Small Town School Beats the Odds with Effective Leadership

A quiet town of hard-working families, Tinicum is committed to educational excellence in the face of a declining tax base to fund its schools.

Motorists driving down Route 95 South past Philadelphia might never know that tucked away off exit 9 B, right before the Philadelphia International Airport, lies a community so dedicated to its schools that it has overcome immense odds in order to make dramatic changes in the way it educates its students.

Tinicum Township is a community hit hard by the economic downturn, where 44 percent of the students receive free or reduced meals. Still, the township has proven that by setting high expectations for all, great things can happen. As proof, this year the 4,400 residents of this blue-collar town are celebrating Tinicum Elementary School’s Blue Ribbon School award for 2010.

Five years ago, only 52 percent of the township’s eighth graders reached proficiency in math and reading. This past year, 83 percent reached proficiency in math and 85 percent in reading.

What made the difference?  Most residents attribute this success teachers who were inspired by a great leader. The school’s principal, David Criscuolo, is credited with creating significant changes on two major fronts, academic and behavioral. In both areas, he has directed the school to use data to gauge the progress of each student.

Assistant Superintendent Lawrence Hobdell explains Criscuolo’s strategy:  “Besides valuing teacher input, Mr. Criscuolo values student assessments to see what the data prove.”

In addition to district-wide assessments, Tinicum School monitors students over short periods of time and provides teachers and parents immediate feedback so that adjustments can be made. Frequently, Criscuolo brings together teachers by grade level to discuss instructional strategies, and he always includes the Response to Intervention specialists and special education teachers in these benchmark meetings.

The school leadership realizes that academic achievement cannot happen without socially and emotionally sound students, so, in addition to academic data, behavioral goals are posted throughout the building, and all families are made aware of these expectations. The information collected reflects individual student behavior, but also areas of the school and times where trouble is most likely to occur. Staff members are encouraged to report and reward positive behavior, and all members of the community work together to provide the best learning environment for the children.

Elizabeth Williamson, Communications Team Lead for the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states, based in the Philadelphia Regional Office

Elizabeth Williamson is a former public school English teacher and an adjunct instructor of rhetoric at Temple University.

Secretary Duncan on Supporting Teachers, Improving Teacher Evaluation, and Providing a Well-Rounded Education

“We have to listen to teachers,” Secretary Duncan explains in this January 13, 2011, video response to questions asked through his Facebook page.  He emphasized the need to respect teachers and give them “the support and professional development they need.”

Duncan also discussed the need to improve teacher evaluation and to provide students with a well-rounded education.

Click here for an accessible version of the video.

See all the topics or all videos in the playlist.

First Stakeholders Forum of 2011

Thanks to those of you who were able to join us for our first Stakeholders Forum of 2011, which featured the Secretary’s summary of our priorities for the upcoming year, an overview of the Education Dashboard, and a preview of the Department’s online map regarding School Improvement Grant activities and progress.

A transcript of the forum’s proceedings can be found here, and a video of the forum can be found here.

Our next forum in February will highlight the President’s FY 2012 budget request. Please check this site for the announcement of that forum.

Duncan Focuses on Fixing NCLB for Rural Schools

Secretary Duncan teamed up with John Hill, director of the National Rural Education Association, during a call to both journalists from rural communities and education writers who cover rural schools on Wednesday, January 26. The Secretary and Hill discussed the importance of fixing the federal mandates of No Child Left Behind that do not work for rural schools and answered questions from the media about the challenges and opportunities that rural schools have.

Listen to the call. Audio icon Read the transcript.

Education Funders Conference Call

On Monday, the day before the President’s State of the Union Address, the Department of Education hosted the first quarterly conference call of 2011 for education funders with Secretary Arne Duncan.

Secretary Duncan talked about the importance of reauthorizing ESEA, maintaining momentum for state and local education reform when education systems are facing huge budget cuts, the recent Aspen Innovation in Education Forum & Expo, the upcoming conference on Labor-Management Collaboration for Student Success, and the TEACH campaign.

Listen to the call. Audio icon Read the transcript.

Senators Join Duncan to Discuss Fixing No Child Left Behind

Secretary Duncan was joined by by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) in a national press call on January 26. The Senators, who currently serve on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, which Harkin chairs, called for fixing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, commonly known as No Child Left Behind.

Listen to the call. Audio icon Read the transcript.

State of the Union: Education Excerpts

President Obama dedicated a significant portion of his 2011 State of the Union speech to education. You can read the whole speech here.

