ParentCamp Goes to Washington!

Engaging families in schools and learning is vital to ensuring that all our kids get a world-class education. Which is why we’re excited to announce the first-ever ParentCampUSA at the Department’s headquarters on October 26.

ParentCamp is a free “un-conference” that brings together parents, caregivers, community leaders, educators, and children to have conversations about how we can best support our students.

ParentCamp found its roots at Knapp Elementary in Lansdale, Pennsylvania, when parents and educators came together to build relationships and create an opportunity to share great ideas from the field. Since 2010, school communities around the world have used the EdCamp and ParentCamp models to host their own events.

ParentCamp is about growing relationships and strengthening partnerships. It is about sharing, learning and networking. The focus is on what we ALL can do to make tomorrow better than today for our children.

The Department’s October 26, 2015 event will serve as a demonstration of how this type of “un-conference” model can be used to successfully engage families and communities in schools.

In typical ParentCamp fashion, discussions will be led by attendees who come from diverse backgrounds and neighborhoods, and who serve in a variety of roles in their educational community. To level the playing field, titles go out the window, and all voices are of equal value. Discussion leaders may begin the conversation and offer some initial resources, but it will be those in the room (and those following on social media) who will add the depth and much needed perspectives we need to improve outcomes for our nation’s children.

For those who cannot physically attend the October 26 event, there will be virtual options for participating and/or following along. In addition, the Department is planning regional ParentCamp events in cities across the country. We will share more on those proposed locations soon. If interested in hosting your own local ParentCamp simultaneously, you can find details on how to do so, on the main ParentCamp website, or by emailing ParentCamp founders Gwen Pescatore or Joe Mazza.

Find more details at the ParentCampUSA website.

Follow and connect on Twitter: #ParentCampUSA, @ParentCamp and @usedgov.

JUST ANNOUNCED: Where We’re Stopping on Our 6th Annual Back-to-School Bus Tour

A map of all locations that the tour will visit. See list in blog post.

We’re hitting the road for our sixth annual back-to-school bus tour, and earlier today we announced the eleven stops we’ll be making in seven states during the week of September 14. We’re really excited to be visiting the following locations:

  • Woodland Early Learning Center, Kansas City, Missouri
  • North High School, Des Moines, Iowa
  • Roosevelt Middle School, Cedar Rapids, Iowa
  • Williamsfield Community Unit School District, Williamsfield, Illinois
  • University of Illinois, Champaign, Illinois
  • Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana
  • Crispus Attucks High School, Indianapolis, Indiana
  • Jeffersontown High Magnet Career Academy, Louisville, Kentucky
  • University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky
  • Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, Cincinnati, Ohio
  • Carnegie Mellon, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Here’s a look at a few of the places and people we’ll be visiting:

The theme of this year’s tour is “Ready for Success,” and during each stop we’ll be celebrating how states and local communities are working to increase access and opportunity from early learning to college.

Stay connected with this year’s tour by signing up for bus tour email updates, and follow the tour on social media with #ReadyForSuccess.

More info:

¡Hablar, leer, y cantar todos los días!

Hojas de consejo para familias, cuidadores y maestros de aprendizaje temprano

La investigación demuestra que dar a los niños desde el nacimiento hasta los cinco años de edad experiencias ricas y consistentes en lenguaje, incluido hablar, leer y cantar, puede beneficiar notablemente el desarrollo mental de los niños y el éxito escolar más adelante.

Sin embargo, muchas familias no tienen acceso a los recursos que pueden ayudar a sacar mayor provecho a las prácticas que desarrollan el lenguaje. Esto crea un vacío en la cantidad y calidad de las palabras que los niños aprenden, y afecta directamente su éxito en la escuela y más adelante en la vida.

Como resultado del compromiso asumido en la Cumbre de la Casa Blanca sobre la Educación Temprana para aumentar la cantidad y calidad de las palabras que los niños aprenden, el Departamento de Educación de EE.UU. y el Departamento de Salud y Servicios Humanos de EE.UU., en colaboración con la iniciativa Too Small to Fail (Demasiado joven para fracasar), han creado las hojas de consejo “Hablar, leer y cantar juntos todos los días”. Las hojas, elaboradas especialmente para las familias, cuidadores y los primeros maestros, pueden ayudar a enriquecer el lenguaje de los infantes mediante métodos comprobados por la investigación, incluido hablar, leer y cantar con ellos a diario desde que nacen. Todas las hojas de consejo están disponibles en inglés y español, y se pueden descargar gratis en nuestro sitio web.

