Press Room NEWSLETTERS
September 28, 2018

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...
Disaster Relief Aid
Free Speech
ESSA Update
Federal Student Aid
Honoring Sustainability
Odds and Ends
Quote to Note
Upcoming Events

Disaster Relief Aid

Last week, as part of its ongoing work to aid hurricane relief efforts, the Department released non-regulatory guidance to help federal grantees and program participants remove barriers to restoring teaching and learning environments and expedite the recovery process for those impacted by Hurricane Florence. "For children of affected families, returning to school can provide stability in a time of upheaval," Secretary DeVos emphasized in a letter to Chief State School Officers in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia on the guidance. "The Department stands ready to provide whatever flexibility and support it can to help ensure all children, particularly those in the hurricane-impacted areas, receive a quality education." The guidance provides support to state and local education agencies, charter schools, non-public schools, Bureau of Indian Education-funded schools, postsecondary institutions, and other entities in a variety of ways, while also covering program-specific topics. Examples of such support include flexibility on reporting deadlines, timelines for grant-funded activities, and maintenance of fiscal effort or matching requirements; potential alternatives and strategies for supplying program services after disruption; and suggested methods for ensuring continuity of services and communication.

Also last week, the Secretary announced a total of $15 million in new federal assistance for 19 states, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands under the Assistance for Homeless Children and Youth Program. These awards provide funding to eligible local educational agencies (LEAs) serving homeless children and youth displaced by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria or the 2017 California wildfires. Congress appropriated a total of $25 million for this program. Award amounts are based on specific data received from eligible applications. The Department anticipates awarding the remaining $10 million in the near future.

Meanwhile, in separate trips, Deputy Secretary of Education Mitchell Zais and White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics Executive Director Aimee Viana traveled to Puerto Rico as part of the Department's "Rethink School" back to school tour. They visited a number of schools and met with students, educators, and policymakers (tweets: 1, 2, and 3). Viana also traveled to the U.S. Virgin Islands.

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Free Speech

On September 17, Secretary DeVos delivered poignant remarks at the National Constitution Center's annual Constitution Day celebration in Philadelphia. She discussed the importance of free speech on college campuses, as well as the importance of civic education, before taking questions from students in the audience. The following are excerpts from her prepared remarks, and video of the event is here.

"The fundamental mission of formal learning is to provide a forum for students to discover who they are, why they're here, and where they want to go in life. These are formative years: times and places to learn, to be challenged, to grow and make mistakes. Learning is enriched by what each individual student brings to that experience...if, and only if, that environment is free and open. Today, precious few campuses can be described as such. As the purpose of learning is forgotten, ignored, or denied, we are inundated daily with stories of administrators and faculty manipulating marketplaces of ideas."

"More than a few institutions have been unwilling to provide a forum for their students to discuss serious policy matters that affect our country.... Too many administrators have been complicit in creating or facilitating a culture that makes it easier for the 'heckler' to win.... Administrators too often attempt to shield students from ideas they subjectively decide are 'hateful' or 'offensive' or 'injurious' or ones they just don't like. This patronizing practice assumes students are incapable of grappling with, learning from, or responding to ideas with which they disagree. Such limits on freedom are sometimes subtle; other times they are noisy. But both are rampant, and both are bad.

"The ability to respectfully deliberate, discuss, and disagree—to model the behavior on display in Independence Hall—has been lost in too many places. Some are quick to blame a 'tribalization' of America where groupthink reigns. Others point to the rise of social media where—under the cloak of anonymity—sarcasm and disdain dominate. Certainly, none of that improves our discourse. But I think the issue is more fundamental than that, and it's one governments cannot solve. The issue is that we have abandoned truth.

"To that end, we can embrace a Golden Rule of free speech: seeking to understand as to be understood. That is to say, a willingness to learn from any idea, even ones with which you disagree or ones that aren't your own. It's also the humility to listen with the understanding that you yourself might be mistaken."

Also that day, the Justice Department held a free speech in higher education forum in Washington, D.C.

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ESSA Update

On September 27, the Secretary announced the approval of Florida's consolidated state plan under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). "With the approval of Florida's plan, I am pleased to announce that ESSA plans for all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico have been approved," she said. "As the Department moves into the next phase of ESSA implementation and monitoring, we look forward to working with states as they bring their plans on paper to life and use the flexibilities afforded in ESSA to innovate on behalf of students and to improve the educational opportunities for all."

The Department has been working and will continue to work with states, as well as school districts, to improve implementation of the law and to encourage expanded use of evidence-based interventions and practices. This work will help ensure that all students, particularly educationally disadvantaged students, meet challenging state academic standards and graduate from high school ready for college and careers.

