Early Screening is Vital to Children and their Families

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The Unity Sunshine Program of Unity House of Troy in Troy, New York, offers an inclusive early learning program.

How a child plays, learns, speaks, moves, and behaves all offer important clues about a child’s development. A delay in any of these developmental milestones could be a sign of developmental challenges, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Early intervention services, like those services that help a child learn to speak, walk, or interact with others, can really make a difference and enhance a child’s learning and development. Unfortunately, too many young children do not have access to the early screening that can help detect developmental delays.

Additionally, the CDC states that an estimated one in every 68 children in the United States has been identified as having an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). ASD is a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication, and behavioral challenges. Unfortunately, most children identified with ASD were not diagnosed until after age four, even though children can be diagnosed as early as age two or younger.

While it is imperative that all young children have access to screening and appropriate services, research highlights the need to ensure developmental screening in low-income, racially diverse urban populations, where the risk of delay is greater and access to services can be more difficult. Studies found that by 24 months of age, black children were almost five times less likely than white children to receive early intervention services, and that a lack of receipt of services appeared more consistently among black children who qualified based on developmental delay alone compared to children with a diagnosed condition. The research suggests that children of color are disproportionately underrepresented in early intervention services and less likely than white children to be diagnosed with developmental delays.

Statistics such as these can help us raise the awareness about the importance of early screening. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children receive developmental screenings with a standardized developmental screening tool at 9, 18, and either 24 or 30 months of age. Children who are screened and identified as having, or at risk for, a developmental delay can be referred to their local early intervention service program (if they are under 3 years of age), or their local public school (if they are 3 years of age or older), for additional evaluation to determine whether they are eligible for IDEA Part C or Part B 619 services. Further, screening young children early may help families to better access other federal and State-funded early learning and development services, such as home visiting, Early Head Start, Head Start, preschool, and child care.

Last month, I was pleased to announce that the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services worked together to launch Birth to 5: Watch Me Thrive! This initiative encourages early developmental and behavioral screening and follow-up with support for children and families by providing a compendium of research-based screening tools and “how to” guides for a variety of audiences, including parents, doctors, teachers, and child care providers. Research shows that early identification can lead to greater access to supports and services, helping children develop and learn.

I’ve seen first-hand how States and local providers are working to ensure that some of our most at risk children get the supports and services they need…early. I’ve met with providers of early childhood services from Las Cruces, New Mexico to East Boston, Massachusetts. The Unity Sunshine Program of Unity House of Troy in Troy, New York offers a fully integrated and inclusive early learning setting for young children with disabilities to learn alongside their typically developing peers. I’ve also learned how critical it is for States and local providers to engage, support, and empower families of young children with disabilities.

Early screening and identification are critically important steps towards giving young children with disabilities a strong start in life. Check out Birth to Five: Watch Me Thrive! and learn how you can support some of our most vulnerable children and their families.

Michael Yudin is Acting Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services at the U.S. Department of Education

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Championing International Education Priorities

This past January, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon designated the U.S. as a Champion Country of the Global Education First Initiative (GEFI). The initiative aims to focus the world’s attention on three specific priorities: to put every child in school, improve the quality of learning and foster global citizenship. This is a tremendous opportunity for the U.S. to lead by example, to spur on strategic global investments in education, technology and innovation and to help implement programs that provide youths and adults with the necessary skills to be global citizens.

Fifty seven million children worldwide do not have access to primary education. This is the staggering news delivered by the Global Monitoring Report (GMR). While adult illiteracy rates fell to 16 percent in 2011, 774 million adults worldwide still cannot read or write. Even in wealthier countries, young people showed poor problem-solving skills due to low secondary school completion rates. In 80 percent of low-income countries, girls are less likely than boys to get even a primary education. Girls and boys who do go to school are often in classes with 40 classmates or more and only one teacher. Most of those students will have untrained teachers. And the U.S. is not immune. Despite big pushes for early childhood education, U.S. enrollment hovers around 65 percent, putting it in the company of countries like Albania and Bolivia.

Why does this matter? It matters because almost half of those fifty seven million children will probably never see the inside of a classroom. Yet the infant mortality rate would fall dramatically if all women completed even a primary education. In places like Tanzania, workers are 60 percent less likely to live under the poverty line with a secondary education. And people with higher levels of education are more likely to ask questions, seek out answers, sign petitions and vote. In other words, the more education a person has, the more likely he or she is to participate in civil society.

