Developing Young Artists Can Lead to Life-Long Successes

Sophomore Ona Neumann with her parents, Gregory Neumann and Maryann Povell, at the opening of the Baltimore School for the Arts visual art exhibit. (Photo: Leslie Williams/U.S. Department of Education)

Sophomore Ona Neumann with her parents, Gregory Neumann and Maryann Povell, at the opening of the Baltimore School for the Arts visual art exhibit. (Photo: Leslie Williams/U.S. Department of Education)

By the age of seven, Ona Neumann of Baltimore had already reserved a treasured spot in her life for art.

“What do you do, child?” Ona’s father, Gregory Neumann, affectionately asked his little girl, who is now a sophomore at the Baltimore School for the Arts (BSA).

“I do art and I play — that’s what children do,” she replied.

Today art remains central in Ona’s life as she immerses herself in both the visual arts and traditional academic classes. She was among 135 students from the nationally recognized public arts high school who recently came to the U.S. Department of Education headquarters in Washington, D.C., for the opening of the school’s visual art exhibit, The Development of the Young Artist, which featured student performers, as well.

Ona created three of the exhibit’s 50 works being displayed at ED through April. Also on hand were students’ families, BSA teachers and administrators, state and federal arts educators and leaders from Maryland, Virginia and D.C., and ED staff. Performers included jazz musicians, vocalists, string musicians, and an actress.

Senior Amber Wheeler delivers the theater monologue “I ate the divorce papers.” (Photo: Leslie Williams/U.S. Department of Education)

Senior Amber Wheeler delivers the theater monologue “I ate the divorce papers.” (Photo: Leslie Williams/U.S. Department of Education)

The school provides 400 students with intensive pre-professional training in the arts in conjunction with a rigorous academic curriculum. Graduates go on to the most selective arts and academic programs nationwide, and achieve prominence in theater, opera, film, television, music, dance, visual arts and writing. Alumni have, for example, performed with the Dance Theatre of Harlem, played in the Philadelphia Orchestra, sung in Carnegie Hall, appeared in the Broadway production of “Hamilton!”, recorded, produced and performed music for and with Jennifer Lopez and Jay Z, appeared on “American Idol,” and had exhibits at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Other graduates apply the focus and discipline they gained at BSA to professions including finance, architecture, computer science, teaching, law, and medicine.

Seniors Saran Oseitutu and Allea Powell sing “Gloria” by Antonio Vivaldi. (Photo: Leslie Williams/U.S. Department of Education)

Seniors Saran Oseitutu and Allea Powell sing “Gloria” by Antonio Vivaldi. (Photo: Leslie Williams/U.S. Department of Education)

Ona grew up in an artistically inclined family (her mother teaches and is a potter), but other BSA students began their artistic pursuits less auspiciously.

Chris Ford, BSA’s director, told the story of Richard White, once homeless, who hobbled into the school with a broken hip, sustained in a football accident. He was carrying little else but a plastic tuba. Unfortunately, he was a week late for auditions, but Ford could not ignore the boy’s drive and spark. Richard was admitted. Today he is an associate professor of tuba and euphonium at the University of New Mexico and principal tubist for the New Mexico Philharmonic.

BSA Director Chris Ford describes six characteristics key to developing a young artist. (Photo: Leslie Williams/U.S. Department of Education)

BSA Director Chris Ford describes six characteristics key to developing a young artist. (Photo: Leslie Williams/U.S. Department of Education)

So how does one develop a young artist? Ford described six qualities that must be nurtured.

  • Curiosity — “the driver of life-long learning.” BSA wants “to connect our kids’ interests to their learning in a meaningful way.”
  • Confidence — “the willingness to take a professional risk, knowing that it may not succeed, but that one can recover and move forward.”
  • Expertise — “is at the core of learning an artistic medium to a high level — whether it be oil painting or script analysis.”
  • Collaboration — “the ability to work effectively with others, who may have different skill sets or working methods.”
  • Individual purpose — “what will you, as a unique person add to the conversation in your field or beyond it?”
  • Global perspective — “Baltimore is known as ‘The City of Neighborhoods.’ Which is great, but we need to get our kids beyond the neighborhood and into a strong place in a worldwide creative scene.”

