In Ferguson, Missouri, Community and Schools are Working Together

Cross-posted from the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships blog.

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On a recent trip to Ferguson, MO, my office colleague, Dr. Ken Bedell, and I had the opportunity to visit with community leaders. The trip supported Secretary Duncan’s promise that the U.S. Department of Education (ED) would not forget this community.  Our recent visits to the city have strengthened relationships and created partnerships that are already making an impact in Ferguson schools.  When the Ferguson-Florissant School District (FFSD) requested assistance regarding its Summer STEM Program, we connected them with Hope Worldwide, an international charity dedicated to delivering sustainable, high-impact, community-based services to distressed communities.  Hope Worldwide helped supply FFSD with robotics kits to replicate the District’s STEM efforts and provide equitable learning to its students.  Additionally, our collaboration with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, FFSD, and local community-based organizations for the Summer Meals Program increased the number of students receiving meals.

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We also hosted a meeting of community leaders committed to making Ferguson a safe and healthy environment for youth and their families. It was exciting to hear about the local efforts of these organizations.  Church groups are supporting the development of small businesses in Ferguson. Ernst and Young has initiated a mentorship program. The Urban League has created an Empowerment Center in Ferguson to better serve the surrounding neighborhoods in North St. Louis County.  Pen or Pencil, a National Alliance on Faith and Justice (NAFJ) service learning program, is mentoring and working to reduce dropouts and prevent crimes. Other federal agencies are providing services to the school, including AmeriCorps Vista, which has placed volunteers within schools, and the National Parks Service, which is working to increase the educational opportunities and capacities of students.

Dr. Joseph Davis, the new Superintendent of FFSD, and Dr. Gwendolyn Diggs, Assistant Superintendent of Educational Operations, shared the FFSD’s vision: to 1) create an elite K-16 S.T.E.A.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) school, 2) enhance professional development and educational opportunities for teachers, 3) train parents to become educational professionals in their own households, and 4) strengthen family and community engagement to establish a culture where education is understood as a shared responsibility by all community members.

Our perspectives from Ferguson echo the remarks of Secretary Duncan following his visit to the city:

Education is—and must continue to be—the great equalizer that overcomes differences in background, culture, and privilege. Educational opportunity represents a chance at a better life, and no child should be denied that chance. Where our children lack that opportunity—it’s not just heartbreaking, it is educational malpractice, it is morally bankrupt, and it is self-destructive to our nation’s future. I don’t believe that we are going to solve the challenges in Ferguson and places like it from Washington alone; but, we can be part of the solution if we listen closely to the people living in these communities. Making things better for kids, their families, and their schools will take all of us working together. We can—and we must—get to a better place.

As we continue to listen and work with FFSD, we can ensure that every student has the chance to achieve his or her hopes and dreams.

Eddie Martin is a Special Assistant for the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the U.S. Department of Education.

The Parent’s Guide to Completing the FAFSA From Start to Finish

 

The Parent’s Guide to Completing the FAFSA From Start to Finish

Although a student’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) is the student’s responsibility, parents take a large role in the process when a student is determined to be dependent. If you’re getting ready to help your child apply for federal student aid on the 2016–17 FAFSA, here’s what you should be doing over the next few months:

Before the FAFSA

  • Learn the basics of the federal student aid programs (grants, work-study, and loans) at StudentAid.gov/types. Federal aid is intended to help cover the student’s cost of attendance (tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, and other education expenses.)
  • To familiarize yourself further with your child’s federal student aid options, read Do You Need Money for College? at StudentAid.gov/needmoney.
  • Encourage your child to maximize any available free money to help pay for college. There’s information and a free scholarship search at StudentAid.gov/scholarships.
  • Understand whether your child needs to provide parent information on the FAFSA. StudentAid.gov/dependency will help you determine if your child is dependent or independent.
  • Understand who counts as a parent for purposes of filling out the FAFSA. StudentAid.gov/fafsa-parent shares the definition of “legal parent” and discusses which parent’s information should be reported on the FAFSA when the legal parents are divorced or separated and not living together.
  • You and your child should get FSA IDs. An FSA ID is a username and password that you’ll be using to sign the FAFSA. You and your child each need your own FSA ID—and you each need to create your own for privacy purposes and because the information is easier to remember if you create your own. (Note: Only one of a student’s parents needs to sign the student’s FAFSA, so only one parent needs an FSA ID.)
  • You and your child will each need to gather these documents in preparation for the FAFSA:
    • Your Social Security number
    • Your Alien Registration number (if you are not a U.S. citizen)
    • Your 2015 federal income tax returns, W-2s, and/or other records of money earned*
    • Bank statements and records of investments (if applicable)
    • Records of untaxed income (if applicable)
    • An FSA ID to sign electronically

*Note: You may be able to transfer your federal tax return information into your FAFSA using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (IRS DRT) once your tax form has been processed.

