A Call to End Racial Harassment on Campuses

Recently, the Department held a meeting with campus leaders from around the country — presidents, faculty, legal experts and student leaders — to tackle the issue of racial harassment on campuses and to lay out solutions to foster supportive educational environments. In the wake of recent incidents of racial harassment on college campuses across the country, Secretary Duncan penned an Op-Ed for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch to share highlights from the meeting.

Nancy Cantor, Chancellor of Rutgers University-Newark, was in attendance and wrote a statement in solidarity to the Rutgers community, sharing the university’s support for students calling for an end to racial harassment on campuses and for institutions of higher education to do their part to make social change.

Dear Members of the Rutgers University-Newark Community:

As the world continues to process the horror of the violence that claimed so many innocent lives in Paris on Friday night, we, too, at Rutgers University – Newark feel profound shock and bewilderment.  Our minds go to other places – to Beirut and Kenya, to the children lost at sea seeking freedom, to the lives lost that so mattered in Ferguson and Baltimore and on, to the seemingly endless instances in our daily lives, on our campuses – even ours – when difference cloaks bigotry or just ignorance, when we fail to listen to the other, fail to give the respect they deserve and manage instead, perhaps without intent, to hurt those with whom we should be sharing one community.  How can this keep happening?

We sit here, in a city made global by waves of migration over many generations, a place whose heart beats to a rhythm of opportunity-seeking that knows no boundaries of land of origin, language, race, ethnicity, a gathering of peaceful peoples pursuing different faiths and common desires.  Yet we see also around us the scarring consequences of decade after decade, group after group, strangers to each other, enemies even within the same land, separated by an architecture of segregation, an economy of inequality, a politics of polarization, a dogma of intolerance.  We witness the loss of a new future, struck down.  And we wonder aloud, what we can do differently?

We can take seriously what we all know to be profoundly true, the diversity of our university and its home community with all its ties to heritages far and wide is the power we have – arguably the only power we have – to make a fairer, safer, more just, less violent, more peaceful future.  This is it, so what shall we do to act together in that power?

We shall answer the call of our students to rally in solidarity with other students facing racial harassment on campuses from Missouri to Ithaca and on, as they stand here echoing the courageous voices of the Black Organization of Students at Conklin Hall and the Minority Student Program at the Law School.

Join me as I join too, and do so, as they call us to do, with an eye toward looking too at ourselves, for we have the benefit of numbers here, the vibrancy of much diversity, but not the luxury of complacency. We must examine how hard it is, every day, for each of us, to move from the insularity of difference to the breadth of real conversations, when we live with the ghosts of a long past with an even longer reach, as I wrote about in August.  Can we do this together?

We need to, as the strategic plan study group on leveraging diversity asked us to, and as a new Commission on Diversity and Transformation, following their lead, and co-lead by Jerome Williams and Shirley Collado, will do going forward – scholars, activists, students, faculty, and staff will articulate what it means for us to be a place that values the freedom of expression and the responsibility of listening, so that we too can move forward to the heartbeat of opportunity and the inspiration of excellence built on the power of difference coming together.  If we are the one’s we’ve been waiting for, let’s not wait any longer.

My best in hope,

Nancy Cantor

Nancy Cantor is Chancellor of Rutgers University-Newark

#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

Welcoming Baby Green Ribbon… Sustainably

Over the past five years, I have had the task of breathing life into our U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS), growing the award to recognize not just schools, but also districts, postsecondary institutions, and state education agency officials, and to encompass social media, newsletter, resource and webinar portal, and annual tour, in addition to recognition award. At the same time, participating stakeholders, feds, states, districts, and schools have taught me about sustainable schools — and sustainable living.

Íñigo Steven Falken joined the Green Ribbon family on July 29.

Íñigo Steven Falken joined the Green Ribbon family on July 29.

Welcoming the other “Baby Green Ribbon” turned out to be a lesson in letting go and in living in accordance with the Pillars of our award. It was only natural that I implement our Pillars as I prepared for his arrival. We skied, swam, practiced yoga, hit the gym, and hiked through the pregnancy (including the day he was born). I investigated early learning centers with a view toward daylighting, nutrition, outdoor time, and walk or bikeability to school. I bought baby clothing and gear pre-loved, and wore a recycled maternity dress to our ceremony. I strove to be more resource efficient, since any single mom can certainly stand to cost-save on utilities.

