How Elementary School Students Taught Me about Being Globally Competent

Marina in São Paulo, Brazil. She studied abroad in Rio de Janeiro in spring 2015. (Photo credit: Marina Kelly)

Marina in São Paulo, Brazil. She studied abroad in Rio de Janeiro during the spring of 2015. (Photo credit: Marina Kelly)

At age nine I had the chance to visit my father’s birthplace, a rural town in Guatemala surrounded by mountains. This trip, and many others that followed, would change the way I view the world and have inspired me to learn more about my heritage. Over the years, I have developed an affinity for international issues that led me to learn Portuguese and study abroad in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Through these experiences, I learned important skills like flexibility, adaptability, open-mindedness, inquisitiveness, and I gained greater self-knowledge. I didn’t realize it, but I was learning to be globally competent.

The Global Competence Task Force, established by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the Asia Society, defines globally competent individuals as people who can “use their knowledge and skills to investigate the world beyond their immediate environment, recognize their own and other’s perspectives, communicate their ideas effectively with diverse audiences, and translate their ideas into appropriate actions.”

During my first two-and-a-half years of college, I volunteered at a predominately Latino, bilingual elementary school in Washington, D.C.’s Columbia Heights neighborhood. Many of the students reminded me of myself, and some even had parents from Guatemala. But, unlike me, almost none of them had ever left the country, yet they were still very in touch with their heritage.

Marina with first grade students in San Lucas Tolimán, Guatemala. (Photo credit: Marina Kelly)

Marina with first grade students in San Lucas Tolimán, Guatemala. (Photo credit: Marina Kelly)

These students taught me two things. First, I learned that you do not need to go overseas to be globally competent. While the students I worked with faced many obstacles, they had already mastered several globally competent skills. All of them had at least a basic proficiency in a second language and were familiar with other cultures. Schools across the nation like the one at which I worked are recognizing that global competencies are vital to succeeding in today’s diverse world and that these skills can be learned in the classroom.

The second lesson I learned is that having overseas experiences, too often, is a privilege – it is not an opportunity that is afforded to everyone. Coming from an underserved community, many of the students I worked with would be lucky to meet their extended family in Latin America, like I did. This led me to design a service project to teach these students about study abroad as part of the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship I received to go to Rio.

Before interning in the International Affairs Office at ED, I knew I had learned these lessons, but I did not know how to articulate them. This semester, I have been fortunate to participate in discussions about the future of global competencies. Something that will really stick with me from these conversations is that global competencies are not add-ons or “nice-to-haves,” but rather, components of a quality education that all students need. As Secretary Duncan said in his statement on this year’s International Education Week, “Let’s work together … to make global competence the norm, not the exception.”

Marina Kelly is an intern in the International Affairs Office at the U.S. Department of Education and a Senior at American University.

The Importance of an International Education for All Students

This week is International Education Week — a time when educators, administrators, students, and parents recognize and celebrate the importance of world language learning; study abroad; and an appreciation of different countries and cultures.

Recent tragedies throughout the world — including in Paris, Beirut, Yola, Sinai and Baghdad — serve as a reminder of our common humanity and our shared interest in building bridges of understanding.

For students who study a different part of the world, speak a second language, or study abroad, the experience can lead to a better appreciation of the complexity, challenges, and ambiguity, as well as the opportunities, of life in the 21st century.

These skills and aptitudes contribute to our young people’s global competency.

However, for too many of our students, global competencies — including mastery of a foreign language, cultural understanding that comes from studying abroad, or the opportunity to apply their knowledge and skills to solving global issues—are not always easy to obtain.

A continued lack of investment in world language programs and world area studies at the primary, secondary, and postsecondary levels have left many of our students behind the curve. Study abroad often also can be seen as a luxury and not as an essential and integrated part of an academic experience, even though research shows it can have a positive effect on college completion, especially for the most vulnerable students. The price of study abroad also can be prohibitive for students with modest means.

As important as global competencies are to building a robust educational experience for our students and increasing the cultural understanding of our people, they also are critical tools for individuals navigating a global job market. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that one in five American jobs is tied to global trade; and that number is expected to rise significantly in coming years.

As we work to ensure that all students have access to a high-quality education, it is imperative that the experience they have, whether it is during their K-12 years, at a community college, or at a four-year university, gives them the skills to succeed in our increasingly connected, 21st century global economy.

