Combating Chronic Absenteeism
Promoting ESEA Reauthorization
New Grant Awards
School Environment Report
Odds and Ends
On October 2, during a press conference at White House, President Obama accepted the decision of Secretary Duncan to step down in December. "Arne Duncan is one of my longest-serving Cabinet secretaries, and he has been a good friend for a lot longer than that," the President explained. "So, it's with regret and sorrow that I've accepted his decision to return to our hometown of Chicago. After more than six years of living in Washington, Arne's wonderful wife, Karen, and their excellent kids, Claire and Ryanwho are also buddies of minewanted to move back home, and that's meant, in the interim, a lot of time apart.... I'll be honestI pushed Arne to stay. But, I also know from personal experience how hard it is to be away from your family on a sustained basis. So, while I will miss Arne dearly, he's more than earned the right to return home" (written transcript).
"Arne has done more to bring our education systemsometimes kicking and screaminginto the 21st century than anybody else," the President added, reciting a wide range of accomplishments. "America is going to be better off for what he has done. It's going to be more competitive and more prosperous. It's going to be more equal and more upwardly mobile. It's a record that I truly believe no other Secretary of Education can match. Arne bleeds this stuff. He cares so much about our kids.... Everybody who interacts with him, including those who disagree with him on some issues, never questions the genuineness and heart that he has brought to this job. So, I couldn't be prouder of him."
"Now...we still have a long way to go," the President continued. "One of the things about education is that it doesn't deliver results tomorrow or the next day. This is a decade-long or longer proposition. We plant seeds now, we make changes now, and we watch each successive class benefit from these reforms.... So, it's not easy, and it's not quick, but we are making progress. And, we're not going to stop in these last 15 months. That is why it's so importantand why I think we're very lucky thateven as Arne steps down, we've got an exceptionally talented educator to step in: Dr. John King. John is already on Arne's leadership team. He has been an educator all his lifea teacher, a principal, a leader of schools, New York State's education chief. He is the right man to lead the Department [of Education]."
John King is currently Senior Advisor Delegated Duties of Deputy Secretary of Education, a position he assumed in January 2015. When the Secretary officially steps down, he will become Acting Secretary of Education. He laid out his remarkable personal story in a Huffington Post article a few years ago.
Earlier in the day, Secretary Duncan sent a message to agency staff, declaring peace with his decision and expressing his confidence in Dr. King and the leadership team to carry on the work of expanding opportunities for all students.
Combating Chronic Absenteeism
In their first event together post-announcement, Secretary Duncan and Senior Advisor King helped launch "Every Student, Every Day: A National Initiative to Address and Eliminate Chronic Absenteeism." Led by the White House and the Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, and Justice, the initiative outlines steps to combat chronic absenteeism and calls on states and communities to take immediate action to address and eliminate chronic absenteeism by at least 10% each year, beginning in the current school year. The initiative targets the estimated 5-7.5 million students chronically absent each year. Defined as missing at least 10% of school days (approximately 18 days) over a school year, chronic absenteeism puts students at heightened risk of both falling behind and dropping out of school. In tackling the issue, states and communities ultimately boost student success and strengthen the nation's workforce and future prosperity.
For this initiative, the Administration released:
- a Dear Colleague letter to states, school districts, and communities on the need to reduce chronic absenteeism by at least 10% each year;
- a community toolkit offering information, suggested action steps, and lists of existing tools and resourcesincluding evidence-based resourcesfor individuals, leaders, and systems to begin or enhance the work of coordinated community action to address and eliminate chronic absenteeism;
- a White House fact sheet that includes additional details on the initiative, including information on upcoming activities, events, and technical assistance;
- a blog post by Principal Ambassador Fellow Alicia Perez-Katz; and
- a blog post by White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African-Americans Fellow Lauren Mims.
Moreover, the Administration, Attendance Works, Everybody Graduates Center, and United Way Worldwide are inviting states, districts, and communities to a November 12 virtual summit featuring two of the nation's top experts on absenteeism: Johns Hopkins University Bob Balfanz and Attendance Works Director Hedy Chang.
Promoting ESEA Reauthorization
In another event together post-announcement, the Secretary Duncan and Senior Advisor King joined U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Chris Murphy (D-CT), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) in hosting a roundtable discussion with students, educators, and civil rights and community leaders on the need for a strong reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) that lives up to its legacy of advancing equity and providing opportunity for every child. The leaders called for a new law that ensures high expectations for all students and expects that, where schools or students are not making progress, actions will be taken to improve outcomes for those schools and students. The House and Senate have each passed their version of ESEA reauthorization, and they are working together to approve a final bill that can be signed by the President.
This week, the Department introduced a new pilot program to accelerate and evaluate innovation through partnerships between colleges and universities and non-traditional providers of education in order to equip more Americans with the skills, knowledge, and training they need for the jobs of today and tomorrow. Increasingly, innovative models of education and training are emerging outside the traditional higher education sector, including immersive training programs like intensive bootcamp-style training, personalized online programs, massively open online courses (MOOCs), short-term certificate programs, and others. A number of these models may provide more flexible and affordable credentials and educational options than those offered by traditional higher education institutions and are showing promise in preparing students with the training and education needed for better, in-demand jobs.
