Standing on the Shoulders of Many

The 2008 Metro Detroit General Election Obama Staff.

The 2008 Metro Detroit General Election Obama Staff.

With regards to August Wilson, Lorraine Hansberry, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Denzel Washington referenced their short but impactful time on this earth as “concentrated dose[s] of life” going on to say that “these people didn’t have water added to their lives…they were here and they were intense for a short period of time…but they live on…for generations, for centuries hopefully…”

This is what working for the Obama administration has felt like to me and so many Black appointees: an intense and purposeful eight years of work done for the betterment of our future generations.

I am a first generation college graduate who was a Head Start student and a Pell grant recipient. When I completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for the first time and saw my “expected family contribution (EFC)” would be $0, my resolve to receive a college education was solidified. From the time of my birth until my first job after graduating from Howard University, I lived in a household at or near the poverty line, which qualified me for financial aid and allowed me to have a better chance to achieve the American Dream. Had it not been for the opportunity a college education afforded me, there is a real possibility that my own children would have been born into that same generational cycle of having the talent and will, but not the financial way.

Of the many incredible memories I have of serving this President, my favorite involves my nephew, Drake. Drake was four years old and spending part of the summer with my husband and me in 2013. While watching Independence Day, I noticed a confused look on his face. I asked him what was wrong. “Tee-Tee that is not the President.” “And how do you know?” “The President is Marack O’Momma”.

The author's nephew, Drake, at the White House Easter Egg Roll.

The author’s nephew, Drake, at the White House Easter Egg Roll.

Now eight, Drake can accurately pronounce the President’s name, but I will forever treasure that memory. The realization that there is a whole generation of young boys and girls whose only reality has been one where Barack Obama is the “real” President of the United States, has affected me deeply.What a mighty concentrated dose of life witnessed by young Drake and children all over the world.

There have been many historical celebrations during President Obama’s administration. In 2014, we celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act and the 60th Anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education Ruling. And in 2015, while celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Voting Rights act-we also witnessed the passing of our beloved national treasure Julian Bond.

From Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” blossomed Barack Obama who planted seeds for Acting Secretary John King, Tia Borders, Saba Bireda, De’Rell Bonner, Tenicka Boyd, Casimir Peters, Brenda Girton-Mitchell, Raymonde Charles, Denise Horn, Alise Marshall, Chris Robinson, Aketa Williams, James Cole, Kimberly Morton, Angela Tennison, Michael Brown, Ursula Wright, Monae White, Jim Shelton, Christina Cue, Tyra Mariani, Stephanie Sprow, Michael Smith, myself and countless other Black Appointees to grow. We dared to join the North Star journey of electing and serving the first Black President. We all started in different parts of this country. Some of us began this journey during the South Carolina primary in 2007, while others of us joined the “Obama” train further up the Ohio River in Kentucky.

As a field organizer working in my home city of Detroit in 2008, I welcomed neighbors from Canada that were eager to volunteer for the campaign even though they could not vote in our election to ensure Barack’s ascendency to the highest job in all the land. And when Barack Obama was elected President, we all made it to the White House. Not just those of us who had volunteered and mobilized to make history …but also those who came before us. The humanity of an invitation to work for the first Black president granted honor to our great grandmothers and grandfathers, and the spirits of our ancestors, whose shoulders we had to climb upon in order to make it to this extraordinary moment in time. And our humble service in the birth of this nation granted dignity to those who once served, unwillingly, building this country on their backs with their blood, sweat, tears and lives.

It has been an incalculable privilege to be of service to this President and our incredible First Family. I am forever grateful for this intense opportunity; this concentrated dose of time in my own life that I will one day share with my own children and their children as well.

Russella Davis-Rogers is Chief of Staff of the Office of Strategic Partnerships at the U.S. Department of Education.

The Easy Way to Transfer Your Tax Information into Your FAFSA

IRS Data Retrieval Tool infographic

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I’ll admit it. February is not my favorite month because it reminds me of tax returns, bad weather and well, finding my tax information. Ugh. If you are like me, a world-class procrastinator that agonizes every year at the thought of filing a tax return and submitting a FAFSA®, then you are not alone. You also know that it can be time consuming. So, here is why you should use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) to instantly transfer your tax information directly into your FAFSA:

1. What is the IRS DRT and how do I use it?

You can find the IRS DRT in the “Financial Information” section of the FAFSA. To use the tool, be sure to indicate that you already completed your tax return.  Answer the remaining questions and log in using your FSA ID:

2016-17 - Taxes Completed

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If your tax return information is available and if you are eligible to use it, you will be transferred to the tool.  Make sure to provide your information exactly as you provided it on your tax return:

IRS DRT Screenshot with 2015 tax info

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You will be able to preview your tax information before agreeing to have it directly transferred to your FAFSA.