Education leads us all away from poverty and disease, away from ignorance and strife, and towards open minds, sustainable change, mutual understanding and prosperity. The task ahead may seem daunting, but the goals are achievable. According to the GMR, improved teacher quality is key: attracting the best teachers, improving their training and encouraging them to teach where they are most needed. Accepting the challenge of being a GEFI Champion Country is an important first step towards reaching these goals.

Check out the video below from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in support of the United Nations Global Education First Initiative (GEFI).

Rebecca Miller is an international affairs specialist at the U.S. Department of Education

How Can the Department of Education Increase Innovation, Transparency and Access to Data?

Despite the growing amount of information about higher education, many students and families still need access to clear, helpful resources to make informed decisions about going to – and paying for – college.  President Obama has called for innovation in college access, including by making sure all students have easy-to-understand information.

Now, the U.S. Department of Education needs your input on specific ways that we can increase innovation, transparency, and access to data.  In particular, we are interested in how APIs (application programming interfaces) could make our data and processes more open and efficient.

APIs are set of software instructions and standards that allow machine-to-machine communication.  APIs could allow developers from inside and outside government to build apps, widgets, websites, and other tools based on government information and services to let consumers access government-owned data and participate in government-run processes from more places on the Web, even beyond .gov websites. Well-designed government APIs help make data and processes freely available for use within agencies, between agencies, in the private sector, or by citizens, including students and families.

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Delaware’s Teacher Preparation is Setting a Higher Bar

Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education

Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education

When Frederika Jenner began teaching elementary school mathematics 42 years ago, she realized that she wasn’t fully prepared. “I didn’t have opportunities to learn innovative ways to teach mathematics,” she said. “There were some important skills and strategies that were missing.”

Jenner is now president of the Delaware State Education Association and her experience at the beginning of her career is just one reason she strongly supported legislation signed in June 2013 by Delaware Governor Jack Markell to increase the rigor of the process of recruiting and preparing teachers and principals. “Educators need more meaningful, real world training,” she said.

Acutely aware of the challenges her members face, Jenner explained that new teachers “need training in integrating technologies in the classroom, and how to judge student work.” Working with parents, classroom management and transition times are other areas where she believes educators need preparation.

Senate Bill 51 raises the bar for teacher preparation programs by:

  • Requiring candidates to have either a 3.0 grade point average, be in the top half of their most recent graduating class, or pass a test of their academic skills.
  • After they complete their classes, teacher candidates will have to pass a test of their knowledge of the subjects they plan to teach, demonstrate their teaching skills and complete a 10 week classroom residency (at minimum) supervised by a mentor.
  • The Delaware Department of Education and the teacher preparation programs themselves will monitor the performance of their graduates in the classroom and data on the programs will be reported to the public.

Catalyzing Change 

State leaders had long recognized the need to strengthen teacher preparation in the state. But the entities that would have needed to work together to strengthen the system—the Delaware General Assembly, the five teacher preparation institutions in the State, the Delaware State Education Association, and the State Department of Education—had not been able to forge a consensus on how to accomplish that.

That changed when the State began putting together its application for a federal Race to the Top grant, which it won in 2010. One of the priorities of Race to the Top was to ensure that teachers and principals had the knowledge and skills they needed to help students graduate from high school ready to succeed in college or careers.  Senate Bill 51 put into law the commitments the State made in its application.

“Race to the Top has given many stakeholders a lot of courage and support to make some really hard decisions, like increasing the selectivity of teacher preparation programs,” said Christopher Ruszkowski, who heads the Delaware Department of Education’s Teacher and Leader Effectiveness Unit.

John Gray, dean of the College of Education at Wilmington University, the largest producer of teachers in the State, also was enthusiastic. “This is the first time there’s been a real conversation at the State level involving different stakeholders talking about teacher preparation,” he said.

Collaboration Welcome 

Over the past two years, numerous states have also made major policy changes aimed at improving teacher preparation and selectivity.  The response from teachers in Delaware has been overwhelmingly positive. “Senate Bill 51 is an incredibly good first step toward improving the quality of teaching,” said John Sell, Delaware’s 2013 Teacher of the Year, who was actively involved in shaping the legislation. “Raising the bar will strengthen the teaching profession by producing higher caliber teachers.”

