The Hollywood We All Need to Know

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“This is remarkable leadership in action,” Secretary Arne Duncan told the press at the Hollywood FamilySource Center, following a roundtable with community stakeholders of the East Hollywood Promise Neighborhoods project. (Official Department of Education photo)

Cross-posted from the OII blog.

A small youth and family resource center is tucked away in the corner of a strip mall at the intersection of Western Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard in warm, sunny Los Angeles. It’s in “the other Hollywood,” where instead of calling for the lights, camera, and action of movie making, community leaders are in search of the solutions to poverty, mental health issues, and learned helplessness. Since 2013, with the help of a $30 million Promise Neighborhoods grant, the Hollywood FamilySource Center has become the “one-stop-shop” for local families in need of help.

On March 19, Secretary Arne Duncan, along with representatives from the U.S. Department of Housing Urban Development (HUD) Choice Neighborhoods team, visited the center, which is operated by the Youth Policy Institute (YPI). The goals of the center are to increase family income and students’ academic achievement. During its fourth year of operation in 2013-14, more than 3,140 clients benefited from the Center’s core services: adult education and computer literacy classes, tutoring and enrichment programs to improve children and youths’ academic skills, medical and dental health care, and a number of other services.

Our day began with an administrative meeting that involved ED, HUD, YPI staff, partner organizations, local residents, and youth. The meeting was comprised of about 20 people. Several principals shared stories, both of successes and challenges, within their individual schools. Some described ways that YPI is working with their schools to provide academic support through the use of tutors and a College Ambassador program. Others shared academic strides that students are making at their schools. For example, a few years ago, the charter for the Santa Monica Boulevard Community Charter School was not expected to be renewed; however, within one year, the school restructured its model and included resources of YPI. As a result of the restructuring and resources of YPI, scores on the school’s Academic Performance Index ( the annual measure of test score performance of schools and districts) increased by 66 points. It is now one of the highest scoring elementary schools in the City of Los Angeles.

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Secretary Duncan listens to youth, parents, local teachers and school administrators, and representatives of community-based organizations during the March 19 roundtable. (Official Department of Education photo)

After the initial morning meetings, Secretary Duncan participated in a roundtable discussion, followed by a press conference. He heard heart-felt stories from homeless youth, parents, community residents, teachers, school administrators, and representatives of community-based organizations such as the STEM Academy and the LA Youth Network. Among the changes brought about by the Promise Neighborhood, 700 families now have college savings accounts as a result of a partnership with Citibank that assists low-income families with understanding the need to save for postsecondary education. “The difference [is] they understand you,” one student said. And that seems to be the missing link in so many students’ lives. The need for caring, loving adults who genuinely understand and take interest in young people echoed throughout the Secretary’s visit.

Closing the “opportunity gap” for students in East Hollywood through the efforts of YPI and its partners, Secretary Duncan noted, is the critical first step in closing the achievement gap. What he saw at the FamilySource Center is “remarkable leadership in action,” he told the Los Angeles Times, which followed his day-long journey in this article.

Promise Neighborhoods acts as an umbrella, creating a comprehensive program that makes the participating organizations think about their work differently. Gone are silos of individual services being offered to families, and in their place is a network of organizations holding each other accountable, so that significant changes can be made in the lives of young people and their families. YPI is able to offer cradle-to-college and career services and supports to community residents. Now that YPI has a Choice Neighborhoods planning grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, it plans to expand its efforts to reach seniors and disabled members of the local community.

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The Promise Neighborhoods effort, combined with support from other federal agencies, is cause for optimism among the roundtable participants. (Official Department of Education photo)

YPI is the only Promise Neighborhoods grantee that was awarded both a planning and implementation grant from ED, as well as a Choice Neighborhoods planning grant and a Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation grant from the Department of Justice (DOJ). The ED, HUD, and DOJ programs are part of the White House Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative, an interagency collaborative supporting federal engagement in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty. YPI is also the only organization that was awarded two Full Service Community School grant awards.

