Budget Makes Tough Choices to Invest in Education

President Obama is making deeps cuts in spending to provide investments in education in the fiscal 2012 budget he released today.

Some of these cuts will come in programs the President cares about deeply. But he believes that investing in education is essential to America’s long-term prosperity.

Read more about the budget in:

How to Play Catch Up in Math (While Moving Students Forward)

Guest Blog:  John Seelke, High School Math Teacher

This item comes from John Seelke, a high school math teacher and 2007 Presidential Awardee in Math and Science Teaching (PAEMST) in Washington, D.C..  I met John at a teacher town hall with Secretary Duncan at SiriusXM in July.  At the time, I was struck by his passion for teaching and reaching at-risk students.  He recently passed along a strategy called “Remediation through Acceleration,” which he uses to help students who are behind in math while teaching the regular curriculum.  –Laurie Calvert, Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow

How to Play Catch Up in Math (While Moving Students Forward)For years, math teachers have faced the conundrum of what to do with students who are in their class but are not fully prepared to tackle the grade-level material. For some teachers, the solution has been to focus on remediation (for example, spending weeks on positive and negative numbers in an Algebra I class). I found this strategy unsatisfying, however, because it continually leaves students with gaps in their knowledge, and those gaps are simply passed on to the following year’s teacher.

As a new teacher at McKinley Technology High School, I struggled to get kids caught up while also teaching them the material within the curriculum.  Fortunately, my principal introduced to me the idea of “remediation through acceleration.” The concept introduces students to higher-level thinking and higher-level problems. Within the context of those problems, the teacher offers remediation to students who need it.

On the first day of the school year, I adopted this method in the first lesson for my pre-calculus class. Instead of spending the class on review, I had the students create a unit circle, using concepts they should have learned from previous classes (plotting points, using a protractor, etc.). By the end of the second day of class, students had used the assignment to create a unit circle and a sine and cosine graph. By monitoring each student’s progress at every step, I could tell which students struggled with math concepts, and I targeted them individually. Most importantly, the students moved ahead with important material in the pre-calculus class and felt proud that they were learning something new.

Download from the IES Clearinghouse: Research on Helping Struggling Students in Math.

Supporting Reform While Maintaining a Commitment to At-Risk Students

Cross-posted from the The Hill’s Congress blog.

President Obama firmly believes that all children deserve a world-class education. When he says all children, he means all – regardless of their race, ethnicity, disability, native language, income level or zip code.

The President’s proposal to fix NCLB focuses on schools and students at-risk, and on meaningful reforms that will help these students succeed. The plan will maintain the federal government’s formula programs serving disadvantaged students, English learners, migrant children, and students with disabilities. Many people are speculating that the President wants to make these programs competitive. They are wrong. The President is committed to keeping the historic federal role of providing funding for students who need it most. He does not want the programs dedicated to at-risk students to become competitive. And he does not want to reduce the funds distributed by formula.

The President does believe there’s a role for competitive funding in education reform – and that these programs will benefit at-risk students. For too long in education, we have failed to recognize and reward success at the state, local or school level.  The Race to the Top program changed that. It spurred innovation, rewarded stakeholders working together to implement reform, and gave states incentives to raise their academic standards, invest in the teaching profession, use data to improve schools, and focus on fixing their lowest-performing schools. Through Race to the Top, 46 states developed comprehensive plans to advance these reforms. Eleven states and the District of Columbia are leading the way on them. Race to the Top created incentives for 41 states to voluntarily adopt college and career ready standards. This will raise expectations for all students and end a practice of setting a low bar that was particularly harmful to poor and minority students.

With just 1 percent of the annual education spending, Race to the Top states are blazing a path for reforms for decades to come. They are creating innovative solutions and effective practices that will benefit all students.

This powerful combination of formula funding supporting at-risk students and competitive funding for reform will position America to win the global race in education. It will ensure that all students, including our most at-risk, receive the world-class education they deserve.

Arne Duncan is the Secretary of Education.

Secretary Duncan on Fixing NCLB and Elevating the Teaching Profession

“We’re absolutely committed to…[fixing No Child Left Behind] and doing it in a bipartisan way as we move forward this year,” Secretary Duncan said in this video response to questions.  “It’s too punitive, it’s too prescriptive, it’s led to a dummying down of standards, and it’s led to a narrowing of the curriculum.  We have to fix all of those things.”

“We’re also going to do everything we can to elevate the teaching profession,” he said.  “The President talked about in other countries like South Korea, teachers are seen as nation builders.  That’s exactly what they are here.  We need to recognize them as such.”

