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Rights of Students with Disabilities in Public Charter Schools

The Office of Innovation and Improvement hosted a webinar with the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) on the Rights of Students with Disabilities in Public Charter Schools.

The webinar, pre-recorded, is available at this and can be downloaded:

In addition, transcripts for the webinar and the presentation itself are also available.

The webinar is a presentation and brief Q & A of the guidance package released on December 28, 2016 developed by the OCR and OSERS.  The U.S. Department of Education released guidance to assist the public in understanding how the Department interprets and enforces federal civil rights laws protecting the rights of students with disabilities. These guidance documents clarify the rights of students with disabilities and the responsibilities of educational institutions in ensuring that all students have the opportunity to learn.

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Districts realize the personalized learning vision, see its future

District superintendents across the country have taken on a range of bold approaches to improving students’ experiences in public education. Across these innovations, districts have embraced the notion that empowering students and their teachers is an effective way to improve student outcomes.

At a Nov. 15 convening, hosted by the White House Domestic Policy Council and the Office of Innovation and Improvement at the U.S. Department of Education (ED), our nation’s leading district superintendents overwhelmingly expressed an optimistic sense of purpose. Motivated by their successes with personalized learning across schools in their districts, a ringing call to action for these leaders came out of this Washington summit: give more students and educators the opportunity to experience personalized learning.

The Obama administration’s investment in personalized learning resulted from “a vision and drive for improving how we teach and engage our learners,” said Roberto Rodríguez, Deputy Assistant to the President for Education. “And we need more of that across the country.”

wh-blog-1For superintendents, this means enhancing the efforts seeded by ED’s Race to the Top–District (RTT–D) program, connecting with other district leaders who are implementing personalized learning, and scaling up efforts across districts.

“We have transformed the learning for our students and our districts,” said Dena Cushenberry, superintendent of Metropolitan School District of Warren Township, Indiana.

Since implementing personalized learning, districts and schools have seen rising levels of student engagement, improved graduation and college enrollment rates, reduced discipline rates and greater teacher retention. All these outcomes have moved the needle towards providing an equitable, high-quality public education for students in schools nationwide. Nadya Chinoy Dabby, Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement, said, “Personalization presents a unique opportunity for schools to better understand—and meet—each student’s unique learning needs. Equity goes hand-in-hand with personalization.”

Superintendents identified three areas fundamental to scaling success in personalized learning: creating the right infrastructure, providing meaningful professional development and ensuring sustainability of the changes.

Investment in infrastructure can mean building in time and support for teachers and leaders to embrace the new approaches, and practicing a tenet of personalized learning: trust.

wh-blog-2 “The most innovative thing we’ve done is trust people,” said David Richards, superintendent of Fraser Public Schools, Michigan. “Give people the time, resources and opportunity to grow on their own. Everybody’s A-B is different on this journey.”

At Kettle Moraine School District in Wisconsin, Superintendent Patricia Deklotz found that they “had to give teachers the opportunity to experience personalized learning” for themselves. This was an effective professional development model and cultivated buy-in from teachers.

“You can’t truly realize the personalized learning vision unless learners actually embrace those competencies and have the personal skills to navigate and engage their own learning,” said Thomas Rooney, superintendent of Lindsay Unified School District, California, an RTT–D grantee.

Superintendents are looking to maintain their progress. There are several relevant opportunities within the Every Student Succeeds Act. Also, districts are tapping into their communities’ assets – like local businesses, service providers and teacher colleges – to best meet the needs of their students, families wh-blog-3 and teachers.

With a strong foundation laid, district and school leaders are positioned to sustain personalized learning and spread this approach across the nation.

“There are a lot of unknowns,” said Katrina Stevens, Deputy Director of the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education. “But one thing that’s clear to me: This work is going to move forward because of the passion and dedication of local leaders.”

Want to learn more? Contact RTT–D Team Lead Andrea Browning, or visit the RTT–D website.