For students seeking access to these models, there are two key barriers: financial aid and information about quality. Under current law, federal financial aid goes mostly to students in traditional degree programs, while little is eligible for low-income students seeking to attend non-traditional or non-credit programs that may be a better fit for them. Additionally, since these providers are not within the purview of traditional accrediting agencies, there is no generally accepted means of gauging their quality.
To begin addressing both of these barriers, the agency is promoting the Educational Quality through Innovative Partnerships (EQUIP) program under the Experimental Sites Initiative, which tests the effectiveness of statutory and regulatory flexibility for institutions that disburse federal financial aid. Specifically, the program will evaluate the effectiveness of granting Title IV student aid flexibility to partnerships between innovative institutions and non-traditional providers. Institutions are invited to apply (blog post).
New Grant Awards
Over the last two weeks, the Department announced more notable competitive grant awards:
- Preschool Development Grants-Continuation Awards: $237 million for Year 2 grants to 18 states. This fall, more than 33,000 children from low- to moderate-income families had a chance to start school in a high-quality preschool program with these grants. These second year awards will enable another 41,000 children the strong start they need for success in school and in life. The President's budget requests additional funding for current grantees and new grantees. However, both House and Senate committees have advanced appropriations bills that eliminate Preschool Development Grants, thereby denying over 100,000 children access to early learning opportunities over the last two years of current grants.
- Supporting Effective Educator Development Grants: $50 million for 12 grants to support teachers and principals with evidence-based professional development, creating learning and career growth opportunities for aspiring and current educators serving students in high-need schools. This year's grants are part of a cohort that is nearly twice the size of prior years. Combined, these grantees will reach over 50,000 educators serving over 7.8 million students.
- Jacob K. Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Program: $4 million for 11 states to focus on growing the number of minority and other under-represented students in gifted and talented programs.
- Skills for Success Grants: $2 million for four grants to explore and refine an array of approaches to help educators enhance students' learning mindsets and skills, including strengthening parent engagement and expanding science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) coursework. The Department also announced the launch of the Mentoring Mindsets Initiative, a partnership with City Year, MENTOR, Stanford University's PERTS Lab, and the Raikes Foundation to pilot evidence-based tools that enable mentors to teach learning mindsets and skills to their mentees. Together, these initiatives are promoting new approaches to meeting the Administration's college- and career-readiness goals.
- More than $12.6 million in grants in multiple project areas to help improve the outcomes of individuals with disabilitiesfrom cradle through careeras well as $20 million to increase access to information and communications technologies and $4.8 million for improved adolescent literacy, accessible technology, media services, and educational materials.
School Environment Report
Yesterday, at the National Indian Education Association Convention, the White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education released a final report on its first-ever listening tour to hear from schools and communities on ways to better meet the unique educational and culturally related academic needs of tribal students. The report summarizes information from over 1,000 participants on many issues, such as potentially harmful tribal imagery and symbolism, bullying, student mental health, instructional content, and Native languages. Each section of the report includes a brief description of a common theme across listening sessions, followed by supporting data and testimonies from students, parents, educators, and others affected by these issues.
Odds and Ends
In effort to inspire students to pursue an education beyond high school, First Lady Michelle Obama's Reach Higher Initiative and the Department formally kicked-off a mobile application competition to promote the development of mobile solutions to help students navigate education and career pathways, including career and technical education. Up to five entrants will be selected to advance as finalists. Finalists will be awarded $25,000 each and have an opportunity to improve upon their submission during the Virtual Accelerator Phase, which will include access to mentorship from IBM and Microsoft. (Note: This Reach Higher challenge is part of a series of prize competitions conducted by the agency which seeks to spur the development of new technology, products, and resources.)
Secretary Duncan issued a statement on Learning Disabilities, Dyslexia, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Awareness Month.
Celebrating the end of National Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15-October 15), the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics commenced a national day of action with the #LatinosAchieve online campaign and announced new Commitments to Action.
As part of National Bullying Prevention Month, the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, in partnership with the Sikh Coalition and the Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment, launched the "Act To Change" public awareness campaign to address bullying (fact sheet).
The Secretary as appointed seven individuals to the National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB). These appointees, who will serve four-year terms, will help set policy for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). NAEP makes objective information on student performance in nearly a dozen subjects available to policymakers and the public at the national, state, and local levels. (Note: NAGB is actively seeking qualified individuals passionate about improving the achievement of students.)
The President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Alliance for Young Artists and Writers, announced the latest class of the National Student Poets Program.
Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan released the Administration's final set of Agency Priority Goals.
On October 28, NAGB and the Department's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) will release "The Nation's Report Card: 2015 Mathematics and Reading," detailing fourth- and eighth-grade students' NAEP assessment performance in all 50 states and 21 urban districts. An in-person event in Washington, D.C., and webcast will feature panelists talking about score and achievement gap changes over time and potential implications of the data for states and districts.
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