Secretary Arne Duncan’s fifth annual back-to-school bus tour ended on a high note on Wednesday with a pep rally in Memphis.
This year’s theme – “Partners in Progress” – focused on the partnerships between the Department of Education and state and local educators that help to ensure all of America’s students have access to a quality education.
Secretary Duncan and senior ED officials got to see and hear from teachers, principals, families, and students as the tour moved through Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee. Below you’ll find eight of our favorite images from the tour:
The tour began at Spelman College, America’s first historically black college for women, in Atlanta. Here Secretary Arne Duncan participated in a roundtable, where he discussed effective teacher recruitment strategies with students, educators and school officials.
Snapping a selfie! Students from Spelman and other HBCU’s got a chance to meet the Secretary during his visit on Sept. 8.
“If somebody tells you that you’re not college material … prove them wrong.” First Lady Michelle Obama spoke about her Reach Higher initiative during her speech at Booker T. Washington High School.
Day one of the bus tour wrapped up in Carrollton, a small Georgia community near the Alabama border, where Secretary Duncan took a tour of a Southwire manufacturing facility. He also heard from students involved in the 12 for Life program.
Secretary Duncan and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro visited the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute on the evening of Sept. 8. Earlier this year, Duncan paid tribute to the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” speech, which highlighted the importance of providing equal education opportunities to everyone in America.
After two days on a bus, it seemed that everyone on the tour needed a little “space”. On Sept. 9, Secretary Duncan toured the U.S. Space and Rocket Center — home of Space Camp — 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.
Times have changed when it comes to learning! Secretary Duncan and Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke read to students from an e-book during their visit to the Chambliss Center for Children. Chambliss has run a 24/7/365 childcare 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.
Hundreds of students at Cornerstone Preparatory School in Memphis, Tenn., welcomed Secretary Duncan during the final day of this year’s “Partners in Progress” back-to-school bus tour. Once a school where only two percent of students were proficient in math, scores in that subject have increased by 23.1 points over the past three years and scores in reading and language arts have increased by 13.2 percentage points, with support from Race to the Top and other federal programs.
Hundreds of Memphis students with red pom-poms welcomed Secretary Duncan to town on Wednesday, the final day of this year’s “Partners in Progress” back-to-school bus tour. Tennessee — in its fourth year of a federally funded Race to the Top grant — was one of the first grantees tapped to implement a comprehensive statewide plan for improving education, with broad community support.
Students from Cornerstone Preparatory School in Memphis, Tenn., cheered when the bus tour arrived. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)
Race to the Top — an investment that represents less than one percent of total education spending in America — has combined with other federally supported reform programs to fuel significant education improvements in states across the country. But, as Arne pointed out, the credit for encouraging early results goes to state and local partners—educators, families, faith-based, business and civic leaders — who’ve been determined to make things better for children, even though change can be hard.
“What’s going to sustain this is the hard work, the heart, the commitment of folks doing this,” Arne told more than 100 supporters of district and charter schools in Memphis. “The cumulative impact of all that hard work has been extraordinary.”
That impact is evident at Cornerstone Prep, which serves children in one of Memphis’s poorest neighborhoods. Once a school where only 2 percent of students were proficient in math, scores in that subject have increased by 23.1 points over the past three years and scores in reading and language arts have increased by 13.2 percentage points. T-shirts worn by the faculty and staff at Wednesday’s rally also attest that Cornerstone is “Proving the Possible.”
College banners are everywhere on campus, to keep everyone focused on the end goal. To the students cheering in the hot schoolyard out front, Arne delivered a back-to-school pep talk.
“A lot of people will tell you what you can’t do,” Arne said. “Don’t listen to them. Use that as fuel to keep you going.”
Changes, Challenges and Champions in Nashville
Earlier in the day, Arne joined National PTA President Otha Thornton and parents and teachers from Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools to discuss the impact in classrooms of some of the largest changes America’s schools have seen in decades.
Tennessee, like nearly every other state in the country, is in the early stages of implementing new and higher standards, better assessments and ways to use data and technology to boost student learning, as well as new efforts to support teachers and principals — all aimed at ensuring that all students are truly ready for college and careers. These changes are starting to show results, but challenges remain.