“For the first time I’ve ever seen, the State, local districts and higher education institutions are working together in a much more systemic way,” said Donna Lee Mitchell, a lifelong educator and the executive director of the Professional Standards Board, the agency responsible for educator licensing and certification. “We don’t always agree, but the work is really moving forward as a result of the collaboration.”

Support is particularly strong for making teacher candidates’ clinical experiences more meaningful. Beginning next fall, candidates will participate in parent/teacher conferences and professional learning communities, and teach students while being observed by their mentors. “Teachers want to see [preparation] programs become more connected to actual classroom practice,” Ruszkowski said.

Jenner, the president of the teachers’ association in Delaware, agreed. Teachers “need to have appropriate instructional skills and strategies modeled, they need to practice them, they need to do some troubleshooting and then try them again.”  

Read the full story on PROGRESS

What I’ve Learned in 50 States

US Photo Collage“The best ideas come from outside Washington, D.C.” I’ve used that phrase in a lot of speeches and conversations during the past five years, and I repeat it because it’s true. Earlier this month in Hawaii, I visited two schools and talked with military families at Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam about college and career ready standards. The stop in Hawaii marked my 50th state that I’ve visited since being Secretary, and the visit once again reinforced the importance of listening to what matters most at the local level.

During the past five years, whether my visit was to a conference, a community center, a business, an early childhood center, a university, or one of the more than 340 schools I’ve stopped by, I’ve come away with new insight and knowledge into the challenges local communities face, and the creative ways people are addressing them. I know, that in order to do this job well, it’s vital to never stop listening, especially to those in the classroom each day.

Across the country I’ve witnessed courage in action. States and districts are raising standards and expectations for students, and teachers are thinking deeply about their practice and their profession. And thanks to the hard work of parents, community members, educators, and students themselves, the high school graduation rate is now the highest on record.

Many of the states I’ve visited have brought unexpected surprises. At YES College Prep in Houston, the spirit of the student body moved me as it gathered for its annual College Signing Day. In Columbus, N.M., I saw the conviction and dedication of educators as they grapple with providing a quality education to more than 400 students who cross the U.S.-Mexico border each morning. And in Joplin, Mo., I witnessed a community working together to ensure students continued their education after a tornado destroyed the high school and killed many of their family members.

As I travelled the country, I saw places that inspired me, and others that left me angry, or heartbroken. I’ve visited schools where education funding is too low, and the buildings are in need of desperate repair. I’ve been to neighborhoods where poverty and crime present unique challenges to educators and administrators. I’ve listened to students talk openly about not feeling challenged or inspired. And when I met with grieving parents from Newtown, Conn., I once again saw how devastating gun violence can be for our children and communities.

We must continue to invest at every level of our educational system, from preschool to higher ed. We must fight for our children’s right to grow up safe, free of fear, in schools and communities that cherish and nurture them.

After 50 states, and visits in urban centers, remote rural schools and tribal communities, I am more optimistic than ever. I’m optimistic because of the educators I’ve met, because of the parents and community leaders that rally for great education, and because students everywhere demonstrate their deep conviction that working hard and getting a great education will transform their life chances. They come to school every day because they feel safe, they feel engaged, and they feel loved and valued by their teachers.

America’s public schools embody our American values of creativity, industry and ingenuity, and from Hawaii to Maine, I am fortunate to have learned this firsthand.

Check out the interactive map below, which includes visits to all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Click here to see a larger version.

Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education

Listening and Learning at the International Summit on the Teaching Profession

ISTP 2014

Delegations from high-performing education systems across the globe gathered for the 4th International Summit on the Teaching Profession in New Zealand.

At the end of March, National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, Chris Minnich, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, and I joined delegations from high-performing and rapidly improving education systems across the globe for the 4th International Summit on the Teaching Profession. Whether large or small, highly decentralized or not, countries share a common desire to create a high-quality education system that prepares all children for success in their personal and professional lives. The summits provide a unique opportunity for education ministers and teacher leaders to come together to learn from each other, share best practices, and look for ways to replicate or adapt back home what other countries are doing well.