Nunca es demasiado temprano para ayudar a que su hijo aprenda — ¡Hablen, lean y canten juntos todos los días! Disponible en inglés y español.

Consejos para las familias — ¡Hablen, lean y canten juntos todos los días! Disponible en inglés y español.

Las ventajas de ser bilingüe: Información para maestros y cuidadores de bebes y niños pequeños — ¡Hablen, lean y canten juntos todos los días! Disponible en inglés y español.

El lenguaje en el hogar y en la comunidad — ¡Hablen, lean y canten juntos todos los días! Disponible en inglés y español.

Cierre la brecha de palabras — Consejos para los maestros y cuidadores de bebes y niños pequeños. Disponible en inglés y español.

Consejos para maestros de preescolar y proveedores de otros programas de educación infantil temprana — ¡Hablen, lean y canten juntos todos los días! Disponible en inglés y español.

Another Step Forward Under the Student Aid Bill of Rights

Earlier this year, President Obama unveiled a Student Aid Bill of Rights to ensure strong consumer protections for student loan borrowers and issued a Presidential Memorandum to begin making those rights a reality. Last month, as part of that directive, the Department of Education announced a number of new steps we are taking to help Americans manage their student loan debt, including:

  • Protecting Social Security benefits of Borrowers with Disabilities who may qualify for a loan discharge or other repayment options.
  • Changing the debt collection process so that it is fairer, more transparent, and more reasonable.
  • Providing clarity on borrowers seeking a discharge in bankruptcy.

Today, as another step forward in implementing the Student Aid Bill of Rights directives, Federal Student Aid (FSA) released the recommendations from an interagency task force on best practices in performance based contracting to better ensure that servicers help borrowers make affordable monthly payments. As directed by the Presidential memorandum, the task force reviewed input from its members in July. Now that these recommendations (pdf) have been finalized, they will inform the upcoming process of recompeting our servicing contracts prior to the expiration of the existing contracts.

Even ahead of that process, FSA has been taking steps to improve borrower service as it continues the transformation of the nation’s student loan program following the President’s landmark student loan reform.  Many of these steps are in concert with the recommendations of the interagency task force. Key steps include:

  • Ongoing development of an enterprise complaint system to track and support complaint resolution across all aspects of aid delivery, including servicing.
  • Targeted email campaigns to borrowers regarding available repayment options,  including campaigns related to IDR enrollment.
  • Enhanced performance metrics and incentive-based pricing for Federal loan servicers to ensure consistency and accountability while creating additional incentives to focus on reduced delinquency and default, more effective borrower counseling and outreach, and enhanced customer satisfaction.
  • Development and implementation of a robust enterprise data warehouse and analytics capability to support research of the portfolio.
  • Designing and implementing a quarterly delinquency reduction compensation program to provide additional incentives for success in reducing delinquency in payments among our largest servicers’ portfolios with the greatest number of at risk borrowers.
  • Increased focus on military service members, including a match with DOD to proactively provide service members with SCRA benefits,
  • Enhanced loan counseling and the ability for borrowers to select their repayment plan based on their individual circumstances during exit counseling.
  • Enhanced communication with and tools for borrowers including repayment calculators, loan consolidation application, and online application for income-driven repayment.
  • A pilot to test different approaches for curing delinquent loans.

We are also working with our partners at the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the CFPB to continually improve the federal student lending program. For example, we are working with Treasury and the CFPB on how to improve credit reporting for student loans. In addition, as highlighted in a recent CFPB blog, Education, Treasury and the CFPB continue to work together to ensure student loan borrowers are aware of and can access affordable monthly payments. For Federal student loans, FSA and its servicing contractors have been certifying and enrolling, on average, over 5,000 borrowers per day into IDR plans over the past year. Enrollment in IDR plans has increased more than 50% over the past year and is at an all-time high.

Helping Americans manage their student loan debt has been a core priority of this Administration. In the coming weeks and months, we’ll continue to carry out the steps the President laid out in March and to take additional action to make college more affordable and ease the burden of student loan debt.

New Orleans: An Unfinished Story

This piece was originally posted on the Huffington Post.

The story of rebirth in New Orleans’ schools since Hurricane Katrina is one of nationally historic significance – but as is true of the city’s recovery, it is a profoundly unfinished story.

As residents of the area know too well, the devastation of the hurricane wasn’t merely an accident of weather and geography. As others have observed, the abandonment of New Orleans’ people began not when they were calling for help from their rooftops, amid sudden national attention, but throughout decades leading up to that moment.

