16 University Museums Showcase the Work of Their Youngest Students

Reposted from the OII Blog.

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Student artists from 16 academic museums officially open the exhibit of their works with a ribbon cutting at ED. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

On July 23, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) hosted the grand opening of the student art exhibit Museums: pARTners in Learning at its headquarters in Washington, presenting visual artwork and creative writing by students ages 5–17 in the arts education programs at 16 academic museums.

Deputy Under Secretary Jamie Studley welcomed guests to the Department and thanked the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) for its partnership with ED. Studley not only emphasized the critical partnership for learning between art and other classroom subjects, such as chemistry and history, she also noted the importance of art “as a source of inspiration and a way to practice discipline.”

Rebecca Martin Nagy, director of the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art at the University of Florida, asserted that art museums worldwide are committed to education. “It’s what we do!” she said, citing the 242 AAMD members that work with each other, 40,000 schools, and community organizations.

Anthony Madorsky, a 10-year-old student artist from Meadowbrook Elementary School in Gainesville, Fla., made family members proud when he delivered remarks on his painting “La Florida.”  He drew inspiration from Frank Hamilton Taylor’s “A Trip on the Ocklawaha,” a painting at the Harn. Anthony explained that he tried to depict “the untouched majestic beauty [of Florida] before the Spanish colonization,” a different way than people usually see Florida. “When Ponce de León discovered Florida, he called it “La Florida,” meaning ‘land full of flowers.’ I believe each of our brains is a ‘La Florida’ as it is a place full of ideas like flower buds and, as people help us improve these ideas, they can bloom into flowers,” Anthony concluded—an eloquent depiction of “becoming educated.”

Anna Mebel, the poet-in-residence at the Harn, also touched on the different portrayals of her home state, Florida—a foreigner’s and a local’s. She recited her original poem, “Florida,” which was inspired by Karen Glaser’s “Within the Swamp, Roberts Lake Strand,” a photograph at the Harn.

Amanda Stambrosky, the choreographer and dancer-in-residence at the Harn, performed an original piece, “Down to the Lake,” to James Vincent McMorrow’s song “The Lakes” in response to four Florida landscape paintings at the Harn. Amanda incorporated her hair in her performance. Midway, she let it loose from the bun she wore as both an expression of “letting loose” and a representation of the movement of the palm trees and wind. For her, concluding the piece by pulling her hair back in a bun portrayed “resuming life, yet kind of changed.”

The program closed with a ribbon-cutting ceremony, an 11-year tradition of ED’s Student Art Exhibit Program to officially open students’ exhibits

“The art is beautiful” and “wow!” were some of the guests’ remarks as they viewed the 67 pieces of work, evidence of creativity and learning in all fields from k–12 students.

The exhibit will be on display through August 31 in the ED headquarters lobby at 400 Maryland Ave. SW. To visit the exhibit, contact Jackye Zimmermann (Jacquelyn.Zimmermann@ed.gov; 202-401-0762).

Click here to see additional photos from the exhibit opening.

Greta Olivares is a rising senior at Middlebury College and a summer intern in the Office of Communications and Outreach at ED.

Beware of Student Loan Debt Relief Offers and Credit Repair “Deals”

If you’re among the millions of current or former students with debt, you’ve probably been tempted to click on an ad that says, “Obama Wants to Forgive Your Student Loans!” or “Erase Default Statuses in 4 – 6 Weeks!” or some equally enticing student loan debt relief offer … available only if you click or call NOW!

Many the companies behind these offers have sophisticated marketing tactics to target unsuspecting students, borrowers, parents, military service members, and their families. As the Student Loan Ombudsman for the Office of Federal Student Aid at the U.S. Department of Education, I hear about these pitches a lot. My strong advice: Before you pay somebody to help you with your student loans, do your homework.

It’s tempting to just say: Don’t do it. Walk away. Call your loan servicer instead. But there’s more you should know.

In my office we help student loan customers with problems they may face in managing and repaying their student loans. One of the topics that has been trending recently is about companies that promise student loan cancellation, forgiveness, credit repair, or dramatically lowered payments.