Filling Out the FAFSA

  • Completing the FAFSA is a question-by-question guide to the FAFSA. It offers help, hints, and definitions in case you get stuck on any of the questions.
  • Encourage your child to fill out the FAFSA before state and school deadlines, which may fall as early as February 2016. Students will be able to file a 2016–17 FAFSA beginning on Jan. 1, 2016.
  • Make sure your child goes to fafsa.gov to fill out the application.
  • The FAFSA is your child’s application, so keep in mind when it says “you,” it means “you, the student.”
  • If you haven’t done your 2015 taxes before your child fills out the FAFSA, don’t worry. You can estimate the amounts, perhaps using your 2014 taxes to guide you.
  • If you’ve already done your taxes before your child fills out the FAFSA, use the IRS DRT to automatically insert tax information into the FAFSA.
  • If your family’s income has had a sudden drop (for instance, if a parent lost a job) that isn’t reflected in your 2015 tax information, gather documentation so that your child can present the situation to the financial aid administrator at the school.
  • If you want to understand where your Expected Family Contribution comes from, take a look at the EFC Formula workbook at StudentAid.gov/resources#efc.
  • At the beginning of the application, your child will be asked to create a Save Key, which is a temporary password that lets you return to a partially completed FAFSA. If you and your child are accessing his or her FAFSA from different locations, your child should do his or her part and then share the Save Key with you. You’ll need to enter it to get access to your child’s FAFSA.
  • Be sure you or your child sees the confirmation page pop up on the screen so you’ll know the FAFSA has been submitted.
  • Read the FAFSA confirmation page carefully. There are a few differences between the e-mailed confirmation (which arrives later) and the one you see at the end of the application, so consider printing or saving the confirmation page before you exit.
  • Depending on your state, you may see a link on the FAFSA confirmation page to your state’s financial aid application. This will allow your child to transfer his or her information directly into the state aid application.
  • If you have more than one child attending college, select the option on the confirmation page to transfer your parent information into the other child’s FAFSA.
  • If you need help filling out the FAFSA, read the “Help and Hints” located on the right side of any page within the fafsa.gov application; click “Need Help?” at the bottom of any page; or chat (in English or Spanish) with live technical support staff by clicking the “Help” icon at the top of any page, then selecting “Contact Us,” “Federal Student Aid Information Center,” and then “Chat with Us.”

Help Options on the FAFSA

After the FAFSA

  • Both you and your child will receive e-mails letting you know the FAFSA has been processed, assuming you both provided e-mail addresses on the FAFSA. It takes about three days for the FAFSA to be processed and sent to the school.
  • Double-check the information you reported on the FAFSA. You can make corrections if necessary.
  • During the winter or spring, your child will receive aid offers from schools. You can visit StudentAid.gov/fafsa/next-steps/accept-aid for more information on how to help your child understand and compare the types of aid as he or she decides what aid to accept and what to turn down.
  • Encourage your child to read all communications from the school carefully and to supply any additional information, forms, or signatures needed by the deadlines the school sets.

Courtney Gallagher is a junior studying English at Westminster College in Missouri. She is an intern for the Content Development team in the office of Federal Student Aid at the U.S. Department of Education.

Photo by Getty Images.

Your Federal Student Loans Just Got Easier to REPAYE

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Beginning today, Federal Direct Loan borrowers can take advantage of a new repayment plan: REPAYE (the Revised Pay As You Earn Plan).

Some of you may be familiar with the Pay As You Earn (PAYE) Repayment Plan, which caps payments at 10% of a borrower’s monthly income and forgives any remaining balance on your student loans after 20 years of qualifying repayment. But this plan is only for recent borrowers.

REPAYE solves this problem. Like the name implies, REPAYE has some similarities to PAYE. First and foremost, REPAYE, like PAYE, sets payments at no more than 10% of income. However, REPAYE—unlike PAYE— is available to Direct Loan borrowers regardless of when they took out their loans.

Should I switch to REPAYE?

If you can’t afford your monthly payment under your current repayment plan, you should consider REPAYE or one of the other income-driven repayment plans. These plans can offer needed relief by ensuring that you will never pay more than a certain percentage of your income. If you can afford to pay more on your loan, you should, since this will save you more on interest costs over the life of your loan.

If you’re pursuing Public Service Loan Forgiveness, you should consider REPAYE. REPAYE is an eligible repayment plan for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program. If you’re working toward PSLF and considering consolidating your loans in order to qualify for REPAYE, you should read this first.

If you’re currently on Income-Based Repayment (IBR) because you weren’t eligible for PAYE, you should consider whether REPAYE might be a better option for you. REPAYE could lower your payments by one-third, from 15% to 10% of income.

Before making your decision, use our repayment estimator to compare what your monthly payment would be under REPAYE and all of our other plans.

Under any income-driven repayment plan, you’ll need to “recertify” your income and family size each year.

How is REPAYE different from the other income-driven repayment plans?

So, you already know that your payment under an income-driven plan is a percentage of your income. But REPAYE is different from the other plans. Here are a few differences:

There’s no income requirement to enter the plan: Unlike with the PAYE and IBR plans, borrowers don’t have to show that that their income is low compared to their federal student loan debt in order to enter REPAYE. In simple terms, that means that the amount of your debt and your income level won’t keep you from qualifying.

