4 Must-DOs Before Repaying Your Student Loans

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Congratulations, Class of 2015! Your hard work paid off. You did it! There’s a lot to think about as you begin the next chapter. Let me help you with the student loan part.

Here are four things you should do now, before you make that first student loan payment:

  1. Find out what you owe

Start by tracking down all of your student loans. Just go to StudentAid.gov/login and log in to view your federal student loan balances, interest rate, loan servicer contact information, and more.

Note: Don’t forget to check your personal records to see if you have private student loans as well.

Login

  1. Enroll in a repayment plan that you can afford

If you take no action after you graduate, leave school, or drop below half-time enrollment, you will be automatically enrolled in the 10-Year Standard Repayment Plan. Find out what your monthly payment amount is going to be if you stick with this plan. If you don’t think you can afford that amount, consider switching to an income-driven repayment plan instead.

Income-driven repayment plans are designed to make your student loan debt more manageable by reducing your monthly payment amount to an affordable amount based on your income.

The easiest way to compare the different repayment plans based on your loan amount and income is to use our repayment calculator. Once you log in, the calculator pulls in information about your federal student loans, such as your loan balance and your interest rates, and allows you to estimate what your monthly payment would be under each of our different repayment plans. It also allows you to compare the total amount you will pay for your loan over time and can tell you the amount of loan forgiveness you’re expected to qualify for if you choose one of our income-driven repayment plans:

repayment

Estimate

Once you select a plan, contact your servicer to apply or enroll.

  1. Figure out how to pay

If you have federal student loans, you won’t pay the U.S. Department of Education directly. You will make payments to your loan servicer. Your loan servicer is a company that works on behalf of the U.S. Department of Education to process and manage student loan payments. To find out who your loan servicer is, log in to StudentAid.gov. You may have more than one loan servicer, so it is important that you look at each loan individually.

Automatic Debit: The easiest way to pay

If you want to make repaying your student loans as easy as possible, sign up for automatic debit through your loan servicer. If you choose this option, your loan payments will be automatically deducted from your bank account each month, ensuring that your payments are made on time. If that isn’t good enough, you may also qualify for a 0.25% interest rate reduction when you enroll in automatic debit. To enroll in automatic debit, go to your servicer’s website.

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  1. Know who to contact if you need help

If you ever have questions or need help with your student loans contact your loan servicer. Your loan servicer can help you choose a repayment plan, understand loan consolidation, apply for an income-driven repayment plan, and complete other tasks related to your federal student loan. It’s important to remember that you NEVER have to pay for help with your student loans. That’s what your loan servicer is there for. Their help is FREE.

It’s important to maintain contact with your loan servicer. If your circumstances change at any time during your repayment period, your loan servicer will be able to help.

Contact-Servicer

Nicole Callahan is a digital engagement strategist at the Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid.

Teacher Leadership on the Global Stage

During the last weekend in March, union leaders, state education leaders, teacher leaders, one of ED’s Principal Ambassador Fellows and I joined delegations from 15 high-performing education systems across the globe for the 5thInternational Summit on the Teaching Profession in Banff, Canada. As countries around the world share a common desire to give every child a chance in life and to support teachers who devote their lives to that goal, the summit is a unique opportunity to learn from each other’s successes and challenges and to look for ways to replicate or adapt back home what other countries are doing well. We all appreciated the hospitality of Alberta Minister Gordon Dirks and his colleagues from across Canada for providing us the opportunity to grow and learn in such a beautiful setting.

Each year at the international summit each participating country commits to work in key areas over the course of the year and then report back on progress at the next summit. Together with the AFT, NEA, and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), we reported on the progress of our commitments from 2014 on teacher leadership, early learning and labor-management collaboration to increase learning for all students.

This year, the U.S. delegation introduced Teach to Lead, an initiative that seeks to advance student outcomes by expanding opportunities for teacher leadership both in and out of the classroom, to the global stage sparking international interest in this teacher-led and designed initiative to promote meaningful opportunities for teacher leadership that improve student outcomes. Teach to Lead has become an important vehicle through which so many teachers are fighting to make their leadership dreams a reality.

