In September, President Obama introduced the American Jobs Act, which among other key investments to create jobs would invest $30 billion to repair and modernize public schools and community colleges and $30 billion to keep hundreds of thousands of teachers from facing layoffs.
But how would that really affect you? Earlier today the Department of Education released two interactive maps that will show you what the American Jobs Act could do for your state and local school district.
In conjunction with the new interactive maps, the Obama Administration also released a new report today that provides an analysis of the condition of America’s schools, which have fallen into disrepair, as well as the difficult budget environment facing school districts and teachers nationwide.
Assistant Secretary Cunningham tours Aurora's Todd Early Learning Center with Principal Laurie Klomhaus. Built in the 1930s as an elementary school, Todd lacks wheelchair access.
“In these times of limited resources, working together is the only way,” said Aurora, Ill., Mayor Tom Weisner during Assistant Secretary of Communications and Outreach Peter Cunningham’s visit to his city last month.
The President’s proposed American Jobs Act and its potential impact on modernizing Aurora schools was the major focus of the visit, since many of the schools are 90- 120 years old.
The assistant secretary, however, was also impressed with the local partnerships. “The leaders here are targeting resources in forward-thinking ways,” said Cunningham.
Cunningham fields a question about bilingual education from Deborah Crump -- a bus driver for Aurora West School District 129.
How is collaboration helping Aurora’s students?
Four separate local school districts, Aurora University, and Democratic and Republican state legislators collaborated to develop a new jointly-operated Science Technology Engineering Mathematics partnership school that will serve 200 third- through eighth-grade students and provide STEM training for teachers of all four districts.
Aurora West School District 129 teachers accepted pay concessions to prevent 127 layoffs in 2010 — an action that Cunningham told teachers “reflects well on you, but not on overall prosperity of the country.”
Aurora West and Aurora East communities are working together and with the rest of the community to address achievement gaps between minority students and their white counterparts in progressive ways. For example, fewer than half of Aurora’s at-risk children ages 3 and 4 are attending preschool. In response, municipal, business and community leaders have partnered with the school districts to form the Aurora Early Learning Initiative, aimed at ensuring that all of the city’s children can start kindergarten ready to learn.
The districts partnered with local business, government and higher education leaders for a summit last month on “How to Prepare Our Workforce For A Global Summit” hosted by the Illinois Math and Science Academy. The keynote speaker was Andreas Schleicher of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development — coined “the world’s schoolmaster” — who came from Paris to discuss how American schools compare with those of other nations, and how Aurora and other communities can learn from global examples.
Aurora participants also made it clear that an increased federal investment in local schools would be welcome, with the two districts targeted to collectively receive an estimated $7 million to modernize its facilities under AJA. Unfunded needs include the costly replacement of aging heating and ventilation systems with energy-efficient models.
Cunningham said that his day in Aurora was a valuable learning opportunity that he and other senior ED officials need to emulate often, around the country.
“We’re focusing outside the Beltway as much as possible, because the real innovation in education goes on in classrooms and not in Washington,” he said. “We look at education as an upside-down pyramid, and you’re at the top.”
The same students who raised $5,000 last year for a Racine, Wisconsin food pantry sit with their lunch trays on their laps in the hallways and stairwells at Walden III middle and high school.
Students from Racine’s Walden III middle and high school -- which includes its original Civil War-era construction -- pack-up trucks with food items they collected for the Racine County Food Pantry.
With every square foot converted to classroom use, there is no lunchroom in Walden, a school building that dates to around 1863. As one of the U.S. Department of Education’s 2011-2012 Teaching Ambassador Fellows, I had the opportunity to visit the school to learn about its infrastructure challenges with Assistant Secretary of Communications and Outreach Peter Cunningham and regional OCO staffer Julie Ewart earlier this month.