Based on the experience of the Ombudsman Group and the Student Loan Ombudsman Caucus, here are some specific things you should know before signing up with any student loan debt relief company.

Student loan debt relief companies charge fees for services that you can get for free.

You can apply for loan consolidation through www.studentloans.gov. The application is free, and there are no extra fees. Before applying, do your research on www.studentaid.gov. On that site, you’ll find information on loan consolidation, requirements for loan forgiveness, repayment estimators to help you pick the right repayment plan to fit your income, loan servicer contacts, and other important information to help you manage your loan repayment. All for free! Recent research by a member of the Student Loan Ombudsman Caucus found some of these debt relief companies charging upfront consolidation fees as high as $999 or 1 percent of the loan balance (whichever is higher); “enrollment” or “subscription” fees up to $600; or monthly account “maintenance” fees as high as $50 per month. You already pay for these services through the monthly interest on your loans; why double-pay?

Keep your PIN to yourself

Student loan debt relief or credit repair companies may offer to manage your loan account, and to do so, they ask you to provide them with your federal student aid Personal Identification Number (PIN), or sign a Power of Attorney. Think about it: your PIN is the equivalent of your signature on any documents related to your student loan. If you give your PIN away, you give others the power to perform actions on your student loan on your behalf. Plus, regardless of who authorizes changes to your account, it’s your name on the promissory note. If that company fails to provide the appropriate updates to your loan servicer, you have to deal with the consequences.

Is Your Loan in Default?

If it is, you know that being in default on a student loan is bad news. Know this as well: you are a prime target for the marketing tactics of debt relief and credit repair companies. By being in default, you’ve already incurred added interest and you’re subject to collection costs. Don’t add on the additional fees charged by one of these companies to get your loan out of default.  Even if your loan is in default, loan consolidation is free. Getting on a loan rehabilitation plan is free. Find out how to get out of default.

Think you’ve been scammed?

If you’ve already signed a contract, seek advice to learn your options. Many state governments have an Office of Consumer Affairs or Consumer Protection either within or affiliated with, the Office of the State’s Attorney General. At the federal level, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) have the authority to act against companies that engage in deceptive or unfair practices. Click on the links to file your complaint with either of those agencies.

Contact your Loan Servicer

If you want to talk to someone, call your loan servicer or use your online account access to get more information.  They are your first source to get help with managing your loan repayment. The Department’s loan servicers are as concerned as I am at ensuring that you do not spend your hard-earned money to pay for something you can get for free. If you don’t know your servicer’s contact information, grab your PIN and log in to StudentAid.gov.

Joyce DeMoss is the Student Loan Ombudsman at Federal Student Aid. If you’ve tried to resolve your student loan issues without success, contact the Ombudsman. The Student Loan Ombudsman Caucus includes members at Direct Loan and FFELP program participating lenders, servicers, and guaranty agencies.

8 Keys to Veterans’ Success Receives More than 400 College and University Commitments

Cross-posted from the White House Joining Forces Blog.

Last August, at the Disabled American Veterans National Convention, President Obama outlined key Administration priorities that ensure we are fulfilling our promises to those who have served our nation, including supporting our veterans in institutions of higher learning. In his speech, President Obama announced that 250 community colleges and universities committed to implementing the 8 Keys to Success program on their campuses.

Developed by the Administration, the Department of Education (ED), and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in conjunction with more than 100 education experts, the 8 Keys to Veterans’ Success on campus are eight concrete steps that institutions of higher education can take to help veterans and service members transition into the classroom and thrive once they are there. Over the past year, the number of commitments have nearly doubled as more than 400 colleges and universities have affirmed their commitment to take the necessary steps to assist veterans and servicemembers in transitioning to higher education, completing their college programs, obtaining career-ready skills, and achieving success.

The strategies within the 8 Keys to Veterans’ Success include:

  • Creating a culture of connectedness on campus
  • Coordinating and centralizing campus efforts for all veterans
  • Collaborating with local communities and organizations to align services and supports for veterans
  • Implementing an early alert system
  • Utilizing a uniform set of data tools to collect and track information relating to veteran students (i.e., retention and degree completion)
  • Developing systems to ensure sustainability of effective practices

These common-sense practices should be implemented on every campus across the country.