Monique Chism, deputy assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, cited longitudinal research supporting an arts-integrated education. Students engaged in arts overall have higher grades, particularly in high school; have fewer discipline problems; increase their odds of graduating from high school; enroll in competitive colleges at greater rates; and, among low-income students and English language learners, are more than three time as likely to earn a bachelor’s degree.

Senior Thomas Burke with his self-portrait. (Photo: Leslie Williams/U.S. Department of Education)

Senior Thomas Burke with his self-portrait. (Photo: Leslie Williams/U.S. Department of Education)

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

All photos are by U.S. Department of Education photographer Leslie Williams.

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 Jacquelyn Zimmermann at Visit the Student Art Exhibit Program at

Scholarship Basics and Tips

Scholarship image

We all know college is super expensive; not only do you have to pay tuition, but there’s also room and board (for those of you staying on campus), a meal plan (yay for cafeteria food…), and textbooks (buying hundred-dollar books for one chapter). It’s a lot. Luckily for us, there’s help: scholarships! Of course there’s no guarantee that you’ll actually be awarded any money, and sometimes it can seem like a whole lot of work for a whole lot of nothing. But that’s why I’m here! I’ve gone through the process recently (and am doing it again), and I’m at your service with suggestions and tips.

A lot of these tips come from, so check out that page for a more comprehensive, detailed guide to scholarships.

 Types of Scholarships

There are scholarships for almost everything—all you have to do is look. Applying for scholarships doesn’t have to be tedious—find scholarships for things you’re passionate about. Some scholarships are really cool. There are scholarships for animal rescue, volunteering with the elderly, etc.; you can find them through specific organizations, too.

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How to Update Your FAFSA After Filing Taxes

It's time to update your FAFSA

Did you submit your 2016–17 FAFSA® before you (and your parents, if you’re a dependent student) filed your 2015 taxes? If so, it’s time to return to your application to update the information you estimated with the actual numbers from your 2015 tax return.

The easiest way to update your tax information is by using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (IRS DRT). It allows you to transfer your tax information directly into your FAFSA! Check to see if your tax return is available and if you’re eligible to use the tool. You usually have to wait a few weeks after filing your taxes before you can use the IRS DRT, but this tool can save you lots of time.

To update your FAFSA:

Step 1

Go to and click Login.

Step 2

Students: Log in to the FAFSA using your FSA ID.
Parents:  Your child must initiate the FAFSA correction process by logging in first, continuing to Step #3, and creating a Save Key*. If you need to make corrections to your child’s FAFSA, get the Save Key from your child. Once you do, you can log in by entering the student’s information. The FAFSA will ask you to enter the “Save Key” if you wish to continue.
FAFSA login screen

*A Save Key is a temporary password meant to be shared between you and your child. It lets you and your child pass the FAFSA back and forth and allows you to save the FAFSA and return to it later. This is especially helpful if you and your child are completing the FAFSA, but are not in the same place.

Step 3

Click Make FAFSA Corrections.

Make FAFSA Corrections

Step 4

Navigate to the “Financial Information” section.

Step 5

Change your answer from “Will file” to Already completed.

2016-17 - Taxes Completed

Click to enlarge.

If you’re eligible to use the IRS DRT, you’ll see a Link to IRS button. If you’re not eligible to use the IRS DRT, you can manually enter the data from your completed tax return.

Step 6

Click Link to IRS and log in with the IRS to retrieve your tax information.

  • Enter the requested information exactly as it appears on your tax return.
IRS DRT Screenshot with 2015 tax info

Click to enlarge


  • Review your information to see what tax data will be transferred into your FAFSA.
  • Check Transfer My Tax Information into the FAFSA, and click Transfer Now to return to the FAFSA.
IRS DRT Screenshot with 2015 tax info

Click to enlarge


Step 7

Review the data that was transferred to your FAFSA, and click Next.

Step 8

Sign and submit your updated FAFSA using your FSA ID.

Once you’ve made updates at, your changes will be processed in about three days. You’ll receive a revised Student Aid Report (SAR) showing the changes made to your application. Each school you listed on your FAFSA can access the revised information one day after it’s processed.

Remember, some state and school financial aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. So, log in today to update your FAFSA!

