U.S. Department of Education Fulfills Administration Promise to Invest $200 Million in STEM Education

The U.S. Department of Education announced today that it has not only fulfilled but surpassed President Trump’s directive to invest $200 million in high-quality science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), including computer science, education. In total, the Department obligated $279 million in STEM discretionary grant funds in Fiscal Year 2018.

“It’s important that all students have access to a high-quality STEM education,” U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said. “These discretionary grant programs and this Administration’s increased focus on STEM will help ensure our nation’s students are exposed to STEM early in their lifelong education journeys and will have the tools needed for success in the 21st century economy.”

Full story at ed.gov

Small Classes, Small Benefits

SMALL CLASSES ARE VERY popular with parents. Fewer kids in a room can mean more personal attention for their little ones. Teachers like them, too. Fewer kids means fewer tests to mark and fewer disruptions. Communities across the United States have invested enormously in smaller classes over the past 50 years. Pupil-teacher ratios declined from 22.3 in 1970 to 17.9 in 1985 and dropped to a low of 15.3 in 2008. But after the 2008 recession, local budget cuts forced class sizes to increase again, bumping the pupil-teacher ratio up to 16.1 in 2014, according to the most recent federal data available.

There’s a general consensus among education researchers that smaller classes are more effective. (In graduate school, I was taught that the benefits of small classes kick in once the class size falls below 16 students.) The benefits of small classes have become something of an informal yardstick. When I have written about unrelated educational reforms, researchers often compare them to the effectiveness of class-size reductions to give me a sense of their relative impact.

Full story at US News

‘I Am Heartbroken’: Your Letters About Public Service Loan Forgiveness

“Thank YOU,” writes Cara Christensen, a first-grade teacher in Washington state who read NPR’s deep dive into the troubled Public Service Loan Forgiveness program (PSLF). The reporting, she says, “made me feel not so alone.”

We received dozens of emails, tweets and Facebook comments from aggrieved borrowers responding to news that, over the past year, 99 percent of applications for the popular loan-forgiveness program have been denied.

PSLF offers the promise of loan forgiveness to nurses, teachers, first-responders and other student borrowers who work in public service for 10 years while keeping up with their loan payments. But it has been plagued by poor communication from the U.S. Department of Education and mismanaged by servicing companies the department pays to run its trillion-dollar student loan portfolio.

Full story at npr.org

U.S. Department of Education Releases Study and Accompanying Toolkit on Ed Tech for English Learners

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) today announced the release of the National Study on English Learners and Digital Resources. The study provides the first national look at how districts and educators use educational technology to instruct English learner students—the fastest-growing student population in the country.

Today’s students are entering classrooms that have seen rapid adoption of digital technologies in instruction. With these new technologies, teachers of English learner (EL) students, whether they are general education teachers or specialists in EL student instruction, have exciting new tools to support learning.

This toolkit brings suggestions and resources for educators who want to utilize new technology-based resources to help their EL students gain proficiency in English and meet academic goals. The toolkit offers five guiding principles for educators to apply in exploring new ways of working with and supporting EL students through technology. In addition, the toolkit has a companion—The Developer Toolkit which provides guidance for developers on the needs of English learner students and their teachers, tips on supports to include with their products that may be especially useful for English learners and ways they can communicate about their products with districts and educators of English learner students to facilitate adoption.

Full story at ed.gov

Reading, Writing, Running

ONE WAS ON THE ROOF OF a Habitat for Humanity house in California when it occurred to her. Another was in a state senator’s office in Oklahoma City. Still another was at an education conference in Minneapolis when she began to consider it.

It’s a decision hundreds of educators across the country have made this year: To change the conditions in their classrooms, they would have to run for office themselves. Some 550 educators will be on election ballots this fall, according to the National Education Association, running for everything from local school board to governor.

Their numbers are particularly pronounced in states where teachers took to the streets and statehouses in the spring, places like Oklahoma, Kentucky and West Virginia. At least 20 educators filed to run for Congress this cycle, and the hundreds of educators running for statehouse positions came from both political parties from Maine to Alaska. Though the exact issues varied – compensation, the upward creep in class sizes, the trickling pipeline of qualified educators – they pointed to a common theme of neglect in state K-12 education budgets.

That activism led to a spike in educators filing their election paperwork, says Carrie Pugh, the national political director for the National Education Association, which has compiled a database of the educator-candidates.

