Family Engagement Town Hall in Indianapolis

Students on stage speaking with Secretary DuncanOn Wednesday night of the Ready for Success Back-to-School Bus Tour, Secretary Arne Duncan visited Crispus Attucks Medical Magnet High School in Indianapolis, where enrollment has jumped by 48 percent since 2011.

When it was opened in 1927, Crispus Attucks was the first and only public high school for African Americans in the city. The world has changed a lot in the nearly 90 years since then, but the country still needs to do more so that all of its students – especially students of color — have the chance to learn, achieve, and succeed.

Breaking down barriers to opportunity was at the heart of the discussion at Crispus Attucks, where the Secretary participated in a roundtable discussion with Indianapolis high school students. M. Karega Rausch, vice president of research and evaluation for the National Association for Charter Schools Authorizers, moderated a conversation about overcoming obstacles and striving for college- and career-readiness.

Then, Broderick Johnson, assistant to President Obama and chair of the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force, followed by Secretary Duncan, held a conversation with students that touched on two specific goals of the President’s My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) initiative: graduating more students ready for college and careers, and encouraging young people to complete postsecondary education or training. MBK was introduced in 2014 to ensure that all youth, including boys and young men of color, have opportunities to improve their life outcomes and overcome barriers to success.

Students take a group photo with Secretary DuncanStudents rose to the occasion, asking their own questions about what they can do to advance justice for the generation they are part of, and beyond.

As part of the initiative, the White House launched the MBK Community Challenge, to bring communities together to implement cradle-to-career strategies that improve outcomes for all young people. As one of the first cities to accept the Challenge, Indianapolis hosted its own MBK local action summit last year.

In Indianapolis and across the country, cities are making progress toward the goals of MBK – but America isn’t there just yet. To move the needle on some of our most pressing challenges – including and especially those we face in education – we must continue to speak honestly about the obstacles to opportunity that far too many of our young people face.

Then – and only then – can we truly move forward with community-led solutions that promote equal opportunity for all students.

Watch Secretary Duncan wrap up day three of the Ready for Success bus tour:

Back-to-school bus stops for college tour at University of Louisville

Bus in front of Jeffersontown High School

Secretary Duncan stopped to pick up students at Jeffersontown High School before heading to the University of Louisville for a college tour and discussion.

Secretary Arne Duncan told more than a dozen high school seniors from Louisville, Kentucky, on Thursday that the challenges they face in attending college will also be their badge of strength.

Secretary Duncan and Under Secretary Ted Mitchell talked with students in a round table at the University of Louisville during a stop on the Ready for Success bus tour aimed at helping students think about navigating the college experience. Many will be the first in their families to attend college, or to do so in this country, and they spoke of a variety of challenges – particularly, that while their parents want to support their college-going goals, they don’t know firsthand how to help.

A student whose parents immigrated from Tanzania spoke of the language barrier they face: “English is not their first language. Or their second. Or their third.”

Secretary Duncan told them that their role as pioneers should give them pride, and should be a source of strength for them – and, together with Under Secretary Mitchell, laid out tools that can help them, including the new College Scorecard.

All of the high school seniors were from nearby Jefferson County Public Schools – and, while they were all interested in attending college, some had fears about getting there. Unfortunately, fear prevents far too many academically-qualified young people from reaching their full potential beyond high school. More than half of high-achieving students from low-income families – 53 percent – never apply to schools with median SAT and ACT scores similar to their own. In fact, most students apply to just one, unselective school.

Secretary Duncan on a college tourAlongside University of Louisville Executive Director of Admissions, Jenny Sawyer, and Department of Education Under Secretary Mitchell, Secretary Duncan answered questions from high school seniors about the importance of higher education.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer joined the conversation, and Secretary Duncan praised his 55,000 Degrees initiative, which aims to help the city transition from manufacturing to innovation by increasing the number of college graduates in the city. He urged students to follow the guidance of Muhammad Ali, combining vision and effort: “Think big, and do the road work.”