New Zealand welcomed us with a powhiri, the traditional Maori ceremony, which is something most of the international guests and I had never seen. It was a beautiful and moving welcome and I was honored, as the host of the first summit in 2011, to accept the New Zealand challenge for a successful 4th summit on behalf of the international community. Many thanks to New Zealand Minister of Education Hekia Parata and her team for being gracious hosts during the summit.

This year’s summit focused on Excellence, Equity and Inclusiveness. There was complete agreement that where you live or what your parents do for a living should not determine your access to a quality education. We need to invest in education to close opportunity gaps that exist for too many children and create learning environments that allow all children to thrive. Using PISA 2012 data, OECD showed that there’s a false choice between equity and excellence: education systems as diverse as Korea and Canada can, and do, achieve both.

Maori Welcome

The International delegations began the summit in New Zealand with an official Maori welcome ceremony.

The countries represented at the summit stressed strong support for early interventions to help children start school healthy and ready to learn—one minister even suggested early learning as the focus of the next summit. Many of the countries around the table, including our New Zealand hosts, have a stronger commitment to early childhood education than we do in the U.S. Young children in New Zealand can receive 20 hours of free early learning opportunities each week. Data show that 95 percent of New Zealand children have had some early childhood education when they start school. The U.S. rate of 65 percent pales in comparison.  

During the summit, we also talked a lot about teacher leadership and collaboration. For example, Canada involves teachers in making and implementing policy. Representatives from Singapore talked about the importance of consultation and feedback, as well as the country’s three career tracks, which provide different options for teachers’ career progression. New Zealand discussed its proposed program to create new roles and pathways, while Hong Kong mentioned a new school leadership program. These interventions and many others confirmed to me that our new Teach to Lead (T2L) initiative and our ongoing labor-management collaboration mirror what high-performing systems are doing.

I came away from the summit discussions with a renewed energy and commitment to early learning teacher leadership and collaboration, and to continuing the challenging work of education improvement. The U.S. delegation committed publicly to:

  • Continue to work to increase access to high-quality early learning opportunities,
  • Increase opportunities for teacher leadership,
  • And, support labor-management collaboration to increase learning for all students.

Dennis, Randi, Chris and I are already moving ahead on our commitments and will report back on our progress to the international community next year at the 5th summit in Alberta, Canada.  Little did we know three years ago, when we hosted the first international summit, that it would become an international community of practice dedicated to enhancing the teaching profession to improve learning for all students. Now, let’s get to work.

Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education

ED’s Second Annual Jazz Informance Celebrating America’s Music and Values

Monk_JAM

As part of Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM), the Department hosted its second annual jazz informance (an informational performance) on April 4th with a full house of D.C. public charter school students, educators, arts leaders, and ED staff—jazz lovers and jazz novices alike. Under the direction of J.B. Dyas, vice president for education and curriculum development at the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, students from Arts High School in Newark, N.J., part of the National Performing Arts High School Jazz Program, and special guest recording artist, trumpeter Terell Stafford, director of Jazz Studies and chair of Instrumental Studies at Temple University, performed during the event.

ED’s acting General Counsel Phil Rosenfelt gave opening remarks on how the Department’s inaugural Monk informance in 2013 broadened his musical horizons and finally allowed him to appreciate jazz—something that had eluded him his entire life. “I saw the individuality and the unity, working together, in innovative ways, to address a common goal. I finally got it. And it was special that I got it at the Department where we value learning so much—breaking out of our barriers and stereotypes and comfort zones … and that’s what jazz and the Department are all about,” said Rosenfelt.

In the informational portion of the event, Dyas explained that jazz was born in America and is, “America’s greatest artistic gift to the world,” enjoyed by people of every ethnicity on every continent. He described the improvisational process—90 percent of every jazz performance—as a conversation, both among the musicians and between the musicians and the audience, using music instead of words. Dyas later asked the musicians to illustrate this conversation as they “talked” to one another with their instruments.

As Dyas said, jazz represents important values that students need to learn, such as “teamwork and unity with ethnic diversity.” Students from the Monk jazz program, in a recorded video, spoke of the many positive qualities they have learned through playing jazz.  Among them are:

  • A sense of responsibility within a group
  • Drive to become a better musician
  • Ambition to pursue music education in college
  • Greater knowledge of other cultures
  • Collaboration

The Arts High Jazz Quartet comprising Rahsaan Pickett on guitar, Galo Inga on piano, Joseph Quiles on bass, and Derek Fykes on drums, joined by Stafford, played an up-tempo selection of tunes.  These included Herbie Hancock’s Cantaloupe Island, Dexterity by Charlie Parker, and Ask Me Now by Thelonious Monk. The playing was lively and nicely balanced, while solo breaks gave each performer a chance to shine.  The performers created a textural, musical journey with variances in speed, tempo and rhythm over a sustained steady flow.