Duncan also talked about recruiting “the next generation of great talent” into the teaching profession and the TEACH.gov website.

Click here for an accessible version of the video.

See all the topics or all videos in the playlist.

Secretary Calls for “Increased Rigor and Relevance” in CTE Pathways

On Wednesday, the Harvard Graduate School of Education released a major report on the state of career and technical education (CTE) in America.

The study, titled Pathways to Prosperity: Meeting the Challenge of Preparing Young Americans for the 21st Century, calls for a more comprehensive career pathways network that better serves American youth in high school and beyond

Secretary Arne Duncan began his remarks with a challenge for educators:   prepare students for futures of their own making. “I start with the basic premise that it is the responsibility of K-12 educators to prepare all students for both college and a career. This must be ‘both/and,’ not ‘either/or.’ High school graduates themselves – not the educational system – should be choosing the postsecondary and career paths they want to pursue.”

He praised the report for envisioning “a new system of career and technical education that constitutes a radical departure from the vocational education of the past.  The need for the transformation is pressing.  I applaud your report’s frank discussion of the shortcomings of our current CTE system and its call to strengthen the rigor and relevance of career and technical education.”

Secretary Duncan spoke candidly about some of the problems plaguing CTE programs across the country, but argued that too many people “assume that career and technical training is for the last century, not this one.”

Before taking questions from the audience, Secretary Duncan closed out his remarks with a call to action:  “I am admittedly impatient for reform. But patience is not called for in the face of opportunity gaps.  Children get only one chance at an education. They cannot wait on reform. It is time to finish the transformation of the old vocational education system into the new CTE.”

To read Secretary Duncan’s complete remarks, click here.

Parents As Teachers (PAT) Coordinator Offers Preschool Activity for Parents

Teaching Expert Offers Pre-K Strategy for Parents: Name Envelopes

I am the Parents as Teachers (PAT) Coordinator in Leander, Texas. PAT is a program that serves families with children from birth to age five to build strong foundations for academic success.  I believe parents are a child’s first and best teacher and that learning begins at home.

Parents often ask me when is the right time to begin introducing letter recognition activities, what letters to start with, and how to go about teaching the ABCs in a meaningful and fun way.  I always suggest that parents start with what is important to their child…their name!

One activity that parents may want to use, as part of a larger strategy to build early language and literacy skills, is Name Envelopes.  The parents with whom I work with find that they are a fun, easy, and inexpensive way to start children on the exciting journey of learning letters.

Here is what you will need:

  • Envelope (standard or legal)
  • Foam paper (any paper will work, but foam lasts longer)
  • Permanent marker
  • Scissors


1.     Write the child’s first name on the front of the envelope leaving a little bit more space between each letter than normal, but not so much that the name is distorted.

Ex.  J  o  s  é (Remember the first letter is upper case and the rest are lower case.)

1.     Write the child’s first name on the foam paper.

2.     Cut out the letters (just cut between each letter so you end up with square tiles) from the foam paper, and then place the letters in the envelope.

3.     Have the child dump out the foam letters tiles and match them by placing each foam letter on top of the corresponding letter on the envelope. Be sure to name the letter as your child picks it up. Celebrate that your child just made his name!

Next Steps:

1.     Ask your child to dump out the letters and, using the name on the envelope as a model, have him put the letters in order right below the envelope.

2.     Dump out the letters and turn the envelope over. Now ask your child to put the letters in the correct order to spell his name.

3.     Once your child has mastered his first name, do the same activity with his last name.

4.     Is your child ready to learn words? Try this:

1.     Write ___at on the front of an envelope.  Talk with your child about what those two letters say (sound like) when they are together.

2.     Write letters on foam paper that would make words when a tile is placed on the blank (m, h, b, c, r, s, p, f) and cut them out.

3.     When your child places the “m” on the line, say “You just made a word! Let’s sound it out.”

4.     Go through all the letters in the envelope. “If you can read mat, then you can read bat, cat, sat, etc.”

This is a great activity for the car and at restaurants. Parents have been surprised at how such an easy activity has kept their children busy while learning name and letter recognition at the same time. Have fun! Learning letters must be fun!!

Erin Garner

Parents as Teachers (PAT) Coordinator,
Leander, Texas

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.

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.

Answering the Call of Martin Luther King, Jr. Service Day

Answering the Call of Martin Luther King, Jr Service DayAnswering the Call of Martin Luther King, Jr Service DayIn celebration of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service and in honor of Dr. King’s life and legacy, Secretary Duncan and Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Russlynn Ali participated Monday in memorial events and community service projects.

