An Open Letter from Education Secretary Miguel Cardona and Deputy Secretary Cindy Marten on Women’s History Month

An Open Letter from Education Secretary Miguel Cardona and Deputy Secretary Cindy Marten On Women’s History Month

It’s Women’s History Month, and this year’s national theme—Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories—honors women of all ages and backgrounds who shape and share the story of America, while expanding our understanding of the human condition and strengthening our connections with each other and our world.   

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Update on the Free Inquiry Rule

By Nasser H. Paydar, Assistant Secretary, Postsecondary Education

In September 2021, the Department announced it was conducting a review of regulations related to First Amendment freedoms, including religious freedoms, which impose additional requirements on its higher education institutional grant recipients. The Department’s review of these regulations focused on ensuring several key elements, including First Amendment protections, nondiscrimination requirements, and the promotion of inclusive learning environments for all students. As noted in this blog post, the Department believes that protecting First Amendment freedoms, including protections for free speech and the free exercise of religion, on public university and college campuses is essential.

After its thorough review,  the Department today issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking proposing to rescind a portion of the regulation related to religious student organizations because the Department believes it is not necessary in order to protect the First Amendment right to free speech and free exercise of religion given existing legal protections, it has caused confusion about schools’ nondiscrimination requirements, and it prescribed a novel and unduly burdensome role for the Department in investigating allegations regarding public institutions’ treatment of religious student organizations. We have not seen evidence that the regulation has provided meaningfully increased protection for religious student organizations beyond the robust First Amendment protections that already exist, much less that it has been necessary to ensure they are able to organize and operate on campus.

Where complex questions over the First Amendment arise, Federal and State courts are best equipped to resolve these matters. In its proposed rule, the Department is proposing to return to this longstanding practice of deferring to courts. If public institutions of higher education (IHEs) do discriminate against religious student organizations on the basis of the organizations’ beliefs or character, such organizations can and do seek relief in the courts, which have longstanding expertise in and responsibility for protecting rights under the Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses. Thus, while the Department certainly shares the view that public institutions should not treat religious student organizations less favorably than other student organizations, we do not, at this time, believe that a threat of remedial action with respect to the Department’s grants helps achieve this goal.

Today, the Department also issued a request for information on other portions of the rule related to public institutions’ compliance with the First Amendment and private institutions’ compliance with their stated policies and procedures on free speech and free inquiry. The Department is seeking additional input from stakeholders on the impact of these portions of the regulations, including whether they have had any beneficial or detrimental effects.

We encourage stakeholders and the public to submit comments through the public comment process.  The Department’s proposed rescission and request for information will each be open for public comment for 30 days from the date of publication in the Federal Register.  The unofficial version of the proposed rescission is available here and the request for information is available here.

This proposed recission does not alter the Department’s commitment to religious freedom, which is enshrined in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as a fundamental human right that contributes to the vibrancy, diversity, and strength of our nation.  This proposed rescission also does not alter the Department’s commitment to emphasize the importance of First Amendment protections, including religious freedom protections, at public IHEs. The Department will continue to encourage all IHEs to protect students’ opportunities to associate with fellow members of their religious communities, to share the tenets of their faith with others, and to express themselves on campus about religious and nonreligious matters alike.

Presidential Scholars Program Recognizes Outstanding CTE Students and Teachers

Presidential scholars program recognizes outstanding CTE students and teachers

In 2015, the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program began recognizing outstanding students in the field of Career and Technical Education. The move was designed to highlight innovation within CTE programs and the educators who empower these students.

“The opportunities I received through CTE allowed me to realize my full potential and helped me to familiarize myself with various industries so I could make an informed decision about my future. CTE is an educator-driven, empowering opportunity that allows students to learn in an engaging environment, setting them up for success in any field they choose to pursue,” said Tristan Lee, 2022 U.S. Presidential Scholar in Career and Technical Education.