While at the summit our U.S. teachers, including six who have been active in Teach to Lead, convened a meeting with Canadian, Dutch, German and Estonian teachers and are now creating an international team of teachers exchanging ideas and working to advance teacher leadership and innovation across the globe. The teachers who attended are also getting the word out to educators across the U.S. and are beginning conversations about one of the commitments we made this year–a domestic summit modeled after the international summit to highlight and expand teacher leadership opportunities in the U.S.

During the summit, countries discussed their different approaches to leadership and the importance of collaboration. The Ontario Minister described their competitive Teacher Learning and Leadership Program to fund teacher projects; Singapore builds leadership development into each of its three career tracks; Finland starts leadership training in its initial teacher preparation; and New Zealand discussed its new Communities of Schools initiative and Teacher-led Innovation Fund.

I came away from the summit discussions with a renewed energy and commitment to teacher leadership and collaboration at all levels of education. With Jeff Charbonneau, 2013 National Teacher of the Year, presenting, the U.S. delegation committed publicly to:

  • Convene a summit in the U.S. to highlight teacher leadership and expand leadership opportunities.
  • Continue to work to increase the number of children with access to high-quality early learning and encourage teacher leadership in this regard.
  • Work to increase access for learners of all ages to high-quality career and technical education and encourage teacher leadership in this regard.

As Sharif El-Mekki, principal of Mastery Charter School-Shoemaker Campus in Philadelphia, said “I was proud that teachers and principals were a part of the decision making process for establishing the United States’ commitments for this coming year. A classroom teacher (and leader) presented our commitments to the world. The significance of this was profound, and lauded by the other international teachers in attendance. It was a proud moment for teacher leadership, nationally and internationally.”

With our teachers in the lead, we are already moving ahead on our commitments and will report back on our progress to the international community next year at the 6th summit in Berlin, Germany. As Mark Sass, high school teacher leader from Colorado, said “It is exciting to know that the work we are doing around teacher leadership is building nationally, as well as internationally. I left the Summit empowered and energized knowing there is a global collective focused on elevating the profession.”

When we hosted the first international summit in New York City in 2011, it wasn’t evident that it would create an ongoing international community of practice dedicated to enhancing the teaching profession, and dedicated to improving learning for all students. But it has and that reflects the global view that all teachers and principals need and deserve excellent preparation, support and opportunities for growth. Our educators and students deserve nothing less.

Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education.

Healthy Lunchtime Challenge Returns

Cross-posted from Let’s Move!

The Healthy Lunchtime Challenge is back!

This year, First Lady Michelle Obama is teaming up with PBS flagship station WGBH Boston, the U.S. Department of Education, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to host the fourth-annual Healthy Lunchtime Challenge to promote cooking and healthy eating among young people across the nation.

The challenge invites kids ages 8-12 to join a parent or guardian in creating an original recipe that is healthy, affordable, and delicious.

One winner from each U.S. state, territory, and the District of Columbia will be selected and have the opportunity to attend a Kids’ “State Dinner” here at the White House later this summer where a selection of the winning recipes will be served.

LEARN MORE

More Than a Checkmark – Together for Tomorrow

Downey TFT

For many school districts, the creation of a vibrant, educational community where students’ grades improve consistently and the educational environment is healthy and safe may seem to be a daunting task.

Yet, on a family and community engagement school site visit last month in Harrisburg, Penn., members of ED’s Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships (CFBNP) observed how Downey Elementary, under the guidance of the Harrisburg School District and in partnership with families, CBOs, and a college institution, defies these odds. Through Together for Tomorrow, an initiative that spotlights and fosters partnerships among schools, families, and national service organizations, the collective care and capacity of these stakeholders breathes life into the cultural fabric of Downey and inspires students to step into roles as academic leaders.

“When I grow up, I want to be a scientist. I want to cure all types of sickness and cancers. I am learning about some of this in my science class, and when I finish the fourth grade next year, I am going to the Math Science Academy where I can learn much more!” one third grader said.

These words echoed the similar sentiments of many Downey students who proudly communicated to CFBNP staff that they are leaders, plan to go to college, and will try to make their neighborhoods a better place.

Parents also spoke highly of the school.

