“Ready for Success” Begins with Early Learning

Cecilia Muñoz Blog Post 2015 Bus Tour – Woodland Early Learning Community School, Kansas City, MO

Cecilia Muñoz talks with a student at Woodland Early Learning Community School in Kansas City, MO, as part of the U.S. Department of Education’s Ready For Success Back-to-School Bus Tour. (Official Department of Education Photo by Paul Wood).

Every year, back-to-school time can be a period of great expectation and excitement for students, educators, and families, so when Education Secretary Arne Duncan asked me to join him on his sixth annual “Ready for Success” back-to-school bus tour, I jumped at the opportunity. The first stop on this five-day trek across seven states was the Woodland Early Learning Community School in Kansas City, Missouri. Located within a mile of five public housing developments, Woodland provides more than 300 3- and 4-year-old children, many of whom are from low-income or immigrant families, with high-quality early education. Woodland offers the kind of opportunities we want to see for every child: quality adult-child interaction; engaging environments with intentional playful learning; and a focus on the entire family. At Woodland, they don’t just enroll the child into the preschool program, they enroll the whole family.

Woodland recognizes that the health and wellbeing of the parent directly impacts the development of the child: the healthier the family, the healthier the child. To support children and families, Woodland uses a community school model and has co-located support services at the site. The Parents as Teachers (PAT) program, for example, helps families develop good parenting skills and connects parents and caregivers with critical resources. The more we assist families in addressing their day-to-day challenges, including supporting the child’s special needs, the better the chances of successful child participation in school, leading to improved outcomes.

Duncan with Student at Woodland

Secretary Duncan and I had the wonderful opportunity to visit the Head Start classroom of Barbara Fulbright, a skilled veteran teacher of 42 years. Mrs. Fulbright’s classroom was magical and full of joyful youngsters busy building block structures, exploring with writing instruments, and developing social skills through play-acting in the housekeeping center. They were so engaged in learning, I don’t think they even noticed us! Later that morning, Secretary Duncan announced the release of a new Policy Statement on the Inclusion of Children with Disabilities in Early Childhood Programs from the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services. The statement underscores the importance of making sure that all young children with disabilities receive access to inclusive, high-quality early childhood programs where they are provided with individualized and appropriate support in meeting high expectations.

Children with disabilities and their families face significant barriers to accessing inclusive high-quality early childhood programs, like the programs at Woodland. Sadly, in many parts of our country, there is still a huge unmet need for high-quality preschool. And where there are programs, they often are not welcoming for children with disabilities. President Obama continues to call on Congress to renew our federal commitment to our youngest children and to the future of our country by partnering with states to provide high-quality preschool to every child in America regardless of race, ethnicity or national origin, zip code, wealth, first language, or disability.

All parents hope their child will start school ready for success. Unfortunately, not all parents can find the high-quality early learning program that is right for their child. Let’s all work together to make the opportunity of early learning a reality for every child in America.

Cecilia Muñoz is Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council

Four Ways to Stay Connected With Our 2015 Back-to-School Bus Tour

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


Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and senior leaders from the U.S. Department of Education are hitting the road on September 14, 2015 for our 6th annual back-to-school bus tour.

We’ll be stopping at 11 locations in seven states long the route. Click here to learn more about each stop. Even though we may not be stopping in your city this year, there are still several ways to stay connected to the tour.

1. Social Media

Follow the hashtag #ReadyForSuccess on Twitter and Instagram for the latest and keep up-to-date by following @usedgov and @arneduncan.

2. Email Updates

Sign up here to get the latest from the road in your inbox.

3. YouTube

Subscribe to our YouTube channel and see daily video updates from the road, as well as special videos highlighting the people we’re meeting along the way. Check out this video previewing the tour.

4. Blog Updates

We’ll be blogging throughout the tour. Visit ed.gov/success or sign up for email updates from our Homeroom Blog.



Under the Hood: Building a New College Scorecard with Students

Cross-posted from the White House Blog.