Full story at US News

U.S. Department of Education Announces 2018 National Blue Ribbon Schools

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos today recognized 349 schools as National Blue Ribbon Schools for 2018. The recognition is based on a school’s overall academic performance or progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups.

“I’m pleased to celebrate with you as your school is named a National Blue Ribbon School,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos in a video message to the honorees. “We recognize and honor your important work in preparing students for successful careers and meaningful lives. Congratulations on your students’ accomplishments and for your extraordinary commitment to meeting their unique needs.”

The coveted National Blue Ribbon Schools award affirms the hard work of educators, families and communities in creating safe and welcoming schools where students master challenging and engaging content.

Full story at ed.gov

What the Dot Test Can Teach Us to De-Stress Our Students

Despite all the careful planning and prep, the school year has the capacity to quickly get stressful. As soon as I sense students are feeling overwhelmed, I try to find little techniques to help lighten the mood and detox any unnecessary stress from building up. When things start to feel like too much, I pull out one of my favorite techniques – The Dot Test – which I was fortunate enough to experience in graduate school. When I can pull it off, it’s one of my favorite lessons of the year.

The Story of the Dot Test

Upon entering the classroom, a lecturer greeted us and asked us to look up on the board and tell us what we saw. The board was seemingly empty. Everyone started looking at each other, all of us aware that we must be missing something. Finally, someone walked up to the board and said, “All I see is this small dot, is this what you meant?”

The lecturer said, “Yes that’s what I was hoping you’d find – the dot.” We were a bit confused, so he explained. “You see, I know you are all in the middle of a stressful year, but I wanted to tell you to enjoy it, because as stressful as the tests seem and as daunting as the homework might feel, throughout the grand scheme of your life you won’t remember any of it — it will be as significant as this small dot on this vast board. When you look back on this year, what you will remember are the friends you’ve made, the experiences you’ve had, and how your teachers made you feel. Don’t waste too much time being stressed out about the exams, because in the end, these tests won’t matter much in your life. They will become small dots. No matter what happens, you will all be okay and do great things.”

Full story at pbs.org

If ‘Free College’ Sounds Too Good To Be True, That’s Because It Often Is

To millions of parents and students, they’re magical words: free college.

But is the idea pure fantasy?

More than a dozen states now offer grants, often called scholarships, promising to help qualifying students pay for some or all of their college education. In fact, that word, “promise,” shows up again and again in these programs’ official names: Nevada Promise, Oklahoma’s Promise, Oregon Promise, Tennessee Promise … you get the idea.

Sometimes referred to as “free college” programs, most are relatively new, sparked by the relentless rise in college costs and by a desire among state leaders to improve college access, especially for low-income students. Hundreds more free college programs have popped up at the local level, too. But a new review of 15 of these statewide programs, conducted by The Education Trust, finds that states vary wildly in how they define both “free” and “college.”

Full story at npr.org

Education Department Considers Allowing Schools to Use Federal Money to Buy Guns

THE EDUCATION Department is considering allowing states to use federal funding to buy guns for teachers, according to a report in The New York Times.

The unprecedented move would reverse a long-held stance that the federal government should not fund the purchase of weapons.

In justifying the decision, the department is citing a program in the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, called Student Support and Academic Enrichment. The program does not mention the prohibition of weapons purchases, which Education Secretary Betsy DeVos would use to condone using grant money to fund gun purchases and training, according to the Times.

One of the three pillars of the program is to “improve school conditions for student learning.” People familiar with the situation told the Times that in its research the Education Department concluded that gun purchases could fall under this pillar. Currently, the guidelines for this section of the grant include encouraging schools to increase mental health counseling, reducing suspensions and establishing dropout prevention programs.

Full story at US News

‘Lies My Teacher Told Me,’ And How American History Can Be Used As A Weapon

When I was a high school junior in New Orleans taking AP American History, my teacher assigned us a paperback book. Slim in contrast to our hulking required textbook, it was a funny, compelling, even shocking read. Lies My Teacher Told Me, by James Loewen, explained how history textbooks got the story of America wrong, usually by soft-pedaling, oversimplifying and burying the thorny drama and uncertainties of the past under a blanket of dull, voice-of-God narration.

The book also taught a lot of history. It introduced me to concepts that still help me make sense of the world, like the “racial nadir” — the downturn in American race relations, starting after Reconstruction, which saw the rise of lynchings and the Ku Klux Klan. In doing so, Lies My Teacher Told Me overturned one assumption embedded in the history classes I’d been sitting through all my life: that the United States is constantly ascending from greatness to greatness.

Full story at npr.org