Space is not the only thing at a premium at Walden — so is heat. According to the teacher leading our tour, Walden’s antiquated boiler system creates temperature variations of up to 30 degrees from one room to the next in the winter. Yet, with great pride a senior girl describes how students raised funds to purchase insulation for a home adjacent to the school grounds. She talks about how shocked she and fellow classmates were when they learned their neighbor was shivering in an un-insulated house. The students saw a need and acted on it.
As we climbed the creaking steps to the second floor AP English classroom, we noticed that the orange carpeting on the upstairs hallway is buckled and ripped in many places, reinforcing the theme that this building is tired and in desperate need of renovation.
During the visit, we watched a short video highlighting philanthropic projects completed by Walden students. The video, shown on a newly installed SMARTBoard, drew its power from the only functioning electric outlet in this classroom. This single power source looks precarious at best; there are way too many cords running to other parts of the classroom from an auxiliary powerstrip.
Students at Walden are like children everywhere. They are resilient and resourceful. These students are committed to helping their community. Which leads me to the question–to what degree is the greater community, Racine and beyond, committed to helping them?
While students are achieving at Walden, they and their teachers need to overcome challenges of their historic but ancient facility that are barriers to learning — or worse, accidents waiting to happen — every day. The American Jobs Act, which would fund some of the long overdue renovations in Racine and across the country, could help provide the means necessary to overcome these challenges, and ultimately allow Walden students and teachers to focus on education and giving back to the community.
Leah Lechleiter-Luke is a Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow who teaches English and Spanish in Mauston, Wisconsin.
When superintendents from across the nation gathered last month for the Council of the Great City Schools’ fall meeting in Boston, one critical topic for discussion was the devastating effect that our struggling economy has had on school budgets.
School leaders spoke about the difficult decisions they have had to make, and about the budget cuts that threatened teacher jobs, halted badly needed renovation projects, and curtailed services and instruction for students.
Four superintendents from different parts of the country – Mary Ellen Elia of Tampa, Fla., Winston Brooks of Albuquerque, N.M., Gene T. Harris of Columbus, Ohio, and Carol Johnson of Boston – spoke on camera, and they agreed that the American Jobs Act’s proposed funding for teachers and modernizing facilities offers real hope to urban schools. In September, President Obama called on Congress to invest $60 billion in education through the Jobs Act. America’s educators are still waiting.
“There’s just nothing more important, nothing more important today than investing in public education,” Superintendent Johnson said. “I think all of us expect more from this nation, and I think that funding education is absolutely key to our success.”
School districts are straining to deliver a quality education to all their students in this difficult economy, and things can be especially tough on music teachers. Across the country, shrinking school budgets have meant layoffs, increased workloads, cuts in funds for facilities and instruments, and even the elimination of music programs.
In a new Department of Education video called Keeping the Beat: A Teacher Talks About Schools, Music Education and the American Jobs Act, Philadelphia music teacher Jason (Jay) Chuong discusses the impact of the economic downturn on the learning environment of his inner city students. As one of six “itinerant” percussion teachers in the Philadelphia school district, Jay conducts classes in seven different schools and has a budget of just $100. His solution: teaching bucket drumming, using inexpensive plastic buckets that he can purchase at the local hardware store.
Jay says that the American Jobs Act would offer much-needed funds to repair his school district’s aging facilities and keep teachers on the job. “If the American Jobs Act is passed, we would put more money in modernizing schools, we would offer work for construction workers, we would hire back more teachers, we would do all kinds of things for the younger generation of the cities,” he says.
In the meantime, Jay remains on the move, going from school to school, teaching his classes in percussion and giving his students other important lessons as well. “Music has the opportunity to develop confidence in kids,” he says. “It gives them something to take ownership of. It develops team working skills; it’s all of these life skills that they can apply to all different parts of life.”
At a recent roundtable, the faculty of Wake tech Community College believed in their students.
“My students have to go out in the community and demonstrate what they can do. I know they’ve learned when I see a reduction in fire loss,” Wayne, a Wake Tech Fire Service Director, told ED Teaching Ambassador Fellows Angela McClary-Rush and Maryann Woods-Murphy, who led the session with Frank Chong, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Community Colleges.
