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 www.smithsonianmag.com/museumday/venues/museum-day-live-march-2016/.

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: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/museumday/museum-day-live-march-2016/registration/materials/

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

Igniting the Spark: the Love of Learning

This post is one in a series on ED Goes Back to School, a program that integrates ED employees into diverse classrooms.

We all know that ‘a-ha’ moment. You remember the teacher that made your world open up in new ways, or the moment you saw a child’s eyes light up in understanding. Love for learning starts early. To celebrate these everyday small moments of joy, the US Department of Education embarked on a week-long journey, visiting several Early Learning Programs in the DC metro area. Highlights below:

Place-Based Learning

ED staff visited different programs in the DC metro area, including Educare whose work with the homeless ties directly to the White House Place-based initiative pilot. Following the visit, staff from different program offices gathered to share their takeaways. Kimberlin Butler, an analyst with the Office of Innovation and Improvement, found that “talking to those communities about their early learning models and getting the leaders to be empathetic to the different situations students enrolled” underscores the importance of place-based learning.

Multilingualism

ED was also able to visit CentroNía, an early learning program that teaches children in a dual-language English/Spanish Early Learning environment. The program uses a co-teaching model, with two teachers providing instruction in either Spanish or English. ED employees who visited observed that the program was not just teaching a second language, but bilingualism, as the school shared that many families speak both English and Spanish at home.

Global Competence

We live in an increasingly connected world. At School Within School, children maintained their community garden, infusing science into nurturing the environment. Rebecca Miller, who works in the International Affairs Office, shared a small moment of joy while climbing a staircase during her visit: “I ran into a music teacher, carrying a guitar…he met his students for music class and they sang the going up the stairs song.” SWS retweeted the video, with the hashtag “#nothing without joy”. This sums up what early learning is about: the openness of embracing all things.

The Power of Early Learning

ED Goes Back to School provided the opportunity for the Department of Education to connect their work to various innovative models of Early Learning. The consensus was that these visits gave us a better understanding of how Early Learning is at the ground level. Teacher Ambassador Fellow Meredith Morelle shared how “the Policy office is P-12 and the emphasis needs to be on the P part, not K or 1. It is important that policymakers see practice. As an educator, it is important to have an understanding of pre-k.”

Ultimately, after visiting and sharing their impressions, everyone agreed on the most important takeaway of their school visits: it takes hard work to educate all kids.

 Alicia Pérez-Katz is a 2015 Principal Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education.

Building Relationships to SHINE a Light on Chronic Absenteeism

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Students have fun playing “reindeer throw” during the SHINE after school program.

Let’s face it, going to school isn’t always what a kid wants to do – especially when schoolwork is challenging. Having to read a textbook above ability level or take a times-table test on an empty stomach can be overwhelming. A kid would rather stay home and play video games. Wouldn’t you? Too frequently, though, parents let their child skip school thinking, “Its only one-day. What’s the big deal?” Many parents don’t realize, though, that school absence puts their child’s academics and educational future at risk.

What if a student could come to a place where he didn’t have those pressures? A place where someone helps him to improve his reading skills so he can read that textbook independently. A place where a hot dinner is served every night so he can focus on his academics without distracting hunger pangs. A safe place where he can play with his friends and still learn those darn times tables.

The Lehigh Carbon Community College SHINE (Students and Homes IN Education) after-school program aspires to be that place. At SHINE, we focus on working with families on the skill of educating children. Typically, children report to SHINE at the end of the school day and complete homework, get help with academics, work on STEAM projects, participate in physical fitness, or eat a meal.

In the summer, students are offered weekly home visits which allows families to get to know us and see how invested we are in their children’s success. Home visits also help us build vital relationships that enable us to call parents and have open conversations during the school year. And if attendance is poor, these relationships allow us to work with parents to solve the problem together.

Building relationships does take time and energy, but it pays off for students. When SHINE students are absent, they’ll often report first to me to let me know they’re there before even going to homeroom. I’ll see a head poke in my door in the morning to say, “Don’t worry, I’m back. My ear infection is gone.” The smile on their faces tells me that they are coming by, because they know I care.

In fact, students seem to track us down no matter where we are! Recently we had a little girl who was frequently absent, so we’d always remind her how much we missed her when we saw her. As I walked into the bathroom the other day, I heard a little voice say, “Hey Mrs. Kufro, I’m coming to SHINE today. Aren’t you happy?” It was the sweetest thing.

When you put your heart and soul into it, relationships are established. That’s how we create a place – a SHINE family – where everyone sees success.

Audra B. Kufro teaches third grade science at Mahanoy Area Elementary School, in Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania, and is a teacher with the SHINE After-School program through Lehigh Carbon Community College.

Hope for High Need Schools: Are We Listening?

I recently attended a Tea for Teachers with Acting Secretary John King, along with teachers from across the country who work to address Native American students’ unique needs. We were invited to introduce ourselves, including our tribal affiliation. As the introductions looped around the table, I was keenly aware that I have no tribal affiliation. I’m not even Native.