Earlier this year, YPI was designated as a Promise Zone by the White House, where local communities and businesses will work together to create jobs, increase economic security, expand educational opportunities, increase access to quality, affordable housing, and improve public safety.

Secretary Duncan didn’t meet any celebrities in the East Hollywood community he visited last month, but thanks to the help of the Promise Neighborhoods support, he did meet a number of real-life heroes who are acting from a script that’s improving the life of children and families each day.

Adrienne Hawkins is a management and program analyst for the Promise Neighborhoods Program in the Office of Parental Options and Information

6 Things You Must Know About Repaying Your Student Loans

When it comes to repaying your federal student loans, there’s a lot to consider. But, by taking the time to understand the details of repayment, you can save yourself time and money. This should help you get started.

When do I begin repaying my federal student loans?

You don’t have to begin repaying most federal student loans until after you leave college or drop below half-time enrollment. Many federal student loans will even have a grace period. The grace period gives you time to get financially settled and to select your repayment plan. Note that for most loans, interest will accrue during your grace period.

Your loan servicer or lender will provide you with a loan repayment schedule that states when your first payment is due, the number and frequency of payments, and the amount of each payment.

Whom do I pay?

You will make your federal student loan payments to your loan servicer*, not the U.S. Department of Education directly. The Department uses several loan servicers to handle the billing and other services on federal student loans. Your loan servicer can work with you to choose a repayment plan and can answer any questions you have about your federal student loans. It’s important to maintain contact with your loan servicer and keep your servicer informed of any changes to your address, e-mail, or phone number so they know where to send correspondence and how to contact you.

How much do I need to pay?

Your bill will tell you how much to pay. Your payment (usually made monthly) depends on

  • the type of loan you received,
  • how much money you borrowed,
  • the interest rate on your loan, and
  • the repayment plan you choose.

You can use our repayment estimator to estimate your monthly payments under different repayment plans to determine which option is right for you. Just remember, if you would like to switch repayment plans, you must contact your loan servicer.

How do I make my student loan payments?

There are several ways you can submit payments to your loan servicer, including options to submit your payment online through your loan servicer’s website.

TIP: Your servicer may offer the option to have your payments automatically withdrawn from your bank account each month. You may want to consider this option so you don’t forget to make your payments.

What should I do if I’m having trouble making my student loan payments?

Contact your loan servicer as soon as possible. You may be able to change your repayment plan to one that will allow you to have a longer repayment period or to one that is based on your income. Also, ask your loan servicer about your options for a deferment or forbearance or loan consolidation.

Note: Several third-party companies offer student loan assistance for a fee. Most of these services can be obtained for free from your loan servicer.

What happens if I don’t make my payments?

Not making your student loan payments can result in default, which negatively impacts your credit score. This may affect your ability to borrow for things like buying a car or purchasing a home. Your tax refunds may also be withheld and applied to your outstanding student loan debt. There is never a reason to default. The Department of Education offers several options to ensure that you can successfully manage your student loans. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or having difficulty making payments, contact your loan servicer for help.

*If you are repaying federal student loans made by a private lender (before July 1, 2010), you may be required to make payments directly to that lender. 

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

Recognizing Green Schools on Earth Day

To celebrate Earth Day, earlier today U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the 2014 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS) and District Sustainability Award recipients. Joined in an online live stream by Acting Chief White House Council on Environmental Quality Mike Boots, Secretary Duncan celebrated the forty-eight schools and nine school districts chosen for their exemplary efforts in reducing environmental impact and utility costs, promoting better health for students and staff, and offering effective environmental education, including civics, STEM and green career pathways.

Students gardening at an elementary school. Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education

Students gardening at an elementary school. Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education

Reiterating the Department’s support for green schools, Secretary Duncan praised the selected schools and districts, stating: “Today’s honorees are modeling a comprehensive approach to being green by encompassing facility, wellness and learning into their daily operations.” Duncan went on to say that the recipients “are demonstrating ways schools can simultaneously cut costs; improve health, and engage students with hands-on learning that prepares them with the thinking skills necessary to be successful in college and careers.