It’s almost a cliché these days to note how interconnected our world has become—but we must not take this powerful dynamic and its implications for the future of our young people for granted. It simply isn’t sufficient for a small business owner to have a basic understanding of accounting and management. Increasingly, she must think about where her product is sourced, the competition from overseas, and whether or not she can communicate across borders with suppliers who may not speak her language.

The engineer tasked with working on a construction project in Iraq has an infinitely more difficult job without an understanding of the Arabic language and the local culture. Similarly, here at home, our healthcare professionals are treating patients from around the globe, and a knowledge of world regions, cultures, and language can help them diagnose a rare condition, be more conscious of a patient’s cultural sensitivities, or simply communicate “you’ll be just fine” in another language.

As we celebrate international education this week and every week, we must ensure that all students leave our classrooms and campuses with the skills to work with their counterparts in other countries and in our own increasingly diverse communities, for a safer and more prosperous world.

Mohamed Abdel-Kader is Deputy Assistant Secretary for International & Foreign Language Education at the U.S. Department of Education.

Global Goals: A Roadmap to Quality Education for All

The UN General assembly was buzzing on September 25th. Pope Francis and Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai addressed the gathering of 193 world leaders. Singer Shakira, a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador who advocates for early childhood education, chimed in with a song. When all was said and done, the world leaders got down to the work at hand and ratified the much anticipated Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Unlike the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the SDGs are the product of an inclusive effort and 2+ years of hard work of the Open Working Group and civil society organizations. The goals are a comprehensive roadmap to end poverty and cover topics from food security to gender equality and actions to combat climate change. Included is an ambitious goal to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.

This is key because the SDGs are not just about people in far flung corners of the world. They are about all of us. They address issues that affect children in Ferguson, Missouri, as much as children in Nigeria. They are global in nature and are meant to influence how all nations take action to meet them. At a high level meeting, which featured speakers such as Nobel Peace Prize winners Kailash Satyarthi and Malala, United Nations Special Envoy on Education Gordon Brown, and UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova, the Global Education First Initiative Youth Advocacy Group called on those in attendance to move from “promises to progress”.

At the U.S. Department of Education, our mission, first and foremost, is to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access. While the challenges we face may not be at the same scale as in the developing world, they are challenges nonetheless.

Speaking at the National PTA Conference, Secretary Arne Duncan affirmed that “Giving every child an equal opportunity to learn is the central challenge of our era, and will determine whether our nation grows stronger or struggles in years ahead.”

Just as lifelong learning is a priority in the SDGs, Secretary Duncan has highlighted its importance in the domestic agenda: “So if we are serious about providing all our children with good choices in life, if we are serious about our nation’s economic strength, it’s this simple: We must get rid of the obsolete belief that a quality education begins at age five and ends at age eighteen.”

Over the past year, we, as Americans, have been asking ourselves some tough questions about equality in our society. Secretary Duncan has said that change “will only happen because we, as a nation, make a deliberate choice for equity. A deliberate choice to insist on excellence for all of our nation’s students.” These sentiments are shared by the 193 world leaders gathered at the UN over the weekend. For all the world’s children, the path that leads away from poverty and despair towards a future full of hope and promise starts with quality education.

Rebecca Miller is an International Affairs Specialist at the U.S. Department of Education.

Study Abroad: Developing Global Competencies

Rachel Warner studied abroad in India and has been collecting and presenting data on how well students in the United States develop global competencies as part of her internship at ED.

Rachel Warner studied abroad in India and has been collecting and presenting data on how well students in the United States develop global competencies as part of her internship at ED.

As an intern in the International Affairs Office at ED, my main project of the summer has been collecting and presenting data on how well students in the United States develop global competencies. Globally competent people have knowledge about the world and use it to investigate beyond their immediate environment, recognize various perspectives, communicate with others, and translate ideas into actions. In schools this is done through international-based subjects such as foreign languages or world history, global knowledge entwined in other subjects, digital exchanges, and study abroad programs. Unfortunately, the data on study abroad show a dismal tale of how students are developing global competencies.

My study abroad experience in India was one of the best opportunities I have ever had, but unfortunately only 14% of U.S. students study abroad at some point during their degree program. I learned about Indian culture, religion, history, and development, all while interacting with diverse people. I also worked on what I believe is one of the most important skills: asking critical questions with humility and respect. Whether I continue to travel to different cultures or stay at home in our increasingly diverse communities, engaging with others in a respectful way is necessary to having positive and peaceful interactions.