“Months ago, my child was a victim of bullying at his former school. … Now here at Downey … my child is not only safe, but he is a respected leader. It is important to ask, ‘What it is about Downey that makes it such a positive and safe learning environment in the same neighborhood as my son’s former school, only right down the street?’” said one parent.

What is helping Downey Elementary to become a vibrant school community is its intentionality in making sure that all stakeholders have an equal share in providing for the life and educational needs of the students. Organizations, such as the Harrisburg Symphony, Salvation Army and United Way, have employed innovative methods to serve the school. Messiah College engages its students in various service learning projects that enhance Downey’s appearance and learning opportunities for students. Downey houses a Parents’ Academy that encourages participation and allows them to receive up to 15 college credits. Teachers train on engaging students and parents, while a Parent Engagement Specialist oversees Parent Liaisons and implements programs to help parents become better education advocates. Downey also contains on onsite health clinic. Additionally, the elementary school has a Corporation for National and Community Service Vista member who helps build the capacity of the school.

For Downey, engaging families and communities extends beyond addressing a simple requirement or “checking the box” for community inclusion. They recognize the power and benefits of working with families and CBO’s to raise student achievement.

Read more great stories from ED’s Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships on their blog.

Eddie Martin is a special assistant in the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the U.S. Department of Education.

Marking the 50th Anniversary of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act

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Yesterday, joined by civil rights leaders, students, and educators, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), at the Martin Luther King Jr., Memorial Library in Washington, D.C.

In a speech, followed by a question and answer, Duncan discussed the education progress that America has seen in the past half-century and the work still ahead in closing achievement gaps – including the need for Congress to reauthorize a strong ESEA–also known as No Child Left Behind.

ESEA marked an extraordinary step for education, and for civil rights. The fight for educational opportunity and the fight for civil rights always have been and always will be inextricably linked.

ESEA has built a foundation under our nation’s schools, helping to raise the bar for every child, and to ensure that the resources are there for those most in need. It’s helped create an expectation that no matter where you live in this country, when students aren’t making progress, local leaders will come together to make change—especially if they are students with disabilities, students who are still learning English, students from a particular racial group, students who live in poverty, or students coming from particular school.

But Duncan said that there is still work to go:

“Our work will not be done until we ensure that opportunity is not just a possibility, but a promise.”

Duncan told the audience that teachers and principals know that ESEA is long overdue for repairs, and what needs to be done to fix the bill.

It is broken and it is wildly out of date. We need a new law that does a lot more to support innovation and creativity by educators and communities—and a lot less to stifle that creativity.

A new law must stay true to the vision that opportunity isn’t somehow optional; it’s a right—for every child in this country. We cannot afford to leave any of our talent on the sidelines.

Opportunity is a right that inspires teachers and principals to literally dedicate their lives to empowering our children.

It’s a right that encourages parents to expect their child will graduate from college and succeed in life, even if, even maybe especially if, those parents never had that chance themselves.

Our work is not done until we have lived up to that promise. To do that, we need a strong new ESEA that fulfills the right of all children to have a real opportunity to succeed.

Watch highlights from today’s speech:

Learn More:

Patrick Kerr is a member of the Communications Development division in the Office of Communications and Outreach

How to Update Your FAFSA After Filing Your Taxes

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Did you submit your 2015-16 FAFSA ® before you (or your parents, if you are a dependent student) filed your 2014 taxes? If so, don’t forget you are required to return to your application to update the information you originally estimated with the updated numbers from your 2014 tax return. And, you should update your information as soon as possible.

The easiest way to update your tax information is by using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (IRS DRT). It allows you to transfer your tax information directly into your FAFSA! Check to see if your tax return is available and if you are eligible to use the tool, but keep in mind, you generally have to wait a few weeks after filing your taxes before you can use the IRS DRT.

To update your FAFSA:

  1. Log on to gov.
  2. Click Make FAFSA Corrections.
  3. Navigate to the “Finances section.”
  4. Change your answer from “Will file” to “Already completed.”

At this point, if you are eligible to use the IRS DRT, you will see a Link to IRS button. If you are not eligible to use the IRS DRT, you can manually enter the data from your completed tax return.