IRS DRT Screenshot with 2015 tax info

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When you return to the FAFSA, you’ll see the relevant questions populated with your information automatically. It’s that easy!

2. Why use this tool?

  • It’s so easy that it only takes a couple of clicks to transfer all your tax information.
  • It can be used by both students and parents.
  • Most importantly, it is accurate so you don’t have to worry about entering the wrong tax information on your FAFSA.

3. When can I use the tool?

The IRS DRT is available the first Sunday in February. However, when your information will be available will depend on when you submitted your tax return. If you e-file your taxes, your information will be available to transfer 2-3 weeks after you file.

4. If I already completed the FAFSA using estimates, can I use the IRS DRT to update my FAFSA once I filed my taxes?

Yes, if you estimated, you will have to update your FAFSA once you have filed your taxes anyway. So why not use the IRS DRT? It’s the easiest way to update your FAFSA. To update your estimates, click “Make FAFSA Corrections” after logging in to fafsa.gov. Navigate to the “Financial Information” section and indicate that you have already completed your taxes. If your tax return information is available and if you are eligible to do so, you should follow the same prompts listed above to transfer your tax return information to your application.

5. Why can’t I use the IRS DRT?

If you’re not seeing the IRS DRT, there may be a few reasons why:

  • It is not available for use yet.
  • You indicated that you will file or are not going to file a federal income tax return.
  • Your marital status changed after Dec. 31 of the previous calendar year.
  • The student/parent filed a Form 1040X amended tax return.
  • The student/parent filed a Puerto Rican or foreign tax return.

If you are not able to use the IRS DRT, don’t worry. Although you’ll be required to enter your tax information manually, we have great resources on StudentAid.gov that walk you through the process.

Now that you know the secret to transferring your tax information to the FAFSA, I hope you will enjoy the time you saved!


Zelma Barrett is a Management and Program Analyst at Federal Student Aid.

5 Things To Do After Filing Your FAFSA

After the FAFSA

Congratulations! You submitted your 2016–17 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®)! Wondering what happens next? Here are a few things to look out for:

1. Review Your Student Aid Report (SAR)

After you submit your FAFSA, you’ll get a Student Aid Report (SAR). Your SAR is a summary of the FAFSA data you submitted. Once you have submitted your FAFSA, you’ll get your SAR within three days (if you signed your FAFSA online) or three weeks (if you mailed a signature page.)

View your SAR

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Any student with an FSA ID can view and print his or her SAR by logging in to fafsa.gov and clicking on the appropriate school year. This is also where you can check the status of your application if you have not received your SAR yet. Once you get your SAR, you should review it carefully to make sure it’s correct and complete.

2. Review Your EFC

When reviewing your SAR, look for the Expected Family Contribution (EFC)  number. Your EFC can be found in the box at the top of the first page of your SAR, under your Social Security number.

Your EFC is a measure of your family’s financial strength and is calculated according to a formula established by law. This formula considers the following about you (and your parents, if you’re dependent):

  • Taxed and untaxed income
  • Assets
  • Benefits (such as unemployment or Social Security)
  • Family size
  • Number of family members who will attend college during the year

Schools use your EFC to determine your federal student aid eligibility and your financial aid award. However, it’s important to remember that your EFC is not the amount of money your family will have to pay for college nor is it the amount of federal student aid you will receive. It is a number used by your school to calculate how much financial aid you are eligible to receive. Contact your school’s financial aid office if you have any questions about how they calculate financial aid.

3. Make Corrections If You Need To

It’s important to make sure that everything on your FAFSA is correct and complete, as your school may ask you to verify some of the information. Most of the questions on the FAFSA want to know your situation as of the day you sign the FAFSA. However, there are some instances in which you’ll want to (or be required to) change the information you reported.

Make FAFSA Corrections

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TIP: You must wait for your most recent FAFSA submission to process before you can update or make corrections to your FAFSA. That usually take about three days.

Do you need to update any information?

  • Log in with your FSA ID.
  • Click “Make FAFSA Corrections.”
  • Corrections should be processed in 3–5 days and you should receive a revised SAR.
  • After you click “SUBMIT” you cannot make another correction until your FAFSA has been processed successfully.

Did you submit your FAFSA using income and tax estimates?

  • Log in with your FSA ID.
  • Navigate to the “Financial Information” section.
  • Indicate that you have “Already completed” your taxes.
  • If you are eligible, you will have the option to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. If not, you may update your tax information manually.
Taxes already completed

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Has your situation changed?

Most FAFSA information cannot be updated because it must be accurate as of the day you originally signed your FAFSA. However, there are certain items that you must update. If there will be a significant change in your or your parent’s income for the present year or if your family has other circumstances that cannot be reported on the FAFSA, you should speak to the financial aid office at the school you plan to attend.

