Secretary Duncan Calls on State Legislators to Help Lead School Reforms

Secretary Arne Duncan spoke at the fall forum of the National Conference of State Legislatures earlier this month.  He urged state legislators to help lead the school reform movement and identify state laws that are impeding reforms.

Specifically, he called on legislators to rewrite state laws to:

  • Ensure that students—especially disadvantaged students—are taught by an effective teacher and that all policies related to the teaching profession promote effective teaching;
  • Offer high-quality alternative certification routes to becoming teachers for military veterans and career changers;
  • Give districts the ability increase learning time by extending the school day or school year; and
  • Expand the number of charter schools and to increase accountability so bad charter schools are shut down.

Duncan praised state legislatures for leadership on several fronts the past few decades. In the 1980s, statehouses were in the forefront of the movement to set academic standards. Today, Louisiana is leading efforts to measure the effectiveness of teacher preparation programs by tracking the graduates’ success in improving student achievement.  Florida, Texas and Colorado are preparing to follow suit.

See the full text of the Secretary’ remarks.

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Elevating the Teaching Profession

“It’s time, once and for all, to make teaching the revered profession it should be,” Secretary Arne Duncan writes in the current issues of “NEA Today” and AFT’s “American Educator.”

It’s not a new idea. Al Shanker called for strengthening the teaching profession 25 years ago. So did John Kennedy 50 years ago.

Why hasn’t it happened? Duncan points to an array of roadblocks—current approaches to teacher preparation, compensation, evaluation, promotion, professional development, tenure, and the “factory model” of education.

“Teachers want to challenge the status quo,” Duncan says, “and they want to be treated as skilled professionals.” And teacher union leaders are “courageously and candidly speaking out” and “challenging the status quo.” Both NEA and AFT are supporting initiatives that can help.

“No area of the teaching profession is more plainly broken today than that of teacher evaluation and professional development,” Duncan says. The Obama administration is pressing for “far reaching changes” in these two areas through key federal programs—Race to the Top, School Improvement Grants, the Teacher Incentive Fund, and Title I and IDEA funds under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

“Our guiding principle,” Duncan says, “is simply that teachers should be treated as professionals: they should have the support, tools, and opportunities to perform at their full potential by having timely and accurate data about their students to inform instruction; they should time to consult and collaborate with their peers; and they should be evaluated, compensated, and advanced based in part on student learning. Student growth and gain…are what we are most interested in….”

See the full article, “Elevating the Teaching Profession,” at and

HBCU Director John Wilson Visits Jackson State University

We had an uplifting and engaging day at Jackson State University on December 8. It was the first time Dr. John Wilson, Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), participated on behalf of Secretary Arne Duncan in a Listening and Learning Tour event.

We arrived to a welcoming audience of teachers, parents, administrators, students, and community leaders of HBCUs teacher prep programs. They’d come to discuss a number of important topics: the President’s goal to produce a higher percentage of college graduates by 2020, the administration’s higher education agenda, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Race to the Top, and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. As cameramen and news reporters moved into position, we knew it would be a lively town-hall meeting.

In his opening remarks, Wilson painted a picture of the year 2020 — the year this nation will have reached President Obama’s goal of a college graduation rate of over a 60 percent. “We can’t reach this goal without the active participation of our HBCUs,” Wilson said.

He noted that of the 3.2 million teachers currently in America’s classrooms, more than 1/3 will retire within the next four years. He applauded Jackson State University for producing the highest percentage (around 70 percent) of teachers in the state of Mississippi. He challenged Jackson State and other colleges and universities to produce even more quality teachers, particularly math and science teachers — and African-American male teachers, who currently only account for two percent of the nation’s teacher population.

Wilson reiterated the importance of the recently announced final requirements for $3.5 billion in Title I School Improvement grants. He encouraged schools to compete for those funds as well as other ED grants.

He concluded by challenging the audience to think creatively and innovatively — to move this country forward by ensuring every child who graduates from high school is ready for college or the workforce. Participants asked a number of good questions. Wilson was pleased with the dialogue and plans to continue it with other HBCUs.

ED Staff

University Students Talk About Why They Want to Be Teachers

“Teaching is one of the few professions that is not just a job or even an
adventure—it’s a calling,” Secretary Arne Duncan said recently. “Great
teachers strive to help every student unlock their potential and develop the
habits of mind that will serve them for a lifetime. They believe that every
student has a gift—even when students doubt themselves.”

What motivates someone to become a teacher? We asked students at the
University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education why they wanted to enter
the teaching profession. Listen to their answers.