The forty-eight schools and nine school districts were selected from a pool of candidates voluntarily nominated by thirty state education agencies across the country. The schools serve various grade levels, including 29 elementary, 16 middle, and 18 high schools, with several offering various K-12 variations. Many schools also serve pre-K students, demonstrating that health, wellness, and environmental concepts can be taught to every student, even the earliest learners. Selected schools and districts also demonstrated that their efforts not only improve physical, environmental, and nutritional health of school communities, but also save schools money in utility costs which can be applied directly back to where it is needed most – the classrooms. Read all about this year’s honorees and their tremendous achievements.

In addition to recognizing this year’s U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools honorees, Secretary Duncan announced a new nomination category for the 2014-2015 awards cycle. This award will offer higher education institutions the chance to receive much-deserved recognition for their  resource conservation, healthy living and learning environments, and commitment to education for sustainability. For this award, states are encouraged to document how the nominees’ sustainability in facilities, health and learning has also reduced college costs, increased completion rates, led to higher rates of employment, and ensured robust civic skills among graduates. As with the Pre-K to 12 school and district nominations, which have honored 48 percent disadvantaged selectees over the course of the last three cycles, authorities are also encouraged to consider diverse types of institutions.

There are many tools and resources available to all schools, Pre-K to postsecondary, to help with resource conservation, health and to ensure education for sustainability. You can find free resources available through the U.S. Department of Education’s Green Strides Resources and Webinar Series. You can also stay up to date through the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools’ webpage, where you can connect with the Facebook, twitter, and newsletter.

With these tools, next fall your school may be ready to apply in your state for one if its nominations to the 2015 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools! State education agencies are encouraged to indicate their intent to nominate next spring by August 1, 2014 and schools, districts and postsecondary institutions to contact their state agencies for more information on applications.

Kyle Flood is a confidential assistant in the Office of the General Counsel and social media manager for the ED Green Team.

April is both National Child Abuse Prevention Month and Sexual Assault Awareness Month

School staff, teachers, and administrators all play important roles in preventing and responding to child sexual abuse and promoting the social and emotional well-being of children and families in our communities.

Each year thousands of young boys and girls are sexually abused and exploited across the nation.  The Center for Disease Control and Prevention cites that one in four girls and one in six boys will experience some form of sexual abuse before they turn 18. Children and adolescents of all races, cultures, and backgrounds are all equally susceptible to sexual abuse.

The U.S Departments of Education (ED), Justice,  Health and Human Services (HHS) and other federal agencies are working together to end child abuse and sexual assault among school-aged youth.

ED’s Office of Safe and Healthy Students’ (OSHS) mission prioritizes safe and supportive schools, health and mental health, and violence prevention to improve conditions for learning. OSHS recognizes and supports the important roles that school staff play in identifying, preventing, and responding to sexual assault and child abuse by providing resources, technical assistance, and a comprehensive approach to improving conditions for learning.

Whether you are a parent, teacher, coach, neighbor, or family member, you can help. Caring adults can support the healthy growth and development of children who have experienced abuse by trusting them and helping them recognize it’s not their fault. The American Psychological Association cites that children who are able to confide in a trusted adult and feel they are believed by that adult experience less trauma.

The Department of Justice Office for Victims of Crime outlines strategies for how to respond if a child tells you that he or she has been abused. One of the most important things you can do is stay calm. You should also—

  • Listen to the child’s words and expressed emotions. Believe the child and stress that his or her safety is important.
  • Not press the child for more information.
  • Reassure the child that he or she has done nothing wrong. Abuse is never a child’s fault.
  • Remember that the people who harm children are often people whom children love.
  • Avoid negative comments. Encourage the child, saying that he or she did the right thing by telling and that it was brave to tell.”

In support of these efforts, HHS, the FRIENDS National Resource Center for Community-Based Child Abuse Prevention, and the Center for the Study of Social Policy – Strengthening Families have created Making Meaningful Connections 2014 Resource Guide. The guide is designed for service providers who work in their communities to strengthen families.