4. Review Your Financial Aid History

The last page of your SAR includes information about your financial aid history, specifically the student loans you have taken out. It’s important to keep track of how much you’re borrowing and to understand the terms and conditions of the loan.

TIP: You can always access your financial aid history by logging into My Federal Student Aid. Make sure you have your FSA ID ready.

5. Double-Check With Your Schools

Lastly, make sure that you double-check with the financial aid offices at the schools you applied to. Sometimes schools need additional paperwork or have other deadlines. You never want to leave money on the table!

Here’s a video on what happens after the FAFSA. You can find more videos on our YouTube channel.


Sandra Vuong is a Digital Engagement Strategist at Federal Student Aid.

Balancing Assessments: A Teacher’s Perspective

As a Teaching Ambassador Fellow, my colleagues and I have the honor of speaking with thousands of educators, parents, and students across the country about their greatest hopes for education and what’s working well for them or not. Just as I have struggled with the amount of testing in my own classroom, we invariably hear about the amount of instructional time and energy devoted to testing.

Don’t get me wrong. As a teacher, I know that assessing learning is a critical part of our on-going work. However, as the President outlined in October, assessments must be worth taking and of high quality; designed to enhance teaching and learning; and give a well-rounded picture of how students and schools are doing.

In a rush to improve and document one measure of student progress, well-meaning people have layered on more and more tests and put too much instructional focus on test scores rather than teaching and learning. The burden of this falls on our students.

The day I knew that I wanted to help bring our testing situation into better balance was when a ten year old student stood in front of me sobbing that despite lots of hard work, she was sure she had failed a high stakes assessment. She could not catch her breath to express her fear at what would happen to her. As I dried her tears, I knew that I did not want to stand by and be a part of a system that made any child feel that all that mattered was a number on what I knew was a low-quality test.

This past Tuesday, Acting Secretary John King released a video announcing new guidance to help states identify and eliminate low-quality, redundant or unhelpful testing. This guidance shares how federal money may be used to help reduce testing and bring testing back into balance for teachers and students.

The guidance outlines numerous ways funds can be used by States and districts to collaborate with teachers, administrators, family members and students to audit assessments; improve the use of the data; increase the transparency and timeliness of results; and to improve the quality of the tests our students take. As I work with the Department’s Teach to Lead initiative, I’ll note that this seems like a particularly ripe opportunity to call on our schools’ many talented teacher leaders to help improve tests.

We are at a tremendous moment in education to be able to step back in our states to put the balance back in assessment with the help of Federal resources. All of our voices need to be part of the discussion. Our students are counting on us.

JoLisa Hoover is a 4th grade teacher at River Ridge Elementary School in Leander Independent School District near Austin, Texas and a 2015 Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education.

Girls and Coding: Seeing What the Future Can Be

From left to right, Gilliam Jacobs, Brittany Greve, Andrea Chaves, Noran Omar, Angela Diep.

At the White House for the White House Champions of Change for Computer Science Education! From left to right, Gilliam Jacobs, Brittany Greve, Andrea Chaves, Noran Omar and Angela Diep.

“You can’t be what you can’t see.”

This is a common expression that, perhaps like me, you’ve heard many times. For the girls at the Young Women’s Leadership school where I teach in New York City, this is – sadly — the case. My students couldn’t see themselves as women in STEM careers, and in fact, knew little about the opportunities offered within the field.

That’s why I made it my mission to bring computer science to our school.

My principal was excited at the idea of incorporating computer science (CS), but took me by surprise when she said I would have to teach it. As a certified Spanish teacher, I had no background in CS other than being digitally competent. But, after starting to learn through an online training program, I decided to blend computer science into my advanced Spanish speakers class because I figured why not have students learning Spanish dive into coding, too.

On the first day of class, I announced to the girls in Spanish that we were going to do tons of reading, writing and editing – but in a language called JavaScript. I made it clear that I wasn’t fluent in this language, but reassured them that we were on this journey together.

It didn’t take me long to realize that the gender gap is not due to women lacking STEM-related skills, but rather because young women are conditioned to believe that careers in technology and science are reserved for men. That’s part of why I also decided to start two after-school programs: a partnership with an existing organization, Girls Who Code, which works to inspire and educate women to pursue careers in technology and my own program, TechCrew – an internship program that exposes girls to coding, graphic design, animation and film.

Watch the girls in Chaves’ class who created the nutrition game, Healthy Bunch, which won the MIT-sponsored competition “Dream It. Code It. Win It.”

Each club started with eight girls, but TechCrew now includes 30 girls working collaboratively to create and produce technology-driven projects. Students have coded video games and apps about recycling, healthy eating habits, carbon footprints, space debris, learning Spanish and more. As one of my students, Brittany Greve, says, “Computer science has allowed me to look at a problem from multiple perspectives and use logic to come up with innovative solutions.”

