Working to Prevent Discrimination Involving Religion at Schools and Universities

No student – whether Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Sikh, or of any other religious background – should experience barriers to learning and success in school because of who the student is or what the student believes.

That’s why last month, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights participated in a community forum in Palo Alto, California, on religious discrimination in schools and universities. This roundtable built on an event in Newark, New Jersey, in March, where the Department of Education joined the Justice Department in announcing the launch of Combating Religious Discrimination Today, a new interagency community engagement initiative designed to promote religious freedom, challenge religious discrimination and enhance enforcement of religion-based hate crimes.

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A Second Chance for an Education

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The Obama Administration is committed to creating a fairer, more effective criminal justice system. We want to lessen the impact of mass incarceration on our communities and help the men and women who rejoin society from our jails and prisons to build successful, crime-free lives.

Today, we’re announcing the selection of 67 postsecondary institutions to participate in the Second Chance Pell Program, which will evaluate the impact that Pell Grants have in helping incarcerated men and women pursue and attain a high-quality postsecondary education.

In total, nearly 12,000 students at more than a hundred federal and state correctional institutions will access approximately $30 million in Pell Grants, across 27 states in every region of the country.

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A View from the Field: Building Comprehensive ESSA Stakeholder Engagement

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which replaced No Child Left Behind and reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, presents an opportunity to continue making progress towards educational equity and excellence for all. For the first time, the reauthorization of the nation’s defining elementary and secondary education law explicitly supports a preschool to college- and career-readiness vision for America’s students. It also creates the flexibility for states, districts, and educators to reclaim the promise of a quality, well-rounded education for every student while maintaining the protections that ensure our commitment to every child — particularly by identifying and reporting the academic progress of all of our students and by guaranteeing meaningful action is taken in our lowest performing schools and school with low performance among subgroups of students.

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It’s Time for Some Stability

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Class act! Principal Nauiokas and students at Mott Haven Academy in the Bronx. (Photo courtesy Jessica Nauiokas)

Every year, hundreds of thousands of youth enter the foster care system in America and become one of our most vulnerable groups of students, as each move from home to home is frequently accompanied by school transfers and educational disruption.

As the principal of a school specifically designed to meet the needs of children in foster care, Mott Haven Academy in the Bronx, I have seen how factors like unnecessary school transfers and untrained educators allow child welfare-involved youth to fall through the cracks. As a result the country’s half-million foster children have poorer attendance rates than their peers, are less likely to perform at grade level, are more likely to have behavior and discipline problems, are disproportionally assigned to special education classes, and are less likely to attend college.

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Kids Cook Up Change in ED’s Kitchen

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How does a lunch of Moroccan stuffed zucchini, Moroccan salad and spiced pear cups sound?

This is just one of the 10 creative and delicious school meals cooked up during the Cooking up Change national finals earlier this month at the Department of Education. Cooking up Change is a dynamic culinary competition that challenges student chefs to create healthy school meals that their peers enjoy. Not only are these meals delicious, they also comply with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) school nutrition standards for calories, fat, sodium, fruits, vegetables and whole grains, including side dishes, which meet USDA Smart Snacks in Schools standards.

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Beware! You Don’t Have to Pay for Help with Your Student Loans

Beware of Scams

I bet many of you have seen ads on Facebook that sound something like this:

“Want Student Loan Forgiveness in Two Weeks? CALL NOW!”

“Apply for Obama Loan Forgiveness in 5 minutes!”

Usually, if something sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.  There are countless ads online from companies offering to help you manage your student loan debt…for a fee, of course. While the U.S. Department of Education (ED) does offer some legitimate student loan forgiveness programs and ways to lower your student loan payments, they are all free to apply for. Don’t pay for help when you can get help for free!

If you’re a federal student loan borrower, ED provides free assistance to help:

  • lower your monthly payment;
  • consolidate your loans;
  • see if you qualify for loan forgiveness; and
  • get out of default.

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How to Qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness

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Everyone wants their student loans forgiven. The perception is that very few qualify. But did you know that there is one broad, employment-based forgiveness program for federal student loans? Let me break down some key points of Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) to help you figure out if you could qualify.


[ 1 ] Work for a government or non-profit organization

Qualifying for Public Service Loan Forgiveness is not about your job, it’s about who your employer is. In order to qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness, you must work for a “public service” employer. What does that mean? Everyone has a different definition.

