Calling All Dads: Nationwide Efforts Highlight Ways Fathers Can Get More Involved in Their Children’s Education

With another school year underway, student success in the classroom depends in large part upon family engagement. Children thrive when parents and caretakers are more involved in their child’s education. Throughout the country, state and local governments, organizations, and schools are working hard to involve parents – and fathers in particular – in the success of all students.

Fathers of PS 37Q students.

Fathers of PS 37Q students.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Education’s Family and Community Engagement team released a new parent checklist to give families the right tools and appropriate questions to ask as they become more engaged. To the extent that it’s possible, it is important that both parents – mothers and fathers – are involved during this process.

Fathers of students at PS MS147Q.

Fathers of students at PS MS147Q.

President Obama has frequently stressed the importance of “responsible fatherhood” in remarks about his own personal experience and the My Brother’s Keeper Initiative. Other tools such as are valuable resources to dads who want to become more involved.

In New York, the New York City’s Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD) has partnered with HHS, ED and other federal partners to sponsor the annual Dads Take Your Child to School Day. The yearly September event reaches hundreds of schools and thousands of fathers and father figures throughout the State and provides them with the tools they need to become active partners in their children’s lives and education.

Through this initiative, fathers and mentors participate in various motivational training sessions that help build a strong bond between father and child. Fathers are introduced to leaders in the national, state and local “responsible fatherhood” movement and learn about resources that will help them support the positive educational growth for their children.

The saying that “It takes a village to raise a child” continues to resonate because there is real truth in those words. When fathers are more engaged in the education of their children, these same children have the opportunity to become the nation’s next great leaders.

For additional information, visit the Dads Take Your Child to School Day website or view the 2015 public service announcement.

Taylor Ramsey is an Education Program Specialist in the Department of Education’s Region 2 and Scott Leach is Director of the Fatherhood Initiative, NYC Department of Youth and Community Development.

An Inspiring New Leader for Our Extraordinary Team

Earlier today, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan sent the following email to U.S. Department of Education staff:

Dear colleagues,

I’m writing to tell you two things. First, what is for me some bittersweet news: after several months of commuting between my family in Chicago and my job here in DC, I have made the decision to step down in December.

Second, and very happily, President Obama has asked our delegated Deputy Secretary John King Jr. to step into my role when I leave. An announcement to that effect went out from the White House a few minutes ago. President Obama will give a press conference on the transition at 3:30 this afternoon, and you’re invited to watch the live stream.

Serving the President in the work of expanding opportunity for students throughout this country has been the greatest honor of my life. Doing so alongside people of the brilliance, ability and moral conviction of the team here at ED has been nothing short of thrilling. We have been lucky to have an amazing team here from Day One, but I honestly believe our team today is the strongest it’s ever been. So it’s with real sadness that I have come to recognize that being apart from my family has become too much of a strain, and it is time for me to step aside and give a new leader a chance. I haven’t talked with anyone about what I’ll do next, and probably won’t for a little while – I’m simply returning to Chicago to live with my family. I imagine my next steps will continue to involve the work of expanding opportunity for children, but I have no idea what that will look like yet.

What gives me peace with this decision, and I hope comes as a reassurance to everyone here, is the extraordinary talent of John and our leadership team. John comes to this role with a record of exceptional accomplishment as a lifelong educator – a teacher, a school leader, and a leader of school systems, most recently as Commissioner of Education in New York State before he joined our team. Over the years that I have known him, and especially in the months we have worked together here, I’ve come to recognize John as one of the most passionate, courageous, clear-headed leaders in our field. His talent is such that he will become one of the youngest Cabinet members in American history. (I encourage you to read his remarkable personal story, which he laid out in a Huffington Post article a few years ago.)

The team here is extraordinary. Each of our offices is headed by a genuine national leader from whom I’ve learned enormously, and at the center of that team is a senior leadership I’ve depended upon daily – in addition to John, our Under Secretary Ted Mitchell, a visionary whose ideas and moral force are helping to change the landscape of opportunity in higher education; and my Chief of Staff, Emma Vadehra, who understands how to accomplish change in education as well as anyone else in this country. I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to announce a replacement for John to carry out the duties of Deputy Secretary soon, and I owe this team enormous thanks for their dedication and sacrifice.