Click here for an accessible version of the video.

Students Talk About Their Education During TV Town Meeting with Secretary Duncan

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This past Tuesday, young people from across the nation had an opportunity to speak their minds about the state of American education  in a lively hour-long “National Town Hall Meeting with Students” hosted by Secretary Arne Duncan.

The live television broadcast and webcast allowed students to talk about their views on how we are preparing them for college and careers; about how they can get more involved in community service and civic life; and about their response President Obama’s September back to school speech, where he challenged students to take more responsibility for their own education.

Arne’s discussion with the studio audience of students from Wakefield High School in Arlington, Va., and the satellite remote audience of middle and high school schoolers from Cleveland-area schools was enlivened by phone calls from young people in California and New York, video questions and commentaries from students in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina, and blog postings from others across the country.

The conversation ranged from abstract topics such as the value of volunteering to the specifics of financial aid for college.  Many students talked about their personal commitment to excellence, such as the young woman from Wakefield who said:  “I am just trying to keep moving forward, pushing myself, telling myself I can do it no matter what.”

Arne expressed hope and pride in today’s students.   “Our students are inspiring, smart, committed, working hard to build positive futures for themselves,” he said.

To watch the archived webcast of the event, go to:

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Wall Street Journal Op-ed: Banks Don’t Belong in the Student Loan Business

They get billions in federal subsides that can provide financial aid to needy students.

The following op-ed by Secretary Arne Duncan appeared in the Wall Street Journal and is posted on its website.

Since I arrived in Washington, I’ve been looking at every line item in the budget of the U.S. Department of Education with two questions in mind: Is this program helping students learn? And is it a good use of taxpayer money? In the case of the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) program, the answer to both questions is no.

Under the current FFEL program, banks make loans to students. While those students remain in school, the federal government pays the interest on their loans; otherwise the interest accrues. Once the borrowers leave school or graduate, the lending agency collects on the loans. But if the student defaults, my department pays back the loan—plus the interest owed. The FFEL program, in short, is a great deal for bankers but a terrible one for taxpayers.

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Secretary Duncan Congratulates 2009 History Teacher of the Year

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On Wednesday Secretary Arne Duncan took part in a ceremony in Washington, D.C., honoring the 2009 Preserve America National History Teacher of the Year.  Arne congratulated honoree Timothy Bailey, a history teacher at Escalante Elementary School in Salt Lake City, Utah, and used the occasion to praise good teaching and to highlight the importance of learning history.

“When students have a real grasp of local, national, and world history, they get a sense of place, and they realize their power,” Arne said.

Accepting the award, Mr. Bailey spoke movingly about his passion for teaching history in remarks laced with references to Plato, John Locke, John Adams, and Martin Luther King, Junior.  He noted that Escalante Elementary is an inner-city school serving a significant immigrant population, and its students’ families speak some 20 languages.

The ceremony featured brief tributes from two of Mr. Bailey’s former students, both of whom are now sixth graders at Escalante.  “I love Mr. Bailey’s teaching style, because he often told us to act it out,” said Araksan Yussuf. “It was like story time.”  Said Nam Nguyen, “We were not just learning history, we were having fun, too.”

The event took place at the School Without Walls, a Washington, D.C., public high school near the campus of George Washington University.  After his remarks, Arne took questions from “Walls” students on topics ranging from American history to current education policy.

The Preserve America National History Teacher of the Year Award is conferred by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, an organization that serves teachers, students, and the general public, and Preserve America, a White House initiative supporting community efforts to preserve and enjoy our cultural and national heritage.  The History Channel is a sponsor of the award.

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Online Safety Guidebook for Parents

Secretary Arne Duncan, Federal Trade Commission Chairman Jon Leibowitz, and Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski visited Jefferson Middle School in Washington, D.C., this week to announce “Net Cetera: Chatting with Kids About Being Online.”

The free guidebook is designed to help parents when talking with children about safety and the Internet. Topics include safe use of social networking web sites, cyberbullying, and protecting computers from viruses and other malicious software. It is available at

The guidebook was produced through a partnership of more than a dozen federal agencies and the technology industry. This partnership is responsible also for the federal government’s online safety website: provides practical tips on how to guard against Internet fraud, secure your computer, and protect your personal information.

Administration Officials Promote Enhanced Financial Capability Among America’s Youth

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Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and ED Secretary Arne Duncan met with students, educators, and community leaders to announce the first step in an effort to promote stronger financial capability among U.S. students: the National Financial Capability Challenge.