To view current commitments and check if your school has signed the 8 Keys pledge, click here. If you are an administrator and would like to join the growing list of colleges and universities focused on providing the best environment for your student veterans, please visit the 8 Keys registration site, or email 8keys@ed.gov.

As more servicemembers return to civilian life, the urgency to ensure that they have the support they need to reach their educational and career goals grows each day. We will continue to advocate for the needs of the men and women who serve us so valiantly each and every day.

Robert “Mac” McFarlin is a White House Fellow at the National Economic Council.

Why Educating Girls Matters

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Wadley and Secretary Duncan solve a math problem together. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

“Education is the only solution.” – Malala Yousafzai

On January 12, 2010, when Wadley – a girl growing up in Port-au-Prince, Haiti — was just seven years old, the world that she once knew was forever changed. An earthquake killed hundreds of thousands and left just as many injured.  Its aftermath was unimaginable. Thousands upon thousands were left homeless and found themselves scrounging for the most basic necessities. Like so many others, Wadley and her mother moved to a tent city. Despite all the hardships, Wadley held on tight to her dreams: she wanted more than anything to go back to school.

When she found out the school had reopened she was overjoyed. She dropped the bucket she used to gather water and dashed home to tell her mother. But Wadley’s mother told her that she would not be returning to school because there was no money to pay the fees. Undaunted, Wadley returned to the makeshift school.  The teacher sent her away. “You are not a student here,” the teacher said. “Your mother hasn’t paid.” Wadley didn’t really understand what money was, but it seemed to make a difference in life. Still, Wadley desperately wanted to be in school. So, she went back, again and again, until finally, her teacher gave in.

Wadley is one of the lucky ones. She is back in school and happiest in her favorite class — science. In November, 2013, she even had a chance to do math problems with Secretary Duncan during his visit to Haiti. According to the Global Monitoring Report, in 2012, 66 million girls were not in school. All the facts tell us that educating girls worldwide is not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do. Children are twice as likely to survive when their mother is literate. Women who are educated are more than twice as likely to send their children to school. Evidence shows that crop yields increase by ten percent when women own the same amount of land as men. And when a country sends ten percent more of its girls to school, GDP increases by three percent on average.

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From left: Jamira Burley, U.S. Representative to the UN Global Education First Initiative Youth Advocacy Group; Samantha Wright, Vice President of Impact Strategy, Girl Rising; Christie Vilsack, Senior Advisor for International Education, USAID; Maureen McLaughlin, Senior Advisor to the Secretary and Director of International Affairs, International Affairs Office; Rachel Vogelstein, Fellow for Women and Foreign Policy, Council on Foreign Relations (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

On July 17, the International Affairs Office hosted a panel discussion at the U.S. Department of Education on the importance of educating girls worldwide and a screening of excerpts of Girl Rising, a film which highlights Wadley’s story as well the stories of eight other girls. Senior Advisor to the Secretary Maureen McLaughlin served as moderator. The panelists reminded us that, though great strides have been made, much work is left to be done. They also challenged those in attendance to roll up our sleeves and get involved. On a large scale, USAID announced a new program to increase enrollment and improve early-grade reading for at least 500,000 children, including 250,000 girls in Northern Nigeria. Here at home, individually, we can teach our own children about the challenges  girls face around the world. We can increase their empathy and understanding. And we can encourage them to think globally and act locally.

Rebecca Miller is an international affairs specialist in the International Affairs Office at the U.S. Department of Education.

A Day in Ohio with Secretary Perez & Secretary Duncan

Cross-posted from the Department of Labor’s Work in Progress blog.

Labor Secretary Tom Perez is traveling with Education Secretary Arne Duncan to Toledo, Ohio, today to see first-hand model programs and partnerships that are equipping Americans with the knowledge, skills and industry-relevant education they need to get on the pathway to a successful career.

We want to make sure you see what they see, too. Follow along today to see live updates and highlights from their day.

First stop: The Toledo Technology Academy.