Here are the excerpts:

Maintaining our leadership in research and technology is crucial to America’s success.  But if we want to win the future -– if we want innovation to produce jobs in America and not overseas -– then we also have to win the race to educate our kids.

Think about it.  Over the next 10 years, nearly half of all new jobs will require education that goes beyond a high school education.  And yet, as many as a quarter of our students aren’t even finishing high school.  The quality of our math and science education lags behind many other nations.  America has fallen to ninth in the proportion of young people with a college degree.  And so the question is whether all of us –- as citizens, and as parents –- are willing to do what’s necessary to give every child a chance to succeed.

That responsibility begins not in our classrooms, but in our homes and communities.  It’s family that first instills the love of learning in a child.  Only parents can make sure the TV is turned off and homework gets done.  We need to teach our kids that it’s not just the winner of the Super Bowl who deserves to be celebrated, but the winner of the science fair.  We need to teach them that success is not a function of fame or PR, but of hard work and discipline.

Our schools share this responsibility.  When a child walks into a classroom, it should be a place of high expectations and high performance.  But too many schools don’t meet this test. That’s why instead of just pouring money into a system that’s not working, we launched a competition called Race to the Top.  To all 50 states, we said, “If you show us the most innovative plans to improve teacher quality and student achievement, we’ll show you the money.”

Race to the Top is the most meaningful reform of our public schools in a generation.  For less than 1 percent of what we spend on education each year, it has led over 40 states to raise their standards for teaching and learning.  And these standards were developed, by the way, not by Washington, but by Republican and Democratic governors throughout the country.  And Race to the Top should be the approach we follow this year as we replace No Child Left Behind with a law that’s more flexible and focused on what’s best for our kids. 

You see, we know what’s possible from our children when reform isn’t just a top-down mandate, but the work of local teachers and principals, school boards and communities.  Take a school like Bruce Randolph in Denver.  Three years ago, it was rated one of the worst schools in Colorado — located on turf between two rival gangs.  But last May, 97 percent of the seniors received their diploma.  Most will be the first in their families to go to college.  And after the first year of the school’s transformation, the principal who made it possible wiped away tears when a student said, “Thank you, Ms. Waters, for showing that we are smart and we can make it.”  That’s what good schools can do, and we want good schools all across the country.

Let’s also remember that after parents, the biggest impact on a child’s success comes from the man or woman at the front of the classroom.  In South Korea, teachers are known as “nation builders.”  Here in America, it’s time we treated the people who educate our children with the same level of respect.  We want to reward good teachers and stop making excuses for bad ones.  And over the next 10 years, with so many baby boomers retiring from our classrooms, we want to prepare 100,000 new teachers in the fields of science and technology and engineering and math. 

In fact, to every young person listening tonight who’s contemplating their career choice:  If you want to make a difference in the life of our nation; if you want to make a difference in the life of a child — become a teacher.  Your country needs you. 

Of course, the education race doesn’t end with a high school diploma.  To compete, higher education must be within the reach of every American.  That’s why we’ve ended the unwarranted taxpayer subsidies that went to banks, and used the savings to make college affordable for millions of students.  And this year, I ask Congress to go further, and make permanent our tuition tax credit –- worth $10,000 for four years of college.  It’s the right thing to do. 

      Because people need to be able to train for new jobs and careers in today’s fast-changing economy, we’re also revitalizing America’s community colleges.  Last month, I saw the promise of these schools at Forsyth Tech in North Carolina.  Many of the students there used to work in the surrounding factories that have since left town.  One mother of two, a woman named Kathy Proctor, had worked in the furniture industry since she was 18 years old.  And she told me she’s earning her degree in biotechnology now, at 55 years old, not just because the furniture jobs are gone, but because she wants to inspire her children to pursue their dreams, too.  As Kathy said, “I hope it tells them to never give up.”

If we take these steps -– if we raise expectations for every child, and give them the best possible chance at an education, from the day they are born until the last job they take –- we will reach the goal that I set two years ago:  By the end of the decade, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world. 

One last point about education.  Today, there are hundreds of thousands of students excelling in our schools who are not American citizens.  Some are the children of undocumented workers, who had nothing to do with the actions of their parents. They grew up as Americans and pledge allegiance to our flag, and yet they live every day with the threat of deportation.  Others come here from abroad to study in our colleges and universities.  But as soon as they obtain advanced degrees, we send them back home to compete against us.  It makes no sense.