Recipients are also asked to identify a distinguished teacher that influenced them in the classroom and beyond. For Tristan, that teacher was Benjamin Femmel who has taught English Language Arts and Reading (ELAR) for 25 years. He recently transitioned to teaching at the high school level and shared his thoughts on the importance of CTE.

We asked. “How has CTE impacted you?”

During my years teaching KSAT (Krueger School of Applied Technology), where I had Tristan Lee (the Presidential Scholar that nominated me) in 8th grade, I was able to see first-hand how the application of knowledge invigorated the learning process and retention. This is true for every subject, not just their CTE classes.

We wanted to know “What is the most meaningful interaction/memory you have had with CTE?”

A major focus of school last year (21-22) was SEL (social emotional learning). I designed multiple Minecraft projects and competitions that simulated engineering dilemmas/challenges. My students love the unconventional approach and I feel they learned the material to a greater dimensional depth than they would have without the technological extensions.

What advice would you provide to teachers starting their careers?

My advice would be to always keep thinking and searching for new ideas and new ways to do things. Collaborate with veterans (experienced teachers). Collaborate with people beyond your discipline. The best collaboration doesn’t begin within a formal setting, it usually begins with a conversation.

Working with teachers from other pathways and disciplines has helped motivated students to get involved in these programs. CTE also helps students find pathways and careers that are right for them. Behind every successful CTE program are the educators that inspire and empower their students.

These dedicated adults spend their time planning, sponsoring, and supporting students in their classrooms. During this CTE Month, we would like to thank all those educators who have encouraged students to broaden their horizons within a CTE pathway.

CTE Grantees Celebrate Today, Own Tomorrow!

CTE Grantees celebrate today, own tomorrow!

Career and Technical Education (CTE) Month provides a platform to showcase the Native American Career and Technical Education Program (NACTEP), Native Hawaiian Career and Technical Education Program (NHCTEP) and the Tribally Controlled Postsecondary Career and Technical Institutions Program (TCPCTIP) and their important role in building knowledge and skills in different fields for different communities. The theme for 2023 CTE Month is reflected well in the work of our Native American and Native Hawaiian CTE (Perkins V) grantees, Celebrate Today, Own Tomorrow!  

These two student profiles provide perspective on how diverse CTE experiences can be in the learning journey.

Girl holding large dog with emoji hearts around her head

Robi Lono: A NHCTEP participant with Windward Community College through ALU LIKE reports on the value of her Information Technology internship. During each week of this internship, she covered different jobs offered, job descriptions, tools, day to day tasks, career progressions, certifications and much more. Robi conducted numerous hands-on activities that provided valuable insights on the different aspects of cybersecurity. Activities included help desk operations, postmortem incident attack, quantum ransomware attack, creating a network diagram, working with window servers and cloud engineering, project management, human management. Robi took Azure Fundamentals training offered by Microsoft. Robi stated, “I really enjoyed … hands-on experience in which we had to complete a NMAP module on as well as find a publicly disclosed vulnerability.” Robi concluded, “(a)fter completing the ‘Ao Kahi x CBTS Technology Internship with Hawaiian Telcom, I have gained an abundance of knowledge and techniques which could potentially benefit me in my future career.”

Justin Forbes: A Cook Inlet Tribal Council NACTEP graduate reports improved quality of life and expanded employment opportunities for his career through his CTE training. Justin said his favorite part was the hands-on learning. Justin completed the Heavy Duty Diesel Mechanic program in 8 weeks. Following graduation, he was hired at Red Dog Mine as an Entry-Level Mechanic. In the future, he would like to commercial fish, with the ultimate goal is to return to his village of Togiak to be the village’s Mechanic so he can support his community by creating a road that assists hunters. Justin is thankful he had this opportunity to receive support and concluded, “I now have a reliable foundation for my family, I see a future of learning, working, growing, and earning vacations. I am more focused on being a light in this world by being a better role model for my brothers, cousins, and community.”

