Press Room NEWSLETTERS
August 21, 2015

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...
Back to School
Early Learning Cuts
Protecting College Students
New Grant Awards
ESEA Flexibility
Odds and Ends
Quote to Note
Upcoming Events

Back to School

Some students are already back to school. Others will be headed back soon. In an early August blog post, "Start Now, to Start the School Year Right," Secretary Duncan detailed "lots of ways to gear up for a great school year," including:

  • Start adjusting early. Start bringing meal times, bed times, and morning routines back in line with the school year schedule. Read before bedtime, get enough sleep, and have a reliable weekday routine. All these activities contribute to a student's readiness to do well in school from day one.
  • Brush up on skills and complete any summer assignments.
  • Make a back-to-school to-do list, and start checking off tasks. With less than a month to go, create a plan to take care of everything that is needed for a great first day of school. This includes scheduling remaining health check-ups, like dental and vision screenings, completing all necessary forms, taking care of any insurance, meal plan, and enrollment requirements, and stocking up on supplies and clothes.
  • Plan a learning adventure.
  • Help to beautify your school. This month, many schools will host events to get their buildings looking great for the first day, from planting flowers and picking up trash to painting walls and cleaning classrooms. It is a great way to learn about service together and help create a welcoming environment for the whole school community.
  • Make space for study and creativity.
  • Set some clear, achievable goals for the year. By setting and meeting academic goals, students do more than improve their performance in school. They also gain confidence, motivation, and pride in their accomplishments. Set clear goals, such as improving vocabulary or math, along with timeframes and concrete steps for reaching them.
  • Get connected and stay in touch. Reach out to your school, and get to know your child's teachers. Start a calendar for parent-teacher conferences and other school events. Plan ways to keep track of your child's progress, help with homework, and provide support during the year. Consider serving on your local parent-teacher organization or joining in other activities that help support great teaching and learning. Check out our month-by-month toolkit.
  • Talk about what to expect and focus on skills for life.

"Working together, parents and children can help make sure the new school year is filled with progress, achievement, and the wonder of learning," the Secretary concluded.

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Early Learning Cuts

On a national press call, Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Shaun Donovan and Secretary Duncan highlighted the impact of proposed cuts to federal Preschool Development Grants, eliminated in both the House and Senate committee appropriations bills approved earlier this summer. "Budgets are never just numbers on a piece of paper," the Secretary asserted. "They reflect our values." In 2014, 18 states received such grants to expand the number of children in high-quality preschool programs, by funding new preschool classrooms as well as improving the quality of existing preschool programs. Eliminating this funding in the last two years of the grant would jeopardize their plans to serve nearly 100,000 children in high-quality preschool programs.

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Protecting College Students

After announcing action earlier this summer to help students who were harmed by Corinthian Colleges, the Department announced next steps earlier this week to develop regulations to clarify and streamline loan forgiveness in the future for those who have a defense to repayment of their federal student loan. As outlined in a Federal Register notice, the agency will begin a negotiated rulemaking process whereby it will seek to clarify how Direct Loan borrowers who believe they were defrauded by their institutions can seek relief and strengthen provisions to hold institutions accountable for wrongdoing that results in loan discharges. This new regulatory effort builds on the Administration's commitment to protect students' interests and taxpayers and ensure federal student loan borrowers can engage in a process that is efficient, transparent, and fair (press call).

Specifically, the Department will hold two public hearings in September (in California and the District of Columbia) and establish a negotiated rulemaking committee to clarify:

  • the procedures to be used for a borrower to establish a defense to repayment;
  • the criteria that the agency will use to identify acts or omissions of an institution that constitute defenses to repayment of Direct Loans to the Secretary;
  • the standards and procedures that the agency will use to determine liability of the institution participating in the Direct Loan program for amounts based on borrower defenses; and
  • the effect of borrower defenses on institutional capability assessments.

Until these regulations are developed and put into effect, borrower defense claims will continue to be reviewed through existing processes and through those developed by the Special Master.

Also: Growing numbers of federal student loan borrowers are taking advantage of the Administration's efforts to ease the burden of student debt (about 3.9 million Direct Loan borrowers are enrolled in Income-Driven Repayment plans as of June 30—a 56% jump from June 2014), and delinquency rates and borrowers in deferment and forbearance are down.