Duncan urged students to remember that graduating, not merely  going to college, is the goal, and spoke of his own experiences being homesick when he went away to college at Harvard.

But the most electric moment came when Sawyer called out one of the students in the discussion and announced that he had been admitted to the University of Louisville.

Following the conversation, the Secretary joined the students on a campus tour, where dialogue continued.

All Americans – regardless of their zip code – deserve access to high-quality education that makes the journey to the middle class possible. The Obama Administration has taken several steps toward that goal, including simplifying the FAFSA, raising the maximum Pell Grant, introducing new tools and resources, and more.

Supporting Great Teaching Through Better Teacher Preparation


Great teachers matter enormously to the learning and the lives of children. Every parent knows it, and study after study proves it.

Unfortunately, teachers, principals and researchers have made clear: too many teacher preparation programs today aren’t equipping teachers with the skills they need to be successful. Teaching is one of the most important and challenging careers, yet new research shows that many teacher preparation programs offer easy A’s instead of rigorous learning

That’s why ED today announced new regulations that will build on momentum to improve teacher training. The proposed regulations will be different than current reporting requirements – which focus almost exclusively on inputs – by establishing meaningful outcome indicators, like employment outcomes, teacher and employee feedback, and student learning outcomes.

The proposed regulations will also:

  • Encourage states to develop meaningful systems to identify high- and low-performing teacher preparation programs across all kinds of programs, not just those based in colleges and universities;
  • Reward only those programs determined to be effective or better by states with eligibility for TEACH grants, which are available to students who are planning to become teachers in a high-need field and in a low-income school, to ensure that these limited federal dollars support high-quality teacher education and preparation; and
  • Offer transparency into the performance of teacher preparation programs, creating a feedback loop among programs and prospective teachers, employers, and the public, and empower programs with information to facilitate continuous improvement.

The regulations would provide significant flexibility for states, allowing them to set performance thresholds and additional performance categories or indicators. Programs would be assessed using a minimum of four performance levels: exceptional, effective, at-risk, or low-performing.

These changes will not only create a new feedback loop among programs and prospective teachers, employers, and the public, but it will also empower programs with better information to facilitate continuous improvement.

Final regulations will be published in Summer 2015. You can learn more about the proposed regulations on our teacher preparation web page, which includes a printable fact sheet and PowerPoint presentation.

Update: The Proposed Rule on Teacher Preparation Issues was published in the Federal Register. Formal comments are due February 2, 2015.

Historic Milestones Present Opportunities and Challenges in Education

As the school year gets into full swing, it’s worth reflecting on a couple of historic milestones that make this year unique.

For the first time in our nation’s history, America’s public school population is majority-minority, according to this Department’s projections. Actual counts will come after a year or more, but we estimate that as of this month, non-white students make up 50.2 percent of all public school students.

Secretary Duncan announced this shift in April during a speech to the Grad Nation Summit, noting the growing imperative to serve all students better.

“All — all — of America’s children are our children,” he said. “When we think about preparing our young people today for the possibilities of tomorrow — which increasingly means preparing them for some form of college — then that’s about all our kids. This is about both equity and excellence. And I believe it’s going to take a sea change in our classrooms to get there.”

Fortunately, there are signs that change is under way, as shown in another vital statistic: the highest high school graduation rate in America’s history – 80 percent. Graduation rate increases between just 2008 and 2012 helped an additional 100,000 Latino students and an additional 40,000 African-American students to graduate from high school.

“As a country, we owe a debt of gratitude to the teachers, administrators, and families whose hard work made [this] achievement possible,” Secretary Duncan said.

ED used the cohort graduation rate, the most accurate measure of high school graduation rates, to calculate the 80 percent. First reported on the state level in 2012, the cohort rate is a common metric for states, districts, and schools to promote greater transparency and accountability. The measure also accounts for students who drop out, or who don’t earn a regular high school diploma.