My students have also become leaders within the CS community. We’ve worked together on all sorts of projects, such as a summer coding camp in Queens where girls learned to build apps that advocate for social justice. Additionally, my TechCrew is currently leading 50 girls in the creation of a Digital Dance, in which dancers, filmmakers, graphic designers and coders are bringing together their expertise to create a beautiful piece of art.

Watch Chaves’ students talking about why they love to code and how coding has influenced them (in English).

Watch Chaves’ students talking about why they love to code and how coding has influenced them (in Spanish).

I am a Spanish teacher by training, but I took a risk to integrate CS into my curriculum and learned that this language does not have to stand on its own. It can be infused into any subject in any classroom. All it takes is a little innovation, trust and risk-taking.

One of my students put it best, “CS has opened a new pathway in my life. It has made me discover a part of who I am that I didn’t know existed. I can now see what I would like my future to be,” she said.

Andrea Chaves is a Spanish and computer science teacher and creative director at the Young Women’s Leadership School in Astoria, New York. She was recently named a White House Champion of Change.

3 Types of FAFSA Deadlines You Should Pay Attention To

Sample FAFSA Deadlines

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Ah, deadlines. The sworn enemy of students across the nation. When you’re busy with classes, extracurricular activities, and a social life in whatever time you’ve got left, it’s easy to lose track and let due dates start whooshing by. All of a sudden, your U.S. history paper is due at midnight, and you still don’t know Madison from a minuteman. We get it.

Nevertheless, we’re here to point out a few critical deadlines that you really shouldn’t miss: those to do with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®). By submitting your FAFSA late, you might be forfeiting big money that can help you pay for college. Luckily for you, you’ve got just three types of deadlines to stay on top of. Now if only your Founding Father flashcards were that simple.

Here are those three deadlines:

  1. The College Deadline

The first type of deadline comes from colleges themselves, and—spoiler alert—it’s typically pretty early. These deadlines vary from school to school, but they usually come well before the academic year starts, many in the neighborhood of early spring. If you’re applying to multiple colleges, be sure to look up each school’s FAFSA deadline and apply by the earliest one.

Many of these FAFSA due dates are priority deadlines. This means that you need to get your FAFSA in by that date to be considered for the most money. Many colleges have this date clearly marked on their financial aid pages. If you can’t find it, a call to the college’s financial aid office never goes amiss.

  1. The State Deadline

The second deadline is determined by your home state. This deadline varies by state and can be as early as February 15 of a given year’s FAFSA application cycle (What’s good, Connecticut?). Some states have suggested deadlines to make sure you get priority consideration for college money, and some just want you to get the FAFSA in as soon as you can. States often award aid until they run out of money—first come, first served—so apply early.

You can check the deadline tool at fafsa.gov to see what the deal is in your state. You can also find that state-specific information on the paper or PDF FAFSA. In many cases, it turns out that state and school deadlines occur before you’ve even filed your taxes. If that’s the case, learn how to submit your FAFSA if you haven’t filed taxes yet.

  1. The Federal Deadline

This last deadline comes from us, the Department of Education, aka the FAFSA folks. This one is pretty low-pressure. Our only time constraint is that each year’s FAFSA becomes unavailable on June 30 at the end of the academic year it applies to.

That means that the 2016–17 FAFSA (which became available Jan. 1, 2016) will disappear from fafsa.gov on June 30, 2017, because that’s the end of the 2016–17 school year. That’s right; you can technically go through your entire year at college before accessing the FAFSA. However, a few federal student aid programs have limited funds, so be sure to apply as soon as you can. Also, as we said, earlier deadlines from states and colleges make waiting a bad idea.


Why so many deadlines?

All these entities award their financial aid money differently and at different times. What they all have in common, though, is that they use the FAFSA to assess eligibility for their aid programs. So when a college wants to get its aid squared away before the academic year starts, it needs your FAFSA to make that happen. If you want in on that college money, you need to help the college out by getting your information in by its deadline. Same goes for state aid programs. Additionally, many outside scholarship programs need to see your FAFSA before they consider your eligibility for their money. If you’re applying for scholarships, you need to stay on top of those deadlines, too.

What happens if I miss the deadlines?

Don’t miss the deadlines. Plan to get your FAFSA in by the earliest of all the deadlines for your best crack at college money. By missing deadlines, you take yourself out of the running for money you might otherwise get. Some states and colleges continue awarding aid to FAFSA latecomers, but your chances get much slimmer, and the payout is often less if you do get aid. It’s better just not to miss the deadlines.