The path to good jobs begins in grade school. Students in grades 7 – 12 receive an intense integrated academic and technical education that prepares them for a rewarding, life-long career in engineering or manufacturing technologies. Along with more “typical” high school classes, they receive hands-on training in plastics technologies, automated systems, manufacturing operations, computer-automated design, electronics and other manufacturing technologies.

The academy works closely with employers – including the local GM plant – to provide students with industry recognized credentials and certification. Students also can earn advanced credit at local 2- and 4-year colleges. In April, the Toledo Public School System was awarded a $3.8 million Youth CareerConnect grant that will expand the Toledo Technology Academy’s model to serve more students.

Joseph Neyhart, a recent graduate of the Toledo Technology Academy, shows off his robotics project. While in high school, Joseph gained hands-on job experience that prepared him for a lifelong career in mechanical engineering.

Alexis Smith, who also just graduated from the Toledo Technical Academy, is planning to attend the University of Toledo to become a biomedical engineer. The hands-on experiences she received in high school spurred her interest in improving medical technologies, including helping people who are claustrophobic in MRI machines. Her advice to other young people? “Think outside the box and don’t be afraid of a challenge.” Through new Youth CareerConnect grants, we’re helping more schools like TTA create programs that prepare young people for #STEM careers.

Second stop: The Toledo Electrical Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee.

Opportunities in apprenticeship. Apprenticeship is a tried and true workforce development strategy that’s used successfully around the world, but has been underutilized in the United States. Both the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, signed by President Obama last week, and the recently released White House report on job-driven training encourage expanding apprenticeships in traditional and non-traditional industries.

The state-of-the-art Toledo facility is run jointly by IBEW Local 8 and the local chapter of the Electrical Contractors Association. Apprentices complete thousands of hours of on-the-job training. They also “earn & learn”: pay starts just over $11 an hour and progresses to a journeyman scale of $37.12, not including benefits.

Wind energy is a growing industry in Ohio. With a need for more wind energy technicians, the facility decided to install a wind turbine for training purposes and to be a source of energy. This means the region will be provided with a workforce that is equipped to install and maintain wind turbines. Secretary Perez gets a lesson in wind turbine safety:

Nathan Eaton, former apprentice who is now in his fourth year as a Wind Turbine Maintenance Program instructor, told Secretary Perez that turbine operation and maintenance is not an easy job. Dealing with electricity means safety is paramount and electrical workers need to be able trust each other. The hands-on job training apprentices receive help them learn the skills that are needed out in the field.

Third and final stop: Owens Community College and an American Job Center strategically located at the college

Community colleges are key partners. Owens is the newest addition to the Registered Apprenticeship College Consortium, a bold new model that will allow graduates of Registered Apprenticeship programs (like those from the Toledo Electrical Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee) to turn their years of rigorous on-the-job and classroom training into college credits toward an associate or bachelor degree. Owens also was part of the Cincinnati State Community College Consortium that received nearly $20 million from the Labor Department to expand health care career opportunities.

The American Job Center on-site helps connect job seekers with positions as they become available, and employers with qualified workers. For people looking to improve their skills or start on a new career path, the center offers a wealth of resources on available training and education options.

What about you?

If you have a great program or success story you’d like us to know about, tell us here. Or, if you are looking for a job, to grow your skills or to hire a skilled workforce, find federal resources available in your community here.

Let’s Read! Let’s Move! Soars to New Heights

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Soaring to new heights at the National Air and Space Museum during a Let’s Read, Let’s Move! event. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

The third installment of ED’s summer series Let’s Read! Let’s Move! blasted into space at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum on July 23.

Secretary Arne Duncan read The Astronaut’s Handbook, by Meghan McCarthy, with chief curator of the National Air and Space Museum Peter Jakab, U.S. attorney general Eric Holder, White House chief of staff Denis McDonough, 2014 Miss America Nina Davuluri, and Carla Hall, chef and co-host of ABC’s “The Chew.”

“A book in your hand is more powerful than any space engine,” Jakab said.

With eyes fixated on the rockets and spaceships hanging from the ceiling,  students from youth centers and schools throughout the Washington, D.C., area filed into the Space Race gallery.

Clad in personally decorated astronaut helmets, they listened closely to the book’s themes of hard work, good study skills, and the keys to being a team player.