Borrowers with only undergraduate loans will have a different repayment period than those with graduate loans: Income-driven repayment plans forgive any remaining loan balance after a specific number of years of qualifying repayment—either 20 or 25 years, depending on the plan. REPAYE is a little different than the other income-driven repayment plans. With REPAYE, if you’re only repaying loans you received as an undergraduate student, you’ll repay your loans for up to 20 years. However, if you’re repaying even one loan that you received as a graduate or professional student, you’ll repay your loans (including any loans you received as an undergraduate) for up to 25 years. Of course, this difference doesn’t matter if you later qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness, since your loans would be forgiven after 10 years of qualifying payments.

Married borrowers’ payments are calculated differently: The other income-driven repayment plans use the combined income of you and your spouse to set your payment amount only if you file a joint federal income tax return. If you and your spouse file separate tax returns, your payment amount is based on only your income. REPAYE (with limited exceptions) uses the combined income of you and your spouse to set your monthly payment amount, regardless of whether you file a joint tax return or separate returns. This could increase your monthly payment amount. For more information, read our Q&A.

REPAYE payments are not capped at the 10-year standard payment amount: Generally, your payment amount under an income-driven repayment plan is a percentage of your discretionary income. However, this isn’t always the case with the PAYE and IBR plans. Under PAYE and IBR, your payment will never be higher than what it would have been under the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan, no matter how much your income increases. With REPAYE, there’s no cap on your monthly payment amount. Your payment will always be 10% of your discretionary income, no matter how high your income grows. This means that if your income increases significantly, your REPAYE payment could be higher than what you would have to pay under the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan.

REPAYE provides a more generous interest benefit: If your payment doesn’t cover all of your interest, REPAYE pays more of the remaining interest than PAYE or IBR. This can help prevent your loan balance from ballooning and limit the total cost of your loans.

What else should I consider before applying?

Determine whether you have Direct Loans before attempting to switch to REPAYE. If you’re not sure which type of loans you have, you can log in to StudentAid.gov to find out. Loans labeled “Direct” qualify for REPAYE, loans without the “Direct” label don’t qualify for REPAYE unless you consolidate them. You can apply for a Direct Consolidation Loan on StudentLoans.gov.

Special considerations for borrowers who are currently on IBR:

  • If you don’t have Direct Loans, but you’ve been repaying your other loans under IBR for a while and you’re thinking of consolidating to take advantage of REPAYE, it’s important to understand that you’ll lose any credit toward IBR loan forgiveness that you received before consolidating—you’ll have to start over with a new 20- or 25-year repayment period on the Direct Consolidation Loan. So, carefully consider whether having a lower monthly payment amount matters more than the additional time you may spend repaying your loans.
  • Any outstanding interest will be capitalized (added to your loan principal balance) when you leave IBR.

How do I apply for REPAYE?

You can apply for REPAYE—or any other income-driven repayment plan—on StudentLoans.gov. We’ve made some improvements to the way the electronic application works, so give it a spin.

Looking for the lowest monthly payment? With four income-driven repayment plans, it’s easy to overlook a plan or confuse a feature of one plan with another. Let us do the hard part for you. If you’re looking for the lowest monthly payment, there’s a box you can check on the application to request that your loan servicer evaluate you for all income-driven repayment plans, and put you on the plan with the lowest initial payment.

Where can I get more information?

There’s more to know about REPAYE than what you see in this blog post.

Have a question that our resources can’t answer? Contact your servicer. They’re the best option for individualized advice.

U.S. High School Graduation Rate Hits New Record High

“The hard work of teachers, administrators, students and their families has made these gains possible and as a result many more students will have a better chance of going to college, getting a good job, owning their own home, and supporting a family. We can take pride as a nation in knowing that we’re seeing promising gains, including for students of color.” 

– Secretary Arne Duncan

America’s students are graduating from high school at a higher rate than ever before, reaching 82 percent in 2013-14!

What’s more, the gap between white students and black and Hispanic students receiving high school diplomas continues to narrow, and traditionally underserved populations like English language learners and students with disabilities continue to make gains, the data show.

Check out the data for yourself on the NCES website.

A Guide to Reporting Parent Info on Your FAFSA

If you’re planning to go to college in fall 2016, you will definitely want to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®). Not only does the FAFSA give you access to grants and loans from the federal government, but many states and schools also use information from the FAFSA to award their financial aid.

If you are considered a dependent student for the purposes of the FAFSA, you’re required to provide information about your parent(s) on the application. (Note: The dependency guidelines for the FAFSA are set by Congress and are different from those used on tax returns.) You might be wondering which parent’s information to report or what you should do if your parents are divorced or remarried, or if you live with another family member.

Don’t worry; we can help you figure out whose information to include. For a quick visual reference, check out our infographic, Who’s My Parent When I Fill Out the FAFSA?