The same can be said for New Orleans’ schools. It is a painful understatement to say that students and families deserved better than what they had in 2005. Math and reading achievement at Orleans Parish public schools ranked second-to-last in the state. Barely half of high school students graduated on time. For low-income and minority students, prospects were particularly bleak.

After the flood subsided, the New Orleans community courageously set out to break with the past and build a set of schools worthy of the city’s children. They dedicated themselves to creating schools that honored the city’s rich traditions and history, and prepares every student for college and the careers of today’s world.

The story of change since then offers lessons that educators everywhere cannot afford to ignore. To the enormous credit of the city’s educators, families, students and leaders, New Orleans has made strides rarely seen in this country. Graduation rates are up 19 percentage points since the hurricane. The “failing schools” label is nearly gone. Expulsions are down nearly 14 percent, amid a new push for restorative justice practices – which aim to develop reflection, communication and empathy. And, as former Louisiana senator and New Orleans native Mary Landrieu noted in a recent commentary, “most importantly, African American students in New Orleans have gone from the lowest performing in the state in 2004 to 5 points above the state average for all African American students today.” New Orleanians should be proud of what they have accomplished.

As I’ve visited the city in recent years, I’ve seen the rebirth firsthand. Buildings damaged beyond repair have been replaced by bright, colorful, creative learning spaces. From chef’s kitchens and school gardens to Advanced Placement robotics courses, schools are making learning real for students.

Despite the massive, painful impact of the hurricane on families and educators, the community is making rebirth a reality.

Yet, as Senator Landrieu writes, we must not confuse progress with success. Similarly, my friend Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League and former mayor of New Orleans, said the decade anniversary of Katrina must be a moment of taking stock, saying, “Give yourself some check marks and then, on the other side of the paper, say ‘Here are some things we really have to confront as a city.'”

Things like the fact that success is not equally shared for all children. Today, 18 percent of all youth aged 16-24 in New Orleans are neither working nor in school. That’s more than 26,000 young people. Only two other metropolitan areas – Memphis and Las Vegas – have higher percentages.

Educational opportunity has improved enormously, but is still not nearly consistent enough. And teachers have told me that, despite the years and the progress, they still contend with students’ trauma of disaster and dislocation.

What gives me enormous heart about what’s happening in New Orleans is the unflagging spirit of educators, families and leaders to continue to make changes to build the schools their students deserve.

Take, for example, Sabrina Pence, principal of Arthur Ashe Charter School. Ashe once had the lowest fourth-grade scores in the city. The school was under academic watch.

But Sabrina knew kids at Ashe could succeed. Today, the students at Ashe learn like never before. Sabrina implemented personalized learning projects, using technology to customize lessons for individual students and raise achievement for all. With computer-assisted instruction at work in their classrooms, teachers have information about student progress at their fingertips, so they can tailor future learning and assignments.

The hard work is starting to pay off: in 2012, the school boasted the Recovery School District’s highest eighth-grade math achievement. In 2013, Ashe had the District’s highest eighth-grade English achievement.

Likewise, in many schools, teachers are engaged as leaders working side-by-side with administrators, disseminating professional development resources to colleagues and even sharing bus routes.

Many teachers also are leading efforts in their schools to provide students with wraparound services, through partnerships with hospitals and nonprofit organizations. Responding to community feedback, education leaders are working to forge a common enrollment process to ensure that it becomes a more transparent and simpler experience for families in both charter and district schools, and the District and individual public charter schools are beginning to rethink discipline strategies.

These efforts, and many others, are needed to ensure that every student and family has access to strong schools.

As New Orleans’ schools and leaders move forward with innovative and exciting new models, they must not lose touch with the city’s communities and history. For every inspiring school leader that has emerged, there also are stories of teachers who were displaced after Hurricane Katrina; and thousands of teachers – more than half of whom were African-American – lost their jobs in the aftermath of the storm and amid the District’s restructuring.

It’s vital for the city’s educators to reflect the backgrounds of the students they teach, and it’s encouraging that the city’s teaching force is demonstrating diversity. It’s also critical for teachers and school leaders to forge strong connections with the community and to provide children with culturally responsive learning experiences that help them see how their education can prepare them to succeed in New Orleans and beyond.

As the people of New Orleans reflect on the last ten years, I join with them in remembering the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina and in honoring the hard work that has made progress possible. Louisiana Superintendent John White got it right when he said the anniversary of the storm is not only about “how much New Orleans has improved life opportunity for its children, but also how much is left to be done.”

The promise of New Orleans is in the potential of its children and the indestructible spirit of the community. I thank everyone who supports and nurtures New Orleans’ rebirth, every day.