Summary: How the U.S. Digital Service worked with students, families, schools, developers and teams across the federal government to rebuild the new College Scorecard tool.

My niece is a smart kid.  I’m biased, but I swear she is.  And just as I started working on the College Scorecard project as the U.S. Digital Service’s new Chief Digital Service Officer at the Department of Education, I got a call from her – she was trying to decide where to go to school. As we were building this tool, wading through this data, and working with all the top college choice tools already in the market, I was also helping her navigate her college choice process. Where should she go? What was the best value? What is value when it comes to schools? This may be the single most important investment of her life, and even she was struggling to find clear, reliable data on critical questions.

Today, the Department of Education is proud to announce new steps to help students, parents and advisers make better college choices, including:

  1. A new College Scorecard redesigned with direct input from students, families, and their advisers to provide the clearest, most accessible, and reliable national data on college cost, graduation, debt, and post-college earnings. This new College Scorecard can empower Americans to rate colleges based on what matters most to them; to highlight colleges that are serving students of all backgrounds well; and to focus on making a quality, affordable education within reach.
  2. New, comprehensive and updated data on higher education institutions. For the first time, the public can access the most reliable and comprehensive data on students’ outcomes at specific colleges, including former students’ earnings, graduates’ student debt, and borrowers’ repayment rates. These data are also available for various sub-groups, like first generation and Pell students. Because these data will be published through an open application programming interface (API), researchers, policymakers, and members of the public can customize their own analysis of college performance more quickly and easily.
  3. Customized tools for students, with 11 organizations already using these data to launch new tools. Today, ScholarMatch, StartClass and College Abacus, three college search resources, are using this new, unique data that help students search for, compare, and develop a list of colleges based on the outcomes data that the Department is making available to the public for the first time. PayScale, which offers consumers a large salary database, will use the new data to analyze various colleges’ return-on-investment for different student groups while InsideTrack, which is a team of coaches and consultants working to improve student outcomes, will use the data to develop and implement effective student-centered initiatives. ProPublica, a non-profit investigative journalism newsroom, has built a tool with the open data to help consumers make more informed decisions.

This work was truly collaborative team effort, with teams from the Departments of Education and of the Treasury, White House Domestic Policy Council, Council of Economic Advisors, and Office of Management and Budget, the General Services Administration’s 18F and the U.S. Digital Service.

Here’s how we did it:

Build with, not for, users.

We knew what we needed to do – make people’s lives better by providing them the tools and information to make more informed choices and get the best bang for buck college choice. And we thought – exactly how do people make choices when deciding on college?

So we went out and asked them..

Following our practice of focusing on user needs, the College Scorecard team first spent time engaging directly with users at every single step in the project. Some of our favorite conversations were when we talked to high school students in Washington, D.C.’s Anacostia neighborhood and their excellent guidance counselor who told us how he “hacks” the process to make sure every one of his students gets an acceptance letter from a college, and feels that rush of possibility.

We met with 4-H kids from across the country who were frustrated by inaccurate data on the college search tools they use to find the best agricultural programs today. We listened to a mom from Maryland explain that she shopped for schools based on the lowest annual actual cost to become a medical technician – her dream. We even called a young woman who works as a college advisor in the Bronx, who had written a letter to the President with her ideas of how to make higher education data and tools work even better for her students. We also visited the newsrooms of data journalists to understand how they used higher education open data to report on how well schools were serving students.

We build on the hard work of the Department of Education; previously, they met with thousands of stakeholders from the higher education community to learn about their concerns and ideas and hopes for how we could help students and families make a more informed decision.

Be agile.

Based on this research, we made the cheapest, fastest prototype of the College Scorecard possible, based on what we heard. We knew it needed to be mobile-first, simple, and easy to customize. That prototype ended up being a homemade, cardboard iPhone with slips of paper with wireframes of what the tool could look like. It probably cost less than a cup of coffee to produce.

Scorecard Demo

College Scorecard

We also went to work with the federal government’s data from over 7,000 schools, going back 18 years, putting it into an open API (Application Programming Interface) that fuels the College Scorecard website. We wanted to make the data as usable by software developers and data scientists. The API allows anyone to create tools and insights that will help prospective college students make these important decisions.

