December 2019 Issue

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December 2019 Issue

"This year, "NextGen" is "NowGen."... So, let me just say this: we are undertaking a rigorous transformation of government services, bringing everything together behind one, digital gateway. Now, this isn't exciting in the private sector—in fact, it's expected. But for government services, our long-overdue updates are well ahead of the curve. No longer will students have to sift through countless websites; there will be one website. No longer will students have to dial wrong numbers, be transferred to different ones, and then sit on hold indefinitely; there will be one phone number. No longer will students have to complete their FAFSA tethered to a desktop; now, students can start on their tablet, continue on their phone while commuting to work and complete it on any one of their devices—including through the new myStudentAid mobile app."

— U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, from her keynote speech at Federal Student Aid’s Training Conference in Reno, Nevada.

Stronger, Student-Centered Federal Student Aid


In a keynote speech at the annual Federal Student Aid (FSA) Training Conference in Reno, Secretary DeVos shared a vision for a stronger, student-centered FSA. She detailed what FSA can and is doing now, including continued enhancements to customer service through the transformative myStudentAid mobile application, and what requires the action of others, including improving how FSA is structured and governed.

One of these enhancements introduced was Aidan, a new chatbox available through Aidan will be able to answer many of the routine questions borrowers have about their loans, such as how to make a payment and the types of repayment plans for which they might qualify. If Aidan does not have the answer, he can show customers where to find it.

To help FSA better achieve its mission to attain results while improving performance, Secretary DeVos also discussed structural changes she believes would improve operations and better serve borrowers, including that FSA become “a stand-alone entity, wholly and entirely separate from the U.S. Department of Education.”  Reforms are needed to manage what has become the nation’s largest consumer lender, with more than $1.5 trillion in outstanding loans.

Education Freedom Scholarships

POTUS and Education Freedom Scholarships

On Dec. 9, President Trump hosted a White House roundtable to discuss the merits of and urge action by Congress on the administration’s Education Freedom Scholarships proposal.  He was joined by Vice President Mike Pence; Secretary Betsy DeVos; U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah; U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne of Alabama; Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis; Texas Lt.-Gov. Dan Patrick; Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai; Tennessee State Rep. John DeBerry; students; parents; and teachers. 

“Now is the time to fight for the forgotten child, and that’s what we’re doing with respect to education,” the president asserted in his opening remarks. “For decades, countless children have been trapped in failing government schools. In my administration, these children are forgotten no longer”.

Computer Science Week and Investments

Computer Science Week, Dec. 9–15, is dedicated to inspiring students to take interest in computer science. Computer science is part of the secretary’s Supplemental Priorities, and building computational literacy is a key component of the 5-Year Federal STEM Education Strategic Plan.

In Fiscal Year 2019, the Department held several competitive grant opportunities that included a STEM competitive preference and/or a computer science priority. 

  • The Department invested nearly $540 million to support STEM in Fiscal Year 2019 including almost $100 million in funds to support projects with a focus on computer science. 
  • Education Innovation Research Program—Of the 41 grants awarded totaling $123 million, more than $78 million went to 29 grantees focused on STEM education. Eight-five percent of the STEM projects included a focus on computer science.
  • Perkins Innovation and Modernization Program—Of the nine grants awarded, all but one included a computer science component.
  • Teacher Quality Partnership Grants—Over two-thirds of the funded projects are specifically designed to better prepare teachers for teaching STEM and computer science, including innovative ideas such as enabling teachers to earn micro-credentials in the field of computer science.
  • Pathways to STEM Apprenticeship for High School Career and Technical Education (CTE) Students Demonstration Program—Supports state efforts to expand and improve the transition of high school CTE students to postsecondary education and employment through apprenticeships in STEM fields, including computer science, that begin during high school.

Recognizing Inspirational School Employees Awards Announcement

Rise Awards

The Department announced the inaugural competition of the Recognizing Inspirational School Employees (RISE) Award to spotlight classified school employees’ critical contributions to a quality education. Starting in 2020, the agency invites the governor of each state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Outlying Areas to nominate up to two classified school employees by Nov. 1 annually. The secretary will announce one national honoree. 