OSHS’s Safe and Supportive Schools TA Center  provides resources and support to help schools and communities develop rigorous measurement systems that assess school climate and implement and evaluate programmatic interventions. We welcome you to explore and discover, ask questions, and share your perspectives.

Karissa Schafer is an education program specialist in the Office of Safe and Healthy Students

Give me a break! It’s just a college tour!

Eight years ago, I attended my first college tour thanks to a partnership between the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and Howard University’s Alumni Club of Chicago.

“Escape to Mecca” (E2M) is an annual college visit that started 11 years ago.  It has exposed more than 400 Chicago area juniors and seniors to life on Howard’s campus.  The trip is organized by current Howard students originally from the Chicago area. The CPS alumni knew that spring break would be a great time to visit Washington, DC, because students wouldn’t miss valuable class time. Unlike traditional tours, E2M fully thrusts participants into campus life; they live in dorms and dine in cafeterias with their hosts, engage in social events, attend classes, and get the chance to meet a number of administrators.

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First Lady Michelle Obama joins high school students from Chicago for a campus tour at Howard University in Washington, D.C., April 17, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)

The most recent group of participants got an extra treat this year when First Lady Michelle Obama met privately with the E2M participants.  I accompanied Mrs. Obama as she toured campus dorms with students and then participated in a discussion about the challenges of attending college, and the importance of finding ways to overcome those challenges while using them as tools to success.  She applauded students for taking ownership of their futures by participating in a trip like E2M and not letting the opportunity go to waste.

“So the fact that you guys have this opportunity to spend a weekend on a college campus and really get a feel for what this experience is going to be like is really a tremendous opportunity that I hope you will take advantage of,” said Mrs. Obama.

As Mrs. Obama said, there are a lot of variables to consider when students and their families navigate the college decision process including: school size, location, student-to-faculty ratios and costs.  More high school students should use their spring and summer breaks to plan visits to institutions of higher learning.  She said, “Contact schools that are of interest to you, plan a visit to the campus, walk inside the dorm, sit in the class, talk to students and meet with the financial aid office.” This allows students and families the flexibility to spend quality time at colleges without interrupting important high school schedules.

The First Lady’s advice resonated with this year’s E2M participants. Though her visit was a major highlight, the best part of the spring break trip was that 27 students accepted admission to Howard University’s Class of 2018.

I can relate to what the seniors felt as they visited classes, slept in dorms, and joined their hosts at campus hangouts. My trip gave me the opportunity to get a feel for what life was going to be like as a college freshman and solidified my decision to attend Howard University.  That spring break changed my life.

As a native of the inner-city of Chicago, I realized that campus brochures and websites weren’t enough for me to fully grasp the reality of college.  It took the physical act of being there—of walking the grounds that so many trailblazers before me walked, of sleeping in the same rooms that were once inhabited by the likes of Thurgood Marshall, and visiting the library where Charles Drew studied—to realize the legacy of the institution and the legacy I wanted to leave for those after me.

I mean let’s face it: if you’re on spring or summer break, you should use the time to plan a campus visit.

Here are tips & tools from ED to get a head start this summer:

College ScorecardIncludes information about a particular college’s cost, its graduation rates and the average amount its students borrow. It is designed to help you compare colleges and choose one that is well-suited to your individual needs.

  • College Affordability and Transparency Center: ED has compiled lists of institutions based on the tuition and fees and net prices (the price of attendance after considering all grant and scholarship aid) charged to students.
  • Federal Student Aid: There are thousands of scholarships, from all kinds of organizations; Federal Student Aid provides tips and resources to help you find scholarships for which you may be eligible.

De’Rell Bonner is a special assistant and youth liaison in the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Communications and Outreach

 

Washington D.C. Charters, District Schools Collaborate Around College- and Career-Ready Standards

The rhythmic sound of poetry could be heard coming from the second-grade classroom at Ross Elementary School in Washington, D.C., though the students already had left for the day. Inside, teachers from several schools in the city were trying to find a poem that would captivate second graders, teach them about figurative language, and serve as the basis for a writing assignment.