  1. Click Link to IRS and log in with the IRS to retrieve your tax information.
  • Enter the requested information exactly as it appears on your tax return.
  • Review your information to see what tax data will be transferred into your FAFSA.
  • Check Transfer My Tax Information into the FAFSA, and click Transfer Now to return to the FAFSA.
  1. Review the data that was transferred to your FAFSA and click Next.
  2. Sign and submit your updated FAFSA.

Once you’ve made updates at fafsa.gov, your changes will be processed in three to five days. You’ll receive a revised Student Aid Report (SAR) indicating the changes made to your application. Each school you listed on your FAFSA can access the revised information one day after it’s processed.

The University of California at Santa Barbara put together a video that walks you through this process. Check it out:

Well, what are you waiting for? Let the updating begin!

April Jordan is a senior communications specialist at Federal Student Aid.

A Bipartisan Proposal to Fix No Child Left Behind: A Good First Step; Further to Go

Earlier this week, Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA), the Chair and Ranking Member of the Senate education committee, announced an agreement to begin a bipartisan process of fixing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The committee will consider the proposed bill next week. This agreement, however, is just a beginning. As I detailed in a speech yesterday at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in Washington, D.C., there is work ahead to deliver a bill that fulfills the historic mission of this law.

Congress originally passed ESEA 50 years ago this week. Then as now, it stood to connect civil rights to education, enshrining America’s core value that every child deserves a quality education, no matter her race, disability, neighborhood, or first language. I am happy to see this bipartisan effort come together, yet I also know the distance we have to go toward a bill that establishes an expectation of excellence for all American children, and stays true to ESEA’s role as a guarantor of civil rights.

ESEA must continue this nation’s vital progress in closing gaps for vulnerable students. In that effort, there is more yet to do.

Positive Steps

The Alexander-Murray proposal moves reauthorization forward in important ways, including requiring States to adopt college- and career-ready standards as part of the effort to ensure that all students are prepared for the demands of higher education and the workforce. It also would require that states set achievement goals and graduation rate goals for all students and student subgroups. And, the proposal would provide more flexibility than NCLB for states and school districts, and ensure that parents know how their children and children’s school are doing by keeping requirements for annual statewide assessments.

The bipartisan agreement also provides improved support for educators, especially for principals and teachers. And it takes steps in the right direction by promoting transparency on resource inequities and rejecting earlier proposals to allow resources to be siphoned away from our neediest schools.

Further to Go

Yet there are areas where this bill doesn’t do enough to support the learning of students throughout this country. As the bill progresses, we look forward to working with Congress to ensure that a final bill will do more to maintain the crucial federal role in protecting our country’s most vulnerable students. The goal is not just to identify a problem, but to do something about it.

A good bill must expand access to high-quality preschool, to give children a chance to get off to a strong start in life.

A good bill must ensure that schools and educators have the resources and funds they need to do their jobs – and that schools with high proportions of low-income and minority students receive their fair share of those resources.

A good bill must ensure meaningful accountability, and support for action, in any school where subgroups or the whole school are persistently underperforming.

A good bill must ensure bolder action and focused resources for the lowest-performing five percent of schools, including America’s lowest-performing high schools.

A good bill must ensure strong support for innovations by local educators that change outcomes for students.

And a good bill needs to close a long-standing loophole in federal law that undermines the ability of Title I funds to provide supplemental resources for schools serving high concentrations of students from low-income families, and allows local funding inequities to continue.

Photo of Star

Star Brown

Yesterday, at the Martin Luther King Jr., Memorial Library in Washington, D.C., I had the great opportunity to share the story of four-year-old Star Brown from Minneapolis. In her short life, she and her family have faced enormous challenges, and she could easily have ended up behind, before she ever started school.

With the help of teachers at the Northside Achievement Zone, however, Star is overcoming her challenges and is on track to start kindergarten next year. Her story is one of opportunity made real.

It’s easy to say that every child deserves opportunity—regardless of race, disability, zip code or family income. And it’s easy to say that we expect excellence from all our children. But it takes work to make opportunity real. Star, and the millions more students like her, deserve all the support and opportunity this country has to offer. Our work is to make sure that opportunity is not just a possibility, but a promise. Now is not the time to turn back the clock.

