The “Softer” Side of Summer Learning

U.S. Department of Education Blog - Thu, 2014-05-22 06:00

It can be challenging helping children with reading, writing, math and science skills during the summer months to combat the “summer slide,” the learning loss than can occur when school is out.  Parents work hard helping their children stay engaged in summer packets and reading lists to reinforce academic skills, or “hard skills,” which though beneficial are often difficult to assist and not very motivating to students during the carefree days of summer.

Instead, a focus on “soft skills,” often called “people skills” can be a more inviting focus of summer learning, can be developed in children of any age and can be the start of successful life-long habits. Skills such as cultivating a growth mindset, setting goals, journaling, reflecting, collaborating, and communicating are just to name a few.

A national survey reports 77% of employers believe that soft skills are just as important as hard skills in the workplace. Some “soft skills” and ways you can help your child cultivate them this summer are:

  • Work ethic – This is also known as “grit.” Grit allows us to keep going and not give up. Give your child a difficult task to complete and encourage them throughout the process for not giving up and teach them how to bounce back from failure.
  • Goal Setting – Have your child write goals for each week and then have them check them off as they get done and celebrate success!
  • Dependability – Make your child responsible for tasks that they can complete independently. Give them a chance to be the leader at a family meeting, or decision-maker for family activities for a day.
  • Positive attitude – Create a gratitude calendar with your child where each day they write down one thing they are grateful for in their lives.
  • Teamwork – Get your child involved with athletics or other activities where they will need to work as a part of a team. Create family and friend activities where all members must work together to accomplish a fun task.
  • Problem solving –Think about ways to make everyday routines and activities a puzzle, such as leaving clues around the house that lead kids to solving puzzles while doing chores. Have them interact with online simulations to solve problems.
  • Reflection – Help your child begin a journal. Each day have them write about the events of the day, observations in nature, or things they have learned. Younger students can use pictures to express thoughts.
  • Communication – Create opportunities for your child to speak to you, family and friends. Use pictures, online field trips, role-play scenarios, or educational videos as conversation starters to get your child thinking and talking.

The most important thing you can do to support these skills is to model them daily. By engaging in activities with your children that focus on the “softer” side of learning this summer you will send them back to school in the fall with critical skills that will impact their future college, career and personal lives.

Dr. Toni Hull, a 2010 Teaching Ambassador Fellow, currently is an Instructional Specialist and Science teacher at Mesa Middle School in Las Cruces, NM. You can follow her on twitter @enchantedleader.

Categories: Higher Education News

11 Years Late, Key Job-Training Legislation Finally Heads Toward Passage

Chronicle of Higher Education - Thu, 2014-05-22 02:58

In a rare example of bipartisanship, members of Congress agreed to streamline programs in a bill to reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act.

Categories: Higher Education News

New Alliance Aims to Answer Authors’ Questions About Rights

Chronicle of Higher Education - Wed, 2014-05-21 13:01

The group’s goal is to develop a positive agenda around copyright, says one of its founders, and to arm writers with information to help them make decisions.

Categories: Higher Education News

Making it Easier to Pick and Pay for College through Ratings

U.S. Department of Education Blog - Wed, 2014-05-21 09:07

For so many, this season of college commencements is a joyful one filled with visions of the future. College holds the promise of a good job, lifelong learning and community engagement. Yet for too many families the price of that vital ticket to the middle class is increasingly out of reach. That undermines the opportunity that is core to our American values, and threatens our economic growth and the common good. As a nation, we have to make college more accessible and affordable and assure that students graduate with an education of real value.

President Obama has set a goal of regaining our world leadership in college completion, and has made a commitment to keep college within reach for all students. He has also set forth specific steps to ensure that quality education beyond high school can be a reality for all families. As part of a broad plan to promote postsecondary access, affordability and meaningful outcomes, President Obama charged the Department of Education to design a college ratings system to promote these goals by increasing accountability for the federal investment in higher education and making better information available to consumers.

This is my second update on that plan, following an earlier post in December.