But Duncan also said that success rates for some students, including those of color, must improve. Hispanic and African-American students graduated at lower rates than their peers – 76 and 68 percent, respectively.

We continue our work to address these prevailing achievement and opportunity gaps today. To level the playing field, we will continue to promote equitable access to high-quality preschool, strong teachers, and advanced coursework; to speak out against unfair disciplinary practices; and to ensure students in all zip codes have access to advanced technology.

Meredith Bajgier is a member of the Communications Development Team in the Office of Communications and Outreach. 

After Two Days on a Bus, We Needed a Little Space

A day that included a super-fun stop at space camp and a bedtime story with preschoolers at a 24-hour child care center started first in Birmingham, Ala. There, on Tuesday, Secretary Duncan joined Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro, Mayor William Bell and 10 young men and women for a roundtable discussion on President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative.

Participants and the audience of more than 100 that watched came from youth-serving organizations from around the Birmingham area. Brenda Girton-Mitchell, director of the Department of Education’s Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, moderated the conversation.

“Education is a shared responsibility,” Rev. Girton-Mitchell said as she opened the discussion, “and whichever organization you represent today, you are already a part of improving outcomes for young people.”

Sitting in a circle in the wood-paneled library of John Herbert Phillips Academy, the young men and women credited their organizations with providing them with mentors and with teaching them test-taking and public speaking skills, as well as exposing them to work opportunities in finance, auto mechanics, computer science and physical therapy.


Secretary Duncan joined Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro, Mayor William Bell and 10 young men and women for a roundtable discussion on President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Secretary Castro, who recently came to Washington after serving as mayor of San Antonio, Texas, pointed to the opportunities that can be created for young people when all levels and sectors of government work together, including housing, education, public safety, economic development and transportation. That’s the theory of Promise Zones, a cross-administration initiative to support high-poverty urban, rural and tribal communities.

“We want to hear from you — what do you need from us?” Castro said to the students in the circle.

Their responses echoed what we often hear from students — more extracurricular activities and access to better technology. One young man wished for professional development for teachers to help them work with students’ different learning styles. Another asked for more funding for scientific research, pointing out that American society seems to place more value on professional sports and entertainment.

President Obama established My Brother’s Keeper to ensure that all Americans — including young boys and men of color—can reach their full potential. The President recognizes that partnership is essential to improve the lives of youth, and that all members of the community need to have a role.

“Whether it’s Birmingham, Ferguson, Mo., or my hometown of Chicago,” Arne said, “we have young men — black, Latino — who have extraordinary talents, extraordinary gifts, and somehow we as a society have not let those gifts flourish.”

Huntsville’s Amazing Backyard

From Birmingham, the big blue bus rolled to Huntsville, Ala., where Arne toured the U.S. Space and Rocket Center — where Space Camp happens — and joined more than 250 middle and high school students and educators for a discussion about the importance of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, or STEM.


The “Partners in Progress” bus tour touched down at Space Camp. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Joining Arne and two STEM-focused students on the panel was astronaut Ricky Arnold, who taught middle and high school science before joining NASA. Managing a classroom was great training for Arnold’s 2009 space shuttle flight to the International Space Station, he recalled, because as a teacher, “you’ve got to be able to do a lot of things. At once. Well.”

Along with three local school districts from Madison County, Madison City, and Huntsville City, NASA and the U.S. Space and Rocket Center show students that the STEM fields offer the opportunity to invent, and reinvent, their career goals and aspirations.

“So many of the good jobs of the future…are going to require not just an understanding but a real passion” for STEM, Arne said in a hangar-like hall full of NASA memorabilia, spacecraft from past missions and simulators.


