Hispanic Heritage Month Spotlight: How IDEA Public Schools is Closing the Gap

This was crossposted from the U.S. Department of Education Office of Innovation and Improvement blog.

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month and Secretary Duncan’s visit to South Texas, today we are highlighting IDEA Public Schools, a Texas-based Office of Innovation and Improvement (OII) grantee that’s been recognized for helping Latinos, particularly English language learners, make strong achievement gains. Just last month, the White House Initiative on Education Excellence for Hispanics named IDEA a Bright Spot in Hispanic Education.

In 2012, IDEA won a Race to the Top – District (RTT–D) award aimed at personalizing student learning and closing achievement gaps. IDEA is also a past recipient of an Investing in Innovation (i3) grant and grants from OII’s Charter Schools Program. IDEA’s network serves approximately 24,000 students in 44 public charter schools across Texas. More than 90 percent are Hispanic, and a third are still acquiring English speaking, reading, and writing skills.

For nine consecutive years, 100 percent of IDEA’s graduating seniors have been accepted to college, and achievement scores have consistently been above the state’s average. We checked in with Tricia Lopez, IDEA’s Director of Special Programs, about what’s behind the network’s success and how the RTT–D grant has been helping the network meet its goals.
Author and illustrator Patricia Polacco speaks to IDEA Public Schools students in Texas’ Mid-Valley.

Author and illustrator Patricia Polacco speaks to IDEA Public Schools students in Texas’ Mid-Valley.

Meeting Local Needs and Personalizing Learning

The 2012 RTT–D grant came during a critical period for the network. Around that time, IDEA was experiencing increased demand for its schools, particularly from students with limited English proficiency, according to Lopez. “The grant came at an important time, and it helped us to really step back and think strategically about how we were serving this population,” she said.

To help their English language learners, IDEA educators and leaders have created personalized learning experiences that differentiate instruction for each English language learner. IDEA uses adaptive technology designed for kids learning English and assesses their individual reading, writing, and speaking skills and helps them improve at the appropriate pace.

“This differentiation is critical. I could have 50 English language learners in a grade. They can range from having not one word of English to being pretty far along in terms of their language acquisition, but not quite fluent. It only makes sense to vary their instruction, but that doesn’t always happen in schools,” Lopez said.

Supporting Teachers

The RTT–D grant has also helped IDEA with teacher training, particularly making sure educators have the tools and background they need to close gaps between English language learners and their peers. The grant has helped pay for teachers across grades to receive in-person and online training in “sheltered instruction,” which gives general education classroom teachers specific training in working with students still acquiring English language skills to access grade-level content.

“It touches on things like: what kind of materials you should have in your classroom; what kind of strategies you should use for math; the value of word walls; having more frequent checks for understanding; and giving students more time to answer questions,” Lopez said. “These are common sense but not necessarily intuitive, especially for teachers early in their careers. It has to be on your radar, and the training helps with that.”

These efforts are paying off. Scores on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) for ELL students rose by double digits over the past two years, faster growth than for any other subgroup of students in the network. As it continues to progress, IDEA is proving that when given the right supports, all students—no matter their background or first language—can learn and succeed.

Start Now, to Start the School Year Right

This is crossposted from the U.S. Department of Education blog, Homeroom

Three children in the classroom.

In communities and homes all across the country, change is in the air, and families are thinking about back-to-school season. There are lots of ways to gear up for a great school year.

Sometimes the whole neighborhood plays a part! For example, this past weekend, my hometown of Chicago hosted an 86-year tradition: the largest back-to-school parade in the country. Hundreds of students, parents, teachers and their neighbors took to the streets with marching bands, floats and special activities to celebrate the last few weeks of summer and get the word out about the new school year.

“Now is the time for parents and kids to start getting set for success in the classroom.”
Arne Duncan

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The American Dream is Not Optional

This was crossposted from the U.S. Department of Education blog, Homeroom

Memphis is a city rich with history, especially when it comes to civil rights. During a recent trip to Tennessee, we were profoundly inspired by the launch of new efforts to support undocumented youth, which will help to ensure the right to a quality education for more young people living in this country.