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Ross Elementary School educator Kelly Worland Piantedosi leads a group of second-grade teachers in a discussion about literary analysis and poetry as part of the DC Common Core Collaborative. Photo credit: Nancy Zuckerbrod

The teachers are part of the DC Common Core Collaborative, which has about 200 participants from 22 District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) and public charter schools in the city. They get together regularly to discuss how to align their instruction with new college- and career-ready standards, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), which were voluntarily adopted by the District of Columbia and 45 States to prepare students for college and careers. The teachers work in small teams of about six educators, all of whom teach the same grade, but at different schools in the city.

Kelly Worland Piantedosi teaches at Ross Elementary School and serves as the coach for the group of second-grade teachers that met in her classroom that afternoon. She said the teachers get inspired by hearing about strategies other educators use. “The exchange of ideas is great—nine times out of 10 you hear, ‘Oh we hadn’t thought about that yet,’” she said. “I know for myself, collaboration makes me a better teacher.”

Now in its third year, the Collaborative is managed by E.L. Haynes Public Charter School. Haynes and the Cesar Chavez Public Charter Schools for Public Policy were both awarded Professional Learning Communities for Effectiveness sub-grants from D.C.’s Race to the Top program. One of the purposes of Race to the Top was to ensure that teachers and principals were receiving the support, coaching, and professional learning opportunities they needed to help their students succeed.

While all States that received Race to the Top grants are working to achieve that goal in various ways, the District of Columbia program stands out because it helped forge connections among teachers in charter and district schools. Julie Green, the chief marketing and development officer for E.L. Haynes called the Race to the Top grant “really profound for the city,” in that it brought together the traditional and charter sectors in common purpose. “It was tremendous to move toward a unified vision for the kids in the city,” Green said.

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Ross Elementary School educator Kelly Worland Piantedosi leads a collaboration of Washington DC second-grade teachers. Photo credit: Nancy Zuckerbrod

The idea for the Collaborative developed when teachers at E.L. Haynes started to shift to the CCSS a few years ago. They were eager to share what was working for them and gain insight into the experiences of other teachers, Green said.

The teachers meet a few times a month for sessions that tend to last about an hour-and-a-half to two hours. They discuss what they are teaching and how it relates to the standards, produce lessons to try out in their classrooms, and set goals for what they want to accomplish with those lessons. The teachers report back to the group at a subsequent meeting on how well the lessons worked. A web portal also allows teachers in the Collaborative to share their work, such as videos of them giving their lessons.

The Collaborative is definitely working from the perspective of Raquel Maya, one of several Powell Elementary School teachers in the program and part of the team that met at Ross Elementary School. Maya said the group, and her coach Kelly Worland Piantedosi, gave her useful strategies for helping students access nonfiction. Maya said even teachers who aren’t participating in the Collaborative are benefiting from it.

“Once you have an idea from someone in the Collaborative, naturally you go back to your school and share your ideas,” Maya said. “For sure, it’s impacted teaching broadly at our school.”

So the promising collaboration can continue, the Marriott Foundation has agreed to keep the program going after the Race to the Top grant expires.

Read the full story, including takeaways and resources on PROGRESS

Class of 2014: What’s Next for Your Student Loans?

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I’m not afraid to admit that being a college senior was a little frightening (okay, slight understatement  it was extremely frightening!). As you, the Class of 2014, prepare to say goodbye to the comforts of your college community and say hello to the real world, you’re faced with many realities. Where will I live? How am I going to find a job? Will I make ends meet? Will I be happy?

And with all these new exciting challenges, one of the last things on most of your minds is repaying your student loans. Yet it’s one of our responsibilities and you need to be prepared for when the first bill arrives in the mail.