Arne Duncan is U.S. Secretary of Education

Don’t Pay for Student Loan Debt Relief

Have student loans? You’ve probably seen social media ads, received emails, or even opened a piece of mail from companies promising to reduce your monthly loan payments or cancel your loans.

But here’s the catch. These companies are doing something you can do yourself, but they’ll charge you a fee.

The U.S. Department of Education provides FREE assistance to help you:

  • Lower or cap your monthly loan payment;
  • Consolidate your federal loans;
  • See if you qualify for loan forgiveness;
  • Get advice on getting out of default

Help get the word out, and help protect your friends and family from student loan scams. Watch and share the video below, and visit to learn more.

There’s an app for that. Well, maybe.

Originally posted on

As increasingly more apps and digital tools for education become available, families and teachers are rightly asking how they can know if an app actually lives up to the claims made by its creators. The field of educational technology changes rapidly with apps launched daily; app creators often claim that their technologies are effective when there is no high-quality evidence to support these claims. Every app sounds world-changing in its app store description, but how do we know if an app really makes a difference for teaching and learning?

In the past, we’ve used traditional multi-year, one-shot research studies. These studies go something like this: one group of students gets to use the app (treatment group) while another group of students doesn’t (control group). Other variables are controlled for as best as possible. After a year or so, both groups of students are tested and compared. If the group that used the app did better on the assessment than the group that didn’t, we know with some degree of confidence that the app makes a difference. This traditional approach is appropriate in many circumstances, but just does not work well in the rapidly changing world of educational technology for a variety of reasons.

1) Takes too long
Waiting as long as two years to know whether or not an app helps students learn is simply too long — apps are often updated on a weekly or monthly basis as new features are added, bugs are fixed, and user feedback is implemented. The app measured at the start of a traditional multi-year study may be a completely different app by the time the study is finished, making the results of the study irrelevant.

2) Costs too much and can’t keep up
The complete development costs for many educational apps are a fraction of the cost for conducting traditional educational research studies. It wouldn’t be economically feasible for most app creators (or schools) to spend $250k (a low price tag for traditional educational research) to evaluate the effectiveness of an app that only cost a total of $50k to build. Even if cost was not an issue, there is also a logistical problem with applying traditional research methods to evaluating educational apps; traditional research methods simply can’t keep up with the ever increasing number of apps.

3) Not iterative
Traditional research approaches often make a single estimate of effectiveness; the treatment either worked or it didn’t. But apps aren’t static interventions. Apps are built iteratively — over time functionality is added or modified. A research approach that studies apps should also cycle with the design iterations of the app and show whether an app is improving over time. Similarly, snapshot data often doesn’t fully capture the context of an app’s implementation over a period of time.

4) Different purpose
Traditional research approaches are useful in demonstrating causal connections. Rapid cycle tech evaluations have a different purpose. Most school leaders, for example, don’t require absolute certainty that an app is the key factor for improving student achievement. Instead, they want to know if an app is likely to work with their students and teachers. If a tool’s use is limited to an after-school program, for example, the evaluation could be adjusted to meet this more targeted need in these cases. The collection of some evidence is better than no evidence and definitely better than an over-reliance on the opinions of a small group of peers or well-designed marketing materials.

The important questions to be asked of an app or tool are: does it work? with whom? and in what circumstances? Some tools work better with different populations; educators want to know if a study included students and schools similar to their own to know if the tool will likely work in their situations.

Why now?

There is a pressing need for low-cost, quick turnaround evaluations. Two years ago the President announced the ConnectED Initiative which called on public and private sectors alike to work together to improve internet connectivity to schools across the country. Today, thanks to wide bipartisan and cross-sector support, significant funding is becoming available to help schools close the connectivity gap. This includes a one-time $2 billion investment by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to increase wifi in classrooms, a yearly $1.5 billion increase in the FCC’s E-Rate program, and an additional $2 billion in private sector contributions.

As a result, over the next two years, we will go from having roughly 30% of schools connected to wifi in the classroom to having nearly all students in classrooms with high-speed wifi. This is a monumental step forward and has the potential to be one of the most transformative moments in American education. This new infrastructure has the potential to bring amazing real-world learning experiences to the classroom. It has the potential to close long-standing equity gaps that other approaches haven’t been able to address. It has the ability to personalize learning for all students and engage parents along the way. But our ability to realize this potential depends largely on the availability of effective apps that support this transformation. Over the next two years educators and parents will be making a huge number of decisions about which apps to use with kids. They need to make good decisions based on evidence, as opposed to relying on marketing hype or the buzz among a small group of peers, is critical.