 Arne Duncan is U.S. Secretary of Education

What is ESEA?

Fifty years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965. The law represented a major new commitment by the federal government to “quality and equality” in educating our young people.

President Johnson, Johnson, seated at a table with his childhood schoolteacher, Kate Deadrich Loney, delivered remarks during the signing ceremony for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. (Photo credit: White House Photographer Frank Wolfe/LBJ Library & Museum)

President Johnson, seated at a table with his childhood schoolteacher, Kate Deadrich Loney, delivered remarks during the signing ceremony for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 1965. (Photo credit: White House Photographer Frank Wolfe/LBJ Library & Museum)

When President Johnson sent the bill to Congress, he urged that the country, “declare a national goal of full educational opportunity.”

The purpose of ESEA was to provide additional resources for vulnerable students. ESEA offered new grants to districts serving low-income students, federal grants for textbooks and library books, created special education centers, and created scholarships for low-income college students. The law also provided federal grants to state educational agencies to improve the quality of elementary and secondary education.

In the 35 years following ESEA, the federal government increased the amount of resources dedicated to education. However, education remains a local issue. The federal government remained committed to ensuring that disadvantaged students had additional resources, however, because as a nation we were falling short of meeting the law’s original goal of full educational opportunity.

No Child Left Behind

In 2001, with strong bipartisan support, Congress passed the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) to reauthorize ESEA, and President George W. Bush signed the law in January 2002.

President Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act into law in 2002. (Photo credit: Paul Morse/White House)

President Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act into law in 2002. (Photo credit: White House photographer Paul Morse)

NCLB put in place important new measures to expose achievement gaps, and started an important national dialogue on how to close them. By promoting accountability for the achievement of all students, the law has played an important role in protecting the civil rights of at-risk students.

However, while NCLB has played an important role in closing achievement gaps and requiring transparency, it also has significant flaws. It created incentives for states to lower their standards; emphasized punishing failure over rewarding success; focused on absolute scores, rather than recognizing growth and progress; and prescribed a pass-fail, one-size-fits-all series of interventions for schools that miss their state-established goals.

Teachers, parents, school district leaders, and state and federal elected officials from both parties have recognized that NCLB needs to be fixed. Congress was due to reauthorize the law in 2007, but has yet to do so.

Flexibility Under NCLB

In 2012, after six years without reauthorization, and with strong state and local consensus that many of NCLB’s outdated requirements were preventing progress, the Obama Administration began offering flexibility to states from some of the law’s most onerous provisions. To receive flexibility, states demonstrated that they had adopted and had plans to implement college and career-ready standards and assessments, put in place school accountability systems that focused on the lowest-performing schools and schools with the largest achievement gaps, and ensured that districts were implementing teacher and principal evaluation and support systems.

The flexibility required states to continue to be transparent about their achievement gaps, but provided schools and districts greater flexibility in the actions they take to address those gaps.. Today, 43 states, D.C. and Puerto Rico have flexibility from NCLB.

Looking Ahead

President Obama and Secretary Arne Duncan remain committed to reauthorizing ESEA to ensure that all young people are prepared to succeed in college and careers, that historically underserved populations are protected, and that schools, principals, and teachers have the resources they need to succeed.

President Obama poses with students at an elementary school at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida." (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama poses with students at an elementary school at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida.”
(Photo credit: White House photographer Pete Souza)

Some have suggested that the new version of ESEA, which would replace NCLB, should roll back the accountability requirements for states, districts and schools, and allow states to shift funds from lower-income to higher-income districts. With graduation rates at an all-time high and improving for all groups of students, such changes would turn back the clock on the progress our country has made in closing achievement gaps.

In January 2015, Secretary Duncan laid out the Administration’s vision for a new ESEA. The vision includes an ESEA that expands access to high-quality preschool; ensures that parents and teachers have information about how their children are doing every year; gives teachers and principals the resources and support they need; encourages schools and districts to create innovative new solutions to problems; provides for strong and equitable investment in high-poverty schools and districts; and ensures that action will be taken where students need more support to achieve, including in the lowest-performing schools. Learn more about the new vision here.