So, why am I here?

In South Dakota, many teachers ask the same question. In our high-need, reservation schools, we often have less than a single, certified applicant for each opening and find ourselves “getting by” with long-term subs much of the year. South Dakota salaries have vied for last place for decades, and our reservation schools aren’t “rural”; they’re “remote.”

More importantly, our Native students are taught by very few certified, Native teachers. They may have a local Lakota classroom aid helping out, or a volunteer Unci (Grandma) program, but the teachers are mostly white. Many of those teachers are asking, honestly, sincerely and with great love for their students, “Why am I here? I don’t know their stories; I fumble with their customs and their language. Why am I here instead of someone better suited to this community and these students?”

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Educators discuss the unique needs of Native Americans students during Tea for Teachers gathering at ED.

At the Tea, we talked about certifying more Native teachers at the state and the National Board levels. We discussed language-immersion programs and curriculums embedded with cultural elements. We heard about models informed by traditional Native-teaching approaches. At the center was the idea of Self-Determination. South Dakota’s historically oppressed communities, still grappling with the audible echoes of U.S. “Kill the Indian to Save the Man” educational policies, need to be empowered now.

Why am I here? Partly because I want to stretch the typical one-year stint for a new teacher in a reservation school into two years… or five… or a lifetime of growing into the fabric of a community as authentic as pure-prairie soil or winter-blue South Dakota sky. But, first and foremost, I’m here to say we must listen

The dark history of colonialism begins and ends with non-listening. In our high-need schools, there is time for speaking, facilitating, nurturing, admonishing, researching, scaffolding, conferencing, and maybe even for testing… but none of it is worth one-allocated cent if it doesn’t begin with listening.

And so, this Tea for Teachers has given hope; staff at the Department of Education listened to these stories of our Native students and communities. Teach to Lead helped our WoLakota Project when someone said, “Hey… we ought to listen to teachers!” And after I returned to South Dakota from our Tea, I read words about the new, perfectly named Best Job in the World grants:

…a nationwide effort to dramatically transform the job of working in a high-need school in order to better attract and retain talented, committed and accomplished teachers…to support comprehensive, locally-developed, teacher-led efforts in our highest-needs schools.

Someone’s been listening.

Dr. Scott Simpson teaches South Dakota Indian Studies to teachers at Black Hills State University in Spearfish, South Dakota, works with high-need schools, and is a Learning Specialist with Technology and Innovation in Education.

Student Loans, Interest Payments, and Taxes – Oh my!

1098-E Tax Form

Student loans, interest payments, and taxes: three things that have scared many people for years now. Read on to learn how these things can benefit you. Just as Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion, and the Tin Man learned when they followed the yellow brick road, once you look at the bigger picture you’ll realize you had the resources to face your fears all along!

If you made federal student loan payments in 2015, you may be eligible to deduct a portion of the interest paid on your 2015 federal tax return. This is known as a student loan interest deduction. Don’t miss out on this opportunity to make the money you’ve paid work for you! Below are some questions and answers to help you learn more about reporting student loan interest payments from IRS Form 1098-E on your 2015 taxes and potentially get this deduction.

What is IRS Form 1098-E?

IRS Form 1098-E is the Student Loan Interest Statement that your federal loan servicer will use to report student loan interest payments to both the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and to you.

Will I receive a 1098-E?

If you paid $600 or more in interest to a federal loan servicer during the tax year, you will receive at least one 1098-E.

The IRS only requires federal loan servicers to report payments on IRS Form 1098-E if the interest received from the borrower in the tax year was $600 or more, although some federal loan servicers still send 1098-Es to borrowers who paid less than that.

If you paid less than $600 in interest to a federal loan servicer during the tax year and do not receive a 1098-E, you may contact your servicer for the exact amount of interest you paid during the year so you can then report that amount on your taxes.

How many 2015 1098-Es should I expect to receive?

That depends on how much you paid in interest, how many federal loan servicers you had, and some other factors. Read through the scenarios below to find where you fit and know how many 2015 1098-Es you should expect.

  1. Your current servicer was your only servicer in 2015: In this case, your current federal loan servicer will provide you with a copy of your 1098-E if you paid interest of $600 or more in 2015. Your servicer may send your 1098-E to you electronically or via U.S. mail.
  2. You had multiple servicers in 2015: In this case, each of your federal loan servicers will provide you with a copy of your 1098-E if you paid interest of $600 or more to that individual servicer in 2015. Your servicer may send your 1098-E to you electronically or via U.S. mail.

If you paid less than $600 in interest to any of your federal loan servicers, you may need to contact each servicer as necessary to find out the exact amount of interest you paid during the year.

How will reporting my student loan interest payments on my 2015 taxes benefit me?