I owe a similarly profound thanks to each of you. The work of this Department is exceptionally ambitious – to ensure that every student in this country enjoys genuine opportunity to learn, to grow, to excel. As a comparatively small team, often under challenging conditions and timelines, our staff has continued to offer example after example of dedication beyond the call of duty. I’m honored to have led you, and delighted by what good hands this Department will be in. I ask each of you that you offer John and his team the same commitment I’ve witnessed from you.

As I think about our shared work here, and about what it has meant to spend seven years serving the President and the country, I think about two students I’ve met in recent years. The first is Brandon, a young man I met at a round table discussion in Denver as part of My Brother’s Keeper. Brandon told a story I will never forget, about how his life had slipped off the tracks in elementary school. He had scrawled graffiti in a bathroom stall when he was 11 years old. His school, which had zero tolerance discipline policies, called the police, and he ended up being sentenced to pick up trash along the highway alongside adult criminals. He also ended up with a criminal record, and years later, when he tried to become a police officer, the department turned him away because of that record. For me, Brandon will always be a reminder of the distance we have to go as adults, to do right by our young people.

The second person is Russhaun Johnson. Russhaun had the deck stacked against him growing up in Des Moines, Iowa. His dad wasn’t around; he lived with his mom, who was a drug addict, until she was incarcerated for more than four years while he was in middle and high school. No one in his family was there for him, and many nights, he slept on park benches. He described himself as “two steps behind” from the start in school. What got Russhaun on a track to success, he says, was his teachers and counselors, who helped him see himself as the brilliant young man he is. He’s now an accomplished poet, and the president of his senior class. A few weeks ago, the whole country had the opportunity to witness his brilliance, as he introduced President Obama to a cheering crowd on the first day of our bus tour. Russhaun told the audience he is planning to go to college to become a teacher, because he wants to offer a next generation of young people the possibility that the caring educators around him helped him see in himself. He is an example, to me, of what can go right for our children when our schools understand who they can become – and act on that knowledge.

When I think about the life paths of these two young people, I know that no one will fight harder for students like them than John King and the team he will lead here. I thank you for being part of that team, and promise you that you are in good hands.


HBCU All-Star Reflects on the 2015 National HBCU Week Conference: A Movement of Change, a Message of Hope

The recent White House initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) Conference Week (Sep 21-22) was a gathering of institutions, organizations, agencies, and supporters committed to academic excellence and sustainable growth for African American institutions of higher learning. Government officials, college and university presidents, as well as student leaders gathered from around the world for the cause of HBCU advancement.  There was an undeniable electric sense of hope in the air during the event. In spite of financial hardships, HBCU’s continue to produce first class scholars in fields such as STEM, Medicine, and Liberal Arts.

The conference is more than just an annual gathering.   It represents a movement that will poise our nation to better compete in the global economy. During an intimate conversation with this year’s HBCU All-Stars, Secretary Arne Duncan encouraged us to return to our campuses and our homes with a mission to invest in our educational communities as agents of change.

Vice-President Biden continued the same sentiment in his speech as he reminded us of the unique privileges that extend far beyond the classroom for HBCU students. HBCUs, he said, help build character, produce great leaders, and instill hope.

It is truly my honor to be selected amongst my fellow scholars as a 2015-16 Student Ambassador for the White House Initiative on HBCUs. I am excited to not only represent the Interdenominational Theological Center, but also continue the legacy of promoting educational excellence, sustainable growth and social consciousness for our academic communities. Through this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, we are given the chance to being the change we desire to see, and using our education and experiences to better our campuses, communities, and ultimately the world.

Click here to learn more about the HBCU All-Star Students Program.

Nathalie Nelson is a 2015-2016 HBCU All-Star and attends the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Ga.

New Tool Kit Provides Resources to Teach Children Learning English

Last week, the U.S. Department of Education announced the completion of the English Learner Tool Kit, designed to support educators in ensuring equal access to a high-quality education for English Learners (EL). This tool kit complements the English Learner Guidance that was released in January 2015 by the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice to remind states and school districts of their civil rights obligations to EL students and Limited English Proficient parents.