The President’s call for a ratings system is already driving a necessary conversation about exactly the right kind of questions: What colleges are taking on the vitally important role of educating low-income students, and assuring that they graduate with good results? What educational practices might help schools lower the cost to students while improving or sustaining quality learning? Across the country, from Georgia State to Franklin & Marshall, Purdue to Arizona State, Los Rios Community College to University of Central Missouri to CUNY and SUNY, there are exciting examples of colleges and universities engaging constructively with those questions and shaping their priorities to advance the same goals.

In an effort to build this system thoughtfully and wisely, we are listening actively to recommendations and concerns, starting with a student leader session, four open forums in California, Iowa, Louisiana and Virginia, and a national listening tour that grew to 80-plus meetings with 4,000 participants.

We hear over and over – from students and families, college presidents and high school counselors, low-income students, business people and researchers – that, done right, a ratings system will push innovations and systems changes that will benefit students. We’ve heard strong support for the President’s plan from state education leaders, who are working to figure out sensible ways to drive positive change, and also from students, educators and parents who have spoken passionately about the need to improve access to higher education.

At the same time, we’ve received useful feedback on the creation of the system and dangers to avoid. Many have spoken strongly about the need to reward schools for completion in ways that do not lead them to turn away struggling students. A viable system, they remind us, must capture the wide variety of schools and students with sensitivity. And it must thoughtfully measure indicators like earnings, to avoid overemphasizing income or first jobs, penalizing relatively lower paid and public service careers, or minimizing the less tangible benefits of a college education such as civic engagement and critical thinking.

In all of these conversations, nothing has touched me more than a young woman who testified with remarkable openness at our forum in Los Angeles.  “I want to repay the government and private lenders for the unforgettable education I received, but it’s nearly impossible,” she said. “I feel like I’m drowning every day.”

Her college debt was destroying her and her brother’s credit records. We’ve met many students, from Iowa farm families to Louisiana working adults, struggling to find a good and affordable college option and worried about debt and repayment. By contrast, I think of the astonishment and delight of a Hispanic mom at a community center parent meeting who discovered that her family didn’t have to rule out for cost reasons the respected and selective schools for which her daughter was well qualified. Sensible college ratings could help all of them.

As this conversation has evolved we’ve sought the help of higher education leaders and experts. In December, we asked technical and subject-matter experts about measures, data sources, and formulas that might be used to generate ratings. We received more than 140 responses, including some fully-developed recommendations for designing an effective system. In February, we convened a technical symposium on ratings systems with people knowledgeable about measures developed by institutions, states, and publications. The scope of responses, complexity of the task, and importance of doing this thoughtfully and usefully led us to decide that it is worth taking more time before publishing a proposal for comment, interchange and improvement. In the meantime we are continuing conversations with educators, families, leaders and researchers. We are on track to come out with a proposal by this fall and a final version of the new ratings system before the 2015-16 school year. I look forward to updating you again on progress in the coming months.

Ultimately, we are committed to significantly increasing college access, affordability and results for the good of America’s students and of our national competitiveness. Fair, clear and powerful incentives and information will let us recognize colleges’ success and scale their innovations.

Washington doesn’t have all the answers. But with the guidance of thousands of wise voices, we can take action that will help more Americans realize the dream of a college education.

 Jamienne Studley is deputy under secretary of the U.S. Department of Education.

Categories: Higher Education News

Law School Admission Council Agrees to Changes for Disabled Test Takers

Chronicle of Higher Education - Wed, 2014-05-21 02:56

Under a proposed consent decree, the council will grant accommodations more readily and stop "flagging" the scores of people who receive extra time.

Categories: Higher Education News

Rule-Making Panel Fails to Find Consensus on 2 Key Issues

Chronicle of Higher Education - Wed, 2014-05-21 02:56

In a package of proposed consumer protections, sticking points were rules for college-sponsored bank cards and online programs that operate across state lines.

Categories: Higher Education News

Is Student Loan Consolidation Right For You?