We worked with a group of software developers and data scientists to be beta users of the data – to make sure it worked well and was clear. In addition to the groups I mentioned above, whose work is live today, we’re also excited to see the tools and enhancements that Niche, College Greenlight, Noodle, Tractus Insight (HelloCollege) and I’m First! are working on – and are looking forward to what many others will be able to do with the data that’s now open and available.

What’s in the data?

With nearly 2,000 data points for over 7,000 schools going back 18 years, there’s a lot of information in the College Scorecard dataset. The dataset includes information from the Department of the Treasury on student loan repayment rates, and the IRS on post-college income. When we can combine new data from Departments of Education and of the Treasury with data that colleges already report on graduation rates, cost, and other descriptions about their school, the College Scorecard allows the public to distinguish colleges based on the outcomes of their students.

Some of the information students, their parents or guardians, and advisors will be able to see includes:

  • Employment outcomes: The College Scorecard contains the first-ever comprehensive and reliable data on post-college earnings for students who attended all types of undergraduate institutions, based upon tax records. While increased earnings are only one of many reasons to go to college, many students consider their future career prospects when making an investment in their education. Specifically, the new Scorecard includes: (1) the proportion of former students earning over $25,000, which is the average earnings of high school graduates, six years after enrolling and (2) the median earnings of students 10 years after they enroll in college.
  • Student-level outcomes data: The College Scorecard publishes data from the National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS), which ED has used to manage and track grants and loans since the 1990s. The data can be used to produce a variety of new institutional performance metrics including (1) median cumulative loan debt, (2) repayment rate, and (3) completion and transfer rates, all by various student sub-groups.

The demographic data includes things you might expect, like ethnicity or gender, as well as how many students are the first in their family to attend college, students’ family income, and the rates at which students are taking out student loans or grants. We should point out that the Department of Education ensured the data protects the privacy of all students by aggregating up to the institution level and only reporting information for schools with enough students. Rest assured that no one can distinguish any individuals from the data. With these data, we can better understand how well schools do for students.

And this is just the beginning. By giving developers access to an API, even more customized tools will be created, providing students more options than ever before to find the right school for them.

What this means for the marketplace

As the President said in his weekly address,

“The status quo serves some colleges and the companies that rank them just fine. But it doesn’t serve our students well – and that doesn’t serve any of us well. There are colleges dedicated to helping students of all backgrounds learn without saddling them with debt. We should hold everybody to that standard. Our economic future depends on it.” – President Barack Obama, Weekly Address, September 12, 2015

When consumers have more access to information, it means they can make better financial decisions for themselves and their families. This is a huge win for students, families, and the marketplace — open data like this ensures that both colleges and students are operating in a more fair, competitive, and transparent environment.

A college degree is the best investment students can make in their future, and the public now has more data than ever to make one of the most important decisions students face in their lifetimes.

Lisa Gelobter is the Chief U.S. Digital Service Officer at the U.S. Department of Education.

By state, two-year colleges where students earn high salaries after graduation

Many two-year community colleges can offer students valuable opportunities to excel in their careers. Depending on the programs that the school offers and excels in, the career ambitions of its students, and the skills that students gain while in school, two-year degrees can provide a great value to students. Here are 45 two-year public colleges across the U.S. at which earnings exceed those of the typical two-year college.