Reporting the amount of student loan interest you paid in 2015 on your federal tax return may count as a deduction. A deduction reduces the amount of your income that is subject to tax, which may benefit you by reducing the amount of tax you may have to pay.

For more information about student loan interest deduction, visit the IRS’s Tax Benefits for Education: Information Center.

Now that you know student loans, interest rates, and taxes aren’t as scary as you may have originally thought, you are ready to report your student loan interest rates on your 2015 federal tax return!

But what if I still need help or have more questions?

While we are not tax advisors and cannot advise you on your federal tax return questions, your federal loan servicer is available to assist you with any questions about your student loans, including questions about IRS Form 1098-E and reporting the student loan interest you’ve paid on your 2015 taxes. If you’re not sure who your loan servicer is, visit My Federal Student Aid to find contact information for the loan servicer or lender for your loans. To see a list of our federal loan servicers, go to the Loan Servicers page on StudentAid.gov.

Noemi Solares is a Management and Program Analyst at Federal Student Aid.

Learn the Secret to Expanding Your Student Loan Repayment Benefits

If you borrowed before July of 2010, you may need to consolidate your loans in order to qualify for certain student loan repayment benefits, such as Public Service Loan Forgiveness and some income-driven repayment plans.

Distraught girl at computer

Why does it matter which type(s) of loans I have?

If you’re interested in the best student loan repayment benefits, you’ll want to have Direct Loans. If you borrowed any federal student loans before July 2010, there’s a good chance that some or all of your federal student loans are not Direct Loans. But that doesn’t mean you can’t qualify for the best repayment benefits—you can. All you’ll need to do is consolidate. If you consolidate, as a student borrower, here are some of the repayment benefits you could access:

What are Direct Loans?

Direct Loans are those that are made to you, though your school, directly by the Department of Education. Since July 2010, almost all federal student loans are made under this program—in full, called the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program.

Though the Direct Loan Program existed long before 2010, there was another bigger federal student loan program that most students relied on to finance their education: the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program.

Under the FFEL Program, loans were made by banks and ultimately guaranteed by the taxpayer in case you didn’t make your payments. In 2010, this program ended.

Loans from both of these programs are FEDERAL student loans.  The main way the programs differ is in who made you the loan in the first place. Most of the benefits in the Direct Loan Program are available in the FFEL Program. However, FFEL Program loans are not eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness or the best income-driven repayment plans. This is where loan consolidation can help. It will effectively convert your FFEL Program loans into Direct Loans.

How do I find out which type(s) of federal student loans I have?

  1. Go to StudentAid.gov/login
  2. Log in using your FSA ID (You can’t use your Federal Student Aid PIN anymore!)
  3. Scroll to the loan summary section. Go through each of the loans that are listed. Use the list below to see if you need to consolidate any of your loans to qualify for the best repayment options.

Which loans to consolidate

What should I consider before consolidating?

First, evaluate whether you want any of the benefits that are available only in the Direct Loan Program. Consolidating your loans can increase the amount of interest that accrues on your loans, so if you’re not interested in these programs, you may not want to consolidate. Also, understand that, by consolidating your loans, you will start your forgiveness clock over. For example, if you were already on an income-driven repayment plan and consolidate your loans, then you will lose the any credit you had already earned toward forgiveness.

Lastly, understand that some of the loans that we called out for consolidation are those from another federal student loan program called the Federal Perkins Loan Program. Those loans have their own cancellation benefits that are based on your job. If you consolidate these types of loans, you will lose access to those cancellation benefits. Learn more about Perkins Loan cancellation here.

Now I know what type(s) of loans I have. What can I do?

  • I have some loans that I need to consolidate, and some that I don’t. Okay, you’re a little trickier to advise. You’ll definitely have some loans that you’ll want to consolidate, but the real question is, should you consolidate all of your loans? Only consolidate what you need to? You can do either. It will be easier to keep track of your loans if you only have one, but as you can see in the above section, sometimes you’re better off not consolidating if you don’t have to. After you’ve figured this out, you can consolidate your loans and apply for the best income-driven repayment plans. After you’re set up on the plan you want and if you want to apply for Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, get your employment certified for Public Service Loan Forgiveness.

If you’re confused, need help, or have questions, you can contact the Loan Consolidation Information Call Center at 1-800-557-7392 to get free advice.

Ian Foss is a Program Specialist and Nicole Callahan is a Digital Engagement Strategist at the U.S. Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid.

Image by Getty Images

Which Income-Driven Repayment Plan is Right for You?

Guy and girl different paths

You may have heard about income-driven repayment plans. These days, there are a lot of them to choose from.

It might seem difficult to choose an income-driven repayment plan when so many of the basic features of the plans look the same. After reading this post, you’ll be armed with the knowledge you need to choose the best repayment plan for your situation.

Here are the basics:

Let’s start by looking at the basics. All of these plans set your payments based on a percentage of your income, and all of these plans forgive any remaining balance on your loans after a period of time. There are some obvious differences between the plans, sure, but the chart is so general that you don’t have enough information in the chart to make a smart choice.