If you miss the end-of-June federal deadline, you’re no longer eligible to submit that year’s FAFSA. Did we mention not to miss the deadlines?

Across the board, the motto really is “the sooner the better.” So put off the procrastinating until tomorrow. Apply by the earliest deadline. Get your FAFSA done today!

Drew Goins is a senior journalism major at the University of North Carolina. He’s also an intern with the U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid office. Likes: politics, language, good puns. Dislikes: mainly kale.

ED Seeks Summer Interns

interns

Have you ever wondered about pursuing a federal career? Are you interested in public service? Would you like to gain valuable work experience and help move the needle on education issues in this country?

The Department of Education may have opportunities that match your interests – and we’re currently accepting applications for interns!

Our Department is a place where you can explore fields like education policy, education law, business and finance, research and analysis, intergovernmental relations and public affairs, or traditional and digital communications, all while learning about the role federal government plays in education.

Our interns also participate in professional development sessions and events outside of the office, such as lunches with ED and other government officials, movie nights, and tours of the Capitol, Supreme Court and other local sights.

One of the many advantages of interning at ED is our proximity to some of the most historic and celebrated sites in our nation’s capital, all accessible by walking or taking the Metro.

ED is accepting applications for Summer 2016 internships through March 15, 2016.

If you are interested in interning during the upcoming term, there are three things you must send in order to be considered for an interview:

  1. A cover letter summarizing why you wish to work at ED and stating your previous experiences in the field of education, if any. Include which particular offices interest you. (But, keep in mind that – due to the volume of applications we receive – if we accept you as an intern we may not be able to place you in your first-choice office.)
  2. An updated resumé.
  3. A completed copy of the Intern Application.

Prospective interns should send these three documents in one email to StudentInterns@ed.gov with the subject line formatted as follows: Last Name, First Name: Summer Intern Application.

(Note: For candidates also interested in applying specifically to the Office of General Counsel, please see application requirements here.)

An internship at ED is one of the best ways students can learn about education policy and working in the civil service. It’s also a fantastic opportunity to develop crucial workplace skills that will help you in whatever career path you choose. And, it’s an opportunity to meet fellow students who share your passion for education, learning, and engagement.

Click here for more information or to get started on your application today.

De’Rell Bonner is a special assistant and youth liaison in the Office of Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education.

School Counselors, Meet the Financial Aid Toolkit

Happy National School Counseling Week! Many thanks to all you school counselors out there for your hard work and dedication.

Financial Aid Toolkit Screenshot

Click to visit the Financial Aid Toolkit

Many times through the years, I’ve heard how busy the typical school counselor is, with a heavy case load and no time to learn everything there is to know about financial aid. Instead, counselors have sent out a plea for a selection of short, specific items that answer the questions a student will have at various points in the financial aid lifecycle. You asked for it; we built it. It’s called the Financial Aid Toolkit.

 

What’s the Financial Aid Toolkit?

FinancialAidToolkit.ed.gov is a site that was designed specifically for you, the school counselor, to give you information and resources that will help you educate students and parents about federal student aid for college.

What does the Financial Aid Toolkit offer?

It offers a lot, so be sure to explore the site. Meanwhile, here are some highlights:

Why shouldn’t a counselor recommend the Financial Aid Toolkit to students and parents?

The Financial Aid Toolkit speaks to YOU, the counselor. It does not have the type of information or level of detail that a student or parent needs. Please send students and parents to StudentAid.gov for federal student aid information. (For fact sheets, videos, and other student-focused items, send students and parents to StudentAid.gov/resources.)

What else should a counselor know about the Financial Aid Toolkit?

Because the site is designed for you, your feedback is crucial to its success. At the bottom of each page, there’s a “Leave Us Feedback” link that’ll send you to the site survey so you can let us know what you like or what you’d like to see added to the site.

Remember, the Financial Aid Toolkit site is for you. Use it in good health!

 


Cindy Forbes Cameron has worked at the U.S. Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid for a million years—or perhaps 17. (Hard to tell the difference sometimes.) Cindy focuses on website content management and document creation and editing. She loves serving the school counselor/college access mentor community via the Financial Aid Toolkit, listserv postings, and conference exhibiting and speaking.

Don’t Be Fooled: You Never Have to Pay for Student Loan Help

Cross-posted from Medium.

loanwarn

I’ve seen online ads claiming that “Obama Wants to Forgive Your Student Loans!” or “Erase Default Statuses in 4–6 Weeks!” The link takes you to companies that want to help you manage your loans — for a fee. You never need to pay for help with your student loans. For the great price of free, the U.S. Department of Education can help you:

Your loan servicer — the company that collects your payments on behalf of the Department of Education can also help you with these goals for free. If you need help with your debt, you should contact your servicer. Click here for a list of servicers’ contact information.

