Press Room NEWSLETTERS
December 23, 2015
(Happy Holidays!)


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...
Graduation Rate Data
ESSA Update
Educator Equity Plans
Managing Student Loan Debt
Education Appropriations
Odds and Ends
Quotes to Note
Upcoming Events

Graduation Rate Data

According to data released by the National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. students are graduating from high school at a higher rate than ever before. Indeed, the nation's high school graduation rate hit 82% in the 2013-14 school year, the highest level since states adopted a new, uniform way of calculating graduation rates five years ago. Graduation rates have continued to climb for four consecutive years, reflecting continued progress among America's high school students. As notably, there were gains among almost all the recorded subgroups (racial/ethnic minorities, low-income students, English learners, and students with disabilities), and the achievement gap for black and Hispanic students continues to narrow. The 2013-14 graduation rate data—including a state-by-state breakdown—is available here, and data from previous school years is available here.

"America's students have achieved another record milestone by improving graduation rates for a fourth year," said Secretary Duncan. "The hard work of teachers, administrators, students, and their families has made these gains possible and as a result many more students will have a better chance of going to college, getting a good job, owning their own home, and supporting a family. We can take pride as a nation in knowing that we're seeing promising gains, including for students of color."

"A high school diploma is absolutely critical, absolutely attainable, and key to future success in college, in the workforce, and in life," stated incoming Acting Secretary King. "It is encouraging to see our graduation rate on the rise, and I applaud the hard work we know it takes to see this increase. But too many students never get their diploma, never walk across the graduation stage, and while our dropout numbers are also improving, we remain committed to urgently closing the gaps that still exist in too many schools and in too many communities."

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ESSA Update

On December 18, the Department took the first steps toward implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which President Obama signed into law just a week earlier to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and replace the more onerous requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

First, the Department issued a Dear Colleague letter to states to offer some initial guidance about a few of the most immediate and pressing questions as states, school districts, and schools transition to the ESSA. Over the coming months, the agency will provide ongoing guidance on the transition; the letter begins that process. In particular, the letter addresses: Title I assessment peer review; annual measurable objectives (AMOs) and annual measureable achievement objectives (AMAOs) for school years 2014-15 and 2015-16; conditions and other related requirements under ESEA flexibility; priority and focus school lists; and educator evaluation and support systems under ESEA flexibility.

Second, the Department launched the rulemaking process by previewing a Request for Information (RFI) to be published in the Federal Register seeking advice and recommendations for Title I regulations under the ESSA. The RFI is a part of the agency's effort to solicit input from states, teachers, educator organizations, business leaders, civil rights advocates, parents, students, and others about the implementation of the law. The filing specifically notes that the agency is considering conducting negotiated rulemaking on academic assessments and the requirement that Title I, Part A funds be used to supplement not supplant state and local funds and invites comments on those issues. It also requests feedback on other areas which the Department should regulate. The public comment period will be open for 30 days.

The Department will hold two public hearings in January to collect feedback on transition to the new law:

  • Monday, January 11, 2016, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time at the agency's headquarters in Washington, D.C.
  • Tuesday, January 19, 2016, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Pacific Time at the University of California-Los Angeles' Carnesale Commons.

To present comments during these meetings, please RSVP to ESSA.publichearing@ed.gov no later than 5:00 p.m. ET on January 5, 2016, for the Washington, D.C., hearing and 5:00 p.m. ET on January 12, 2016, for the Los Angeles hearing. Also, the Washington, D.C., hearing will be live streamed (the RFI has details).

A reminder that this information is posted on the Department's ESEA web page, and questions may be directed to ESSA.questions@ed.gov.

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Educator Equity Plans

This week, the Department announced the approval of plans by eight states and Puerto Rico to ensure equitable access to excellent educators. All these states are taking promising steps to eliminate the gaps some students face in access to strong teaching by implementing strategies and innovative solutions to challenging problems that meet local context and needs. Each of these states engaged a variety of stakeholder groups to ensure their plans comprise of strategies that will actually be effective.

The strategies that states are implementing include, for example, working to support, strengthen, or modify teacher preparation programs so that all teachers are ready to provide high-quality instruction to their students and prepared for success in high-need schools; increasing data-driven decision-making to help ensure that schools and districts have access to accurate, timely information necessary to make constructive decisions; providing financial incentives designed to reward teachers for exceptional work and encourage great teachers to remain in the highest-need schools; and publicly reporting progress to hold themselves properly accountable for meaningful improvement in eliminating identified equity gaps.

The plans themselves and the Department's determinations can be found here. Earlier, the agency approved plans for 42 states and the District of Columbia (1, 2, and 3). At this point, all 50 states, D.C., and Puerto Rico have approved plans.