U.S. Department of Education Blog - Tue, 2014-05-20 14:16

A Direct Consolidation Loan allows you to combine multiple federal education loans into one loan. Before making the decision to consolidate your loans, you’ll want to carefully consider whether loan consolidation is the best option for you. Keep in mind, once your loans are combined into a Direct Consolidation Loan, they cannot be removed.

Advantages of consolidating your student loans:

  • Simplified Payments
    You’ll have a single monthly payment and a single lender (the U.S. Department of Education) instead of multiple payments and multiple lenders.
  • It’s free!
    It’s free to apply to consolidate your federal student loans. If you are contacted by someone offering to consolidate your loans for a fee, you are not dealing with the U.S. Department of Education.
  • Fixed Interest Rate
    Direct Consolidation Loans have a fixed interest rate, meaning your interest rate won’t change year to year. The fixed interest rate is based on the weighted average of the interest rates on the loans being consolidated, rounded up to the nearest one-eighth of 1%.
  • Lower Monthly Payments
    You may get a longer time to repay your loans, often resulting in lower monthly payments.

Disadvantages of consolidating your student loans:

  • Loss of Borrower Benefits
    You may lose any borrower benefits, such as interest rate discounts, principal rebates, or some loan cancellation benefits, offered with the original loans.
  • More Interest Paid Over Time
    You will likely pay more money in interest over the life of the loan. The amount of time you have to repay your Direct Consolidation Loan can vary from 10-30 years depending on the amount of your Direct Consolidation Loan and the amount of your other student loan debt. The longer it takes to repay your loan, the more you will make in interest payments.

In weighing your options, be sure to compare your current monthly payments to what your monthly payments would be if you consolidated your loans. If you’re just interested in temporarily lowering your monthly payment, consolidation might not be the answer.  Contact your loan servicer to consider alternative options such as deferment or forbearance.

To find out more information about loan consolidation, including eligibility requirements, visit https://studentaid.ed.gov/repay-loans/consolidation.

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

Categories: Higher Education News

Special Education is Not a Place

U.S. Department of Education Blog - Tue, 2014-05-20 13:38

Imagine living in an institution as a child with disabilities. You are isolated from your peers, your abilities are underestimated, and you are deprived of the special attention and education that you deserve. You are separated from other kids who live on your same street, only because you have a disability. After living in segregation for years, a law is passed that gives equal education rights to you – the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

When people see our website that we created for the competition, we want them to go forth with the knowledge of how much IDEA has helped children since 1975. The law has changed the lives of countless children in the United States. When Isabel, Chloe, and I originally made our website for the National History Day (NHD) competition, “Special Education is Not a Place: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act,” we would never have guessed we, three 7th grade girls, would end up with a guest blog on the Department of Education website. It’s been a long journey for us; we have learned so much! However, it has been an even longer journey for children with disabilities to gain educational rights.

We go to George Washington Middle School in Alexandria, Va., which participates in the NHD competition. This year, the theme is “Rights and Responsibilities.” We chose the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act as our topic for several reasons. We were inspired by “Including Samuel,” a video about a boy with disabilities and his struggles and successes of inclusion, told by his father. Between the three of us we have three relatives who are involved with special education, but we realized many people have no idea what the IDEA stands for and what it does (even us!). We also realized that though civil rights and women’s rights are taught in school, the rights of people with disabilities are mostly left out.

As part of our website, we interviewed the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) Acting Assistant Secretary Michael Yudin to gain additional information on IDEA and special education. We enjoyed speaking with him so much and learned more during the interview about placing and educating students in the “least restrictive environment” and making sure children with disabilities are not discriminated against in the schools.   This interview will be available on our website soon.

We are proud that our work has been recognized and we won first place in our category at the National History Day competition at our school, in regionals, and in our state! Now, our goal is not only to do well in the National competition (fingers crossed!), but to teach as many people as possible about the law that gave everyone the right to learn. IDEA will be 40 years old next year—that’s a lot older than we are! We are so happy that it has helped many before our time, and that it continues to make education better for all of us!

Lily Clausen, Chloe Marsh, and Isabel Frye are 7th grade students at George Washington Middle School in Alexandria, Virginia.