April Jordan is a senior communications specialist at Federal Student Aid

Know Before You Go: Updated College Data for Students and Families


In September 2015, President Obama announced the launch of the redesigned College Scorecard, an interactive consumer tool designed to help students, parents, and their advisers make better choices among colleges. The Scorecard includes important information about an institution’s students, costs, and outcomes, including the first-ever nationally comparable data on post-college earnings.

Since then, we’ve continued to work on the development of this initiative and have made considerable progress. We’ve held a technical review panel with representatives of institutions, researchers, web developers, higher education associations, and other experts, reflecting a wide range of expertise and perspectives, to get feedback on the College Scorecard. We’ve continued our user testing sessions with students and college counselors to get valuable insights on how to improve the Scorecard so that it’s more useful for these communities. We’ve also added over 700 predominately certificate-granting institutions to the tool, so that users have more robust options when searching the website. And we’re working to prepare for our next annual data release, which we hope to publish by the beginning of the summer.

Today, we are releasing our first interim update for the College Scorecard. We have removed institutions that recently closed down and updated our “caution flags” for schools that may be facing financial or federal compliance issues (also known as Heightened Cash Monitoring 2 status). We think it’s important to provide updated information about institutions under review by the U.S. Department of Education for those deciding where to attend school. These data help ensure accountability for schools and protect the interests of both students and taxpayers.

As part of our transparency efforts at the Department, we will continue to update this information on a regular basis, and look forward to continuing our work to provide better, more actionable information to students.

Michael Itzkowitz serves as the Director of the College Scorecard at the U.S. Department of Education. 

Adding our Voices to Conversations about the Every Student Succeeds Act

As NCLB’s replacement, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) comes into focus, educators’ input is poised to play a larger role in the implementation of law than ever before. Over the past several weeks, educators, other key stakeholders, and representative organizations have come to discussions with the Department of Education, both in person and electronically, to share thoughts on the guidance and clarification that are needed in moving forward in implementing this law.

As part of the listening, the U.S. Department of Education’s Teaching and Principal Ambassador Fellows (TAFs/PAFs) were asked to hold listening sessions for Department staff with teachers, principals, and other stakeholders to inform ESSA implementation. This past week, several other TAFs and I organized sessions in and around our own communities with district superintendents in Connecticut, math teachers in California, students in Rhode Island, business leaders in Colorado, and educators in Washington, D.C., and New Hampshire; and, in the coming weeks, we have discussions planned in rural communities in Northern California and Washington across to urban centers of New York City and New Jersey, to name a few.

As I sat in Colorado soliciting input, I realized that this shift to a more proactive, solutions-oriented mindset proved harder than it sounds. For too long, we have been asked merely to react. Now we have the opportunity to shed the reactionary posture we have been exercising for the past two decades under NCLB and it’s not easy.

In these sessions we heard a lot of important feedback. We heard calls in Connecticut for incentives for districts and states to innovate. High school students shared their feelings about standardized assessment and their concern about the extent to which current assessments really measure who they are. Math teachers and leaders in California expressed a need for clearer definitions of college and career ready standards and posed questions about accountability measures that reflect more than test scores. In every place, we heard calls for improving all angles of the teaching profession –recruitment, retention, and job satisfaction.

While important to hear, what is evident is that they are not new – all are responses to what has been; What’s new is that we are being called on to contribute our professional expertise in crafting what could be. If ESSA is to work, states, districts, and the federal government must seize opportunities to craft policy that employs our firsthand knowledge of what works and doesn’t in real classrooms and schools. At this moment, the federal government is asking what we see as the key provisions and policies so that any guidance or rules enacted reflect our professional expertise. We know that every teacher and school leader won’t sit in a room with Department staff, but please know that you can send your thoughts and concerns to Adding your voice does not mean having to read and digest 1,000-plus pages of the law. Plenty of analyses and summaries have been published and you can find some starting places on the Department’s website.

I am glad that ESSA provides an opportunity for us all to rethink the assessment, accountability and educator evaluation systems to ensure they are meaningful and helpful. It’s important that the law requires consultation with stakeholders like us at every level. Now, we need to be ready with our vision and our solutions of what can be so that every student can truly succeed.

Mark Sass teaches social sciences at Legacy High School in the Adams 12 School District in Colorado and is a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education. This blog also represents contributions from roundtables led by fellow TAFs Matt Presser and Nancy Veatch.

