Updated Tool Helps Schools Track FAFSA Completion

In March 2012, ED’s Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) announced the release of an innovative FAFSA Completion Tool to help guidance professionals, school administrators and practitioners both track and subsequently increase FAFSA completions at high schools across the country. Prior to publishing this data, the only source of data on FAFSA completions that high schools had were from self-reported student surveys, which were highly unreliable.

Image promoting FAFSA websiteThrough the FAFSA Completion Tool, educators have real-time access to reliable data to track FAFSA submission and completion and gauge their progress in increasing FAFSA completion. Key studies have indicated that FAFSA completion correlates strongly with college enrollment, particularly among low-income populations.

Last month, FSA updated and enhanced the FAFSA Completion Tool by revealing FAFSA submission and completion totals for the current year, as well as FAFSA submission and completion totals for the same time last year. With this addition, the FAFSA Completion Tool—updated biweekly during the peak application period—now provides every high school in the country whose students have completed five or more FAFSAs with information about how many applications were submitted and completed for the 2013–14 application year as well as comparison data from the 2012–13 FAFSA application year.

Last year’s data provides a baseline by which school districts can gauge their efforts, set goals to improve on last year’s performance, and subsequently increase FAFSA completion within their school district.

Last year, the Tool provided FAFSA submission and completion data for the senior classes at over 24,000 high schools in all 50 states, Washington, DC, and all U.S. territories. More than 30,000 visitors accessed the data throughout the spring of 2012 to inform their local FAFSA completion strategies and overall college access initiatives. There are indications the Tool has contributed to raising FAFSA awareness across the country with more than 500,000 seniors having submitted a 2013–14 FAFSA through the end of January this year. This represents a nine percent increase compared to early submissions during January 2012.

For more information on the Tool and to search updated FAFSA Completion Data by High School for the senior class of 2013, visit StudentAid.gov/fafsa-hs-data.

Todd May
Federal Student Aid

ED Announces FAFSA Completion Project Expansion

If students don’t think they can pay for college, they won’t apply for college. Giving more young people access to the tools they need to apply for federal student aid is a key part of our strategy to make America number one in the world for college graduates by 2020.

–U.S Secretary of Education Arne Duncan

In 2010, the Department of Education piloted a FAFSA Completion Project to assist local educational agencies (LEAs) and secondary school administrators in determining which of their students have completed a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for the upcoming school year.  The pilot currently provides principals, counselors and college access professionals across participating school districts with verifiable and actionable information to use in increasing FAFSA completion among their student population.

FAFSAEarlier today, the Department of Education announced that 92 additional school districts will now have access to individualized data to help their students complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Selected school districts, which span 30 states, will be able to track whether high school seniors have completed the FAFSA starting in the 2012-13 school year. Sites announced today were randomly selected from respondents to invitations posted earlier this year and consist of 80 school districts with multiple high schools, and 12 districts with a single high school.  These 92 new sites join 18 other districts that received data for the 2011-12 school year as part of the FAFSA Completion Project’s initial pilot.

Completing the FAFSA – which is used to determine eligibility for federal aid and is the gateway to other student aid – is a critical factor in helping students access higher education.  Key studies have indicated that FAFSA completion correlates strongly with college enrollment, particularly among low-income populations.

To learn more about today’s announcement and to review the list of the districts participating in the FAFSA Completion Project, click here.

Todd May
Federal Student Aid

FAFSA Completion Project Expands: Targets Single High School LEAs and Rural Districts

In 2010, the Department of Education piloted a FAFSA Completion Project to assist local educational agencies (LEAs) and secondary school administrators in determining which of their students have completed a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for the upcoming school year.  The pilot currently provides principals, counselors and college access professionals across 20 participating school districts and high schools with verifiable and actionable information to use in increasing FAFSA completion among their student population.  Key studies have indicated that FAFSA completion correlates strongly with college enrollment, particularly among low-income populations.

