U.S. Department of Education Launches the Your Place in Space Challenge

U.S. Department of Education Launches the Your Place In Space Challenge

The U.S. Department of Education has announced the launch of the Your Place in Space Challenge. This is the first challenge in the CTE Momentum series, an annual challenge series to prepare high school students for rewarding careers and increase access to career and technical education (CTE). The Your Place in Space Challenge invites high schools to submit designs for a product or service that will contribute to space missions and exploration.

Teams may pursue designs of their choice or find inspiration from one of four suggested areas of exploration — covering topics such as space debris, the International Space Station, space travel, and the environment. Submissions are due by 6:00 p.m. ET on October 30, 2023. An independent judging panel will review submissions based on the challenge selection criteria and recommend up to 10 winners, who will each receive at least $5,000. The Department anticipates announcing the winners and launching the next annual challenge in early 2024.

Helping Students Pursue Space Careers

The space industry is expected to triple in size over the next 30 years, employing over 1.5 million people and generating $780 billion in economic activity by 2050. From welders and cybersecurity experts to communications professionals and botanists, space careers promise higher-than-average wages and strong growth expectations over the coming decades. But space careers demand specialized skills — and students need new opportunities to build skills for future success. CTE programs are uniquely positioned to meet these needs because they offer students hands-on opportunities to apply knowledge and skills that they learned in a classroom setting.

“Our students need interdisciplinary opportunities to gain the skills critical for valuable careers — and our teachers deserve support in creating these inspirational educational programs. Through the Your Place in Space Challenge, the U.S. Department of Education is helping students connect the dots between the skills they build in CTE programs and fulfilling careers in the space industry.”

— Dr. Amy Loyd, Assistant Secretary, Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education

Learn How to Get Involved

Get started by exploring the curated resources for inspiration on how to bring the Your Place in Space Challenge into classrooms during the 2023-2024 school year. To learn more about the challenge and receive updates on all CTE Momentum challenges, visit YourPlaceinSpaceChallenge.com and sign up for the series newsletter.

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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2022 Presidential Scholars Weigh in on the Importance of CTE

The U.S. Presidential Scholars Program was established in 1964, by executive order of the President, to recognize and honor our nation’s most distinguished graduating high school seniors. Max Aulwes, Alan Mo, and Sreeya Pittala are three of the 2022 U.S. Presidential Scholars Program recipients for excellence in Career and Technical Education (CTE). They took the time to check-in, respond to our questions, and share their experiences from high school CTE and beyond with us.  

The Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE) asked: Sreeya, what do you want others to know about CTE? 

The career-oriented focus of CTE is very helpful because it teaches you many soft skills (employability skills) that you wouldn’t learn in a classroom setting. The level of engagement will prepare you for many opportunities down the road. 

OCTAE asked: Alan, why do you think participating in CTE courses in high school is important? 

CTE provides a wide range of activities to provide students with skills required in the industry and makes academic content accessible to students by providing it in a hands-on context. CTE education offers students opportunities to explore career options and acquire the technical skills and knowledge to work towards industry-recognized certifications and high-demand careers.  

OCTAE asked: How did your CTE teachers help guide your interest in these pathways? 

Max credits his CTE education teacher as one of the most important pieces to his high school career. She consistently pushed me out of my comfort zone when I needed it; and encouraged me every step of the journey.  

Sreeya’s teacher encouraged her and her classmates to follow their passion. My teacher asked what excited us and urged us to explore that topic or profession further. My teacher always saw potential in me and never stopped encouraging me to take on new challenges and opportunities. 

Max and Alan and Sreeya express it best when discussing the role of their CTE Teacher:  

As a freshman in college taking entry level business courses, the knowledge I already have coming into the course work is fantastic. It’s all to the credit of the amazing dedication and hard work of my teachers. I regret not being more thankful for them during high school. -Max 

I am thriving in college completely covered by scholarships studying a major I love. I only hope that I will be as good of a technical expert as Mr. Robert Fox. We keep in touch even as I leave high school and enter the university environment. – Alan 

Ms. Mundell – Thank you for making the education of your students a priority. Your support has been one of the most remarkable aspects of my entire high school experience and I am forever grateful to you. – Sreeya 

The Take-Away 

These students thrived in their High School CTE programs and have carried the lessons they learned into their post-secondary experiences. None of this would have been possible without the excellent CTE educators who helped them along the way. These students are already leaders in their field and well-equipped to achieve their ambitious goals. We can’t wait to see what their future holds.  


The U.S. Presidential Scholars Program recognizes distinguished graduating seniors every year. The program started in 1964 through an executive order. In 2015, the program began recognizing students who excel in the field of Career and Technical Education. 

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.

