OSEP Monthly Update

OSEP Monthly Update


Volume 4 Issue 8

“….  If we care about our country’s future, we must work together -- at the local, state, and federal levels -- to reconnect all young people with the education and career pathways that lead away from poverty, desperation, and violence and toward a renewed sense of community, stability, and success.” 

- Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (8/5/2015), in "Reconnecting Young People with a Bright Future" on Medium



On September 14, the U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services released a policy statement highlighting the importance of making sure that all young children with disabilities have access to inclusive high-quality early childhood programs. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the new policy statement in Kansas City, Missouri, during the first stop of his back-to-school bus tour.

 The policy statement sets a vision for States, local educational agencies, schools, and public and private early childhood programs to strengthen and increase the number of inclusive high-quality early childhood programs nationwide. As the country continues to move forward on the critical task of expanding access to high-quality early childhood programs for all young children, it is imperative that children with disabilities be included in these efforts.

 The Departments crafted the guidance with the input of early learning professionals, families and early learning stakeholders. The policy statement also includes free resources for states, local districts, early childhood personnel and families. You can find more information regarding the policy statement on ED's Early Learning webpage or view the press release here.


The Justice Department (DOJ) issued technical assistance on September 8 regarding the obligation of testing entities, both private and public, to ensure that the test scores of individuals with disabilities accurately reflect the individual's aptitude, achievement, or the skill that the exam purports to measure, rather than his or her disability.  The document discusses who is entitled to testing accommodations, what types of testing accommodations must be provided, and what documentation may be required of the person requesting testing accommodations. The document also discusses prohibited flagging policies and how test scores for test-takers receiving disability-related accommodations should be reported.

The guidance document is available on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) website. The DOJ also manages a toll-free ADA Information Line at 1-800-514-0301 or 1-800-514-0383.


Announced August 7, the Department awarded $14 million for 40 grantees operating Special Education Parent Training and Information Centers. The grants will support America’s families of children with disabilities. "Parents are crucial to their child’s readiness to learn at every step of the education pipeline,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “These centers will work on behalf of parents to help their children with disabilities achieve their academic potential."

 $9.2 million for nine State Personnel Development Grants were also awarded to assist states in reforming and improving systems for personnel preparation and professional development to enhance results for children with disabilities. “America’s children with disabilities – like their nondisabled peers – deserve a world-class education,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “These awards will give states a helping hand to improve their training systems so that special education staff can provide their students with disabilities with the best education possible.”


As part of the Administration’s commitment to create a fairer, more effective criminal justice system, reduce recidivism, and combat the impact of mass incarceration on communities, the Department announced the Second Chance Pell Pilot Program to test new models to allow individuals incarcerated in federal or state penal institutions to receive Pell Grants and pursue a postsecondary education with the goal of helping them get jobs, support their families, and turn their lives around.  Participation in high-quality correctional education has been shown to measurably reduce re-incarceration rates.  By reducing recidivism, correctional education can ultimately create safer communities and save taxpayers money (see press release and joint op-ed by Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Secretary Duncan).

In 1994, Congress eliminated Pell Grant eligibility for those in federal and state penal institutions.  Under this pilot program, incarcerated individuals who otherwise meet applicable eligibility requirements and are eligible for release, particularly within the next five years, could access Pell Grants.  This pilot builds on a Dear Colleague Letter that the Department issued in December 2014, which clarified that students who otherwise meet applicable eligibility requirements and are confined in locations that are not penal institutions, such as juvenile justice facilities and local or county jails, are eligible for Pell Grants.

The Department is authorized under the Higher Education Act to periodically administer experiments to test the effectiveness of statutory and regulatory flexibility for participating postsecondary institutions in disbursing federal student aid.  When determining which institutions will be selected for participation in this pilot, the agency will consider evidence that demonstrates a strong record on student outcomes and in the administration of federal student aid programs.  The deadline for postsecondary institutions to apply for this pilot is October 2 for the 2016-17 academic year.

The Department’s July 31 announcement has led to a buzz surrounding the Program. In a recently released fact sheet the Department cites evidence that access to education in jail helps prisoners succeed on the outside. According to a 2014 study from the RAND Corporation, prisoners who participated in correctional education programs were 43 percent less likely to return to prison within three years of release than prisoners who did not participate in these programs. 

Besides the federal Pell grant project, several California community colleges will launch programs at four state prisons this fall, following recent legislation that increases funding for inmate education. You can read more on the Department’s Homeroom blog, where guest blogger Vivian Nixon provides her expert insight into barriers to higher education for individuals with a criminal record.