Categories: Higher Education News

Teacher Shadowing from a Teacher’s Perspective

U.S. Department of Education Blog - Tue, 2014-05-20 11:44

Diana Schneider, an education program specialist at the U.S. Department of Education, helps a student with work. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Diana Schneider, the U.S. Department of Education employee who visited my classroom during ED Goes Back to School Day,  proved to be a wonderful thought partner to me the entire time. We have a lot in common: we both were English Language Learners and we share a passion for helping students develop their English language skills, while also fostering a respect for their heritage languages and cultures. Diana definitely showed this passion when she co-taught a few lessons with me throughout the day. She helped me add layers of connections and critical thinking to our reading tasks and also forged relationships with my students who continue to talk about her to this day. Diana even volunteered to help chaperone a future field trip so that she could sustain these newfound relationships with our 3rd graders.

I hope that Diana saw how much collaboration goes into being an ESL teacher and how much job-embedded professional development schools provide nowadays. I’m glad that Diana could experience a professional development session as well as a grade-level planning meeting. Hopefully, these experiences captured how teachers use every spare moment to learn from each other and grow their practice.

I’m glad that Diana was able to see the multiple reading levels of the ELLs with whom I work and the amount of differentiation that goes into planning lessons that target their varied interests, decoding abilities, and comprehension skills, while also ensuring that all students are challenged to think critically. Diana noted that even lunch duty was infused with inquiry and academic discussions with the students. Every minute was used purposefully and it was wonderful to share that experience with her.

It would be great for Diana to also observe the ways in which I co-plan and co-teach with my entire 3rd grade team. I am extremely fortunate to collaborate with three dynamic and flexible general education teachers, each of whom has their own unique style of planning and teaching. We often experiment with different approaches and try to tailor our instruction to the needs of the different students in each classroom. Diana saw some parallel teaching, but didn’t get a chance to observe the team teaching or station teaching that I have done.

Students benefit from seeing skills modeled in two different ways or from getting more individualized support from targeted grouping when two teachers are present and both viewed as resources equally capable of leading instruction. I think that ELLs benefit from positive co-teaching relationships and inclusive settings that foster language and communication development.


Flora Lerenman, an ESL teacher at H.D. Cooke Elementary School, teaching a student. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

In 2014, there are still too many ESL programs in which general education and ESL instruction are far too separated. Collaboration ensures that teachers are partnering to meet all students needs together.

The field of ESL is growing and the Office of English Language Acquisition at ED has the potential to spearhead national innovation and research in best practices while advocating for our ELL students that have been historically marginalized. The ED Goes Back to School experience allows for teachers and policy-makers to collaborate on certain issues that require seeing student learning in action in order to debrief what student and teacher needs truly are — Diana and I were able to talk afterwards about what she saw and it caused me to think more critically about what ELLs need and what is possible for them.

Flora Lerenman is an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher at H.D. Cooke Elementary School in Washington, D.C.

Categories: Higher Education News

Australia Debates Major Changes to Its Higher-Education System

Chronicle of Higher Education - Tue, 2014-05-20 07:53

A proposal by the government would cut research spending and deregulate university fees. Opponents say it would put higher education "on the road to ruin."

Categories: Higher Education News

Panel Nears Agreement on New Standards for PLUS Loans

Chronicle of Higher Education - Tue, 2014-05-20 02:58

The Department of Education's latest version of the rule will come up for a vote on Tuesday. Negotiators are still at odds on other rules they're considering.

Categories: Higher Education News

A Bid to ‘Control a Contagion’ of Commencement Protests

Chronicle of Higher Education - Tue, 2014-05-20 02:55

William G. Bowen, who spoke at Haverford College, says people should protest—but do so in "civil and nondisruptive ways."

Categories: Higher Education News

A Field Guide to This Spring's Commencement-Speaker Outrage

Chronicle of Higher Education - Tue, 2014-05-20 02:55

Controversies over commencement speakers are practically an annual tradition on college campuses, and this spring has seen a rising tide of protests.