ED Calling for Input on School Infrastructure and Sustainability Funding

The Department of Education (Department) is interested in stakeholder input regarding the Senate Committee on Appropriation’s Explanatory Statement for the 2023 Appropriations Bill, which directs the Department regarding Elementary and Secondary Education Act School Safety National Activities funds as follows:   

  • School Infrastructure and Sustainability.—Recognizing the growing challenges high need LEAs face in ensuring that their school facilities provide safe, healthy, and engaging learning environments, the Committee directs the Secretary to use up to $50,000,000, with the precise amount still to be determined, for grants to States for technical assistance to high need LEAs in leveraging existing resources to make needed improvements to their highest-need public school facilities. … [A]s the planning and management of elementary and secondary public school facilities has gotten more complex, there has not been an investment in providing the information, education, or training of the LEA personnel responsible for decision making, planning, budgeting, operations or management of public school facilities. In making grants to States, the Secretary is encouraged to prioritize applications that describe how under-resourced LEAs, including small and rural LEAs, will be provided with technical assistance and training for facilities related challenges associated with risk management, preparing for natural disasters, strategic planning, and applying for and leveraging existing resources to improve the health, safety, and learning environment for students.  
  • National Clearinghouse on School Infrastructure.—The Committee recommendation includes $2,000,000 for the proposed National Clearinghouse on School Infrastructure and Sustainability to compile and make available technical assistance and training materials to State educational agencies and local educational agencies on issues related to educational facility planning, design, financing, construction, improvement, operation, and maintenance. The Committee encourages the Department, in establishing and operating the clearinghouse, to consult and engage with public and private sector stakeholders with expertise in school infrastructure, green schools, and sustainability education with the goal of including robust and trusted resources.   

Department staff welcome your input as they consider the Committee’s statement. Please send your comments to InfrastructureandSustainability@ed.gov by Friday, February 17. Please include your contact information, your organization name and type (i.e., State Educational Agency, Local Educational Agency, school, non-profit organization, etc.) or individual information in the body of your message. The Department will consider all input but will not be able to provide individual responses to emails.  

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!

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. 

Department Announces $160 Million in Grants to Raise the Bar for Student Success and Innovation

Secretary Cardona has challenged us to not just refine the same strategies but to make the most of this once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform education. We have a clear challenge to reimagine our schools, and the Department is making investments in education innovation through programs like EIR and other federal grants.  

The Department recently announced $160 million in new grant awards through the Education Innovation and Research (EIR) program. This year’s cohort of grantees is comprised of 28 entities that include state education agencies, local education agencies, institutions of higher education, and nonprofit organizations across the U.S. Through the EIR program, grantees will design, scale, and validate programs that can help solve education’s most pressing problems. Most importantly, they’ll be working to address the continuing impacts of the COVID19 pandemic. 

Here are 5 examples of how EIR grantees are responding to support students:

  1. San Diego Unified School District introduces work-based learning experiences

EIR funds will help support the development of the district’s MetaSocratic Peer Tutoring Project. Tenth through 12thgrade math students from across the district will be paired with 9th-11th graders to provide math tutoring. Through this experience students will be introduced to education and child development career pathways. Work-based experiences like this can help students better decide career pathways and feel better prepared to enter the workforce.

  1. CommonLit, Inc. offers a blended learning curriculum to help student achievement in reading, writing, speaking, and listening

CommonLit, Inc. was awarded EIR funds to advance a blended learning curriculum for grades 6-12.  The curriculum will include aligned PD, assessments, and school district support framework. Through digital assessments, teacher professional learning, and cultural and technology-based supports, the project helps students improve their English Language Arts skills.

  1. Wisconsin Center for Education examines a web-based classroom assessment system

EIR funds will help the Wisconsin Center for Education examine a web-based classroom assessment system that promotes data-driven instruction and student autonomy. This program supports high-need middle school science learners, particularly multilanguage learners. Visuals, graphics, animations, and on-screen assists will help students who would otherwise be disadvantaged by traditionally language-heavy assessments.

  1. The M-SENS project led by the University of Oregon Foundation develops a program to support kindergarten student math achievement and support positive behavior management strategies

The “Math Ready-Supporting Early Number Sense (M-SENS)” at the University of Oregon Foundation was awarded EIR funds to work with kindergarten teachers to integrate positive behavior management strategies. M-SENS is meant to help students improve in math faster, reduce challenging behavior in whole-class settings, and give teachers more tools to help students with their early math and behavior needs.

  1. The RWDS project from PREP- KC helps students solve real-world challenges and become data scientists

EIR funds were awarded to the “Real World Data Science (RWDS)” project from PREP-KC to help middle school students learn data science skills. Through the program, students prepare for a STEM-focused career by combining STEM learning with hands-on learning. Industry professionals serve as mentors and experts on the subject matter. Students will solve problems in data science that come from the Kansas City area and their own interests. These real-world problems are the core of a curriculum that aims to make every student feel like a data scientist and align data science instruction with important math and science standards, which will help students do better in STEM-focused classes.

These FY22 grantees reflect Secretary Cardona’s priority to promptly respond to the effects of the pandemic and ensure that all students have equal access to high-quality educational opportunities, as well as the FY22 directive from congress to prioritize innovations focused on social-emotional learning and Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM).   

Learn more about the EIR program and see the full list of grantees: https://oese.ed.gov/offices/office-of-discretionary-grants-support-services/innovation-early-learning/education-innovation-and-research-eir/awards/