Robi and Justin are just two examples of how CTE works for students’ career success. CTE educates the whole child and:

  • provides not just classroom instruction by teachers with industry experience, but hands-on or experiential learning,
  • adult mentoring opportunities through work-based learning (e.g., apprenticeships, internships, etc.),
  • leadership opportunities through Career and Technical Education Student Organizations,
  • application of core skills to a career (e.g., technical writing, presentation skills, construction math, culinary science, economic application to a small business, etc.),
  • earn industry certifications and/or credits toward an Associate or Baccalaureate degree, plus
  • create partnerships and networks to provide career entry-level opportunities and to advance careers.

For more information on NACTEP, NHCTP or TCPCTIP, contact Patti Beltram, Ed.D.,

ED Invites Organizations to Make School Infrastructure and Sustainability Commitments

ED invites organizations to make school infrastructure and sustainability commitments

In the U.S., accountability and funding for school curriculum, buildings, and grounds primarily comes from state and local agencies. For this reason, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) has limited authorities in the areas of school infrastructure, sustainability, environmental justice, and climate. Nevertheless, ED continues to think creatively about how it can spur action and build leadership capacity to make all schools healthy, sustainable 21st century environments that offer environmental sustainability learning. One way ED can grow these efforts is by inspiring school partner organizations and developing shared messaging across the nation for what makes a healthy and sustainable school.

Today, we are thrilled to invite national, regional, and local non-profits, foundations, businesses, and community-based organizations to share bold commitment(s) to advance school sustainability, encompassing infrastructure, health, environmental sustainability education, climate, and environmental justice in America. By May 31, we ask organizations and entities to complete an online form to share how they will advance at least one of these infrastructure and sustainability priorities:

  • Priority #1: Ensure equitable access to healthy, safe, sustainable, 21st century physical learning environments.
  • Priority #2: Develop, maintain, and provide environmental sustainability learning, such as climate literacy, green workforce development, and outdoor learning.
  • Priority #3: Build capacity for infrastructure, sustainability, environmental justice, and climate mitigation and adaptation in schools.

Those making commitments are encouraged to address at least one of the following parameters in their commitment submission:

  • Environmental Justice: How does your commitment account for and take actions to promote environmental justice, so that all students have equitable access to safe, healthy, sustainable, and modern school environments and engaging environmental sustainability education?
  • Health: How does this work ensure access to sustainable school buildings and grounds that are healthy environments for learning?
  • Climate Action: How does this effort help education leaders understand their role and act on climate issues, including mitigation, adaptation, and climate education?
  • Capacity Building: How does this work build school district and state education agency capacity to continuously improve school environments and environmental sustainability learning?
  • Data Collection and Standardization: How will your commitment advance data collection and standardization on infrastructure and sustainability, with a view toward informed and equitable policymaking?
  • Transparency and Goal-Setting: How do you plan to achieve the outcomes? What is the unit of change, and why do you think your approach will work?

Example commitments might include:

  1. Plans to bolster environmental, sustainability, and climate education in X number of schools in the country by doing Y over Z timeframe.
  2. A partnership to bring indoor air quality technical assistance to X number of school districts annually for Y years.
  3. A pledge of Y dollars toward a specific school infrastructure purpose that mitigates climate change, reduces utility costs, and improves health and learning outcomes.
  4. A proposal of X practices to Y schools which will enable more healthy, nutritious, local, student-grown produce in cafeterias.
  5. A commitment of X dollars into Y community(ies) in support of any or all of the following: infrastructure, environmental justice, health, climate, or whole school sustainability.

Around the time of our July 25 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools awards ceremony, ED will share about bold new commitments through a variety of communications mediums. Take the School Infrastructure and Sustainability Challenge by making a commitment today!

California School Counselor Advocacy Tips

California school counselor advocacy tips

As a school counselor in the Livingston Union School District, I have seen firsthand the vital role that school counseling positions play in supporting academic achievement, social-emotional development, college and career readiness, and mental health and wellness in our students.  My Superintendent, Andres Zamora, has been a leader in expanding and supporting school counseling positions, recognizing the positive impact they have on our school community.  

