Building a Foundation for Children Starts in Pre-K

codyclassAs a kindergarten teacher, I have seen that attending a high-quality pre-K program makes a significant difference in children’s kindergarten success—and later success as well. This is why I am passionate that access to high-quality pre-K should not be a luxury afforded to some, but an invaluable resource offered to all.

From my experience, there are three major advantages students gain from high quality pre-K program:

They have key social skills.

In kindergarten, children constantly work in groups, whether in small teacher-led instructional groups, at activity learning “centers” or at math and phonics stations. In reading and writing workshop and most other activities, they work with partners or in small groups. This requires kids to negotiate disagreements, understand the social conventions of conversations, and balance their needs with others’. In pre-K, children have had lots of experiences like this.

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Teacher-Powered Innovation: the Value of and Opportunity for Teacher Leadership in Schools and Policy

When we do everything right in schools, our students move closer to that peak on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – self-actualization. It sounds pretty awesome. I’d like to achieve self-actualization too. But when you’re a student facing poverty, racism, family trouble, or just life as a kid growing up, that peak starts looking like K2.

The question then becomes what changes can we make in our systems so that schools can support students in meeting their basic needs while still pushing them to make academic gains that will impact their future choices and opportunities? For me, answering that question starts with the people who are with the students every day – their teachers.

As a founding teacher on the Design Team for the pilot high school, Social Justice Humanitas Academy (SJHA) in Los Angeles, last week I was invited to join a small group of teachers and principals in a Tea with Teachers meeting with Secretary of Education John King to discuss the value of teacher leadership in schools and in educational policy-making. SJHA is a Teacher-Powered School, and as such is driven by teachers and their connection to students. The school was founded by a group of teachers who envisioned a school centered on building our students’ humanity through curriculum that is rigorous and relevant to our students.

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Teachers discuss teacher leadership with Secretary of Education John King during a Tea with Teachers session.

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The 2016 Healthy Lunchtime Challenge is Here!

Cross-posted from the Let’s Move! Blog.

It’s that time of year again – we’re inviting kids across the country to create healthy lunch recipes for a chance to win a trip to Washington, D.C., and the opportunity to attend the Kids’ “State Dinner” at the White House!

Check out a special message from First Lady Michelle Obama announcing the fifth annual Healthy Lunchtime Challenge:

The First Lady is once again teaming up with PBS flagship station WGBH Boston, the U.S. Department of Education, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to host the fifth annual Healthy Lunchtime Challenge to promote cooking and healthy eating among young people across the nation.

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Building Relationships to SHINE a Light on Chronic Absenteeism

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Students have fun playing “reindeer throw” during the SHINE after school program.

Let’s face it, going to school isn’t always what a kid wants to do – especially when schoolwork is challenging. Having to read a textbook above ability level or take a times-table test on an empty stomach can be overwhelming. A kid would rather stay home and play video games. Wouldn’t you? Too frequently, though, parents let their child skip school thinking, “Its only one-day. What’s the big deal?” Many parents don’t realize, though, that school absence puts their child’s academics and educational future at risk.

What if a student could come to a place where he didn’t have those pressures? A place where someone helps him to improve his reading skills so he can read that textbook independently. A place where a hot dinner is served every night so he can focus on his academics without distracting hunger pangs. A safe place where he can play with his friends and still learn those darn times tables.

The Lehigh Carbon Community College SHINE (Students and Homes IN Education) after-school program aspires to be that place. At SHINE, we focus on working with families on the skill of educating children. Typically, children report to SHINE at the end of the school day and complete homework, get help with academics, work on STEAM projects, participate in physical fitness, or eat a meal.

In the summer, students are offered weekly home visits which allows families to get to know us and see how invested we are in their children’s success. Home visits also help us build vital relationships that enable us to call parents and have open conversations during the school year. And if attendance is poor, these relationships allow us to work with parents to solve the problem together.

Building relationships does take time and energy, but it pays off for students. When SHINE students are absent, they’ll often report first to me to let me know they’re there before even going to homeroom. I’ll see a head poke in my door in the morning to say, “Don’t worry, I’m back. My ear infection is gone.” The smile on their faces tells me that they are coming by, because they know I care.