And let’s be clear, this is bigger than just knowing whether apps improve student academic performance. Many apps claim to reduce teacher time spent on administrative tasks, for examples, or increase parent engagement, or encourage collaboration among students. These are equally important data points that parents and educators alike should know when choosing which apps to present to their students.

What are we doing about it?

Last week, the U.S. Department of Education announced a Request for Proposal (RFP) for Rapid-Cycle Technology Evaluations. We’re looking for innovative approaches to evaluating educational apps to assist schools and parents make evidence-based decisions when choosing which apps to use with their students.

The project is also intended to design evaluation tools and training materials to support the field in conducting rapid cycle technology evaluations. Evaluation tools may include templates for use in establishing clear expectations for all participants, protocols for best practices, applications (for developers or educators) to participate in study, surveys, checklists, or quality assurance materials. Training materials may include resources for pre-, during and post-study such as self-assessments for participating educators (to indicate readiness for study), technical training, resources for developers on working with schools, and how to interpret study results. While the evaluation of a specific tool is the focus of this work, building capacity among participants is an important expected outcome.

The product evaluations supported by this contract are meant to demonstrate whether certain types of studies — for examples, studies that look at effects on outcomes but do not try to explain the mechanism by which any effect occurred, and/or studies that use administrative data — can be conducted rapidly enough to meet the need of educators for information about effectiveness of technology in this fast-changing landscape. All of these factors are increasing the need to identify what’s working and what’s not more efficiently and more effectively.

This project will establish a standard for low-cost, quick turnaround evaluations of apps, and field test rapid-cycle evaluations. In addition to generating evidence on specific apps, the project will help develop protocols for conducting rapid cycle evaluations of apps that practitioners, developers, and researchers can use beyond the scope of this evaluation.

This work follows on the guide released on 2013, Expanding Evidence, which calls for smart change by presenting educators, policymakers, and funders with an expanded view of evidence approaches and sources of data that can help them with decision-making about learning resources.

To learn more, or to submit a proposal, go here.

We need to help schools and families make the best use of their resources — both time and money. School and family budgets aren’t likely to increase significantly and the total hours of the day remain the same. Technology has the power to support the transformation of teaching and learning, but only when we know what works. By employing rapid-cycle approaches to evaluating the effectiveness of educational apps, we can make choices about which apps we use based on evidence, not hype.

Richard Culatta and Katrina Stevens work in the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education.

100,000 Children in Over 200 Communities in 18 States Could Lose High-Quality Preschool Under the 2016 House and Senate Spending Bills

Budgets should never just be numbers on a piece of paper; they reflect our values. As the Vice President often says, show me your budget and I’ll tell you what you actually value.

One thing we should all value is the high-quality early learning opportunities that are critical when it comes to helping students to succeed in school and ultimately in life. This is true for all of our young people, but especially, especially for those who come from low-income families and who also often start kindergarten between a year and 14 months behind their peers in pre-readings and language skills. So that means of the children who start school this fall, far too many are already a year to 14 months behind.

Unfortunately, the House and Senate are moving forward with partisan spending bills that cut several critically important investments that will support our country’s economic success and expand the opportunity for all, including our Preschool Development Grants. Right now, this grant is helping more than 200 high-need communities in 18 states to build and expand high-quality preschools. In fact, tens of thousands of additional children from low- and moderate-income families will start school in high-quality preschool programs this fall, thanks to these grants.

This week, the Administration released a Fact Sheet that shows by cutting this funding, as the spending bills currently do, Congress jeopardizes state and community plans to serve more than 100,000 additional children in high-quality preschools in the last two years of the grants. Real hard-working American families and their children would suffer. What we need is just a simple common sense approach to the budget, one that reflects the great work is already happening in states – red and blue, Republican and Democrat – across the nation to increase access to high-quality early learning.

Governors across the country, regardless of their party, are ready to join a partnership with the federal government, to invest more and provide high-quality preschool to children who need it and families who want it. President Obama’s proposal outlines how this can be done by calling for the expansion of preschool development grant to serve more than 350,000 additional children over four years.

These grants require a true partnership. Everyone must have skin in the game, with states and community organizations pledging additional matching funds on top of the federal grant, embodying the shared commitment needed to support our youngest learners. Under the President’s budget, states without Preschool Development Grants – states where there’s real need like Mississippi and Georgia and Ohio – could move forward with high-quality preschool.

Sadly, there remains a tremendous unmet need for high-quality preschool. Thirty-six states applied for the grant last year. Yet, we only have funds to support half of those proposals. But if we had the funding in place to award a grant to each state that applied, about 285,000 more preschoolers could have been served over four years.

