Press Room NEWSLETTERS
September 4, 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: Bus Tour
Protecting College Students
Constitution Day
New Grant Awards
ESEA Flexibility
Odds and Ends
Quote to Note
Upcoming Events

Back To School: Bus Tour

September 14-18, Secretary Duncan and senior Department officials will visit 10 cities in seven states across the American Midwest as part of the agency's sixth annual Back to School bus tour. This year's theme is "Ready for Success." Education is a lifelong path—from preschool through college and careers—where, at every point along the way, access to high-quality learning opportunities can ensure everyone is ready for success. The stops on the tour will celebrate how states and local communities are working to increase access and opportunity from early learning to K-12 education to higher education.

For a look at a few of the people and places the Secretary will be visiting, watch the video trailer.

The public will be able to connect with the bus tour in a number of ways, including following the tour online.

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Protecting College Students

Yesterday (September 3), on a national press call with Under Secretary Ted Mitchell, Special Master Joseph Smith shared his initial progress report on the borrower's defense process—the first of a series of reports describing progress the Department has made on this important issue. As a team, there has been headway building intake systems, as well as engaging students and stakeholders about this process. The agency is also adding new attorneys to help review the 4,000-plus borrower's defense claims received efficiently and fairly. Meanwhile, work is continuing on making the process clear and streamlined.

Last week, as another step forward in implementing the President's Student Aid Bill of Rights directives, the Department's Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) released recommendations from an interagency task force on best practices in performance-based contracting. The recommendations will inform the upcoming process of re-competing student loan servicing contracts (blog post).

Earlier this week, in a new video, Secretary Duncan warned Americans not to be fooled by student loan debt relief scams. With college costs and debts at all-time highs, many companies are advertising student loan debt assistance and charging exorbitant fees for services that are available for free through FSA. Students never have to pay to consolidate their federal loans, cap their monthly payments, or learn whether they qualify for loan forgiveness. Visit FSA's "How to Repay Your Loans" web page for additional information.

Also: The Secretary shared another post on LinkedIn, on creating new pathways for those with college experience to finish what they started and graduate with a credential, certificate, or degree.

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Constitution Day

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, the National Archives and Records Administration offers a couple of key 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. Free online resources are also available from the Library of Congress, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the U.S. Senate.

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New Grant Awards

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

  • Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) Grants: $8 million for three new partnership grants and one new state grant to increase the number of low-income students who are prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education with mentoring, tutoring, and financial aid. Grantees serve an entire cohort of students, starting no later than the seventh-grade, and support the cohort through high school. This year's grants will serve approximately 9,000 students. Furthermore, the program is funding 123 continuation projects, providing services to roughly 551,000 students.
  • American Indian Tribally Controlled Colleges and Universities Program Grants: $50.4 million for more than 60 new grants in a dozen states to help higher education institutions increase their self-sufficiency by strengthening academic quality, management, and overall fiscal stability. To qualify for funding, institutions must meet the federal definition of a "tribally controlled college or university." That is, they must be formally controlled or sanctioned by the governing body of an Indian tribe or tribes. No more than one institution shall be recognized with respect to any individual Indian tribe.
  • Credit Enhancement for Charter Schools Facilities Program Grants: $14 million for three grantees working across the country to help public charter schools obtain facilities.
  • Ready to Learn Television Program Grants: $25 million for two grantees for the development of television and multimedia programs that will engage preschool and young elementary school children and their families in literacy- and science-themed learning.

Moreover, the Department announced a $4 million grant competition for planning, program design, and initial implementation of high-quality start-up charter schools in states that do not have existing—or do not win new—state-level grants (blog post).

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ESEA Flexibility

On August 21, the Department announced that Florida, Idaho, Ohio, and South Dakota have received approval for continued flexibility from provisions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). These recipients 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 another year of flexibility, through the 2015-16 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, Secretary Duncan penned a blog post, honoring the hard work that has made progress in New Orleans' schools possible but urging continued changes to "build the schools their students deserve." Also, in a two-part series (1 and 2), the Department's Office of Innovation and Improvement (OII) profiles New Orleans grantees, noting the difference they are making for children in the city.