Study abroad also teaches students how to be leaders and engage with the interconnected problems that our world faces today. Research about leaders in 30 different countries reported that nearly half of them had international experience. Our world is becoming increasingly interconnected. One in five U.S. jobs is tied to international trade and hiring managers view international skills as increasingly important. Having the ability to engage with those from different backgrounds and communicate effectively enables positive change to occur. In order to handle global challenges and be leaders in the globalized future, students need to have international experiences that expose them to people of different backgrounds and beliefs.

Next spring, I have the opportunity to participate in a Semester at Sea voyage around Asia and Africa. SAS is a study abroad program where you learn on a ship and travel between 15 ports, which you then have the opportunity to explore. On the ship each student takes a comparative lens course, which connects course content to each country we visit. The reason I choose SAS for my semester abroad, however, was their idea of integrating global content into courses. One of the courses I plan on taking is International Management. In the course, students apply case studies from the countries visited to business concepts, and also participate in a field lab. I will gain firsthand experiences that will help me gain greater comprehension and appreciation of the material.

Although the data was disheartening, it can help us formulate a vision for how the development of global competencies can be promoted in the future. There are many great programs out there that help teach students about the world and how to apply that knowledge. Interning at the Department has allowed me to meet many people who are passionate about helping students succeed. I have faith that international education can be promoted and encouraged and our students can succeed in the changing international arena.

Rachel Warner is a rising junior at the College of William & Mary. She interned in the International Affairs Office in Summer 2015.

Sharing Ideas for Tomorrow’s Students and Teachers

At the 3rd U.S.-China State/Provincial Education Leaders’ Dialogue, education leaders from eight American states and seventeen Chinese provinces shared ideas and discussed efforts to improve teacher professional development and to implement effective student assessments.

U.S. leaders visited schools in Shanghai before the dialogue began and the American delegation was particularly impressed by the students and faculty at Shanghai Shibei Junior High School. The delegates observed English, math, and science classes, interacted with highly engaged students, and participated in discussions about the lessons with teachers in their teacher research groups. China’s teacher research groups, similar to professional learning communities that are beginning to be more common in U.S. schools, have been used for many years and the deep practice was reflected in the quality of the discussion at Shibei Junior High School.

U.S. leaders visited schools in Shanghai before the dialogue began and the American delegation was particularly impressed by the students and faculty at Shanghai Shibei Junior High School.

U.S. leaders visited schools in Shanghai before the dialogue began and the American delegation was particularly impressed by the students and faculty at Shanghai Shibei Junior High School.

Chinese provincial education leaders also identified the shortage of quality teachers in rural areas as an issue they are working hard to turn around, in part through economic incentives, and recognized the need to address the emotional needs of these sometimes isolated educators as well. The U.S. education chiefs talked about similar challenges in attracting and retaining high quality teachers to remote or inaccessible areas, using technology to train teachers, growing teachers from within the community, and developing strong principals and teacher leaders.

Education leaders from eight American states and seventeen Chinese provinces shared ideas and discussed efforts to improve teacher professional development and to implement effective student assessments.

Education leaders from eight American states and seventeen Chinese provinces shared ideas and discussed efforts to improve teacher professional development and to implement effective student assessments.

The U.S. outlined the policy context for assessment in the states and provided a look forward to include Student Learning Objectives and technology based assessments in pursuit of both equity and excellence. The U.S. education chiefs talked about the importance of using assessments formatively to impact instruction and learning and discussed the adoption of higher standards across the country and within their states. In contrast, China’s national assessments, which date back to 605 AD, have traditionally been used to measure academic proficiency and monitor education quality, but current reforms are underway to align them with college entrance requirements and 21st century competencies and to broaden the use of technology in assessment. The rigorous discussion ended with a collective realization that China and the U.S. are in many ways on opposite ends of the assessment continuum and that there are opportunities to learn from each other.

While the education systems in the U.S. and China exhibit a high level of diversity both within and between each country, the dialogue reconfirmed the many common challenges and how the desire to learn from each other brings us closer together. Learning from other countries to improve U.S. education and advance U.S. international priorities is a key objective of the Department’s international strategy.

Maureen McLaughlin is senior advisor to the Secretary and director of International Affairs. Ronn Nozoe is deputy assistant secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education

U.S. Educators Leading on the World’s Teacher Leadership Stage

The following is compiled from reflections from the six teachers and one principal who attended the International Summit on the Teaching Profession 2015 (ISTP 2015) as representatives of the U.S. Delegation. The teachers have all been active in Teach to Lead and are members of three of the initiatives’ key support organizations – the Hope Street Group, National Network of State Teachers of the Year, and Teach Plus. Sharif El-Mekki, the author, is a Principal Ambassador Fellow for the U.S. Department of Education.