Wayne’s colleague, Tommy Edwards, from the school’s Law Enforcement Division agreed. “We also see the results in how much cardio training we provide. Our students saved 20 lives.”
The ED team led the one–hour round table event in an outreach effort designed to listen to the challenges and needs of teachers. The discussion immediately preceded the Secretary Duncan’s Town Hall at the community college in Raleigh, N.C.
David Yarley, the Director of Wake Tech’s Bio Network Capstone Center, said that he is happiest when he picks up the phone and one of his students announces he or she has found a job. Steven Hill, the Humanities Department Chair, just wants to “turn the proverbial light bulb on.” Diane Hinson, a Health Science Dean, is thrilled that Wake Tech students score more than ten points higher than the state test pass rates.
These educators do everything they can to get their students engaged in learning and “use muscles they never knew they had,” said Jessica Facciolini, North Carolina’s 2011 Teacher of the Year, who joined the group from ED at the round table and later at Secretary Duncan’s Community College Town Hall.
But even though these faculty members feel that the Wake Tech is the “pulse of the community” and that “college for the real world” has a vital role, they were asking Washington to support to help maintain such successful programs.
Faculty spoke of large class sizes and of facilities with limited equipment for the students to practice their skills. “If you have two beds in a room full of students, they are only going to get limited hands-on training,” said a nursing teacher. “If we’re going to teach students the latest technology for the 21st Century, we can’t use old machines. They’ve got to have what’s out there in the work place.”
Dianne Hison sighed as she moved forward in her seat, “Not one thing we have on our plates is unreasonable, but when you put it all together, it’s impossible.” Her colleagues shook their heads in agreement.
The faculty were grateful to know that the American Jobs Act, if passed, would provide relief to schools that have facilities needs and would create jobs for educators, including $5 billion specifically set aside for community colleges.
“Ask Washington to keep listening to us,” said one faculty member, “we’re doing magnificent things that help our students. We need support.”
“When ceiling tiles need to be changed once a week, it’s hard for students to feel like they’re here for serious business,” said LaTanza Boarden, principal of Lew Wallace Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics Academy, during a visit by Peter Cunningham, ED’s assistant secretary of communications and outreach as he visited Boarden’s school in Gary, Indiana last week.
A picture captured with a cell phone during Cunningham's visit shows buckets catching water from a leaky roof
Boarden’s school — a high school –was one of four Gary Community School Corporation facilities that Cunningham toured, each with visibly leaking ceilings. The American Jobs Act proposed by the President would provide an estimated $13 million that Dr. Myrtle Campbell, GCSC’s superintendent, said is “desperately needed” to help the district begin to address an array of unfunded infrastructure problems:
The crumbling roof at Brunswick Elementary School has caused ceiling problems that forced Principal Gloria Terry to relocate kindergartners to a school on the other side of town.
The student body president of Westside Leadership Academy — also a high school – told the assistant secretary that she loves school but is frequently absent because of the building’s mold problems, which trigger her asthma.
Other Westside students complained that their school locker rooms have no hot water — causing most students to forego showers after PE classes and after-school sports activities. Their swimming pool has been unusable for three years.
Technological infrastructure — critical for preparing students to compete in the global economy — is lacking throughout most Gary schools. Even educators at schools that have computers and other equipment need to routinely shift them to areas safe from water damage.
Like many school districts throughout the nation, Gary has serious budget problems that have caused it to delay facility needs and to lay off teachers and cut programs, including summer enrichment programs and a Saturday academy. With downtown filled with boarded up storefronts and the once-booming local steel industry mostly gone, local funding for GCSC is dwindling. More than 82 percent of the district’s students qualify for free or reduced rate lunches.
There are some hopeful signs in Gary. Secretary Duncan recently named Benjamin Banneker Achievement Center – a Gary elementary school — a 2011-2012 Blue Ribbon School. There has been some upward movement in the district’s overall assessment scores, which GCSC Communications Director Sarita Stevens attributes to a new focus on differentiated learning. Two Gary schools — including Lew Collins — are implementing dramatic changes through federal School Improvement Grants.
