“Let’s Move!” Rolls to a Rocking Rhythm

Harlem Globe Trotter Anthony Blakes shoots hoops with kids attending a “Let’s Move!” family fun fair at the Harlem Children’s Zone in NYC, which included participation from regional ED staffers.

Last week Secretary Duncan joined First Lady Michelle Obama on a phone call to congratulate schools that have started Let’s Move! programs and to encourage other schools to do the same. This was a check-in after one year of the initiative.

ED has done its part to support the effort by participating in commemorative events across the country. From joining kids in a giant Kansas City conga line to teaching students to make fruit and veggie smoothies in Keene, NH, ED’s regional communications and outreach staff worked with HHS and USDA counterparts to highlight progress towards healthy lifestyles at nationwide events in February. They helped to identify great school-based fitness and nutrition programs to showcase in their regions and were part of joint federal teams to generate strong community participation for those activities aimed at supporting the First Lady’s campaign that combats childhood obesity.

Regional staff members were active participants at 9 of the Let’s Move! events. Their contributions were diverse. The Philadelphia office discussed the vital link between healthy habits and academic achievement and later helped at the Bethlehem, PA, Broughal Middle School celebration. The Denver office participated in the Commerce City, CO, family fair. At events respectively in Keene, NH, and Grand Prairie, TX, the Boston and Dallas offices encouraged students to try celebrity chefs’ nutritious culinary treats at home. The Kansas City office attended several local activities, including an opportunity to rock-n-roll alongside Ingles Elementary School students. Chicago office staff performed stretches led by “Benny the Bull,” the Chicago Bulls’ mascot, with students of Chicago’s Namaste Charter School. And New York helped guide families to diverse exhibits aimed at inspiring healthy food and fitness choices at New York City’s Harlem Children’s Zone — the inspiration for ED’s Promise Neighborhoods program.

The Atlanta office joined the First Lady at Atlanta Public Schools’ Burgess-Peterson Academy, where Mrs. Obama handed-out fresh blueberries to excited students and teachers, and toured the organic garden.

“It’s a conversation about what our kids eat and how active they are,” Mrs. Obama later told parents and community leaders at North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, near Atlanta.  She said that it’s “about how they feel about themselves, and about what that means — not just their physical and emotional health, but for their success in school and in life.”

Julie Ewart is the Senior Public Affairs Specialist in the Chicago Regional Office. She is the mother of three school-aged children.

Increasing Support for High-Need Rural Schools

At a time when the new normal means increasing productivity to do more with less, the Obama Administration is doing more to guide high-need rural school leaders to federal resources that some are not aware exist outside of education.

While school leaders often turn to the Department of Education for support, they have asked senior officials where else to look for federal support for rural schools. The Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development offices provide a national infrastructure of support and assistance particularly for high-poverty rural communities.

To increase access to federal resources where they are needed most, the Secretaries of Education and Agriculture, Arne Duncan and Tom Vilsack, are working collaboratively to guide rural school leaders and stakeholders to programs and funding available through their local USDA Rural Development offices. USDA Rural Development can help with school construction, renovation, teacher housing, home loan assistance for teachers and administrators, distance learning and broadband technology, and even a school bus replacement grant for a community facility.

Senior staff members within both departments in Washington D.C., the Department of Education’s 10 regional offices, and USDA’s state offices are coordinating on a direct outreach campaign to fulfill the secretaries’ commitment to bring new resources to high-need rural schools.

The following table provides examples of how USDA Rural Development programs can provide needed support for rural schools [MS Word]. Rural school leaders should contact their USDA state office for assistance with accessing Rural Development programs, http://www.rurdev.usda.gov/StateOfficeAddresses.html .

The two departments have hosted a series of conference calls with rural school leaders, advocacy groups, and other stakeholders. The transcripts of those calls provide additional details on how USDA programs can provide critical support for high-need rural schools.

Revolution of Rising Expectations: Youth at the National Youth Summit Raise their Voices

There are so many things I never asked you
There are so many things I still don’t know
There are so many things you never told me
And still so many things that I will never know
and why, cuz I went to City High (City High Anthem by City High)


After attending this weekend’s Voices in Action National Youth Summit at Howard University, I haven’t been able shake the 2001 “City High Anthem” lyrics.  Repeatedly throughout the event, I heard teens from 30 states call on our country’s schools to take them seriously and give them access to a quality education.