Since the FAFSA Completion Project’s launch, the Department has received increasing requests from LEAs and secondary schools to expand the program.  Today, the Secretary announced the second phase of an expansion effort to provide additional school districts with student-specific FAFSA completion data.  Today’s announcement invites an additional 12 single-high-school LEAs, including single-high-school, rural LEAs, to participate via random selection in the program and obtain FAFSA completion data for their students for the 2012-2013 FAFSA processing year that began on January 1, 2012.  An invitation for multiple-high school LEAs to participate in the expansion effort was announced in January and closed earlier this month.

The Department will accept requests from single-high-school LEAs to participate in the pilot expansion through May 1, 2012.  For more information on this opportunity, view the invitation letter (pdf) and visit our frequently asked questions portal at www.fsa4counselors.ed.gov.

Preparing Teachers to Lead and Succeed: Emporia State University’s Teachers College

One of the most important strategies of the President’s blueprint for reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is its focus on one simple but transformative premise: great teachers matter. Decades of research indicates that the single most important school-based factor in a child’s education is the quality of the teaching he or she gets in the classroom. The quality of the training, development and professional practice an aspiring teacher receives throughout his or her pre-service program will impact the teacher’s future effectiveness, ability to persevere, persist and thrive in the classroom, and, ultimately, the amount of student learning that occurs in the classroom.

A new video produced by the U.S. Department of Education spotlights an institution that has a proven strategy for instilling new teacher candidates with the knowledge, skills, resources and fortitude to lead and succeed in the 21st century classroom. At Emporia State University in Emporia, Kan., home of the National Teachers Hall of Fame, the Teachers College is the crown jewel of the school. The hallmark of the Teachers College experience is its involvement with 34 professional development schools – public schools that are modeled after teaching hospitals – where teacher education students do much of their learning in real world situations, working with faculty and public school teachers.

Graduates of the Teachers College are highly sought-after by school districts because of their depth of knowledge and thoroughness of training and experience they bring to the classroom. Each beginning teacher comes to the hiring district with a guarantee and, in the 18 years of the program, only five teachers have been referred for remediation. Ninety-two percent of ESU teachers remain in the classroom for more than five years—almost twice the national average—and principals rate alumni highly on a wide range of knowledge and skills.

For more information on Emporia State University’s Teachers College, visit: http://www.emporia.edu/teach/

Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

Music provided by Andrew Bird.

Todd May
Office of Communications and Outreach

Duncan Joins Congressman Chris Van Hollen and Superintendent Jerry Weast for Community Forum

When it comes to reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), “we have to raise the bar,” Secretary Duncan told a group of parents, students, teachers and community leaders earlier last week at a town hall meeting at John F. Kennedy High School in Silver Spring, Maryland. Congressman Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Montgomery County Superintendent of Schools Jerry Weast and Kennedy Principal Eric Minus joined the Secretary at the event where participants weighed in on how decision makers at the local, state and federal level can strengthen our educational system and prepare all students to be college and career ready.

Participants in the town hall meeting discussed several issues such as the importance of a well-rounded curriculum, ways to effectively engage parents in schools, and the role of testing and its emphasis in schools. One participant asked “what was best about the current law and what absolutely had to change” for us to improve and succeed.  Duncan stated that the current law has been successful in unmasking racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps, but that overall the current law is far too punitive with too many ways for schools to be labeled failures and no incentives for schools to strive for excellence.

Secretary Duncan noted that the Obama Administration is committed to fixing No Child Left Behind and replacing it with an ESEA reauthorization that is fair and flexible.  In March, President Obama called on Congress to fix NCLB this year, saying, “let’s seize this education moment. Let’s fix No Child Left Behind.”

For more information on the administration’s proposal to fix NCLB, read A Blueprint for Reform.

You can also see photos and view a video from the John F. Kennedy town hall meeting.

3,000 DC Metro Area Children and Families Welcomed to the 2011 White House Easter Egg Roll

For the third consecutive year, the U.S. Department of Education has teamed with the White House to offer 3,000 tickets to D.C. metro area school children and family members to attend the annual White House Easter Egg Roll on Monday, April 25.  Of the 3,000 tickets being distributed to eight school districts across the Washington area, 1,200 of them have been specifically set aside for students enrolled in the District of Columbia’s public schools.

