The Power of a Caring Adult in the Life of an Undocumented Youth

In December 1983, a 12-year-old girl was uprooted from her school, friends and neighborhood due to the El Salvadorian civil war. When she arrived in the U.S., her family faced acculturation, discrimination and struggled to make ends meet. Their support system became their local church and community center. For this girl, school was crucial for social interaction, academics, and guidance and she began to excel academically. Although her mother had not gone to school past the 8th grade, this girl’s dream was to attend college. During her senior year in high school, her future was uncertain due to her visa status. At the end of the school year a notice came in the mail announcing that the family’s green cards had been processed and — the biggest news — that she could attend college.

I was that girl.

My path led me to becoming a school social worker, serving a diverse group of students in the Washington, D.C., Metro area. Some are children, like me, who were forced to leave their country due to violence and abuse. I am on the front lines bridging school, home, and community. Immigrant children bring rich cultural backgrounds to our schools and expose their peers to different ways of understanding the world. It makes school a true global educational experience and encourages teachers to become creative in their differentiation strategies. But many immigrant children struggle with learning due to traumatic experiences, lack of resources and the daily fear that they or their parents could be deported.

Recently, for example, a young immigrant mother shared her story for the first time with me, disclosing that her five-year-old son had told her on several occasions that he wanted to die. She also told me about the violence she had experienced as a child and recalled the day she and her son witnessed her aunt’s murder. When she made the journey to the U.S., she had to leave her son with a relative where he was exposed to verbal and physical abuse. At age five, he crossed the border, and had to readjust to living with his mother, attending a new school, learning a new language, and living in a new country. In school he had difficulty remembering and staying focused. It was hard to find services, such as a mental health provider, for the family because of their immigration status and income. The family was eventually linked to a program that offers individual and family therapy. During this process the boy and his mother were facing deportation and were referred to an immigration lawyer.

The boy is now in fifth grade and has progressed socially and academically. He is reading on grade level and actively contributes in his classroom. His mother is attending English classes. She plans to study nursing and make sure her son attends college. He wants to become a police officer when he grows up. His dreams could become reality with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a policy that allows undocumented individuals who arrived in the U.S. before age 16 and who meet certain criteria to receive relief from removal or two years and work authorization (more information can be found here).

As school social workers we need to be up to date on immigration laws and have resources available for all families that enter our schools. It is our job as social workers, counselors, teachers, and administrators to ensure that all students and parents have access to the information and resources they need. I learned from a young age that schools are a safe haven for undocumented students. Let us become champions these students deserve.

Ana Bonilla is a social worker for Alexandria City Public School System and the 2014 National Social Worker of the Year.

Resources for serving undocumented youth can be found here. More information about educational supports for immigrants, refugees, asylees, and other new Americans can be found here.

An Open Letter to America’s Parents and Teachers: Let’s Make Our Testing Smarter

This post originally appeared on the White House Blog.

Here’s a simple question: If your kids had more free time at school, what would you want them to do with it?

Here’s a simple question: If your kids had more free time at school, what would you want them to do with it?

If you’re like most parents, here’s what I suspect you wouldn’t want your children to be doing with their extra time in the classroom: Taking more standardized tests. I certainly wouldn’t want that for my girls.

In moderation, I believe smart, strategic tests can help us measure our kids’ progress in school. As a parent, I want to know how my kids are doing, and I want their teachers to know that, too. As President, I want to hold all of us accountable for making sure every child, everywhere, is learning what he or she needs to be successful.

But when I look back on the great teachers who shaped my life, what I remember isn’t the way they prepared me to take a standardized test. What I remember is the way they taught me to believe in myself. To be curious about the world. To take charge of my own learning so that I could reach my full potential. They inspired me to open up a window into parts of the world I’d never thought of before.

These aren’t the kinds of things you can easily measure by filling in the right bubble. In letters, emails, and conversations around the country, I’ve heard from parents who worry that too much testing is keeping their kids from learning some of life’s most important lessons. I’ve heard from teachers who feel so much pressure to teach to a test that it takes the joy out of teaching and learning, both for them and for the students. I want to fix that.

I’ve asked the Department of Education to work aggressively with states and school districts to make sure that any tests we use in our classroom meet three basic principles.

First, our kids should only take tests that are worth taking – tests that are high quality, aimed at good instruction, and make sure everyone is on track.