I will be honest in saying the repayment process is a little intimidating, and before writing this post I was at a loss on where to begin. Luckily, the Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) has tools available to walk soon-to-be grads through the loan repayment process:

  • Exit Counseling: Redesigned to be more interactive, Exit Counseling provides important information to student borrowers who are preparing to begin student loan repayment. Exit counseling is required when you graduate, leave school, or drop below half-time enrollment, so talk to the financial aid office at your school about completing it.
  • Federal Loan Repayment Plans: Understanding the details of repayment can save you time and money. Find out when repayment starts, how to make your payment, repayment plan options, what to do if you have trouble making payments, and more!
  • Repayment Estimator: Federal Student Aid recently launched a Repayment Estimator that allows you to compare your monthly student loan payment under different repayment plans to help you figure out which option is right for you. You can either enter your average loan amount or log-in to have your current federal student loan information automatically pulled in so you can compare repayment plans based on your specific situation.

So with all of these great resources, I’ve found that things were clearer, and not quite as scary. Class of 2014 you are about to embark on a new adventure. Best of luck to each and every one of you!

For additional information and tips, visit Federal Student Aid on Twitter , Facebook, and YouTube.

Kelsey Donohue is a 2013 graduate of Marist College (N.Y.)

5 Things To Consider When Taking Out Student Loans

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Federal student loans can be a great way to help pay for college or career school. While you shouldn’t be afraid to take out federal student loans, you should be smart about it. Before you take out a loan, it’s important to understand that a loan is a legal obligation that you will be responsible for repaying with interest.

Here are some tips to help you become a responsible borrower.

  1. Research starting salaries in your field. Ask your school for starting salaries of recent graduates in your field of study to get an idea of how much you are likely to earn after you graduate. You can use the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook to estimate salaries for different careers or use a career search tool to research careers and view the average annual salary for each career.
  2. Keep track of how much you’re borrowing. Don’t wait till right before you graduate to figure this out. Think about how the amount of your loans will affect your future finances, and how much you can afford to repay. Your student loan payments should be only a small percentage of your salary after you graduate (8% is a good rule of thumb!), so it’s important not to borrow more than you need. If you’ve already borrowed for your education, you can view all of your federal student loan information in one place. Go  to nslds.ed.gov, select Financial Aid Review, and log in. You can also use our Repayment Estimator to calculate what your monthly payments might be based on your current loan balance.
  3. Understand the terms of your loan and keep copies of your loan documents. When you sign your promissory note, you are agreeing to repay the loan according to the terms of the note even if you don’t complete your education, can’t get a job after you complete the program, or didn’t like the education you received.
  4. Keep in touch with your loan servicer. Your loan servicer is the company that handles the billing and other services on your federal student loan on behalf of the U.S. Department of Education. When you begin paying back your loan, you will work directly with your loan servicer. Also, make sure you notify your loan servicer if you change your name, address, or Social Security number or when you graduate, withdraw from school, drop below half-time status, or transfer to another school. Staying in contact with your servicer will make it easier for you to successfully repay your student loans once you’ve left college.
  5. Stay ahead of your student loan payments. Once your loan enters repayment, you are required to make your scheduled loan payment as determined by your repayment plan.  If you’ve done your homework, your scheduled monthly payment amount won’t be a surprise and you’ll be prepared to begin making payments. But, if you do find yourself having trouble making your scheduled loan payments, take advantage of our flexible repayment options. Contact your servicer immediately to discuss ways to keep your loan in good standing.

Remember, federal student loans are an investment in your future so invest wisely and borrow only what you need. Find out more about student loan repayment, including when repayment starts, how to make your payment, repayment plan options, and more!

Tara Marini is a communication analyst at the Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid

Bringing the Tech Revolution to Early Learning

Why do I advocate for “early tech”? I’ll give you three good reasons: my granddaughters Ella, Clara, and Zayla. I’ve seen the way technology has helped them to take charge of their own learning and opened doors to subjects and activities that really catch their interest.

It’s nothing short of amazing to think about how far we’ve come in the past ten years. Our children – and our grandchildren – pick up a device and instantly know how it works. They shift seamlessly from a hand-held device to a laptop or desktop and back again.