Investing in Educators to Create District-wide Change in Ascension Parish, LA

Great educators can transform the lives and learning of students. To ensure that every student has access to great educators, particularly in our nation’s most underserved schools, The U.S. Department of Education (Department) recently released non-regulatory guidance on Title II, Part A of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Title II, Part A funds can be used to train, develop, and support educators, and the new guidance encourages states and districts to think boldly about how they use these funds. The guidance highlights recommended strategies and creative approaches currently being implemented by organizations throughout the country, including grantees supported by competitive grants run by the Department’s Office of Innovation and Improvement (OII). Several of OII’s grants support innovative approaches by states, districts, teacher preparation programs, and nonprofits, to realize the goals outlined in Title II, Part A – improve supports for educators to increase student academic achievement. States and districts may want to consider some of these approaches as they begin planning their Title II, Part A investments.

“I had a plan and knew I would figure out the dollars later, to make it happen.” Then-superintendent of Ascension Public Schools in Louisiana, Dr. Patrice Pujol, recalls her plan to put people at the center of the school district’s reform efforts, and in particular, develop the leadership and capacity of teachers, principals, and other district staff. It all began with the implementation of the TAP System for Teacher and Student Advancement in two of the district’s lowest-performing schools. Funded in part through a 2010 Teacher Incentive Fund Grant to the state, Ascension implemented TAP as a way of developing teacher leadership in a small cohort of instructional coaches, master teachers, and mentors, critical roles needed to implement the new rubric for measuring teacher practice and improvements to student learning. They also utilized TAP’s data management system that produced robust reports on improvements in teacher practice, allowing for data sharing between principals and the district office.

By “preaching and praising” the progress of the pioneer schools, the pilot grew from 2 to 4 and then from 4 to 8 and from 8 to 12 schools, where they continued to see positive results for both teachers and students. “Results built efficacy and efficacy built buy-in,” says Pujol. She took teachers and principals from across the district and even school board members, to visit the schools, to build demand and interest in the program. Before the TAP rubric was deployed district-wide, they began with the investment of an instructional coach in every school in the district. However, teachers and principals quickly realized that this coach could not be nearly as successful as those they’d seen in the TAP schools, in part because the coaches lacked a concrete tool to guide their work supporting teacher practice. Demand for the TAP rubric had been created, along with greater demand for other teacher leadership and support roles within schools.

To pay for the investments necessary to implement her human capital vision, Pujol spent significant time with her staff and all the people on her team that managed any part of the federal program dollars, as well as those most in charge of implementing programs that supported teachers and principals. To them she said, “Here’s our human capital management system and here’s how we want to support teachers to support student learning. What dollars do we have on the table and how can we use them to support this plan?” She and her team analyzed how their dollars were currently being spent and used the data to engage with stakeholders to show that some of the programs and strategies the district had long-pursued weren’t getting the return on investment—results for kids—that the district would hope and expect to see. With some creativity on the part of her staff, and buy-in from the school board and other stakeholders, they were able to identify diverse sources of local and federal dollars to expand TAP and to use the TAP Teaching Standards Instructional Rubric district-wide.

As teachers began to see their practice improve, they were able to make the connection between the positive data trends in their performance against the TAP rubric and improved student learning. “To lead change like this, you have to find short-term wins,” says Pujol. “And just as important is having ways to track what’s happening with kids and how the tools and supports you’re providing are or aren’t working.” To her, what began as a teacher leadership strategy developed into a broader human capital management system throughout the district. It became clear that additional supports were necessary to enable principals and other district staff to develop critical skills and tools; this support would drive implementation of the system and guide the important professional learning conversations teachers were now having with one another and their colleagues. By connecting adult behavior with improved student outcomes, they were able to establish a culture of collaboration and desire to improve individual practice to further improve student outcomes. Pujol says she heard teachers asking themselves the question, “How can I improve my practice, to improve student outcomes?”

None of this came easy, according to Pujol. To lead change like this takes a “steel will and commitment to making the change happen no matter what, and not allowing anything to stop you.” Following Kotter’s 8-step process for leading change, and grounded in the belief that the only measure that truly mattered was improved student achievement, Pujol led Ascension Parish Public Schools to marked improvement: between the 2010-2011 and 2013-14 school years, Ascension went from having 8 D and F schools to having no F schools and only 3 D schools. The trend has continued, and now there are only 5 C and D schools. They also saw improvement in their higher-performing schools and increased the number of A schools in the district from 6 to 16. Pujol, for her leadership, was named the 2015 Louisiana State Superintendent of the Year and was one of four finalists for the 2015 National Superintendent of the Year.

When reflecting on her challenges and successes while leading Ascension Public Schools, Pujol, now serving as President of NIET, The National Institute for Excellence in Teaching, will be the first to tell you that it wasn’t always easy, and that there were myriad challenges to implementing this kind of significant change. While she had built a strong guiding coalition, she says that given the opportunity to do it again, she would have spent more time, sooner, developing the capacity of more of her colleagues at the district-level; she believes this could have helped secure greater buy-in earlier on. “It’s really important that everyone sees their role in this work, and everyone needs to feel like they own and are a part of it.”

She points out that getting buy-in from some of her higher-performing schools was initially quite difficult, too. At one point, to create a sense of urgency, she brought back student work from a public school in Harlem, where most students were from low-income backgrounds, but where she had seen students demonstrate particularly strong writing skills. In fact, the Harlem students’ writing was stronger and required them to respond to more sophisticated prompts than the students in some of her high performing schools. She showed some of the students’ outstanding writing to teachers in her higher-performing schools, where most of their students were affluent, to demonstrate that there’s always room for growth and improvement in student learning and outcomes.

New website highlights progress in early STEM education

New website highlights progress in early STEM education Russell D. Shilling, Ph.D. Executive Director of STEM


This has been an eventful year for exploring the possibilities of creating lifelong interest in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM), starting with our youngest learners. We have been truly amazed and gratified at the enthusiasm and devotion from inside and outside the education community to nurture the natural curiosity of young children by engaging them in STEM as part of a well-rounded education.

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U.S. Department of Education Awards Grants to Help Public Charter Schools Obtain Facilities

The U.S. Department of Education (the Department) announced two grants totaling $16 million to help public charter schools obtain facilities under the Credit Enhancement for Charter Schools Facilities (Credit Enhancement) Program.

The Department awarded an $8 million grant to the National Charter School Lending Collaborative (a consortium led by the Low Income Investment Fund, and including Capital Impact Partners , IFF and The Reinvestment Fund) to support new high-quality educational opportunities for students from low-income families in under-performing school districts nationally. The Community Loan Fund of New Jersey is also receiving an $8 million grant, to diversify their provision of loan and lease guarantees for the development, expansion, and improvement of charter school facilities, with an emphasis on disadvantaged districts in New Jersey. To date, the Department’s Credit Enhancement program has awarded 38 grants totaling $297 million, which has been leveraged to secure nearly $4 billion in total financing for 566 charter school facilities.

The Credit Enhancement program enables public charter schools to obtain school facilities by assisting them in securing private-sector and other non-Federal capital, and targets its funds to schools focused on high-needs students. Through innovative credit enhancement mechanisms, grantees leverage a relatively small amount of Federal funds to access much greater funding for charter school facilities.

“Our Federal Credit Enhancement grant funding has, without question, been a critical driver in our ability to leverage private sector investment in communities most in need of high quality public education options,” said Michelle Liberati, Executive Vice President of the Charter Schools Development Corporation (CSDC), a Credit Enhancement grantee. “Prior to receiving our first grant, CSDC had a difficult time identifying conventional sources of financing for our school projects. Fast forward a decade, CSDC has received four grant awards which directly enabled us to establish partnerships with over three dozen banks, community development financial institutions and philanthropies to develop and finance facilities that serve over 50,000 students nationally.”

Grant funds help public charter schools construct and renovate school facilities, guarantee and insure leases for property, and identify potential lending sources for charter school facilities. To learn more about this program, please visit the Credit Enhancement web page.

Effective Educators for All: OII Announces 2016 Competitions to Strengthen Teacher Preparation and Leadership

In recent weeks, the Office of Innovation and Improvement announced two grant competitions – the Teacher Quality Partnership Program (TQP) and the Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) – to ensure that all students have access to great teachers who can help them succeed.