This non-monetary awards program challenges students to take control of their financial future by learning more about personal finance. It challenges teachers and schools to incorporate personal finance topics into instruction. Teachers who sign up to participate will receive a “teachers’ toolkit” to help.

In March, students will take a voluntary online exam to demonstrate what they’ve learned, assess their financial knowledge, and learn more about why financial capability is important. Top scoring students from each school will receive awards in April, and outstanding schools and educators will be recognized.

“The reality is that all children don’t know the basics of saving and investing,” Secretary Duncan said. “It’s a skill they need to be successful in our economy. The initiative we’re announcing today with the Department of Treasury is a step in the right direction.”

Find out more about the announcement and the National Financial Capability Challenge.

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PBS NewsHour Online Interview with Secretary Arne Duncan

Following his live town hall webcast with students from across the country, Secretary Arne Duncan stopped by “The Rundown,” the new PBS NewsHour online webcast.  The Secretary was interviewed in the NewsHour newsroom by correspondent Hari Sreenivasan.

Interview topics included the initiative on financial literacy that Secretary Duncan and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner announced that morning, and Race To The Top.

Watch the complete interview.

Duncan Honors Legendary Early Childhood Education Expert Barbara T. Bowman at Georgetown National Summit on Professional Development

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At a luncheon on Tuesday, December 8th in Washington, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan honored legendary childhood education expert Barbara T. Bowman, professor of child development and co-founder of the Erickson Institute in Chicago.  Bowman is also the chief officer of the office of early-childhood education for the Chicago Public Schools (CPS), a position that she agreed to take when Duncan “begged her” as district Superintendant.  After Duncan was named Secretary of Education, Bowman again heeded his call, serving for six months as Consultant on Early Learning.  But she always said she was just “keeping the seat warm” and recommended Jacqueline Jones, former New Jersey State Department of Education Assistant Commissioner for the Division of Early Childhood Education, to continue the work fulltime.  Duncan named Jones last August as Senior Advisor to the Secretary for Early Learning, and Jones now leads the initiative on early learning.

Duncan, who was joined by U.S. Secretary of Health Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, spoke about the extraordinary collaboration taking place between their two agencies in improving early learning. Telling the audience of early-childhood education researchers and advocates that we need to “get out of the catch-up business” and dramatically improve social, emotional and educational outcomes for young children, he reiterated the call for reform he made last month at the conference of the National Association for the Education of Young Children.  One way to leverage this “perfect storm for reform,” he said, is through the Early Learning Challenge Fund that passed in the House mid-September and is now working its way through the Senate.  The historic legislation would authorize a billion dollars a year for states to improve their comprehensive systems of early learning.  Duncan also called for national standards for what our earliest learners need to know and be able to do.

For her part, Bowman began by thanking the organizers for arranging this so she could have lunch with her busy daughter, Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett.  Bowman shared about her own journey in the field since the 1950’s and her transformation in understanding the need for infants, toddlers and preschoolers to receive not only early care, but also high-quality early learning experiences in order to be successful in school and in life.   She spoke about how when the federal Head Start program in 1966 by Ed Zigler (who was in the audience), it was seen as a competition between an employment agency for adults and a program for young children.  “I’m happy that children have won out,” she said.  While she sees the nation as a long way off from providing high-quality early learning programs to all children most in need, she does see promise in a President and two secretaries who “get it.”  At that, she maternally motioned for Duncan and Sebelius to scoot their chairs closer together, which they happily did, Duncan putting his arm around Sebelius to the laughter and applause of everyone.

The luncheon was part of an all-day summit, The Science of Professional Development in Early Childhood Education: A National Summit, featured scientists, policymakers, and key federal and state administrators who addressed best practices and policies and future opportunities in the field of early childhood education and workforce development.  The research meeting was hosted by the Early Childhood Educator Professional Development Program of the U.S. Department of Education, Georgetown University, and Zero to Three.

Steven Hicks
U.S. Department of Education

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Live Webcast of Secretary Arne Duncan’s Town Hall with Students

Today’s national town hall for students hosted by Secretary Arne Duncan will be streamed live at 2:00 pm ET on the websites of Viacom Corporation’s “Get Schooled” and the Black Radio Network.

The national town hall is a special edition of the Department of Education’s television program, Education News Parents Can Use. Throughout the hour-long event, Duncan will take comments and questions from the students in the studio audience and around the nation via telephone, email, and video. The show will also feature the three winning videos from the Department’s “I Am What I Learn” student video contest.

Details about the special town hall for students on Education News are also available.