The tool kit was unveiled at Bruce Monroe Elementary School at Park View in Washington, D.C. On hand at the event were Vanita Gupta, principal deputy assistant attorney general and head of the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department; District of Columbia Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson; and John King, the Education Department’s senior advisor delegated duties of deputy secretary of education.

As teachers who work at the Department of Education as Teaching Ambassador Fellows, we are excited about the access this tool kit gives educators to clear-cut guidance and research on best practices in the field.

The EL Tool Kit is divided into chapters on topics such as identifying all English Learners, addressing English Learners with disabilities, and evaluating the effectiveness of a school district’s program. Each chapter can be downloaded separately and information is grouped into easy-to-find topics. For each chapter, there are key points and examples, as well as adaptations of and links to resources created and maintained by public and private organizations. By bringing together all these resources into one easy-to-use location, teachers, principals, and districts have an accessible tool kit full of free resources.

ED's John King talking with educators about the Tool Kit.

ED’s John King talking with educators about the Tool Kit.

Across the country, public school teachers serve more than 5 million ELs. As teachers ourselves, we can attest that being given a tool that provides support for closing the achievement gap between ELs and native English speakers is invaluable. Looking at this new resource, we are reminded of the many EL students who have sat in our classrooms, bringing with them a rich diversity of languages, cultures, and experiences. As educators, we are hopeful that this new resource will make it less complicated to find answers about how to best meet the needs of our students and provide them with every opportunity to reach their fullest potential.

Aman Dhanda and JoLisa Hoover are Teaching Ambassador Fellows with the U.S. Department of Education.

College Programs for Students with Disabilities Are “Changing Culture”


For too many kids in classrooms like mine in New Haven, Conn., disabilities can be sources of shame, indicators of what students can’t do, instead of what they can. As part of the Department’s Ready for Success bus tour, I got to see two universities where students with disabilities are not just enrolled in college, they’re thriving, finding success academically and socially in a way that many never could have imagined.

Staff at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and the University of Central Missouri go beyond procedural compliance to provide, what Melody Musgrove, director of the Office of Special Education Programs, called an “on-ramp to the rest of our kids’ lives.” Federal data suggests that students with disabilities are less likely to attend four-year colleges than their peers; these examples prove that doesn’t have to be the case.

Meridith Bradford said college counselors at her New Jersey high school “said I was crazy” when she shared her plan to attend a four-year college. With the support of the University of Illinois’ Beckwith Residential Support Services program, Bradford, who has cerebral palsy, is now a senior and one of the student managers for the university’s wheelchair basketball teams.


“When I was in high school, I had an aide follow me everywhere whether I liked it or not,” Bradford said. “When I get my college degree, I know it’ll be me getting it under my own power.”

The 26 students with severe physical disabilities in the Beckwith program live in an accessible dorm and hire a team of personal assistants who help them with daily living tasks like eating and dressing. “If I would’ve gone anywhere else, I would’ve had to have lived at home,” said Dan Escalona, a sports columnist for The Daily Illini who has muscular dystrophy. “The independence aspect is a big reason why I came.”

Today, students with disabilities at the University of Illinois graduate at about the same rate as others in their same programs, according to Tanya Gallagher, dean of the College of Applied Health Sciences.

Meanwhile, at the University of Central Missouri, students with intellectual, cognitive, and developmental disabilities are learning to lead independent lives.

Julie Warm knew she wanted her daughter, Mary, who has Down syndrome, to attend college ever since Mary was in first grade. She also knew that no appropriate program existed.

She reached out to 19 area universities before she connected with Dr. Joyce Downing, a professor in UCM’s College of Education, who was enthusiastic about designing a program.

Today, Mary, 23, is an alumnus of the university’s THRIVE program and is studying to be a preschool assistant teacher, so she can “teach kids to accept people and not grow up to be bullies,” she said.

Students in the THRIVE program live together and take a range of classes, both in the university and customized to their needs. They also take on two internships in fields of interest and experience counseling to develop their life and social skills.