Let’s Commit to Giving CTE Students the Opportunity They Demand and Deserve

Cross-posted from the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education blog.

Career and technical education (CTE) has changed a lot from the “old vocational education” that many of us know from our school days. For the better part of this century, States and local communities have worked steadily to build high-quality CTE programs that are academically rigorous and aligned with labor market demands. The whole idea of the artificial separation between academic and technical pathways is passé. Most professions and careers in the 2016 and future economies require strong academic foundation skills, considerable technical knowledge and skills, and well-developed employability skills and attributes. There is nothing about CTE today that is not rigorous, relevant, and worth it.

And, CTE programs work. Recent research shows that secondary CTE students are more likely to graduate from high school compared to non-CTE students. CTE graduates land great jobs that pay well for both men and women in all kinds of careers, including emerging fields like cybersecurity and advanced manufacturing. Perhaps most importantly, CTE puts students on a direct path to the middle class by giving them the academic, technical, and employability skills they need to enter and advance in the world of work.

In a sure sign that CTE has become a rigorous, viable pathway, students and employers have begun to demand it. All across the country, there are reports of too few CTE slots for the number of students who want to enroll. Just last month, an article ran in the Philadelphia Tribune indicating that Philadelphia had received 11,000 applications from its 35,000 high school students, but only had room and resources for 2,500. In spring 2014, Massachusetts released the finding of a wait list survey and found that about 4,600 youth wanted to get into CTE but couldn’t. And, that number underreported the problem, as only half of all schools responded to the survey. Clearly, students and employers understand the college and career potential of high-quality CTE programs. And, one only has to do a quick Google search to find dozens of examples of States—from New Jersey to Oregon—whose employers are experiencing shortages of qualified workers and are seeking the skills that CTE offers. As one reporter put it: “[These] schools’ wait lists are a drag on the economy.”

It is not just a problem that so many students are waiting for an opportunity that may or may not be there before they leave high school but who these students are. Massachusetts found that schools receiving the least funding had longer waiting lists. Those schools served communities with large most at-risk populations. The take away is that in communities where the need is greatest, access to good programs is a real problem. No access, no skills, no good jobs. These wait lists are constraining opportunity.

It is obvious that the demand for this “new CTE” is growing across the country. What is unfortunate is that there isn’t comparable supply to match that demand. Underfunding of schools preventing them from adding space is mentioned as the primary cause. This represents a lot of “missed opportunities” to put students on a path to college and careers.

Our country can—and must—do better to prepare all students for success. The first step is to create equal access to good programs. As Acting Secretary of Education John King says: “We must make 2016 the year that we recommit to ensuring that every child in America—regardless of background or circumstance—has access to a high-quality education.”

Certainly, no one entity can tackle this alone and we are beginning to see some great examples at all levels of government and in both the public and private sectors of resources and collaborations directed toward building more high-quality CTE programs. At the Federal level, we are stepping up our efforts to reauthorize the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, which provides just over one billion dollars annually to improve CTE. And, just this week, the Administration released its FY 2017 budget proposal that includes a seventy-five million dollar innovation fund, the American Technical Training Fund.

States are responding, as well. There are some great examples in both the public and the private sectors that are beginning to address this CTE opportunity gap. The California Legislature recently authorized an additional $250 million in a California Career Pathways Trust to competitively fund partnerships among schools, community colleges, and employers to create career pathways aligned to high-need and high-growth sectors. Maryland just announced a $10 million initiative to launch a local version of a national program for students blending high school curriculum, college courses and work experience in four high schools in the state, including two in Baltimore. The Governor of Massachusetts proposed an additional $83.5 million for CTE, including a $75 million five-year capital program in a jobs bill set and an additional $8.5 million in his proposed annual budget for 2017.

National associations and the private sector are also stepping up to the plate. The AFT launched a $500,000 multi-city CTE initiative called Promising Pathways that will bring together local AFT affiliates, educators, school districts, community colleges, city governments and business partners in 4 cities—Peoria, Ill, ; Pittsburgh; San Francisco; and Miami—to expand CTE opportunities in line with employer demand. The Lilly Endowment, an Indiana foundation, pledged a $50 million gift to the United Negro College Fund to strengthen career pathways for students at historically black colleges and universities and others with large African American enrollment. And, JP Morgan Chase just launched a $75 million New Skills for Youth initiative to encourage states to develop more demand-driven CTE programs.