In addition to the book reading, there was a Mission to Mars puppet show and a question and answer session where kids quizzed the panel on the rules for pets on spaceships and the travel time from Earth to outer space.

Chef Carla’s food demonstration taught kids about fruits and vegetables that can be eaten in space, after she and the MusicianShip marching band led the students to the Let’s Move! activities featuring a group dance.

“It’s wonderful to broaden kids’ minds and to be at an event where you can find education in new ways,” Hall remarked.

The YMCA’s Physically Healthy and Driven program volunteers led the Let’s Move! activities including “exercise like astronauts,” where kids did commander crunches, pilot push-ups and competed in a shopping cart health food races before picking up a book bag and complimentary children’s book donated by Target.

The next and last Let’s Read! Let’s Move! event is scheduled for July 30. The program supports First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative, which promotes healthy lifestyle choices and nutrition, while also encouraging strong early learning programs to ensure bright futures for children.

Molly Block is a rising senior at the University of Michigan. She is an intern in the Office of Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education.

Ready To Learn Series Gets the Red Carpet Treatment

Cross-posted from the OII blog.

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Billy Aronson (second from left) and Jennifer Oxley, co-creators of “Peg + Cat,” a production of the Fred Rogers Company, share their Emmy Awards for “Outstanding Pre-School Children’s Animated Series” and “Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation for Production Design” with Ready to Learn (RTL) Program Manager Brian Lekander (left) and RTL Program Officer Adam Bookman. (Department of Education photo by Paul Wood)

Peg + Cat, the animated PBS KIDS math series launched last fall, won three Daytime Creative Arts Emmy Awards last month, including Outstanding Pre-School Children’s Animated Series. Funded in part by ED’s Ready To Learn (RTL) program, the series follows the spirited Peg and her loyal sidekick Cat, as they embark on hilarious musical adventures, learning math concepts along the way. The series provides young viewers with a new way to experience math and highlights its importance in a variety of everyday situations. Music is used as a teaching tool throughout the series and each episode features an original song.

Series co-creator and executive producer Jennifer Oxley also received the Emmy forOutstanding Individual Achievement in Animation for Production Design. Oxley made her first film at the age of 7 and has devoted much of her professional career to educational television and film, including direction of 15 short films for Sesame Street, as well as the award-winning adaptation of Spike Lee and Tanya Lewis Lee’s children’s book, Please, Baby, Please. Eleven-year-old Hayley Faith Negrin, the voice of Peg and the youngest nominee at this year’s Daytime Emmy Awards, received the award for Outstanding Performer in a Children’s Program.

In a press release from The Fred Rogers Company, the nonprofit producer of Peg + Cat, Paul Siefken, the company’s vice president of broadcast and digital media, said, “We’re delighted that the Emmy Awards committee has recognized Peg + Cat as an exceptional series with much to offer for today’s preschoolers and families.” In its premiere week last October, the television series reached 2.2 million children; in a typical month between October and May, more than 10 million individuals ages 2 and up, as well as 6.7 million households, viewed the show’s episodes.

Like all Ready To Learn initiatives, Peg + Cat employs a variety of media to engage children and families in early learning and school readiness, with a particular focus on low-income children. In addition to the television series, the Peg + Cat multi-platform media experience employs interactive mobile and online content, including games and other online resources at pbskids.org/peg, and additional interactive features, including steaming video, parent and educator resources, and mobile apps. In the first season, the online game collection received nearly 14 million pageviews and a Peg + Cat mobile app was downloaded more than 42,000 times. Community engagement with schools is also an important outreach strategy, and to date more than 1,200 educators and 15,000 children and families have participated in 88 school events.

Peg + Cat is partially funded through a $71 million RTL grant from the Office of Innovation and Improvement to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Public Broadcasting Service. The RTL program encourages and supports the development and use of television and digital media to promote early learning and school readiness for young children and their families, as well as the dissemination of educational outreach programs and materials to promote school readiness. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Public Broadcasting Service are one of three RTL grant recipients, each of which received awards in 2010.

Doug Herbert is a special assistant in the Office of Innovation and Improvement and editor of the OII home page.