And you should — because you never need to pay for these services.

Some debt relief companies charge a lot. Our research shows that some companies charge upfront consolidation fees as high as $999 or 1 percent of the loan balance (whichever is higher); “enrollment” or “subscription” fees up to $600; or monthly account “maintenance” fees as high as $50 per month. That’s money out of your pocket for services that are available to you for free.

Unfortunately, some companies act unethically or illegally to get your business — misrepresenting themselves as having a relationship with the Department of Education by using our logos, violating students’ privacy by inappropriately using their FSA IDs, and claiming that government programs are their own. In fact, yesterday, the Department sent two of these companies cease and desist letters because they have inappropriately used our logo, giving the impression that they are working with or for the government.

We are taking action to crackdown on these companies and continuing our efforts to protect student borrowers.

Throughout the Obama Administration we’ve worked to ensure student borrowers are protected and have worked across agencies in doing so. For example, the Department of Education has convened an interagency Joint Task Force on the Oversight and Accountability of For-Profit Institutions. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) have been active in looking at possible deceptive practices in the debt-relief business.

The extent of the problem with debt relief companies is demonstrated by numerous legal actions around the country. In January of 2014, the New York Student Protection Unit issued subpoenas to 13 student debt relief companies as part of an investigation into concerns about potentially misleading advertising, improper fees, and other consumer protection problems in that industry. Over the past two years, the Florida, Illinois and Minnesota Attorneys General all took separate actions against firms found to have misled borrowers. A number of states and our enforcement partners are stepping up to help protect borrowers, but the first line of defense is making sure you know your rights.

We’re making it easier to distinguish between Department sites and private companies’ pages to make sure students and families aren’t mistakenly lured into paying for services available for free. For instance, last year we reached a settlement with a company to obtain a web address it was using — FAFSA.com — to market its for-profit service charging students to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This settlement reduced confusion among students and parents who may have thought they were using a federal website rather than a commercial one. We also trademarked many of our forms’ names and taglines.

We are strengthening our internal systems to ensure continued protection of students’ information. For instance, under the new FSA ID, there is a delay for borrowers trying to recover their password to ensure that third-party companies are not inappropriately accessing peoples’ accounts.

Always remember: Keep your FSA ID private and think twice before signing on to pay for a service you can get for free. Sharing your FSA ID puts you at risk.

If you think that you’ve been scammed then learn your options. Many state governments have an Office of Consumer Affairs or Consumer Protection either within or affiliated with, the Office of the state’s Attorney General. At the federal level, the FTC and the CFPB have the authority to act against companies that engage in deceptive or unfair practices. Click on the links to file your complaint with either of those agencies; or you can call the CFPB at 1–855–411–2372.

Ted Mitchell is U.S. Under Secretary of Education.

Calling on All to Lift Up the Teaching Profession

Out in the field with students.

Out in the field with students.

After spending 25 years in education as a classroom teacher, adjunct faculty member in teacher education, and English Language Arts coordinator, I am increasingly concerned about the future of teaching in America and the urgency with which we must work together to lift up the profession. The reasons for this alarm are many fold.

Those of us who have chosen education as our career path continually see statistics about the decreasing number of students entering the teaching profession. We witness our credential programs struggle to fill seats and our districts struggle to fill positions.

We hear stories about the varying quality of teacher-credential programs across the nation. But that isn’t the only problem. Students enter the profession with limited skills because they have educated, but not encouraged to use critical thinking skills that could help them creatively plan a lesson.

We read the data about the staggering number of teachers that choose to leave the profession because they feel unsupported. And we observe them struggle in their first years with classroom management, lesson planning, and providing differentiated instruction.

So what can be done to help combat these problems? We must lift up the teaching profession, as Acting Secretary John King has prioritized and is calling on educators to do. It won’t be easy, but it’s necessary for the long-term health of the profession. The following steps illustrate how to achieve this goal.

Getting Them

After teaching for more than 20 years, I have had the pleasure of seeing children discover the joy of teaching others, for example, the Kindergartener who lines up the dinosaurs during free choice to read a story to them. We need to foster this spirit and encourage our students to consider teaching as a profession. Students who find enjoyment in specific content areas need to be given opportunities to delve deeply into their area of study and consider becoming a teacher.

Training Them

Teacher credential programs across the nation are distinctly unique; however, we must advocate for all programs to provide pre-service teachers with a balance of pedagogy and practice. In my 10 years as Adjunct Faculty, I have found that this balance is crucial to helping students navigate the shifting role from that of student to that of teacher. Additionally, student-teachers thrive when their program is instructed in such a way that models exemplary classroom teaching. We must advocate that all pre-service programs be taught using strategies we want these future teachers to embed into their practice.