Institution Name State Median Earnings of Students 10 Years After Entering the School
Prince William Sound Community College AK $42,000
Marion Military Institute AL $48,500
NorthWest Arkansas Community College AR $32,300
Scottsdale Community College AZ $35,700
Los Angeles County College of Nursing and Allied Health CA $85,800
Colorado Northwestern Community College CO $38,300
Capital Community College CT $35,000
Delaware Technical Community College-Stanton/Wilmington DE $33,500
Santa Fe College FL $33,500
Georgia Highlands College GA $34,100
Kapiolani Community College HI $33,300
Northwest Iowa Community College IA $38,400
College of DuPage IL $35,000
Vincennes University IN $32,200
Manhattan Area Technical College KS $36,400
Louisiana State University-Eunice LA $31,500
Quincy College MA $38,400
Prince George’s Community College MD $40,900
Southern Maine Community College ME $37,300
Schoolcraft College MI $31,000
Inver Hills Community College MN $38,400
Linn State Technical College MO $36,400
Highlands College of Montana Tech MT $39,800
Carolinas College of Health Sciences NC $47,300
North Dakota State College of Science ND $41,400
Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture NE $43,800
NHTI-Concord’s Community College NH $37,700
County College of Morris NJ $40,200
New Mexico Military Institute NM $39,100
Truckee Meadows Community College NV $32,500
Fashion Institute of Technology NY $44,100
Ohio State University-Marion Campus OH $42,600
Oklahoma State University-Oklahoma City OK $34,400
Clackamas Community College OR $33,800
University of Pittsburgh-Titusville PA $48,200
University of South Carolina-Sumter SC $32,800
Mitchell Technical Institute SD $38,000
Lamar Institute of Technology TX $48,200
Salt Lake Community College UT $36,200
Northern Virginia Community College VA $41,700
Vermont Technical College VT $44,200
Bellevue College WA $41,300
University of Wisconsin Colleges WI $33,000
Potomac State College of West Virginia University WV $43,900
Casper College WY $32,900

This list includes only predominantly two-year-degree-granting public schools with higher median positive earnings 10 years after beginning at the school than the median earnings for all predominantly two-year-degree-granting schools. Only the predominantly two-year-degree-granting public school with the highest median positive earnings in each state is shown in the list.


23 four-year schools with low costs that lead to high incomes

One of the biggest concerns about college that students and families have is the costs of attending—and the possible opportunities it could create for their careers. Check out 23 four-year institutions of higher education that have demonstrated both high earnings, as well as low costs for their lowest-income students.

Institution Median Earnings of Students 10 Years After Entering the School Average Net Price for Low-Income Students
Amherst College $56,800 $3,739
Bowdoin College $54,800 $6,731
Brown University $59,700 $6,104
Columbia University in the City of New York $72,900 $5,497
Dartmouth College $67,100 $7,648
Duke University $76,700 $6,280
Georgia Institute of Technology-Main Campus $74,000 $7,875
Hamilton College $57,300 $7,245
Harvard University $87,200 $3,386
Haverford College $55,600 $5,648
Massachusetts Institute of Technology $91,600 $6,733
Massachusetts Maritime Academy $79,500 $7,519
Princeton University $75,100 $5,720
Rice University $59,900 $7,960
Stanford University $80,900 $3,895
Trinity College $56,100 $7,874
University of Michigan-Ann Arbor $57,900 $7,156
University of Pennsylvania $78,200 $6,614
University of Virginia-Main Campus $58,600 $7,007
Vanderbilt University $60,900 $7,147
Washington and Lee University $77,600 $7,663
Williams College $58,100 $8,202
Yale University $66,000 $7,637

This list includes schools in the top 10 percent of predominantly four-year-degree-granting schools for 1) median positive earnings 10 years after beginning at the school and 2) low net price for students receiving federal grants or loans with a family income of $0-$48,000. Net price refers to the net price for in-state students in public institutions. Percentiles were calculated excluding cell sizes less than 30, schools with zero undergraduate degree-seeking students, schools not currently operating, and schools in territories.

30 four-year schools with high graduation rates and low costs

Students may want to find schools that have a high rate of success among their students—all for a good price. The following 30 four-year institutions have high graduation rates among first-time, full-time students, and low costs for their lowest-income students.