If you’re interested in an income-driven plan, you probably want to pay as little as possible over the shortest period of time and have accepted that more interest may accrue on your loans as a result. Additionally, you should understand that you have to keep in touch with your loan servicer about your income each year in order to stay on these plans. So, Pay As You Earn would seem to be a natural choice. But there are very specific requirements you must meet to qualify for Pay As You Earn plan. The details matter.

Let’s dive in to the details.

What type of federal student loans do you have?

If you’re interested in an income-driven repayment plan, you will first want to determine whether your federal student loans are Direct Loans. If you borrowed any federal student loans before July 2010, there’s a good chance that some or all of your federal student loans are not Direct Loans.

If your loans aren’t Direct Loans, that doesn’t mean you can’t qualify for the best income-driven repayment plans—almost everyone can. You just need to consolidate first. If you don’t consolidate, the only income-driven repayment plan you might qualify for is the income-based repayment plan, and, as you saw, it wouldn’t give you the lowest payment.


After you have figured out whether you needed to consolidate, and done so, you’re ready to choose a plan.

Let the Department of Education choose the best plan for you

Don’t do difficult work that you don’t have to do. The details matter for these plans. And there are a lot of details. Instead of sorting all of this out yourself, make us, or, more accurately, your loan servicer, do the difficult work. Just go to StudentLoans.gov and start an “Income-Driven Repayment Plan Request”. (That’s the online income-driven repayment application.)

When you get to the “Repayment Plan Selection” section of the application (toward the end), you should not choose an income-driven repayment plan by name. Instead, choose this option:

Choose the Repayment plan you would like to be placed on. "I request that my loan holder (servicer) place me on the plan with the lowest monthly payment amount.

If you do, your loan servicer will evaluate whether you are eligible for all of the income-driven repayment plans and put you on the best plan for you.


If you want to choose a plan on your own, you probably want to choose the Revised Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan.

For most borrowers, the Revised Pay You Earn Plan is the best choice because:

  • all Direct Loan student borrowers are eligible for the plan,
  • there are no date restrictions,
  • there are no income restrictions,
  • it offers the lowest payment of all the income-driven repayment plans,
  • it offers the shortest repayment period for many, and
  • it offers a generous interest benefit to keep your interest balance from growing

However, there are some borrowers who can’t or shouldn’t choose the Revised Pay As You Earn Plan.

Answer the questions below to see if you’re one of those borrowers.

Are you married? How do you file your taxes?

If you are married, you can choose to file a joint or separate income tax return. How you choose to file your taxes can have a large impact on income-driven repayment. There are two factors at play here—whether your spouse’s income will be used to calculate your payment and whether your spouse’s loan debt will be used to adjust your payment downward.

There are two things you need to consider

First, income.

If you file jointly, for all plans, your income + your spouse’s income = income used to calculate payment.

If you file separately, then how your spouse’s income is treated depends on the plan:

For the Income-Contingent, Income-Based, and Pay As You Earn plans, only your income = income used to calculate payment.

For the Revised Pay As You Earn Plan, however, your income + your spouse’s income = income used to calculate payment.

Second, loan debt.

If it seems like using a joint income is going to disadvantage you, this isn’t the end of the story. If your spouse also has federal student loans, then we will figure out what percentage of the total debt is yours and multiply the payment based on a joint income by that percentage. This acknowledges that there are multiple federal student loan debts being repaid with the joint income. If your spouse has no federal student loan debt, however, then 100% of the debt is yours, and so there’s no adjustment to your payment.

What does this all mean? Though the Revised Pay As You Earn Plan is better for most, if you are married, file a separate return from your spouse, and your spouse doesn’t have federal student loan debt, then you will definitely be able to get a better deal under the Pay As You Earn Plan (if you are eligible for it), and, depending on your spouse’s income, you might even get a better deal under the Income-Based or Income-Contingent Repayment Plan. But, to get this better deal, you have to file separately from your spouse, and that might cost you more in taxes.

Did you borrow a federal student loan for graduate school?

Let’s talk about borrowing for graduate school. If you did, then the Revised Pay As You Earn Plan might not be for you.

Under the Revised Pay As You Earn Plan, the forgiveness clock runs for 20 years if you only borrowed for undergraduate study, and for 25 years if you borrowed even one loan for graduate study.

By contrast, the Pay As You Earn Plan has a 20-year forgiveness clock for all borrowers, undergraduate and graduate alike. So, if you qualify for Pay As You Earn and are a graduate borrower, it’s probably a better option for you. If you don’t qualify for Pay As You Earn, however, the Revised Pay As You Earn Plan is still better for you than the Income-Based or Income-Contingent Repayment Plans.

How recently did you start borrowing?