Who's My Parent When I Fill Out My FAFSA? Graphic

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Or, if you want more information, here are some guidelines. Unless noted, “parent” means your legal (biological or adoptive) parent.

  • If your parents are living and legally married to each other, answer the questions about both of them.
  • If your parents are living together and are not married, answer the questions about both of them.
  • If your parents are divorced or separated and don’t live together, answer the questions about the parent with whom you lived more during the past 12 months. If you lived the same amount of time with each parent, give answers about the parent who provided more financial support during the past 12 months or during the most recent 12 months that you actually received support from a parent. If you have a stepparent who is married to the legal parent whose information you’re reporting, you must provide information about that stepparent as well.

The following people are not considered your parents on your FAFSA unless they have adopted you: grandparents, foster parents, legal guardians, older brothers or sisters, and uncles or aunts.

Curious about what information you and your parents will need to provide on the FAFSA? Learn more about the FAFSA and how to fill it out at StudentAid.gov/fafsa.

If you still have questions or are unsure what to do if your parents are unable or unwilling to provide their information for your FAFSA, you can get more information at StudentAid.ed.gov/fafsa-parent.

Tara Marini is a data and communications analyst, and Cindy Forbes Cameron is a lead communications analyst, at the Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid.

Minority Serving Community Colleges: Meeting the Future Now

Cross-posted from the OCTAE blog.

The Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE) hosted the first Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) convening for two-year colleges on November 16th and 17th. I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge and thank all the representatives of MSIs, the experts from academia and the philanthropic sector, and the staffs of the White House, Congressional legislative staff and the many federal agencies, including the Department of Education, who collaborated to make this convening such a success.

Deputy Assistant Secretary, Mark Mitsui welcomes Minority Serving Institutions (MSI) leaders from across the country.

Deputy Assistant Secretary, Mark Mitsui welcomes Minority Serving Institutions (MSI) leaders from across the country.

As our nation becomes more diverse, a growing number of community colleges are designated as, or are eligible to be designated as Minority Serving Institutions. These colleges play a key role in the higher education completion agenda and have a lot of hard-earned wisdom, experience, and knowledge about student success that needs to be shared. Our work on November 16th and 17th was a major step in the right direction. OCTAE hosted over 120 institutions. More than 250 participants in the convening exchanged practices with peers, networked with representatives from 13 federal agencies, and discovered how philanthropy, research, and national student success initiatives intersect with their work. Attendees also had the opportunity to engage in dialogue with several different divisions within the Department of Education and with Congressional staff. A panel of excellent students provided their perspectives.

This conference built on the foundation of work these institutions have already established to help their students to be successful. The energy and enthusiasm at the conference was inspiring and I am looking forward to the work ahead.

Participants agreed to join one of the MSI communities of practice, some of which had been established prior to the convening by volunteer leaders at various community colleges across the country. These communities will continue to exchange promising practices, share invaluable experiences, and connect with federal agencies in an online format.

If you are interested in joining one of the communities of practice or want to discuss other matters with us, please email me at Mark.Mitsui@ed.gov.

With this said, let me once again take the opportunity to thank the attendees for their participation in the convening, for the ideas and aspirations you shared with us, and for your continuing commitment to the well-being and success of your students.

Mark Mitsui is the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education Deputy Assistant Secretary for Community Colleges.

Teach to Lead Supporters Exemplify Teacher Leadership

This week, the Department of Education, ASCD and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards hosted the first-ever Teach to Lead Supporter Convening at ED. The meeting was designed for the more than one hundred organizations that have committed support for Teach to Lead and the hundreds of teacher participants to reflect on this work and collectively envision a true teacher leadership movement.

To be clear, many of these organizations have long advocated for teacher leadership in their work. In fact, a key goal of Teach to Lead is to shine a light on all of the good work that is already happening to encourage more of the same commitments. However, this Supporter Convening acknowledged that it is only through the work of a coalition of organizations that teacher leadership has come to the national stage, and is gaining momentum. While Teach to Lead is a partnership among the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, the U.S. Department of Education and ASCD, it is the combination of ideas, resources, man-power, and support for teachers from these organizations that has elevated the conversation about teacher leadership to where it is today.

While the list of organizations that have worked alongside us continues to expand, I want to share a few examples of some of our shared, core beliefs about the importance of teacher leadership:

Teacher Leaders Serve as Models for their Peers

Edcamp believes teacher leaders are critical to bringing about change in classrooms. When teachers who are working with students every day lead the way, their peers can watch and learn how to grow their own practice. Teacher leaders deal with the same daily challenges as their peers. Through their actions and their words, they impact both students and colleagues.

Teacher Leaders Get Results

America Achieves understands that outstanding teachers and principals get results for children; it’s something they do every day in their classrooms. The challenge is to create pathways for these outstanding educators to share their expertise on a wider level. Whether by leading colleagues in their buildings, solving complex district challenges, or advising policymakers at the state and federal levels, educators who have achieved results and who remain closest to this work, must be positioned and supported to lead.