With the support of supervisors at ED, I found work-life balance running this outreach and engagement initiative on a flexible schedule from Colorado. Now in our fifth cycle of the award, I’ve learned that we can incentivize change, spotlight innovative practices, and connect individuals, but that all of this works best when I push a little less and flow a little more.

Andrea and Íñigo live out the Pillars of the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools Award.

Andrea and Íñigo live out the Pillars of the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools Award.

Despite all of these gains, I admit that when 41 weeks rolled around, I panicked. Baby Green Ribbon’s lesson was, once again, by straining more, he wouldn’t necessarily arrive faster. Indeed, as I had experienced with both “projects,” patience has an important place in our sustainability work – individually, in schools, and in government.

After 41 weeks and three days, on July 29th, I welcomed Baby Boy Green Ribbon, Íñigo Steven Falken, in water at Colorado’s oldest free-standing birth clinic, Mountain Midwifery Center. Weighing 7 pounds, 10 ounces, and measuring 20 inches, he was well worth the wait.

We are taking a break from the Green Strides Tour this year, but will be back to highlight innovative practices across the country next fall. The announcement of the 2016 cohort will once again take place on Earth Day and we will celebrate honorees at a fifth annual ceremony in July. Íñi can’t wait to meet his green schools family and to learn school and lifelong conservation, wellness, and environmental learning practices.

Andrea Suarez Falken is Director of U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools and ED’s Facilities, Health, and Environment Liaison. To learn more about U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools, visit our website. You may also subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seeking Your Input on Protecting Student Medical Records

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unique Mentoring Program Helps Students Build Confidence and Learn Valuable Skills

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Student athletes from Urban Squash spoke with Secretary Duncan about how they can use sports for leadership development and academic success.

Recently, ED invited student athletes from Urban Squash to speak about how they can use sports for leadership development and academic success. The organization is a youth development program that combines the sport of squash with academics, mentoring, community service, and college placement for public school students in under-served communities.

Unanimously, the students expressed that being involved in the sport has made them more confident to speak up, taught them what it means to respect and help each other as a team and inspired them to make changes in their community. They also spoke about the difference it made to their academic and personal growth and how empowering it was to be part of something, “larger than ourselves.”The student athletes encouraged everyone – regardless of neighborhood or background – to get involved with community building opportunities inside and outside of school. These activities are not limited to sports teams. They identified programs in their neighborhoods geared to support youth such as non-profit organizations, community service, internships and even employment opportunities.

While most of these programs welcome students with open arms, the students acknowledged the challenge that often goes along with finding out about these opportunities. To promote accessibility and diversity in these programs, they recommended expanding outreach to a more diverse population.. As a sport that is still largely outside the mainstream, the issues of awareness and diversity are even more pressing in squash.

Ultimately, these afterschool associations serve as a cultural program to connect different students and inspire them to advance their goals. It also gives them a chance to learn from each other by working in a team with diverse backgrounds and interests. Program participants are committed to making the most out of these educational opportunities – both on and off the court – to better themselves and their communities. As one student explained, “We are student athletes but the student part comes first”Squash is an indoor racket sport played by more than 15 million people in 153 countries. Until recently, it was played almost exclusively at prep schools, elite colleges, and exclusive clubs in the United States. Thanks in large part to programs like Urban Squash the sport has become more popular in recent decades. Because of its strong link to top-tier educational institutions, it has become an effective after-school program “hook.”

Hannah Pomfret was a 2015 summer intern at the U.S. Department of Education.