America’s high school graduation rate is at an all-time high and dropout rates are down, but one-third of high school graduates report having to take remedial classes in college. “What that tells you is they weren’t ready,” Arne said, citing the statistic. “They weren’t prepared…And that simply isn’t good enough.”
In a town hall at Nashville’s William Henry Oliver Middle School, Arne applauded PTA members for their strong stand for student and teacher success during this transition.
Secretary Duncan at a town hall at Nashville’s William Henry Oliver Middle School. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)
“This is new for everyone,” said panelist Kayleigh Wettstein, who teaches third grade in Nashville. “As teachers, we have to get on board and be really great role models for our students.”
Parents need support to understand these changes, too. Many nodded knowingly when ED Principal Ambassador Fellow Jill Levine, who leads a magnet school in Chattanooga, Tennessee, talked about the new ways that educators are teaching math and how those methods can be unfamiliar to parents who learned a different way to work with numbers.
For Wettstein, whose students tend to come from homes where English isn’t the first language, “not all parents are the same. We have to differentiate for our kids and we have to differentiate for our families as well.”
Parent Anita Ryan marveled at a recent project at her daughter’s school, involving All of the Above, a novel about four students and their quest to build the world’s largest tetrahedron and prove their urban school isn’t a “dead end.” Ryan’s daughter and her class read the book. They studied the math behind pyramidal shapes and the engineering involved in building giant ones. They wrote persuasive essays about winning approaches to break the record. And they worked in teams to test their theories.
The Common Core State Standards that Tennessee developed with more than 40 states encourage that kind of multi-faceted, project-based learning, Ryan said. As a result, students like her daughter “get it.” “They know it. They retain it,” she said.
One risk of this big transition in education is the potential for over-testing of students, Nashville Superintendent Jesse Register said. In his district, they have identified redundancies — “we were doing too much,” Register said — and are looking for ways to scale back testing without sacrificing important data and accountability.
“Where there’s too much testing, let’s have an honest conversation about that.” Arne said, reflecting on how he views testing in his own children’s public schools. Measuring what students know and where they need more help is a way to “make sure great teaching is leading to good results, not just teaching to the test.”
Talking about another form of accountability, Arne encouraged parents and educators to look behind politicians’ rhetoric and press them to genuinely value education and invest in public schools. For too long, politicians let standards slip to make themselves look good while students were being handed worthless diplomas. Elections, he said, are the ultimate form of accountability for officials who control education budgets and policy, but campaigns rarely focus on education, especially at the national level.
Arne threw out an idea for the next race for the White House. “In 2016, could we have a presidential debate about education, where the entire nation focuses on it? Could PTA host that debate?”
Reflecting on the tour, the Secretary noted the extraordinary ways that communities in all three states we visited—Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia—have seized the opportunity to bring about bold change in education.
“I don’t learn much sitting behind my desk in Washington. I need to get out.” (Arne has visited all 50 states and more than 350 schools in his five-and-a-half years as Secretary.) “This is a time to get better … and to do it together,” he said.
From the tour’s kickoff with First Lady Michelle Obama in Atlanta, where counselors, mentors and other role models are inspiring students to set their sights on higher education, to Space Camp at NASA’s Rocket Center in Huntsville, where kids explore the wonders of STEM, to an early learning center in Chattanooga, where parents are determined to give their babies a great start in life — partners across America are coming together to build a better future for all students.
And that’s real progress.
Melissa Apostolides is a member of the Communications Development team in the Office of Communications and Outreach.
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.
The state of Georgia is home to many notable “firsts.” It was the first state to lower the voting age to 18; the first Coca-Cola was poured in Atlanta; and in 1922, 87-year-old Rebecca Felton, of Georgia, became the first woman to serve in the U.S. Senate. So it’s fitting that the U.S. Department of Education’s “Partners in Progress” back-to-school bus tour had its first stopping point in the state.
In keeping with the “first” theme, the tour began at Spelman College, America’s first historically black college for women, in Atlanta. There, Secretary Arne Duncan met with 15 students from Spelman and two other HBCUs in the area, Morehouse College and Clark Atlanta University, for a roundtable discussion on preparing teachers from a variety of backgrounds to work in America’s increasingly diverse public schools.
Students at Spelman welcomed Secretary Duncan during the first stop on this year’s “Partners In Progress” Bus Tour. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)
Whether through traditional preparation programs at schools of education like Spelman’s or through alternative routes like Teach For America, our country’s schools need to recruit the next generation of talent from many different backgrounds, Secretary Duncan said. Schools — and the people who work in them — need to be connected to the communities they serve.
“Where schools are isolated from their communities,” he said at the roundtable, “that makes the work of that teacher that much harder.”
The next stop was at nearby Booker T. Washington High School, where Secretary Duncan was joined by First Lady Michelle Obama. The two were greeted by hundreds of cheering Bulldogs in royal blue shirts, fired up by the marching band and cheerleaders.
The Booker T. Washington High School Bulldogs cheered as the First Lady took the stage to talk about her Reach Higher initiative. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)
Booker T. Washington, where Martin Luther King, Jr. attended high school, was the latest high school to hear from Mrs. Obama about her own journey to college, from the South Side of Chicago to Princeton University — and how some adults along the way doubted she could do it.
The First Lady’s main objective was to talk about her Reach Higher initiative, which seeks to inspire all students in America to take charge of their future by completing their education past high school. That can come in the form of a four-year college degree, a two-year degree or a certificate that helps them get a job.
“You have to understand that completing high school is not the end but the beginning of your life’s journey,” Mrs. Obama said. “It’s just the beginning. In today’s world, in order to compete in an ever-globalizing economy, you’ve got to continue your education after you graduate from high school.”
Day one of the bus tour wrapped up in Carrollton, a small Georgia community near the Alabama border. Duncan met with school officials and representatives from the Southwire Company to hear more about the “12 for Life” program, which offers students who have fallen behind in high school the opportunity to attend class and make money by working in a Southwire manufacturing facility.
Tour time! Secretary Duncan joined students enrolled in the “12 for Life” program on a tour of a Southwire manufacturing facility. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)
Similar partnerships between Georgia school districts and business have resulted in 34 locations throughout the state, at Southwire but also in the grocery industry, furniture manufacturing and local government. A four-year $3 million Investing in Innovation (i3) grant from the U.S. Department of Education is helping to expand the number of students participating in 12 for Life from 160 to 320.
Students from the program led Arne on a tour of the factory floor — Southwire is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of telecommunications and home wiring — and they shared inspiring and deeply personal testimonies about the technical, leadership and life skills that they’ve acquired while earning their high school diploma.
Brittany Beachum was pregnant when her high school counselor suggested she apply to 12 for Life. “Not one time did not graduating cross my mind,” she said, “Being here gave me the opportunity to attend school and not give up, because of the supports.” Now Brittany is enrolled at West Georgia Technical College and expects to be certified as a nursing assistant by December. There’s a job waiting for her at the nearby veterans hospital, she said, and she wants to continue her training to become a registered nurse.
This year marks the fifth back-to-school bus tour for Secretary Duncan and the Department of Education. Traveling through Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama will provide an opportunity to see innovations in education and to discuss progress, promise, and results.
Throughout the tour, we are focusing on the changes in education and the challenges that accompany them, all while highlighting the champions of reform — teachers, parents, community members, and others — who are leading the effort to improve education for all students. Traveling through places that represent the cradle of this country’s civil rights effort, the tour also focuses on important work that is closing opportunity gaps that many young Americans face.
Today, our tour bus will roll through Birmingham and Huntsville, Ala., and Chattanooga, Tenn. Check back for a recap of those events. And for more information about the tour and to follow along virtually, visit here.
Patrick Kerr is a member of the Communications Development team in the Office of Communications and Outreach.
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has repeatedly said that the best ideas come from schools, districts and states – not from Washington – which is why, starting on Monday, the Secretary will hit the road for his fifth-annual back-to-school bus tour to engage with students, teachers, parents and other members of local communities.
During this year’s tour, entitled Partners in Progress, the Secretary will discuss progress in education and the challenges and work ahead, all while highlighting the champions of change — teachers, parents, community members, and others — who are leading the effort to improve education for all students.
The three-day tour will take us to Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee, and if you can’t make it to one of the events, here are four ways to stay digitally connected to the tour:
Follow hashtag #edtour14 for the latest and keep up to date by following @usedgov and @arneduncan.