“In the past, schools would’ve put them in a vocational role,” said Michael Brunkhorst, one of the instructors with the THRIVE program. “I say, raise those expectations because all of our students have proven that they can do much more than was thought they could do.”

Programs like these involve “changing a culture,” said Michael Yudin, assistant secretary for special education and rehabilitative services at the U.S. Department of Education.“It’s more than just providing services to students with disabilities,” he said. “It’s about the value and talent that these individuals can contribute to our society.”

After these visits, one of my first tasks upon returning to school was to welcome a new fifth grader with an individualized education plan. My experiences at these universities left me hopeful that by the time he graduates, more universities will have programs like these that go above and beyond to harness students’ talents for the good of us all.

Matt Presser is an Instructional Literacy Coach at King/Robinson School in New Haven, Conn., and a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education.

During Hispanic Heritage Month and Every Day, #LatinosTeach!

Today, nearly one in four students in our nation’s public elementary and secondary schools is Hispanic. Yet, less than one in 10 teachers—or roughly just 8 percent of America’s teaching force—is Hispanic. As the Hispanic population grows, it’s critically important that our teacher workforce reflects our increasingly diverse nation. Hispanic children can benefit by being taught by educators who share their experiences and culture. But it’s also important for all students to learn from teachers who are diverse, dedicated, and passionate.

This Hispanic Heritage Month, during the week of Sept. 28 through Oct. 2, the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics is launching a Latinos Teach digital campaign, highlighting Hispanic educators and encouraging more Latinos to consider careers in teaching.

Every parent knows the difference a great teacher makes. And research shows the enormous good that skilled, well-trained teachers can do. Throughout this week, the Initiative will feature online profiles of caring and committed professionals who serve in our schools and inspire young people to achieve their greatest potential.

As a part of this effort, Dr. Jill Biden and Erica Castro, wife of U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro—both teachers themselves—have spoken about the important work that educators do each day. In a video released today, Dr. Biden and Mrs. Castro encourage Latino teachers to tell their story and ask others to share the story of a Latino teacher in their lives, using the hashtag #LatinosTeach.

Watch the video, engage in the discussion on Twitter, and consider becoming involved in the Latinos Teach movement by committing to a career in education.

“A teacher can have a powerful impact on Hispanic students; not just sharing knowledge and helping them grow, but also serving as a role model,” noted Alejandra Ceja, executive director of the Initiative. “We are grateful for the leadership and dedication of the many talented Hispanic teachers in our nation’s schools; and through the #LatinosTeach campaign, we hope to inspire even more Latinos to consider the teaching profession as a way to give back to their communities.”

For more information about the Initiative and other efforts celebrating its 25th Anniversary Year of Action and Hispanic Heritage Month, visit

White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans Launches Film Screening and Discussion Series at the White House


On September 21, nearly 100 high school students from Washington D.C., Maryland, and Virginia gathered at the White House to participate in the launch of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans’ (Initiative) Screening and Discussion Series (AfAmEdFilms). Panelists who spoke during the event include: Robin Hauser Reynolds, Director of Code: Debugging the Gender Gap; Dr. Kimberlyn Leary, Senior Advisor to the White House Council on Women and Girls; Dr. Kamau Bobb, Program Director and Directorate for Computer and Information Science & Engineering at the National Science Foundation; and Chiamaka Okoroha of Microsoft.

AfAmEdFilms will highlight films and multimedia that disrupt negative stereotypes and depict positive and compelling stories of African American students, families, and communities striving for academic excellence. AfAmEdFilms will also encourage active engagement and showcase resources to facilitate opportunities for caring and concerned adults to support the learning and development of African Americans. The first film, Code: Debugging the Gender Gap, discussed racial and gender disparities in STEM programs and careers and provided a platform for a solutions-oriented discussion of ways to increase access and opportunity to the STEM pipeline for Black youth. The film supports several priorities of President Obama’s administration including efforts to increase access to and success in STEM courses and careers and supporting women and girls of color.