Today, nationwide, less than half of our four-year-olds are enrolled in a publically-funded preschool program. This simply isn’t acceptable. We cannot succeed in a 21st-century globally competitive economy if we continue to short-change our students, particularly those who start out life in the most vulnerable situation. When it comes to ensuring that every child has an equal opportunity to succeed, we still have a long, long way to go. Investing in high-quality early learning would be a great start and a life-transforming experience.

Its right for our students, their families, and it’s right for our nation. States like New Jersey, Montana, Alabama and Hawaii are moving forward with more access to high-quality preschool and preparing our children for the future. It’s something that should and does concern all of us.

We simply cannot roll back on a progress we’ve made for our younger students, something the House and Senate budget would absolutely do. Instead, we must work together and forge ahead on our shared goal of equipping our babies with a world-class education starting with high-quality preschool.

Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education

The Importance of Rigorous Coursework for All Students: A Teacher’s Perspective

Patrick Kelly, a 2015 Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow, begins his eleventh year teaching Advanced Placement U.S. Government and Politics.

Patrick Kelly, a 2015 Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow, begins his eleventh year teaching Advanced Placement U.S. Government and Politics.

This week, I will be starting my 11th year teaching Advanced Placement (AP) U.S. Government and Politics, and I have seen during that time the importance of a rigorous high school experience in preparing students to succeed in college. That’s why I was excited to see the U.S. Department of Education’s recent announcement of $28.4 million in federal grants to help students access AP classes. These grants are used to help pay for low-income students taking advanced placement tests administered by the College Board, the International Baccalaureate Organization, and Cambridge International Examinations.

As the College Board noted in its 2014 AP Report to the Nation, students who experience success in an AP course are more likely to graduate college on time and earn higher GPAs. Beyond the numbers, I have seen the positive impact of rigorous coursework in the stories of my students.

One of my greatest joys each year is to receive emails, calls, and visits from former students, and they frequently note how well their AP coursework in high school prepared them for a collegiate learning environment. In addition, an overwhelming majority of my students have performed well enough on the AP exam to receive college credit, which, in turn, has given them increased freedom and a leg up in their collegiate studies.

I also know my students are uniquely fortunate, as my home state of South Carolina pays the fee for each student in an AP course to take the exam. The cost to take an exam is nearly $100, and, while the College Board provides a reduced fee for students with financial need, the cost for these students is still over $50. As a result, this fee becomes a major obstacle to accessing a rigorous curriculum for many students in the 38 states that don’t pay for AP exams.

Currently, over 20 percent of our nation’s school-age children come from households living in poverty, and, for these children, paying the fees to take even one AP exam is simply not financially possible. However, this inability to pay does not mean these children lack the ability to thrive and succeed in rigorous coursework. I have taught numerous students who were in poverty or homeless, and they excelled in their coursework and earned college credit via the AP exam just like their more advantaged peers.

By distributing The Advanced Placement Test Fee grants announced last week, the Department of Education is extending opportunity to thousands of students around our country.

In the 21st century, student access to rigorous coursework is an essential right to prepare students for the workforce, and programs like this one are an important step in the right direction. There is still more work required in order to provide students from underprivileged backgrounds with the types of academic supports and systems necessary to succeed in challenging coursework, but eliminating barriers to accessing rigor is an essential first step. The Department of Education’s efforts to provide that access to more students is exactly the type of initiative that will help us reach our nation’s common goal of producing “college- and career-ready” students.

Patrick Kelly is a teacher in Richland County School District Two in Columbia, SC and has been selected as a 2015 Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow.

3 Important Financial Considerations for College Students


The U.S. Department of Treasury recently released a report entitled “Opportunities to Improve the Financial Capability and Financial Well-being of Postsecondary Students.”  I read this report because I am an intern in the office of Federal Student Aid at the Department of Education, and I am working on various projects related to financial literacy for college students. I actually found this report to be a worthwhile read as a college student embarking on the daunting journey of funding my college education and managing my money while in school.

Despite the heavy financial burden, most of us understand the necessity of a college degree. Report after report make evident that education is one of the most significant factors in upward economic mobility. Still, college students face not only education loans but also consumer debt. There are so many important decisions that college students have to make in support of the ultimate goal to become financially independent. And, as tuition, books, housing and more only rise, the dream of financial independence has only become more difficult, and stressful.

Although I am no expert in financial literacy and financial aid, learning about responsible borrowing, careful budgeting, and repaying loans on time has helped lower my financial stress. The following are some simple tips I’ve learned that can alleviate financial stress and help college students manage their money.