Institution Graduation Rate (150 Percent of Normal Time to Completion) Average Net Price for Low-Income Students
Amherst College 95.2% $3,739
Be’er Yaakov Talmudic Seminary 93.5% $6,989
Bowdoin College 94.3% $6,731
Brown University 94.8% $6,104
Colby College 91.4% $6,443
Columbia University in the City of New York 94.2% $5,497
Dartmouth College 95.3% $7,648
Duke University 94.4% $6,280
Georgia Institute of Technology-Main Campus 80.7% $7,875
Hamilton College 91.8% $7,245
Harvard University 97.2% $3,386
Haverford College 93.3% $5,648
Massachusetts Institute of Technology 92.9% $6,733
Pomona College 95.8% $4,935
Princeton University 96.5% $5,720
Rice University 91.8% $7,960
Stanford University 95.5% $3,895
Texas A & M University-College Station 79.3% $4,528
Trinity College 84.8% $7,874
University of Michigan-Ann Arbor 90.3% $7,156
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 89.7% $6,543
University of Pennsylvania 95.8% $6,614
University of Virginia-Main Campus 93.2% $7,007
University of Washington-Seattle Campus 81.3% $6,406
Vanderbilt University 92.4% $7,147
Vassar College 92.2% $5,062
Washington and Lee University 90.1% $7,663
Wesleyan University 91.1% $7,455
Williams College 95.9% $8,202
Yale University 97.0% $7,637

This list includes schools in the top 10 percent of predominantly four-year-degree-granting schools for 1) graduation rates (150% of normal time to completion) for first-time, full-time students and 2) low net price for students receiving federal grants or loans with a family income of $0-$48,000. Net price refers to the net price for in-state students in public institutions. Percentiles were calculated excluding cell sizes less than 30, schools with zero undergraduate degree-seeking students, schools not currently operating, and schools in territories.

“How my superhero helped me go to college”

Former ED intern Tenzin Choenyi and his mentor Aubrie Tossmann re-connected in Chicago recently.  (Photo courtesy Tenzin Choenyi)

Former ED intern Tenzin Choenyi and his mentor Aubrie Tossmann re-connected in Chicago recently. (Photo courtesy Tenzin Choenyi)

Like most kids, I used to think a hero was someone with super powers, such as Batman or Captain America. As I grew older, I realized that heroes like Superman don’t exist. But I learned that there are other types of heroes in this world — ones who guide you, protect you, teach you and care about you.

Aubrie Tossmann — or, as I call her, Ms. Tossmann — works at my alma mater, Sullivan High School in Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood. She works for Umoja Student Development Corporation, a nonprofit organization that partners with Sullivan to provide student support services in postsecondary readiness and restorative justice. Her job title is mentor/college counselor, but Ms. Tossmann represents far more than that to me: She is my hero.

Five years ago, my family arrived in the United States as immigrants from Nepal, where we lived as Tibetan refugees. I was foreign to the American language, culture, people, the schools and almost everything else. Starting out as an English as a Second Language (ESL) student, I had to work twice as hard as other students to master high school lessons while still improving my English skills. I wanted to compete with the best of the best.

After a year I enrolled in non-ESL classes and joined the school’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) Medical Academy. As a CTE student, I was able to take honors and Advanced Placement classes to challenge myself even further. Sullivan’s Medical Program also allowed me to experience real-world work activities through internships at CVS Pharmacy and Lurie Children’s Hospital.

By my senior year, though, I still felt unprepared for college. There were thousands of unanswered questions in my mind: Would the colleges that I applied to accept me? Even if they did, how would I pay for such a school?

As I reflect back to that time, I’m overwhelmed by how much Ms. Tossmann did for me during my senior year. After I shared my goals and struggles with her, she took me under her wing. She guided me through a very tough year; I was a teenager who hoped to become the first in his family to attend college. She made sure I applied for several scholarships because there was no way I could pay for college without financial assistance. At one point, I spent every lunch period in her office, asking questions about college.

With Ms. Tossman’s support and mentorship, I accomplished something that once seemed impossible: I was accepted to Gustavus Adolphus College and received scholarships and a federal Pell Grant to pay for my education.

Months after my high school graduation, Ms. Tossmann learned about the White House’s “Beating the Odds” Summit and helped me to apply for it. I was accepted, and attended with nine other recent high school graduates from all over the country.  At the summit I had amazing discussions with First Lady Michelle Obama, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and other leaders.