In a private conversation with Secretary Arne Duncan the day before the summit, ten teen leaders spoke passionately about the need for their voice in the educational discourse.  “I want future generations to have a better education than I do,” Stephanie told Arne.  Candace, a student member of the Alliance for Educational Justice, concurred.  “Education is a right,” she told the Secretary.  “Right now teachers are getting bored,” another explained, “so they can’t be creative and teach to their full potential.”

The emphasis of the February 26 summit was President Obama’s goal that by 2020, the country will once again lead the world in college completion.  Throughout the day this objective was emphasized, repeated, and even celebrated through speeches, discussions, and a rap video called “2020 Vision.”  But I couldn’t help but be disheartened by the number of times students testified about how their schools have let them down.

The complexity of their situation became especially clear to me during a “deep dive” breakout session for rural students, where 17 of 25 students placed themselves in a group whose counselors and teachers never talk to them about college.  Never. As a teacher who preaches from the college handbook on a daily basis, I was astounded.  How does this happen?  When I probed for answers from the students, one boy shrugged and said, “I guess they don’t think any of us are going.”  Sophia explained, “People see our (Kentucky) culture and they don’t see us.”

I think she’s right.  We have lowered expectation for many of our students.  As teachers, we nod to the idea that everyone can go to college, but in reality we don’t walk our talk.

Omari Scott Simmons, Associate Professor of Law at Wake Forest University School of Law and the Executive Director of the Simmons Memorial Foundation, a nonprofit organization promoting college access for vulnerable students makes this point in his Feb. 25 Huffington Post blog.   Simmons argues that low-income, minority, and first-generation students are less likely to go to college, but not for the reasons we think.  Usually we blame the gaps in their learning on the cost of college tuition, but the real culprit is a system made of counselors and teachers who don’t discuss college with these students.  They suffer from their school’s low expectations of them—expectations that students and this rally say they must fight against every day.

As Sophia told me, “We wanna prove them wrong.”

Laurie Calvert
Laurie Calvert is a Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow on loan from Buncombe County Schools in North Carolina.

In L.A., Duncan Promotes Teaching as a Starring Role for Latinos

In L.A., Duncan Promotes Teaching as a Starring Role for Latinos

As part of the NBA All-Star Weekend, Arne affirmed his commitment to the arts and his gratitude to the NBA and corporate sponsors by serving for a day in area schools. Here Arne paints an urban mural with students at Virgil Middle School. The NBA and its corporate partners donated professional-grade equipment and computers to the school.

During a visit to Los Angeles last week, Secretary Duncan and a handful of celebrities challenged an energetic group of Latino students to change their community by doing two things: going to college and becoming teachers.

The roundtable discussion at Edward A. Roybal Learning Center included a star-powered panel of education advocates: boxing great Oscar De La Hoya; Grammy-award-winner John Legend; Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, several classroom teachers, and Arne.

In L.A., Duncan Promotes Teaching as a Starring Role for Latinos

While in L.A., Arne participated in a BBVA All-Star basketball game, playing against teen star, Justin Bieber. Bieber was awarded MVP, though Duncan’s team won the game that was part of the NBA’s All-Star Weekend.

Duncan stressed the importance of recruiting Latino teachers to educate the most rapidly growing demographic in our nation’s public schools. Mayor Villaraigosa shared that more than 70 percent of the Los Angeles Unified School District’s students are Latino, yet fewer than 25 percent of the district’s teachers are of Latino descent.

Duncan argued that Latinos who are concerned about social justice should view education as the single greatest civil rights issue of our time. De La Hoya, a product of East Los Angeles, shared a powerful story of his high school government teacher, Mr. Benson, who changed his life forever and provided him the strength, confidence and encouragement to persevere and become a gold medal Olympian and prizefighter.

In L.A., Duncan Promotes Teaching as a Starring Role for Latinos

Boxing great and education advocate Oscar de la Hoya responds to a question from the students. Latino high school students in Los Angeles expressed concern with state budget cuts to public institutions of higher learning.