Teacher Leaders Speak to Policy at the Classroom Level

Hope Street Group supports a growing network of teacher leaders that play a critical role in crafting solutions to some of the greatest challenges in education. Two Hope Street Group Teacher Fellows share why they believe teacher leadership is key: “I believe teacher leadership is a necessary part of improving education. Teachers know firsthand what works or not in the context of school communities and can speak with authority on what education policies look like in action at the classroom level—where the process of teaching and learning lives.”

Another Hope Street Fellow shares that “teacher leadership is critical because teachers are the ones in the classroom and are the ones that see the true picture of education. Being able to bring our experiences with students and our districts is critical for creating sound educational change.”

Teacher Leadership is a Sustainable Model

Leading Educators supports the idea that great teachers should not have to leave the classroom to increase their impact. Developing teacher leadership skills and opportunities to support colleagues toward increased student learning leads to a more dynamic, high-impact career.

Leading Educators knows that by enhancing the skills and knowledge of our best educators, we (a) increase the prospect of every student having a great teacher; (b) sustain teaching careers by creating satisfying career pathways; and (c) demonstrate the benefits of a distributed leadership model where workload, responsibility and ultimately accountability are shared by teachers and the principal.

Teacher Leaders Drive School Improvement

The National Education Association stands by teachers and acknowledges the important impact they make in our children’s success: “Positive change in education must be driven by the profession and shaped by the experience of teachers working with students in schools and classrooms. Teacher leaders use their expertise and knowledge in multiple ways to benefit students, influence instructional practice and policy development.”

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Teacher Leaders Program (TLP) brings together a select group of teachers throughout the school year to learn how to take active leadership roles in their schools, unions, and communities. Participants in the TLP help to strengthen the union and its connection to the community, building greater support and understanding of public schools. Several teacher leaders involved in the AFT’s program have presented their original action research at national conferences (TEACH, Learning Forward) and have used the skills honed in the program to advocate in their schools and communities. For example, Mona Al-Hayani from Toledo Public Schools (TPS) is now the district’s trainer on recognizing and mitigating sex trafficking of minors in TPS. She has trained all TPS employees and works with the county health department on training and mitigation.

Teacher Leadership is Indispensable

The VIVA project knows that “without teachers’ professional expertise and wisdom gained from experience, we cannot meet our promise to all American students to give them an equal opportunity to learn. Teachers are our most important ambassadors to help the public understand what happens in our public schools. They are also our most important partners in making policies that assure all students have a fair chance to reach their full potential. Teacher leadership at every level of our system is indispensable.”

Teacher Leadership is About Student Success

The Department’s Teaching and Principal Ambassador Fellowships are designed to improve education for students by involving teachers and principal in the development and implementation of education policy. Teacher Leadership is a critical component when we look at how to support student success. When we allow our teachers to lead, and have space for them to remain in the classroom, they make an impact both with their students, and with all of our students.

John King is senior advisor delegated duties of deputy secretary at the U.S. Department of Education.

Student Voices: A Tradition That Will Live On

Throughout Secretary Duncan’s tenure, thoughtfulness and passion for doing the right thing for students shined through his everyday work. But to fully understand his time at ED, we must look at the conversations he had with students. Before coming to the Education Department (ED), Arne was the CEO of Chicago Public Schools, where he met frequently with his student advisory council. His efforts to engage students were no different when President Obama tapped him to be Secretary of Education. During his time at ED and on a monthly basis, the Secretary invited students from around the nation to his conference room for what he called “Student Voices Sessions,” to speak about their issues, concerns and ideas to improve education.

It was not only important for the Secretary to share his own vision for educational excellence but also an opportunity to hear from students that were part of today’s educational system. Some Student Voices Sessions included conversations with Native American students, undocumented youth, first generation and LGBTQ students, where they discussed their hardships and what ED could do to provide support.

By hosting these events, Secretary Duncan got to hear directly from students about what resources they felt were needed and allowed them to have an open dialogue about the future of education. He enabled and challenged students to speak openly and offered a secure space where no idea was too small and no critique too insignificant. The Secretary often mentions that he is lucky to talk to youth, visit schools and classrooms, but many times, his staff members don’t have that same opportunity. These sessions also allowed for staff to hear and learn from students about their daily experiences and challenges.

While students expressed their concerns with the educational system during these sessions, they often applauded efforts by the Department and the Obama Administration to increase Pell grants, protect student borrowers, simplify the FAFSA, create more college access tools, and support efforts to address and prevent sexual violence on campus. Youth also identified and highlighted student-led efforts around the country that were working to address critical issues that impacted their communities.

Ultimately, students left meetings with a sense of empowerment. Many would express to staff that they never thought someone like Arne would ever care about what they had to say, and listen so intently about their concerns. It is no surprise that Duncan was able to have a lasting impact on many students he met. Where else could students be a part of the national conversation on education and actually have a hand in their own futures?

