All About Higher ED!
Cube Satellite Challenge
Teacher Ambassador Fellowship
TIMSS 2019 Results
Odds and Ends
Quote to Note
All About Higher ED!
It has been a busy few weeks on the higher education front.
First, in response to the COVID-19 national emergency, Secretary DeVos announced the extension of the federal student loan administrative forbearance period, the pause in interest accrual, and the suspension of collections activity through January 31, 2021. Federal student loan borrowers will not be expected to make any payments through January of next year, although they will continue to be able to do so and benefit from the 0% interest rate as they pay down principal. Non-payments will continue to count toward the number of payments required under an income-driven repayment plan, a loan rehabilitation agreement, or the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.
Second, delivering on her promise to update and improve the College Scorecard, the Secretary announced that students can now compare average earnings two years after graduation based on field of study and how much federal loan debt they can expect to incur, including new information on Parent PLUS loans, based on where they decide to attend school. Also, in the coming weeks, the College Scorecard will be updated to include data on federal student loan repayment. Users will be able to see how successfully past borrowers from different institutions and specific programs have been at meeting repayment obligations (blog post).
Third, concerning applying for and managing federal student aid, the Department's Federal Student Aid (FSA) office announced updates to the myStudentAid mobile application. Before the update, completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) form was the primary in-app experience available to users. With the update, users are able to: create an account; view and update their account settings; complete the 2020-21 and 2021-22 FAFSA forms; access a personalized dashboard that summarizes aid, highlights upcoming loan payments, and provides relevant content and checklists; view detailed loan and grant information, loan servicer information, and details such as remaining Direct Loan and Pell Grant eligibility, qualifying payments toward public service loan forgiveness, and more with the new My Aid Summary feature; get important notifications and account updates, such as recertifying an income-driven repayment plan; and continue to receive alerts (push notifications) directly on their phone (blog post). (Note: The myStudentAid mobile app is available for iOS and Android devices.)
Fourth, Secretary DeVos delivered the keynote address at the virtual 2020 FSA Training Conference for Financial Aid Professionals, celebrating the transformations at FSA in recent years and discussing what still needs to be done for students (video). (Note: Training conference sessions are available for on-demand viewing through March 2, 2021.)
Fifth, during the training conference, FSA unveiled its latest update to the Secretary's Next Gen initiative: the FSA Partner Connect portal. This site will consolidate the tools that institutions and partners use onto a single platform. The portal will launch in March 2021 and include a user-friendly dashboard with streamlined operational information by award year, notifications related to a partner's specific school activities, and the ability to track scheduled system outages. It will contain links to frequently visited Department systems and sites and offer a Knowledge Center to replace the Information for Financial Aid Professionals (IFAP) web site. Centralized training and guidance for financial aid professionals will include a redesigned, interactive "Federal Student Aid Handbook" with an easy-to-navigate table of contents and enhanced search function.
Sixth, the Secretary announced a settlement agreement with Temple University in Philadelphia for what the Department alleges are false representations to U.S. News & World Report to bolster the institution's ranking in the publication's annual college rankings. The agency's investigation probed the submission of information by Temple's Fox School of Business and Management to U.S. News between 2014 and 2018. Under the terms of the settlement, Temple will pay a $700,000 fine but does not admit any liability or wrongdoing. The institution cooperated fully with the Department's investigation and asserts that, after determining that inaccurate data had been submitted to U.S. News, it ceased providing inaccurate information in 2018, withdrew its online MBA and certain other programs from consideration for 2018, and implemented significant measures to ensure that data misreporting does not recur. The investigation was led by the agency's Office of the General Counsel (OGC) and FSA.
Finally, at a special event, OGC unveiled its "Free Speech Hotline" — email@example.com — a dedicated email account monitored by OGC attorneys where any First Amendment violations on campuses may be reported. Just last month, the Department implemented new regulations aimed at promoting free speech. The regulations stipulate cutting off some federal funding to public institutions if a court determines that they violated the First Amendment or to private institutions if they violated their own free speech policies.
On December 8, the White House hosted state and local leaders and private sector partners for the Operation Warp Speed Vaccine Summit, featuring remarks by President Trump and Vice President Pence and panel discussions on the development, testing, and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine (fact sheet).