Whether we’ve seen it firsthand in our families, read about it in the papers, or heard about it from our friends and co-workers, we know that technology can be a great tool for early learning. That’s why America’s early learning community – and anyone who wants to help build a brighter future for the next generation – must make smarter use of these cutting-edge resources, provide better support for the teachers who use them, and help ensure that all our young children have equitable access to the right technology. “Early tech” can be an incredible tool to increase access and quality, when we understand how to use it for good.

Today, devices can not only bring the world to our students, but they also can bring what children create to the world. Kids can generate their own media through digital still and video camera and recording applications and, if they want, share it with students around the world. Our kids have the power to learn so much from their own creativity – creativity that technology supports and encourages.

In short, technology can spark imagination in young children, remove barriers to play and provide appropriate learning platforms as tools for reflection and critical thinking. It also offers children the ability to reflect easily by erasing, storing, recalling, modifying and representing thoughts on tablets and other devices.

As an educator, I’m excited by the almost limitless potential of really good technology to teach children new skills and reinforce what they already know. Tablets, computers, and hand-held devices, like smart phones and mp3 players, can be powerful assets in preschool classrooms when they’re integrated into an active, play-based curriculum. The National Association of Educators of Young Children, a leading organization that promotes early childhood education, agrees: technology and interactive media should be used intentionally to support learning and development.

What’s more, recent research has found that when used properly, technology can support the acquisition of what are called “executive functioning skills,” such as collaboration, taking turns, patience, and cooperative discussion of ideas with peers.

Technology can also dramatically improve communication and collaboration between each child’s school and home. With the click of a mouse or the touch of a screen, teachers can connect with parents, updating them about student’s academic progress or providing information about an upcoming school event.

While we know its power to transform preschool classrooms, systemic and cultural barriers have prevented the early learning field from fully embracing technology. Preschools often have limited funding and few good hardware and software choices. At times, early learning teachers and directors have actually had less exposure to technology than their students have. They fear that technology won’t be developmentally-appropriate and that devices will distract students from rich, play-based classroom experiences. Teachers have told me they are daunted by the task of selecting the right apps and devices.

We need to change this way of thinking – and the systems behind it.

We need all early learning centers to have broadband access like that provided to schools. As the ConnectED Initiative works to ensure all schools and libraries have the infrastructure to take advantage of learning powered by technology, we also need to make sure all Head Start and community-based preschool programs are included, so our youngest children can take advantage of these tools.

Center directors, school principals and other early learning leaders must step up and lead by example, facilitating the successful use of technology, particularly in preschool settings. Teachers shouldn’t – and can’t – be alone in this endeavor. They need fearless principals and administrators who will advocate for pre-service and in-service learning that supports teacher understanding of how to use technology in early learning settings.

At the same time, we need more models of how technology works in early learning classrooms. Technology strengthens and deepens classroom instruction. It can extend and support a child-centric, play-based curriculum just as other manipulatives  do, including wooden blocks, magic markers or a classroom pet – but in a format that can be accessible far beyond the classroom. But, in order to make effective use of these new strategies, teachers need to see them in practice – and that currently isn’t happening in enough places.

We need research that helps identify effective technology tools to support learning – and we need this research to be completed on a timely basis. A study that takes three years to complete doesn’t help educators and parents make informed decisions today. We need more places like The Joan Ganz Cooney Center to help us understand the challenges of educating children in a rapidly changing media landscape.

We also need easier ways to find the best tools and apps. We need more programs like Ready To Learn, which has adapted its former TV-only content to new platforms and is now available to all families and children across the country.

And last, but certainly not least, we need more funding for early learning. When Congress passes legislation to implement and fund the President’s Preschool for All proposal, we will have the financial resources to drive the tech revolution that we so urgently need in our early learning system.

We have, quite literally, tens of millions of reasons for taking action in all our precious children and grandchildren. Each and every one of them deserves a great start in life – and that’s exactly what “early tech” helps to provide.

Libby Doggett is Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Early Learning in the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education at the U.S. Department of Education

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