The Promise of Pell

Goucher College students work on a group project during a class at the Maryland Correctional Institute-Jessup on July 31, 2015

Goucher College students work on a group project during a class at the Maryland Correctional Institute-Jessup on July 31, 2015

A gallery of criminal justice experts, educators, and formerly incarcerated individuals gathered at a 2008 conference at SUNY Old Westbury to examine how access to higher education in prisons and for formerly incarcerated individuals could positively transform individual lives and communities. The conversations held at this conference revolved around the need to dedicate advocacy efforts towards eliminating barriers to higher education for currently and formerly incarcerated people. We were a lone wolf of sorts; a singular outlier in the field—at the time, no criminal justice reform organization exclusively addressed this issue. This conference was the first of its kind dedicated to expanding higher education access for the incarcerated.

We saw then, as we do now, that access to higher education must be the central element of any substantive effort to reform the criminal justice system, and to improve the lives of the individuals this system is intended to rehabilitate.

Our personal interest in the subject stems from the fact that each of us had a very different experience while incarcerated. Glenn Martin was incarcerated with the opportunity to earn a degree from the Niagara Consortium. He eagerly pursued this opportunity realizing that his in-prison education would grant him opportunities for a civically engaged life post-release. On the other hand, the facility where Vivian Nixon served her sentence lacked any postsecondary programs, thus squandering the potential of the women incarcerated within and creating additional barriers to successful reentry.

Education became a tool that Glenn could use to chip away at the barriers before him—his opportunities for employment and further postsecondary education were improved substantially. More than anything, though, having access to these classes empowered Glenn and allowed him to think critically about what had led him to prison and what he could do to ensure he never returned.

Both of us realized that to deprive anyone of access to higher education, when the circumstances themselves merited the highest kind of educational intervention, was to limit them from tapping into their full potential.

To adequately address these issues, we formed the Education from the Inside Out Coalition – currently led by the College and Community Fellowship, JustLeadershipUSA, and the Center for Community Alternatives. It is a national, non-partisan collaborative of organizations, individuals affected by the criminal justice system, advocates, and educators dedicated to increasing access to higher education.

Our initial efforts centered on restoring Federal Pell Grants to incarcerated individuals.

In 1994, as part of the Violent Crimes Control and Law Enforcement Act passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bill Clinton, students incarcerated in Federal and State prisons, of which there were approximately 23,000 at the time, lost the ability to access Pell Grants to fund higher education. A product of the era’s “tough on crime” mentality, this legislation reflected the misguided belief that only heavy-handed tactics could solve the period’s soaring crime rates. Research in the intervening decades has helped shatter the myth that education for the incarcerated doesn’t reduce crime. This research clearly demonstrates that access to higher education is actually a boon for public safety; it drives down recidivism rates, improves the lives of incarcerated students and returning citizens, and improves the lives of their families and communities.

On July 31st, Secretary Duncan and Attorney General Lynch, along with several Obama Administration officials and members of Congress, announced an initiative that will waive the ban on Pell Grant eligibility for individuals in select Federal and State penal institutions. We hope that this announcement will be a step towards ultimately reversing the ban.

Goucher College students participate in a lecture at Maryland Correctional Institution-Jessup on July 31, 2015

Goucher College students participate in a lecture at Maryland Correctional Institution-Jessup on July 31, 2015

When Senator Claiborne Pell created Pell Grants, he wanted to ensure that everyone would have access to higher education, especially those on the lower rungs of the socioeconomic ladder. He was concerned with creating access for those who most needed education. Senator Pell saw education as a human right that could help lift up individuals, not a privilege that could be denied as a punitive measure.

While much work needs to be done to ensure that the full promise of Pell is fully restored, we are hopeful that the Obama Administration will continue to take steps towards making that future a reality. We applaud Secretary Duncan and Attorney General Lynch for their combined efforts to reverse the school-to-prison pipeline by making in-prison education accessible to those in need of a second chance. Because of our own disparate experiences in accessing higher education in prison, we know firsthand the transformative power education can have on the life of someone who involved in the justice system. It can take these individuals, the ones that society often overlooks and forgets, and forge them into future leaders and change makers.

Vivian Nixon is Executive Director of College and Community Fellowship (CCF), an organization committed to removing individual and structural barriers to higher education for women with criminal record histories and their families. Glenn E. Martin is the Founder and President of JustLeadershipUSA (JLUSA), a national advocacy organization dedicated to cutting the US correctional population in half by 2030.