Megan Smith, United States Chief Technology Officer Policy, provided opening remarks, encouraging students to see the “magic in technology, math and science.” Kimberly Bryant, Founder of Black Girls Code, addressed the audience, arguing that the solution to increasing the number of Black women and girls in STEM is to, “get girls interested in coding early on, so we can change the pipeline. The future is literally in your hands, and it will be written in code. There is no knowledge gap, just an opportunity gap,” she said.

During the panel discussion following the screening, of CODE David Johns, Initiative Executive Director, highlighted how the Initiative is increasing STEM success, including by collaborating with the National Science Foundation to ensure that students have access to Computer Science, Algebra, and other gateway courses required for success in STEM.

Miaela N. Thomas, M.S., School Counselor of Frederick Douglass High School, watched a transformation in her student as the youngest panel member, recent Computer Science graduate Chiamaka Okoroha, spoke on the panel. “The look in her eyes was something I’d never seen before and when she said, ‘I want to take a picture with her and meet her, I knew then that she had finalized what she wanted to major in when she goes to college,” she said.

Johns closed by reminding the students they are obligated to graduate from college; find their passion by celebrating and creating things that interest and move them; and use their brilliance for good—to improve our communities and our country.

Each month, the AfAmEdFilm Series will highlight an important theme in the field of African American education. For more information visit

Additional Films included in the AfAmEdFilms Series are as follows:

He Named Me Malala
The Souls of Black Girls


The Rule

The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete



The E-Word: A Documentary on the Ebonics Debate

MPAA: American Promise

The Homestretch

(Please note: This list is not exhaustive and subject to change.)

Federal Agencies Moving Hispanics Forward

Throughout his time in office, President Obama has called on leaders from all sectors to help ensure our country’s future. In the spirit of this shared responsibility, the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics this week released a series of commitments, a new report and a set of education data plans outlining the Obama Administration’s work to improve the lives of the 55 million Hispanics who live in the United States—whether through increased access to high-quality early learning and STEM education, more grants to Hispanic-serving colleges, more opportunities to participate in the internships or greater apprenticeships with small businesses.

These efforts highlight over 350 activities, programs and initiatives supporting the educational attainment of our country’s students, including Hispanics. The announcement of Commitments to Action signifies the federal agencies’ steadfast dedication on behalf of the largest, youngest and arguably the fastest-growing population in the nation. The report summarizes the Federal Interagency Working Group on Educational Excellence for Hispanics’ efforts to help ensure federal investments, programs, and opportunities are effectively shared with the Hispanic community, assess and suggest improvements to federal policies, regulations and programs that apply to Hispanic students and communities, and ensure efforts and funding reflect the diversity of the nation’s population and the growing number of Hispanic Serving Institutions while strengthening the link between the Federal government and the nation’s Hispanic communities.

Today, nearly one in four students in our nation’s public schools is a Hispanic youth. Making sure these young people have the opportunity to achieve their dreams isn’t just the right thing to do—it’s also a matter of our shared success as a country. In just the next few decades, Hispanics will represent nearly one in three American workers. It’s clear; the future of our nation is closely connected to the future of our Hispanic communities.

To help move the Latino community and the nation forward, the Initiative issued a national call of action to the public and private sectors. Recognizing that Latinos must continue to graduate from high school college and career ready, and in even greater numbers, having access to quality, well-rounded learning experiences in our public schools with support at the federal, state, and local levels is critical.

This Hispanic Heritage Month marks the 25th anniversary of the existence of the Initiative. The Initiative was originally established by President George H.W. Bush in 1990 to address the educational disparities faced by the Hispanic community. Since then, the Hispanic community has been recognized by multiple presidents and more recently by President Barack Obama through the renewal of the Initiative.

Maribel Duran is the Chief of Staff for the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics and leads the Federal Interagency Working Group on Educational Excellence efforts.

Starting Early: Connecting Culture and Language to Student Success


During my recent visit to Ke Kula ‘o Nāwahīokalani‘ōpu‘u Iki Public Charter School on Hawaii Island, I had the wonderful opportunity to meet with students of all ages, teachers, parents and administrators. As is normally the custom, I was greeted by the students and teachers with a welcome protocol (chant and song). I have visited a few Hawaiian immersion and medium schools over the years, and I am always touched by this expression of “aloha.” The school’s entire program from infant and toddler through grade 12 is an integrated laboratory school program for the state’s Hawaiian language college in Hilo. The entire system and similar schools statewide grew out of the community-driven Punana Leo Hawaiian language preschools. Nawahi is a Hawaiian medium school and the students are taught in Hawaiian.

