AmeriCorps – An Incredible Gift to Our Schools

Today marks the 20th anniversary of AmeriCorps, the national service program that has helped 900,000 Americans give a year of their lives in service to this country. Hundreds of thousands have served in our schools as teachers, tutors, and classroom assistants. In fact, AmeriCorps volunteers are hard at work in 11,700 schools across the country right now. AmeriCorps volunteers have strengthened our nation in so many ways, believing that those who love their country can change it. They have helped communities rebuild after natural disasters, from the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy to the tornado in Joplin, Mo. They have made our parks cleaner and more accessible.  And they have increased access to healthy foods for people living in poverty. I’m heartened that much of AmeriCorps’s impact can be felt in our schools.

We know that giving kids the education they deserve takes entire communities working together, and AmeriCorps has connected people looking to make a difference in public education in strategic and meaningful ways. During my time as CEO of the Chicago Public Schools and in my visits to schools across the country as Education Secretary, I have seen how AmeriCorps volunteers serving with Teach for America, City Year, Public Allies, and other organizations have helped to educate and support our nation’s children. And I have seen how they inspire even more individuals to take up the mantle of service – 4 million Americans volunteered alongside AmeriCorps members in 2013 alone.

Full story of AmeriCorps service program at ed.gov

U.S. Department of Education Awards More Than $14.7 Million in Elementary and Secondary School Counseling Grants

The U.S. Department of Education awarded more than $14.7 million to 40 school districts in 20 states across the country to establish or expand counseling programs. Grantees will use funds to support counseling programs in elementary and secondary schools. Specifically, the new awards will aid schools in hiring qualified mental-health professionals with the goal of expanding the range, availability, quantity and quality of counseling services. Parents of participating students will have input in the design and implementation of counseling services supported by these grants.

“School-based counseling programs are a wonderful resource for students whose families may not be able to take advantage of outside services or programs,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said. “These grants will allow school districts to hire more professionals and provide additional services to those students who are struggling with mental-health and emotional issues, and their families.”

Full story of counseling grants at ed.gov

ED Seeks Winter/Spring Interns

Have you ever wondered about pursuing a federal career? Are you interested in public service? Would you like to gain valuable work experience and help move the needle on education issues in this country?

The Department of Education may have opportunities that match your interests – and we’re currently accepting applications for interns!

Our Department is a place where you can explore fields like education policy, research and analysis, intergovernmental relations and public affairs, or traditional and digital communications, all while learning about the role federal government plays in education.

For more information on the internships, visit ed.gov

Not Just Teachers: Supporting Students’ Success

As summer ends and the school year begins, we often think about teachers and students heading back to school. While teachers prepare lessons and students learn new concepts we can’t forget the service employees who provide support that enable the schools to run efficiently.

Instructional support in schools can play a key role in student success. Paraeducators –– support staff responsible for assisting in the delivery of instruction — help provide such support by assisting with classroom management, organizing instructional materials, helping in libraries and media centers, and translating, to name a few of their responsibilities. Perhaps most importantly, paraeducators reinforce the efforts of teachers in the classroom, and help increase student outcomes.

Full story of paraeducators at ed.gov

New Online Community Seeks to Crowdsource Teacher Leadership to Improve Education

As students and teachers across the country head back to school, the U.S. Department of Education and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards today unveiled Commit to Lead, a new online community that makes it easy for educators to share ideas for teacher leadership and collaborate to bring these ideas to fruition. The community enables educators everywhere to provide feedback and vote on each other’s ideas, allowing the most talked about ideas to rise to the top so they can gain traction and prominence in the field. Commit to Lead is the online platform of Teach to Lead, an initiative to promote teacher leadership convened by the Department and the National Board.

“Commit to Lead directly engages educators in defining what teacher leadership can and should look like in their communities, so that collectively we can help make teacher leadership part of the fabric and culture of every school,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “It builds on the great work that already exists in the field, and invites the creation of new ideas. It represents one step in our ongoing commitment to listen to educators and support their vital leadership of their profession.”