Categories: Higher Education News

Fueling Innovation through First in the World

U.S. Department of Education Blog - Mon, 2014-05-19 07:00

Last August, President Obama outlined an ambitious plan to increase value and affordability in higher education and help the U.S. once again lead the world in college attainment rates.  Among his priorities, which include developing a college ratings system and ensuring that student debt is manageable, innovation remains a central theme.  The President called on the Department of Education to spur innovation, foster constructive competition, and remove barriers to empower college and universities in developing and testing new strategies to enroll and graduate more students.

In response to the President’s call, the Department announced a new $75 million grant competition called First in the World that will provide funding for innovative strategies and approaches to improve college attainment and make higher education more affordable for students and families.  The program will invite colleges and universities across the country to submit innovative proposals to help students – particularly underprepared, underrepresented, or low-income students – to access, persist in, and complete higher education.

We know that innovation to improve student outcomes can take many forms, from new educational programming and resources on campuses to technological innovations that enhance learning and student supports.  For example, some institutions are developing programs of study using competency-based education, which allows students to progress based on student mastery of learning.  Other institutions are working to improve student learning and student supports through adaptive learning and personalization.  The President is calling on all institutions to provide us with their best thinking on how to make college more accessible and affordable for all students, and through the First in the World program, the Department welcomes a wide range of promising, creative ideas to help more students affordably access and graduate from college.

In addition to stimulating innovation, another key goal of the FITW program is to increase the evidence we have about what works in higher education.  As part of their applications, FITW applicants must describe their programs and the theory of change they seek to enact, and will be awarded additional points for providing supplemental evidence of promise around the project they are proposing. Additional, institutions receiving funding will be required to implement a robust evaluation that will provide evidence of its effectiveness so that other colleges and universities can learn from successful strategies and scale them up to reach more students.

The Department hopes to receive applications from an array of colleges and universities that serve a diverse range of students, and up to $20 million of the $75 million available in FY2014 will be set aside to fund innovations at Minority Serving Institutions.  This funding will build on the important work that institutions all across the country are engaged in to continue to expand and evaluate promising practices for serving underprepared, underrepresented, and low-income students and empowering their success. The Notice Inviting Applications, which contains additional details about the competition, is available on the Federal Register website and the Department will host webinars for potential applicants on the FY2014 FITW competition in the coming weeks.

The First in the World program gets its name from the goal that President Obama set for the nation early on in his Administration – that by the year 2020, the United States will again be first in the world in college completion. With this vision, we are excited to ask colleges and universities nationwide for their most promising ideas to improve college attainment and affordability, and we look forward to unleashing a new wave of innovation when awards are announced this fall.

Mary Wall and David Soo are both senior policy advisors in the Office of the Undersecretary at the U.S. Department of Education.

Categories: Higher Education News

Education Dept. Is Urged to Clarify Policy on Student-Loan Bankruptcies

Chronicle of Higher Education - Mon, 2014-05-19 02:55

Seven Democrats in Congress are pushing for clearer rules for how borrowers facing bankruptcy can demonstrate "undue hardship" and discharge their loan debts.

Categories: Higher Education News

Colleges Hard-Pressed to Explain Variations in Price

Chronicle of Higher Education - Sun, 2014-05-18 22:01

The University of Connecticut and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have a lot in common, but one costs $5,000 more. Why?

Categories: Higher Education News

Origami Finds Legitimacy in Science, if Not in Congress

Chronicle of Higher Education - Sun, 2014-05-18 22:01

Engineering projects based on paper-folding include inexpensive microscopes and self-setting stents. But some policy makers can’t get past the idea that it’s child’s play.

Categories: Higher Education News

Helping Universities Create Value Through Innovation

Chronicle of Higher Education - Sun, 2014-05-18 22:01

W. Mark Crowell, who is stepping down as founding executive director of U.Va. Innovation, describes what innovation can do for a university and its community.

Categories: Higher Education News

Door by Door, Colleges Install Systems for Online Control of Building Access

Chronicle of Higher Education - Sun, 2014-05-18 22:01

Spurred by a desire to better control who is going in and out, campuses are adopting sophisticated new technology.

Categories: Higher Education News
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