“We do have barriers, but we also have students who are engaged in learning every day and exceeding standards,” said Campbell.
However, Cunningham heard one overwhelming message throughout the day:
“I hear you saying ‘we need help to have better schools,” he said, inspiring enthusiastic nods and replies from educators, parents and community leaders at the end of the visit.
Click here and here for news coverage of Assistant Secretary Cunningham’s visit to Gary schools.
Albuquerque, N.M.’s Dolores Gonzales Elementary, although cleaned beautifully by a hard working custodial staff, is in need of a great deal of infrastructure improvement.
The wiring won’t support the technology, the bathroom facilities are insufficient and lack a lift for students in wheelchairs, and the 12 modular units are over 20 years old.
Walking through Gonzales Elementary with Principal Lori Stuit and Acting Assistant Secretary Michael Yudin prior to a Community Conversation on October 25, I could see that roofs leak, there is limited playground space, and students are packed into classrooms to accommodate the 452 students who attend.
As Principal Stuit spoke passionately about the 99% of her students who qualify for free and reduced lunch, I couldn’t help thinking that this school is exactly the reason we need the American Jobs Act to pass.
“Knowing where my students come from, they deserve the BEST school, the BEST teachers, the BEST resources, and to know that they are loved and cared for,” Stuit explained. “We need to have a school that students are proud of and shows that people value them.”
Acting Assistant Secretary Michael Yudin tours Dolores Gonzales Elementary
Funding is the problem, of course, which is why Secretary Duncan supports passage of the President’s American Jobs Act, which calls for $60 billion to be pumped into schools to keep essential teachers and also to turn around dilapidated school structures like this one.
“We know how studies have shown that natural light affects student achievement,” Stuit continued as she showed off the school’s highly recognized dual language program. “(Yet) how do we expect kids to learn in an environment where there is almost no natural light to be found?” Indeed, as we walked the halls of this school, the only natural light to be found was the murals beautifully painted on the walls.
It was truly a pleasure to spend time inside Dolores Gonzales Elementary and see the children smiling, but also desperately needing a high quality place to learn. Stuit was right about that too. These kids deserve only “the best.”
Unlike Bob Marley’s reggae music, when budget cuts “hit” a public school, they hurt.
Consider the case of Philadelphia’s Bodine High School for International Affairs. The public high school lost over 10% of its teachers this year, and the school’s students and teachers acknowledge that the loss has resulted in a challenging teaching and learning environment.
Last week, I joined ED’s Deputy Assistant Secretary Jim Shelton at Bodine High to meet with its passionate and hopeful students and teachers. With their share of the $30 billion for teacher jobs in President Obama’s American Jobs Act, the Bodine community hopes that their teachers can be retained or even restored, thereby alleviating the stress create by recent cuts. What does that stress look like?
During our visit, five students described how the loss of teachers caused disruptions, including:
Fewer teachers are available for formal and informal collaboration with students.
The number of study halls have decreased.
A drop in the number of clubs and extra-curricular activities offered this year because of faculty cuts.
Both students and teachers feel like they are less able to create the dynamic learning environment that engages the community and fosters success. Several Bodine teachers described how the cuts had affected collaboration among peers and time available to create solutions.
When it comes to teacher solutions, the Blueprint for Reform is very clear about teacher professionalism. If teachers have the time and resources to develop sustainable solutions to the challenges that our schools face, all of our schools will be better off. Shelton encouraged the students and teachers to share their solutions with each other, with the hope that the sustained collaboration, in itself, could enrich the relationships within the school. Mr. Shelton also asked the participants to consider the benefits of the American Jobs Act that would preserve 400,000 teachers jobs across the US and over 14,000 teachers’ jobs in Pennsylvania alone.
When it comes to teacher professionalism, what solutions have you come up with that can help enrich and sustain your school? Let us know in the comments below.
