Press Room NEWSLETTERS
April 15, 2016

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...
Science Fair
Well-Rounded Education
Financial Literacy
Supporting Student Borrowers
Personnel Update
Odds and Ends
Quote to Note
Upcoming Events

Science Fair

On April 13, President Obama hosted his sixth and final White House Science Fair, welcoming student competitors and winners from a broad range of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) competitions. The President established the tradition of a science fair in 2010 to help honor and inspire students in STEM. This year's capstone event was the largest White House Science Fair to date, with more than 130 students from over 30 states and student alumni from each of the prior science fairs (fact sheet, details on exhibits, and toolkit).

"Some of the best moments that I've had as President have involved science and our annual science fair," the President said in his remarks. "I mean, I have shot a marshmallow out of a cannon directly under Lincoln's portrait. I've learned about prototypes from six-year-old Girl Scouts who built a page-turning machine out of Legos for people who might be disabled.... Most importantly, I've just been able to see the unbelievable ingenuity and passion and curiosity and brain power of America's next generation, and all the cool things that they do. This is fun. More importantly, it speaks to what makes America the greatest country on Earth."

Secretary King viewed the exhibits on display, and the Department issued a Dear Colleague letter offering guidance for states, school districts, and education partners on how to maximize federal funds—through formula grant programs in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act—to support innovative STEM education strategies and equitable STEM education opportunities and outcomes for all students (blog post).

The science fair was part of the Administration's celebration of a #WeekOfScience (April 11-17), including representation from some 70 federal agencies at the USA Science and Engineering Festival—which brought more than 350,000 students and adults to Washington, D.C.—and President Obama's participation as a guest presenter on the Science Channel's science news segment every weekday night.

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Well-Rounded Education

Yesterday (April 14), Secretary King called for a renewed focus on well-rounded education for all students in a speech at the Las Vegas Academy of the Arts (press release, remarks, and video). "Strong literacy and math skills are surely necessary for success in college, careers, and life—but they just as surely are not sufficient," he explained. "Being a well-educated person and passionate about learning isn't just about reading and computing well. It's about being skilled and knowledgeable about a wide range of subjects, expert and passionate about a few, and confident in the quest for more knowledge."

"The good news here is that, with the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the opportunity to widen how we understand educational excellence is suddenly ripe," he continued. "It's a great chance to right the balance in places where the learning focus has become too narrow, and to do so in ways that expand, not dilute, civil rights. The simple fact is, every student in this country needs and deserves access to the subjects that go into being a well-educated person. Music and art; world languages; physics, chemistry, and biology; social studies, civics, geography, and government; physical education and health; computer science. These aren't luxuries that are nice to have. They're what it means to be ready for today's world."

Research reveals that students—particularly historically underserved students—engage more deeply in learning when they are exposed to a variety of topics and can better connect what they are learning in the classroom with the world outside the school. For example, evidence shows that students improve at math when they have taken classes connecting STEM with the arts. And, evidence shows that students with broad knowledge are stronger readers (blog post).

Today, continuing a series of school visits on well-rounded education, the Secretary will visit Tulsa, Oklahoma, for a discussion on testing within the district, and Springdale, Arkansas, for a discussion on computer science.

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Financial Literacy

April is National Financial Capability Month, and the Department is collaborating with the Treasury Department's Financial Literacy and Education Commission (FLEC) to teach students how to save and manage money for their postsecondary education. "The most expensive degree remains the one you don't get," Secretary King stressed at a recent FLEC meeting. He pointed out that the biggest threats against students' ability to manage loan debt are not completing the degree program for which their loan debt was incurred and earning a degree that is not competitive in the 21st century.

To help students make better decisions about higher education, the Department's Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) has several learning resources:

The FLEC web page provides additional resources that focus on early college preparation.

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Supporting Student Borrowers

The Department continues to take steps to support student borrowers, responding to the objectives President Obama put forward in his Student Aid Bill of Rights.

First, the agency shared its vision (via a solicitation in FedBizOpps.gov) of a new federal student aid servicing platform, which would make it easier for borrowers to navigate loan repayment and clear enough to show how the system is performing and where improvements are needed. In this new model, borrowers and taxpayers could expect: Department-branded communication, eliminating differences that currently exist among multiple services that co-brand communications; a streamlined borrower experience using a single web portal through which all borrowers can find the latest information about their loans, make payments, and apply for benefits, eliminating the need to know the name of one's servicer; better customer service practices; reduced and—to the extent practical—eliminated loan transfers and other borrower disruptions; and enhanced oversight and accountability to ensure borrowers are treated fairly. This system would lay the foundation for upcoming contracts to acquire more customer service centers.