  • In a joint op-ed for the Philadelphia Inquirer , Secretary Duncan and Labor Secretary Thomas Perez extol the virtue of a K-14 school model. "To prepare all students for the 21st century workforce, we must do a better job of teaching job-ready skills and equipping the next generation to thrive in the global economy," they explained. "With technical education, experience in the workplace, and mentors in their chosen field, our young people gain a solid career footing and a chance to punch their ticket to the middle class. They have no doubt that what they're learning is relevant to the workplace and that those skills will help them succeed in the real world."

  • The Department recently issued a Request for Proposals for Rapid-Cycle Technology Evaluations, seeking innovative approaches to evaluating educational apps to assist schools and families in making sound, evidence-based decisions when choosing the educational apps to use with their students. The product evaluations supported by this contract are meant to demonstrate whether certain types of studies can be conducted rapidly enough to meet the needs of educators for information about effectiveness of technology in today's fast-changing landscape (blog post).

  • Beginning this week, under the President's Every Kid in a Park initiative, fourth-grade students nationwide may visit a web site to obtain a pass for free access to all federal lands and waters. The pass is valid for the 2015-16 school year and grants entry for the student and three accompanying adults—or an entire car for drive-in parks—at more than 2,000 national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, and marine sanctuaries. The web site also offers educators and parents activities, trip planning books, safety and packing tips, and other helpful information.

  • In a blog post, U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools Director Andrea Falken tells her story of welcoming "Baby Green Ribbon" and living in accordance with the recognition program's three pillars.

  • According to the latest student readiness report from ACT, 40% of high school graduates showed strong college readiness, meeting benchmarks in at least three of the four core subject areas (English, math, reading, and science), a percentage that has stayed virtually flat over the past five years. In contrast, 31% of graduates did not meet readiness levels in any of the subjects.

  • Only 42% of this year's college-bound seniors met the SAT College and Career Readiness Benchmark, which indicates a 65% likelihood of achieving a "B-" average or higher during the first year of college. This number has been on the decline over the last five years.

  • The Census Bureau's latest "Facts for Features" edition presents Back to School data, and the Department's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) provides Back to School statistics.

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Quote to Note

"We're moving into the next presidential cycle and the next political season, and you will hear a lot of people telling you everything that's wrong with America. That's OK. That's a proper part of our democracy. One of the things about America is we're never satisfied. We keep pushing forward. We keep asking questions. We keep challenging government. We keep challenging leaders. We keep looking for the next set of challenges. We find what's wrong because we have confidence that we can fix it. But, it's important that we remember what's right, what's good, and what's hopeful about this country. It's worth remembering that, for all the tragedy, for all the images of Hurricane Katrina in the first few days, the first few months, look at what's happened here.... You remind our nation that, for all of our differences, in the end, what matters is we're all in the same boat. We all share a similar destiny. If we stay focused on that common purpose, if we remember our responsibility to ourselves but also our responsibilities and obligations to one another, we will not just rebuild this city—we will rebuild this country. We'll make sure every child in America has a structure and support and love and the kind of nurturing that they need to succeed. We'll leave behind a city and a nation that's worthy of generations to come."

        President Barack Obama (8/27/15), in remarks on the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina

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Upcoming Events

National Preparedness Month—observed each September—is a reminder that everyone must take action to prepare for emergencies. This year's theme is "Don't Wait. Communicate. Make Your Emergency Plan Today." National Preparedness Month culminates on September 30 with National PrepareAthon! Day, a bi-annual opportunity to prepare for specific hazards with drills, exercises, and group discussions, during which individuals, families, organizations such as K-12 schools and institutions of higher education, and communities will take simple, specific actions to increase emergency preparedness.

A Privacy Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) webinar on September 11 at 2:00 p.m. Eastern Time will highlight a range of new PTAC resources, including the Chief Privacy Officer's Dear Colleague letter on protecting student medical records.

Planning is underway for the 16th annual International Education Week (November 16-20, coinciding with American Education Week). The week, a joint initiative of the Departments of Education and State, provides schools, colleges and universities, and communities an opportunity to celebrate the benefits of international education and exchange worldwide. This year's theme is "International Education: Advancing Access for All."

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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: 09/04/2015