The American Dream is Not Optional

Memphis is a city rich with history, especially when it comes to civil rights. During a recent trip to Tennessee, we were profoundly inspired by the launch of new efforts to support undocumented youth, which will help to ensure the right to a quality education for more young people living in this country.

FullSizeRenderThese efforts will be made possible through a Commitment to Action from Christian Brothers University (CBU) in collaboration with Latino Memphis—an organization assisting Latinos in the Greater Memphis area with health, education, and justice issues, and through an anonymous grant. CBU and Latino Memphis answered a call to action to support and invest in the success of Latinos, from cradle-to-career, from the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics (Initiative). This commitment, totaling $12.4 million, will provide scholarships to help undocumented youth pursue their college dreams. More than 100 undocumented Latino students will now have the opportunity to get a college education because of this important investment.

While we were in Tennessee, we engaged with student leaders from CBU. Their grit, resilience and fierce dedication to their education were palpable. When we asked how the students would use their college degrees, the common thread in their responses was giving back to their communities. These students are part of the Latino Student Success program, a privately funded scholarship and loan program aimed at leveling the playing field for students ineligible for state and federal student aid.


“My parents did not finish middle school. It is not that they did not want to help, but they did not know how to and could now financially. I am thankful for the opportunities I have today, but I had to do it all on my own” – CBU Student


It’s critical to find more colleges, universities, and other partners across the country willing to make commitments that can honor and celebrate diversity in our higher education system and ensure that more young people have access to the life-changing opportunity that a quality postsecondary education can make possible.


“We cannot be a country that denies opportunity.” – John King


According to a 2012 study by The University of Tennessee Center for Business and Economic Research, the population of Hispanics in Tennessee increased 134 percent from 2000 – 2010, representing the third fastest Latino population growth in the country.

Our trip gave us a chance to highlight an emerging community that has answered the Initiative’s call to action. For CBU President John Smarrelli, this investment is at the very core of CBU’s mission, which acknowledges that the American dream is not—and should not—be optional.

IMG_0028We ended our trip with business leaders at the Greater Memphis Chamber to learn about the opportunities and solutions that may be helpful to better increase the educational attainment of Hispanic students.

It was a great day, indeed, but there is much more work to do to fulfill America’s promise as the land of opportunity. The challenge is as great as it’s ever been. That’s why we recognize that the health and prosperity of our country is a shared responsibility that takes all of us working together. Through the Initiative’s work and efforts across the Obama Administration, we aim to increase the success of the growing Latino community from preschool through college and careers.

Next month, the Initiative will celebrate its 25th anniversary, a historic milestone that will be commemorated with the announcement of even more public- and private-sector commitments to action that invest in and support the educational attainment of Hispanics. Learn more about our efforts by visiting the Initiative’s website or follow us Twitter.

Study Abroad: Developing Global Competencies

Rachel Warner studied abroad in India and has been collecting and presenting data on how well students in the United States develop global competencies as part of her internship at ED.

Rachel Warner studied abroad in India and has been collecting and presenting data on how well students in the United States develop global competencies as part of her internship at ED.

As an intern in the International Affairs Office at ED, my main project of the summer has been collecting and presenting data on how well students in the United States develop global competencies. Globally competent people have knowledge about the world and use it to investigate beyond their immediate environment, recognize various perspectives, communicate with others, and translate ideas into actions. In schools this is done through international-based subjects such as foreign languages or world history, global knowledge entwined in other subjects, digital exchanges, and study abroad programs. Unfortunately, the data on study abroad show a dismal tale of how students are developing global competencies.

My study abroad experience in India was one of the best opportunities I have ever had, but unfortunately only 14% of U.S. students study abroad at some point during their degree program. I learned about Indian culture, religion, history, and development, all while interacting with diverse people. I also worked on what I believe is one of the most important skills: asking critical questions with humility and respect. Whether I continue to travel to different cultures or stay at home in our increasingly diverse communities, engaging with others in a respectful way is necessary to having positive and peaceful interactions.