Employers who qualify based on our definition:

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Building a Foundation for Children Starts in Pre-K

codyclassAs a kindergarten teacher, I have seen that attending a high-quality pre-K program makes a significant difference in children’s kindergarten success—and later success as well. This is why I am passionate that access to high-quality pre-K should not be a luxury afforded to some, but an invaluable resource offered to all.

From my experience, there are three major advantages students gain from high quality pre-K program:

They have key social skills.

In kindergarten, children constantly work in groups, whether in small teacher-led instructional groups, at activity learning “centers” or at math and phonics stations. In reading and writing workshop and most other activities, they work with partners or in small groups. This requires kids to negotiate disagreements, understand the social conventions of conversations, and balance their needs with others’. In pre-K, children have had lots of experiences like this.

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What College Accreditation Changes Mean for Students

Editor’s note (6/24/16): Yesterday, NACIQI – the independent board that advises the Department of Education on accreditation – voted 10-3 in support of the Department’s recommendation to end recognition of ACICS. As noted in the post below, that was the next step in the process after the initial recommendation for Department staff. The recommendations now come to a senior official here at the Department, who has 90 days to make a decision. After that, ACICS will have the opportunity to appeal the decision to the Secretary of Education if it wishes to do so.

For millions of Americans, federal student loans and grants open the doors to a college education. That critical federal aid must be used at a school that is (among other things) given the seal of approval by an “accrediting agency” or “accreditor” recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. It’s one of the safeguards in the system. Accreditation is an important signal to students, families, and the Department about whether a school offers a quality education. Accreditors have a responsibility under federal law to make sure colleges earn that seal.

But what happens when the Department stops recognizing an accrediting agency?

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Chronic Absenteeism: The First-Order Challenge Facing Our Nation’s Schools

Principal Manko and students are all smiles! (Photo courtesy Joseph Manko)

Principal Manko and students are all smiles! (Photo courtesy Joseph Manko)

Principals like me in schools around the country face a daunting challenge. While the national conversation focuses on test scores, school performance, and academic growth, one key question that has been absent is — how do we move kids academically, when they don’t show up to school?

Chronic absenteeism – missing over twenty or more days of school in a typical 180-day year – is rampant across the country and particularly so in high poverty schools where obstacles like inadequate housing, transportation, unforgiving work schedules, and improper health care make regular attendance difficult. In my hometown of Baltimore, Maryland, some schools have chronic rates of close to 30%. That means that one third of the students are missing over 10% of the school year – begging the question of how meaningful academic growth is even possible.

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When Everyone Owns the Place of the Arts

Boston is known as the “birthplace of public education” in America, so it’s only fitting that the Boston Public Schools (BPS) was celebrated at the U.S. Department of Education (ED) with an opening reception and ribbon cutting to highlight its student art exhibit, A Brighter Boston: Inspiring Creative Minds. The exhibit, now in ED’s headquarters, features 68 2-D and 3-D pieces from K – 12 students representing 17 Boston public schools. BPS received over 125 entries from teachers, which a panel of judges adjudicated.

U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr. delivered the opening remarks. King was a teacher and an education leader in the state, having cofounded Roxbury Preparatory Charter School, a Boston middle school that became Massachusetts’ highest-performing open-admission urban middle school. In his remarks, King stressed the importance of the arts for providing a well-rounded education, acknowledging that there is not enough emphasis on the fact that “a well-rounded education is an excellent education.” This echoed his messages earlier in the month, at Las Vegas Academy of the Arts, to advocate for a well-rounded education for all students.

U.S. Secretary of Education John King delivers opening remarks.

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Equity is the Theme Every Week, but Especially This Week

From its first day, the Obama Administration has worked to ensure opportunity for all students – no matter their zip code. Educational equity underscores the work of the U.S. Department of Education, and this week offers a glimpse into the far-ranging work of the Department as we support schools, families, communities and states in ensuring every student has the opportunity to be successful.

We start the week with an event at the White House with Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to the President, and White House Domestic Policy Council Director Cecilia Muñoz the discrimination, harassment and bullying of Muslim, Arab, Sikh, and South Asian – known as MASSA – students in schools. The event will give us a chance to hear directly from educators, students, parents and community members about how to best create safe and supportive learning environments for all students.

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