TQP builds strong partnerships between high-need schools and teacher preparation institutions (e.g., colleges and universities) to prepare and support effective educators, either as an extension of an undergraduate degree program or using a “residency” model to give candidates real-world experience and practice as they prepare to become outstanding educators. Since 2009, TQP has partnered with 64 grantees, representing an investment of over $545 million. The FY16 TQP grant competition will fund up to 5 grantees with an estimated $5 million, and includes a focus on serving students in rural school districts as well as students from federally recognized Indian tribes, continuing the Department’s commitment to these communities.

“We don’t just want educators to be part of the necessary change—we need them to lead it.”

Secretary of Education John King

In addition to improving how we educate teachers to excel in the classroom, it is critically important that school districts have structures and policies in place to support, develop and retain excellent educators, especially in their highest-need classrooms. As in any other profession, teachers and principals need ongoing feedback and opportunities to develop throughout their career. TIF supports districts to do just that, as they implement performance-based compensation as part of an overall human capital management system to improve the quality of their educators and the academic outcomes of students. Through TIF, districts like Denver Public Schools have supported teacher leadership and development opportunities by creating differentiated roles. The FY16 grant competition will build on a portfolio of 97 grants, representing nearly $2 billion in funding to states, districts and nonprofits, by awarding up to $70 million to up to 10 grantees to attract, develop and retain excellent educators. This year’s competition includes a focus on serving rural school districts, as well as a focus on promoting equitable access to effective educators. Visit the programs’ websites to learn more about the TQP and TIF grant competitions, including application materials.


OII announces 2016 Investing in Innovation Scale-up and Validation Competitions

This week, the U.S. Department of Education published the notices inviting applications for the seventh and final Investing in Innovation (i3) Validation and Scale-up competitions. Since 2010, i3 has supported partner organizations with over $1.3 billion in grant awards to expand innovation and evidence-based programs that support more students, schools and communities. We plan to award new grants at the end of the 2016 calendar year to educators who are discovering and scaling innovative approaches to help students succeed.

We are proud that i3 has helped catalyze the work of organizations leading transformational work. “With the i3 Validation grant, the U.S. Department of Education has given us a tremendous opportunity to understand precisely what new teachers need to be successful with students. We are learning which elements of our teacher induction model are the most critical, and learning more through a third-party evaluation study about all of the elements of our model and how they come together to improve teacher retention, instructional practices and ultimately student success,” says New Teacher Center (NTC) Founder and CEO Ellen Moir. The NTC is a 2012 i3 Validation Grantee and 2015 i3 Scale-up grantee. “Early results are in, and show NTC’s induction model yields more intense and instructionally-focused supports to new teachers that lead to student learning.”

For the 2016 competitions, school districts and nonprofit organizations can compete for i3 Validation grants of up to $12 million and i3 Scale-up grants of up to $20 million. This year’s competitions include a focus on projects that implement and support the transition to college- and career-ready academic content standards and associated assessments; promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education; and improve low-performing schools. In addition, the Department is committed to funding applications that serve rural communities.

Learn more about this year’s i3 competitions on our website and read about examples of exciting work underway by visiting the i3 community website.

What does a Cartoon Cat have to do with Learning Math? New Reports Highlight the Impact of Ready to Learn Television (2010-2015)

Photo provided courtesy of WISU

Photo provided courtesy of WSIU

What if children’s media could be as educational as it is entertaining? That’s the goal of the U.S. Department of Education’s Ready to Learn Television (RTL) Program that supports the creation of new educational television and digital media that educates students as it engages them. From 2010 to 2015, the RTL Program has supported three large national projects to create educational television and digital media products for young children, ages 2-8 to learn math and literacy skills. Now, the findings from these grants are being featured in a newly released report issued by Northwestern University’s Center on Media and Human Development and in a special section of the latest issue of the Journal of Children and Media (see links below).

Today, new television shows are released in combination with a variety of accompanying digital media such as interactive websites, mobile apps, or e-books. What made the Ready to Learn grants unique when they were funded in 2010 is that they pushed one step further and tried to connect these different media with common storylines or problem-solving, and then explored whether this “transmedia” approach might result in increased educational effectiveness when used with learners from low-income backgrounds.