FullSizeRenderThese efforts will be made possible through a Commitment to Action from Christian Brothers University (CBU) in collaboration with Latino Memphis—an organization assisting Latinos in the Greater Memphis area with health, education, and justice issues, and through an anonymous grant. CBU and Latino Memphis answered a call to action to support and invest in the success of Latinos, from cradle-to-career, from the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics (Initiative). This commitment, totaling $12.4 million, will provide scholarships to help undocumented youth pursue their college dreams. More than 100 undocumented Latino students will now have the opportunity to get a college education because of this important investment.

While we were in Tennessee, we engaged with student leaders from CBU. Their grit, resilience and fierce dedication to their education were palpable. When we asked how the students would use their college degrees, the common thread in their responses was giving back to their communities. These students are part of the Latino Student Success program, a privately funded scholarship and loan program aimed at leveling the playing field for students ineligible for state and federal student aid.

“My parents did not finish middle school. It is not that they did not want to help, but they did not know how to and could now financially. I am thankful for the opportunities I have today, but I had to do it all on my own” – CBU Student

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Supporting and Empowering Male Educators of Color

Crossposted from the U.S. Department of Education blog, Homeroom

The Male Educators of Color Symposium convened May 8, 2015 at the U.S. Department of Education (photo by Leslie Williams/U.S. Department of Education)

Male educators of color are seldom recognized for our expertise in the engine that drives this country. But through the Male Educators of Color Symposium, the U.S. Department of Education shined a light on the work of the nation’s most underrepresented educators in preK-12 schools. At this gathering, some 150 plus men of various minority races discussed issues of policy, teacher mentorship, recruitment, cultural competency, and our roles in modern education.

Although collectively we comprise a very small percentage of the teaching force, our skills and dedication to the craft were largely represented at the symposium. Men traveled from as far as Hawaii to engage in the pre-planning of a significant step into changing the face of schools around the continental states.

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Bridging the Word Gap

Crossposted from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services blog

“We know that right now during the first three years of life, a child born into a low-income family hears 30 million fewer words than a child born into a well-off family. By giving more of our kids access to high-quality pre-school and other early learning programs, and by helping parents get the tools they need to help their kids succeed, we can give those kids a better shot at the career they are capable of, and a life that will make us all better off.”

-President Obama

Last week, the Obama Administration, in partnership with Too Small to Fail Exit Disclaimer and the Urban Institute Exit Disclaimer, hosted a group of federal, state and local policy makers, philanthropists, researchers and advocates at the White House for a day of shared learning on “Bridging the Word Gap.” The convening is a follow-up to the President’s call to action Exit Disclaimer on early education and the word gap earlier this year.

The President and his Administration are not alone in their interest in the subject. A growing coalition across the political spectrum is devoting attention and action to children’s earliest experiences. The driving catalyst is a combination of the growing literature on developmental and brain science that has permeated public policy and public knowledge, a stubborn achievement gap, and socioeconomic-driven disparities appearing in children much earlier than any American can stomach.

So what does the word gap have to do with brain development and subsequent socioeconomic disparities? A lot. The word gap technically refers to the difference in the quantity of words a high versus low-income child hears in the first few years of life. But the word gap is really much more than that. It is a proxy for the varying levels of enriching or quality experiences children have in their early years. In this case, the quantity of words children hear is correlated with the quality of interactions they are experiencing. We know from almost two decades of research that early experiences shape brain development. If we can bridge this word gap — both in quantity and quality — and provide more children with the foundational early experiences they need to be astute learners in preschool, kindergarten and beyond, we may be able to make more progress on the stubborn achievement gap and ensuing socioeconomic disparities. But we can’t get there unless we start early — really early.

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What is ESEA?

Cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Education blog, Homeroom

Fifty years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965. The law represented a major new commitment by the federal government to “quality and equality” in educating our young people.