After the informance, the student performers answered questions from the students in the audience, including, “Why did you start playing music?” Fykes’ answer: “It’s something I love. It has to be a passion.” And, “How much do you practice?” Answer: Several hours daily, including doing a lot of listening.

All in attendance thoroughly appreciated hearing such great music and learning how it is performed, as evidenced by the frequent toe-tapping and spontaneous applause!  And another jazz convert was born.

Sarah Sisaye of OESE wrote: “Before today, I wasn’t too crazy about jazz. I grew up listening to it, but having played the flute for 9 years, I am more comfortable with classical music. However, the performance/lecture today, made it very accessible. I will definitely be listening to more jazz! I even won a poster [of John Coltrane] and was able to get all the musicians to sign it—I’ll be hanging that on my wall!”

For more about the Department’s involvement with JAM, click here.

View photos from the event.

Nicole Carinci is a management and program analyst in the Office of Communications and Outreach

Community College Students Talk Transitions with Secretary Duncan

When someone says, “I want to go to college,” a traditional four-year college or university often comes to mind.

Many don’t think of community colleges as an option, even though they are the single largest sector of the U.S. higher education system, enrolling nearly half of all undergraduates each year.

Community colleges provide opportunity and access to millions of students, helping them prepare for a degree at a four-year institution, obtain an associate’s degree, or retrain and retool for the 21st century global economy.

On March 18, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan met with student leaders from the American Student Association of Community Colleges to discuss the importance of community colleges. The student leaders were in Wastington for their annual national Student Advocacy Conference.

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Youth CareerConnect: Equipping Students for the Future

President Obama stopped by Bladensburg High School in Maryland on Monday to announce the winners of the inaugural Youth CareerConnect program. The school, along with two other high schools in Prince George’s County, is being awarded $7 million as part of the program. Overall, 24 Youth CareerConnect awards across the country will provide $107 million to high schools and their partners as they redesign the teaching and learning experience for students to more fully prepare them for a successful future.

The program, administered by the U.S. Department of Labor in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Education, will help prepare 2,500 graduates at Bladensburg and other schools to succeed academically and graduate career-ready in high-demand fields such as information technology and health care.

“I’m announcing a new challenge to redesign America’s high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy,” Obama said during his 2013 State of the Union address. “We’ll reward schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering, and math – the skills today’s employers are looking for to fill jobs right now and in the future.”

The Youth CareerConnect program encourages America’s school districts, institutions of higher education, the workforce investment system, and their partners to scale up evidence-based high school models that will transform the high school experience for America’s youth. Participating schools will strengthen America’s talent pipeline through:

  • Integrated Academic and Career-Focused Learning
  • Work-Based Learning and Exposure to the World of Work
  • Robust Employer Engagement
  • Individualized Career and Academic Counseling
  • Integration of Post-secondary Education and Training

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently met with a school community in Massachusetts that shares the same approach as the Youth CareerConnect program. Worchester Technical High School, which earned the U.S. Education Department’s recognition as a Blue Ribbon School in 2013 thanks to students’ high performance, meaningfully engages students in relevant experiences that provide a link to future college and career pathways. The school went from being one of the worst in the district to one of the best in the nation with a 95 percent graduation rate and a 1.3 percent dropout rate.

During his visit, Duncan participated in a town hall discussion on career and technical education with high school teachers, community college officials and business leaders.  The school’s strong leadership and willingness to embrace the community left an unforgettable impression on Duncan.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a school that is more open, whether it’s higher ed partnerships, whether it’s business partnerships, whether it’s literally inviting the community into your school every single day … this school is an extraordinary community asset,” he told the audience.

Today’s announcement of the Youth Career Connect program recognizes that many local districts and school leaders, as well as many of their national and local workforce partners, have been working together to provide these workplace relevant opportunities for students for quite some time, and it builds off of the collective experiences of these local partnerships. Ultimately, this program complements additional proposals in the President’s 2015 budget, and supports the President’s broader agenda to strengthen education to more effectively prepare young people for college and careers.