As the discussion about the teaching profession concluded and the moderator fielded questions from the audience of primarily Latino high school students, the tone of the conversation shifted. Students cried out for access to higher education so frequently that it emerged as the central theme. They asked very thoughtful, critical questions to Secretary Duncan about the DREAM Act, PELL grants, and making college more accessible to students like them.

As a Latino male and an educator, I am highly encouraged by the Obama administration’s dedication to recruiting more Latinos to the teaching profession. As the Hispanic population in our nation continues to grow at an unprecedented rate, the future of our nation will depend on how effective we are in educating these students. Mi gente, our time is NOW. Change your community: TEACH!

Jeffrey Camarillo

Jeff Camarillo is a Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow who works at East Palo Alto Academy High School, a Stanford New School in East Palo Alto, Calif.

TEACH Roundtable, NBA All-Star Celebrity Game

NBA All-Star Celebrity GameSecretary Arne Duncan visited Los Angeles on February 18. 

In the morning, he participated in a roundtable on TEACH, a campaign to increase the number and diversity of people seeking to become teachers, particularly in high-need schools and high-demand subject areas.  (Read his remarks.) Other participants included Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Grammy-award winning artist John Legend, Olympic gold medalist and boxer Oscar de la Hoya, and some 400 students and 100 education stakeholders.  See photos.

Later in the day, Secretary Duncan played in the 2011 NBA All-Star Celebrity Game on February 15 in Los Angeles.  See photos.

Equity and Excellence Commission Meeting Feb 22

On February 17, Secretary Duncan announced the appointment of 28 education advocates, civil rights leaders, scholars, lawyers, and corporate leaders to the Department of Education’s Equity and Excellence Commission.

The new commission will examine the impact of school finance on educational opportunity and recommend ways school finance can be improved to increase equity and achievement.

The commission will meet for the first time in a public session on February 22 from 10 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. in Barnard Auditorium at the Department of Education building at 400 Maryland Avenue, SW in Washington, D.C., to discuss the scope of its work, outreach efforts, and the timetable for completion of its report.

If you’d like to attend the event, please send an e-mail to equitycommission@ed.gov with your name, and (if applicable) organization and title.

In addition, we will be streaming the meeting live, in an effort to make the event available to those outside of the Washington, DC, area.  Beginning at 10:00 a.m. (EST) on the 22nd, anyone wishing to watch the meeting can do so at:

http://www.ustream.tv/channel/education-department.  (No registration for this live streaming is necessary.)

For more information, please see the commission website and the February 17 press release announcing commission members.

‘National Conversations’ Connect English Learner Stakeholders in Dallas and Chicago

‘National Conversations’ Connect English Learner Stakeholders in Dallas and Chicago

Jose Rico, deputy director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, led the NCELE forum in Chicago Feb. 10-11.

More than 250 participants braved ice storms in Dallas and just-above zero temperatures in Chicago to attend sessions on February 10-11 that kicked-off the “National Conversations on English Learner Education” (NCELE), a U.S. Department of Education initiative to bring key stakeholders together with federal officials in six cities. The purpose of these conversations the NCELEs is to engage in dynamic and meaningful discussions about ensuring quality education for English learners in the 21st century.

The Dallas conversation was led by Rosalinda B. Barrera, assistant deputy secretary and director of the Office of English Language Acquisition, and Juan Sepúlveda, executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.  Jose Rico, deputy director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, led the Chicago forum.

“English learners are the fastest growing student population in America. They represent 10% of the nation’s students in grades K-12,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. By video, he welcomed Chicago and Dallas educators, school administrators, researchers, parents, students, advocates and policymakers to the NCELE.

‘National Conversations’ Connect English Learner Stakeholders in Dallas and Chicago

Araceli Ordaz, ELL Coordinator, Joliet Public School District 86, signs up for one of the many small group discussions developed by fellow participants at the NCELE meeting in Chicago Feb. 10-11.

Noting that many of the nearly 4.7 million English learners currently attend K-12 schools “in areas of the country with less experience serving these students,” Secretary Duncan stressed the importance of the NCELE forums.