Full story of the online community to improve education at ed.gov

Tips for Developing a Strong Relationship with Your Child’s Teacher

The start of the school year is the perfect time to build a positive relationship with your child’s teacher.

It’s a good idea to let your child’s educator know you want to partner with him or her, and share the responsibility for your child’s academic growth.

Here are some tips to bear in mind:

  • Keep in touch! Make sure your child’s teacher has multiple ways and times of day to contact you. Provide as many ways as possible – which might include a work, cell, and home phone number and email address if possible.
  • Mark your calendar! Ask your child’s teacher about the best ways and times to contact him or her. Keep in mind that most teachers are in the classroom all day, so after school may be the best time to call or to make an appointment to meet with him or her.

For more tips on developing relationship with your child’s teacher, visit ed.gov

Obama Administration Approves NCLB Flexibility Extension Requests for Ohio and Michigan

The Obama administration announced today that Ohio and Michigan have received a one-year extension for flexibility from certain provisions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

“America’s schools and classrooms are undergoing some of the largest changes in decades – changes that will help prepare our students with the critical thinking and problem-solving skills that tomorrow’s economy will require,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said. “This extension will allow the states to continue the critical work of implementing the bold reforms they developed to improve achievement for all students.”

ESEA has been due for Congressional reauthorization since 2007. In the absence of reauthorization, President Obama announced in September 2011 that the administration would grant waivers from parts of the law to qualified states, in exchange for state-developed plans designed to improve educational outcomes for all students, close achievement gaps, increase equity and improve the quality of instruction. The one-year extension of ESEA flexibility allows the states to continue moving forward on the ambitious work they began with their initial flexibility requests.

Full story on the NCLB extensions at ed.gov

A Back-to-School Conversation with Teachers and School Leaders

As teachers gear up for a new school year, I want to offer two thoughts. One is a message of celebration and thanks. The other is a response to a concern that has come up often in many conversations with teachers and families, and which deserves an answer.

First, the thanks. America’s students have posted some unprecedented achievements in the last year – the highest high school graduation rate in the nation’s history, and sharp cuts in dropout rates and increases in college enrollment, especially for groups that in the past have lagged significantly. For these achievements, we should celebrate America’s teachers, principals, and students and their families. These achievements are also indications of deeper, more successful relationships with our students. All of us who’ve worked with young people know how much they yearn for adults to care about them and know them as individuals.

These achievements come at a time of nearly unprecedented change in American education – which entails enormously hard work by educators. Nearly every state has adopted new standards, new assessments, new approaches to incorporating data on student learning, and new efforts to support teachers.

Full story on the back-to-school conversation at ed.gov

New Preschool Grant Program Will Expand Opportunity to More of America’s Early Learners

Across the country, there is a great need for early learning. But the need isn’t just for preschool seats — it’s for high-quality early learning programs that can put children on the path to thrive in kindergarten and beyond.

Research has shown the powerful benefits of high-quality early education. Children who receive rich early learning experiences are less likely to need special education services. They’re in better health, and they get better jobs. Yet, today, only 30 percent of 4-year-olds in the U.S. participate in state preschool, and 10 states don’t offer it at all. Among other industrialized nations, the U.S. ranks 25th in enrollment of 4-year-olds in early learning.

Full story of new preschool grant program at ed.gov

Engaging Educators to Design and Improve New Systems of Evaluation and Support: 5 to Watch

Many States and school districts are proactively engaging educators in helping to shape key reforms, including evaluation, feedback and support systems. Five to watch are:

Denver Public Schools (CO) avoided the “happy talk” that often undermines credibility with its “keep-it-real” communications campaign, focused on successes and challenges. Union leaders and teachers from evaluation pilot programs traveled to nonpilot schools to articulate first-hand experiences, an effort that led to 92 percent of schools joining the pilot evaluation program.

Hillsborough County (FL) created educator advisory panels and surveyed teachers (“pulse checks”) to assess their understanding of and attitudes toward the evaluation and support system. The district is using this feedback to adjust communications with teachers via e-magazines and podcasts, publish updates to address confusion and efficiently solve technical problems with the system.

Full story of educators new system of evaluation at ed.gov