Brenda Dann-Messier is the Assistant Secretary for the Office of Vocational and Adult Education.

Are You Ready to Pay for College?

On April 1st President Obama announced April as National Financial Capability Month with a focus on ensuring all Americans have the tools they need to navigate the financial world and gain economic freedom. In today’s economy, financial capability is essential for managing through some of life’s biggest transitions, including paying for college. A solid understanding of money management basics makes it easier to avoid scams, spot misleading information, and make sound financial decisions on financing your education and avoiding unmanageable debt when you graduate.

student_loans

The first step in paying for college is to complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) at www.fafsa.gov. Federal Student Aid has over $150 billion in financial aid available for college and it all starts with the FAFSA. The FAFSA is FREE, so you should never have to pay to have someone submit it for you. In addition, many states also have state aid available to help finance your education. You’ll want to make sure to complete your FAFSA by the priority deadline for your state to be eligible for those additional funds.  You should also spend time looking for scholarships. Many are based on your interests, community service, organization affiliations, etc. and not just your grades. StudentAid.gov has lots of great information and resources on planning and paying for college including how to search for scholarships.

Once you’ve completed your FAFSA, you won’t get a check in the mail from the government. There’s a little more to it than that. Once you’ve been accepted to the school of your choice, they will send you a financial aid award letter listing all the financial aid you are eligible for. The timing of the aid offer varies from school to school, and you could receive an aid offer as early as spring (awarding for the fall). You’ll want to be an informed consumer and make sure to closely review your aid offer. You can also compare offers from different schools to see which might be best for you. And you don’t have to accept everything that’s offered.  The rule is free money first (scholarships and grants), then earned money (work-study), and then borrowed money (federal student loans). Check out this handy chart that illustrates the order in which you should accept financial aid.

If you do have to take out student loans make sure to borrow only what you need and try and limit borrowing to federal student loans. Federal student loans typically have lower interest rates and more flexibility when it comes time to pay them back. Federal Student Aid also has a Repayment Estimator which can help you get an idea of what your monthly student loan payment may be when you graduate. This tool will help you see what impact the loans you are about to get can have on your future finances. Don’t wait until you’re ready to graduate to find out what those student loan payments might be and wonder if you can afford them!

Education is an important step in getting a good paying job and can lay the foundation for your financial future. Plan ahead and make smart decisions about how you finance it.

Susan Thares is the digital engagement lead at the Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid

Department of Education Releases New Parent and Community Engagement Framework

The fourth quarter of the school year is generally a time of preparation for schools and districts as they finalize next year’s budget, student and teacher schedules, and professional development for the upcoming school year. During this time of preparation, it is important that schools and districts discuss ways that they can support parents and the community in helping students to achieve success.

fce-framework graphicTo help in this work, the U.S. Department of Education is proud to release a framework for schools and the broader communities they serve to build parent and community engagement. Across the country, less than a quarter of residents are 18 years old or younger, and all of us have a responsibility for helping our schools succeed. The Dual Capacity framework, a process used to teach school and district staff to effectively engage parents and for parents to work successfully with the schools to increase student achievement, provides a model that schools and districts can use to build the type of effective community engagement that will make schools the center of our communities.

An example of how the elements of the framework can lead to improved engagement is exhibited in my hometown of Baltimore. Baltimore City Public Schools worked to support 12,000 pre-kindergarten and kindergarten homes, and to engage families in home-based literacy practices. Each week students received a different bag filled with award-winning children’s books, exposing children, on average, to more than 100 books per year. The book rotation also includes parent training and information on how to share books effectively to promote children’s early literacy skills and nurture a love of learning. Through the program, families are also connected with their local public and school libraries. At the culmination of the program, children receive a permanent bag to keep and continue the practice of borrowing books and building a lifelong habit of reading.

For more information on the Dual Capacity Framework, as well as an introductory video from Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, please take some time and review our website at www.ed.gov/family-and-community-engagement. In the coming months, we will provided additional resources and information, so that schools, districts, communities, and parents can learn more about family and community engagement, as well as, share the wonderful work they are doing to build parent, school, and community capacity that supports all students.

Read a Spanish version of this post.

Jonathan Brice is deputy assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Elementary and Secondary Education