The Secretary’s passion to create an environment where students can be honest and frank is one way that we can remember the indelible impact he had as Secretary of Education. We can also remember the individual that fought tirelessly day in and day out to ensure that all students, regardless of zip code, had an opportunity to access high quality education across the country.

Robert Gomez is the director of higher education outreach at the U.S. Department of Education and part of the student engagement team.

Secretary Duncan: “Finally a Fix to No Child Left Behind”

Cross-posted from the White House blog.

Summary: The Every Child Succeeds Act, the bipartisan bill to revise and revamp No Child Left Behind, passes the House with bipartisan support.


Yesterday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan sent the message below to the White House email list, telling people about the progress made to revise & replace No Child Left Behind. The Every Student Succeeds Act will reduce over-testing and one-size-fits all mandates for schools across the country.

Didn’t get the email? Sign up for updates here.


If you’re like me, you probably dread an overdue notice, whether it’s for registering your car or returning a library book. For nearly a decade, our national K-12 education law has been overdue for revision, and parents, teachers and students across the country have made it clear that it is time for a reboot.

Over that period of time, America’s fourth graders became today’s high school seniors — ready to graduate and embrace a bright future. The students who come behind them deserve a better law focused on one clear goal of fully preparing them for success in college and future careers.

Although well-intended, the No Child Left Behind Act — the most recent version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act — has long been broken. We can no longer afford that law’s one-size-fits-all approach, uneven standards, and low expectations for our educational system. That’s why, early on, President Obama and I joined educators and families calling on Congress to fix its flaws in this outdated law.

When Congress didn’t act, we did — providing relief from the most onerous elements of the law for states and school districts willing to embrace reform.

But yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives finally answered the overdue notice and took action to revise and replace No Child Left Behind. This bipartisan plan — the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) — is good news for our nation’s schools. It is a compromise that builds on the work already underway in states to raise expectations for students and to help them graduate college and career-ready. The bill reflects many of the priorities we’ve put forward over the last six and a half years.

See how far we’ve come since 2009.

Today, high school graduation rates are at all-time highs. Dropout rates are at historic lows. And more students are going to college than ever before. That’s thanks to educators across the country.

ESSA will help cement that progress. All students will be taught to high learning standards that will prepare them for success in college and career. More children will have access to high-quality preschool, delivering educational opportunity earlier for our nation’s youngest learners.

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Educators will have more flexibility and support to develop their own systems for improving schools. However, ESSA maintains critical guardrails, especially for the schools and groups of students that are furthest behind.

And with new resources for states to review and reduce the burden of standardized testing, ESSA will enable a smarter approach to eliminating unnecessary tests so that teachers can spend more time ensuring that all students are learning, while still following their progress each academic year and providing critical information for parents about their child’s performance.

As the President has said, education is the civil rights issue of our time. Every American deserves an equal opportunity to succeed, so every child in America — regardless of zip code — deserves a fair shot at a great education. I hope the Senate acts swiftly, so we can all move forward on behalf of our nation’s children.

Arne

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The FSA ID: Your First Step to Getting Financial Aid for College

Do You Have An FSA ID Yet?

We all know college is super expensive, and I’m sure that you, like me, would welcome any and all help in paying for it. Luckily for us, that’s where the government comes in. “But how do I get them to help pay my tuition?” you may ask. While I (unfortunately) can’t guarantee you any money, I can tell you a good way to go about getting some of that financial help: Fill out your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®). To do that, you are going to need an FSA ID.

What is the FSA ID?

The FSA ID recently replaced the PIN as the way you log in to certain U.S. Department of Education (ED) websites, including fafsa.gov. It consists of a username and password and is basically the electronic equivalent of your signature. It’s easy to set up, and you can get one on a variety of ED websites. (I would recommend StudentAid.gov/fsaid because there is also a lot of good information and advice about student aid and the FSA ID there).

Incoming College Students

Everyone who will be in college next year and plans on applying for federal financial aid should get an FSA ID. If next year will be your first year in college, just go ahead and create your FSA ID and use it to sign your FAFSA. What happens next is that ED checks your information with the Social Security Administration to make sure it matches. That takes about one to three days. During that time, you will only be able to use your FSA ID to sign your new FAFSA (that’s the main thing though, so don’t stress). Then, after the Social Security Administration match is done, you should receive an e-mail letting you know that you’ll now be able to use your FSA ID on a number of ED websites.

I know that applying for federal student aid can be a stressful experience, but don’t worry! The FSA ID is easy to figure out. You can go to StudentAid.gov/fsaid and it will provide some super helpful information such as what you should gather beforehand, and a link to create your own FSA ID—plus it will walk you through the entire process.

To get an FSA ID, you’ll need this information:

  • your Social Security number
  • your full and correct name
  • your date of birth

Current College Students

If, like me, you are already in college, you probably filled out your previous FAFSA using a Federal Student Aid PIN. If you’ll be returning to college next year and are applying for more federal student aid, you will need to get an FSA ID—the PIN won’t work anymore. When creating your FSA ID, there will be an option to enter your PIN and link the two. Even if you’ve forgotten your PIN, you can answer the challenge question you created while creating your PIN and still be able to link your PIN to your FSA ID. You can find more information about all this at StudentAid.gov/fsaid.