We need more of these efforts. As we enter CTE Month, let’s declare 2016 the year where we step up our efforts in working together at the federal, state, local, and tribal levels and across public and private sectors to ensure that students who seek access to high-quality CTE get just what they want and need.

Johan E. Uvin is the Deputy Assistant Secretary (delegated the authority of the Assistant Secretary) in the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education.

Lul Tesfai is the Director of Policy in the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education.

Sharon Miller is the Director of the Division of Academic and Technical Education in the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education.

Interested in Education? Government Work? Intern at ED!

This winter I spent nearly 10 weeks as an intern for the U.S. Department of Education’s Press Office. As an undergrad studying political science and communications in my final year of college, my time here has been very rewarding. It may be cliché to say, but the people I’ve worked with at ED are genuinely interested in helping you make the most of your time here. Whether it is connecting you with people working in areas you may be interested in to resume editing and general career advice.


Andrew Chao was a spring intern here at ED.

So how did I get here? As senior year rolled on by, I learned of an opportunity offered by my university to receive academic credit and an internship at Washington, D.C. From the outset, I knew that I wanted an experience that would help further my career in journalism, building upon what I have done at my school newspaper. I considered ED because it was the best fit for me. Although I wouldn’t be working for a news organization, I was able to see how a major federal agency handled interactions with the news media, allowing me a unique perspective on public relations.

Why should you intern at ED, you ask?

Well, if you are even remotely interested at all in education, here is the place to be. As a press intern, you literally get a front row seat on new education policy developments. I was able to sit in on press conferences and press calls right across from the Acting Secretary of Education John King as he informed the public about new announcements.

And there’s room to branch out! Although I was a press office intern, I wasn’t confined just to duties related to the Press Office. My supervisors were extremely supportive in helping to connect me with other people in the department that worked on issues I was interested in, even giving me the opportunity to work with the White House Initiative on Asian American Pacific Islanders.

There were also a lot of opportunities for socializing. The intern coordinator at ED does an excellent job in promoting various activities with other interns. From Washington Wizards tickets to a tour of the Supreme Court, there are plenty of opportunities to meet new friends. Moreover, every week there are brown bag lunches where you can speak with staff members from various ED offices, even the Acting Secretary of Education himself!

As a press office intern, I was able to learn a great deal about education policies and I can certainly say that my ten weeks at ED have been hectic and action-packed. It’s hard to narrow down what I enjoyed the most. Not only will you be entrenched in current education issues but you will be able to learn from talented and passionate colleagues. I highly encourage anyone considering an ED internship to give it a shot. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to work at different offices while acclimating yourself to a high-paced environment that would be valuable to any career path you may follow.

Andrew Chao was an intern with the Office of Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education and is a Senior at the University of California, San Diego.

ED is accepting applications for Summer 2016 internships through March 15, 2016. Details on how to apply.

4 Things You Should Consider When Choosing A College

4 things to consider when choosing a college

A college or career school education = more money, more job options, and more freedom. Yet, with more than 7,000 colleges and universities nationwide, deciding which college is right for you can be difficult. Maybe you want to find a school with the best nursing program, or study abroad options, or the best college basketball team; every person values different things. However, it’s also important to remember that college is one of the biggest financial investments you will make in yourself. Just as important as academics and extracurricular activities are the financial factors: how much a college costs, whether students are likely to graduate on time, and, if alumni are able to find good jobs and pay off their loans. That is why the U.S. Department of Education developed the College Scorecard. It provides clear information to answer all of your questions regarding college costs, graduation, debt, and post-college earnings.

As you’re comparing colleges, use the College Scorecard to compare these four things:

1. Net Cost

For starters, you should consider how much you’ll actually be paying on an annual basis. That’s not necessarily the sticker price, but it’s the sticker price minus all of the scholarships and grants that you will receive when enrolling in an institution. This is called the net price, and it’s important because it’s the average amount students actually pay out of pocket. The College Scorecard can show you the average net price of each school compared to the national average. It can also give you a net price estimate for each school broken down by family income. Here’s an example:

College Scorecard - sample net cost of a college.