President Johnson, Johnson, seated at a table with his childhood schoolteacher, Kate Deadrich Loney, delivered remarks during the signing ceremony for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. (Photo credit: White House Photographer Frank Wolfe/LBJ Library & Museum)

President Johnson, seated at a table with his childhood schoolteacher, Kate Deadrich Loney, delivered remarks during the signing ceremony for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 1965. (Photo credit: White House Photographer Frank Wolfe/LBJ Library & Museum)

When President Johnson sent the bill to Congress, he urged that the country, “declare a national goal of full educational opportunity.”

The purpose of ESEA was to provide additional resources for vulnerable students. ESEA offered new grants to districts serving low-income students, federal grants for textbooks and library books, created special education centers, and created scholarships for low-income college students. The law also provided federal grants to state educational agencies to improve the quality of elementary and secondary education.

In the 35 years following ESEA, the federal government increased the amount of resources dedicated to education. However, education remains a local issue. The federal government remained committed to ensuring that disadvantaged students had additional resources, however, because as a nation we were falling short of meeting the law’s original goal of full educational opportunity.

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A Matter of Equity: Preschool in America

This is cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Education blog, Homeroom

All parents hope their child will start school ready for success. Unfortunately, not every parent can find the high-quality early learning opportunity that sets their child up for success.

Earlier today the U.S. Department of Education released a new report outlining the unmet need for high-quality early learning programs in America. Roughly 6 in 10 four-year-olds are not enrolled in publicly funded preschool programs, and even fewer are enrolled in the highest quality programs.

Unmet Need

While both states and the federal government invest in early learning, these efforts have fallen short of what is needed to ensure that all children can access a high-quality early education that will prepare them for success.

Significant new investments in high-quality early education are necessary to help states, local communities, and parents close the readiness gap that exists between disadvantaged children and their more advantaged peers.


For Latino children, the unmet need is especially great. While Latinos are the fastest growing and largest minority group in the United States, making up a quarter of 3- and 4-year-olds, Latinos demonstrate the lowest preschool participation rates of any major ethnicity or race.

And while most children who have access to preschool attend moderate-quality programs, African- American children and children from low-income families are the most likely to attend low- quality preschool programs and are the least likely to attend high-quality preschool programs.

Building on Progress

To address the unmet need for high-quality preschool, states and the federal government have invested in initiatives to expand access. These investments provide a strong base upon which we can build voluntary, universal access to high-quality early education that will prepare our nation’s students for success in kindergarten and beyond.

Over the past decade, governors from both political parties have pushed for the creation
and expansion of publicly funded preschool programs. Since 2003, states have increased
their investment in preschool by more than 200 percent.

The federal government has also worked to improve the quality and expand early learning through the Head Start program. Twenty states have also received support through the Early Learning Challenge program, which helped states improve early childhood workforce preparation and training, and strengthened health services and family engagement.

Congress took an important step in 2014 to address inequities in access to high-quality preschool by supporting the Preschool Development Grants program, a 4-year, federal-state partnership to expand the number of children enrolled in high-quality preschool programs in high-need communities. Thirty-five states and Puerto Rico applied, but due — in part — to limited funding, only 18 grants were awarded.


Preschool Development Grants will not cover every child in the funded states; however, these states will be another step closer to the goal of expanding access to high-quality early learning across the country. Over the 4-year grant period, and with continued funding from Congress, these states are expecting to enroll an additional 177,000 children in high-quality preschool programs, which will help put children on a path to success in school and in life.

Support for Early Learning

Over the last several years, an impressive coalition of education, business, law enforcement, military, child advocacy groups, and faith-based leaders have joined together to support the expansion of high-quality preschool programs. These groups recognize that investing in high-quality preschool means that more students will graduate from high school, go to college or join the armed or public services, and become contributing, productive members of our society with fewer youth and adults entering the justice system.

The evidence supporting early learning is clear. Research shows that children who participate in high-quality preschool programs have better health, social-emotional, and cognitive outcomes than those who do not participate.

Expanding early learning — including high-quality preschool — provides society with a return on investment of $8.60 for every $1 spent. About half of the return on investment originates from increased earnings for children when they grow up.