1. Borrow responsibly. 

Federal Student Aid offers resources to help students understand the borrowing process. 

First, know how to read the financial aid package your school offers you. Be sure you can differentiate among grants, loans, scholarships, and work-study offers. You can do this by talking to the staff at your school’s financial aid office. Next, talk to your parents or those contributing to your education. Review the financial aid offer from your school, and look at your family’s finances, to decide which aid to accept or turn down. This is important in calculating how much you need to borrow in order to afford your education. You do not need to accept the full amount of loan money that’s offered to you; and understanding that concept will leave you with less debt in the future.

2. Budget carefully.

Budgeting is vital to lowering stress. By adopting responsible budgeting habits, you’ll learn planning skills to help manage multiple priorities and prepare for the future. Healthy budgeting practices provide dual opportunities for money-saving and time-management techniques. Budgeting is a great financial foundation and can be a stepping-stone to handling greater financial responsibility, leaving lifelong benefits.

3. Repay on time.

Repayment is the final step of the student loan process and lasts long after you graduate. If you do your research, the repayment process can go a lot more smoothly.

One way to reduce your stress is to understand the different repayment plans. You might find that you meet the criteria for making payments based on your income. Use the Repayment Estimator to help you understand the different repayment plans and decide which one is best for you. Then contact your loan servicer to see how to apply for the plan that best fits your situation.

Another thing to be aware of is that there are certain loan forgiveness options, including one for those who work full-time in public service. Knowing who qualifies and how to apply can ease the stress you feel about your debt as well.

Lastly, know that forbearance and deferment (ways to postpone or reduce your payments) are options if special circumstances arise. Understanding what’s best for your situation and applying in a timely manner is something you need to be aware of and talk to your servicer about.

As the report says, “Postsecondary education is essential to the economic health of our nation and to the economic opportunity of many Americans,” and each of our personal financial decisions contributes to that!

Megan McCusker is a sophomore at Loyola University Maryland studying History and Spanish. She served an intern for U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid.

Seeking Your Input on Protecting Student Medical Records

Protecting students’ privacy and ensuring colleges and universities promote a safe and healthy campus for their students has never been more important. As Chief Privacy Officer at ED, I help to lead the Department of Education in overseeing the administration of FERPA (the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act). My office strives to provide helpful and meaningful guidance on student privacy issues and challenges that the field faces, and we’re asking the higher education community for input on protecting student medical records.

Under FERPA there are certain instances when schools can release a student’s information without their consent (known as exceptions). Recently, the Department has been asked if it is possible and/or appropriate for campus officials to share confidential medical records from on-campus services with university attorneys in the context of litigation between a university and a student. This type of sharing is potentially allowable under the “school official” exception to consent if the university attorneys have a “legitimate educational interest” in the records.

Institutions of higher education have a strong interest in ensuring that students have uncompromised access to the support they need, without fear that the information they share will be disclosed inappropriately. Providing on-campus access to medical services, including mental health services, can help promote a safe and healthy campus. The practice of sharing a student’s sensitive medical records with others not involved in their treatment may discourage the use of medical services provided on campus.

While state law plays a key role in setting the rules about disclosing medical information, we believe that HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, provides a helpful guide for those situations where federal law is controlling.

Under the HIPAA Privacy Rule, a covered health care provider, such as a hospital, may use or disclose the minimum necessary protected health information (PHI) for its own legal purposes related to its treatment or payment functions (for example, by providing the information to its own counsel to seek legal advice, or submitting briefs in a court action to which it is a party) without an individual’s authorization or a court order or other lawful process.

We think this standard makes sense, and that FERPA’s school official exception should be construed to offer protections that are similar to HIPAA’s. We want to set the expectation that, with respect to litigation between institutions of higher education and students, institutions generally should not share student medical records with school attorneys or courts, without a court order or written consent.

The only exception is if the litigation in question relates directly to the medical treatment itself or the payment for that treatment, and even then institutions should only disclose those records that are relevant and necessary to the litigation. To provide a clarifying example, if an institution provided counseling services to a student and the student subsequently sued the institution claiming that the services were inadequate, the school’s attorneys should be able to access the student’s treatment records to defend the school without obtaining a court order or consent.

However, if instead the litigation between the institution and the student concerned the student’s eligibility to graduate, the school should not access the student’s treatment records without first obtaining a court order or consent. Thus, I am issuing a draft Dear Colleague letter that provides guidance on this and related issues.