In fact, students seem to track us down no matter where we are! Recently we had a little girl who was frequently absent, so we’d always remind her how much we missed her when we saw her. As I walked into the bathroom the other day, I heard a little voice say, “Hey Mrs. Kufro, I’m coming to SHINE today. Aren’t you happy?” It was the sweetest thing.

When you put your heart and soul into it, relationships are established. That’s how we create a place – a SHINE family – where everyone sees success.

Audra B. Kufro teaches third grade science at Mahanoy Area Elementary School, in Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania, and is a teacher with the SHINE After-School program through Lehigh Carbon Community College.

Why I’m a Principal, Not a Statistic

Sharif El-Mekki

As October, National Principals Month, comes to an end, I cannot help but to reflect upon what led me into the principalship.

As a twenty-one year old African American male, I could have very easily become a statistic. Five months after graduating from IUP in rural Pennsylvania, I was shot and left for dead on a football field in Philadelphia.

Many people struggle to recover from such an experience and I am blessed to have a community that rallied around me and refused to let me succumb to the trauma that could have easily overwhelmed me. Instead, I was led to become a career changer, transitioning from counseling adjudicated youth to one of the most important careers in the world-being a principal.

As a teacher leader, my principal, Charles D’Alfonso, supported and encouraged me to take on the immense challenge of becoming a principal. He guided me, connected me with other mentors (like Yvonne Savior, who would serve as my new teacher coach and new principal coach years later), and provided various resources to spur my growth and success. And, although, I viewed myself as a leader of middle school students, my principal saw me as a leader of a school community.

Today, I make it part of my mission to encourage all my peers to mentor the brave, humble, and up-and-coming leaders in the principal pipeline. We need to do this to strengthen our profession and to ensure that there is a higher level of diversity in the principalship. By expanding leadership opportunities for women and minorities, we acknowledge the diversity of the students we serve. By harnessing the unique and life-impacting experiences and perceptions of culturally distinct principals, we will help to strengthen students’ outcomes – including and especially for the most vulnerable students in our communities. We will impact these students in ways that equip the next generation to master the incredible challenges and seize the incredible opportunities of our time.

It’s said Albert Einstein, the great scientist and philosopher, believed that one of the most powerful forces in the universe is the effect of compound interest in finance. I’m not sure if this attribution is true, but I do know that – like the power of earning “interest on interest,” – a great principal is a force that elevates, amplifies, and supports the great work of teachers and other school staff. And, that’s a mighty force! In my experience, it’s certainly one that moves mountains, uplifts communities, and accelerates student achievement.

My fellow Ambassadors Jill Levine and Rachel Skerritt and I have visited many cities and schools over the last several months, and we’ve spoken with over 875 principals. Research is clear about the tremendous lever that principals represent in school improvement efforts. Our conversations with our colleagues around the nation affirm the research below.

  • Principals’ actions have a have influence on why 70 percent of our best teachers leave the classroom
  • There are 90,000 principals, for 98,706 schools, employing 3 million teachers all of which serve the 55 million students in American public schools. On average, then, each principal impacts 611 students, each day, of each year, over their life at a school.
  • Principals account for 25 percent of a school’s total impact on student achievement, second only to teachers
  • Principals can have enormous impact on all students because principals ensure effective instruction year to year across the entire school

I am humbled and inspired daily by the work that we do and the impact that we have. As principals, we must continue to identify and develop those leaders in our buildings that can join us in this mission of the principalship – just as Charles D’Alfonso did twenty-two years ago.

Sharif El-Mekki is the principal of Mastery Charter School-Shoemaker Campus in Philadelphia, PA, and a 2013-15 Campus Principal Ambassador Fellow of the U.S. Department of Education. El-Mekki serves on Mayor Michael Nutter’s Commission on African American Males and is an America Achieves Fellow.

A Promising Pilot to Help Student Borrowers

Cross-posted from the White House OSTP Blog.

Investing in postsecondary education is among the smartest choices Americans can make. College completion opens doors and expands economic opportunity, leading to lower rates of unemployment and higher earnings over the course of a career. But tuition rates have risen significantly in recent decades, and obtaining a college degree increasingly depends on students’ ability to take out loans and manage repayment after leaving school. While most borrowers are able to repay their student loans, many struggle, and some fall behind.