Second, tests shouldn’t occupy too much classroom time, or crowd out teaching and learning.

And third, tests should be just one source of information. We should use classroom work, surveys, and other factors to give us an all-around look at how our students and schools are doing.

You can learn more in our new Testing Action Plan.

The Council of the Great City Schools – a group of the nation’s largest urban public school systems – recently released a new report that surveyed standardized testing in our schools and found that the average student in some school systems are taking 112 standardized tests before high school graduation. The report shows how much opportunity there is to eliminate redundant and uncoordinated tests — and free up more classroom time for teaching and learning. You can take a look at that here.

We’re going to work with states, school districts, teachers, and parents to make sure the principles I outlined are reflected in classrooms across our country – and together, we’re going to help prepare our kids for a lifetime of success.

If you’ve got thoughts on this topic, I want to hear them. If you’ve got thoughts on this topic, I want to hear them.  SHARE THEM HERE.

Watch the President’s announcement on Facebook.

Raising Awareness on Specific Learning Disabilities

This post originally appeared on Medium.

Last year I learned about Jade, a dynamic 8th grader who struggled to learn to read when she was in elementary school.

In recalling her challenges, Jade described trouble recognizing letters and difficulty linking them together to form sounds. She just couldn’t read. The worst feeling in the world, Jade said, was starting to believe the names her classmates called her.

For a long time Jade kept her struggle to herself, feeling alone, and like she had to find her own way to deal and cope with this challenge. Fortunately, Jade’s family and teachers stepped in to help her get special education services. These services provided her with individualized strategies to help her read — strategies that she still uses today as she advances through middle school and sets her sights on high school and beyond.

We know that Jade is not alone. Approximately 2.5 million students receiving special education services in schools have learning disabilities, making it the largest disability population in our country. And, while research demonstrates that learners with disabilities who struggle in reading or math can most certainly succeed at rigorous, grade-level coursework with high-quality instruction and appropriate services and accommodations, too many young people don’t get the support they need to succeed. Sadly, and unnecessarily, students with learning disabilities lag far behind their peers in a host of academic indicators.

Too often, children with learning and attention issues are defined by their limitations rather than their strengths. Jade’s story shows us what is possible when educators and families work together to build on the strengths of a child while identifying and addressing their challenges.

By raising awareness of the needs of children with learning and attention issues, we can all make certain that no child falls through the cracks.

That’s why I am proud to highlight October as the month of awareness for Learning Disabilities, Dyslexia, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). By raising awareness of the needs of children with learning and attention issues, we can all make certain that no child falls through the cracks.

Today, the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) released guidance to state and local educational agencies. This guidance clarifies that students with specific learning disabilities — such as dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia — have unique educational needs. It further clarifies that there is nothing in the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) that would prohibit the use of the terms dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia in a student’s evaluation, determination of eligibility for special education and related services, or in developing the student’s individualized education program (IEP).

It is our hope that this guidance will help families and educators work together on behalf of children. We acknowledge that there could be situations in which the child’s parents and the team of qualified professionals responsible for determining whether the child has a specific learning disability would find it helpful to include information about the specific condition (e.g., dyslexia, dyscalculia, or dysgraphia) in documenting how that condition relates to the child’s eligibility determination. Additionally, there could be situations where an IEP team could determine that personnel responsible for IEP implementation would need to know about the condition underlying the child’s disability (e.g., that a child has a weakness in decoding skills as a result of the child’s dyslexia).

Specifically, this guidance:

  • Clarifies that the list of conditions in the definition of “specific learning disability,” which includes dyslexia, is not an exhaustive list of conditions which may qualify a child as a student with a learning disability;
  • Reminds States of the importance of addressing the unique educational needs of children with specific learning disabilities resulting from dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia during IEP Team meetings and other meetings with parents under IDEA;
  • Encourages States to review their policies, procedures, and practices to ensure that they do not prohibit the use of the terms dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia in evaluations, eligibility, and IEP documents.

This guidance can be found by visiting the Department of Education’s webpage.

The Department is committed to ensuring students with specific learning disabilities — such as dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia — receive a high-quality education. The month of October is as an opportunity to raise awareness about these critical issues. But we all must remember that helping students, like Jade, to thrive happens not just today, but every day.

Michael Yudin is Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services at the U.S. Department of Education.

High School – What it Can and Should Be for America’s Students

Cross-posted from the White House blog.

Summary: This November, the administration will host the Next Gen High School Summit, a national conversation on transforming high schools to better serve all students.

Photo: President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan visit a classroom

President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan visit a classroom at the Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) in Brooklyn, N.Y., Oct. 25, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)


High School is a critical time when we rapidly mature towards adulthood, learn the key skills that prepare us for college and our career, and if given the opportunity, develop a much deeper understanding of the community and world around us. When high schools are designed for the 21st century, they are a springboard into opportunity. And in today’s innovation economy, with rapid growth in high-wage fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), the role of high schools is more important than ever.

President Obama has set two ambitious goals: that all adult Americans pursue at least one year of higher education or career training, and that America regain its role as the world leader in the college completion. However, for too many American students, high school is a time of disengagement that fails to put them on a path to college and career success.

That’s why the President has called for whole-school transformation of the high school experience, and visited leading examples such as Manor New Tech in Texas and P-TECH in New York. These next-gen schools are breaking out new approaches to: help their students excel by implementing personalized learning for all students; rethinking the use of time during the school day to match student needs; assessing learning in ways that let students demonstrate mastery, creativity, and critical thinking; providing high-quality and continuous professional development to support educators; and a slew of other school redesigns and evidence-based practices to help students chart a course for life-long success.

Chart: High Schools offering math and science coursesStill, a handful of exceptional schools on their own won’t reach the millions of students across the country who do not have access to the rigorous content they need to be successful, including basic STEM courses and opportunities, and a greater effort is needed to bring next generation learning innovations to all students.

Only 50% of high schools in the U.S. offer calculus, only 63% offer physics, and between 10-25% of high schools offer one or less of typical core math and science courses such as Algebra I and II, geometry, biology, and chemistry. There is a particular shortage of these courses for students who are under-represented in STEM fields, where currently, a quarter of high schools with the highest percentage of African-American and Latino students do not offer Algebra II, and a third do not offer any chemistry. The data below from the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights illustrates these shortcomings nationally.

In response to this critical challenge, the President has called for a whole-school transformation of the high school experience. The 2016 Budget calls for the establishment of a new $125 million competitive program at the U.S. Department of Education to help communities across America launch Next-Generation High Schools that will be laboratories for cutting-edge STEM teaching and learning, demonstrating the tenets of high school reform that the President has championed.

This November, the administration will host the Next Gen High School Summit, a national conversation on transforming high schools to better serve all students. This convening will catalyze new thinking on the challenges and opportunities for advancing this agenda, and to share strategies for progress. It will also serve as an opportunity to highlight new resources and investments – from the federal government and others- dedicated to advancing high school redesign work. All stakeholders will be brought to the table, from teachers who work every day to inspire their students, administrators ensuring their teachers have tools and support they need, researchers breaking ground in learning science, industry and foundation leaders who are seeding exciting work in communities across the country, and the full spectrum of other partners working to create a more equitable education system.

High school is perhaps the most formative time in young peoples’ lives. With the President’s leadership and a renewed effort from all who work to improve America’s schools, we can create new havens of learning and opportunity, and create a better system of education for all.

Challenge to Redesign High Schools

To emphasize ways in which we can rethink how we provide a high school education to America’s students, we plan to highlight strong collaborations that have committed to engage in comprehensive high school redesign work through new or existing models. At the fall summit, we hope to announce your commitments to produce more next generation high schools in your communities, with a particular focus on those that will benefit low-income and under-represented students, along with commitments to action to ensure more students graduate with college-level coursework or college credit, as well as with career-related experiences or competencies.

This web form will provide us with a brief overview of your goals and commitments and a description of your action plan. This information may form the basis of public materials developed for this event. We encourage interested collaborations to also download the worksheet that will allow each collaboration to share more detail with us about your specific indicators, data, and strategies you are using as you develop these plans. Only 1 submission per collaboration needs to be submitted and campuses may submit additional materials (if desired) through the use of appendices, which should be submitted to

Please submit this form no later than COB Friday, October 30, 2015.

We intend to make the description of goals and commitments public in conjunction with the summit in the fall. While we intend to invite as many organizations making commitments as possible, we have not finalized the details of the event and will share more information in the coming weeks.