The Pay As You Earn Plan has many, but not all of the benefits as Revised Pay As You Earn, and, for some borrowers, it’s a better option. However, it’s also the plan that is available to the fewest number of borrowers. Specifically, to qualify for Pay As You Earn, you need to be a “new borrower” on or after October 1, 2007 who received a loan on or after October 1, 2011. That excludes a lot of people who have loans today.

Are you are a parent borrower?

Parent borrowers who want to repay their Parent PLUS Loans under an income-driven repayment plan can’t use the Revised Pay As You Earn Plan or any other income-driven repayment plan except for the Income-Contingent Repayment Plan.

The Income-Contingent Repayment Plan is the only plan that a borrower with this loan type can opt for. However, eligibility is not automatic. To become eligible, parent borrowers must consolidate their outstanding Parent PLUS Loans into a Direct Consolidation Loan. If you’re a parent borrower, you can do that by visiting StudentLoans.gov.

Let’s sum up.

The Revised Pay As You Earn is the best plan for most borrowers. However, if it’s not good for you for one of the reasons I mentioned above, then you should consider Pay As You Earn. If that doesn’t work for you, consider the Income-Based Repayment Plan. Finally, consider the Income-Contingent Repayment Plan.

Ian Foss has worked at the Department of Education since 2010. He just saved 33% on his student loan payments by switching from the Income-Based Repayment Plan to the Revised Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan.

Image by Getty Images

Teachers Campaign to Recover Love of Teaching

2014 National Teacher of the Year Sean McComb interacts with a student.

2014 National Teacher of the Year Sean McComb interacts with a student.

I learned a tough lesson my first year in the classroom – left to its own devices, my mind would focus with laser precision on my mistakes. Instead of celebrating the things that went well, I’d find myself sitting at my desk after dismissal stewing over a lackluster explanation, some mishandled mischief, or poor planning.

It’s good to be critical. It’s natural. In the big picture, it’s how we as humans evolved over the years. We’re the descendants of those cunning enough to survive long enough to have descendants themselves. But as a teacher, with all the challenges we face every day, an unchecked critical eye can become defeating.

A few weeks into that first year, I bought a fat stack of Post-it notes and started spending the first 10 minutes after school jotting notes to kids who had a good day, made a contribution, or conducted themselves with kindness. I chose to focus on the good, and it did me a world of good, too.

Last year I found myself, and many of my friends, caught up in the tempest surrounding the teaching profession. From viral resignation letters, to magazine covers, to court cases, our vocation seemed to be in everyone’s crosshairs. And for many, those narratives crowded out the joys, the laughs, the hard-fought victories, and the heart-wrenching challenges that give us such a deep love for teaching.

So last February a few friends and I decided to try to shine a light on our love for teaching. We asked our friends to join in. We also asked a few organizations to participate in the project. Those who were asked connected with others and pretty quickly there was a full-on campaign united by the #LoveTeaching hashtag. There were Twitter chats, and school “photo booths” and a flood of tweets and posts and pictures and blogs. Even Secretary Arne Duncan posted a video to say thank you and talk about what he loved about teachers. In the end, five million people interacted with the campaign—because, for all its challenges, there’s just so much to love about teaching.

This year, until Monday, Feb. 22, teachers – and friends – across the country are invited to join the #LoveTeaching campaign. I’ve used it as an opportunity to share a story about a student who changed my life. A Kentucky English teacher put together a list of twenty reasons she loves her work. What’s your story? Search the hashtag to gain inspiration from others, or just jump on and join in the love.

The teachers I admire start their day by thinking how they can do better for students. I urge you to take the opportunity to pause and remember the kids and colleagues, the personal champions and persistent challenges that make us #LoveTeaching.

Sean McComb is a high school English teacher in Baltimore, Maryland, and was the 2014 National Teacher of the Year.

One Step Forward: A National Summit on Teacher Leadership

An idea born of frustration from last year’s International Summit on the Teaching Profession came to fruition on February 5th and 6th. The first National Summit on Teacher Leadership was held in Washington, D.C., and for those in attendance there was an overwhelming sense that this is the right work at the right time. The Summit was another important step in the teacher leadership movement.

Educators who attended last year’s International Summit were disappointed that teacher representation and voice were sorely missing from many of the formal discussions that took place. We felt that if we wanted to move the profession forward, we needed to ensure that teacher voices were heard through the words of teacher leaders. We thought why not have a national summit on teacher leadership in the United States to raise these voices?

We presented the idea to the United States Delegation led by then Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, President of the National Education Association, Lily Eskelsen Garcia, President of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, and Executive Director of the Chief Council for State School Officers, Chris Minnich. They agreed and said they would commit to a summit.

Fast forward 11 months and the first National summit on teacher leadership took place in D.C. to great acclaim. Over 20 states sent practicing teachers, association leaders, and state policy makers to the summit where they heard from other states on the work they were all doing to promote teacher leadership. For two days, states worked together and made commitments to move forward with the implementation of teacher leadership policies and plans. This was not easy work because there was true collaboration taking place, which involved many hard conversations. It was truly amazing to see teacher leaders playing a lead role in this work.

At the end of the Summit each state made a commitment statement describing their next steps to keep the teacher leader movement going forward. There was palpable excitement in the room – from policy makers and teachers alike – as a result of sitting down together and, in some cases, even committing to host state summits.

In closing, Dr. Andy Hargreaves, the Chair of Education at Boston College, reminded participants of the many pitfalls associated with this type of endeavor. Don’t let the idea of teacher leadership get co-opted like the concept of professional learning communities, for starters. And don’t lose momentum that has been built throughout the Summit. His advice going forward: follow through with commitments, have short term plans, and share with each other.

We all know this work is hard but if we continue to meet, collaborate, and keep a solution-oriented mindset we can strengthen teacher leadership’s role in improving the lives of students. Frustration from last year’s International Summit led to this year’s National Summit which wisely included the many diverse voices of educators from across the country. There will inevitably be more missteps and frustrations, but it is exciting to think of the possibilities if we persevere and remain united in this very important cause.

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.

Protecting Our Muslim Youth from Bullying: The Role of the Educator

Cross-posted from the Stopbullying Blog.

Not since the days and months immediately after September 11 has the Muslim community faced the level of anti-Muslim bias and bullying that has been seen over the past several months. In the wake of Paris and other terrorist attacks, combined with the emergence of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a lack of information among the public about Islam, and the tendency to associate  Islam with terrorism, there has been an increase in expressions and incidents
targeting the Muslim community and those who are perceived to be Muslim, such as members of the Sikh community. There has also been an increased wave of anti-Muslim sentiment in our public discourse, political rhetoric and everyday interactions.  Schools have not been immune. Youth have been called, “terrorists” or “ISIS.” There have been physical attacks, verbal threats, and social isolation. These are just a few of the many ways anti-Muslim sentiment has impacted schoolchildren who are Muslim or perceived to be Muslim.

As a result of bullying and harassment, students may feel threatened, frightened, and disconnected from school. Their academic performance may suffer. Across the country, all parents need to talk with their kids and educate them on how they can prevent bullying. Parents should try hard to help their children appreciate their peers and make friends across different cultures.

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Educators have an important role to play as well. Classrooms and schools should provide learning environments that are not only free from discrimination and harassment based on protected traits—including religion—but should also be conduits for students to build bridges with other students across different backgrounds, break down stereotypes, acknowledge and affirm important aspects of their identity, and learn how to be an ally when faced with bullying and bias.

Here are a few important anti-bias and bullying prevention strategies that teachers can use to address anti-Muslim sentiment:

  • Create an anti-bias learning environment Site exit disclaimer. This means incorporating the experiences, perspective and words of Muslim people into the curriculum through social studies and current events instruction, children’s literature Site exit disclaimer, in order to learn about different cultures. When you teach about world religions, be sure to include Islam. When slurs and insults are directed at specific students, intervene quickly and directly. Further, present yourself as approachable so that when incidents of bias or bullying arise inside or outside the classroom walls, students feel comfortable talking with you about it. It’s also important to be aware that some Muslim students may feel relieved and comfortable discussing these issues in class and others may feel nervous, scared or angry to be talking about a topic so close to home.
  • Teach students about stereotypes, bias, and discrimination. This should happen proactively before any incidents—anti-Muslim or otherwise—occur so that young people understand the language of bias and the distinction between different concepts. Use current events Site exit disclaimer—many of which are ripe with examples of bias and injustice, to help students understand real-world incidents and discuss what actions they could take to make a difference. Develop students’ ability to challenge biased language, Site exit disclaimer especially jokes and slurs. Deconstructing bias and stereotypes will help students reflect on their origins and will ultimately help build empathy among young people.
  • Encourage students to learn how to be an ally Site exit disclaimer when faced with bias or bullying.  Adults are often not around when these incidents occur; give students the skills to do something.  Help students expand their understanding of what ally behavior is and encourage them to move from being bystanders to acting as allies. Contrary to the popular notion that “standing up” is the only way to be an ally, there are several less threatening and still effective ways to be an ally including: not participating, supporting the student being bullied, getting to know people instead of judging, and more. In addition, share inspiring examples like Walk a Mile in Her Hijab, Site exit disclaimer whose goal is to spread awareness about Muslim cultural traditions and to combat anti-Muslim bias.

Educators play a vital role in fostering safe, welcoming learning communities for their students and, given the unsettling rise in anti-Muslim prejudice, the efforts teachers make to support all of their students and build understanding and respect are more critical than ever.

For more information and Federal guidance on schools’ obligations to respond to harassment, check out the resources at the Stopbullying Blog.

Jinnie Spiegler is Director of Curriculum at the Anti-Defamation League and Sarah Sisaye is with the Office of Safe and Healthy Students at the U.S. Department of Education.

Developing Young Agents of Change: Why I Teach in High-Need Schools

Former U.S. Department of Education Teacher Ambassador Fellow Geneviève DeBose reads with one of her students

Former U.S. Department of Education Teacher Ambassador Fellow Geneviève DeBose reads with one of her students

“The thing that made me change was the people that I know or see in Watts. The people in my hood is either gangbangers or crackheads and I don’t want to be neither.…I don’t want to be killed over some shoe or the way I look or the people that I hang out with.”

During my first year of teaching in 1999, I found this writing torn up and thrown in the trash. It was my student D’s response to the prompt, “What was a turning point in your life?” She decided not to turn it in, but instead to throw it away. Back then I didn’t recognize her response for what it was – a recognition of her own power, an opportunity to improve her neighborhood or a cry for help. And back then I probably didn’t recognize my own ability to support her development as a 6th grade change-maker. Nonetheless, I taped it back together and have kept it for the last 17 years as a reminder of why I teach in high-need schools.

I’ve always taught in high-need schools, and while I know that all students deserve great teachers, I feel strongly that my students need me most, and I need them. My students are my people. Many of us share a history of struggle as people of color in the United States. Me — an African American and Irish American woman. Them — Mexican and Central American, West African, Caribbean, Southeast Asian, Middle Eastern, African American, you name it.

I am a proud product of public schools and believe strongly that all students, regardless of their circumstances deserve access to an excellent education. By teaching in high-need schools, not only am I an agent of change, I also get to support my students in becoming agents of change – something very few of my teachers did for me. I left teaching for three years and realized almost immediately that the classroom is where I am of most service – and where I am happiest. Teaching brings me joy but teaching in high-need schools also grounds me in knowing that I am doing something transformative, not only for myself and my students, but for our country and our world.

I can’t deny that teaching in high-need schools can be tough. The social, emotional, and educational trauma that many of our students face greatly impacts their schooling and our teaching experiences. But the notion of what’s possible can outweigh what is. With time, collaboration, support, and relationships, my colleagues, my students, their families and I can thrive and collectively change our communities for the better.

I know that I can’t do this work alone. And 17 years ago, my student D knew that she couldn’t do it alone either. While I wasn’t sure how to best support D as a first-year teacher, the beauty of it all is that every single day I get to right that wrong. I get to shift students’ life trajectories by being a model of change and supporting them in becoming their own agents of change. Quite honestly, there’s no better place to be.

Geneviève DeBose, NBCT, teaches seventh grade Language Arts in the South Bronx in New York City. She was a 2011 Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education.

El presupuesto de educación para el año fiscal 2017 pide incrementar acceso, asequibilidad y graduación de la universidad

El presidente Obama ha dejado claro que en el último año de su mandato la educación seguirá siendo una prioridad, y saldrá adelante con iniciativas y fondos para que más personas obtengan un título universitario.

Como dijo en enero durante su discurso sobre el estado de la Unión, la nación ha hecho importante progreso en asegurar que más estudiantes se gradúen de secundaria con las habilidades que necesitan para tener éxito en la universidad, en sus carreras, y en sus comunidades. Pero persisten problemas, y tenemos que tomar soluciones audaces.

La universidad sigue siendo la mejor inversión que pueden hacer las personas para su futuro. Una buena educación es igual de importante para participar en la sociedad y salvaguardar nuestra democracia. Es por eso que todos, incluido las personas de bajos ingresos, poblaciones marginadas, estudiantes universitarios de primera generación, y adultos con empleos y familias, quieren una educación postsecundaria.

Esta Administración ha otorgado ayuda financiera como nunca antes a los estudiantes de educación superior. En 2014, el año más reciente del que se disponen datos, nuestro país vio la población más grande y diversa en nuestra historia de estudiantes matriculados en la educación superior. El número de estudiantes universitarios hispanos y negros en EE.UU. ha aumentado por más de un millón desde 2008.

Pero los obstáculos persisten para muchos estudiantes que dudan de asistir a la universidad debido al alto costo y un mercado universitario que puede ser confuso, especialmente para los estudiantes de primera generación. Además, solo alrededor del 60% de los que se matriculan en un programa de licenciatura obtienen su título dentro de seis años. Y al menos un tercio de los que se gradúan se toman más tiempo de lo debido, lo que significa mayores gastos para el estudiante y su familia.