Interested in receiving the latest ESEA news in your inbox? Sign up for email updates.

Working to Stop Sexual Violence on U.S. College Campuses

Secretary Duncan heard from students from campuses across the country during a recent Student Voices session. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Secretary Duncan heard from students from campuses across the country during a recent Student Voices session. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

One sexual assault is too many, which is why the Obama Administration and the U.S. Department of Education (ED) are playing a strong role in working to address and prevent sexual assault on college campuses.

As part of these efforts, Secretary Duncan recently hosted a Student Voices session with students from campuses across the country to listen to their concerns and learn about the promising actions their colleges and universities are taking to tackle this pressing challenge.

The students represented institutions from California to Georgia and North Carolina to New York.

Under Secretary Ted Mitchell and Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon joined Secretary Duncan for the discussion.

“This roundtable is an opportunity for [us] to hear from diverse students from multiple institutions in order to inform our work. We hope this is the kind of conversation that can happen across all of our institutions – one that continues the work of identifying best practices, and increasing the focus on keeping students safe,” Mitchell said.

The roundtable allowed for young leaders – like Raymond Smeriglio, Temple University’s Student Body President – to share his school’s efforts to create awareness and tackle this troubling problem.

“Temple recently conducted a six-month review of the school including three months of groundwork to see what additional resources were needed on campus, and what the campus was already doing right,” Smeriglio explained.

Students also discussed the most effective ways to align awareness efforts between K-12 and institutions of higher education.

Youth leaders like Kevin William Harvey, a senior at Morehouse College in Atlanta, shared what their schools are currently doing to help build strong partnerships with city leadership, raise awareness, and collaborate with experts in the local community.

Molly Walker, from Duke University, shared that many Duke students participate in a program called “Duke Splash,” where students have taught weekend classes to high school youth about gender violence.

Spelman College’s Briana Brownlow discussed her school’s Survivor organization, which coordinates a mentorship program using the arts to help elementary school students begin to be aware of the issues surrounding sexual violence.

Students also talked about the many ways the Obama Administration engages students to address this problem, including the recent launch of the“It’s On Us” campaign, which encourages all members of campus communities to actively think about ways to prevent sexual assault.

The Administration is very concerned about sexual violence on U.S. campuses, and has launched several initiatives to address this issue. In January 2014, President Obama and Vice President Biden established the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault.

In April of that year, the Task Force released its first report to the President, which includes recommendations to colleges and universities on how to eliminate sexual violence on their campuses. In conjunction with the release of this report, ED’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued a frequently asked questions document to follow up on our Dear Colleague Letter. The Task Force also created NotAlone.gov, which the students praised for including resources from across the government on preventing and addressing sexual assaults in schools.

OCR has also increased transparency around its investigations of this issue. For the first time, the office made public the list of colleges and universities under investigation for their handling of sexual violence complaints.

No one should feel the threat of sexual assault as they pursue their education. This country’s college campuses should be free of violence, and it is our shared responsibility as a nation to end this outrage.

As the students and Department staff who attended this important Student Voices session agreed, finding the solution really is on all of us.

Devon King is an intern in the Office of Communications and Outreach and a senior at Boston University.

Developing for Impact: Making Meaningful Change, Not Just More Apps

Cross-posted from Medium.

Secretary Duncan speaking at the ASU+GSV Summit. (Photo credit: Joe Portnoy/U.S. Department of Education)

Secretary Duncan highlighted the power technology holds for closing the opportunity gap. (Photo credit: Joe Portnoy/U.S. Department of Education)

The demand for high-quality educational apps is increasing as communities become more connected, devices become more affordable and teachers and parents are looking for new ways to use technology to engage students. Yet many existing solutions don’t address the most urgent needs in education.

That’s why this morning Secretary Duncan announced the release of a new resource: The Ed Tech Developer’s Guide: A Primer for Developers, Startups and Entrepreneurs. Created with input from knowledgeable educators, developers, and researchers who were willing to share what they have learned, we designed this guide to help entrepreneurs, app developers, and educators apply technology in smart ways to solve persistent problems in education. It is our hope that the guide will answer key questions and highlight critical needs and opportunities for developing digital tools and apps for learning.