Keeping Them

Teacher retention is currently a “hot topic,” and the Teacher Ambassador Fellows held a Twitter Chat about it last week. We need to become leaders to mentor new teachers as they begin to navigate through their first years of teaching. In my two year role as a Teacher on Special Assignment as the English Language Arts/Literacy Coordinator for my county, I provided support for 14 school districts. The biggest concern that I heard from all teachers was that they felt overwhelmed and unsupported as they sought to provide quality instruction that ensured student learning.

Teachers should take the lead and encourage their school district to develop mentoring programs or expand the role of content coaches so that all teachers who ask for support receive it. With an increasing number of retirees, seasoned veteran teachers cannot mentor all that will need support, and their professional learning is also important. It is therefore essential that we advocate for district-wide systems of support for all teachers.

The bottom line is more must be done to ensure teaching in America remains sustainable. It needs the voices of all 3.5 million of us to lift up this profession. From Acting Secretary John King to the rural teacher in northern California, we know that the future of our nation depends upon our collective effort to make it happen.

Nancy Veatch teaches at Bend Elementary School in Cottonwood, California, and is a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education.

Large School Districts Come Together to Prioritize Sustainability

I once heard a student ask: “To change everything, we need everybody to take action. How will you engage others in developing a brighter, more just global community?” When I think back to that student’s question, I’m pleased to now report that 21 large districts have come together with the support of the Green Schools Alliance (GSA) to collaborate on more sustainable school options.

Represented by their sustainability personnel, these districts have formed the GSA District Collaborative to accelerate hands-on environmental action in school communities across the nation. Over the years, district sustainability officials had shared frustrations over higher prices for more sustainable products and policies that encumbered their work. This sparked a conversation about collaborating to affect major change, particularly in purchasing. Instead of creating their own separate association, they asked the Green Schools Alliance to house the coalition.

The Collaborative is comprised of 21 U.S. school districts – eight of which are among the 12 largest districts in the country. Collectively, these districts affect the lives of 3.6 million children in 5,726 schools with more than 550 million square feet of building area. The school districts have committed to working together and joined the Alliance as individual members, pledging to reduce their climate and ecological impact; connect their students to nature; and educate and engage their communities on climate and conservation. The charter members of the District Collaborative are:

  • New York City Department of Education, NY
  • Chicago Public Schools, IL
  • Clark County School District, NV
  • Broward County Public Schools, FL
  • Houston Independent School District, TX
  • Orange County Public Schools, FL
  • Fairfax County Public Schools, VA
  • The School District of Palm Beach County, FL
  • The School District of Philadelphia, PA
  • San Diego Unified School District, CA
  • Denver Public Schools, CO
  • Austin Independent School District, TX
  • Virginia Beach City Public Schools, VA
  • San Francisco Unified School District, CA
  • Boston Public Schools, MA
  • District of Columbia Public Schools, DC
  • Oakland Unified School District, CA
  • Detroit Public Schools, MI
  • Lincoln Public Schools, NE
  • Fayette County Public Schools, KY
  • Kansas City Public Schools, MO

These districts concur that every child has a right to learn, engage, and play in a healthy and sustainable environment where every person is aware of and accountable for their impact. Together, they will work in four key areas:

  • Leveraging collective purchasing power to increase access to sustainable alternatives;
  • Influencing local, regional, and national policy decisions;
  • Building and sharing district-level best practices; and
  • Contributing to the development of district-level sustainability programs.

The Collaborative is excited to be working within the GSA to develop programs that directly impact students, including project-based STEAM (Science-Technology-Engineering-Art-Mathematics) initiatives and leadership training programs for middle and high school students.

Later in 2016, the Green Schools Alliance will be releasing a new version of its online community, still based on its long-term goals of peer-to-peer networking and best practices sharing. The new community will enable students and school professionals to more easily search for resources to make their school more sustainable and learn the leadership skills to affect that change. The second phase of the online platform will include a web-based measurement and reporting platform/dashboard that will improve data collection and reporting of resource efficiencies and other sustainability programs in member schools.

District Collaborative membership is open to districts with more than 40,000 students. For more information, visit www.greenschoolsalliance.org/district-collaborative. If your district has less than 40,000 students or you are part of an individual school, you can still benefit from the work of the Collaborative. See http://www.greenschoolsalliance.org/membership for more information.

Dr. Sharon Jaye, D.Ed., SFP is Executive Director of the Green Schools Alliance and former Director of Sustainability for New York City Department of Education.

“The World Would Be a Better Place If …”: National PTA and ED Honor Student Artists

On the inside of high-schooler Maria Quiles’ right wrist is the neatly crafted tattoo of a treble clef, surrounded by notes. Having epilepsy, she relies on the tattoo, coupled with her musical passion, for courage during seizures.