Marshall Center Director Patrick Scheuermann spoke with Secretary Duncan during the tour. (Photo credit: Marshall Space Flight Center)

In Chattanooga, Child Care That Never Closes

We finished the tour’s second day with an evening event in Chattanooga, Tenn., where educators, community leaders and parents gathered for conversation and dinner at the Chambliss Center for Children. Chambliss has run a 24/7/365 child care program since 1969. The program serves parents who are either working or in school, and is designed to provide educational opportunities and increase school readiness for Chattanooga’s youngest learners.

After reading an e-book to kids seated on the rug of a cheery preschool classroom, Secretary Duncan and Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke joined parents and teachers for a town hall. There, speakers talked personally about the benefits of high-quality early learning. Years ago, Candice Corneliussen put her children in Chambliss’ program while she — a single mom — studied to become a teacher. Now she brings her high school students to volunteer there.


Times have changed when it comes to learning! Secretary Duncan and Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke read to students from an e-book. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Quality child care and preschool “doesn’t just help the children,” Corneliussen said. “It helps the families. We need these places all across the country.”

Indeed, the Obama administration is providing greater access to high-quality infant and toddler care through Early Head Start-child care partnership grants and has invested more than $1 billion in new federal funding for preschool. Preschool Development Grants, a new $250 million program, will help expand preschool in states and reduce waiting lists. To be awarded in December, they are a down payment on President Obama’s vision to provide quality preschool to every 4-year-old in states that want to partner on this important investment.

“I haven’t been to a state yet that doesn’t have waiting lists, sometimes in the thousands,” Secretary Duncan said at the town hall in Chattanooga. Chambliss serves 300 children and has 250 more on its waitlist, longtime director Phil Acord said.

Melanie Morris, a teacher in Hamilton County Schools, testified to the value of preschool — it gets children ready for kindergarten and, research shows, sets them up for success much later in life.

“Our kindergarten teachers fight over the students that have been in our prekindergarten programs, [because those students] are ready. They’re excited about school,” Morris said.

The key question for policymakers to ask, Arne said, is: “Do we think of education as an investment or do we think of education as an expense?” For community partners making progress in Chattanooga, as well as the working families they’re helping, the answer to that question is clear. Investing in early childhood education is the smartest investment we can make.

On Wednesday — the third and final day of the Partners in Progress tour — Secretary Duncan will visit Nashville and Memphis, Tenn. Stay tuned for details from the Volunteer State and follow #edtour14 on Twitter.

Meredith Bajgier is a member of the Communications Development Team in the Office of Communications and Outreach. 

Congress Announces Bipartisan Proposal to Expand Early Ed Access

Secretary Arne Duncan joined members of Congress, business and military leaders, law enforcement officials, educators and parents last week, to voice support for a landmark early learning bill. Introduced by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), and Rep. Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.), the Strong Start for America’s Children Act would improve and expand high-quality early learning opportunities for children from birth to age five.

Earlier this year, President Obama proposed a new partnership with states that would provide universal, high-quality, full-day preschool for 4-year olds from low- and moderate-income families. The new bill, if signed into law, will accelerate the progress that states already are making to implement high-quality preschool programs and ensure that these programs are accessible to children who need them the most.

Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

Meredith Bajgier is a public affairs specialist at the U.S. Department of Education

Rural Education is Being Rewritten

Duncan at speech

Secretary Arne Duncan gave remarks at the Rural Education National Forum, hosted by Battelle for Kids and the Ohio Department of Education.

One in five Americans live, work, and learn in rural communities. Yet rural places sometimes seem to play a far smaller role in conversations about improving education – a situation that must change, Secretary Arne Duncan said in a major address at the Rural Education National Forum on October 31 in Ohio.

Among “real and urgent” challenges to world-class rural education are shrinking tax bases, limited AP course access, and a lack of great special education, English-Language Learners (ELL), and STEM teachers.

But the Secretary also recognized the tremendous potential of rural communities to make transformational change and to achieve results.