Engineering Education: The U.S. Department of Education Releases Innovative Initiatives

The Department of Education (ED) has announced a new round of experimental sites, or ex-sites, to provide flexibility to design programs that serve students better.  The new ex-sites will promote competency-based education (CBE), as well as prior learning assessments and near-peer counseling among college and high school students.  Ex-sites give institutions the ability to be more creative about ways they can reduce costs and increase success in higher education.

Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell, said in a video, “To help more Americans succeed – and position our nation to lead – in the years ahead, we need to give students better, faster, more flexible paths to strong academic and career outcomes.”

The Department has had the ex-sites authority since 1992, and last summer, President Obama challenged us to think about how we could use ex-sites to increase innovation in higher education, including through CBE models that make it possible for students to get financial aid based on how much they learn, rather than the amount of time they spend in class. ED put out a request for information last December, asking institutions to send us their ideas about which statutory and regulatory flexibilities would allow them to increase student success.  A range of institutions and other organizations sent in suggestions, which informed the development of this round of experiments.

There are many examples across the country of competency-based programs already serving students, but the new flexibilities ED is providing should allow programs like these to grow with the support of federal student aid.  For example, Western Governors University has long provided students a competency-based program in a wide array of fields.

Southern New Hampshire University was the first to take advantage of a new option called “direct assessment”, which we are making more flexible in this round of ex-sites.  It will allow students to take some classes in the traditional format, while others under the competency-based direct assessment approach.

Other institutions, such as Brandman University in California, the University of Wisconsin system, Capella University, and Lipscomb University in Tennessee have designed new programs that they aim to tailor to work around an individual’s schedule, making them especially feasible to students balancing work and family responsibilities.

By taking down barriers that stand in the way of innovation, we hope to spur more institutions to try new approaches.  Yet at the same time, the flexibilities are coupled with new ways to safeguard federal student aid.    These ex-sites will also have a built-in evaluation component, which will give us insight into the outcomes of these experiments.  We expect that the lessons we learn will inform the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

Full details about the ex-sites are available here (and will be published formally in the Federal Register).

Edgar Estrada is an intern in the Office of Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education, and a student at the University of California, Irvine.

Secretary Duncan Praises Sustainable Schools and Announces Tour

Secretary Arne Duncan, Assistant Secretary of Commerce Mark Schaefer and Acting Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality Mike Boots celebrate green schools. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Secretary Arne Duncan, Assistant Secretary of Commerce Mark Schaefer and Acting Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality Mike Boots celebrate green schools. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

For the third consecutive year, a cohort of U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS) and District Sustainability Awardees received accolades at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., for their sustainable, healthy facilities, wellness practices, and sustainability learning. Honorees participated in a celebration offered by the Center for Green Schools and Senator Tom Harkin’s office, where they met their Congressional representatives, and in a  range of tours offered by the National Park Service, the U.S. Botanical Gardens, the Department of Energy, the White House, and NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, among others.

Joined by Acting Chair of the White House Council for Environmental Quality Mike Boots and U.S. Department of Commerce Assistant Secretary Mark Schaefer, Secretary Duncan praised these school and district sustainability all-stars at an afternoon ceremony for their efforts to reduce both their impact on the environment and utility costs through conservation and facilities upgrades, keeping students healthy with daily wellness practices, and using environmental education to teach all subjects, especially science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), civics, and green careers.

Secretary Duncan also announced the “Healthy Schools, High-Achieving Students” Best Practices Tour. The six-state tour will highlight practices that improve the wellness, productivity, and achievement of students and faculty through health, safety, and educational improvements in school facilities, as well as environmental education, nutrition and physical activity. This year’s tour will visit several Kentucky, West Virginia, Minnesota, Florida, Colorado and Maryland honorees from August to October.

What have honorees done to receive this award? They’re turning out the lights, adding insulation, changing light bulbs, implementing building automation, bringing daylight into their classrooms, and installing renewable energy sources, allowing them to save money. Their efforts  ensure healthy, safe air quality, better ventilation, and reduced contaminants, and they regularly maintain building systems, ban idling vehicles, purchase safe cleaning supplies, and implement integrated pest management.