Seeing the sights in Banff. Front row from left to right: Secretary Duncan, Pam Reilly, Wendy Bandi, Jennifer Aponte; Back row: Joseph Fatheree, Sharif El-Mekki and Mark Sass. Not Pictured: Natalie McCutchen (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Seeing the sights in Banff. Front row from left to right: Secretary Duncan, Pam Reilly, Wendy Bandi, Jennifer Aponte; Back row: Joseph Fatheree, Sharif El-Mekki and Mark Sass. Not Pictured: Natalie McCutchen (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

It was wholly evident to us at ISTP 2015 that great teaching is increasingly being recognized worldwide – and rightfully so — as a key catalyst to improving trajectories for individual citizens and whole countries. The theme of the summit, Implementing Highly Effective Teacher Policy and Practice, focused on: developing and promoting effective leadership among principals, teachers, and administrators, valuing teachers and strengthening their sense of effectiveness or “self-efficacy;” and encouraging innovation in the 21st-century classroom. As guests of the U.S. Department of Education, Secretary Arne Duncan invited us to attend, learn and contribute.

Being party to this international conversation was exciting. As Jennifer Aponte, a K-12 teacher from Boston said, all the countries and delegates “should be commended for tackling the most complex educational issues.” These are not easy issues and it is such a tremendous opportunity for countries to learn from one another. However it was Secretary Duncan’s decision, Joe Fatheree, 2007 IL Teacher of the Year, noted to add “an authentic teacher’s voice to the conversation” that, “helped enrich the dialogue between global leaders on the importance of teacher leadership and innovation.” A key theme of the summit was teacher leadership and by inviting teachers and a principal, the Department of Education continued promoting educators as leaders and demonstrated its leadership on this issue.

Throughout the event, we were surprised that the sessions and panels did not include active practitioners nor highlighted active teachers as experts. As Wendi Bandi, 3-4th math teacher from Fall River, MA, put it, “the format of the summit did not reflect the ideas being discussed.” Mark Sass, a high school history teacher from CO observed, “teachers were continually referred to in the third person.” While ISTP 2015 had several experts about the field share useful analyses, there were no experts in the field lending their experience and expertise. Natalie McCutchen, a middle school math teacher from KY, remarked, “I was in awe…but one aspect of ISTP that kept resonating with me was that teachers should be in the forefront of the summit; teachers needed to be the ones delivering firsthand accounts of the initiatives and programs that have proved successful in their schools… teachers need to be the voice, face, and the experts of education.”

In an unusual move, Secretary Duncan insisted that the seven us be in the room to help shape the U.S. Delegation’s commitments for 2015 and asked that Jeff Charbonneau, the 2013 National Teacher of the Year, present our commitments to the international community. This symbolized that educators were both an integral part of creating the United States’ commitments, as well as key to meeting them. In doing so, “Secretary Duncan modeled what teacher leadership looks like when you cultivate and empower teachers to flourish as visionary leaders and not just part of the backdrop,” said Pam Reilly, the 2014 IL Teacher of the Year. Indeed, the seven of us felt very empowered, and in the pursuit of continuous improvement, convened a meeting with the other teachers from around the world. Collectively we committed to supporting teachers becoming an integral part of the 2016 International Summit on the Teaching Profession. 

Next year, at this time, each country will travel to Berlin to share the progress they made towards and lessons learned from the commitments they announced in Banff. How the summit is formatted will also tell a story about countries’ commitment to teacher leadership. It is exciting that so many great minds are devoted to tackling some of teaching’s most complex issues. We are confident that we can build on the successes of the 2015 Summit and include more practitioners among those great minds. As leaders in U.S. schools, we are committed to help make this happen.

Sharif El-Mekki, is principal of Mastery Charter School – Shoemaker in Philadelphia and a 2013-15 Campus Principal Ambassador Fellow of the U.S. Department of Education.

Teacher Leadership on the Global Stage

During the last weekend in March, union leaders, state education leaders, teacher leaders, one of ED’s Principal Ambassador Fellows and I joined delegations from 15 high-performing education systems across the globe for the 5thInternational Summit on the Teaching Profession in Banff, Canada. As countries around the world share a common desire to give every child a chance in life and to support teachers who devote their lives to that goal, the summit is a unique opportunity to learn from each other’s successes and challenges and to look for ways to replicate or adapt back home what other countries are doing well. We all appreciated the hospitality of Alberta Minister Gordon Dirks and his colleagues from across Canada for providing us the opportunity to grow and learn in such a beautiful setting.