Study abroad also teaches students how to be leaders and engage with the interconnected problems that our world faces today. Research about leaders in 30 different countries reported that nearly half of them had international experience. Our world is becoming increasingly interconnected. One in five U.S. jobs is tied to international trade and hiring managers view international skills as increasingly important. Having the ability to engage with those from different backgrounds and communicate effectively enables positive change to occur. In order to handle global challenges and be leaders in the globalized future, students need to have international experiences that expose them to people of different backgrounds and beliefs.

Next spring, I have the opportunity to participate in a Semester at Sea voyage around Asia and Africa. SAS is a study abroad program where you learn on a ship and travel between 15 ports, which you then have the opportunity to explore. On the ship each student takes a comparative lens course, which connects course content to each country we visit. The reason I choose SAS for my semester abroad, however, was their idea of integrating global content into courses. One of the courses I plan on taking is International Management. In the course, students apply case studies from the countries visited to business concepts, and also participate in a field lab. I will gain firsthand experiences that will help me gain greater comprehension and appreciation of the material.

Although the data was disheartening, it can help us formulate a vision for how the development of global competencies can be promoted in the future. There are many great programs out there that help teach students about the world and how to apply that knowledge. Interning at the Department has allowed me to meet many people who are passionate about helping students succeed. I have faith that international education can be promoted and encouraged and our students can succeed in the changing international arena.

Rachel Warner is a rising junior at the College of William & Mary. She interned in the International Affairs Office in Summer 2015.

San Antonio Independent School District Honors All Students’ Learning Through the Arts

On July 9, 2015, student artists and performers, along with educators, arts education leaders and ED staff gathered at the Department of Education for a ceremony to open an art exhibit featuring over 60 works by students in 30 schools from the San Antonio Independent School District (SAISD, Texas). Given the title “Through Our Eyes” by the students, the exhibit honors the importance art has for them in their community.

SAISD is an urban school district serving approximately 54,000 students. Of those, 95 percent are Latino and the vast majority come from low socio-economic backgrounds (the whole school district is Title I-funded). But Luz Barraza, a principal at an early childhood center in San Antonio, warned against categorizing the students as “at risk.” Instead, she said, “we need to view our students as really resilient.” One needed only to glimpse at the students’ work in both the visual and performing arts to recognize the truth in those words.

San Antonio dancers phenomenal women

Three students from SAISD’s Young Women’s Leadership Academy perform to Maya Angelou’s poem “Words” about phenomenal women. (U.S. Department of Education/Joshua Hoover)

During the opening, students from the Young Women’s Leadership Academy, the only all-girls public school in the district, performed dance pieces focused on the theme of influential, empowering women. One piece, “The Story of Rosa Parks,” opened with a young dancer seated in a chair, her wrists in handcuffs, reading a newspaper whose major headline was about the undoing of the violation of civil rights; as she twisted her way across the stage, the dancer threw off her chains in defiance. In another piece, a trio danced to a poem by Maya Angelou. With legs lifting and heads swinging in unison, it was easy to see that each one was, in Angelou’s words, a “phenomenal woman.”

11th-grader Karease Williams performs “The Story of Rosa Parks” in dance.

11th-grader Karease Williams performs “The Story of Rosa Parks” in dance. (U.S. Department of Education/Joshua Hoover)

Texas, so often associated with strong high school football teams, also has a rich history of honoring the arts. In fact, every elementary school student in the state must have 45 minutes each of art, music, and theater instruction every week, and every high school employs three full-time teachers in the arts ̶ visual arts, music, and theater.

Omar Leos, the district’s coordinator of visual and theater arts as well as the organizer of the exhibit and the students’ trip to D.C. for the opening, attributed the prominence of the arts to the fact that there are so many art contests in the state. People realize that athletics are not the only grounds for competition, “the arts can compete, too,” Leos said. SAISD’s school board vice president, Arthur Valdez, was also very proud to be able to say to those present that his school board had just funded eight new full-time art teacher positions for the elementary schools in the district to ensure that every child will have an arts education.