Moving Forward

This year, as Congress seeks to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), our nation is at critical moment. Congress can honor this important legacy and moral imperative – as our nation observes ESEA’s 50th anniversary – by reauthorizing a strong education law. This new law must reflect real equity of opportunity, starting with our youngest children.

By making a significant investment in preschool a key component of ESEA, we can help America live up to its highest ideals, as a place with real equity of opportunity. Congress has a chance to honor and extend the civil rights legacy of our education law by providing all children — no matter where they live or how much money their parents earn — an equal opportunity to begin school ready to succeed.

STEM Programs at the Department of Education: Supporting Teachers and Students

This is crossposted from the U.S. Department of Education blog, Homeroom

This week, the President recognized some of the best and brightest science and engineering students from across the country during the 2015 White House Science Fair. At the Department of Education (the Department), we share the President’s commitment to supporting science education that is student-centered and grounded in real-world settings. We have made great strides in improving and broadening science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education for all students by including STEM priorities in dozens of competitive grant programs in recent years. Most recently, the Department announced that the 2015 Ready-to-Learn Television grant competition will, for the first time, include a priority to support the development of television and digital media focused on science.

STEM has also been included as an area of focus in the Race to the Top-District program, which is focused on providing students with a personalized educational experience — meaning where the pace of learning and the instructional approach are tailored to the needs of individual learners. Highlights include: Galt Joint Union Elementary School District in California, which has launched afterschool STEM clubs to provide students the opportunity to explore robotics; and in Springdale Public Schools in Arkansas, students are using spatial technology to map bus routes and have created an interactive online system for the local community.

In addition to targeting resources to support the development and implementation of STEM programs, we have also begun to make steady progress towards the President’s goal to recruit and prepare 100,000 additional STEM teachers by 2020. At last year’s White House Science Fair we announced the inclusion of a STEM priority in the Teacher Quality Partnerships grant competition. This past fall we announced grant awards that support 24 new partnerships between universities and high-need school districts to recruit, train and support more than 11,000 new teachers over the next five years — many in STEM fields. A number of other grant programs focus on providing STEM teachers with the training and resources necessary to teach to rigorous standards in these fields, including: the Investing in Innovation (i3) grant program, the Teacher Incentive Fund, the Math and Science Partnerships program and Teachers for a Competitive Tomorrow.

Ensuring equity within the STEM fields is essential to our overall efforts to transform educational opportunity for our most underserved students in urban and rural communities. To commemorate this year’s 25th anniversary of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the launch of the 25th Anniversary Year of Action: Fulfilling America’s Future. Part of this effort focuses on increasing educational outcomes and opportunities for Hispanic students in STEM. One effort already underway is the Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSI) – STEM program which supports HSIs in increasing the number of Hispanic students attaining degrees in STEM to prepare them for success in the 21st century STEM economy.

Because we know that learning happens inside and outside of formal school settings, ED’s 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) program is collaborating with NASA, the National Park Service, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services to bring high-quality STEM content and experiences to students from low – income, high-need schools. We are particularly pleased about these programs’ commitment to Native American students, which will provide about 350 students at 11 sites (across 6 states) out-of-school STEM courses on environmental monitoring and citizen science.

To support more students with opportunities to engage in “hands-on” activities to support STEM learning, we will be conducting a Makeover Challenge. This effort will seek innovative solutions to update Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs that meet the needs of employers in the advanced manufacturing industry. Currently in the planning process, ED hopes to launch a future competition that will prototype state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities by providing technical assistance, professional development, equipment, hardware, and technology to support CTE manufacturing programs.

Advanced manufacturing is not the only place where we are looking into the future. ED’s STEM team recently launched a series of workshops with STEM experts and visionaries — including teachers, researchers, and education experts — to develop a 10-year strategic vision for STEM education and innovation. This vision will inform future policy and research (both public and private). It will also guide us as we work to ensure all children have the opportunity to develop the skills that will ignite a life-long interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Stay tuned for more information on the future of our work and to learn more about other innovative STEM programs currently underway at the Department.

Russell Shilling is the executive director of STEM in the Office of Innovation and Improvement.