Each year at the international summit each participating country commits to work in key areas over the course of the year and then report back on progress at the next summit. Together with the AFT, NEA, and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), we reported on the progress of our commitments from 2014 on teacher leadership, early learning and labor-management collaboration to increase learning for all students.

This year, the U.S. delegation introduced Teach to Lead, an initiative that seeks to advance student outcomes by expanding opportunities for teacher leadership both in and out of the classroom, to the global stage sparking international interest in this teacher-led and designed initiative to promote meaningful opportunities for teacher leadership that improve student outcomes. Teach to Lead has become an important vehicle through which so many teachers are fighting to make their leadership dreams a reality.

While at the summit our U.S. teachers, including six who have been active in Teach to Lead, convened a meeting with Canadian, Dutch, German and Estonian teachers and are now creating an international team of teachers exchanging ideas and working to advance teacher leadership and innovation across the globe. The teachers who attended are also getting the word out to educators across the U.S. and are beginning conversations about one of the commitments we made this year–a domestic summit modeled after the international summit to highlight and expand teacher leadership opportunities in the U.S.

During the summit, countries discussed their different approaches to leadership and the importance of collaboration. The Ontario Minister described their competitive Teacher Learning and Leadership Program to fund teacher projects; Singapore builds leadership development into each of its three career tracks; Finland starts leadership training in its initial teacher preparation; and New Zealand discussed its new Communities of Schools initiative and Teacher-led Innovation Fund.

I came away from the summit discussions with a renewed energy and commitment to teacher leadership and collaboration at all levels of education. With Jeff Charbonneau, 2013 National Teacher of the Year, presenting, the U.S. delegation committed publicly to:

  • Convene a summit in the U.S. to highlight teacher leadership and expand leadership opportunities.
  • Continue to work to increase the number of children with access to high-quality early learning and encourage teacher leadership in this regard.
  • Work to increase access for learners of all ages to high-quality career and technical education and encourage teacher leadership in this regard.

As Sharif El-Mekki, principal of Mastery Charter School-Shoemaker Campus in Philadelphia, said “I was proud that teachers and principals were a part of the decision making process for establishing the United States’ commitments for this coming year. A classroom teacher (and leader) presented our commitments to the world. The significance of this was profound, and lauded by the other international teachers in attendance. It was a proud moment for teacher leadership, nationally and internationally.”

With our teachers in the lead, we are already moving ahead on our commitments and will report back on our progress to the international community next year at the 6th summit in Berlin, Germany. As Mark Sass, high school teacher leader from Colorado, said “It is exciting to know that the work we are doing around teacher leadership is building nationally, as well as internationally. I left the Summit empowered and energized knowing there is a global collective focused on elevating the profession.”

When we hosted the first international summit in New York City in 2011, it wasn’t evident that it would create an ongoing international community of practice dedicated to enhancing the teaching profession, and dedicated to improving learning for all students. But it has and that reflects the global view that all teachers and principals need and deserve excellent preparation, support and opportunities for growth. Our educators and students deserve nothing less.

Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education.

Teaching and Leading at the 5th International Summit on the Teaching Profession

Each March I look forward to joining colleagues from around the world at the International Summit on the Teaching Profession to learn from high-performing and rapidly improving education systems about ways to elevate and enhance the teaching profession in order to improve student learning. I never imagined when we started the International Summit in New York City in 2011 that it would become a vibrant and lasting international community of practice. But the thirst among countries to learn from each other is strong and on March 29 and 30, Canada is hosting the 5th Summit, Implementing Highly Effective Teacher Policy and Practice, in Banff, Alberta.

We’ve learned so much from past Summit discussions and can see a real connection to education policy and practice in the U.S. over the years, as well as significant progress on commitments made by the U.S. delegation at the end of each Summit. I am particularly excited about this year’s Summit because teacher leadership — one of our three Summit commitments last year — will be highlighted this year.

Last week Secretary Duncan reported back on the first year of Teach to Lead, an initiative in partnership with the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards that is designed to advance the national conversation around the future of the profession and promote meaningful opportunities for teacher leadership that improve outcomes for students. Teach to Lead is teacher-designed and teacher-led and has the support of more than 70 organizations, including the AFT and NEA which, along with Secretary Duncan, are part of the U.S. delegation to the International Summit. As Secretary Duncan said in front of a crowd of thousands, “I was hopeful [about teacher leadership] last year. I am convinced we are onto something really important and special now. Change has to come from teachers who own it and lead it.”

