The Presidential Election: A Lesson in Civics

As a social studies teacher, I’m always excited to teach students about their legal rights, our political system and how they can become engaged citizens. However, that excitement kicks up a notch during a presidential election year because I’m reminded of the importance of teaching students how to become engaged citizens. As a social studies teacher, it’s up to me to set the foundation for my students so they will be able to engage productively.

Exchanging ideas in civics class. (Photo courtesy of the author)

Exchanging ideas in civics class. (Photo courtesy of the author)

Each year around Constitution Day (September 17), the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania releases data showcasing some Americans’ limited understanding of civics and government. Two alarming statistics from their most recent study: three-quarters of respondents could not name all three branches of government, and thirty-one percent of respondents could not name one branch. This data provides a yearly reminder about how important it is for me to arm my students with this knowledge so they can become informed citizens who don’t end up as one of those statistics.

Read More

Veteran Teacher Shares Hopes for the New Year

Secretary King and senior officials got on the bus and went back to school this week during #OpportunityTour, which visited exemplary PK-12 schools and institutions of higher education and celebrated local ideas and initiatives across several southern states, including Alabama. This week’s edition of Voice from the Classroom brings us perspective from the 2008 Alabama Teacher of the Year, Dr. Pamela Harman.

After teaching for more than 20 years, I can say that everything about a new school year is exciting (except maybe having to wear shoes).

When I was a new teacher, the beginning of the school year intimidated me. I was nervous about both my content knowledge and my pedagogy. So my goals for the year focused on improving my practice and strengthening my teaching skills. I worked to deepen my science content knowledge, and I developed a repertoire of instructional skills and habits of mind necessary to promote my students’ success and capacity for life-long learning. It was difficult for me to push students’ learning because I was still honing the skills I needed to teach and evaluate it.

Read More

Empowering Students Through Nutrition This School Year

Healthy meals can lead to success during the school year. (Photo courtesy USDA)

Healthy meals can lead to success during the school year. (Photo courtesy USDA)

Reading, writing, and arithmetic aren’t the only things our nation’s children will be learning this school year!

Schools have made major strides in helping students learn the importance of healthy eating through balanced meals and nutrition education. Now that kids and teens are boarding their buses for another school year, the entire school community has the opportunity to build on that momentum by continuing to increase access to nutritious meals and encourage healthy habits.

Read More

The Arts for All Students in All Content Classes

Acrylic paint, sidewalk chalk, and calligraphy pens are staples of my English class. These items, along with reciting poetry and acting out scenes from plays allow my students to communicate through a variety of mediums, and to integrate their creative capabilities into their everyday learning.

In 2001, I walked into my 6th grade classroom ready to share my love of reading and writing. However, I soon discovered that my students were in need of much more than an enthusiastic teacher with an English degree. I needed to engage them and make them want to learn.

Stacey Dallas Johnston incorporates the arts in her English classes. (Photo courtesy of the author.)

Stacey Dallas Johnston incorporates the arts in her English classes. (Photo courtesy of the author)

My students that year struggled with the basics of reading and writing. Many had already decided that they hated school, and could already be labeled as chronic absentees. Instead of teaching Shakespeare, I was struggling to keep students engaged. I too struggled that year. It took a few months, but The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster was the gateway into exploring the arts. We broke the story into parts and acted it out, we made 3D models and we wrote poems as the main character. It was a start.

Read More

Setting the Foundation for Good Attendance

As a Pre-K teacher, I have the unique opportunity to be one of the first educators to set the foundation for good attendance with parents and students. Since I am required to have an interview with each family and student before the school year begins, I take advantage of the interview to explain the attendance rules and expectations. I explain to parents that attendance is the basis of education for all students and that it is state law that they attend class. My campus, J.J. Pickle, hosts many recent immigrant families who often aren’t familiar with school procedures and laws pertaining to education. Reviewing policies with parents is a way to avoid confusion and unnecessary absences.

Attendance is important at every age! (Photo courtesy of the author)

Attendance is important at every age! (Photo courtesy of the author)

It can be challenging when parents believe that early childhood education is more like a daycare setting rather than an academic one, so they don’t see the problem with their children missing a few days. But I am proud to say that my classroom is academically rigorous — for four year olds. I have had students enter my class not knowing any letters, but they often leave reading by the end of year with significant gains in learning English.

Read More

We Need to Talk About it: Supportive Environments are a Necessity for Quality Schooling

Students at Camino Nuevo Charter Academy. (Photo courtesy of the author)

Students at Camino Nuevo Charter Academy. (Photo courtesy of the author)

Students excel when they feel both welcomed and supported. At Camino Nuevo Charter Academy (CNCA), we believe that quality schooling is dependent upon quality relationships with students and families. This philosophy creates a space to better serve our community in a socially just way.

That’s why CNCA created and sustained an educational model that uses the per-pupil funding that we receive from the state to support strategic resources like full-time mental health practitioners and professional development for teachers and administrators on trauma-sensitive instruction. We also conduct home visits and teach ethnic studies as part of the curriculum to both affirm our relationships with students and to assist them in navigating life circumstances. We’ve found that these types of school climate investments help our students redirect energy to learning and it shows in their academic performance.

Read More

Learning to Let Go: It’s Time for Preschool

This year, I sent my youngest child to preschool.

Over the summer, we had the luxury of hours of cuddle time, reading books together, jumping on the trampoline and building endless Lego and wood block structures.

Chowin' down! (photo courtesy of the author)

Chowin’ down! (photo courtesy of the author)

But now, it’s time for him to start his preschool journey – and I’m feeling a little hesitant about a few things.