Students also use the school building and grounds as instruments for learning. Using the school building, surrounding natural environments and school gardens as instruments for learning, students are eating healthy, local, and school-grown foods and are getting more physical activity outdoors. Nearly all honorees take advantage of Farm to School programs and through programs like Safe Routes to School or Walking School Bus, students reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve the quality of air. Their efforts improve the health of schools, literally helping students and staff to breathe easier. Students in Green Ribbon schools gain life-long civic skills and stewardship values, hands-on experience with science, technology, engineering and math and graduate prepared for the jobs of tomorrow.

Given all these benefits, it’s not surprising that ED has added a third award category for the 2014-2015 awards cycle. In addition to schools and districts, state authorities are invited to nominate green colleges and universities by February 1, 2015.

To learn more about this year’s U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools and District Sustainability Awardees, visit our website. You may also subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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

Upskill America: Creating Pathways to the Middle Class

Cross-posted from the White House Blog.

This week, the President visited Los Angeles Trade Technical College to deliver a clear message: we need to train more hard-working Americans to fill the jobs our businesses are creating. The President explained:

I’m here for every American who works their tail off; who does everything right; who believes in the American Dream and just wants a chance to build a decent life for themselves and their families. You are why I ran for President in the first place. 

In his 2014 State of the Union address, the President tasked Vice President Biden with leading a review of job training programs, with the aim of making them more job-driven. That review is complete and earlier this week, the President and Vice President announced significant reforms in the way Federal programs train and retrain workers.

As a result of this review, the Administration is kicking off a significant new public-private effort to help hard-working Americans get ahead through an initiative we are calling “upskilling”: working with employers, educators, tech innovators, unions, training providers, cities, states, and non-profits to help turn low-wage and entry-level jobs across the country into stepping stones to the middle class.

We will be doing this in a number of ways. Increasing access to high-quality education and training is an important component, and new federal investments in an online skills academy will leverage technology to offer open online courses of study, helping students earn credentials online through participating accredited institutions. These investments also will expand access to curricula designed to shorten the time it takes to complete training, enabling workers to efficiently develop skills in demand by employers. We will also build partnerships across the public and private sectors to provide opportunities for low-wage and entry-level workers to gain the skills required to be competitive in the workforce.

Research shows that an individual’s skill level strongly affects her or his social mobility: the economic payoff to individuals with higher skills is greater in the United States than in almost any other OECD country. In fact, studies have found that wages increase by 28 percent with an improvement in numeracy skills alone.

Most training in the United States occurs at the workplace (Robert I. Lerman, Signe-Mary McKernan, and Stephanie Riegg, “The Scope of Employer-Provided Training in the United States: Who, What, Where, and How Much?” Job Training Policy in the United States(2004)), but the vast majority of employers’ investment in education and training is focused on more highly skilled employees. In fact, in 2012, only 21 percent of adults with the lowest measured level skills were participating in job-related education and training, compared to 69 percent of adults with the highest level skills (“Survey of Adult Skills,”The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (2013)). And despite significant investments by the Federal government, the current federally-funded adult education system reaches fewer than 6 percent of the 36 million adults with severe deficits in workforce literacy (“Adult Education Basic Grant Program Factsheet,”Department of Education Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (June 2014)).

The good news is that there are emerging career ladders for entry-level workers who have access to the right educational content and receive some on the job training, and clear success stories. Take Enisael Aguilera, a Wisconsin resident, who spent years repairing shipping and storage pallets before deciding to improve his skills in order to obtain better paying employment. As he studied to pass the GED exam at Waukesha County Technical College, Enisael earned the Metal Fabrication Technical Diploma and became aware of its associated Career Pathway. After finishing the course, he began work at the Wausau Equipment Company as a finish welder, and shortly thereafter received his “welder registration” from the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services, gaining a 12 percent pay-raise in just his first-year on the job.

Similar pathways are available in other sectors, too. In industries as diverse as healthcare, manufacturing, and insurance, many skilled technical workers are nearing retirement, and employers need to diversify their talent base. To stay competitive, employers will need to tap into the abilities of all Americans, including their own entry-level workforce.