Second, the agency announced a process to proactively identify and assist federal student loan borrowers with disabilities who may be eligible for Total and Permanent Disability (TPD) loan discharge. The Department has been working with the Social Security Administration to complete a data match to identify federal student loan borrowers who also receive disability payments and have a designation of "Medical Improvement Not Expected"—which qualifies them for loan forgiveness under the TPD program. Approximately 387,000 borrowers were positively identified in the first set of matching conducted in December 2015 and March 2016. These borrowers have a total loan balance of over $7.7 billion, and roughly 179,000 of them are currently in default. The borrowers will receive a customized letter explaining eligibility for loan forgiveness and the simple steps needed to receive a discharge. (Note: Going forward, this match will be conducted quarterly so newly eligible borrowers are aware of options.)

Third, in a blog post, the agency reminds, "America hasn't had debtors' prisons for two centuries, and you cannot be arrested simply for not paying your student loans."

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Personnel Update

The President announced his intent to nominate Matt Lehrich to be Assistant Secretary for Communications and Outreach; Amy McIntosh to be Assistant Secretary for Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development; and Ann Whalen to be Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education. During the confirmation process, each will continue to work on Department initiatives, while delegated the duties of Assistant Secretary in their respective offices.

Also, former Chief of Staff for the Louisiana Board of Regents and former Executive Vice President for the University of Louisiana System Kim Hunter Reed was named Deputy Under Secretary of Education. She replaces Jamie Studley, who left the agency last year.

Moreover, Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services Michael Yudin announced he will leave the Department at the end of April. Deputy Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services Sue Swenson will assume his duties.

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Odds and Ends

  • On April 12, Secretary King testified before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee on the implementation of the ESSA (statement and video).

  • New materials have been posted on the ESSA web site for the negotiating committee to review and discuss prior to its third and final session (April 18 and 19).

  • Writing as an educator and a parent, Teaching Ambassador Fellow Patrick Kelly outlines the value of classroom diversity.

  • In a joint blog post, Teaching Ambassador Fellow Meredith Morelle and Principal Ambassador Fellow Alicia Perez-Katz recap the Department's first-ever Educator Equity Lab.

  • The Department has published in the Federal Register a supplemental Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to collect further public comments on distance education as it relates to teacher preparation.

  • "Projections of Education Statistics to 2023," from the agency's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), provides data on student enrollment, graduates, teachers, and expenditures for schools and degree-granting institutions.

  • A new report by the Center on Media and Human Development at Northwestern University presents an overview and analysis of findings from all the studies produced under the agency's Ready to Learn Television Program in the past five years (blog post).

  • The Department proposes a priority and a requirement under the Equity Assistance Centers program, to encourage applicants with a track record of success or demonstrated expertise in socioeconomic integration strategies that address problems occasioned by the desegregation of schools.

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Quote to Note

"I have the opportunity now to see schools through the lens of my daughters' experience in public schools in Maryland. I feel truly blessed that my daughters attend the kinds of schools that should be the norm for every child in America.... I see the importance each day of a well-rounded education and the excitement it brings.... Their education will shape the people they will be become, not just what they will achieve academically. Both of them have studied music, dance, and theater. I don't know if either of them will become a concert pianist or a famous guitarist or a professional ballerina. But I do know that they are developing an aesthetic appreciation that will bring them joy and widen their world for the rest of their lives. Really that's what this is about: that inextricable intersection between what our kids learn and who they become."

        Secretary of Education John King (4/14/16), in remarks on the importance of a well-rounded education

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Upcoming Events

On Earth Day (April 22), Secretary King will announce via video 2016 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools, District Sustainability Awards, and Postsecondary Sustainability Awards, post all nomination packages, and release a highlights document. (Note: National Park Week is April 16-24, while National Environmental Education Week is April 17-23.)

On April 26, communities are urged to recognize local students with a College Signing Day celebration.

On April 27, at 12:00 noon Eastern Time, the National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB) will host a webinar to discuss results and trends from the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in twelfth-grade reading and math. Register here.

Registration is open for Future Ready summits and workshops to help school district leaders improve teaching and student learning outcomes through the effective use of technology. The Department has partnered with the Alliance for Excellent Education to offer these free Future Ready events.

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Last Modified: 05/13/2016