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Restorative Justice Practices and Bullying Prevention

Cross-posted from the Stopbullying Blog.

States and districts are increasingly in support of policies and practices that shift school discipline away from zero tolerance, such as suspension and expulsion, to discipline that is focused on teaching and engagement. To this effort, districts and states are rethinking discipline and adopting both Restorative Justice Practices (RJP) and Bullying Prevention (BP) as school-wide efforts to provide school staff with a set of preventative and responsive strategies to supporting positive student behaviors.

What are Restorative Justice Practices?

Restorative Justice Practices are a set of informal and formal strategies intended to build relationships and a sense of community to prevent conflict and wrongdoing, and respond to wrongdoings, with the intention to repair any harm that was a result of the wrongdoing. Preventative strategies include community or relationship building circles, and the use of restorative language. Some responsive strategies include the use of Restorative Questions within a circle or conferencing format, again with the intention of repairing the wrong that happened as a result of the behavior. The Restorative Questions, while varied in exact language, ask the student to consider: what happened? who did it impact? how do you make it right?

What is Bullying Prevention?

Bullying Prevention involves explicitly teaching students how to treat each other respectfully (i.e. what respect looks like in their school)and how students, including bystanders and the student who is bullied, should respond when peers are not being respectful (i.e. Stop, Walk and Talk),. Also important, is how adults respond to bullying and they help reduce peer verbal and physical aggression (i.e. prompt the student to use the Stop, Walk and Talk response).

Both RJP and BP provide explicit guidelines for students and staff on their interactions with one another to prevent and respond to problem behavior in a dignified, problem-solving manner. They are also both in alignment with the preventative, research-validated framework of School-Wide Positive Behavior Supports and Interventions (SWPBIS). Within SWPBIS, school teams define, instruct, and reinforce appropriate social behaviors in the same manner they teach academic content. SWPBIS is data-driven; through regular review of student behavioral progress educators are equipped with real time information necessary for organize school resources to meet the social needs of all students. SWPBIS provides a strong platform for the adoption of RJP and BP because it allows educators to see the impact of both the preventative and responsive strategies within the school. Here are some examples of how schools are merging RJP and BP with SWPBIS.



Specific Strategies

Monitoring for Student Success

SWPBIS Define, Teach and Acknowledge School-Wide Expectations Reductions in discipline referrals

Improvements on Climate or perception surveys on staff, student, and family perceptions of school safety, support, and a sense of community

BP Define, teach, practice and acknowledge respectful student to student interactions
RJP Establish Community Building Circles in alignment with school-wide expectations.



Specific Strategies

Monitoring for Student Success

SWPBIS Define teacher responses to problem behavior. Reductions in discipline referrals

Improvements on Climate or perception surveys on staff, student, and family perceptions of school safety, support, and a sense of community

BP Define staff responses to bullying to consistently reteach and reinforce expected behavior.
RJP Define staff and administrative responses to problem behaviors to include Restorative Questions, Dialogue and Plans.

Jessica Swain-Bradway, Ph.D., is a former high school teacher and research associate at the University of Oregon and is currently the Research and Evaluation Director for Midwest PBIS Network Dr. Swain-Bradway’s main areas for training and evaluation include multi-tiered systems of behavior support in high schools, the alignment of academic and social supports for the secondary classroom and Restorative Justice Practices within a School-wide Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (SWPBIS) frame.

Supporting Our Youngest Innovators: STEM starts early!

Cross-posted from the White House blog.

Summary: The White House is celebrating early STEM learning.

“Why?” “How?” One of the greatest joys of being a parent is the incredible curiosity children have for the world. Children are naturally inquisitive and they observe, investigate, and discover the world around them. The years from birth to third grade are filled with play and active engagement with the environment. They generate an endless number of questions, and their curiosity fuels their motivation to find answers. These are the traits we expect of our best scientists and engineers, yet many children lose the sense of wonder for science, technology, math and engineering (STEM) as they grow older.

Research indicates that as early as infancy, young children start developing and testing hypotheses for how the world around them works. They understand probability and make predictions. They take in information from trusted sources around them, and use that information to guide their behavior. And that all begins in the first year of life. As they progress through the preschool years, their curiosity continues to grow, and the sophistication of their reasoning and inquiry skills, grow along with it.