For purposes of the award, classified school employees include paraprofessionals and those who work in clerical and administrative services, transportation services, food and nutrition services, custodial and maintenance services, security services, health and student services, technical services, and skilled trades. They may be full- or part-time employees serving early learning to high school populations in public or private schools.

2018 Program for International Student Assessment Results

A new web report from the National Center for Education Statistics provides comparative data from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) on the reading, math, and science literacy performance of 15-year-old students in the U.S. and 77 other participating education systems. PISA is sponsored by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and focuses on students’ ability to apply the knowledge and skills they have learned, in and out of school, to real world problems. 

In reading literacy, the U.S. average score (505) was higher than the average score of OECD countries (487). Also, compared with the other education systems with data, the U.S. average score was higher than in 57 systems, lower than in eight systems, and not measurably different than in 11 systems. 

In mathematics literacy, the U.S. average score (478) was lower than the OECD average score (489). Compared to other education systems with data, the U.S. average score was higher than in 39 systems, lower than in 30 systems, and not measurably different than in eight systems. 

In science literacy, the U.S. average score (502) was higher than the OECD average score (489). Compared to other education systems with data, the U.S. average score was higher than in 55 systems, lower than in 11 systems, and not measurably different than in 11 systems.

Transition to Kindergarten: Supporting Children Who Are Dual Language Learners

Transitioning from an early childhood program to kindergarten means many changes for all children and their families. Additional considerations come into play for children who are dual language learners (DLLs). The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently released a guide to assist families of DLL students entering kindergarten.

Migrant Education Grant Competitions

The Department's Office of Migrant Education is seeking applicants for the 2020 High School Equivalency Program and College Assistance Migrant Program competitions. The application period will be open through Jan. 28, 2020.

Happy Holidays

Happy Holidays

The White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics would like to wish you and your families a joyous holiday season and an excellent start to the new year.

Next Generation FSA Initiative Update

During the FSA annual conference, FSA Chief Operating Officer Mark Brown, spotlighted what is next for students and financial aid administrators under the Next Generation (Next Gen) FSA initiative.

On Dec. 22, the new website will launch. This will consolidate multiple FSA websites into a single, digital website: Students, parents, and borrowers will be able to access all the information and tools they currently use through an improved interface.

Proposed Experimental Sites

At the FSA annual conference, Senior Advisor to the Under Secretary of Education Michael Brickman introduced a proposed experimental site that would waive a number of current regulations to allow institutions to limit borrowing, including at the program level, based on expected earnings data reported by the College Scorecard; use institution-provided loan reduction or forgiveness programs to reward students for reaching academic benchmarks; or permit students to refinance federal loans and, instead, make one affordable payment that fits their post-graduation earnings.

Seeking Applicants for the 2020–21 School Ambassador Fellowship


The Department is seeking applicants for the School Ambassador Fellowship 2020–21 cohort. The School Ambassador Fellowship is a year-long professional engagement experience hosted by the Department, which is designed to improve outcomes for students by leveraging the expertise of school-based practitioners in the creation, dissemination, and evaluation of national education policy. 

The deadline to apply for the 2020–21 School Ambassador Fellowship is Tuesday, Dec. 31 at 11:59 p.m. EST.

Proposed Higher Education Regulations

Secretary DeVos proposed a new rule that would expand access to Teacher Education Assistance for College Higher Education (TEACH) Grants and ensure religious liberty is protected for faith-based institutions and their students.  The regulations are the result of historic consensus reached during negotiated rulemaking earlier this year.

The public has an opportunity to provide comments on the proposed rule. The deadline to submit comments is Jan.10, 2020.

Opportunity Zones Grant Priority

Secretary DeVos announced that the Department will prioritize funding for grant applications that support students, teachers, and parents in economically distressed communities officially selected as Opportunity Zones. This priority will allow the agency to focus on grantees that do their work in such a zone, grantees that are located in a zone, and grantees that will increase the impact of each federal dollar by partnering with a Qualified Opportunity Fund. Governors have selected over 8,700 Opportunity Zones with substantially higher poverty rates, higher rates of unemployment, lower median household income, and lower rates of educational attainment, on average, than the rest of the country.

Nominate an Excellent STEM Teacher or Mentor

The National Science Foundation, on behalf of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, is seeking applications and nominations for the 2020 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring (due Jan. 15, 2020)  and the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (due May 1, 2020).