“Your work and collaboration is important and essential to reforms in the way we educate English learner students,” he said.  “Your ideas will inform the national dialogue about how to educate ELs.”

While the Dallas and Chicago sessions occurred more than 800 miles apart, they were often connected by streaming video to enable participants from each site to benefit from the other’s discussions.   People who were interested in the conversations but couldn’t attend were able to observe them online.  Although high tech broadened the discussions’ scope, their focus was relaxed and individualized.

“We all know that the best conversations often occur during coffee breaks,” said Rico, at the beginning of the 2nd day’s session in Chicago.  “Consider this a day-long coffee break.”

Dispensing with traditional conference format, participants were invited to develop discussion topics, lead small group conversations, and report to the total audience the key points and recommendations that were generated.  In Chicago alone, more than 15 small group discussions occurred on topics ranging from how the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act may address English learners to the preparation that colleges of education are providing future teachers of English learners.   Registration information for National Conversations on English Learner Education in Los Angeles and Seattle, March 7-8, and in New York City and Charlotte, NC April 11-12 , are at http://www.ncela.gwu.edu/meetings/2011elconversation/.  Key feedback gained from both the Chicago and Dallas sessions will also be posted at that site as it becomes available.

Julie Ewart
Office of Communications and Outreach, Region V

Secretary Duncan Promotes FAFSA Completion Pilot in Denver

This pilot program, along with the amazing support of the Denver Scholarship Foundation’s Future Centers, will give our students the tools and help necessary to complete the FAFSA. It will give more and more of our students the edge they need to secure financial aid to support their college goals.

— Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg.

Duncan Promotes FAFSA Completion PilotInitiatives to simplify the free application for federal student aid (FAFSA) and the Department’s new pilot program to ensure more students and families successfully complete it were on the agenda as Secretary of Education Arne Duncan joined Colorado Lieutenant Governor Joe Garcia, Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg, students, parents, teachers and business and community leaders at Denver’s Manual High School for a town-hall style forum.  The community forum focused on federal, state and local efforts to help Denver public school students access and receive the financial aid necessary to reach and complete their college and career goals.

Following a tour of Manual’s renowned Future Center college counseling suite and a dialogue with students completing the online FAFSA, forum participants launched into a discussion on strategies to increase college enrollment rates and ways to maximize the number of students who apply for and subsequently obtain federal financial aid.

Research indicates that 90% of students who complete the FAFSA will enroll in postsecondary education.  Yet many students who would qualify for aid fail to successfully complete the FAFSA.  Armed with this data, last year ED launched a pilot program to provide Denver and 19 other districts across the country with information on which of their students have successfully completed the FAFSA and those that have not.  When fully implemented, the program will provide real-time updates of FAFSA completion data and enable high school counselors to follow-up with students–repeatedly, if necessary–to ensure they receive the support they need to complete the FAFSA.  In Denver, this could pay huge dividends and move the needle dramatically on the 41% of the class of 2010 that successfully completed the FAFSA, and more significantly, the 53% of graduates that enrolled in college this past fall.

The student-centric dialogue featured questions regarding the array of federal student aid programs, initiatives to improve low-performing schools and institute a college-going culture in our nation’s high schools, and the future of college access legislation for immigrant families like the DREAM Act.  Sir Martin, a first generation college-going senior, asked Secretary Duncan about the best ways to motivate students and convince them of the importance of education.  The Secretary turned the question back on Sir and asked, “What motivates you?”  In an eloquent and emotional response, Sir described a past filled with challenges, and a choice during his high school years to follow a path of uncertainty, or one of promise.  Sir chose to pursue an education and devoted himself to reaching his college and life dreams.

The opportunity to pursue a world-class education and succeed should be based on merit, not money.  To help young deserving scholars like Sir earn their college degree, the President’s 2012 budget proposal builds on what has been the largest expansion in college student aid since the GI bill and commits over $181 billion in direct student aid and tax relief.  These investments are vital to achieving the President’s goal that, by 2020, the United States will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.