Linking your PIN can save you time because your information won’t have to be matched by the Social Security Administration if it was already matched when you created your PIN. If that’s the case, then your FSA ID is ready for full use right away—which means you’ll be able to sign a Master Promissory Note for a student loan, or fill out your Renewal FAFSA, right away.

If you don’t remember your PIN or didn’t have one, don’t worry. You can still create an FSA ID from scratch.

Some Tips About the FSA ID

  • Keep your FSA ID in a safe place and/or memorize it. It’s your legal signature. Keep it a secret.
  • One of your parents might need an FSA ID as well. If you’re considered a dependent student and need to provide information about your parents on the FAFSA, one of your parents will have to sign the application. He or she can sign electronically with his or her own FSA ID.
  • If you share an e-mail address with someone else, only one of you will be able to use that e-mail address to create an FSA ID. Each FSA ID can be associated with only one e-mail address. So, for instance, if you’re a dependent student, and you and your mom share an e-mail address, one of you should get a new e-mail address before creating an FSA ID.
  • Make your FSA ID early! Don’t leave it until right before your FAFSA is due. That adds a lot of stress (I would know!!!) that you don’t need.

Megan Friebe is a freshman at Michigan State University, where she spends her days studying public affairs and social policy, her evenings studying the same thing, and, if she’s lucky, her nights sleeping. She also manages to find time to intern with the Customer Experience team in the office of Federal Student Aid at the U.S. Department of Education.

As Computer Science Education Week (“CS Ed Week”) Approaches: Calling all CS Learning Champions!

Cross-posted from the White House blog.

Summary: Here is what you can do to advance Computer Science Education.


Technology plays a role in nearly every aspect of our lives today —it’s how we connect with friends and family, discover the weather forecast, find jobs, play, and importantly learn.  Yet too few of us, from our youngest to our eldest Americans, are going beyond being a ‘user’ of technology to becoming a maker, coder, discoverer, tinkerer, designer —and harnessing the power of computing to solve new challenges and make everyones’ lives healthier, safer, more efficient, better informed, and more fun.

Computational literacy” —being able to code, script, design, program, debug, and understand computer science—is rapidly emerging as an essential skill for today’s students. Many jobs in the 21st century will require the type of problem-solving ability that is advanced by training in computer science. In fact, it is projected that by 2020 information technology (IT) skills and computational thinking will be needed in more than half of all jobs and greater than 50 percent of the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) job growth over that time period will be in computer science fields, leading to a shortage of more than one million IT-skilled Americans.  In addition to IT professionals, people employed in most STEM jobs in the coming decades will require some level of sophisticated computational skills and many jobs inthe 21st Century will require the type of problem-solving ability that is advanced by computational thinking.

President Obama visits with students and engaging in coding during the "Hour of Code" event in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, in Washington, D.C., Dec. 8, 2014. Official White House Photo.

President Obama visits with students and engaging in coding during the “Hour of Code” event in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, in Washington, D.C., Dec. 8, 2014. Official White House Photo.

For those already in the workforce, the President’s TechHire Initiative and the Administration’s focus on inclusive entrepreneurship (including as part of the first-ever White House Demo Day) are aimed at providing more Americans with the skills today to launch careers in fields like cybersecurity, network administration, coding, project management, UI design and data analytics—positions with average salaries more than one and a half times higher than the average private-sector American job.

It’s time to ramp up our efforts to engage the next generation in these growing opportunities. Other countries have recognized the demand for a computational literate workforce and several, notably England, and are moving to offer computer science to all students, starting in early elementary school. However, in the United States, only 26 states allow students to count computer science toward high school graduation. In most U.S. schools, computer science is offered as an elective or not available at all.

Vice President Biden visits with students and engaging in coding during the "Hour of Code" event in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, in Washington, D.C., Dec. 8, 2014. Official White House Photo.

Vice President Biden visits with students and engaging in coding during the “Hour of Code” event in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, in Washington, D.C., Dec. 8, 2014. Official White House Photo.

Beyond access to computer science education more broadly, we as a country are also missing out on the talent and innovation from a large proportion of women and racial and ethnic minorities who are grossly underrepresented in IT and computer science fields. In 2015, girls represented only 22 percent and underrepresented minorities only 13 percent of the approximately 50,000 students who took the Advanced Placement Computer Science (AP-CS) exam nationally. In 10 states fewer than 10 high school girls took AP-CS—in 23 states, fewer than 10 African American students took the AP-CS, with none taking it in nine of those states. Unconscious and institutional bias keeps the U.S. from fielding all of our talent in these roles.

However, there is emerging good news—momentum is building to provide wider access for students to computational skills, computer science education and next generation ways of learning and teaching.