“I reject the idea that rural districts are too isolated to pioneer innovation and propel powerful partnerships,” said Duncan to an audience of 350. “I reject the narrative that says rural America cannot provide a rich and rigorous curriculum, or compete for attention or funding.”

Duncan Shoots Hoops

During Duncan’s rural stops he took time to shoot hoops with students at Dunbar High School in Dayton, Ohio.

To promote local progress, the Department continues to make key investments in rural communities through its Race to the Top, School Improvement Grant, and Investing in Innovation (i3) competitions.

The Secretary provided several telling examples of rural communities that have made positive and powerful changes using federal dollars. With a $40 million Race to the Top District award, the Green River Educational Cooperative provided personalized learning to nearly 60,000 students in 22 rural districts. The Niswonger Foundation, based in Tennessee, and eMINTS, in Missouri, used i3 as a catalyst to expand high-quality professional development for teachers and to increase access to college-credit courses for rural high school students.

“Our progress over the last four years, and the outstanding examples of innovation and capacity-building that I see here today, tells me that the narrative of rural education is being rewritten, even as we speak,” said Duncan.

The Rural Education National Forum was part of a two-day Department visit to rural communities, where the Secretary spoke to members of the FFA, participated in early learning forums, and visited with school and student leaders.

Read the Secretary’s speech to the Rural Education National Forum here.

Meredith Bajgier is a Public Affairs Specialist at the U.S. Department of Education

School Garden Plants Sense of Community

At Cherry Hill Alternative High School in Cherry Hill, N.J., great educations are made with soil, seeds, and sunshine.

The school, which serves 44 students, is devoted to “academic rigor, character education, career exploration and workplace readiness,” according to its vision statement. In 2010, Cherry Hill Alternative High School had established internships and financial literacy programs to support this vision. Students were required to complete service hours, which, up until then, had happened off campus.

This ideal sowed a new seed.  Planted three years ago, the community garden initially functioned as an on-site alternative to the school’s service learning requirement. Because the high school is housed in the same building as Cherry Hill Public School District administrative offices, students sometimes felt that they lacked ownership of their environment.

The garden at Cherry Hill Alternative High School

At Cherry Hill Alternative High School in Cherry Hill, N.J., great educations are made with soil, seeds, and sunshine.

“We wanted to build a sense of pride in our school campus,” said Dr. Neil Burti, Cherry Hill’s Principal. Today, 12 students now tend the garden: school pride grows alongside lettuce, onions, tomato, kale, and cucumbers.

Since its first harvest the garden has blossomed into more than a school beautification project. Although the school originally planned to donate its produce to the local food bank, FDA regulations caused it to till the soil in a different direction.

Today, the high school intends to partner with Spring Hills Cherry Hill, a nearby nursing home and assisted living community with a garden of its own.

The garden also has become essential to the high school’s science curriculum, which explores biology alongside environmental education and sustainability.

When speaking at the Green School National Network Conference in Denver, Secretary Duncan said that “green schools and environmental literacy… complement the goals of providing a well-rounded education for the 21st century, of modernizing schools at reduced costs, and of accelerating learning.”

Paul Arno, a science teacher at Cherry Hill Alternative school, uses the garden extensively as a classroom. For example, in one lesson, students are asked to sketch factors in the ecosystem.

“They get the picture along with the words,” said Arno. “Students can know it on one level, but when they see it [in action], they really start to get it.”

The garden is part of Cherry Hill Township’s sustainability effort to raise student awareness of environmental issues, according to Arno. By facilitating science lessons such as “Looking Toward the Future” and offering work in the garden, the school fosters a community based on social responsibility, respect for the environment, and hands-on learning.

Through a recent grant provided by the Cherry Hill Education Foundation, the school purchased a composter. Along with the garden’s rain barrel, it helps students learn firsthand the essential components of fully sustainable food sources.

“The garden makes it real to them,” said Arno.

Meredith Bajgier is a public affairs specialist in ED’s Philadelphia regional office.