Todd May
Office of Communications and Outreach

Winston-Salem Forsyth County Schools: Collaboration Over Competition

Conference Participant, Winston-Salem Forsyth County Schools Focuses on Collaboration over Competition

Left to right: Tripp Jeffers, President, Forsyth County Association of Educator; Donny C. Lambeth, Chairman, Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Board of Education; Arne Duncan; Don Martin, Superintendent; Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools. (Photo courtesy of Tripp Jeffers via Twitter.)

At this week’s labor-management conference, 150 teams of districts are meeting to discuss ways to work together to improve student achievement. The fifth largest school system in North Carolina and the 83rd largest in the country, Winston-Salem Forsyth County Schools is one of many districts there that has cultivated a strong, collaborative relationship among with labor leaders.

In the Winston-Salem district, the long-standing relationship between the Forsyth County Association of Educators (FCAE) and the district has supported several of innovative projects:

  • Annual surveys of teachers, first developed collaboratively more than 20 years ago, capture information about working climate and school conditions. The data are used to inform professional development activities and principals’ evaluations.
  • FCAE members serve on multiple committees at the district level, sharing responsibility with district leaders and board of education members for initiatives such as the district’s grant from the Department’s Teacher Incentive Fund and Race to the Top applications.
  • FCAE participates in the district’s Teacher Advisory Committee, which allows for teacher input in district vision and policy.

The district uses the North Carolina Teacher Evaluation Process (adopted in 2008). FCAE provides the teacher training on the evaluation process, which asks principals to assess teacher progress using a rubric that details four levels of performance (Developing, Proficient, Accomplished, and Distinguished). Ratings are based on classroom observations and examples of work compiled by teachers as evidence of their practice. Beginning this school year, documentation for at least one standard must include an example of student growth data, including SAS EVAAS (Education Value-Added Assessment System) results or other approved measures. The local and state teachers’ associations collaborate to provide much of the targeted professional development given to teachers as part of the evaluation and growth process.

Superintendent Donald Martin says the value of the relationship with the teachers’ association is immeasurable. “It is hard to put into words,” he says, “the value of a collaborative relationship with the teachers’ association that is built on mutual trust. The residual benefits are great, and we probably take them for granted.”

Conference Promotes Labor-Management Collaboration

School districts and labor leaders from across the country are convening in Denver for the two-day conference on Labor Management collaboration.  The first-of-its-kind conference aims to identify ways that collaborative relationships, policies and agreements can more directly drive student achievement.  In total, 150 districts will be represented by their superintendent, school board president, and labor leader.

Many of the participating districts have already developed diverse and innovative approaches for navigating the challenges of labor-management collaboration – approaches that allow them to meet the unique needs of their communities while maintaining a consistent focus on student achievement.

In host city Denver, they have the ProComp system that rewards whole schools and individual teachers for learning gains and for working in hard-to-staff schools.

In Baltimore, the district and the union have set up management committees to facilitate their new contract, which includes a new program jointly focused on professional development and student learning.

And in Los Angeles, the Green Dot Public Schools contract sets aside preparation time and defines the teacher workday by areas of responsibility rather than hours.

These districts and many others across the country are pointing the way forward.  They exemplify what’s possible when labor and management work together to boost student achievement, and they embody the 10 key “Principles in Action” that the conference is focused around:

  1. Strategic Direction-Setting
  2. Clear and Shared Responsibility for Academic Outcomes of All Students
  3. Supporting the Growth and Improvement of Teachers and Leaders
  4. School Design, Schedules, Teacher Workload, and Time
  5. Teacher Evaluation
  6. Administrator Evaluation
  7. School Board Evaluation
  8. Transfer, Assignment, and Reduction in Force
  9. Compensation and Benefits
  10. Dynamic Decision-Making and Problem-Solving

These districts also echo principles outlined in “A New Compact for Student Success,” which lays out core tenets of student-centered labor-management relationships.  Written collaboratively by the Department and conference co-sponsors, the compact calls on school boards, district and building administrators, and teachers’ union leaders to acknowledge their shared responsibility to establish a strong and stable school environment, and to give educators resources and tools to transform all schools so that all students receive a genuine opportunity to obtain a high-quality education.

For more information about the conference, click here.