— Kiran Ahuja (@KiranAhujaAAPI) September 21, 2015

In March 2014, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan visited Ka Waihona o ka Na’auao Public Charter School in Waianae on Oahu Island – his first trip to Hawaii as Secretary. He met with Native Hawaiian educators and learned about the incredible efforts to not only preserve the Hawaiian language, but also link language and culture to improving educational outcomes for Native Hawaiian students. Another important component for improving outcomes for Native Hawaiian students is investing in early education. Hawaii was awarded a $2 million Preschool Development Grant this year as part of their four-year $15 million plan to develop a state preschool system and provide high-quality preschool for children from families at our below the 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Line. The preschool funding also targets unique preschool efforts that focus on Hawaiian language and culture, and Nawahi is one of the first sites utilizing this grant to draw more students into their current preschool Hawaiian medium program. The state has plans to provide high-quality preschool in 18 classrooms in high-need communities throughout the state for approximately 900 children from low-income families by the end of 2018, if funding is not cut by Congress.

Expanding access to high-quality preschool is critically important to ensuring that every child in America has the opportunity for lifelong success. Despite the evidence showing the importance of early learning, House and Senate committees have authored spending bills that eliminate Preschool Development Grants, a program that is in the middle of building and expanding high-quality preschool in over 200 high-need communities across 18 states that span the geographic and political spectrum.

Eliminating the Preschool Development Grants program would mean a loss of high-quality preschool for more than 720 children from low-income families in Hawaii over the next two years. In Keaau, and throughout Hawaii and our nation, there is still a huge unmet need for high-quality preschool for all our children. Our hope is that every child, regardless of circumstances, succeeds in school and in life. High-quality preschool programs, like the one I saw at Ke Kula ‘o Nāwahīokalani‘ōpu‘u Iki Public Charter School, provide the benefits of early education – proven to be an important first step in improving the life trajectory of a young person’s life.

Kiran Ahuja is Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

A Look Back: How One School Community Responded to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita

With the recent anniversary of Hurricane Katrina this past August, I found myself reflecting on my experiences following the fall 2005 disaster. My home state of Texas served as one of the primary evacuation locations for Katrina and then, not even a month later, was hit by Hurricane Rita. While the circumstances of each were dramatically different, they highlighted the ways schools serve as safe havens for students and the community during times of crisis.

As a teacher in Leander, TX just outside Austin, the devastating stories of the 1,833 lives lost during the storm haunted me. But I knew it was the survivors that needed our immediate attention. Texas, which received the vast majority of the evacuees, went to great lengths to help those impacted by the event get back on their feet.

My state, for example, made it easier for displaced students to enroll, and helped them meet their basic needs. Teachers and students went to great lengths to create a sense of normalcy for these young people, many of whom were traumatized, and get them up to speed with our state standards.

My Aunt, a school nurse outside of Houston, witnessed firsthand the physical and emotional toll the storm had on its victims. She treated many students with badly infected feet caused by walking through dirty flood waters. As she provided first aid, the children told her of their loss and fear of leaving behind their homes (or what was left of their homes).

Just a few weeks after Hurricane Katrina, we were shocked to hear that another major hurricane was coming and this time it was headed towards the Texas coast. Rita made land fall on the Texas/Louisiana border on September 24th, 2005 with winds of up to 120 mph and over six inches of rainfall across the region.

My family near Houston evacuated to Austin like many others and spent 22 hours on the road for what should have been a four-hour drive on an exceptionally hot day and night. It was predicted that the hurricane had shifted and might make it as far inland as Austin – directly over the evacuation routes – exacerbating the anxiety of everyone involved.