Some might say that Ms. Tossmann just did what she was supposed to do as a mentor and college counselor at my school. But I truly believe she went above and beyond to make sure nothing stood in the way from my achieving my fullest potential.

Tenzin Choenyi is a second year student at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peters, MN. He interned at the U.S. Department of Education’s Chicago office in Summer 2015.

Join Us in Celebrating Constitution and Citizenship Day

As we close out the Labor Day holiday, there is another day worth commemorating at the end of summer and beginning of the school year: September 17 — Constitution and Citizenship Day. The day was first designated by Congress in 1952, and in 2004 the Congress required all educational institutions that receive Federal funding to hold an educational program pertaining to the Constitution, and all Federal agencies to provide employees with education or training about the Constitution to mark the day.

The Constitution Day commemoration requirement was sponsored in legislation by the late Senator Robert C. Byrd (D-West Virginia). He also sponsored the legislation that established the Department of Education’s (ED) Teaching American History (TAH) grant program. As these two pieces of legislation relate to one another, we will honor both at ED’s Constitution Day commemoration, which will focus on the accomplishments of the TAH program. This year marks the end of funding of TAH grants, but the program has established a legacy of materials which teachers and students will be able to use for years to come.

Did you know that the Teaching American History grants resulted in many useful activities and products, including the following?

  • Research on the history of the Constitution
  • Digital projects that make the content of primary historical sources accessible to teachers and students
  • Teacher professional development on teaching the country’s history, including weekend workshops
  • Scripts for students to play the roles of Founding Fathers at the Constitutional Convention

These are just a few of the many activities and resources that were created for the study of the Constitution and the many other events in our history through the TAH program.

At the ED commemoration, representatives of various TAH grantees will discuss their work. For example, Dr. Kelly Schrum directed the development of Teachinghistory.org, a free online clearinghouse, which provides millions of teachers with history content, teaching strategies, best practices, and digital resources to improve U.S. history education in their classrooms. Dr. Fran O’Malley, a former Delaware Teacher of the Year, State History Teacher of the Year, and recipient of a James Madison Memorial Foundation Fellowship, created the “New Nation” weekend workshop under the TAH grant. The weekend workshop gave teachers the opportunity to assume the roles of delegates to the Constitutional Convention. Dr. Kevin Brady created the CICERO History series of on-line resources for teaching the Constitution, which includes numerous original videos and state-focused readings that are used in hundreds of school districts across the country. He also established the Liberty Fellowships to increase history content knowledge of teachers across the nation and has developed curriculum for U.S. history at the high school and college levels.

As we celebrate Constitution and Citizenship Day, the products of the TAH grants point to what Benjamin Franklin said in his speech at the end of the Constitutional Convention: “I hope. . . as part of the people. . . that we shall act heartily and unanimously in recommending this Constitution . . . and turn our future thoughts and endeavours to the means of having it well administered.” We at ED are reminded that we swore to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States” when we entered Federal government service, thus agreeing to uphold the Constitution. In carrying out our duties, we are aware of ED’s mission and the power of equity in education, which can change lives by helping to ensure that all students have the opportunity to achieve their highest potential.

In addition to TAH- funded resources, there are myriad other resources and activities which families and classrooms can use to plan a Constitution Day event. For your convenience, we have posted a few examples below. Let us know what you are doing!

Note: The non-governmental websites cited in this blog are provided as examples of resources for Constitution Day that you might find helpful. We cannot guarantee the accuracy of these sites, nor does our inclusion here constitute an endorsement of the sites, the material on the sites, or the related products or services of the entity that provided the information. There are many other resources available that may be just as helpful or more helpful.

We encourage Federal, State, and local officials, as well as leaders of civic, social, and educational organizations, to consider conducting ceremonies and programs for Constitution Day that bring together community members to reflect on the importance of active citizenship, recognize the enduring strength of our Constitution, and reaffirm our commitment to the rights and obligations of citizenship in this great Nation.

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:

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