Now, I strongly believe that we should take on, once and for all, the issue of illegal immigration.  And I am prepared to work with Republicans and Democrats to protect our borders, enforce our laws and address the millions of undocumented workers who are now living in the shadows.  I know that debate will be difficult.  I know it will take time.  But tonight, let’s agree to make that effort.  And let’s stop expelling talented, responsible young people who could be staffing our research labs or starting a new business, who could be further enriching this nation. 


From the earliest days of our founding, America has been the story of ordinary people who dare to dream.  That’s how we win the future.

We’re a nation that says, “I might not have a lot of money, but I have this great idea for a new company.”  “I might not come from a family of college graduates, but I will be the first to get my degree.”  “I might not know those people in trouble, but I think I can help them, and I need to try.”  “I’m not sure how we’ll reach that better place beyond the horizon, but I know we’ll get there.  I know we will.”

We do big things.

Reflections on the State of the Union: Rebuilding America, One Student At A Time

Antero Garcia is one of 15 classroom teachers hired by the US Department of Education to help bridge education policy and practice.

A Classroom Teaching Fellow Responds to the President’s Jan. 25, 2011, State of the Union Address

Like millions of Americans, I watched President Obama’s State of the Union Address Tuesday. I watched it particularly with hopes that his words and vision would speak directly to me and to the ninth graders I teach every day at Manual Arts High School in South Central Los Angeles.

With shootings at two schools in Los Angeles last week, many of my colleagues anticipating being laid off at the end of the year, and student achievement showing only marginal change at my inner-city high school, the atmosphere in public education has been one of perseverance through discouragement and setback.

As the president listed the many things that will strengthen the country in his forthcoming budget proposal, I was continually reminded that none of these items is possible without an improved educational foundation. The “hard work and industry” that will drive the country toward prosperity can be achieved only by reaching out to Kimberly and Michael in my homeroom class each morning. Likewise, discussing the future of America’s science and engineering, I couldn’t help but think of Jessica and De Andre and Carlos – the students who are as inspiring as they are challenging every day. These are the youthful faces I see when Obama speaks of making sure America is “poised for progress.”

The president then offered a sobering view of education today and the challenges we are facing “that have been decades in the making.” As a teacher in a high poverty community with a dropout rate of more than 60 percent, I am reminded daily of these challenges. I feel like I know all too well how inconsistency, chaotic shifts in personnel and shifting educational agendas have all but decimated student achievement for the black and Latino students who are the sole demographic populations at my high school.

As such, I recognize and second Obama’s call to “out-educate” the rest of the world and urge him and Congress to consider making this happen by focusing on the disenfranchised and the high-poverty schools like mine. I can say I am constantly reminded of the amazing work my colleagues and I dedicate to our family of students; the Manual Arts mascot, the Toiler, stands as tribute to the students’ own perseverance.

The proposed reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act would free us from the implausible demands and outlandish goals, which still mire my classroom.

Efforts like the DREAM Act and college tax credits are essential for the success of the myriad students in my school who struggle to graduate and support their families. I am pleased with these efforts that the president defined during his speech.

And if we as a country are to take his call to respect teachers–to “reward good teachers and stop making excuses for bad ones”–it, too, will be a step that requires financial resources. Yes, it is valuable for our students to hear, “Your country needs you,” and to promote the teaching profession. However, financially, the profession needs to be able to receive financial compensation, non-privatized models of instruction, and increased resources for schools with the most need. I imagine that the teachers, students, and clerical staff at my school are curious if the bi-partisan applause that Obama’s affirmations of the teaching profession received will likewise yield the kinds of necessary resources to make this struggling system an equitable educational juggernaut.

Ultimately, however, it was Obama’s strong affirmation of the need to embrace the changing world as a result of technology that resonated with me most strongly as an educator. The president emphasized the necessity to connect “every part of America to the digital age.” And while the administration’s Blueprint to reauthorize ESEA and Race To The Top program ]will improve accountability for the current classes of students, the need to connect to the digital youth in our classrooms is imperative. Theirs are learning needs that extend beyond the traditional, factory models of education from which most public schools are operating.

Every text message sent from behind a propped textbook, every confiscated headphone and accidental ringtone going off in class is a reminder that students are communicating and producing information in ways that traditional schooling is unprepared for. Obama mentioned every way that we will move our nation into a position of continued leadership in the 21st century; however, the skills of youth to be able to foment innovation in this new paradigm require new ways to teach and connect with our students.