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Managing Student Loan Debt

As part of the Administration's continued effort to give borrowers more and better options to manage their student debt, the Department recently announced that all Direct Loan borrowers may enroll in the Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE) Plan. REPAYE allows borrowers to limit the amount of their monthly federal student loan payments to 10% of their discretionary income. Signing up is free and easy—borrowers may apply for or switch to REPAYE or any other income-driven repayment plan at StudentLoans.gov. To help borrowers determine if REPAYE is the best option for them, the Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) has issued a helpful Q&A-style blog post. Also, Mint—a personal financial management tool—distributed a message from President Obama to young students with loans to make sure they heard the word, and Secretary Duncan shared a post on LinkedIn.

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Education Appropriations

President Obama signed into law an omnibus appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2016, increasing Department of Education appropriations by $1.2 billion over FY 2015. The bulk of this increase is for Title I grants to districts (up $500 million, to $14.9 billion) and special education grants to states (up $415 million, to $11.9 billion). Also, there is $250 million for the Preschool Development Grants program, $120 million for the Investing in Innovation (i3) program, $73 million for the Promise Neighborhoods program (up by $16.5 million), and $176 million for rural education programs (up by $6 million). A significant loss: the First in the World program was eliminated. The bill also clarifies that formula-funded grant programs will continue to operate under the previous version of ESEA—NCLB—instead of ESSA for the 2016-17 school year.

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Odds and Ends

  • The Department's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) released guidance outlining schools' responsibilities under Title IX when partnering with certain outside organizations that provide single-sex programs to a district's students. The letter explains the circumstances under which a district may lawfully work with "voluntary youth service organizations." Title IX generally bars districts both from excluding students from educational opportunities based on their sex and from providing significant assistance to outside organizations that do so, but it allows schools to work with certain organizations that limit membership by sex.
  • On Medium, the Department's Office of Innovation and Improvement (OII) revealed every highly-rated application under the 2015 i3 grant competition had secured private sector matching funds and officially become i3 grantees (blog post).
  • Also on Medium, the Secretary called for higher education faculty to reflect the diversity of the nation.
  • The Department's Office of Postsecondary Education (OPE) is seeking additional nominations for negotiators who represent specific stakeholder constituencies for a negotiated rulemaking committee to prepare rules governing student loan borrower defense to repayment claims.
  • To help parents help their children apply for federal student aid starting on January 1, 2016, FSA released "The Parent's Guide to Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) From Start to Finish."
  • Presentations and recordings from the 2015 Federal Student Aid Conference are posted online.
  • Some $23.8 million is now available under the National Professional Development grant program. The program provides grants for eligible institutions of higher education—in collaboration with states or districts—to implement professional development activities that will improve instruction for English learners. Such training may include pre-service or in-service activities for educators of ELs, as well as programs for other professionals that lead to certification, licensing, or endorsement for providing instruction to ELs.
  • The Departments of Education and Health and Human Services are requesting comments (through January 4) on a draft policy statement on the implementation of effective family engagement practices from the early years to the early grades.
  • The White House, the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services, and Invest in US (a public-private entity to expand early learning) met at Powell Elementary School in Washington, D.C., to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the White House Summit on Early Childhood Education (blog post).
  • A new report from the National Endowment for the Arts looks at research on how the arts affect young children, from birth to age 8. "The Arts in Early Childhood: Social and Emotional Benefits of Arts Participation" synthesizes findings from 18 reports in psychology and education research journals (from 2000 to 2015). The news is good, although several research questions remain (blog post).
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Quotes to Note

"As I look back on the year, one thing I see is that so much of our steady, persistent work over the years is paying off for the American people in big, tangible ways.... I do want to thank Congress for ending the year on a high note. I got to sign an education bill that is going to fix some of the challenges that we had with No Child Left Behind and promises to invest more in high-quality early childhood education."

        President Barack Obama (12/18/15), from his end-of-the-year press conference

"Starting in August 2016, the new ESSA law rightly gives states and school districts new flexibility to tailor their own strategies and interventions to meet the needs of students and schools. At the same time, the law also maintains the Department's clear responsibility to work with state and local partners to ensure effective use of taxpayer funds to improve educational outcomes for more than 24 million low-income and minority students in high-poverty schools across the nation. As we move forward with implementation of ESSA...our staff will work with states and other grantees to develop solutions to the many important policy and implementation decisions that will arise along the way and will provide states with comprehensive guidance and—as necessary—regulations."

        Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (12/18/15), regarding the Department's first steps in transition to ESSA

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Upcoming Events

The President will deliver his final State of the Union address on January 12, 2016.

In October, the Department announced an experiment focused on dual enrollment, enabling high school students enrolled in programs at participating institutions of higher education to access federal Pell Grants. On January 13, 2016, from 1:30 to 3:00 p.m. ET, FSA will host a webinar for all institutions interested in learning more about the goals, requirements, and process for participating in this experiment. For priority consideration, institutions must submit a letter of interest, following the procedures outlined in the Federal Register notice, no later than February 1, 2016.

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Last Modified: 01/05/2016