The guide highlights 10 specific areas where developers can focus their efforts for greatest impact. These opportunities represent some of the most urgent needs expressed by educators, parents, and students across the country. These stakeholders are seeking educational apps that improve mastery of academic skills, foster and measure non-cognitive skills, improve assessment experiences, engage families, support college and career planning, provide meaningful professional development for educators, improve teacher productivity, increase access for all students, and close achievement gaps.

Secretary Duncan highlighted the power technology holds for closing the opportunity gap, and meeting the needs of all students, regardless of geographic location, family income or any other demographic factor. All students have the right to an equitable education, and technology can be a powerful tool for making that a reality. For example, apps can provide access to virtual science labs and equipment that may not be available in schools, or digital connections to experts that may not otherwise be able to engage with students.

The guide also discusses some common pitfalls to avoid. For example, the value of technology for transforming learning is lost if it is only used to digitize traditional materials (e.g. scanning worksheets makes them digital, but doesn’t improve the learning experience). Instead, we encourage developers to think about innovative approaches that allow students to engage differently. What does technology make possible that could not be done before?

School leaders also report that developers often rely too much on what they remember about school from when they were a student and fail to address the complex, interrelated needs of today’s education system. Creating high-impact educational apps takes a whole community working together; in particular, educators must be involved at every stage of development for tools and apps to align with their priorities and effectively mesh with their daily workflow. The guide provides examples of successful collaborations between developers and educators to create meaningful educational apps.

Developers and entrepreneurs who choose to apply their talents to build tools for learning have the ability to help transform education in America and exponentially increase opportunities for all students.

Richard Culatta is Director of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education.

A Matter of Equity: Preschool in America

All parents hope their child will start school ready for success. Unfortunately, not every parent can find the high-quality early learning opportunity that sets their child up for success.

Earlier today the U.S. Department of Education released a new report outlining the unmet need for high-quality early learning programs in America. Roughly 6 in 10 four-year-olds are not enrolled in publicly funded preschool programs, and even fewer are enrolled in the highest quality programs.

Unmet Need

While both states and the federal government invest in early learning, these efforts have fallen short of what is needed to ensure that all children can access a high-quality early education that will prepare them for success.

Significant new investments in high-quality early education are necessary to help states, local communities, and parents close the readiness gap that exists between disadvantaged children and their more advantaged peers.

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For Latino children, the unmet need is especially great. While Latinos are the fastest growing and largest minority group in the United States, making up a quarter of 3- and 4-year-olds, Latinos demonstrate the lowest preschool participation rates of any major ethnicity or race.

And while most children who have access to preschool attend moderate-quality programs, African- American children and children from low-income families are the most likely to attend low- quality preschool programs and are the least likely to attend high-quality preschool programs.

Building on Progress

To address the unmet need for high-quality preschool, states and the federal government have invested in initiatives to expand access. These investments provide a strong base upon which we can build voluntary, universal access to high-quality early education that will prepare our nation’s students for success in kindergarten and beyond.

Over the past decade, governors from both political parties have pushed for the creation
and expansion of publicly funded preschool programs. Since 2003, states have increased
their investment in preschool by more than 200 percent.

The federal government has also worked to improve the quality and expand early learning through the Head Start program. Twenty states have also received support through the Early Learning Challenge program, which helped states improve early childhood workforce preparation and training, and strengthened health services and family engagement.

Congress took an important step in 2014 to address inequities in access to high-quality preschool by supporting the Preschool Development Grants program, a 4-year, federal-state partnership to expand the number of children enrolled in high-quality preschool programs in high-need communities. Thirty-five states and Puerto Rico applied, but due — in part — to limited funding, only 18 grants were awarded.

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Preschool Development Grants will not cover every child in the funded states; however, these states will be another step closer to the goal of expanding access to high-quality early learning across the country. Over the 4-year grant period, and with continued funding from Congress, these states are expecting to enroll an additional 177,000 children in high-quality preschool programs, which will help put children on a path to success in school and in life.