The progress and excitement in Teach to Lead over the past year has been phenomenal. Thousands of teachers have engaged in Teach to Lead through the online ‘Commit to Lead’ community, and more than 500 teachers, administrators, and representatives from supporting organizations have been at our regional summits and local leadership labs. Teach to Lead has truly been about elevating the teaching profession and supporting teachers by giving them opportunities to collaborate, plan and shape their own roles for their own contexts from the school to the state.

A real question for Teach to Lead is — what next? How does teacher leadership expand and grow? This year’s Summit agenda poses three questions that can help the U.S. to reflect on possible future paths.

  • How do high-performing countries promote deeper and more collaborative forms of leadership at all levels within education systems?
  • What strategies allow education systems to exercise consistent and widespread teacher leadership?
  • What should be the role of teachers and their unions and associations in creating conditions for teacher leadership?

Six amazing U.S. teachers who have been actively involved in Teach to Lead – from Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky and Massachusetts — are part of the U.S. delegation to this year’s Summit.   This is an opportunity for them to share their work, to hear what other countries are doing to support and encourage teacher leadership, and to reflect on next steps to elevate and advance teacher leadership back home.

I am eager to learn from our Canadian hosts and other international colleagues and excited to do so with creative, committed teacher leaders from around the United States.

Maureen McLaughlin is senior advisor to the Secretary and director of International Affairs at the U.S. Department of Education.

Now is the Time for Safe and Equal Access to Education for All Children All Over the World

On October 9th 2012, Malala Yousafzai was on a school bus returning to her home in Pakistan’s Swat Valley. A masked gunman boarded the bus and asked for her by name. When her classmates could not help but to glance at her, the gunman approached Malala and shot three times, hitting her in the head and neck. She was 15 years old and her only crime was advocating for equal access to education for all children.

On December 8th of this year, UNICEF declared that 2014 was a devastating year for children. Two years after the brutal attack on Malala, as many as 10,000 children have been recruited to fight by armed groups in the Central African Republic. In Syria, there have been more than 35 attacks on schools and 1.7 million children are now refugees. And a mere eight days after the UNICEF report was released, Taliban gunman launched an unimaginable attack on a Pakistani school, killing 132 students.

These are just some of the challenges that world leaders and non-governmental organizations face in their efforts to establish a new set of sustainable development goals. Technical experts and advocates from Save the Children and other groups are engaging in a series of global consultations on post-2015 education indicators. What has emerged is this: the only way to offer children a future free of violence and extreme poverty is to provide every child safe and equitable access to quality education. Simply counting the number of children in schools is not enough.

Of course, violence against children is not limited to countries outside our borders. Speaking to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute in October, Secretary Arne Duncan referenced the impact violence has had on his own experience. He said, “I saw children who happened to come from a very violent community; who happened to all be African-American; who happened to be very poor. Despite many real challenges, many went on to do extraordinary things.”

Duncan also pointed out that students of color in the U.S. are more likely to be assigned inexperienced teachers; that they have less access to advanced classes; and that they are more likely to go to schools with lower-quality facilities, such as temporary structures. These are circumstances we can and must change.

In October, ED’s Office of Civil Rights issued guidance to states, school districts, and schools to help ensure students in the U.S. have equal access to educational resources. Initiatives such as My Brother’s Keeper and Excellent Educators for All are designed to help level the playing field for U.S. students who face an uphill battle in attaining an education. The goal is to ensure that our children – no matter their circumstances – have every opportunity to reach their full potential.

In the wake of the brutal attack in Peshawar and the seemingly never-ending violence against children in our own country, there is a tremendous amount of work left to be done. It’s in our nation’s best interest to prepare all of our children, not just a privileged few, for the challenges of the global economy. With the world’s focus turned to safe and equitable access to quality education, now is the time for us to make good on our promises.

Rebecca Miller is an International Affairs Specialist in the International Affairs Office at the U.S. Department of Education.

Ensuring a Global Education for All Students

Our world has never been more interconnected or interdependent. We’re all global “neighbors,” and each of us can make a commitment to understanding each other and working together.

Each November, the U.S. Departments of Education (ED) and State invite educational institutions and cultural programs to celebrate how they prepare people to become effective global citizens and attract students from abroad to study, learn, and share ideas with their peers in this country.