Our country’s success will live or die by our commitment to the students who are yawning and struggling at Manual Arts High School and similar schools that are not recognized in the same way, or have narratives as successful as Bruce Randolph High School in Denver. One of President Obama’s concluding remarks was that our nation will win the future through “ordinary people who dare to dream.” I am critically pragmatic in seeing past educational reform efforts as ones that have shunned the dreams and potential of students mired by poverty. Now is an opportunity for the country to dare to allow all youth to do more than just dream. Now is an opportunity for the country to empower all youth to achieve.

Antero Garcia
Antero Garcia is U.S. Department of Education Classroom Teaching Fellow, a UCLA doctoral candidate, and a high school English teacher at Manual Arts High School in South Central Los Angeles, Calif.

Secretary Scores in Minnesota Science Classroom

Secretary Duncan with students at Crystal Lake Elementary School

Secretary Duncan with students at Crystal Lake Elementary School

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s professional basketball experience is well known, but Lakeville, Minnesota students were thrilled to experience his team playing on a very different “court” during his visit to Crystal Lake Elementary School with U.S. Rep. John Kline and Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius in suburban Minneapolis Friday.

The three visitors each joined a team of Crystal Lake 4th graders for a rousing game of Jeopardy during science class, with Duncan among the “McFlurries,” Kline with the “Earthquakes,” and Cassellius a member of the “Ice Cubes.” Water was the theme of the classroom version for the longtime TV game show.

Kline’s team went first, choosing the category “waters to waters.” The question was, “type of precipitation depends on _____ outdoors?” The Earthquakes correctly responded with “temperatures,” and erupted with high-fives as they were awarded 50 points.

Tensions were thick for the McFlurries as they chose “water vocabulary” as their category and got the question, “crystals of ice can also be referred to ________?” Just seconds before the buzzer was sounded, Duncan’s teammate Tyler correctly blurted-out, “Snow!”

“That was clutch, boy!” exclaimed the Secretary to his beaming teammates as they celebrated the victory.

In response to students’ questions afterwards, Duncan confirmed that he does get to play basketball with the President. He also discussed the tougher aspects of his position, noting that he gets “a lot of homework” every night, including hefty reading assignments.

The Secretary, Kline and Cassellius also visited a 2nd grade English Language Learners classroom, which read a welcome letter to the visitors.

Duncan preceded the school visit with a speech hosted by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce to business, community and political leaders about the important link between education and economic prosperity, and how the President’s agenda supports reform on the K-12 level and makes college affordable for students.

“I think we’re fighting for our nation’s economic security,” he said, noting earlier that about 25% of all students currently choose to drop-out of high school, although there are virtually no good job opportunities available to them. “In a globally-competitive, knowledge-based economy, those with low skills are going to lose. Those communities with high skills and a highly-educated workforce will be successful.”

More Photos

ED staff

New Education Dashboard Brings Greater Transparency to Data

At an education stakeholders’ meeting today, Secretary Duncan announced the launch of an online tool designed to help educators, parents, students, and policy makers “have a much more transparent conversation” about what is working—and what is not working—in American education today.

Called the Education Dashboard, the site offers all 50 states’ pre-kindergarten-12th grade data around 16 key indicators that are tied to the nation’s educational goals, as well as some measures of states’ postsecondary systems. Specifically, the indicators focus on measuring progress toward realizing the President’s vision that by 2020, the United States will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.

Deputy Secretary Tony Miller explained at today’s launch that the key indicators in the Dashboard were selected because they are relevant, reliable, and measurable across all 50 states. While some of the data have been seen before, much of the information is new, including information about which state systems allow student achievement data to be incorporated into evaluations for teachers and disparities in funding between high- and low-poverty schools.

According to Miller, the data indicate that “we are a far cry from where we need to be” and show a “wide variation in what we see in both performance and trends” between states. Secretary Duncan described the Education Dashboard as a starting point, a tool to “increase the visibility and increase the debate” about best practices and how to results for students.

The Dashboard can be found at The Department welcomes feedback on the new site, which users can submit via links throughout the Dashboard.

Laurie Calvert
Laurie Calvert is a Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow on loan from her position teaching at Enka High School in Buncombe County, N.C.

Secretaries Duncan and Geithner Host Student and Parent Town Hall on Paying for College

Secretary Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner, and D.C.'s Wilson High School Assistant Principal Charlette Butler

Secretary Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner, and D.C.'s Wilson High School Assistant Principal Charlette Butler

We cannot underestimate the impact of the American Opportunity Tax Credit on 9.4 million students nationwide. This tax credit will make college more affordable for our future business leaders, scientists and teachers and help families struggling with rising tuition bills and growing student loans.