Our goal is to get 24 million low-wage, hard-working Americans the training that puts them on pathways to fill hundreds of thousands of vacancies employers have right now in mid-skill, better-paying jobs. As the President said this week and has stated many times before, our focus is on ensuring that every American who works hard and plays by the rules gets a fair shot. Entry-level jobs should be stepping stones to robust career pathways into the middle class, and to the American dream.

Arne Duncan is the Secretary of Education. Jeffrey Zients is Director of the National Economic Council and Assistant to the President for Economic Policy

 

Privacy & Transparency: New Resources for Schools and Districts

We all know how important it is for parents to have open lines of communication with their children’s school. Parents want to be champions for their children and to protect their interests and to do this they need information. When it comes to information that is stored digitally, parents often ask questions such as:

  • What information are you collecting about my child?
  • Why do you need that information, and what do you use it for?
  • How do you safeguard my child’s information?

I’m pleased to announce the release of new Privacy Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) guidance regarding transparency best practices for schools and districts. This document provides a number of recommendations for keeping parents and students informed about schools’ and districts’ collection and use of student data.

The recommendations can be divided into three main categories: what information schools and districts ought to communicate to parents; how to convey that information in an understandable way; and how to respond to parent inquiries about student data policies and practices.

Some of the best practices covered in the document include:

  • making information about student data policies and practices easy to find on districts’ and schools’ public webpages
  • publishing a data inventory that details what information schools and districts collect about students, and what they use it for
  • explaining to parents what, if any, personal information is shared with third parties and for what purposes
  • using communication strategies that reduce the complexity of the information, and telling parents where they can get more detailed information if they want it.

The document also encourages schools and districts to be proactive when it comes to communicating about how they use student data.

We’re also pleased to direct you to the new website for our FERPA compliance office, the Family Policy Compliance Office, or FPCO. The new website is more user-friendly and will help school officials, parents, and students find the information they are looking for. It’s still a work in progress and we have many new features that we hope to launch in the coming weeks. We will soon begin posting FPCO’s decision letters from prior complaints and we will be launching an online community of practice for school officials to share information, templates, and lessons learned.

Kathleen M. Styles is Chief Privacy Officer at the U.S. Department of Education.

AANAPISIs: Serving a Critical AAPI Student Population

Recently I had the distinct privilege to join Education Secretary Arne Duncan when he met with Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander education stakeholders to discuss a number of education issues affecting the community.  They presented a range of issues, such as the importance of data disaggregation, addressing bullying/harassment, and serving native populations, as well as the significance of Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institutions (AANAPISIs) in educating low-income, first generation college students, and helping to achieve President Obama’s goal of having the highest proportion of college graduates by 2020.

Attendees requested a clear statement that AANAPISIs are indeed within the same class of institutions as Historically Black Colleges and Universities and other minority-serving institutions under the Higher Education Act. Community members relayed that because of this lack of clarity, higher education institutions, advocates, and even federal agencies were uncertain whether AANAPISIs could qualify or apply for federal grant opportunities across the federal government.

In response to these concerns, the Department has updated its website.  To the extent federal agencies utilize this statutory authority to target grants and programmatic opportunities, we recommend and encourage listing “Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institutions (AANAPISIs)” along with the other classes of schools delineated under the HEA.  In addition, the website clarifies that the specific definition of “Minority Institutions” (MIs) applies only to the Minority Science and Engineering Improvement Program (MSEIP) and other programs that reference the same MI definition, which includes Pacific Islanders but not Asian Americans.

AANAPISIs, and other postsecondary institutions enrolling populations with significant percentages of undergraduate minority students, play a critical role in our higher education efforts.  AANAPISIs serve almost 40 percent of the nation’s AAPI student population, and are predominantly community colleges.  Take a look at this video and share it with schools, advocates, and students to better understand what AANAPISIs are:

We hope this clarification encourages higher education institutions that meet this designation to research and apply for opportunities across the federal government to support their student body and the communities in which they reside.  And we are hopeful that agencies and departments will utilize this information when making federal grants and opportunities available to underserved populations.

Jamienne Studley is Deputy Under Secretary of Education at the U.S. Department of Education.