This year, International Education Week runs from Nov. 17 through 21.

Here at ED, I work in the International and Foreign Language Education office researching our grantees’ practices and successes, particularly related to outreach to minority serving institutions and community colleges, local teachers, and colleges of education.


Katrina Dillon is a former teacher who is helping educators to foster global understanding in their students. (Photo credit: University of New Mexico)

To learn more about how our university partners work to foster global understanding on the local level, I recently interviewed Katrina Dillon—a former teacher—who is helping educators to foster global understanding in their students.

During her time as an elementary and middle school teacher in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Dillon used to struggle to find content that reflected the diversity in her classroom, which includes a large number of Latino students.

“Students need to see themselves in the curriculum, and as their teacher, you feel responsible for filling in those gaps in content,” Dillon explained.

Today, Dillon works at the Latin American and Iberian Institute (LAII) at the University of New Mexico, where she develops resources that teachers around the country can use to infuse their K-12 curriculum with rich, culturally appropriate content. The LAII is one of 100 National Resource Centers supported by grant funding from ED under Title VI of the Higher Education Act. As part of the outreach at the LAII, Dillon said, “We’re trying to create materials with content we feel is relevant across the board for students.”

The Institute’s offerings include the Vamos a Leer blog and a monthly book club that highlight Latino and indigenous literature, as well as resources such as ¡Viva la Revolución! An Educator’s Guide to the Mexican Revolution. These works contain lesson plans, background information, activities, and novel and film guides to help educators incorporate Latin American history and culture into the classroom. The Institute also hosts workshops with topics like, “How to Teach About El Día de los Muertos,” to train teachers to bring Latin American content into the classroom.

Dillion working with teachers during the “How to Teach About El Día de los Muertos” workshop. (Photo credit: University of New Mexico)

Dillion working with teachers during the “How to Teach About El Día de los Muertos” workshop. (Photo credit: University of New Mexico)

In addition to her work at LAII, Dillon is a doctoral candidate in Language, Literacy, and Sociocultural Studies at the University of New Mexico. After graduation, she hopes to continue working with students in teacher education programs to advance the mission of ensuring a global education for all students.

Through my studies, my internship at the Department, and in talking with educators like Katrina Dillon, one thing has become increasingly clear—rich, international education is necessary. In a country as diverse as ours, students can benefit from learning to interact comfortably and confidently with people from all backgrounds and points of view. Our students also can benefit from understanding their own cultures and backgrounds, and how their histories and values contribute to the richness of the American experience.

Kaley Palanjian is a junior at Georgetown University studying linguistics, with a minor in education, inquiry, and justice. She is interning in the Office of Postsecondary Education for the International and Foreign Language Education office.

Why Education Is a Global Matter

This year marks the 15th anniversary of International Education Week (IEW), a time to recognize, reflect, and celebrate the important role education plays worldwide.

Educators, families and students are working hard to implement a comprehensive vision for cradle-to-career improvements here in the U.S. so every child can receive a world-class education, and to ensure that our nation remains globally competitive. But U.S. education leaders are also committed to an international education agenda that’s deeper and more collaborative than ever.

In November 2013, at the invitation of Haiti’s education minister, Secretary Duncan visited Haiti and met with students, teachers, government officials, and other stakeholders.  National leaders in Haiti are committed to expanding educational opportunity and raising educational quality. We saw clearly that children in Haiti want an education and are willing to try despite the odds against them.   Read more about the Secretary’s visit here. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

In November 2013, Secretary Duncan visited Haiti and met with students, teachers, government officials, and other stakeholders. Read more about the Secretary’s visit here. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

That is why, during IEW 2012, Department of Education released its first fully-integrated international strategy, Succeeding Globally Through International Education and Engagement, linking our domestic and international priorities. Increasing the global competencies of all U.S. students, learning from other countries to improve our education policies and practices, and engaging in active education diplomacy will help to strengthen U.S. education and advance our nation’s international priorities.

Just last month, Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani teenager shot in the head by Taliban gunmen for advocating for girls’ education, became the youngest ever recipient of the Nobel Peace prize. As she said, “We realized the importance of pens and books, when we saw the guns.” What a courageous and amazing young person. All of us – educators, parents, policymakers, and world leaders – desire a bright and happy future for our children and our nations. Education must help to ensure that future: a better educated world is a more prosperous world, a healthier world, and a safer world. When we became a Global Education First Initiative (GEFI) Champion Country  earlier this year, we committed to be leaders in this effort.