Roberto J. Rodriguez is Deputy Assistant to the President for Education.

Learning Mindsets: The “Grit” of Learning

As a principal for the past twelve years, whenever I meet with teachers and ask them what they want to focus on to help students learn, over and over again, the resounding cry is: how do we teach effort? “Too many of our students just give up!” they cry. “If they only tried, they would succeed!” others say. Teachers are not flustered by a student’s struggles academically, but rather, they say, if students learn the habits of “stick-with-it-ness,” they can grow and feel successful.

Educators play an especially important role in building growth mindsets in middle school, and middle school students benefit from additional support from their teacher when learning growth mindset skills.

Schools across the country are implementing strategies to teach learning mindsets, so that when we talk about learning, it involves more than just intelligence, but an understanding that teachers can help mold a student’s perspective and outlook on learning, and help him or her discover what it takes to succeed.

At Baruch College Campus High School in Manhattan, the mathematics department is trying to change students’ mindsets from fixed to growth. Teachers are working to instill grit, tenacity, perseverance, and resilience in the classroom. They’re making grit part of the class conversation with open discussions that reveal moments from their own lives where grit was relevant or should have been.

In Dr. Elizabeth Jaffe’s class, she teaches a lesson by moving all the chairs to the side of the room. Students are only able to get their chairs back through problem solving. The problems aren’t difficult, but they require perseverance.

When you walk the halls, you see posters on classroom doors reminding students that hard math problems are not the same as long math problems. The bulletin boards allow space for students to add ways they’ve displayed grit academically or personally. The school culture’s has created an environment where students are reminding each other to show grit throughout the year.

Another way the school supports effort over smarts is through their homework policy: homework is graded based on completion. If they don’t know an answer, students need to show where they went to get unstuck, even if it didn’t work. Students also have flexibility in their assignments, allowing them to use their strengths. This may be something as simple as choosing from three debate topics, choosing the method of presentation for their work, choosing homework questions, or choosing which section of the newspaper to critique when determining how the media uses statistics to manipulate the public.

In Brooke Simon’s Algebra class, she provides students with hint envelopes. In the beginning, when they solve a problem they can use as many hints as needed, but the goal at the end of the year is for them to stop using the hint envelopes as a crutch. Students are taught that a wrong answer can be as informative as a right answer. This increases student confidence, allows them to feel more comfortable participating, and it teaches them to keep going no matter what.

Ultimately, the students feel more successful and develop a greater love of mathematics when they realize that it’s not always about the right answer, it’s about recognizing the beauty of the mathematics around them.

Students often say “I’m not good at math.” Baruch is a great example of how a school and its staff are actively working to combat that mindset, and building on the concepts of Learning Mindsets, they are changing students’ minds one problem at a time.

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

Moving Innovation in Education Forward


This post originially appeared on Medium.

Start-ups are one of the most exciting parts of today’s economy. Local leaders across the country are racing to build economies that foster entrepreneurship, experimentation and innovation. Yet in public education, we routinely struggle to lean into educators’ innovative instincts. What if we celebrated great schools the same way that we celebrate great start-ups? What if we thought of educators in the same way that we look up to leading innovators? To galvanize education leaders, the Department of Education is partnering with Medium to launch a series of conversations centered on innovation and education. We will hear from educators, thought leaders from education and technology, and many other innovators who are affecting change across our country.

They may not be household names like Elon Musk or Sheryl Sandberg, but throughout the country, public education innovators are inspiring fellow educators and improving education for America’s students. There are innovators like Scott Given at UP Education Network, who is launching new public schools that are quadrupling students’ proficiency levels; or Mora Segalat Achievement Network, who spends her days helping educators understand and employ high-quality standards and practices that address the unique needs of their students. These folks — and the countless other educators who stretch the limits, and make us rethink what’s possible in student achievement — are leading efforts to transform students’ lives. And yet the fanfare given to innovative educators is nowhere close to the attention that start-ups receive. As a nation, we expend tremendous time, capital and talent into finding the next great business idea, but too often we overlook the important innovations happening in our own schools, in our own communities. But what if we prized the ingenuity and creativity of our teachers and schools the same way we do for entrepreneurs and start-ups?

arne2First, we would all readily know the names of incredible educators leading dramatic gains in students’ achievement. Cities and communities would compete to attract and retain great educators. And we would talk about the schools where these educators work like we talk about sports teams. We would say to each other, “Did you see that students at IDEA schools have had 100 percent college acceptance for nine straight years? How do they do that?” We would recognize that for every problem we face in education there is someone in America — right now — who is actually solving it. We need to lift these people up, celebrate their success and learn what they are doing to enable such transformation.

Second, there would be fierce competition to invest plentiful resources in educators and schools. Funders, cities, and companies would provide facilities, training, and resources for educators to attempt new and innovative methods. When these new methods demonstrate success, public and private funders alike would elbow their way to the front of the pack to make large investments to scale across schools and communities. And if a new model did not produce better outcomes, we would push ourselves to understand why and apply these lessons to a new iteration. Our own experience indicates that educators are hungry for financial support that enables innovation — and that they’re willing to take an honest look in the mirror to understand their impact: In 2010, the Department launched the Investing in Innovation (i3) grant program; over the last five grant cycles, we received over 4,000 applications for just 143 grants. Each of these organizations commits to rigorously measuring its results so that it can learn from the experience — and share its learnings with others. While the demand is clear, there are currently insufficient Federal and private-sector resources that support education innovation.

Finally, we would dedicate ourselves to creating and sustaining large-scale innovation that fundamentally and dramatically improves educational outcomes for our most disadvantaged students. In the entrepreneurial ecosystem, when the status quo is failing, someone creates a new model. Sharing economy startups, for example, are helping small businesses and individuals access office space, lodging, and transportation; and crowdfunding start-ups are helping raise money for entrepreneurs who may not access conventional sources of funds. Too often in education, we rely on models that are failing students, especially our most vulnerable. We need to change this by investing in models that are proven to work for our most disadvantaged students. One example is Mi Escuelita Therapeutic Preschoolin Chula Vista, California. The Mi Escuelita program is helping children who have experienced family violence enter kindergarten at equal or sometimes higher levels of school readiness than their non-trauma-exposed peers.

Although we are proud and excited to launch a discussion on innovation in education through our partnership with Medium, these success stories can’t just live online. We need your voice and your action on the ground. There are pockets — such as Tennessee’s iZone schools and 4.0 Schools — where individuals and communities are taking innovation seriously, both in thought and in resources. But there is potential everywhere. Please join the conversation by using the tag “i3” to share your thoughts and stories about innovation in education. We all must take a hard look at our own communities and demand that all our educators have the financial and political support necessary to create transformational improvements in student achievement.

Arne Duncan is U.S. Secretary of Education.

Sustaining Teacher Leadership

With strong support from the U.S. Department of Education and organizations such as the National Network of State Teachers of the Year, teacher leadership has emerged as a national trend. Given the need for teachers to guide the direction of their profession, it is prudent to support teacher leadership as a mechanism for teacher voice and meaningful professional growth. A lack of funding, however, will inevitably stifle the important momentum that has been generated over the last few years. Whether it is the inspiring work carried out by hundreds of teachers who attended the Teach to Lead summits, teachers taking on hybrid roles, or the many other iterations of teacher leadership, sufficient financial support for states and districts will go a long way toward enriching the professional lives of teachers and ensuring that teacher leadership remains a potent force in years to come.

Practice and Support

Creating and implementing well-designed structures for relevant professional development is a key feature of teacher leadership. Utilizing teachers’ expertise in guiding and supporting each other at various points across the career continuum is a smart approach that not only increases our pedagogical effectiveness, but also bolsters teacher self-efficacy, motivation, and morale. Hybrid roles, such as peer coaches, are another way that schools and districts are recognizing the value of teacher leadership at the local level. This distributed model of leadership fosters a participatory culture and maximizes teachers’ skills and capacities for the benefit of teachers and students. Teacher leadership is a means by which all teachers – novice and veteran alike – can support each other in the enhancement of teaching practices that are informed by authentic experience, collaboration, and research.

Advocacy and Policy

Teacher leadership also serves to facilitate positive, productive educator-policymaker partnerships. There are numerous examples of meaningful, genuine teacher voice being solicited and respected at the local, state, and federal levels. In Connecticut, for instance, the highly successful Empowered to Lead symposium brings together teachers, administrators, policymakers, and others to discuss current educational issues, potential solutions, and next steps. Participants leave the symposium with a greater sense of urgency and the knowledge that many of our educational challenges are best approached in a solutions-oriented manner geared toward improvement and innovation. Teacher leadership opportunities like this one result in a proactive – rather than reactive – stance, with interactions characterized by mutual respect and the understanding that all parties involved are working toward the same goal.

Teacher Leadership as the New Norm

In some countries, teacher leadership is ingrained in the educational culture. Teacher engagement in practice, support, advocacy, and policy is so commonplace as to be unexceptional, except when viewed from the lens of those who yearn for it. If we continue to insist on international comparisons, then we must also consider the policies and practices undertaken by other countries that have designed ways for teachers to be recognized, supported, and respected as the leaders of their profession – and we must act upon it.

We will know that we have been successful when the phrase, “teacher leader,” becomes a redundancy in terms. When that day comes, teacher leadership will be intertwined with the many professional roles and responsibilities carried out by every teacher every day. Teacher leadership is transforming the landscape of education and elevating the teaching profession. Accordingly, adequate levels of funding will further augment the conditions for teacher leadership to become the new norm.

Just as teachers are boldly stepping up to lead the needed changes in our education system, funders must step up and offer them the resources needed to bring their ideas to fruition.

Dr. David Bosso is a Social Studies teacher at Berlin High School in Berlin, Connecticut, and the 2012 Connecticut Teacher of the Year.

Operating with Accountability and Transparency

Earlier this year, Zenith Education Group, a nonprofit provider of career school training, purchased more than 50 Everest and WyoTech campuses from Corinthian Colleges Inc. By stepping in to avoid a sudden shutdown of Corinthian, Zenith and the Department ensured that thousands of students had the opportunity to continue their education with minimal disruption and with significant savings in taxpayer investments.

As a condition to the transfer of Corinthian schools to Zenith, the Department required Zenith to make significant commitments to students, including raising the quality of its career training and counseling, improving affordability by reducing tuition and providing grant aid, and focusing on student outcomes.  Zenith also agreed to a series of operating standards to protect students, which included the hiring of an independent monitor to ensure the company operates with integrity and transparency on behalf of students and in accordance with our expectations and federal regulations.

Improving transparency and accountability in higher education is a core priority for the U.S. Department of Education.  To further our commitment to that transparency, the Department has agreed to release Zenith’s monthly monitor reports.  The first five of those monthly reports, along with an executive summary are provided here.  The Department will also regularly release future Zenith Monitor reports.

I am pleased with the progress that Zenith has shown in its first few months of operating these schools.  In particular, I am pleased that Zenith has, in fact, followed through with its pledges of eliminating its poorest performing programs, reducing tuition by 20 percent, implementing its school choice and refund programs, and beginning the process of right-sizing its enrollment.  We look forward to reviewing future monitor reports to ensure that Zenith is in compliance with all its regulatory obligations and the conduct provisions commitments it made during the sale.

Executive Summary


Ted Mitchell is U.S. Under Secretary of Education.

Global Goals: A Roadmap to Quality Education for All

The UN General assembly was buzzing on September 25th. Pope Francis and Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai addressed the gathering of 193 world leaders. Singer Shakira, a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador who advocates for early childhood education, chimed in with a song. When all was said and done, the world leaders got down to the work at hand and ratified the much anticipated Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Unlike the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the SDGs are the product of an inclusive effort and 2+ years of hard work of the Open Working Group and civil society organizations. The goals are a comprehensive roadmap to end poverty and cover topics from food security to gender equality and actions to combat climate change. Included is an ambitious goal to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.

This is key because the SDGs are not just about people in far flung corners of the world. They are about all of us. They address issues that affect children in Ferguson, Missouri, as much as children in Nigeria. They are global in nature and are meant to influence how all nations take action to meet them. At a high level meeting, which featured speakers such as Nobel Peace Prize winners Kailash Satyarthi and Malala, United Nations Special Envoy on Education Gordon Brown, and UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova, the Global Education First Initiative Youth Advocacy Group called on those in attendance to move from “promises to progress”.

At the U.S. Department of Education, our mission, first and foremost, is to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access. While the challenges we face may not be at the same scale as in the developing world, they are challenges nonetheless.

Speaking at the National PTA Conference, Secretary Arne Duncan affirmed that “Giving every child an equal opportunity to learn is the central challenge of our era, and will determine whether our nation grows stronger or struggles in years ahead.”

Just as lifelong learning is a priority in the SDGs, Secretary Duncan has highlighted its importance in the domestic agenda: “So if we are serious about providing all our children with good choices in life, if we are serious about our nation’s economic strength, it’s this simple: We must get rid of the obsolete belief that a quality education begins at age five and ends at age eighteen.”

Over the past year, we, as Americans, have been asking ourselves some tough questions about equality in our society. Secretary Duncan has said that change “will only happen because we, as a nation, make a deliberate choice for equity. A deliberate choice to insist on excellence for all of our nation’s students.” These sentiments are shared by the 193 world leaders gathered at the UN over the weekend. For all the world’s children, the path that leads away from poverty and despair towards a future full of hope and promise starts with quality education.

Rebecca Miller is an International Affairs Specialist at the U.S. Department of Education.

#LatinosAchieve When We Believe in Them

Today, a high school education is simply not enough. The global, knowledge-based economy that we live in means that some post-secondary education, whether that be a 2-year degree, a 4-year degree, a certificate or a credential, is essential. Which is why we must invest in the educational future of our Hispanic youth. Hispanic youth are in large part the face of our nation and our next generation of leaders. So we need to invest in them if we want to be serious about our future. Although Hispanic high school dropout rates hit a record low at 13 percent in 2012, they’re still higher than any other demographic. Hispanic youth will represent 70 percent of population growth in our country between 2015 and 2060, and are rapidly growing faster than any other minority group. It is our duty to make sure that our next generation of politicians, teachers, CEOs, engineers and entrepreneurs are equipped with the skills they need to succeed.

Progress is being made but not nearly fast enough. And for me, this isn’t simply an intellectual matter. As a Puerto Rican, I’ve seen first-hand how the power of a great education can change lives across the country, as well as back home on the island that gave birth to my mother.

That’s one of the reasons why I’m so proud to lead First Lady Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher Initiative. We work to inspire young people to take control of their future by exposing students to college and career opportunities, making financial aid and college affordability a reality, supporting academic and summer planning, and investing in school counselors. We want young people, including Hispanics, to know that education after high school has to be part of their plan. That enrolling and completing college is essential to ensuring their achievement and success.

When speaking at the 85th Annual Conference of the League of United Latin American Citizens last year, the First lady spoke about the need for investing in education for Hispanic youth. She said, “As you know, too many young people in the Latino community simply aren’t fulfilling their potential… We have got to … reignite that hunger for opportunity — that hunger for education – across all of our communities. And we all have a role to play in this endeavor. Parents have to be reading to their kids from an early age and making sure they go to school every day and do their homework every night. Our young people, you have a role to play as well. You have to make education your number-one priority and be role models for those around you.”

The efforts led by the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, including their nearly $340 million in public and private sector commitments and the U.S. Department of Education’s work to make college accessible and affordable are key to ensuring this population has the tools they need to achieve.

This issue requires all-hands-on-deck approach to make sure students and families are getting access to the resources and information to help make college a reality. That might be filling out the FAFSA, which gives students access to $150 billion in aid for college, or talking to your school counselor, who can help students or families navigate the application process. It also means taking rigorous, college-ready courses like Advanced Placement; and it means thinking about getting internships and mentorship programs that can help young people see the value of a college degree.

We also need to make the process easier. President Obama and the First Lady have been working hard to create and promote tools such as the College Scorecard to help make students find the best college value and fit. They also recently announced that starting in 2016, students can begin filling out the FAFSA three months earlier, so that financial aid can be secured earlier and in time to help make college decisions.

To the young Hispanics who are now in the swing of school, challenge yourselves to take your education seriously. Start talking to your parents about finances, take challenging classes, build strong bonds with your teachers and administration, join clubs and extracurriculars that will expose you to new things, and most importantly believe in yourselves. Believe that you can achieve and do whatever you put your mind to; starting with college. Because we do.

Eric Waldo is the Executive Director for the Reach Higher Initiative

Openly Licensed Educational Resources: Providing Equitable Access to Education for All Learners

Cross-posted from the White House blog.

Summary: The Federal government is supporting the use of open educational resources to provide equitable access to quality education.