  • For example, in response to the President’s call to action ahead of CS Ed Week 2014, in December we announced:
    • Commitments in partnership with Code.org by more than 60 school districts, including the seven largest in the country, to offer computer science courses.
    • More than $20 million in philanthropic contributions to train 25,000 teachers to teach computer science in time for the 2016 school year.
    • New partnerships with the National Science Foundation (NSF), including a new AP Computer Science course by the College Board, that emphasize the creative aspects of computing and a focus on real-world applications.
    • New steps to increase the participation of women and people of color in computer science including many innovative outreach efforts.
  • In September, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that within 10 years the city’s public schools will be required to offer computer science to all students. With this announcement, NYC joins Chicago, San Francisco, and other cities and districts with plans in place to offer computer science courses to all students in K-12 public schools.
  • Parents overwhelmingly support these moves.  According to a recent survey, a full nine out of ten parents support the use of class time for computer science education.
  • And last month, Congress passed and the President signed the STEM Education Act of 2015that specifically defines STEM to include computer science at a number of Federal agencies.

To build on this momentum — and in advance of Computer Science Education Week 2015 (December 7-13) — we are reissuing the call to public and private sector partners from districts across the country to commit to doing more to provide students with access to computer science and we want to hear about remarkable computer science educators and students in your community!

As you celebrate Computer Science Education Week, think about new commitments andremarkable CS champions and submit your ideas!

  • Tell us about new commitments you are ready to make (by December 22 for first round consideration and by January 5, 2016 for second round).  Early next year we plan to announce a broad set of new commitments to CS Education.  You and your organization can get involved by making a commitment to expand access for more students to computer science education by investing in teachers, improving tools, and bringing programs to students in diverse communities across the United States.
  • Do you know a remarkable computer science educator, student, or enthusiast? Please tell us more by nominating that individual  to be recognized as a Computer Science Education Champion of Change (by December 18, 2015).  

We are looking for:

  • Educators who:
    • Serve as creative leaders in integrating and promoting active learning of computer science in their classrooms.
    • Are innovating to make their classroom better engage all students in computer science education.
    • Integrate computer science for Digital Humanities, Science, Math, Art, and other coursework.
  • Outstanding students who demonstrate creativity in their applications, or a high proficiency in computer science, and leadership both inside and outside of the classroom.
  • Leaders from organizations that are developing high-quality, evidence-based tools, resources, and other computer science learning opportunities for students of all ages.
  • Parents who have figured out new solutions for including computer science in the school day.
  • Individuals who have led the way on national, state, and district efforts to increase access to computer science education.
  • Business leaders taking action to expand access to and inspiration for students in computer science education.

Thank you for joining the White House in celebrating these Champions and building on the momentum to get more students access to high-quality computer science education.

Cecilia Muñoz is Assistant to the President and Director of the Domestic Policy Council and Megan Smith is U.S. Chief Technology Officer.

A Commitment to Every Child

Last month, I had the privilege of visiting a school recently recognized by the Department of Education as a 2015 National Blue Ribbon School. As a teacher, I was well aware of the high standards that the program requires of selected schools and the prestige associated with the National Blue Ribbon School program. Reading about the achievements of a National Blue Ribbon school is certainly impressive, but visiting one of these schools is a wonderful reminder of all the positive things happening in our nation’s schools.

Forestbrook Middle School, located in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, serves more than 1,200 students. While the school’s motto of, “Excellence, Every Day, Everywhere” reflects what you find at Forestbrook, the school’s culture was perhaps best captured by a social studies teacher’s comment. The teacher said that he was motivated by the desire to “see every child grow,” and the collective commitment to this goal was apparent in each of the more than 20 classrooms I observed and in every conversation I had with adults and students.

To ensure the success of each child, the staff at Forestbrook has instituted a wide range of strategies and interventions. Two full-time instructional coaches assist teachers in analyzing student data from formative and summative assessments. As a teacher noted, “The entire point of evaluation and assessment should be to drive instruction,” and in planning sessions, I saw teams of teachers together crafting and developing instruction tailored to the academic needs of each student.

This data-driven instruction was bolstered by incredible use of technology to enhance instruction. Every Forestbrook student is assigned an iPad, which teachers use to create engaging learning environments and to gather real-time feedback on student understanding. The effectiveness of the technology integration is enhanced by a school culture that prizes and prioritizes collaboration, as exemplified by the redesign of the class schedule to provide space and time for teachers to engage in weekly planning by grade level and by subject area.

But more than anything, what makes Forestbrook an exemplary place to learn is that student success lies at the heart of everything teachers do. In a planning meeting, I heard a teacher comment that the driving force is not “ego, but in wanting to do what kids need.” This type of statement isn’t novel in education, but seeing it in the authentic commitment to every Forestbrook student’s success is a reminder of how powerful it can be when a staff and community rally to ensure that children receive the best possible education. The National Blue Ribbon program does a great job shining the spotlight on schools like Forestbrook, where the focus remains exactly where it should be every day in school …on the success of each child.

Patrick Kelly teaches at Blythewood High School in Columbia, South Carolina, and is a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education.