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New Grant Awards

Over the last two weeks, the Department announced a number of notable competitive grant awards:

  • Advanced Placement (AP) Test Fee Grants: $28.5 million for 40 grants—to 38 states, the District of Columbia, and the Virgin Islands—to defray the costs of taking approved tests administered by the College Board, the International Baccalaureate (IB) Organization, and Cambridge International Examinations for low-income students (press call).
  • Student Support Services (SSS) Program Grants: an additional $23.4 million for more than 100 grants to institutions across 36 states, providing college students with the academic and support services they need to succeed in college.
  • Turnaround School Leaders Program (TSLP) Grants: $16.3 million for eight grantees to develop and implement or enhance and implement a leadership pipeline that selects, prepares, places, supports, and retains school leaders or leadership teams at low-performing schools.
  • State Personnel Development Grants: $9.2 million for nine grants to assist states in reforming and improving systems for personnel preparation and professional development to enhance results for children with disabilities.
  • Special Education Parent Training and Information Centers: $14 million for 40 grantees to support America's families of children with disabilities.
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ESEA Flexibility

On August 13, the Department announced that Maine and Michigan have received approval for continued flexibility from provisions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Both states are implementing comprehensive, state-designed plans to ensure student success and a continued commitment to college- and career-readiness for every student. Each state has three additional years of flexibility, through the 2017-18 school year. (Note: Approved flexibility requests and renewal letters are available here.)

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Odds and Ends

  • To commemorate the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, President Obama and members of his Cabinet will visit impacted areas to spotlight some of the remarkable recovery and resilience stories. The Department has supported Katrina-affected areas in New Orleans and Louisiana by investing over $100 million since 2009, in addition to formula grants given to Katrina-affected states. The funds have helped local leaders and educators launch a new public education system in New Orleans.

  • The Department recently published final regulations that require all states to cease using modified academic achievement standards and aligned alternate assessments after the 2015-16 school year. Instead, states must administer their general assessments aligned to college- and career-ready standards to the vast majority of students with disabilities. Research has shown that struggling students with disabilities make academic progress when provided with challenging instruction and appropriate supports.

  • The Department's Chief Privacy Officer is soliciting input from the greater education community on protecting student medical records from inappropriate disclosures (blog post with specific questions). A Dear Colleague letter provides draft guidance. It sets the expectation that, with respect to litigation between institutions and students, institutions generally should not share student medical records with school attorneys or courts without a court order or written consent.

  • Every year, a handful of National Blue Ribbon Schools are profiled in videos, and the Progress blogis sharing their stories and lessons learned: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.

  • In further support of the Second Chance Pell Pilot Program, the Department issued a fact sheet and guest blog post.

  • The White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities announced its 2015 class of HBCU All-Stars, recognizing more than 80 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students for their accomplishments in academics, leadership, and civic engagement.

  • The Administration has taken a big step toward common ground reforms that strengthen the partnerships the federal government forms with faith-based and community organizations for the purpose of serving people in need. Nine federal agencies released notices of proposed rulemaking, or NPRMs, to clarify the rules that apply to these partnerships and extend additional protections for beneficiaries. Interested parties have until October 5 to provide comments on the NPRMs.

  • As part of an NBC-led parent engagement initiative, Secretary Duncan made a school year resolution to read more to his kids.

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Quote to Note

"High-quality instruction in science, technology, engineering, and math—subjects collectively known as STEM—can provide students with a lens to approach and view the world. When students engage in hands-on STEM learning, they aren't just gaining subject matter knowledge. They're developing a mind-set that affirms they can use inquiry and their own logic to reach new conclusions and tackle tough problems. If we want our children to grow into the scientists, researchers, educators, and entrepreneurs who address our most pressing challenges, and if we want our nation to remain a global leader in innovation, we must ensure that all students have access to deep learning in STEM subjects and are taught by talented teachers knowledgeable in these fields.... With the start of this new school year, I'm confident that, working together and across sectors, we can commit to connecting all students to strong STEM learning and great teachers, that not only push young people to explore and understand the world but also build the capacity to change it for the better."

        Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (8/18/15), in an op-ed for the launch of the Los Angeles Times' "Education Matters" initiative

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Upcoming Events

On August 27, at 2:00 p.m. Eastern Time, the Department's Offices of English Language Acquisition (OELA) and Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE) will sponsor the latest in a series of webinars from the White House Task Force on New Americans. "Engaging Immigrant Parents, Families, and Concerned Adults" will feature a panel of experts who will share current research and promising practices on how schools might engage immigrant communities to support successful educational outcomes for children and adult economic success. (Note: Previous webinars are archived here.)

The September 11 National Day of Service and Remembrance is the result of efforts launched by the non-profit MyGoodDeed in 2002, with wide support by the 9/11 community and leading national service organizations. There will be opportunities for volunteers to spruce up schools, paint and refurbish homes, run food drives, reclaim neighborhoods, and support veterans, soldiers, military families, and first responders.

Register today to participate in the Department's first ParentCamp on October 26.

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Last Modified: 08/21/2015