The agency has a variety of mechanisms, such as technical assistance and monitoring, to support states and districts in addressing needs unique to their contexts and students, and ensuring they are meeting ESSA's requirements. ESSA's guardrails are essential to make sure that every child, including the most vulnerable students, has the opportunity to succeed.

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Federal Student Aid

The 2019-20 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) will be available starting October 1. New and returning students who plan to attend college between July 1, 2019, and June 30, 2020, should complete the FAFSA as soon as possible. To assist students and parents in the process, the Department's Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) is penning informative blog posts, such as "8 Steps to Filling Out the FAFSA Form," "The Parent's Guide to Filling Out the FAFSA Form," "5 Things to Do After Filing Your FAFSA Form," and "11 Common FAFSA Mistakes."

Starting next week, students and parents can also complete the 2019-20 FAFSA using the myStudentAid mobile application. The app may be downloaded from both the Apple App Store (iOS) and Google Play (Android). The myFAFSA component, which is used to complete the form, is the app's featured function.

Looking for some help on outreach? "But first, FAFSA" is FSA's awareness campaign for the 2019-20 FAFSA application cycle. The campaign encourages students and parents to fill out the FAFSA form, so they do not miss out on financial aid, and informs students about the mobile app.

In related news, the Department released the latest federal student loan cohort default rate, which decreased (from 11.5% to 10.8%) for students who entered repayment between fiscal years 2014 and 2015. This latest cohort default rate represents the lowest national rate since the three-year rate was first released in 2012. Schools with high default rates may lose their eligibility to participate in federal student aid programs. This year, 12 schools are subject to sanctions. FSA provides extensive assistance to institutions, including webinars and online training; state, regional, and national association training forums; and face-to-face training events.

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Honoring Sustainability

Senior officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Campaign for Environmental Literacy, and the Center for Green Schools at the U.S. Green Building Council joined the Department's Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education Frank Brogan to congratulate the 2018 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools, District Sustainability Awardees, and Postsecondary Sustainability Awardees at an awards ceremony in Washington, D.C. During the event, 46 schools, six districts, and six higher education institutions were honored for their leadership in reducing environmental impact and costs, promoting better health, and ensuring effective environmental education. Brogan also announced the 2018 Green Strides Tour, with the theme "Living School Grounds," to be held October 24 and 25 in Missouri.

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Odds and Ends

  • In recognition of National Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15-October 15), President Trump issued a proclamation and spoke at a celebration.

  • On September 17, the President held the inaugural interagency meeting of the National Council for the American Worker.

  • On September 20, the White House hosted a Women Mayors of America conference, featuring remarks by Second Lady Karen Pence, Secretary DeVos, and U.S. Small Business Administrator Linda McMahon and panels on economic development and shared priorities.

  • #RethinkSchool Homeroom blogs detail a North Idaho STEM Academy created for the community, by the community and explain why choice matters for military-connected students and students with disabilities.

  • The Department is again inviting applications for the ESSA's Innovative Assessment Demonstration Authority, providing an opportunity for states to pilot innovative assessments in a small group of schools as they move toward statewide implementation of new assessment systems.

  • The Department's Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) recently issued a framework that outlines how the office will focus its work to advance the Secretary's priorities and continue to make progress toward achieving its mission to improve early childhood, educational, and employment outcomes and raise expectations for all individuals with disabilities, their families, their communities, and the nation. (Note: In a corresponding blog post, OSERS Assistant Secretary Johnny Collett addresses the need to rethink special education to prepare students for successful careers and a meaningful life.)

  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a new, $20 million grant program to assist states with the testing of lead in drinking water at schools and child care facilities. (Note: To learn about this program, states are encouraged to join an informational webinar on either October 4 or October 10.)

  • A new report from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) takes an in-depth look at students' access to computers at home and in school and students' use of computers for classroom learning in the fourth-, eighth-, and twelfth-grades. Across all states and other jurisdictions, access to computers at home ranged from 77% to 97% for eighth-grade students, while access to computers at school ranged from 78% to 100%. Students without computer access at home tended to perform worse on National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) assessments in 2015.

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Quote to Note

"[L]isten—really listen!—and then personally engage those with whom we disagree. It's easy to be nasty hiding behind screens and Twitter handles. It's not so easy when we are face-to-face. When we are, we more quickly recognize that behind each strongly held idea are heartbeats, emotions, experiences...in other words, a real person. And if we use our two ears proportionally to our one mouth, we can speak with conviction when we're certain and listen with intent when we're not, humbly leaving open the possibility that even when we feel quite certain, we might be quite wrong."

        Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos (9/17/18), in remarks at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia

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Upcoming Events

Among other education-related observations, October is Learning Disabilities Awareness Month, National Disability Employment Awareness Month, Down Syndrome Awareness Month, National Depression Education and Awareness Month, and National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month.

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Last Modified: 09/28/2018