Between 2006 – 2015, I was one of only two school counselors serving our 2,500 student body, four schools in Livingston.  I was a guidance counselor more than a school counselor.  In fact, I called myself an “ASCA wanna-be” school counselor providing each school site with whatever counseling service they needed most during my limited time at each site instead of comprehensive services. 

In 2015, the local control and accountability plan (LCAP) was introduced in California and we had an opportunity to do things differently.  My superintendent, Andres Zamora, invited me to a conversation that changed school counseling in Livingston. I spoke about the role of school counselors in every building as academic advisors, social emotional developers and college and career explorers.  I spoke about how school counselors could provide students and families with access to information, opportunities, and resources. 

My superintendent understood the value of school counselors in education, agreed without hesitancy and the rest is history.  We hired four additional counselors ensuring every school had at least one counselor and the middle school with two.  This significant change stemmed from an intentional and inclusive conversation between practitioner and a Superintendent who believes that all students, regardless of their individual circumstances, deserve equitable access to education, information, opportunities and resources. 

In 2018, my middle school earned national recognition for providing all students in the building with a comprehensive, data-driven school counseling program.  The next year, two additional schools in my District achieved national recognition and the last school in our District achieved national recognition.  We are the only California school district to have all nationally recognized schools! 

As a school counselor, here are a few key tips I recommend for advocating for school counseling positions:

  • Educate others about the benefits of school counseling positions: Share research and data about the positive impact that school counseling positions have on student academic achievement, social-emotional development, college and career readiness, and mental health and wellness.  I’ve done this regularly in school bulletins, caregiver newsletters, school counseling advisories and school board presentations.
  • Share success stories: Share specific examples of how school counseling positions have made a difference in the lives of individual students or the school community as a whole.  I’ve done this regularly through staff shout outs and, mostly recently, created an LUSD Student Success story that is shared with staff and community.
  • Advocate for the ASCA national model and recommended ratio: Use the ASCA national model and recommended ratio as a guide for advocating for sufficient staffing levels and support for school counseling positions.  Use data to share how school counseling programs impact the lives of students.

By increasing the number of school counselors in schools, we can better support the success and well-being of all students.  Counseling gives students the opportunity to work through challenges they may be facing and build the skills and confidence they need to succeed in the classroom. In a time where mental health challenges are becoming more prevalent, the support of school counselors is more important than ever. 

The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) has developed a national model for school counseling programs that provides a framework for how these positions can support student success. The ASCA also recommends a ratio of one school counselor for every 250 students, to ensure that students have access to the support they need.

Department of Education Bio

Alma Lopez, 2022 School Counselor of the Year, Lead Counselor, Livingston Middle School (California)

The first Latina School Counselor of the Year, Lopez has served as a school counselor for 15 years. She is lead school counselor at Livingston Middle School, as well as Livingston Unified School District’s school counseling coordinator. A graduate of California State University – Fresno, Lopez embodies the full spirit of school counseling. She serves as a Recognized ASCA Model Program (RAMP) reviewer and is a board member for the California Association of School Counselors. In 2018, Lopez received the city of Livingston’s “You Make Us Proud Award” and also helped her school achieve RAMP status the same year. Colleagues refer to her as a positive, humble, and strong advocate for school counselor programs who keeps the students with the most needs top of mind, ensuring they have access to the resources to support their success.

An Open Letter from Education Secretary Miguel Cardona on MLK Day

An Open Letter From Education Secretary Miguel Cardona on MLK Day

Each January, we have an opportunity to rededicate ourselves to advancing equality, as we honor the life and legacy of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Education is one of the greatest levers to advance equality and empowerment. That’s because with great educators, high expectations, and an excellent, equitable education, all students, of all backgrounds, can do all things they set out to achieve.