—Secretary of Education Arne Duncan

Expanded tuition tax credits for working class families, larger Pell Grants for low-income students, and making student loans more affordable for all college graduates were on the docket today as U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan joined U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner, D.C.’s Wilson High School Assistant Principal Charlette Butler, nearly 50 Wilson seniors, their teachers, parents and community leaders at the University of the District of Columbia for a town-hall style forum on the Administration’s efforts to ensure all Americans reach their college dreams. (See photos.) Wilson High School, the District’s largest comprehensive high school and boasting an impressive 90% college-going rate among graduates, is currently housed on the UDC campus while a $100 million renovation is being completed at the high school campus.

The town hall forum commenced with Secretaries Duncan and Geithner extolling the benefits of the recently extended and enhanced American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC). The credit, initially created under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and extended through 2012 as part of the Tax Relief, Unemployment Reauthorization and Job Creation Act of 2010, provides families with college tuition expenses the opportunity to claim a tax credit of up to $2,500 each year for up to four years per student. For students claiming the maximum credit for these four years, the AOTC will provide up to $10,000 to help pay for the cost of college.

The credit equals 100 percent of the first $2,000 of expenses, and 25 percent of remaining expenses, up to a total credit of $2,500. The maximum available credit for 2011 would cover about 80 percent of tuition and fees at the average two-year public institution, or about a third of tuition and fees at the average four-year public institution. In addition, the AOTC is partially refundable, meaning that low-income families with no federal income tax liability can receive up to a $1,000 tax refund to help defray college expenses.

Secretary Geithner unveiled a new Treasury Department analysis showing that 9.4 million families with college students across the nation will benefit from over $18.2 billion in tax relief to help make college more affordable and accessible in 2011. He further noted that in the District of Columbia, the Wilson Class of 2011 and nearly 16,000 families of enrolled college students across the city will be eligible to file for the tax credit this year. For parents and students struggling to pay college tuition and fees or budgeting for future student loan debt, this partially-refundable tax credit will make a positive difference in their lives.

Wilson students and parents inquired about the range of federal initiatives to assist low-income families with the rising costs of college and engaged the Secretaries on the Administration’s historic increases in the Pell Grants program as well as access to Federally subsidized student loans and college work-study programs; discussed actions taken to simplify and streamline the FAFSA form and federal financial aid process and pressed the Secretaries for opinions on the future passage of college access legislation for immigrant families like the DREAM Act. Angela Benjamin, a physics teacher at Wilson, and feted at the forum by Secretary Duncan for her recent designation as one of the seven most effective teachers in DC Public Schools, asked about the benefits of the recently expanded income-based repayment program (IBR) and whether its existing loan forgiveness provisions for teachers would be “grandfathered in” for experienced educators like herself. To the delight of the crowd, Duncan replied, “Angela, me and you lose on this one”.

However, for millions of America’s future college graduates and our nation’s future public servants, IBR will make a huge difference in their personal finances and ability to afford their student loan payments. Under IBR, borrowers who assume loans after July 1, 2014 will be able to cap their student loan repayments at 10 percent of their discretionary income. If they make their payments, all borrowers will have loan balances forgiven after 20 years. Teachers, nurses and other public servants will have any remaining student loan debt forgiven after 10 years.

To read more about what Secretary Duncan and Geithner wrote about today’s visit and the benefits of AOTC, see their blog post.

Click here for an accessible version of the video.

Todd May
Office of Communications and Outreach

Educating Our Way to a Better Economy

Secretary Arne Duncan joined Labor Secretary Hilda Solis today to announce a historic $2 billion investment in helping meet the President’s goal of having the “most-educated, most-competitive workforce in the world by 2020”: the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training Grant Program.

In our globally competitive, knowledge-based economy, employers need workers with postsecondary skills, credentials, and degrees. Our postsecondary institutions must dramatically increase their completion rates and build partnerships with industry to ensure that the skills that are being taught are the skills employers need.

These grants also represent one of the largest expansions of access to high-quality job training and educational resources in history. They are designed to use evidence to replicate success, build institutional capacity to use evidence to increase outcomes, and build a body of evidence to inform investment decisions. All learning materials created in this process—from full courses to textbooks—will be made freely available online. Additionally, institutions can apply to develop a new generation of high-quality, cutting-edge shared courses and resources to help students learn more quickly at lower costs.

This program is being run by the Department of Labor, in close collaboration with the Department of Education.

You can find the Department of Labor’s press release at

You can find the solicitation for grant applications at

Amy Laitinen
Office of Vocational and Adult Education