The supposition was that different learning platforms have different strengths – for example, television excels at linear storytelling, while interactive games create opportunities to practice new skills.   And the connections between these platforms were expected to motivate students to work their way through a greater variety of content, to encounter a richer variety of learning strategies, and to better link experiences in the home, in school or pre-school, and “on the go.” As grantees experimented with different approaches, the Department encouraged each project to conduct rigorous research about their impact on students’ learning.

Across the RTL evaluations, researchers generally found positive results when using RTL-produced transmedia products. For example, in one randomized controlled trial conducted by EDC and SRI studying the use of PBS KIDS’ “Peg+Cat” transmedia among 4- and 5-year olds in home and family environments, children using the “Peg+Cat” intervention showed significant improvements on math skill areas such as ordinal numbers, spatial relationships, and 3D shapes (To learn more about the “Peg+Cat” study, see: This kind of evaluation represents the “gold standard” of research, and very few educational strategies show measurable gains when evaluated in this way—especially in educational technology.   Because so few educational technology interventions show significant gains in impact studies, it is especially encouraging that RTL studies like this one yielded positive results.

Perhaps just as interesting, though, were the findings in this study that parents and caregivers spent more time jointly using media with their children, engaging together in problem-solving, and finding ways to connect their experiences to daily life.   In this instance at least, screen time resulted in positive play and social interaction, not the kind of passive experiences that many parents fear when monitoring their children’s television viewing. That means that the impact wasn’t limited to the child and the screen; this approach encouraged parents, caregivers and children to spend more time learning together.

Photo provided courtesy of WSIU

Photo provided courtesy of WSIU

The new report by the Center on Media and Human Development at Northwestern University entitled “The Ready to Learn Program: 2010-2015 Policy Brief” provides a summary overview and independent analysis of the findings from all of the studies produced under RTL funding during the past five years.

The report is authored by the Center’s Director Ellen Wartella and two of her colleagues, Alexis Lauricella and Courtney Blackwell. It is based on a review of RTL-produced research studies and interviews with key participants.   In addition to synthesizing some of the key research findings across the three projects, the report discusses the importance of these findings within the context of educational media research, and offers some recommendations for researchers, practitioners, and policy makers going forward. It can be found at

The special section of The Journal of Children and Media is entitled “Transmedia in the Service of Education” and it collects six papers by grantees and evaluators of the RTL grants. In these papers, guest edited by Shalom Fisch, the President of MediaKidz Research and Consulting, the authors describe their experiences creating educational transmedia, implementing community-based outreach programs in underserved communities, the role of evaluation research in the RTL projects, and pilot efforts exploring the role of analytics to track learning progress. The papers can be found in the “commentaries” section of Volume 10, Issue 2 and are available for free download during the month of April 2016 at

It’s easy to forget that when the recently concluded Ready to Learn grants started in 2010, the iPad had not yet been introduced, and now we have a variety of convergent devices that can play video content, run interactive learning games, and be used “on the go.” It is no longer quite as necessary to use different devices for different purposes; increasingly, we are now using a variety of different devices to access the same content at our convenience. In the middle of this round, RTL producers noted this shift and began to create longer, more integrated learning experiences that are able to incorporate a variety of learning strategies without requiring children and their parents to move from one device to another.

This will make it easier in the new round of RTL grants (2015-2020) that are just underway to build upon what has been learned about how to produce engaging, educationally meaningful content that works across multiple platforms. These new projects will be able to leverage these important lessons learned, while focusing their attention on newer matters such as the use of analytics to collect learning data and to enable more personalized delivery of content. We look forward to sharing results from these efforts in the future.

Update on OII’s FY 2016 Grant Competitions & Awards

We are pleased to share that the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Innovation and Improvement (OII) is planning to award new grants for the current fiscal year (ending on September 30, 2016), through the following grant competitions: American History and Civics Academies, Charter Schools Program (CSP), Investing in Innovation (i3), Magnet Schools Assistance Program (MSAP), Promise Neighborhoods, Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF), and Teacher Quality Partnership (TQP).