I’ve seen the difference education makes in my experience growing up in Chicago and later as head of the Chicago Public Schools; during my time in Australia when I worked with wards of the court; and in the communities and schools I’ve visited as Secretary. Two visits from the past year are particularly vivid for me: Columbus Elementary, situated just a few miles from the Mexico border, where students wake up before sunrise to cross the border for school each day and my trip to Haiti where I saw in the eyes of so many children the desire and commitment to get a basic education despite the odds against them.

I also place a high priority on benchmarking ourselves against other education systems and learning from them to see how we can improve. OECD’s Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), the international assessment of reading, math and science, has been an important yardstick for me because it is taken by 15-year-old high school students around the globe. The most recent PISA results show a picture of educational stagnation for the U.S., a wake-up call against complacency and low expectations. PISA also helps to show that there’s a false choice between equity and excellence: education systems as diverse as Canada and Korea can, and do, achieve both.

We know that a key component of educational success is starting early yet the U.S. is 25th in the world in our enrollment of four-year-olds in preschool. This gap highlights the urgency of our efforts to increase enrollment in high quality preschool. Young children in New Zealand, for example, can receive 20 hours of free early learning opportunities each week.  Data show that 95 percent of New Zealand’s children have had some early childhood education when they start school. The U.S. rate of 65 percent pales in comparison.

We hosted – with international and domestic partners – the first-ever International Summit on the Teaching Profession in 2011, bringing together ministers and union leaders with high-performing and rapidly improving education systems from around the world to discuss how to enhance and elevate the teaching profession worldwide. The summit proved such a success that it is now hosted annually by countries around the world.  What we heard at the summits have had an important impact on U.S. teacher policy, including RESPECT and Teach to Lead.

I hope, this week and every week, you’ll find ways to encourage and support the shared vision of International Education Week – that every child, in every country, grows up globally competent and appreciates cultural diversity.

Watch Secretary Duncan’s IEW 2014 message:

Arne Duncan is U.S. Secretary of Education.

Academic Mobility: Have Degree, Will Travel

Last month in Rome, I attended an international meeting focused on increasing academic mobility by making it easier for individuals to use their college degrees in other countries. The annual meeting of the European Network of Information Centers (ENIC) draws participants from 55 countries, as well as representatives from UNESCO and the Council of Europe.

You may not have heard about “academic mobility” before, but it’s actually nothing new. From the time of the first universities in medieval Europe, students and scholars have traveled great distances and crossed borders to engage in academic pursuits. But what makes academic mobility such a prominent issue today is its scale and rate of growth.


Participants in the 21st ENIC-NARIC Conference, held in Rome, Italy, July 6-8, 2014.
(Photo credit: Italian Center for Academic Mobility and Equivalencies)

The demand for higher education in many countries has increased significantly, while the number of international students worldwide also continues to grow, rising from 2.5 million in 2004 to 3.6 million in 2010. And for all students earning academic credit or degrees abroad, ensuring that those credentials will be recognized when they return home is critical to their future prospects for employment or further study.

Years ago, just after graduating from college, I spent an additional year studying in Buenos Aires, Argentina. As is the case with most students who go abroad, immersion in another language and culture was a life-changing experience. I didn’t realize it at the time, but not only was I starting down a path toward a career in international education, I was also engaging in something called academic mobility.

Today, as the U.S. representative to the ENIC network, I provide information to counterparts in other countries to help in their evaluation of U.S. credentials, including those that are less well known outside of the United States—like associate degrees and industry-based certifications. I also respond to inquiries from U.S. graduates wishing to work or pursue graduate studies abroad and to questions from foreign-educated graduates planning to work or go to graduate school in the United States.

But the recognition of degrees is just one aspect of academic mobility. Academic mobility comprises all cross-border education activities that involve the movement of people, programs or institutions. And as globalization continues and higher education evolves along with it, academic mobility is becoming a topic of increasing relevance.

Today, I understand the benefits of academic mobility from professional as well as personal experience.  And now more than ever, events and challenges around the world affect all of us on a day-to-day basis. That’s why I’m passionate about working with my international colleagues to help students expand their horizons through study abroad and to facilitate the recognition of degrees and other credentials. Academic mobility helps create more globally competent citizens with the 21st century skills that every nation – and the world as a whole – needs.

Rafael Nevárez is an International Education Specialist in the International Affairs Office. He serves as U.S. representative to the European Network of Information Centers (ENIC) and as a vice president on its steering committee, the ENIC Bureau.