“We are thrilled that the DCPS community is invited to share in this exciting opportunity again this year,” said Acting D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson.  “We appreciate opportunities to reward our students for their achievement, hard work and commitment to health and fitness, and both the U.S Department of Education and The White House continue to be important partners.”

Students from the Washington area have had a special relationship with the White House Easter Egg Roll for generations. In the early 1800s, local children rolled eggs on the Capitol Steps the day after Easter.  In 1878, President Rutherford B. Hayes invited D.C. area children to roll their Easter eggs on the White House lawn and a tradition was born, growing into the national event that it is today.

ED's Todd May delivers tickets to Shereen Williams, Director, DCPS Office of Community Partnerships, and Kelly Young, Interim Chief, DCPS Office of Family and Public Engagement

This year, the President and First Lady will again open the South Lawn for children 12 years and younger and their families.  Activities at this year’s event include cooking stations, storytelling, sports, live entertainment, and the tradition that started it all, Easter egg rolling.  The 2011 White House Easter Egg Roll is focused on promoting health and wellness with the theme “Get Up and Go!”  All of the activities will encourage children to lead healthy and active lives, which is a central part of the First Lady’s Let’s Move! initiative, a national campaign to combat childhood obesity.

The Easter Egg Roll is the largest public event held at the White House with nearly over 30,000 visitors from across the county.  For more information visit the 2011 White House Easter Egg Roll page.

Todd May, Office of Communications and Outreach

Heard on the Tour: North Star Academy, Newark

North Star Academy students at all-school community circle

North Star Academy students at all-school community circle

Everywhere Secretary Duncan has visited on his listening tour — a Montana Indian reservation, a high school in Detroit, a middle school in West Virginia — students are saying, “Challenge me, push me, make me work, and I will do it.”

He heard the same message in Newark, N.J., one of America’s poorest cities. Many families there face so many challenges: rising unemployment, foreclosures, an overburdened social services system. One in three children lives in poverty. No more than half of the 8th grade students pass state tests. A quarter of high school seniors do not graduate.

Yet parents and students find hope in the form of a promise of a better life through education. In Newark, nowhere does that hope shine brighter than at North Star Academy. Children enter this public charter school at the 5th grade often significantly behind their state peers. Less than 35 percent of entering students are proficient in literacy and 15 percent are proficient in math. Yet over 95 percent of 7th graders — who have been in the school less than 2 full years — scored proficient or advanced in language arts literacy and math. Based on these results, North Star is the highest performing school in Newark and 2nd highest among all urban schools in New Jersey.

The secretary and those of us travelling with him observed classes, participated in the all-school “community circle,” and heard students and parents testify to the passion and commitment of the teachers and administrators at North Star. We heard how educators take the time to really know their students, and students and parents really know teachers and staff. We saw how teachers challenge students not to just learn but to make good choices — the right choices — and thereby develop their character and an ethos of service. Students talked about their teachers as their second parents — available to them at all hours, on weekends, and whenever they really need them. The passion and commitment of the North Star community has students believing that failure is not an option.

The youth of North Star understand that despite the unwavering efforts of dedicated teachers and supportive staff, the responsibility for learning, achieving and growing ultimately depends on them. These young scholars commit to a schedule that has them attending class or involved in enrichment and remediation activities far after the regular school day ends for other students in the city. And, to avoid the summer slide in academic skills, North Star students have a longer school year and a shorter summer break, with students in class for 200 days a year. Students said this helps build confidence and character and an understanding of the expectations that lie ahead: college. For the North Star student, college is not a “dream, an aspiration or a goal; it is their destiny.”

Parents in the North Star community believe fervently in their role as advocates for their children and the children of Newark. They believe in being more accountable and responsible for their children’s academic success. They embrace it and feel passionately about it. As one parent said, “the happiest day of my life was when I knew my son would be enrolled in North Star and he would have an opportunity to receive a great education.” They believe that charter schools like North Star are beacons of hope for parents and students. As one parent said “build on what works, expand it to benefit the entire public education system, and, in turn, renew and revitalize Newark.”

Todd May