That’s why last month the President and his Administration announced a series of executive actions to help reduce the burden faced by student loan borrowers and make postsecondary education more affordable and accessible to American families. A centerpiece of this action plan is to improve the effectiveness of communications to borrowers about flexible repayment options the U.S. Department of Education offers to help ensure they stay on track with their payments. This includes income-driven repayment plans – Income-Based Repayment, Pay As You Earn, and Income-Contingent Repayment – that link monthly payments to borrower incomes.

We know borrowers are busy and that decisions about student loan plans can be complex and challenging. That’s why the Office of Federal Student Aid at the Department of Education has teamed up with the White House Social and Behavioral Sciences Team, a group of experts who focus on effective, innovative strategies for helping government programs and communications better serve citizens.

In November 2013, Federal Student Aid, in collaboration with the White House Social and Behavioral Sciences Team, launched an e-mail campaign to increase awareness of Income-Driven Repayment and help borrowers make more informed decisions about loan repayment options given their circumstances. The campaign sent emails to borrowers who had fallen behind on their payments, had higher-than-average debts, had grace periods coming to an end, had deferred or entered forbearance because of financial hardship or unemployment, or some combination of the above. In total, the campaign sent emails to over three million borrowers last year and 221,000 submitted applications.

The team embedded a rigorous, randomized-control pilot into the broader campaign, which measured the impact of e-mails designed based on insights from the behavioral sciences on action among borrowers in delinquency for 90-180 days. These e-mails indicated income-driven repayment eligibility criteria, the benefits associated with taking action and the costs associated with inaction, and the relevant web-links and servicer contact information. Behavioral science research demonstrates that timely, clear and low-cost informational messages of this kind can help citizens better understand their options, make more informed decisions, and follow through on their intentions.

Results of the pilot are promising. Sending e-mails to borrowers in delinquency for 90-180 days resulted in a statistically significant, four-fold increase in completed income-driven repayment applications. This effect translates into roughly 6,000 additional completed applications in just the first month after sending among the 841,442 borrowers in the pilot.

We are working together to use insights from this trial to inform future communications and develop even more effective ways of reaching borrowers to help them stay on track.

Maya Shankar is Senior Advisor for the Social and Behavioral Sciences at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Ajita Talwalker Menon is the Senior Policy Advisor for Higher Education at the White House Domestic Policy Council.

The Importance of Hearing from Teachers Around the World

A sweeping majority of secondary school teachers in the U.S. report that they are satisfied with their jobs — that is one of the main takeaways from a new survey, called the Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS). The survey provides a unique opportunity to hear from U.S. teachers and to compare the views of educators in this country with those from educators around the globe.

According to the report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), 89 percent of U.S. teachers are satisfied with their job – nearly the same as the international average of 91 percent. According to the survey, which reflects self-report by “lower secondary” teachers (grades 7, 8 and 9 in the United States), 84 percent of U.S. teachers surveyed stated that they’d choose teaching if they could decide on a career path again. This positive response is higher than the average (78 percent) for other TALIS countries.

In 2013, TALIS surveyed more than 100,000 lower secondary teachers and principals in 34 education systems around the world, asking them for their views on job satisfaction, working and classroom conditions, professional development, teacher appraisal, and more.

Unfortunately, while U.S. teachers and principals are positive about their jobs, their optimism doesn’t extend to believing that society values their work. Only one-third of U.S. lower secondary teachers believe the teaching profession is valued in U.S. society, which is slightly above the TALIS average, but well below other high-performing education systems. In Singapore, 68 percent of teachers believe their society values their profession; in Korea, 67 percent do; and in Finland, 59 percent feel that way.

TALIS shows highs and lows in the area of teacher training and professional development as well. Lower secondary teachers in the U.S. report higher-than-average levels of education and participation rates in professional development (PD), but they are less positive about the impact of PD. For example, nearly all U.S. lower secondary teachers have completed higher education. And, 84 percent of U.S. teachers report that they attend courses or workshops, compared with the TALIS average of 71 percent. But in every PD content category, U.S. lower secondary teachers are less likely to report a moderate or large impact on their teaching.

TALIS also shows that U.S. lower secondary teachers tend to work independently, with 42 percent of teachers reporting that they never engage in joint activities across classes and age groups. Half of U.S. teachers report that they never observe another teacher’s classes or provide feedback to peers.

TALIS presents an opportunity for teachers, principals, policymakers and others to delve more deeply into data that can be beneficial in the effort to support and elevate the teaching profession in this country.

Engaging with teachers in discussions on teacher leadership through new initiatives like Teach to Lead and the Department of Education’s RESPECT (Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence, and Collaborative Teaching) project are important parts of the effort to make teaching a valued and respected profession on par with medicine, law, and engineering in this country. It’s our hope that the next TALIS survey, which will be conducted in 2018, shows even further increases in teacher satisfaction, collaboration, and their perception about the value of their critical profession.

For more information, please see TALIS data tables at NCES, the OECD’s U.S. country report, and the OECD’s international report.

Maureen McLaughlin is senior advisor to the Secretary and director of international affairs and Curtis Valentine is a Council on Foreign Relations fellow working with the International Affairs Office.

The “Softer” Side of Summer Learning

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It can be challenging helping children with reading, writing, math and science skills during the summer months to combat the “summer slide,” the learning loss than can occur when school is out.  Parents work hard helping their children stay engaged in summer packets and reading lists to reinforce academic skills, or “hard skills,” which though beneficial are often difficult to assist and not very motivating to students during the carefree days of summer.

Instead, a focus on “soft skills,” often called “people skills” can be a more inviting focus of summer learning, can be developed in children of any age and can be the start of successful life-long habits. Skills such as cultivating a growth mindset, setting goals, journaling, reflecting, collaborating, and communicating are just to name a few.

A national survey reports 77% of employers believe that soft skills are just as important as hard skills in the workplace. Some “soft skills” and ways you can help your child cultivate them this summer are:

  • Work ethic – This is also known as “grit.” Grit allows us to keep going and not give up. Give your child a difficult task to complete and encourage them throughout the process for not giving up and teach them how to bounce back from failure.
  • Goal Setting – Have your child write goals for each week and then have them check them off as they get done and celebrate success!
  • Dependability – Make your child responsible for tasks that they can complete independently. Give them a chance to be the leader at a family meeting, or decision-maker for family activities for a day.
  • Positive attitude – Create a gratitude calendar with your child where each day they write down one thing they are grateful for in their lives.
  • Teamwork – Get your child involved with athletics or other activities where they will need to work as a part of a team. Create family and friend activities where all members must work together to accomplish a fun task.
  • Problem solving –Think about ways to make everyday routines and activities a puzzle, such as leaving clues around the house that lead kids to solving puzzles while doing chores. Have them interact with online simulations to solve problems.
  • Reflection – Help your child begin a journal. Each day have them write about the events of the day, observations in nature, or things they have learned. Younger students can use pictures to express thoughts.
  • Communication – Create opportunities for your child to speak to you, family and friends. Use pictures, online field trips, role-play scenarios, or educational videos as conversation starters to get your child thinking and talking.

The most important thing you can do to support these skills is to model them daily. By engaging in activities with your children that focus on the “softer” side of learning this summer you will send them back to school in the fall with critical skills that will impact their future college, career and personal lives.

Dr. Toni Hull, a 2010 Teaching Ambassador Fellow, currently is an Instructional Specialist and Science teacher at Mesa Middle School in Las Cruces, NM. You can follow her on twitter @enchantedleader.

Modeling 21st Century Skills at Model U.N.

On April 29th, the Department of State hosted 21 middle and high schools from the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area for the Global Classrooms DC Model United Nations (MUN) conference.  Global Classrooms is an educational program that targets traditionally underserved public schools and aims to foster the skills required for global citizenship. On this day, approximately 700 students participated in debates as country delegates to various U.N. committees. These student delegates researched and developed positions for their assigned countries before coming to the event, where they demonstrated their critical thinking, public speaking, collaborative problem-solving, and leadership skills, and applied them to global issues in a realistic environment.

Model-UN

At this year’s conference, students tackled four major issues: access to primary education, human trafficking, access to clean water, and the crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Department of Education staff members from the International Affairs Office and the Office of Postsecondary Education served as Policy Advisors to the roughly 150 students debating how best to tackle the issue of access to primary education.  The topic is particularly timely: despite concerted international efforts to achieve universal primary education by the end of 2015, 57 million children worldwide are still not in school.

When preparing for the conference, students were asked to consider why access to primary education is so important, what the main obstacles are, and what progress has been made thus far. In their research, students learned that some countries do not deem access to education a high priority and that sometimes the cost of simply travelling to and from school is prohibitive to families. Additionally, safe passage is not always guaranteed – especially for children in war-torn countries. They also considered gender discrimination and the needs of girls and young women, particularly with regard to safety and security, early marriage, and pregnancy.

These dedicated young people took their involvement in MUN extremely seriously. In playing the role of their assigned country with all its development challenges and opportunities, they broached issues that their professional counterparts also face. Topics included measures to combat child labor, use of cell phone technology in classroom instruction, building infrastructure and how to pay for it all. The young delegates worked diligently to bring other members to consensus on a range of working papers.  Their astute questions and on-the-spot responses were impressive.

In the end, though, youthful exuberance won out as participants rushed the stage to accept their awards and have their team’s picture taken in the State Department’s Dean Acheson Auditorium. Prizes were awarded for best position paper and best delegation, as well as the Secretary-General’s Award for best team overall. The young delegates tackled tough issues and displayed flexibility, creativity and open-mindedness along the way, all skills necessary for success in the 21st century. The long hours of preparation and hard work they put in have put them squarely on the path to becoming first-class global citizens.

Adriana de Kanter is a senior International Affairs specialist and Rebecca Miller is an International Affairs specialist in the International Affairs Office at the U.S. Department of Education.

Extending Learning Outside the Classroom: The Power of the Summer Internship

As a teacher, I’ve seen the tremendous impact internships have on a student’s ability to see him or herself as capable of success.  They can provide students deliberate exposure to role models who have used education as a vehicle for success, thus helping students see success as tangible for themselves.

Through summer internships, students gain real-world skills and cultivate a sense of pride and purpose. They also see that they have something of value to contribute to the world.  Internships can expose students to academic majors they never previously considered and provide them with real-world career preparatory skills.

Students of mine who participated in such programs have remarked on how much their lives and perspectives have changed.  One of my students, Joy, said of her internship with the Bureau of Engineering, “I was able to learn about a community by contributing to society and helping it achieve a cleaner environment. I job shadowed important city officials, got involved in the Echo Park Lake rehabilitation process, and the gained a once-in-a-life time opportunity which will open up my future.”

Another student, Paola, recently applied social media skills she learned in a Global Girls Internship last summer by creating a class blog on what it means for our students to be learners (thelearnersproject.wordpress.com) and has decided she wants to major in journalism.

So, how does a student go about getting a summer internship?  Here are five easy steps for students to make the idea a reality and for their supporters to help them do so:

  1. Research.  Schools often have a career center, career wall space, or a staff member who knows about current internship and community opportunities.  Also, a Google search will return a plethora of listings. Narrow down by location, field and time frame.  You may even be able to travel for free with your internship — the possibilities are endless!
  2. Resume.  Assemble a basic resume that includes your experiences in and out of school.  Highlight experiences that show skills including leadership, community service, teamwork, technology or linguistic skills.  Be sure to have someone you trust proofread your resume.
  3. Letter of recommendation.  Tell a teacher, coach, counselor, or community member you’ll be applying for internships and ask if they know you well enough to write you a good letter of recommendation.  Give them a few weeks notice if possible.  You may want to ask for a few copies of the letter and ask if they can also be a reference for you on your application.  Be sure to note if the application asks for a letter that is signed and individually submitted, or simply included with the application.
  4. Essay.  Some internships may ask for statements on why you want the internship, what your goals are, how you’ve faced hardships or how you’ve contributed to your school or community.  Remember to focus not only on what you did, but what it says about who you are as a person.  When writing from a solutions-based, survivor mindset, focus on focus on how you dealt with challenges, rather than simply the challenges themselves.
  5. Job interview.  Be prompt, be prepared and be present.  Attend school or community offers workshops on job preparation. Practice your interview handshake and greeting, rehearse questions ahead of time, research their organization so that you have some knowledge about it going in, and come up with a couple follow-up questions to ask your interviewers.  Follow up with a thank you email or card telling them you really enjoyed meeting them and learning about their organization.

In an ideal world, all students would have the opportunity to participate in internships and programs to enrich their education.  This would not be separate from their education at school, but an extension of their academic learning.  Internships and programs are powerful opportunities for students to take charge of their own learning and invest in their own potential.  Thought it takes time and planning, it has made a world of difference for my students and I’m sure yours will feel the same.

Good luck!

Linda Yaron, a 2010 Teaching Ambassador Fellow, currently teaches English, Peer College Leadership, and Healthy Lifestyles at the School for the Visual Arts and Humanities in Los Angeles, CA.

The Five “Qs” of Public Service Loan Forgiveness

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#StudentLoanForgiveness. It’s a hashtag now, so you’ll all pay attention, right? Everyone wants their student loans forgiven. The perception is that very few qualify for any forgiveness programs. But did you know that there is one broad, employment-based forgiveness program for federal student loans? Most people don’t, or misunderstand how it works. Let me break down some key points of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program to help you figure out if you could qualify.

Can you check the all the boxes?

[ 1 ] Work in “Qualifying Employment”

First, you need to work in “qualifying” employment; that is, you must work in “public service.” But what does that mean? Everyone seems to have a different definition. Ours is based on who employs you, not what you do for your employer. The following types of employers qualify:

  • Governmental organizations – Federal, state, local, Tribal
  • Not-for-profit organization that is tax-exempt under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code
  • A not-for-profit organization that provides some specific public services, such as public education, law enforcement, public health, or legal services

The following types of employers do not qualify:

  • Labor unions
  • Partisan political organizations
  • For-profit organizations

[ 2 ] “Qualifying Employment Status”

If you work at one of these types of organizations—great! That’s the most difficult criteria to meet. Next, you need to work there in a “qualifying” employment status, which means that you must be a full-time employee of the organization. Full time, for our purposes, generally means that you meet your employer’s definition of full time or work at least 30 hours per week, whichever is greater.

[ 3 ] Have a “Qualifying Loan”

A “qualifying” loan is a Direct Loan. It’s that simple. Of course, it’s the government, so nothing is actually that simple. You see, there are (or were) three big federal student loan programs:

  • The Direct Loan Program, which is now the biggest program,
  • The Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program, which is what many students borrowed from until mid-2010, and
  • The Federal Perkins Loan Program, which is a relatively small program.

You may have loans from just one of these programs, or you may have borrowed from all three. If you’re not sure which loan program you borrowed from, I can’t blame you—I had 20 separate loans by the time that I finished graduate school! You can use the National Student Loan Data System to determine which program you borrowed from. Here’s a tip from me to you:  basically, if you see “Direct” in the loan type name, it’s a Direct Loan. Otherwise, it’s not.

Don’t have a Direct Loan? Don’t despair! You can consolidate your other federal student loans into a Direct Consolidation Loan and qualify that way. Not having a Direct Loan is the biggest reason that borrowers who are seeking Public Service Loan Forgiveness aren’t on the right track, so be sure that all of your loans that you want forgiven are Direct Loans before you proceed to the next step. If you do need to consolidate, be sure to check the box in the application that says that you’re consolidating for the purposes of loan forgiveness. It will make your life easier, I promise.

[ 4 ] Have a “Qualifying Repayment Plan”

Next, you need a “qualifying” repayment plan. All of the “income-driven repayment plans” are qualifying plans for Public Service Loan Forgiveness. So is the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan, but if you’re on that repayment plan, you should switch to an income-driven repayment plan straight away, or you will have a drastically lower loan balance left to be forgiven after you meet all of the criteria.

If you’re consolidating your loans, you can apply for an income-driven repayment plan in the consolidation application, but if you don’t, you will be placed on the Standard Repayment Plan for Direct Consolidation Loans, which is almost never a qualifying repayment plan for Public Service Loan Forgiveness. If you already have Direct Loans, you can submit an income-driven repayment plan application on StudentLoans.gov.

[ 5 ] Make 120 “Qualifying Payments”

Lastly, you need to make “qualifying” payments—120 of them. A qualifying payment is exactly what you would expect it to be. You get a bill. It has an “amount due” and it has a “due date”. Make the payment in that amount by the due date (or up to 15 days after), and the payment is a “qualifying payment”. If you make a payment when you’re not required to—say, because, you’re in a deferment or you paid your student loan early—then that doesn’t count. But if you reliably make your payment every month for 10 years, you should be okay. The best way to ensure that your payments qualify is to sign up for automatic payments with your loan servicer.

Note that these payments do not need to be consecutive. So, if you had made 10 qualifying payments, and then stop for a period of time (say, you go on a deferment), then start making qualifying payments again, you don’t start over; instead, you pick up where you left off.