Buses in traffic

Once again, our schools stepped up. My district, for example, designated seven schools as evacuation centers. The district’s administrators, teachers and other employees even volunteered to run the centers because the number of Red Cross volunteers had been depleted by Katrina. These were initially meant to provide safe haven for up to 1,500 evacuees, but within 24 hours, that number swelled to 3,500 and a few days later, the total was 4,200.

Leander’s schools also became a refuge for hundreds of pets and livestock. This was a lesson learned from Katrina where many people refused to evacuate because shelters wouldn’t accept their animals. During that unforgettable weekend we provided meals, clean beds, working showers, and TVs to monitor the storm. We also provided medical care for both people and animals and even helped welcome a new baby and puppy into the world.

Looking back, I’m so proud to have been a part of an education community that immediately stepped up to create a safe and nurturing environment for students and neighbors from near and far. As the country goes back to school this fall, it reminds me of just how many educators across the country help students cope with trauma on a daily basis. It’s an honor to be part of the profession that does this and a legacy of Katrina and Rita worth remembering a decade later.

 JoLisa Hoover is a 4th grade teacher at River Ridge Elementary School in Leander, Texas and a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education.


The Impact of Teach to Lead

Across the county, teachers are working to solve some of the biggest challenges facing education today. They do this work in their classrooms with students, in their schools and professional associations, and—increasingly—in collaboration with other educators who seek opportunities to lead the transformation of teaching and learning and to have a voice in the development of policies that affect their profession. On September 26-27, the Department of Education and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) will offer a forum for educators to transform their best ideas into actionable plans by bringing together 29 educator-led teams in Tacoma, Wash., for Teach to Lead’s sixth summit.

Teach to Lead started as an idea in March 2014 to recognize the importance of—and challenges faced by—teachers, and to advance student outcomes by expanding opportunities for teacher leadership, especially those that allow teachers to stay in the classroom. Today, Teach to Lead has received a groundswell of interest from teachers around the country.

Over the past 18 months, educators have submitted more than 560 ideas for expanding teacher leadership through Teach to Lead, from Hawaii to Florida and Maine to Alaska. And nearly 200 teacher-driven action plans—developed through the Teach to Lead network and with the support of key stakeholders—are being implemented by educators at the school, district, and state levels. What’s also encouraging is that 85 organizations are committed to supporting and sustaining the work of teachers engaged with Teach to Lead across the country.

Summits are an opportunity to help spotlight and advance the groundbreaking, teacher-led work happening in states, districts, and schools. Teachers have gathered in Louisville, Ky.; Denver; Boston; and Washington, DC. For the educators who join Teach to Lead’s summits, 91 percent report that they plan to stay in touch with people they meet at the summits to share promising practices and successes. And through in-person and virtual settings, Teach to Lead has connected more than 4,000 educators, creating a large network of professional support.

At the Tacoma, Wash., summit, teams of educators and supporter organizations will work over two days to translate more than 160 ideas into concrete plans that educators can take back to their districts and schools. Some of the educator-led teams will focus on issues such as aligning professional development with project-based learning in classrooms; integrating English language learning concepts into daily teaching practices; and developing programs to expand parent and community involvement in education.

There has never been a more critical time to recognize the importance of meaningful teacher voice in decisions that are made in schools, districts, and states. Earlier this month during the Department of Education’s annual back-to-school bus tour, I visited with teacher leaders at Roosevelt Middle School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. What I saw there was nothing short of revolutionary. The state is in its second year of implementing a statewide system of teacher leadership that allows teachers to lead from the classroom and honors that leadership with greater compensation. These leadership positons are developed by local stakeholders and cooperatively staffed by teacher and administrative selection teams. I heard directly from teachers and principals about the impact that teacher leadership is having on their practice. Iowa is leading the nation when it comes to building strong models for teacher leadership.

We know that attracting and retaining effective educators in our classrooms is one of the most critical challenges that high-need schools face. We also have seen that when teachers are given the opportunity to lead, with autonomy, time, and a real voice in decision-making, the results can be remarkable and lead to increased learning outcomes for students.

A recent Los Angeles Times article highlighted Mission High School in San Francisco and the impact that the school’s teacher-supported and led initiatives has had on teachers and students. Mission High School has been able to address teacher retention through teacher supports, such as building in time where teachers can plan lessons together and design assessments that measure a broad range of skills critical for students to master.