Student artists and performers with their teachers along with the speakers at the opening. (U.S. Department of Education/Joshua Hoover)

Student artists and performers with their teachers along with the speakers at the opening. (U.S. Department of Education/Joshua Hoover)

Indeed, the arts have played an important role in the lives of many students. According to Leos, data collected by the district found that the students involved in the fine arts performed better on both discipline and attendance measures. For many of the students at the opening, the arts were also a way of expressing what might be hard to put in words. One young woman explained that her abstract piece, “Transcendence,” was about her mom, who passed away in 2007, transcending to heaven. The transition from dark to light across the canvas symbolized her own passage to happiness. Another artist, whose piece featured a self-portrait overlaying a smattering of text, reflected that the words and images she painted were things she often ruminated about; putting those thoughts on paper helped her stop overthinking them.

In addition to learning how to communicate emotions clearly and powerfully, artists learn “how to take a critique, … how to build up and play to the strengths of their peers, … and how to stand up and defend their work and their value.” These “things that make great artists,” Lucy Johnson, the Department’s deputy assistant secretary for rural outreach and former mayor of Kyle, Texas, told the audience, “also make great leaders.” She concluded her speech by encouraging the students to “never stop thinking and behaving like artists.

Malkie Wall is an intern from Middlebury College in the Office of Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education.

More photos from the event may be viewed on the Department of Education’s Flickr site.

The Department’s Student Art Exhibit Program provides students and teachers an opportunity to display creative work from the classroom in a highly public space that honors their work as an effective path to learning and knowledge for all. To visit the exhibits or for information about exhibiting, contact Jackye Zimmermann at jacquelyn.zimmermann@ed.gov.

Know It 2 Own It: Celebrating 25 years of ADA with Tony Coehlo

What better way to wrap up our year-long celebration of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) than by hearing from a primary sponsor and advocate for the landmark legislation, Tony Coehlo. Here are few of his thoughts on the passage of the ADA and what needs to happen to continue moving forward.

Tony Coehlo was the author of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Tony Coehlo was the author of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) I’ve reflected on the momentous occasion when

President George H. Bush signed the ADA into law on July 26, 1990. The groundbreaking civil rights legislation would prohibit discrimination, while ensuring equal opportunity, for individuals with disabilities.

Though much more commonly appreciated now, at the time the ADA transformed the fabric of American life for individuals with disabilities.

Prior to the law, individuals with disabilities had no unique rights. A blind person could be legally removed from a restaurant because he couldn’t read the menu. A woman in a wheelchair could be legally removed from a movie theater because her chair was an inconvenience to others. And men and women throughout the country were legally refused employment because they had a disability of some kind.

For myself, I came to learn this. First diagnosed with epilepsy as a teenager after being in an accident in my family’s pickup truck on our dairy farm in rural California.

Though at first my family hid the diagnosis from me, and it later drove me into dark period in my life, through the grace of many committed people, I eventually turned my energy into passion for making life better for others.

In fact, what drove me to pursue public office was my epilepsy.

As I became more educated about disabilities, and grew into leadership positions within the House of Representatives, I learned that there was a whole group of our population that was experiencing discriminatory actions.

This realization lead me and several others to pursue the creation and passage of ADA.

Today, approximately 59 million (or one in five) Americans suffer from a disability. And while ADA provides many basic rights, there is still much to be done.

The Obama administration has been most aggressive in implementing and enforcing the rights promised by ADA but we must make sure the momentum continues through the 2016 presidential election and into the next administration.

From a policy perspective gaps remain when it comes to providing good jobs and quality transportation to disabled individuals.

Having employment provides a sense of pride and legitimacy in American society. It also provides a paycheck and the ability to live independently.

And access to transportation is crucial because it too often is the hurdle that prevents a person with a disability from being able to dependably remain employed.

These are truths regardless of whether you are disabled or not. We just need to do better at ensuring that those who are disabled have access to each as equally as those who do not.

Globally, we need to continue the discussion as well by encouraging the U.S. Senate to ratify the International Disabilities Treaty

For these reasons and more we need young people – and everyone with a disability – to participate, speak up, share their stories and get active in bringing about this important social change.

Please join me in renewing our commitment to the ADA’s promise as we celebrate the incredible progress we have made as a nation during the past twenty-five years on behalf of millions of people.

Former U.S. Rep. Tony Coelho was the author of the ADA.