One day earlier, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an updated COVID-19 Toolkit for K-12 Schools with guidance and tools to help school administrators make decisions, protect their students and staff, and communicate with their communities (partner call video).
Last month, the Department issued an updated fact sheet for procuring, donating, or loaning personal protective equipment and other medical supplies and equipment purchased with federal funding.
Due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on school attendance patterns, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) has determined that it cannot conduct the 2021 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in a manner with sufficient validity and reliability to meet the mandate of the law. Too many students are receiving their education through distance learning or are physically attending schools in locations where outside visitors to the schools are being kept at a minimum. NCES is postponing the next NAEP collection to 2022. By postponing the collection, it is allowing time for conditions on the ground to stabilize before attempting a large-scale national assessment. Furthermore, if NCES moved forward with a collection in 2021 and failed to produce estimates of student performance, it would not be able to administer the next series of assessments, by law, until 2023 (National Assessment Governing Board [NAGB] statement).
The Department's Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE), Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), and Institute of Education Sciences (IES) developed "Effective and Engaging Instruction: Remote and In-Person" — resources to support teachers and school, school district, and state leaders. These resources include Meaningful Online Education for Our Youngest Learners: Tips to Reconcile the Need for E-Learning with How Young Children Learn Best, When Teachers and Students are Separated: Strategies from Research on Social Presence for Teaching at a Distance, Best Practices for Creating Take-Home Packets to Support Distance Learning, Reopening Instructional Programs for Most Vulnerable Students: A Reopening Guidebook, Highlighting Resources for Teachers and Parents to Enhance the Continuity of Learning During COVID-19, Back to School During COVID-19: Developers and Researchers Continue to Respond to Support In-Class and Remote Teaching and Learning, Going the Distance: Online Strategies for Helping Students with Disabilities, and Promising Practices Brief: Improving Student Engagement and Attendance During COVID-19 School Closures. Similar resources are available at OESE Resources, OSEP Continuity of Learning During COVID-19, and IES COVID-19 Evidence-Based Resources.
Cube Satellite Challenge
This past summer, advancing the Administration's commitment to expand student interest in the booming science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, the Department launched CTE Mission: CubeSat, a national challenge to inspire students to build technical skills for careers in space and beyond. High school students nationwide were invited to design and build cube satellite (CubeSat) prototypes — or satellites that aid in space research — bringing space missions out of the clouds and into the classroom.
Teams from 22 states developed CubeSat proposals. The Department ultimately selected five finalists: Opelika High School (Alabama), Anderson Clark Magnet High School (La Crescenta, California), Princeton High School (New Jersey) collaborating with Montgomery High School (Skillman, New Jersey), Freeport High School (New York), and Mooresville High School (North Carolina) (Assistant Secretary for Career, Technical, and Adult Education Scott Stump's announcement video).
The finalists were recommended by a judging panel, and each was awarded $5,000 and in-kind prizes. During Phase 2, which runs from January to May 2021, they will have access to expert mentorship and additional virtual resources as they build CubeSat prototypes and flight events to launch their prototypes.
Teacher Ambassador Fellowship
Apply now for the Department's 2021-22 School Ambassador Fellowship Program. This program enables outstanding teachers, principals, counselors, psychologists, social workers, and other school-based professionals interacting with students on a daily basis to bring their expertise to the Department and expand their knowledge of the national dialogue on education. In turn, fellows facilitate the learning and input of other educators and community members. As in previous years, applicants may choose to apply as Washington Fellows — a full-time appointment, where fellows are based in residence at the agency's headquarters in Washington, D.C. — or as Campus Fellows — a part-time appointment, where fellows collaborate with the agency while maintaining their regular school responsibilities in their home communities. The application closes January 11, 2021, at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time.
TIMSS 2019 Results
The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) is an international comparative study that measures trends in math and science achievement in the fourth- and eighth-grades every four years. TIMSS is designed to align broadly with math and science curricula in participating education systems and, therefore, to reflect students' school-based learning. The U.S. has participated in every administration of TIMSS since its inception in 1995.