ED Logo

Letter from the Director

Melody Musgrove


Dear Leaders,

Throughout the week of September 14-18, Secretary Duncan and senior Department officials visited 10 cities in seven states across the American Midwest as part of the Department’s sixth annual back-to-school bus tour.  This year’s theme was “Ready for Success.”  Education is a lifelong path -- from preschool through college and careers -- where, at every point along the way, access to high-quality learning opportunities can ensure everyone is ready for success.  The stops on the tour celebrated how states and local communities are working to increase access and opportunity from early learning to K-12 education to higher education.

 On September 15, OSERS Assistant Secretary Michael Yudin and I visited the University of Central Missouri THRIVE Program which supports students ages 18-25 with intellectual or developmental disabilities to participate in a 2-year residential college experience in Warrensburg, MO. Interacting with students and staff involved in the program was truly a pleasure! 

For a look at a few of the people and places Secretary Duncan visited, watch the video trailerThe public was able to connect with the bus tour in a number of ways, including following the tour onlineIf you joined us along the way, don't forget to tweet about your experiences, directed @arneduncan, @used, or @ED_Sped_Rehab.

 All the Best, Melody


Learn how the Department supports postsecondary transition and readiness programs for youth: IDEA Changes Lives: Preparing for the Transition to College & Careers

OSERS Assistant Secretary Michael Yudin highlights the importance and impact of the Department's recent initiatives to foster innovative programming transferring marketable skills, and increasing opportunities for disabled individuals: Career Pathways: Breaking Down Barriers to Employment for Individuals with Disabilities



The Department recently issued a Request for Proposals for Rapid-Cycle Technology Evaluations, seeking innovative approaches to evaluating educational apps to assist schools and families in making sound, evidence-based decisions when choosing the educational apps to use with their students.  The product evaluations supported by this contract are meant to demonstrate whether certain types of studies can be conducted rapidly enough to meet the needs of educators for information about effectiveness of technology in today’s fast-changing landscape (blog post).


The Department recently published final regulations that require all States to cease using modified academic achievement standards and aligned alternate assessments after the 2015-16 school year.  Instead, states must administer their general assessments aligned to college- and career-ready standards to the vast majority of students with disabilities.  Research has shown that struggling students with disabilities make academic progress when provided with challenging instruction and appropriate supports. The regulation takes affect on September 21.



According to the latest student readiness report from ACT, 40% of high school graduates showed strong college readiness, meeting benchmarks in at least three of the four core subject areas (English, Math, Reading, and Science), a percentage that has stayed virtually flat over the past five years.  In contrast, 31% of graduates did not meet readiness levels in any of the subjects.

Only 42% of this year’s college-bound seniors met the SAT College and Career Readiness Benchmark, which indicates a 65% likelihood of achieving a “B-” average or higher during the first year of college. This number has been on the decline over the last five years.

A Decade of Reflection in Katrina's Wake

On August 29, ten years had officially passed since Katrina left its mark on New Orleans, closely followed by the similarly devastating Rita. In recognition of the suffering that has occurred in the wake of these storms, the Administration has made efforts to raise awareness for the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina

Education Secretary Arne Duncan penned a blog post, honoring the hard work that has made progress in New Orleans’ schools possible but urging continued changes to “build the schools their students deserve.” Also, in a two-part series (1 and 2), the Department’s Office of Innovation and Improvement profiles New Orleans grantees, noting the difference they are making for children in the city. 

Complementing the Department's remarks, sister agency official Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta highlights the disparity that is often exacerbated by disaster and emergency situations such as Katrina, and the anticipated implementation of response and recovery frameworks that "incorporate civil rights nondiscrimination principles in their guidance," all on the Justice Department's Justice Blog.


ESEA Flexibility Update

On August 6, the Department announced that seven additional states have received approval for continued flexibility from provisions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).  These recipients are implementing comprehensive, state-designed plans to ensure student success and a continued commitment to college- and career-readiness for every student.  Alabama, Connecticut, Mississippi, and Wisconsin have three additional years of flexibility, through the 2017-18 school year, while Arizona, Arkansas, and New Hampshire have one more year of flexibility.  

Maine and Michigan also received approval for continued flexibility in August, with each state gaining three additional years of flexibility, through the 2017-18 school year. Florida, Idaho, Ohio, and South Dakota also received approval. Each of these states has another year of flexibility, through the 2015-16 school year.  Approved flexibility requests and renewal letters are available here.