Giving all students access to an education that helps them reach their potential is one of the greatest civil rights issues of our time.

Each of our children has limitless potential and unique value. Every day, we must fight for them and their futures. And each of us involved in that work is part of the civil rights movement that Dr. King led.

I’m humbled to be in that movement with you.

And I’m proud that since the President’s first day in office, the Biden-Harris administration has been fighting to dismantle disparities in our public policies, institutions, and communities that take us further from what our country stands for: opportunity for all. 

In our first two years, we’ve safely reopened our public schools and taken important steps to address what I call “the ABCs of the teaching profession”—agency, better working conditions, and competitive salaries for our educators. 

We’re delivering vital improvements in infrastructure and school safety. We canceled $48 billion in student debt for 1.9 million borrowers, including public servants, Americans with disabilities, and students cheated by colleges that promised them a better life, but failed to deliver. We announced and continue to fight for historic student debt relief for 40 million low-and-middle-income people. In addition to providing funding and calling for reimagined mental health supports in our schools, we’ve launched ambitious new public-private initiatives for recruiting and training new tutors and mentors to help our students feel seen and supported, and for erasing inequities in access to afterschool and summer learning programs.

And we’re intentionally partnering with other federal agencies to reimagine high school, so students have more pathways to earn industry credentials and college credits, and graduate better prepared for careers and higher education.

Throughout this process, we have proudly and unapologetically stood up for students whose rights to an education free from discrimination have been under attack. Our schools are places of inclusion and respecting the differences that make all our students special. That is what makes us unique; that’s what makes us American. 

With the President’s leadership and historic support from the American Rescue Plan and the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, we have more funding to do more in education than ever before. These investments and efforts are a down payment on transformational change. 

We have a chance to be the generation that truly transforms our education system into one that makes Dr. King’s dream a reality … by working together and by recognizing that all of us are connected. 

In a 1968 speech Dr. King said, “[W]e are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. … I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. …”

When we provide our children—regardless of background or circumstance—with a high-quality, rich education, we empower them to be what they can be.

So, especially today and in the days ahead, let’s follow Dr. King’s example of leadership and service, finding ways to give a hand up to others and make a difference in our communities.

Together, let’s work harder than ever to raise the bar for learners of all ages and backgrounds … to reimagine education … and to bring the transformative change that this moment requires and that our students and families deserve. 

Virginia Elementary School Invokes Code to Fight Bullying

“Red, Green, Black, and Blue. 

My Tribe is my Crew. 

We are O-C-C-O-Q-U-A-N! 

My school is the perfect 10…at The ‘O’!” 

These are words from one of the cheers we recite when we welcome new students to our school. At Occoquan Elementary School in Woodbridge, Virginia, we have a House System that fosters our sense of community. This is a common practice where the school is divided into subunits called “houses” and each student is allocated to one house at the moment of enrollment.  We compete to see who has the most spirit, but we also strive to uphold a code of behavior we call The 30 Essentials

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Dominican University: Serving Latine Students in the Midwest

Dominican University: Serving Latine Students In The Midwest

By: Verónica Gutiérrez, MBA’22, Dominican University, River Forest IL and Marcela Reales Visbal, Activity Director for Title V, Part B – Promoting Post-Baccalaureate Opportunities for Hispanic Americans, Dominican University, River Forest IL

“I had never heard of the term HSI until I came to Dominican University”, said Verónica Gutiérrez, a first-generation Latina who grew up in one of Chicago’s northwestern suburbs and recently graduated with her Master’s in Business Administration from Dominican.

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Colleges Have a Responsibility to Protect Students’ Best Financial Interests

Colleges have a responsibility to protect students' best financial interests

Students look to their college as a trusted source of information as they determine how to pay for tuition, housing, books, and other basic needs. In today’s environment, students are facing additional financial challenges coinciding with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, rising interest rates, and inflation. Each year, millions of students look to their college when receiving federal financial aid and may receive information about financial banking products, debit cards, and deposit accounts.

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