Teachers also have created action groups where they review data and investigate the root causes of achievement gaps. These groups then create action plans to address the gaps. Graduation rates at Mission High have gone from among the lowest in the district, at 60 percent, to more than 80 percent. In 2013, Mission High’s graduation rate for African-American students was 20 percent higher than the district average.

I’m encouraged to see the progress at Mission High School, the work of teacher leadership in Iowa, and the many projects Teach to Lead has helped to support. The impact of teacher leadership is powerful and we must continue to find ways to support, highlight, and finance these efforts across the county. When teachers are given the opportunity and space to lead, the results are extraordinary.

What we know from the past five Teach to Lead summits is that teachers have some of the best ideas to solve many of the biggest challenges facing education. It’s our job to keep asking teachers, what do you need, and how can we work together? For more information, please visit:

Arne Duncan is U.S. Secretary of Education.

Our Top 10 Favorite Photos from the #ReadyforSuccess Bus Tour

Our 6th annual Back-to-School Bus Tour was a blast! Below are some of our favorite pictures taken during the tour!

Secretary Duncan met students during a visit to the Woodland Early Learning Community School in Kansas City.

Secretary Duncan met students during a visit to the Woodland Early Learning Community School in Kansas City.

President Barack Obama joined Secretary Arne Duncan during the first day of the Bus Tour in Des Moines.

President Barack Obama joined Secretary Arne Duncan during the first day of the Bus Tour in Des Moines.

Secretary Duncan is welcomed by students at Roosevelt Middle School in Cedar Rapids.

Secretary Duncan is welcomed by students at Roosevelt Middle School in Cedar Rapids.

Secretary Duncan participated in a panel discussion with state and local leaders and heard about the importance of teacher leadership and the role the Teach to Lead program has played in advancing their work.

Secretary Duncan participated in a panel discussion with state and local leaders and heard about the importance of teacher leadership and the role the Teach to Lead program has played in advancing their work.

Secretary Duncan took a selfie with students after meeting with them at the Williamsfield Community Unit School District.

Secretary Duncan took a selfie with students after meeting with them at the Williamsfield Community Unit School District.

Secretary Duncan joined coaches and players of the Illini men’s and women’s wheelchair basketball teams during his visit to the University of Illinois, Champaign. The University, through its Division of Disability Resources and Educational Services (DRES) is one of the nation’s best in serving the needs of college students with disabilities.

Secretary Duncan joined coaches and players of the Illini men’s and women’s wheelchair basketball teams during his visit to the University of Illinois, Champaign. The University, through its Division of Disability Resources and Educational Services (DRES) is one of the nation’s best in serving the needs of college students with disabilities.

Students demonstrated their knowledge at Jeffersontown High School Magnet Career Academy when Secretary Duncan visited.

Students demonstrated their knowledge at Jeffersontown High School Magnet Career Academy when Secretary Duncan visited.

Students joined Secretary Duncan on a tour during his visit to the University of Louisville. All of these high school seniors were from nearby Jefferson County Public Schools and talked with Duncan about their hopes – and concerns – regarding higher ed.

Students joined Secretary Duncan on a tour during his visit to the University of Louisville. All of these high school seniors were from nearby Jefferson County Public Schools and talked with Duncan about their hopes – and concerns – regarding higher ed.

Bryan Dell, a former drug addict and dealer, told Secretary Duncan and Under Secretary Ted Mitchell about the importance that Cincinnati State and a strong community college education has played in his life since he has been in recovery.

Bryan Dell, a former drug addict and dealer, told Secretary Duncan and Under Secretary Ted Mitchell about the importance that Cincinnati State and a strong community college education has played in his life since he has been in recovery.

The Back-to-School Bus Tour ended with a college access rally and town hall at Carnegie Mellon that highlighted the importance of STEM education.

The Back-to-School Bus Tour ended with a college access rally and town hall at Carnegie Mellon that highlighted the importance of STEM education.

All photos taken by Department of Education photographers Paul Wood and Joshua Hoover.

Check out for more images and blog posts about each stop on the tour.