Too often, we underestimate the concepts our youngest learners can understand. As the most important influencers in our children’s lives, we — whether parents or other caregivers, child care providers, preschool or elementary school teachers — should support this curiosity, guide young children in their exploration, and identify natural learning opportunities to develop and grow these foundational STEM skills.

We know focusing on STEM pays off. Research shows that early exposure to STEM has positive impacts across the entire spectrum of learning.  For example, early math knowledge not only predicts later math success, it also predicts later reading achievement. Despite these powerful findings, our schools and early childhood programs often lack knowledge, resources, and capacity to focus on early STEM learning in developmentally appropriate ways.[i] We must do better. It is critical that we engage our youngest learners and give them the opportunities they deserve to develop their STEM skills in order to prepare them to compete in our global economy=

The President recognizes the importance of exposing all of our learners to STEM experiences. In his State of the Union address earlier this year, the President challenged all of us to provide every student with authentic STEM experiences to learn subjects like science, math, and computer science.

Building on the President’s early learning  and “Educate to Innovate” agendas, the White House,  working with the U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services, hope to advance this focus on STEM experiences in the coming months by identifying research gaps, best practices, and education technologies to support our youngest learners, parents and caregivers, educators and community leaders with early STEM education. This spring, the White House, U.S. Department of Education, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and Invest in US, will hold an event at the White House to focus on this important work and we hope to help highlight your commitments in this area along with a suite of federal resources and materials.

A central part of our goal is identifying organizations focusing on this work at the local level. We are seeking to highlight commitments from philanthropy, industry, advocacy organizations, nonprofits, and local and state governments to address key areas in early STEM education, including:

  1. Building the research base about what works in early STEM learning, including promising practices, interventions and teaching strategies;
  2. Supporting practitioners, including child care providers, home visitors, preschool teachers, and elementary school teachers, with STEM pedagogy and content knowledge;
  3. Supporting children and families in fostering STEM at home;
  4. Strategies and partnerships that foster STEM learning in informal settings (e.g., museums, libraries, zoos, media, toys); and
  5. Programs and partnerships that support children from low-income families in rural, tribal and urban settings and children who may have less access to STEM experiences and education including girls, children of color, children with disabilities, children who are dual language learners, and homeless children.

We would welcome the opportunity to highlight any new, specific, and measurable steps that your organization is ready to take in these or other areas to support early STEM in your community and on a national level. If applicable, portions of your announcement may be incorporated into White House materials in the coming months and your organization and relevant partners may be invited to participate in upcoming White House events on this topic. Examples of White House fact sheets include the fact sheet announcing Computer Science for Alland on Astronomy Night may serve as templates for this event. Please submit your commitments including organization name, organization point of contact, email, city and state, media point of contact and the specific details of your commitment (500 words or less) to by Wednesday, March 23, 2016.

We look forward to working with you on this important initiative to support our young innovators and foster a lifelong love of STEM learning.

Roberto J. Rodriguez is Deputy Assistant to the President for Education. Kumar Garg is Assistant Director for Learning and Innovation in the Office of Science and Techonology Policy.

[i] National Research Council. (2012). A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas. Committee on a Conceptual Framework for New K-12 Science Education Standards. Board on Science Education, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

Special Education Announcement Provides a Lesson in Social Justice

After last week’s announcement of a new effort to address widespread disparities in the treatment of students of color with disabilities, we asked two educators to react to the news, drawing on their own experiences as special education teachers.

Lisa Coates

As a special educator for 17 years, I have long been witness to what civil rights data collections are showing now is pervasive – there is a disproportionately high representation of students of color identified for special education. Additionally, special education students of color face higher risk rates of disciplinary referrals for suspensions, alternative school assignments, and expulsions, which correlate to lower graduation rates.

There’s an irony as education for students with special needs was born out of the civil rights movement. Too often other variables such as language, poverty, assessment practices, and lack of professional development and cultural competence support for teachers have played too big a role, resulting in unnecessary services or students learning in inappropriately restrictive environments.