And, I’m sorry to have to mention a seemingly arbitrary date, but a payment only qualifies if it was made after October 1, 2007, so nobody can qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness until 2017 at the earliest.

Ok, so do I qualify?

Now that you have the details, let me explain how all of the criteria work together. For any payment to count toward Public Service Loan Forgiveness, you need to meet all of the criteria when you make each payment. Stated differently, you need to be working for a qualifying employer on a full-time basis when you make a qualifying payment under a qualifying repayment plan on a Direct Loan. When you break these criteria down separately, it seems simpler. It’s when you try to pack it into one sentence that it seems overwhelming.

As much as I’d like to think that all of you now have a perfect understanding of this program and how it works, I know all of you are thinking—“okay, but do I qualify?” Here’s how you find out. Download this form. Fill it out. Have your employer certify it. Send it to FedLoan Servicing (one of our federal student loan servicers), queue up How I Met Your Mother on Netflix, and wait for an answer. FedLoan Servicing will do the following:

  • Check whether you have any qualifying loans.
  • If you have qualifying loans, validate that your employment qualifies. If none of your loans qualify, they’ll tell you so.
  • If your employment qualifies, they will send you a letter confirming that your employment qualifies. Then, any of your federally held loans that are not serviced by FedLoan Servicing will be transferred to them so that we can keep better track of your loans and payments for Public Service Loan Forgiveness. If your employment doesn’t qualify, they’ll tell you so.
  • After your loans are transferred, they will match up the dates of employment on the form that you submitted to the payments you made during that time and determine how many qualifying payments you made. You’ll receive a letter with a count of qualifying payments and an anticipated forgiveness date (which assumes that all your future payments also qualify).

It’s after you get this payment count back that you’ll know whether you’re on the right track. So, it really is a good idea to submit this form early and often. We recommend that you submit the form once per year or when you change jobs. The beauty of submitting these forms early and on an ongoing basis is that it means that you won’t have to submit 10 years’ worth of them when you ultimately want to apply for forgiveness. It also means that when you apply for forgiveness, that you’ll be able to do so with confidence that you qualify for it.

One more piece of good news: Public Service Loan Forgiveness is not considered income by the IRS. That means that it’s tax-free.

Ian Foss has worked as a program specialist for the Department of Education since 2010. He’s scheduled to be eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness on October 6, 2021, if all goes according to plan.

Teen Dating Violence and Sexual Assault in Schools: Resources and a Call to Action

Every year, about 1 in 10 American teenagers experiences physical violence at the hands of a boyfriend or girlfriend, and many others are sexually and emotionally abused. Dating violence can inflict long‑lasting pain, putting survivors at increased risk of substance abuse, depression, poor academic performance, suicidal ideation, and future violence. The U.S. Department of Education is dedicated to working with students, families, educators, and communities to prevent abuse and support survivors.

In one Texas high school, a student was raped in the band room. After reporting it to her teacher, she was told to confront her attacker to discuss what happened. The school district then accused the teenager of “public lewdness” and then removed her from her high school. She – and the rapist – were sent to the same disciplinary school.

Rather than supporting her, she was punished by the people charged with protecting her.  The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights investigated and found that the school had violated Title IX, a federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in education. As part of the settlement, the district agreed to, among other things, revise its policies and procedures, provide mandatory annual training for staff, and designate a counselor at each school as “on call” for students reporting sexual harassment.

The Department of Education, our federal partners, and countless schools and colleges nationwide are committed to preventing incidents like this. We are working together to raise awareness, develop effective prevention strategies, and educate young people about healthy relationships. We recognize that the real work of preventing teen dating violence and sexual assault happens at the local level, in schools, in homes, and in community centers across the nation. Schools must clearly communicate that they will not tolerate violence of any kind, will respond to any students who report it, and will hold offenders accountable. It is also critical that we support those students who have experienced violence, which may include providing access to academic support or counseling.

The Department is vigorously enforcing compliance with Title IX and the Clery Act—laws that help make our schools safer. The following resources provide more information to support schools and communities in their efforts to create safe, healthy learning environments and identify, investigate, and remedy teen dating violence and sexual assault:

If you, a friend, or a loved one, is in an abusive relationship, the National Dating Abuse Helpline will offer immediate and confidential support.  To contact the Helpline, call 1‑866‑331‑9474, text “loveis” to 22522, or visit www.LoveIsRespect.org.