In Washington, D.C., Secretary Duncan joined Rev. Al Sharpton for an annual King Day breakfast where he spoke about Dr. King’s legacy and discussed how education is the civil rights issue of our generation.  Later in the day, Arne and his family participated in City Year’s service project at Kramer Middle School, where he spoke with students and joined other volunteers in painting positive messages throughout the school. (President Obama also spent part of King Day helping to spiff up a DC school.)

Answering the Call of Martin Luther King, Jr Service Day

Answering the Call of Martin Luther King, Jr. Service DayIn Philadelphia, Assistant Secretary Ali delivered opening remarks at a panel discussion at Girard College Lower School, joined the 29th Annual Martin Luther King Awards Luncheon and participated in the National Liberty Bell Ringing Ceremony.

Led by the Corporation for National and Community Service and the King Center, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service is an opportunity for all Americans to come together to help meet the needs of their communities and make an ongoing commitment to service throughout the year. To find an opportunity to help your community, visit www.serve.gov.

See more photos.

Voices in Action: National Youth Summit

President Obama has set a goal that by 2020 the United States lead the world in college completion.

Over the summer the U.S. Department of Education (ED) conducted a National Youth Listening Tour (NYLT) to engage youth in a conversation on what it will take to meet the President’s goal.  ED met with over 40 youth-serving institutions and over 1800 middle and high school students from across the country.

To close the tour, ED will host a Voices in Action: National Youth Summit, on Saturday, February 26, 2011 in Washington, D.C.

This is no ordinary conference. There will be DJs, spoken word artists, marching bands, and art. It’s going to be fun!  And there will be an opportunity for students to present their best ideas on meeting the President’s 2020 College Completion Goal with youth, partner organizations, and policymakers from across the country.

We want to galvanize youth to shape strategies and provide pathways for all students to be on track to achieve high school and postsecondary credentials. The summit will share what students have told ED to date, provide additional opportunity to give input, provide opportunities to communicate their views and ideas directly to senior administration officials, and allow students to plan ongoing youth-led, youth-directed efforts which will continue after the summit.

You can access further information about the summit at www.ed.gov/college-completion/youth-summit.  Space is limited. Registration for the conference will become live on January 25th.

Also, make sure to post a comment on our Facebook page. To find us, search for “ED Youth Voices.”

If you have any questions or concerns, please email Robert Gomez at robert.gomez@ed.gov.

You can provide us feedback now!
What are your thoughts about the summit?

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Math, Beef Patties and Teacher Evaluation

Leah Raphael is a Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow who has taught middle school social studies and English in California and North Carolina.

Last week, I had the good fortune of traveling to New York City to conduct roundtable discussions with teachers. Though I am always very interested in hearing teachers’ perceptions around issues of education policy, I was especially excited for this trip because I knew I’d have the opportunity to spend time with middle school students. For the first time in eight years, I am not working at a school campus; while I have learned a tremendous amount as a Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow, I have missed being around students every day I have been in DC.

That was how I found myself chatting with two fourteen year-old girls in the back of Jemal Graham’s classroom, a NYC math teacher working part-time for the Department as a Classroom Fellow. For about an hour, the two young ladies and I chatted about a range of topics. Though the girls had an initial hesitancy characteristic of most eighth graders, it didn’t take long before it felt like we had known each others for years. (I do have to apologize again to Jemal, who probably didn’t get very much math instruction done that day!) After giving me a rundown of their favorite authors (Sharon Draper), food (Jamaican and Sushi) and friends, the conversation quickly turned to school. I asked them several thoughtful questions and in doing so, got a better understanding of this Brooklyn school than any school report card could ever have provided. By the end of the conversation, I knew which teachers were well-respected, which classes were the most engaging, how the recent transition in school leadership had impacted school culture and which classmates were having a tough time academically.

Jemal Graham, shown with his class in front of his bulletin board that reads “The Grahamy Awards,” is a Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow teaching math in Brooklyn, NY.

As I try to make sense of recent policy discussions with teachers (many have focused on “teacher effectiveness” specifically), I am struck by the ways in which students hold their schools accountable daily. When students feel that they are not being given the respect and quality instruction they deserve, they make their dissatisfaction well known to their teachers, parents and any other adult who will take the time to listen. As the conversation around teacher evaluation moves ahead, I hope that all of us who work in the service of young people will remember that they tend to have an extremely honest and accurate understanding of what is happening in their classrooms.

Leah Raphael, Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow

Read more about the Teaching Ambassador Fellowship.