We anticipate announcing these competitions beginning in April and continuing through the year. Grants will be awarded for most programs by September 30; grants under i3 and Promise Neighborhoods will be awarded in the months following. We are excited to provide opportunities for a range of organizations and educators to apply for support in implementing innovative practices to support students. This funding is especially important as schools begin making the transition to a new federal K–12 education framework.

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Education Foo Camp: Fostering Innovations in Lifelong Learning

Fostering innovation requires setting up conditions for innovation to flourish. Last month, we held the first Education Foo Camp (or Ed Foo) at the Googleplex in Mountain View, CA to do just that. Ed Foo was an “unconference” organized by Google, the U.S. Department of Education, Macmillan Publishing, O’Reilly Media (Foo stands for Friends of O’Reilly), Sesame Street and Scientific American that brought together bright thinkers to brainstorm solutions to tough challenges in public education.

At Foo Camps, which have been organized around a variety of different topics, no agenda is set before participants arrive. The campers set the agenda, which remains fluid throughout the weekend, so that participants can invest more time and energy in emerging and promising areas. The format of the events is flipped, so that they minimize presentations and maximize engagement, discussion, spontaneity, and innovation. The goal is to create a weekend-long incubator for creativity.

The journey to creating an education themed Foo camp began when I was invited to attend a Science Foo Camp (Sci Foo) at Google in 2015. It was a profound experience that brought together diverse groups of scientists, technologists, authors, media, and other experts across multiple disciplines to discuss key issues and form new collaborations that apply fresh eyes to possible solutions. When stakeholders come to the table motivated by the issues that matter to them most, innovation, rejuvenation, and new collaborations are the result.

Improving STEM education was one of the major areas of discussion at Sci Foo. I moderated a pop-up session on STEM education, which led to deeper discussions about increasing active learning experiences for students, and highlighted a new program by Google on providing expanded access to maker spaces. That session led to a collaboration on a pilot program that will help place Maker Spaces in underserved communities while identifying best practices for implementing similar programs in the future. This was just one of many discussions that led to further activity after the event. Attendees came away energized, refreshed and ready to tackle new challenges.

As I was leaving, I commented to the organizers that it had been a useful activity, but I wondered what the impact would be if we had an entire Foo camp devoted specifically to education. Why not have a concentrated weekend for thinking about innovation and how to create a nation of lifelong learners? A few months later we discussed the notion again at the Scientific American/Macmillan STEM Summit in NYC. Google graciously stepped forward and offered to host the first Ed Foo Camp along with O’Reilly Media, Macmillan, Scientific American, Sesame Workshop and the STEM Office at the U.S. Department of Education.

Our first Ed Foo was attended by approximately 250 educators, administrators, technologists, funders, researchers, media, and toy manufacturers. We also included innovators from outside the education community. Campers convened early in the morning and were still actively discussing education ideas and possible collaborations long after midnight. Few were ready to leave on Sunday. Sessions covered numerous topics as people gathered in small conference rooms, around tables, and even around a fake campfire. The discussions covered topics ranging from what preschools might look like in the future and the role of making and makers in education to programs for autism, the future of virtual reality, education videogames, and promoting computer science from preschool to college. There were also some overriding themes that emerged. Many discussions explored how to maximize active learning experiences inside and outside the classroom, the need to engage parents, and the need to think about the role and challenges of using technology for improving diversity and equity in education, particularly in the STEM fields.

We’re still hearing from participants about the many follow-ups that have already been scheduled to explore collaborations and to continue learning from each other. We’ve received feedback from many campers that this was one of the most useful education events they’ve ever attended. Most importantly, we are already discussing how we might improve the experience in the future. Here in the STEM office, Ed Foo is already bearing fruit, as we support the Administration’s initiatives to bring quality computer science and STEM to all students, provide more active learning experiences through making, and promote quality STEM education starting in preschool. Meanwhile, the organizing committee is assessing what worked and what needs to be improved for future gatherings. Hopefully, this will be the first of many Ed Foo events and will also be a model for other events aimed at promoting innovation.