In 2019, a total of 64 education systems participated in TIMSS at the fourth-grade level, while 46 systems participated at the eighth-grade level. The U.S. had higher average scores than most participating systems in both subjects and grades. However, it also had relatively large score gaps between the top- and bottom-performing students in both subjects and grades. In eighth-grade math, for example, only one system (Turkey) had a larger score gap between the top-performing (90th percentile) and bottom-performing (10th percentile) students than the U.S. Moreover, except in fourth-grade science, the U.S. score gaps increased from most prior administrations of TIMSS, related in part to drops in the 2019 performance of bottom-performing students from the prior two administrations (see TIMSS 2019 U.S. highlights report).
Looking at changes over time in math at both grades, U.S. average scores have increased — with higher average scores in 2019 than in 1995 — but show no significant changes between 2015 and 2019. In fourth-grade science, U.S. average scores have decreased since the last administration in 2015. In eighth-grade science, U.S. average scores showed no significant changes over either the short term (from 2015 to 2019) or the long term (from 1995 to 2019).
Odds and Ends
- Use the Census Bureau's Holiday Season Fun Facts resource in the classroom or at home and share a variety of interesting facts with students — did you know there are two places in the U.S. named Santa Claus? An accompanying teaching guide has different ideas on how to get students engaged in the conversation. There are options available for every grade.
- Students from 56 schools across the country designed one-of-a-kind ornaments for the 2020 National Christmas Tree display on the Ellipse in President's Park. These ornaments adorn 56 smaller trees — representing each U.S. state and territory — that surround the National Christmas Tree. This year, several ornaments from each school are also displayed inside the White House (First Lady's video).
- In a series of tweets, Secretary DeVos expressed her deep appreciation for the service of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who is retiring at the end of the year. A former U.S. Secretary of Education, Senator Alexander most recently led the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee.
- Mila Padilla can relate to her students who think learning the Zuni Native language is hard. A second language learner herself, she knows it takes practice and can be a lifelong learning experience.
- In recognition of Computer Science Education Week (December 7-13), this month's Department STEM briefing spotlighted innovative approaches to integrating computer science education into formal, informal, and virtual settings.
- New from NCES: "Dual or Concurrent Enrollment in Public Schools in the U.S.," describing dual or concurrent enrollment in public schools for the 2017-18 school year and how it was funded by selected school characteristics, and "Teacher Performance Evaluations in U.S. Public Schools," describing information sources used for teacher evaluations in public schools during the 2016-17 school year and how such results were used to inform decisions about teachers during the 2017-18 school year by school type.
- This year's "America's Children in Brief: Key National Indicators of Well-Being" continues two decades of collaboration by federal agencies to advance our understanding of the nation's children and what may be needed to bring them a better tomorrow (NCES blog post).
- IES Director Mark Schneider's latest blog post, "Operation Reverse the Loss, Redux," identifies three main "buckets of actions" that IES should pursue to help reverse pandemic-related learning loss: understanding the crisis and accelerating discovery; responding to the crisis with new tools to help students catch up; and making sure the most high-need students do not get left behind.
- The IES Small Business Innovation Research Program released two Fiscal Year 2021 solicitations.
- The Department's Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE) is seeking information on successful approaches for expanding work-based learning opportunities for youth across federal, state, and local education and employer systems.
Quote to Note
"It's fundamentally unfair to ask two-thirds of Americans who don't go to college to pay the bills for the mere one-third who do. It's even more unfair to those who have held up their end of the bargain and paid back their student loans themselves to subsidize those who don't save, plan, and pay. Ultimately, nothing is 'free.' Somebody, somewhere pays the bill, and the bill is coming due. What we do next in education policy — and the public policy writ large — will either break our already fragile economy, or it will unleash an age of achievement and prosperity the likes of which we've never seen."
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos (12/1/20), from remarks at the 2020 FSA Training Conference
National School Choice Week (NSCW) is January 24-30, 2021. The effort recognizes all K-12 options, including traditional public schools, charter schools, magnet schools, private schools, online academies, and homeschooling. Founded in 2011, NSCW has grown from 150 events in 2011 to tens of thousands of events this year in the U.S. and around the world. Yet, for 2021, celebrations will focus on projects and activities — not in-person events — as the U.S. fights the spread of COVID-19. The possibilities are endless, from student art competitions, online information sessions, and virtual movie nights to school and home decoration and car parades.
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