Los prestatarios que no se gradúan tienen tres veces más riesgo de no pagar sus préstamos estudiantiles en comparación con los que sí se gradúan. Por esta razón, el presupuesto de 2017 propone reformas claves, proporciona ayuda institucional y estudiantil, y da incentivos para la obtención de un grado a tiempo o anticipado para que la universidad sea más económica, la ayuda estudiantil más accesible, y el pago de los préstamos sea más fácil. También se promueve la innovación y la protección financiera de los estudiantes y los contribuyentes. Las propuestas en el presupuesto incluyen:

Reducir drásticamente los costos educativos de los estudiantes y sus familias

  • El presupuesto pide fondos para la iniciativa America’s College Promise (ACP), una alianza con los estados para que los dos años de estudios en las universidades comunitarias sean gratis para los estudiantes responsables. Con financiación de $61 mil millones durante la próxima década, los estudiantes podrían terminar un grado de asociado o los dos primeros años de un título de cuatro años, que los prepare para el éxito laboral sin costo alguno al estudiante. ACP también proporcionaría subvenciones a las escuelas que dan apoyo a nuevos estudiantes de bajos ingresos, incluidos aquellos que se trasladan de otra universidad comunitaria. Los estudiantes podrían cursar los dos años de estudio en estas instituciones sin costo alguno o a costo muy reducido.
  • El presupuesto ofrece fondos para los estudiantes actuales y futuros del país con financiación máxima de las Becas Pell, que serán ajustadas a la inflación a partir del 2017 para asegurar que los fondos queden protegidos de la erosión de su valor en los próximos años.
  • Además de que la FAFSA estará disponible más temprano, como lo anunció el presidente Obama en septiembre de 2015, el presupuesto también simplificaría la FAFSA para eliminar preguntas onerosos e innecesariamente complejas para que sea más fácil para los estudiantes y sus familias acceder a la ayuda federal estudiantil y financiar su educación superior.
  • El presupuesto también crearía un fondo competitivo de $30 millones que sería otorgado a las universidades fundadas para los negros (HBCU) y las universidades que sirven a grupos minoritarios (MSI), para de tal manera alentar la graduación mediante estrategias que ayuden a estos grupos a graduarse y obtener un título.
  • El presupuesto propuesto por el presidente simplifica los planes de pago basados en los ingresos para limitar los pagos del préstamo a un precio razonable para los prestatarios, ayuda a los prestatarios a manejar su deuda con mayor eficiencia, y fortalece y simplifica los programas que perdonan los préstamos de los maestros.

Estimular y recompensar los buenos resultados de los estudiantes

  • Para apoyar y animar a los estudiantes a completar sus estudios en debido tiempo o antes de tiempo, el presupuesto incluye el programa Beca Pell para la graduación acelerada, que proporciona los fondos de la Beca Pell durante todo el año a los estudiantes que toman una carga completa de cursos, pero que ya han agotado su subvención existente.
  • El presupuesto proporcionaría $300 mediante un Bono Pell en Camino a los estudiantes que hacen progreso oportuno hacia su título universitario tomando por lo menos 15 horas crédito por semestre.
  • También proporcionará una tercera ronda de la Iniciativa Primeros en el Mundo con $100 millones para implementar y evaluar estrategias innovadoras y basadas en la evidencia que aumenten el éxito estudiantil, incluido $30 millones reservados para las instituciones HBCU y MSI. En 2014 y 2015, el Departamento vio notable interés en este programa, pero solo pudo financiar menos del 6 por ciento de todas las solicitudes recibidas.
  • El Bono de Oportunidad y Graduación Universitaria recompensaría a las instituciones que matriculan y gradúan a tiempo un número significativo de estudiantes de bajos recursos, y alentar a más universidades a mejorar sus resultados.
  • Y con planes para reformar la ayuda estudiantil ofrecida por las universidades, el presupuesto pide el financiamiento de las escuelas que proporcionan una educación de calidad a un precio razonable, especialmente para estudiantes de bajos recursos.

Ampliar las opciones de educación superior de los estudiantes

  • La Pell de Segunda Oportunidad que el presidente ha propuesto proporcionaría a los prisioneros que han cumplido su condena y están a punto reintegrarse a la sociedad con el apoyo necesario para enderezar sus vidas, ofreciéndoles acceso a los fondos Pell para que puedan estudiar y capacitarse en las habilidades que conducen a nuevas oportunidades y una vida estable.
  • Para complementar ACP, el presupuesto apoyará un Fondo de Formación Técnica de $75 millones que facilitará la creación y expansión de programas gratuitos de capacitación laboral rápida para ayudar a más trabajadores a obtener trabajos de alta demanda como la salud, fabricación e informática. Los departamentos de Educación y Trabajo colaborarán en el lanzamiento de este plan innovador.

En el siglo 21, las habilidades y la educación son indispensables para nuestro éxito como personas y como nación. El presupuesto del año fiscal 2017 aumenta la equidad y la excelencia en la educación superior, con propuestas ambiciosas para reducir los costos universitarios, promover nuevos enfoques y ampliar las prácticas probadas para servir mejor a los estudiantes y crear vías más amplias para todos, independiente de su origen o circunstancia, para que puedan alcanzar sus sueños y mejorar sus vidas.

Se puede obtener más información sobre el presupuesto de Educación aquí.

Melissa Apostolides forma parte del equipo para desarrollar conminaciones en la Oficina de Comunicaciones y Extensión del Departamento de Educación de EE.UU.

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