First, I am really going to miss him every day. What if other kids say harsh things to him and his feelings get hurt? What if he trips and falls? Or, what if he has an accident and the teachers don’t comfort him as well as I can?

I’m worried about a lot – but I’m also very excited.

Noé’s preschool is diverse in a number of ways. Students are as young as two years old or as old as five. The student population is also made up of kids from different socio-economic backgrounds, as well as different ethnic and language backgrounds. Additionally, some families have a generational history of high levels of education while other may or may not have attained high school diplomas.

Every day, the teachers set up learning stations where students can create, arrange, construct, converse, act out, write, draw or play together.

Read More

Finding My Voice and Sharing My Story with Secretary King

Jamie Talley (in white), a NAEHCY scholarship recipient, sharing her views with Secretary King.

Jamie Talley (in white) is a NAEHCY scholarship recipient.

My name is Jamie Talley, I am a National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth (NAEHCY) scholarship recipient. I experienced homelessness, and I work every day to make myself someone different than the family I was born into.

I was blessed with the opportunity to go to Washington D.C., with other NAEHCY scholars. There is one moment that I will remember forever.

You’ve been given the opportunity to sit at the table and make a difference, so make it count.

That moment was when it actually dawned on me just what was taking place. These may not have been his exact words, but this was the point Sam Ryan, Special Assistant and Youth Liaison at the U.S. Department of Education, was making just before Secretary John B. King, Jr., entered the room.

Read More

Making the Impossible Possible as a Migrant Student

Blog author Yesenia Solis. (Photo courtesy the author)

Blog author Yesenia Solis. (Photo courtesy the author)

Months ago, traveling to Washington, D.C., seemed unbelievable to me, but recently this is exactly what I did. I am a rising senior from Avenal, California, and I want to someday be part of the government to make a change. So, thanks to the Ivy League Project – a program that encourages economically disadvantaged students to apply to the most prestigious universities in America – I was able to travel across the country to visit the Department of Education and several famous schools along the East Coast.

Read More

A Celebration of Professional Careers in the Arts With Savanah College of Art and Design

On July, 21, 2016, the Department of Education’s (ED) newest student art exhibit — featuring works crafted by both B.F.A. and M.F.A. students in painting, photography, printmaking and illustration from Georgia-based Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) — was unveiled as opening ceremonies took place at ED’s headquarters.

Throughout the proceedings, SCAD demonstrated the qualities that cement its position as a top-tier college of the arts, and the essence of its mission statement — that the Savannah College of Art and Design exists to prepare talented students for professional careers, emphasizing learning through individual attention in a positively oriented university environment — shone through to all the guests.

If one thing stood out above all else on opening day, though, it was the deep and undeniable impression that SCAD leaves upon its students. In addition to SCAD artists’ mastery of their mediums, unveiled at the opening, they benefit from the college’s full commitment to supporting their continuous growth and aiding them in developing their career paths beyond graduation.

Attendees at the SCAD art exhibit opening take a moment to appreciate and admire the new pieces of art on display.

Attendees at the SCAD art exhibit opening take a moment to appreciate and admire the new pieces of art on display.

Read More

Building the Next Generation of Assessments in Education

Cross-posted from the White House blog.


Summary: Thanks to recent advances in technology and in the data sciences, a new era of assessment is on the way in education.

In October 2015, in a Testing Action Plan, President Obama called for a new approach to testing and assessment to better serve students.  The plan outlines a set of principles to reduce the time spent on standardized tests, and improve the quality and usefulness of tests for students and educators, including building new and more innovative technological-based assessment tools.  More recently, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) released its proposed regulations on assessments under Title I of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which the President signed in December 2015, to clarify how states can utilize a number of innovative approaches to assessment, including better integration of technology.  ED also published draft regulations for public comment on the Innovative Assessment Demonstration Authority under Title I part B of the ESSA, which will allow states to pilot new approaches in a subset of districts as an alternative to statewide tests as they work to scale innovative tests statewide.  Read more here.

These steps by Congress and the Administration are creating conditions whereby educational technology can help transform how tests are delivered while reducing the amount of classroom time spent on assessment.  With the emergence of next-generation web- and app-based assessments, students are now engaging in activities and games that measure knowledge and performance in real time and provide immediate results. These new forms of technology regularly track progress toward mastery of grade level content, adapt and support learning to meet individual needs, and generate teacher reports to inform instruction.  The best learning games allow students to play through hard, complex challenges and demonstrate mastery by succeeding at the game itself, making assessment engaging and rewarding.

Read More

“Advocacy is an Obligation, Not a Choice”: NBCDI Parent Power BootCamp

As President and CEO of the National Black Child Development Institute (NBCDI) I have the privilege of speaking before many audiences, but I’ve never been more excited to come before a group — and to hear the immediate feedback about the impact of the day — than I was during National Black Child Development Week. Themed “A Week of Action,” the centerpiece of the week was NBCDI’s first Parent Power BootCamp. Held in partnership with the U.S. Department of Education (ED), the Parent Power BootCamp brought parents, caregivers and advocates together to “Get In-formation” – focusing both on exchanging knowledge and action planning to get in position to do the work of being relentless advocates and accountability agents on behalf of our children.

Caring and concerned adults wrote lessons learned and messages of affirmation to parent advocates across the nation. (Photo credit: National Black Child Development Institute)

Caring and concerned adults wrote lessons learned and messages of affirmation to parent advocates across the nation. (Photo credit: National Black Child Development Institute)

Read More