Considering the complex nature of this issue however, we are seeking public input on our draft guidance, as we believe that this input will result in a better product. To the extent practicable, we commit to making all comments public as they are submitted; though depending on the volume of comments, we may wait and publish all comments at the conclusion of the comment period. While we welcome input on all aspects of this letter, we are particularly interested in your views on the following matters:

  1. Whether this guidance would create any unintended consequences. For example, would this guidance in any way restrict the work of threat assessment teams, as we believe these teams are often the best method for schools and colleges to assess whether a given student constitutes a threat to him/herself or others?
  2. Recognizing that getting a court order or consent will create additional burden on institutions, is there a way to mitigate that burden without lessening the protections given to students?
  3. If this guidance is extended outside the postsecondary context to include K-12 and early childhood, what other factors need to be considered? For example, how would this guidance fit within the context of elementary and secondary school counselors, or disputes regarding special education services?

We welcome your input for 45 days, until October 2nd. Please fill out the form below or send your comments via email to

Submit Comments

Your Name (required)

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Your City and State

Your comments on protecting student medical records

Kathleen Styles is the Chief Privacy Officer at the U.S. Department of Education.

8 Things You Should Know About Federal Work-Study

22 1.19 work-studyIf you’re looking for another way to pay for college, Federal Work-Study may be a great option for you. Work-study is a way for students to earn money to pay for school through part-time on (and sometimes off) campus jobs. Work-study gives students an opportunity to gain valuable work experience while pursuing a college degree. However, not every school participates in the Federal Work-Study Program. Schools that do participate have a limited amount of funds they can award to students who are eligible. This is why it is so important for students to fill out the FAFSA as early as possible, as some schools award work-study funds on a first come, first served basis.
Here are 8 things you should know about the Federal Work-Study Program:

1. Being Awarded Federal Work-Study Does Not Guarantee You a Job

Accepting the federal work-study funds you’re offered is just the first step. In order to receive those funds, you need to earn them, which means you need to start by finding a work-study job. Some schools may match students to jobs, but most schools require the student to find, apply and interview for positions on their own, just like any other job. It is important that students who are interested in work-study or who have already been awarded work-study contact the financial aid office at their school to find out what positions are available, how to apply, and how the process works at their school.

2. Not All Work-Study Jobs are on Campus

The availability of work-study positions includes community service options with non-profit employers, which means some work-study jobs are available for off-campus work. An example might be reading or tutoring for elementary children at local public schools. If you are curious about securing a community service work-study position, contact the financial aid office or the student employment center at your school.

3. Work-Study Funds Are Not Applied Directly to Your Tuition

Unlike other types of financial aid, work-study earnings are not applied directly to your tuition and fees. Students who are awarded work-study receive the funds in a paycheck as they earn them, based on hours worked, just like a normal job. These earnings are meant to help with the day to day expenses that students have and are not meant to cover large costs like tuition and housing.

4. Work-Study Jobs May Be Limited

You may still be able to work on campus without work-study if your school does not have enough work-study funds to cover all on-campus student employees. Many campuses offer jobs for students with or without work-study. Check with the student employment office on your campus to find out what is available.

5. Federal Work-Study is not Guaranteed from Year to Year

There are several factors that can determine whether or not you receive work-study from year to year. These include your family income or financial need, whether you used the work-study funds that were offered to you in a prior year, or how much work-study funding your school receives that year. Contact your school for specific awarding criteria if you are interested in work-study. Typically, students who file the FAFSA early (in January/February prior to the academic year) and answer on the FAFSA that they are interested in Federal Work-Study will have a higher chance of being awarded funds from the program.

6. Pay May Vary

Work-study jobs vary in qualifications and responsibilities, so the pay will depend on the job that you are hired to do. Pay may also depend on your school’s policies and/or the minimum wage requirements in the state.

7. Work-study Earnings Are Removed From Your FAFSA Calculation for the Next Year

One of the benefits of earning income through a federal work-study position is that those earnings do not count against you when you complete the next year’s FAFSA. Be sure to answer the question regarding how much was earned through work-study on your FAFSA accurately. If you do not know the answer, you can contact the financial aid office at your school for help. Some schools will send you a notice in early spring regarding your earnings from the last calendar year to help you file your FAFSA.

8. Hours Worked May Vary

How many hours you work each week will depend on the type of job you get and your employer’s expectations. Most student employment positions, however, will work around your class schedule and only require between 10-20 hours/week, but again – that can vary!

Chandra Owen, Training Coordinator in the Office of Financial Aid at Michigan State University, Justin Chase Brown, Director of Scholarships & Financial Aid at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and Karla Weber, Senior Advisor in the Office of Student Financial Aid at the University of Wisconsin-Madison