Gamal D. Sherif is a teacher at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, Pa., and a 2011-2012 Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow
For three days, participants met to discuss inspiring new forms of learning environments and strategies for scaling up those considered most successful.
As a teacher, I was excited to lend voice to a policy dialogue that intimately addresses what’s going on in my classroom. Participants highlighted exemplars of innovation in extraordinary circumstances. I also appreciated prominent policymakers noting the danger of continually showcasing the “shiny examples,” given the resource challenges many educators face.
Several significant concerns also were discussed during the conference. In a climate of cutbacks and acute testing scrutiny, policymakers are concerned that school improvement agendas are perceived safer than innovation agendas. It’s simply a tough time to take risks.
As a teacher on the ground, the conference raised for me two questions: How do we highlight, tap into, and scale up the innovations that are already going on? I have seen many very low-income schools successfully innovate to meet their needs in an economically taxing climate.
Further, how do we decrease judgment around new practices so that more school leaders are willing to take the risks necessary to support the innovative ideas?
In the end, delegates walked away understanding that innovation is not just about technology products, but could and should also be about process. It’s not about more resources. It’s about designing systems that are more efficient so that we foster stronger learning environments, period.
Claire Jellinek is a 2011-2012 Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education
There is no question that innovation is a critical focus of President Obama’s education agenda. In his State of the Union, where he said that education is “our generation’s Sputnik moment,” the President invokes the word “innovation” nine times. In his recent American Jobs Act proposal, he alludes to modernizing 35,000 schools, and installing science labs and high-speed Internet in classrooms all across the country. The Investment in Innovation Fund (i3) and Promise Neighborhoods are powerful examples of initiatives that reward innovation in learning.
I believe that this truly is our “Sputnik moment.” Education has captured a front seat in national and international dialogue. I hope we seize this opportunity to welcome ideas around meaningful change.
Claire Jellinek is a 9th-12th grade social studies teacher at South Valley Academy in Albuquerque, NM and a 2011-2012 Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow.
Today, President Obama continues his American Jobs Act Bus Tour to highlight the many aspects of the American Jobs Act that will build an economy that lasts, such as putting construction workers back on the job rebuilding America’s schools to provide a world class education for all of our students.
This week, we’re bringing you numbers from the bus tour that demonstrate how the jobs bill will impact your community; numbers like 40, which is the average age of the American public schools that will be modernized with the American Jobs Act.
The American Jobs Act will invest in retrofitting at least 35,000 public schools across the country, supporting new science labs, Internet-ready classrooms and school renovations in both rural and urban communities. These investments will give American students the edge they need to prepare for the 21st century economy and compete with students from around the world.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan explained the challenge we’re up against:
[Imagine] trying to design the next generation of tablet computers using mainframe hardware from the Eisenhower administration. Or American automakers trying to out-engineer foreign competitors on an assembly line with equipment from the 1960s.
Unfortunately, just such antiquated facilities and barriers to innovation exist today in precisely the institutions that can least afford it: our nation’s public schools. The digital age has now penetrated virtually every nook of American life, with the exception of many public schools.
And as President Obama has said, when school buildings get too old without repairs they begin to crumble:
They start leaking, and ceiling tiles start to cave in, and there’s no heat in the winter or air-conditioning in the summer. Some of the schools the ventilation is so poor it can make students sick.
How do we expect our kids to do their very best in a situation like that? The answer is we can’t. Every child deserves a great school, and we can give it to them, but we got to pass this bill.
Updating science labs and connecting classrooms to the Internet are investments that need to be made. And getting electricians, engineers and carpenters back on the job making those investments in the education of our students is just one of the common sense solutions in the American Jobs Act to give the economy the jolt it needs.
News on what the American Jobs Act means for teachers and schools, a report on Secretary Arne Duncan’s back-to-school bus tour, and the winners of the 2011 Broad Prize are among the stories featured in the September edition of “School Days,” the U.S. Department of Education’s monthly video journal. Watch it here: