Deputy Secretary Tony Miller Addresses the Importance of Community Involvement in Education Reform in Richmond, Virginia

Last Wednesday, Deputy Secretary Tony Miller was joined by former Virginia Governor and Mayor of Richmond, Douglas Wilder, and 25 African-American community leaders in Richmond, Virginia to discuss the importance of community-led education reform efforts.  The roundtable discussion included leaders from faith-based organizations, local schools, and small businesses and was hosted by the Church of God in Christ (COGIC) at the Fresh Anointing Cathedral.

Governor Wilder kicked off the event and stressed the need for urgent action to tackle the education crisis and to support reform efforts vital to improving the educational outcomes and the financial futures of the African-American community.  Deputy Secretary Tony Miller then pointed to the bleak attainment and achievement levels for African-American students — one out of every three students in minority communities fails to graduate on time and only thirty percent of minority students between 25-34 years of age have associates degrees or higher, which is worse than the attainment levels for students in 23 out of 33 OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries.  Tony explained that while “there is value in education for education’s sake, we also must understand that we must prepare our students to compete in the global economy and we are falling behind the rest of the world.”

Community members came with questions about the issues weighing on the minds of their friends and families in Richmond.  One gentleman described the extreme pressure his three grown children face carrying the burden of large student debt and wanted to know what the Obama Administration was doing to help keep college affordable.  Tony emphasized the Administration’s commitment to keeping college a possibility for all students, explaining that in 2010-2011 the Department of Education awarded almost $767 million dollars to students at 123 colleges and universities in Virginia, including $747 million dollars in Pell grants to almost 200,000 students.  Tony also explained the Administration’s pursuit of more aggressive actions to curb rising tuition costs and outlined proposals to freeze interest rates on student loans; extend or make permanent the American Opportunity Tax Credit that provides refundable tax credit for undergraduate college education expenses; preserve Pell grant investments; and double the number of work-study jobs.

But the dialogue didn’t stop there as the group engaged on the alarming dropout rate particularly among African-American students.  Tony applauded everyone’s desire to take an active role in the community’s education stressing that with nearly 13 million students estimated to drop out over the next decade at a cost to the nation of almost $3 trillion dollars, it’s going to take civic and business leaders, parents, educators, and faith-based activists to help create school environments that keep students from disadvantaged backgrounds in the school and graduating from high school ready for college or a career.

Tony thanked the Church of God in Christ and the community for their continued dedication to improving education for African-American students and applauded the group’s refusal to accept the status quo in their community, claiming “this truly is the civil rights issue of our time, and the single greatest investment we can make is in the education of our nation’s children.”

Tribal Education Agency Pilot

Thank you for your interest in the grant competition tentatively called the State-Tribal Education Partnership (STEP) Pilot, the Department’s pilot to provide an opportunity for tribes to meaningfully participate in the education of American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) children.

In order to run a rigorous competition and obligate funds to grantees before the September 30, 2012 statutory deadline, ED will waive rulemaking for this new program, pursuant to its authority in the General Education Provisions Act.  However, we want your input on how we design the major elements of this program, so we are posting questions (below) regarding the requirements, priorities, and selection criteria for the STEP competition on this Web site and we encourage all interested parties to share their comments with us.  This document will be posted for public input until 5:00 PM EDT on March 9, 2012, at which time the input section will be closed and we will begin considering input received as we develop the requirements, priorities (if any), and selection criteria.  We will publish those requirements, priorities, and selection criteria in a Notice Inviting Applications (NIA) in the Federal Register this spring.

This pilot will be a unique opportunity for collaboration between tribal education agencies (TEAs) and States and could be of particular interest to those States who have high concentrations of AI/AN students or tribes.

Through the STEP pilot, we want to support breakthrough work that can dramatically improve educational outcomes for AI/AN children.  The competition will fund the implementation of collaborative agreements, entered into by TEAs and State educational agencies (SEAs) where the TEAs would perform certain State-level functions under State-administered ESEA formula grant programs for schools located on reservations (or former reservations in Oklahoma).  We will be looking to fund applications that demonstrate courage, commitment, capacity, and creativity.  In addition, it is important to note that the Department will not be granting TEAs formula funds, but only funds appropriated for this new competition.

In commenting on these questions, we encourage potential applicants to identify barriers that tribes and SEAs might encounter in entering into TEA-SEA agreements (and to provide suggestions on how those barriers might be surmounted), technical assistance that TEAs may require related to effective administration of ESEA programs, issues on which collaboration with affected LEAs may be required, and any relevant resource allocation issues.

We are posting this document on a moderated site.  That means all posts will be reviewed before they are posted.  We intend to post all responsive submissions on a timely basis. We reserve the right not to post comments that are unrelated to this request, are inconsistent with ED’s Web site policies, are advertisements or endorsements, or are otherwise inappropriate.  Please do not include links to advertisements or endorsements, as we will delete them before we post your comments. Additionally, to protect your privacy and the privacy of others, please do not include personally identifiable information such as Social Security numbers, addresses, phone numbers, or email addresses in the body of your comments. For more information, please be sure to read the “comments policy.”

We invite your input on the questions provided below, and on any other issues that you believe the Department should consider in preparing the NIA.  Please understand that posts must be related to the STEP competition and should be as specific as possible.  Each post should limited to 1,000 words.  All opinions, ideas, suggestions, and comments are considered informal input and ED will not respond to any posts.  If you include a link to additional information in your post, we urge you to ensure that the linked information is accessible to all individuals, including individuals with disabilities.  We look forward to receiving your ideas and suggestions.  However, the input you provide in these posts might or might not be reflected in the final STEP requirements, priorities, or selection criteria or in the other policies that are enunciated in the final STEP NIA.

Again, thank you for your interest in this historic opportunity to support Native American education. We look forward to hearing from you.

Click the links below to read the questions regarding requirements, priorities, and selection criteria; then click “Add a New Comment” at the bottom of the screen to tell us what you think about that item.

  1. What are some of the TEA/SEA concerns that should be addressed when the two agencies enter into an agreement under which a TEA would perform SEA-level functions?  How could these concerns be addressed?  More specifically, will SEAs need additional resources or other assistance in entering into agreements with TEAs?
  2. What technical assistance would a TEA need in order to perform certain SEA-level functions for State-administered ESEA programs?  How could this technical assistance be best provided?
  3. What role, if any, should LEAs have in demonstrating support for the TEA-SEA agreements that affect their schools (through activities such as writing letters of support)?  When should LEA support be demonstrated – as part of the application or during the project period?
  4. What LEA concerns should be addressed in an agreement in which a TEA would perform SEA-level functions?  How could these concerns be addressed?
  5. Do you know of existing formal or previous agreements between SEAs and TEAs to administer SEA-level functions?  What activities were performed by the TEA?  Was the TEA successful in administering these functions?
Update: The comment period has been extended until March 9, 2012.

College Completion Symposium Focuses on Evidence and Fosters a Rich Conversation

Official Department of Education photo by Leslie Williams

The Office of Postsecondary Education convened a symposium this week as part of its effort to drive a national conversation and focus on increasing college completion.  About 60 of the nation’s leading researchers, practitioners, and policy experts gathered at the U.S. Department of Education headquarters in Washington, DC for what was called “Evidence, Action, Innovation: College Completion Symposium.”

From the perspective of the organizers at OPE, the day was a tremendous success!  The conversation throughout the day was rich, drawing on the varied experience and expertise of those gathered.  Far from a traditional research conference where participants listen to descriptions of research or workshops that bring together individuals with similar work titles for common learning, this symposium intentionally brought together individuals from a diversity of backgrounds and roles in our postsecondary education community to engage with one another.  There were small-group working roundtables and large-group discussions, where participants were pushed to challenge one another and expand our understanding of the completion issue.  A main goal was to vet and integrate research findings with practical experience.

Completion A Key Department Priority

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan spoke with the group, commending them for their work and challenging them to help the Department advance its completion agenda in line with President Obama’s 2020 goal to have the US again have the world best educated citizenry.  “Our task now is to brainstorm more creative ideas and scale up those practices that are most successful in making sure that all students—regardless of income, race or background—are crossing the finish line.”  Duncan noted the importance of gaining the perspective and wisdom of those in the field to help in the college completion agenda.  “All the good ideas are out there with you,” he said. “I urge you to be creative and thoughtful.”

John Williams (left), of Morehouse College, and Patrick Perry (right), of the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, participate in the College Completion Symposium.

Evidence and Areas of Focus

While the completion agenda is broad and there can be many ways to advance student success, the day focused on two main areas where there is evidence of effectiveness: student transitions to college, including bridge programs, learning communities, and acceleration models; and ongoing student supports, such as advising, coaching, and mentoring.  The interactive nature of the day allowed participants to grapple with the challenges of implementing and scaling up these programs.  While many of these programs have been around for some time, conversations at the Symposium engaged practitioners and state policy experts about what works (and does not work) in practice, addressing barriers to implementation, ways to scale these practices, and areas that require further research.  The results of the symposium will help to inform a resource toolkit the Department is producing for institutions that are seeking to increase completion rates.  This document will complement the toolkit that the Department prepared for states in their efforts to increase completion.  In addition, Symposium provided a space for the participants to discuss innovative practices in these areas.

Request for Information

Secretary Duncan also announced the publication of a Federal Register Request for Information (RFI) seeking strategies to increase completion and postsecondary success.  While the Symposium focused on evidence-based strategies to increase completion, the RFI casts a wider net, seeking input from institutions, organizations, states, and systems that have promising practices to increase college completion.  Under Secretary Martha Kanter also spoke about the RFI, adding that she hopes it will facilitate a wider and richer national conversation after strategies from the RFI are published on the Department’s Completion website.

David Soo, Policy Analyst & Presidential Management Fellow, OPE