agency received. Highlights include:

  • Preventing students from being buried in debt. Based on available data, the Department estimates about 1,400 programs serving 840,000 students—with 99% at for-profit institutions—would not pass the accountability standards. All programs have the opportunity to make immediate changes to avoid sanctions, but, if they do not improve, they will ultimately become ineligible for federal student aid, which often makes up nearly 90% of revenue at for-profit institutions.
  • More rigorous accountability than previous regulations. The regulations are tougher than the agency's 2011 rules because they set a higher passing requirement and lay out a shorter path to ineligibility for the poorest-performing programs. In 2012, the Department estimated 193 programs would not have passed previous regulations.
  • Providing transparency regarding student success. The regulations also provide useful information for students and consumers by requiring institutions to share information about their programs, including what their former students are earning, their success at graduating, and the overall amount of debt they accumulated.
  • Improving student outcomes. These regulations build on momentum toward increased accountability in higher education by setting standards for career training programs to ensure they are serving students well. While there have been encouraging changes in the past five years, all career training programs can and should meet higher expectations.
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Game-Changing Evaluations

The Department is soliciting ideas on which high priority, high leverage evaluations it should fund in order to help drive major improvements in P-12 education. In particular, the agency is interested in hearing about which evaluation questions, if answered, would provide information that students, parents, educators, policymakers, and other stakeholders could use to improve strategies, programs, and services for students. Interested parties can read about and respond to this opportunity here, with ideas and recommendations due by December 1.

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Recognition Day/Weeks/Month

  • Veterans Day (November 11) celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans. Schools are encouraged to invite veterans into their classrooms. Veterans can share their experiences and teach students lessons about the history and significance of Veterans Day, helping students reflect upon the importance of the ideals of liberty, freedom, and democracy. (Note: A teacher resource guide is available online.)

  • American Education Week (November 16-22) celebrates teachers and school staff. The week's tagline, "Great Public Schools: A Basic Right and Our Responsibility," is a call for all Americans to do their part in making public schools great for every child. During the week, education support professionals will be honored on Wednesday, while substitute educators will be honored on Friday.

  • International Education Week (November 17-21) celebrates the benefits of international education and exchange worldwide. This year marks IEW's 15th anniversary. In his IEW 2014 video message, Secretary Duncan encourages everyone to promote the global mission of ensuring that every child receives a world-class education.

Also: During National Principals Month, Secretary Duncan and Department staff shadowed principals in schools around the country, learning about the rewards and challenges school leaders face every day and their roles in ensuring high-quality education. As a capstone, the Secretary and staff discussed what they learned from their experiences about how federal policies play out in schools and classrooms, from new college- and career-ready standards and teacher evaluation to the culture of success for all students. See also Principal Ambassador Fellow Sharif El-Mekki's blog post on what led him into his profession and edu Pulse's blog post on listening to school leaders.

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Quote to Note

"The challenges in rural communities are very, very real.... But, having said that, I'm very, very optimistic about where we need to go.... I want to walk through three reasons why I'm hopeful. First, the level of innovation and creativity that we're seeing in rural schools is simply remarkable. Leaders have taken schools that have struggled historically to a different place. Second, there are an emerging set of collaborations and partnerships that are absolutely moving students, districts, and communities in the right direction. And finally, what I've experienced firsthand in my travels, which is that the values and commitment I see in rural communities from rural educators is absolutely inspiring."

        Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (10/27/14), in remarks at the Rural Education National Forum

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Upcoming Events

On November 14, from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time, the Department's Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA) will host a learning session: "Educational Outcomes for English Leaners in Different Instructional Programs." The session, at the agency's Potomac Center Plaza building in Washington, D.C., will feature Stanford University sociology professor Sean Reardon, who will discuss findings from a longitudinal study, funded by the Department's Institute of Educational Sciences (IES), which compares the academic trajectories of English Learners enrolled in four different instructional programs. Practitioners from the American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association will provide teachers' perspectives in response to the research findings. To RSVP to attend, please contact Anthony.Sepulveda@ed.gov. The session will also be streamed live and archived for later viewing.

How can dance and theater arts education help "emerging bilinguals" learn English and flourish in school? On November 18, from 3:00 to 4:00 p.m. ET, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) will host a webinar to discuss findings from research on the ArtsConnection's Developing English Language Literacy through the Arts (DELLA) program, which reaches English Learners and their teachers in 15 schools in New York City. This work was developed with the support of the Department's arts education programs.

The Teach to Lead team has determined dates for the upcoming regional Teacher Leadership Summits: December 6-7 in Louisville, January 10-11 in Denver; and February 7-8 in Boston. In these working meetings, participants and supporter organizations will share resources and collaborate to create plans of action. Teachers are invited to submit their ideas for the Denver and Boston summits.

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Credits, Subscribe & Unsubscribe

ED Review is a product of the U.S. Department of Education Office of Communications and Outreach, State and Local Engagement—Joseph P. Walsh, Deputy Assistant Secretary

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Last Modified: 11/07/2014