Everyone has the right to education…Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace. —Article 26 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights

Access to quality education is an essential component of addressing many of our biggest global and societal challenges. Last year, the United Nations surveyed youth around the world about their priorities—what opportunities they want to be offered. More than improvements in electricity and infrastructure, healthcare, and better jobs, what young people asked for was a good education. It’s no surprise that young people value education. World Bank economists estimate that for every year of study, individual income increases by 10-15 percent. These increases don’t just affect individuals; they often generate a “ripple effect” of benefits to families and entire communities. Openly licensed learning resources, also known as open educational resources (OER), can increase access to high-quality education opportunities and reduce the cost of education around the world.

On September 28, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, U.S. Department of Education, and U.S. Department of State co-hosted an International Open Education Workshop, bringing together 40 civil society and foreign government participants from eight countries to examine existing open education efforts and identify opportunities for future collaboration between government and civil society. This workshop is one of several open education commitments made as part of the second U.S. Open Government Partnership National Action Plan.

At the workshop, participants shared examples of ways that openly licensed educational materials are being used to solve local education challenges around the world. For example, one participant shared open-source tools that enable offline access to openly licensed educational videos — technology that has supported education for Syrian refugees, inmates in U.S. correctional facilities, and over 2 million other learners from around the world. Open licenses grant anyone the rights to revise, remix, and redistribute these educational materials, so investments in content or tools made by one organization or government can be leveraged by other institutions and used in new ways.

Another participant, drawing on her recent experience serving as a Foreign Service Officer in the Balkans, noted the potential for openly licensed educational materials to honor local knowledge and information needs. In particular, she described how an open-source model could empower educators to collaborate on and adapt textbooks across local and international borders, retaining fundamental content while tailoring certain features, like names in math word problems, to reflect students’ ethnic diversity and culture. Empowering local communities to adapt, translate, and create collections of learning materials that meet their information, learning, or language needs helps side-step assumptions and honor learners’ lived experiences.

Open education advances key national priorities, including supporting shared economic prosperity, strengthening civil society, and investing in human development. Over the next year, the U.S. Government will continue efforts to expand and accelerate the use and availability of openly licensed educational materials worldwide. In addition, we will begin to model the transition to openly licensed educational materials at scale in U.S. K-12 schools. We look forward to engaging with the national and global community to identify opportunities for open licensing to accelerate educational equity for all learners regardless of their financial situations or geographic locations.

Richard Culatta is Director of the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education.

Sunshine Ison is Director of the ECA Collaboratory at the U.S. Department of State.

Nancy Weiss is Senior Advisor to the Chief Technology Officer at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Educational Quality through Innovative Partnerships (EQUIP): Expanding Access to High-Quality, Innovative Postsecondary Education

The Obama Administration has made ensuring that all students have access to a high-quality, affordable education a key priority. Last month, we vastly increased the quality of data available and published a new tool to help students and families make more informed decisions when choosing colleges. The Department of Education (ED) also awarded $60 million in First in the World grants to colleges and universities to help them design and test innovative approaches to teaching and supporting students.

I am therefore pleased to announce that ED is now inviting applications for the Educational Quality through Innovative Partnerships (EQUIP) experiment. As part of ED’s experimental sites authority under HEA, EQUIP will accelerate and evaluate innovation through partnerships between colleges and universities and non-traditional providers of education, such as intensive “boot camps” building skills in particular fields, specific programs awarding certificates aligned to employer needs, and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Eligible programs will lead to a degree or certificate, build students’ transferable academic credits, and provide students with the ever-changing skills they need for today’s economy. The experimental sites authority allows the Secretary to waive certain provisions regarding federal financial aid in order to improve the results achieved with federal student aid dollars.

A critical component of this program will be to increase transparency and generate data regarding the quality of these programs. Participation will require a partnership among a postsecondary institution, one or more non-traditional providers, and a quality assurance entity that will make student outcomes transparent in areas such as learning and employment, and provide tools for ongoing quality improvement. The Department has already begun a conversation about innovation and quality in higher education, through which we have received significant input reaffirming the need for this effort and providing guidance from institutions, providers, student advocates, and other in the field about the best ways to move forward.

We encourage interested colleges and universities, non-traditional providers of education, and potential quality assurance entities to find details about the program in this Federal Register notice. To share your thoughts or to be notified of updates, please email us at

Ted Mitchell is U.S. Under Secretary of Education.