The Pathway to Success at King/Drew Magnet High School

This is cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Education blog, Homeroom.

King/Drew Magnet High School isn’t just preparing its students for graduation; it’s preparing them for life.

The school may be located in one of the most disadvantaged parts of Los Angeles, California, but its students are reaching for the highest levels in education – and they are succeeding. Students at King/Drew not only gradate in high numbers, fully 90% of those who graduate go on to attend college, including many of the country’s top schools, and they receive millions of dollars in merit-based scholarships and university grants.

“All students should be prepared for college and for careers because they should have all options open to them,” says English Teacher Latosha Guy. Teachers at King/Drew are preparing their students for the future by meeting their full range of needs, from career internships and fairs to after-school health and educational tutoring.

Teachers and students across the country are working together to focus on college and career readiness by setting and reaching higher standards inside and outside of the classroom. Teachers are helping their students succeed by nurturing and building their confidence along the way. As student Symmon-e Scott puts it, “High expectations make me nervous, but I know I can do it if I really put my mind to it.”

In this new video, see how teachers are helping students overcome challenges in the community to succeed at school and in life. Improving Education: A View from King/Drew Magnet High School shows how students truly believe that “there is no other pathway that will bring you success like education.”

We will continue highlighting extraordinary educators doing remarkable things in classrooms nationwide in our video series. To learn more, visit our Partners in Progress page.

The Importance of Transforming Adult Learning

This is cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Education blog, Homeroom

Several years ago, Carmen — a single, widowed parent — immigrated from Mexico to California to create a better life for herself and her two-year-old son. When she arrived in the U.S., she spoke very little English. She enrolled in ESL classes at New Haven Adult School and then went on to earn her GED. But Carmen soon realized that she needed to acquire more skills in order to find a job that paid a living wage. While working part-time, maintaining a home and raising her children, Carmen went on to earn her Adult Education Teaching Credential. She eventually completed her Bachelor of Arts degree. Today, Carmen is a computer skills instructor at New Haven Adult School, where she inspires ESL students to achieve their most ambitious education and career goals, just as she did.

Carmen’s story illustrates the importance of supporting low-skilled adults who are working hard to support their families. Last year, approximately 1,300 school districts and 370 partner organizations invested $231 million in federal resources and $614 million in state resources for foundation skills training.

While these investments are critical, unfortunately, they are not enough. The international Survey of Adult Skills showed an alarming 36 million American adults have low literacy skills. Since the survey’s release, ED has been hard at work to create a solution at the federal level. Congress also took action, passing the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) in July 2014, refocusing federal workforce development, adult education, and vocational rehabilitation systems to prepare adults for 21st century work. The Vice President’s office coordinated the Ready to Work job-driven training agenda. Most recently, the President announced the Upskill America initiative to enlist employers in this effort.

But there is still more that needs to be done. The Making Skills Everyone’s Business report, released today, emphasizes that addressing the challenge of adult skill development must be a shared responsibility.

Because the negative effects of low skills ripple through society and the economy, improving the education and skills of adult learners can pay substantial dividends for individuals and families, businesses and communities.

This report lays out seven strategies for establishing convenient, effective, high-quality learning opportunities. It challenges those of us in education to work more closely with employers to prepare students for in-demand jobs with advancement potential. It challenges employers to work more closely with educators to ensure effective training programs that lead to meaningful skill development. And it calls for making career pathways available and accessible everywhere, an effort that will be aided by the implementation of WIOA.

Importantly, this report recognizes the persistent gaps among learners of different races and abilities. As a nation, we must face the fact that achievement gaps, fueled by opportunity gaps, do not close on their own. Rather, they continue to fester and grow, contributing to inequality and unfairness, a widening income gap and inter-generational poverty that threaten our economic and civic prosperity. Educators must reach out to community- and faith-based institutions and employers to design new and scale up promising models that provide youth and adults with skill development and job opportunities.

Ted Mitchell is the U.S. Under Secretary of Education and Johan E. Uvin is Acting Assistant Secretary of the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education at the U.S. Department of Education.