Support for Early Learning

Over the last several years, an impressive coalition of education, business, law enforcement, military, child advocacy groups, and faith-based leaders have joined together to support the expansion of high-quality preschool programs. These groups recognize that investing in high-quality preschool means that more students will graduate from high school, go to college or join the armed or public services, and become contributing, productive members of our society with fewer youth and adults entering the justice system.

The evidence supporting early learning is clear. Research shows that children who participate in high-quality preschool programs have better health, social-emotional, and cognitive outcomes than those who do not participate.

Expanding early learning — including high-quality preschool — provides society with a return on investment of $8.60 for every $1 spent. About half of the return on investment originates from increased earnings for children when they grow up.

Moving Forward

This year, as Congress seeks to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), our nation is at critical moment. Congress can honor this important legacy and moral imperative – as our nation observes ESEA’s 50th anniversary – by reauthorizing a strong education law. This new law must reflect real equity of opportunity, starting with our youngest children.

By making a significant investment in preschool a key component of ESEA, we can help America live up to its highest ideals, as a place with real equity of opportunity. Congress has a chance to honor and extend the civil rights legacy of our education law by providing all children — no matter where they live or how much money their parents earn — an equal opportunity to begin school ready to succeed.

The Opportunity and Necessity for a New ESEA

Secretary Duncan has called for replacing No Child Left Behind, the current version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), with a law that ensures opportunity for every child, expands support for schools, teachers, and principals, and preserves accountability for the progress of all students.

Secretary Duncan and National Urban League president, Marc Morial, discussed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act after a recent event at the White House. Below is a transcript of their conversation.

Marc Morial (MM): It was great to have Secretary Duncan with us and for him to reaffirm his commitment, the President’s commitment to a strong Elementary and Secondary Education Act bill that holds accountability in place but also focuses on equity and equity in terms of funding. So this blueprint that’s being developed in the Congress and the administration’s commitment, Mr. Secretary, your commitment is a lot in alignment with what we at the Urban League think and believe.

Secretary Arne Duncan (AD): The Urban League has just been an amazing partner. And we need to fix this law, we need to fix this in a bipartisan way. We need a law that focuses on equity, more early childhood education, more resources for poor kids. We need a law that focuses on excellence and Mark’s been an amazing champion here. High standards for every single child, assessing progress so we actually know whether we’re making progress or not, and we have to focus on innovation as well.

MM: I’m so glad to hear you emphasize early childhood education. We both know that for poor kids, for urban kids, and for many rural kids, and even nowadays suburban kids, the opportunity to get started on their educational journey early in life… to get the basics of literacy and numeracy down pat when you’re 3, 4, 5 years old is so crucial to later success. The data is so clear but parents know that no matter who I speak to, whether it’s a parent, whether it’s a business leader, whether it’s a community leader, whether it’s a seasoned citizen or millennial. They understand, they know in their basic intuitive gut how crucial education is. That teacher, that coach, that counselor, that some adult in addition to parents and guardians and grandparents who gave them just an inspiration. I mean, I remember my 9th grade English teacher, he was tough, he was mean.

AD: What was his name?

MM: He was a priest! named Father DeRucci. He was tough! And it was honors English but guess what? I remember what he taught us. I understood how impactful that one year was to everything I was able to do later on in college and law school and life. So I really, truly think that we’re at a moment in time where the opportunity and the necessity meet. And the opportunity is a chance to build the bipartisan blueprint that embraces civil rights and equity principles but is founded on the basic foundation of the need for excellence. And the necessity is that a nation that we must compete economically in a global economy.

AD: You said it perfectly. Education has to be the great equalizer, it has to be the thing that gives every child regardless of race or ethnicity or zip code a chance in life. And if we do that we increase social mobility, we reduce poverty, we reduce income inequality, if we do this we compete successfully with our international counterparts. If we don’t do this, our kids lose, our families lose, our communities lose, and ultimately our nation loses. This is nothing political, nothing ideological here. We are fighting for kids, families, and the nation.

MM: We’ve got to view this about how to shape the best partnership for the future and leave behind old debates of exclusivity, sole responsibility. If this is the issue that’s going to define the future of this great nation, then it is everyone’s responsibility.

AD: Amen.