Maria was at the Washington, D.C., headquarters of the U.S. Department of Education (ED) in January to be honored for her musical composition, which won an award in the 2014–15 National PTA Reflections competition celebrating arts learning in schools across the country. Each year hundreds of thousands of entrants from preschool through grade 12 reflect on a common theme to create original art in six mediums — dance choreography, film production, literature, music composition, photography, and visual arts. Maria’s composition responded to this year’s theme, “The World Would Be a Better Place If … ‘’

ED hosted the National PTA awards ceremony for the ninth year, which this year drew 35 honorees from 21 states and 200 other attendees — families, teachers and school leaders, National PTA staff, National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and other arts leaders, and ED staff. The ceremony ended with a signature ribbon-cutting to officially open the exhibit of Reflections visual arts and literature winners, on display through the end of February.

Maria, from Oviedo, Fla., was diagnosed with epilepsy at age 13; she has endured bullying, depression, and thoughts of suicide. The world would be a better place, she believes, if compassion trumped hurtful nicknames. Through the years, Maria has turned her despair into songs of hope. When a seizure is imminent, she and her mother together grasp Maria’s tattooed wrist and sing or hum her winning composition, which concludes, “Everything will be ok. . . . No matter what’s in my way, I’ll just stay, I’ll Just Stay.” Soon the seizure subsides.

Maria Quiles and her mother at the opening ceremony to honor Maria and 205 other winners of the 2014–15 National PTA Reflections competition.

Maria Quiles and her mother at the opening ceremony to honor Maria and 205 other winners of the 2014–15 National PTA Reflections competition.

Ted Mitchell, ED’s under secretary of education, spoke of “the transformational power of art,” as reflected in Maria’s story:

“Art has a particular ability to raise the volume on the possible, to give us images
and sounds, pictures, words that help describe a world that might not exist yet, but
can, and more importantly, ought to. … Art enables us to create an experience
before we can explain it, and it’s that movement from the experience to the explanation, to the development of work that … is our life’s journey.”

Beyond discovery, educators lauded many other merits of art in education. Jane Chu, NEA chairwoman, cited research indicating that arts-infused schools correlate with improved social skills, higher grades and test scores, better attendance, lower dropout rates, and increased college enrollment. These outcomes are particularly pronounced for low-income students.

Laura Bay, the National PTA president, named additional benefits. Artists learn to create, problem-solve, persevere, and communicate. Art can be woven throughout all academic areas, including science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), to clarify, illuminate, stimulate the imagination, and develop innovations.
Honorees interpreted this year’s competition theme in myriad ways. For example, “The World Would Be a Better Place If … ”

“… [P]eople came together and focused on their similarities, not their differences. The joy of music creates a common bond that brings people together, even people who do not know one another. …If more people focused on the joyous parts of life, like music, the world would have less hatred and would be a better place.” — Kyle Gatesman, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology [Virginia] student, who composed and performed “The Joy of Music” on his keyboard.

Kyle Gatesman performs his original composition for keyboard, “The Joy of Music.”

Kyle Gatesman performs his original composition for keyboard, “The Joy of Music.”

“… [W]e all set down our cell phones and got to know each other face-to-face.” —Hanna La Londe, Shawnee Mission West [Kansas] High School student, who choreographed and performed the dance “Losing Touch” to the music of Prince Ea.

Hanna La Londe performs the award-winning dance she choreographed, “Losing Touch.”

Hanna La Londe performs the award-winning dance she choreographed, “Losing Touch.”

“… I could march through life with my brother.” —10-year-old Jarom Garner [Briarwood, Wash.], who, accompanied by his 12-year-old sibling, Adam, performed a cello duet of Jarom’s prize-winning composition, “The Brothers’ March.”

Jarom Garner, left, and his sibling Adam perform Jarom’s winning musical composition for cello, “The Brothers’ March.”

Jarom Garner, left, and his sibling Adam perform Jarom’s winning musical composition for cello, “The Brothers’ March.”

Honorees cut the ribbon at the opening of the Reflections art exhibit featuring some 60 pieces of visual art and a collection of literature.

Honorees cut the ribbon at the opening of the Reflections art exhibit featuring some 60 pieces of visual art and a collection of literature.

Nancy Paulu is an editor and writer in the Office of Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education.

All photos are by U.S. Department of Education photographer Joshua Hoover. More photos from the event may be viewed at https://www.flickr.com/photos/departmentofed/albums/72157663336481071

The Department’s
 Student Art Exhibit Program provides students and teachers an opportunity to display creative work from the classroom in a highly public space that honors their work as an effective path to learning and knowledge for all. To visit the exhibits or for information about exhibiting, contact Jackye Zimmermann at jacquelyn.zimmermann@ed.gov or visit http://www.ed.gov/student-art-exhibit