I remember early in my career proctoring an educational assessment as part of an initial eligibility for a student’s consideration into specialized education. The referral came from a general education teacher who said, “He just isn’t getting the content.” While administering the test, I saw a test filled with cultural biases, and the result was a boy being assigned to a self-contained class unnecessarily. Fortunately that student’s case manager advocated and the case was made for a less restrictive environment. Too many kids don’t have such an advocate.

As the demographics of our nation’s schools become more racially, ethnically, and socioeconomically diverse, we must closely inspect disproportionality to ensure we create equitable learning communities. There are practices that may reduce disproportionality, including pre-referral interventions, family engagement, instructional practices for collaboration in the general curriculum, and professional development, to improve student outcomes.

Josalyn Tresvant

For years there have been documented situations where minority students have experienced inadequate services, low-quality curriculum, and isolation from their nondisabled peers. I taught minority students in both inclusionary and pullout settings at a high-needs school. At one point I serviced 40 students in grades K-5. What drove me was the fact these students and their parents were expecting me do right by those students so they could be successful beyond elementary school. To not do right by them meant they would potentially fall victim to even more dire circumstances related to poverty.

In grades 4-5, I co-taught with the classroom teacher, co-planning and making sure our lessons included strategies to make sure all students in that class were successful. This kept students in the classroom and pushed them to succeed. The results were not only evident in their IEP progress but also on their standardized test data. The most compelling evidence was in their classroom discourse. The level of engagement they had with their peers regarding what they were learning was powerful and the sense of self-confidence they exuded was infectious. We also spent a lot of time educating parents of their rights and how to advocate for their child. We wanted to them to feel empowered and informed on how to access resources or voice concerns about their child’s plan. Reducing disparities for special education students can mean the difference between lifelong success or failure.

Lisa Coates is a veteran special education teacher in Virginia and was a 2010 Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow. Josalyn Tresvant McGhee taught special education in Memphis, Tennessee, for six years and is a current Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow.

Visit Your Favorite Museum or Cultural Center on Museum Day Live!

Where will you be on Saturday, March 12, 2016? In honor of Women’s History Month, the Smithsonian Institute is hosting a special edition of its annual Museum Day Live! encouraging everyone, in particular, women and girls of color, to participate in a day of exploration, fun and hands-on learning. Hundreds of science centers, libraries, aquariums, libraries, zoos and museums will be opening their doors for free across the country to celebrate the theme “Inspiring Women and Girls of Color.”

This month, and all year, we recognize the importance of educating and supporting the educational attainment and advancement of our girls and women, in particular girls and women of color, around the nation. We also take this opportunity to celebrate the educational progress they continue to make. For example, from 2009 to 2012, the graduation rate at four-year colleges and universities increased by 0.9 percentage points for black women, 3.1 percentage points for Hispanic women, 2.7 percentage points for American Indian/Alaska Native women, and 2.1 percentage points for Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) women.

Yet, in spite of this tremendous progress, barriers continue to exist for girls and women of color. In order to help them reach their full potential, we know we must continue to invest in their education. Learning can and should take place across many contexts and formal and informal (or free-choice) settings such as summer camps, via the web, in afterschool programs, and at museums or science centers. Additionally, informal education providers are increasingly gaining recognition as key educational partners.

Access to a well-rounded, high-quality education and exposure to student-support services and informal-learning experiences that focus on supporting students’ social and emotional growth are critical components to ensuring their success. Museum Day Live! provides an opportunity for anyone to connect content that they learn in schools to their lives and communities – no matter where you live.

First Lady Michelle Obama has said “One visit, one performance, one touch, and who knows how you could spark a child’s imagination?” Join us for Smithsonian Day Live! and help expand the horizons of young people and encourage our girls and women of color and their peers to learn about the world around them, avenues of creativity, and arts and sciences while sparking their imagination. Find a participating institution in your community and reserve your spots by visiting

If there is not a participating institution easily accessible, there are many virtual opportunities that you could engage with on that day. Further, you can check for updates on Twitter with @museumday and join throughout the day, by sharing your photos using #museumday and #ImagineHer.

To learn more and for a toolkit designed to help you spread the word, visit:

Maribel Duran is the Chief of Staff for the White House Initiative for Educational Excellence for Hispanics and Ellen Lettvin is the Robert Noyce Senior Fellow in Informal STEM Learning at the U.S. Department of Education