Celebrating the Teachers of the Year

Duncan speaks to the State Teachers of the Year

Secretary Duncan joined the State and National Teachers of the Year at the Council of State School Officers gala dinner. Official Department of Education photo by Leslie Williams.

“A teacher is the key to a child reaching their potential,” President Obama said this week during a White House ceremony to recognize the State Teachers of the Year and to present the 2012 National Teacher of the Year Award to Rebecca Mieliwocki, a 7th grade teacher English teacher from Burbank, California.

“I wouldn’t be here today if it were not for teachers like these who challenged me, and pushed me, and put up with me, and inspired me — and set me straight when they had to,” President Obama said.  Watch the video.

The White House ceremony is just one of many activities the National State Teachers of the Year will participate in while in Washington this week. Last night Secretary Duncan joined the teachers at the Council of State School Officers gala dinner for the State and National Teachers of the Year. “Our country needs great teachers like you,” he told the teachers.

Today, the teachers will visit the Department of Education to discuss ways to elevate the teaching profession and ED’s RESPECT project.

The RESPECT Project (Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence and Collaborative Teaching), is a national conversation led by active classroom teachers working temporarily for the Department to help provide input on the administration’s 2013 budget proposal, and on the broader effort to reform teaching. Learn more here.

Everyone here at the Department of Education would like to congratulate Rebecca Mieliwocki, all of the State Teachers of the Year, and thank all teachers for their dedication to one of our country’s most important professions.

Community Action Grows Organically at Hispanic Summit

José Rico, executive director of White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, arranged the last chair in the multi-purpose room of Sonia Sotomayor Learning Academies in Los Angeles and flashed a smile to his team. “Let’s do it,” he said.

Secretary Salazar speaking at the forum

Department of the Interior Ken Salazar speaks the Summit. Photo by Tami Heilemann.

On April 5, the Initiative and the White House Office of Public Engagement brought together more than 500 Hispanic community leaders for a White House Hispanic Community Action Summit. By using an Open Space format, the summit democratically captured the voices, needs and interests of all participants.

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and other Hispanic leaders opened the day. Civil rights leader Dolores Huerta received a standing ovation. Students in neat blue-collared shirts from Felicitas and Gonzalo Mendez Learning Center sat in the front row, looking shy but proud.

Next, more than 35 senior leaders from various federal agencies shared how their work supports Hispanic initiatives and priorities, and they invited the local leaders to engage in dialog to help the federal government be more responsive to the community’s needs. “I’m not leaving until I hear what you have to say,” one federal official said. “I’ll be here all day.”

An agenda in motion

Then, any summit participant who wanted to offer a session to the group took the microphone. A long line stretched around the room as the topics and locations for the sessions were projected on a screen for everyone.

Nearly 40 sessions were proposed, with topics addressing both local and national issues, including: “funding resources for PreK-12 education to provide support,” “building communication among Latino organizations,” “addressing enforcement issues in immigration,” “the Affordable Care Act and health disparities in the Latino community,” “regional environmental issues in the San Gabriel mountains,” and a teacher roundtable as part of the Department of Education’s National Conversation about the Teaching Profession.

After picking up lunch, people moved to the sessions that interested them most. At numbered tables and clusters of chairs, participants dug deeply into summit priorities, sharing experiences and expertise from their unique contexts. Laptops along the side of the room allowed groups to upload and share their session reports.

Summit Roundtable Discussion

A breakout session at the Summit

Taking action

At the end of the day, José Rico pulled everyone back together into a large circle to share their action plans and recommendations. “What,” he asked them, “are you going to be ready to do when you leave here today?”

The White House Hispanic Community Action Summit in Los Angeles was the 17th regional summit organized by the White House Initiative and White House Office of Public Engagement to address issues critically important to the Hispanic community. Summit discussions have informed the implementation of new policies and helped the Obama Administration increase participation in and awareness of federal initiatives programs, as well as leading to concrete next steps being taken by both the federal government and summit participants

A recently released interim report details some of the outcomes and follow-up from previous summits. For more information about the initiative, visit www.whitehouse.gov/hispanic.

Maryann Woods-Murphy is a Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow who teaches Spanish in Allendale, NJ. She is also the 2009-2010 New Jersey Teacher of the Year.

E4E’s Advice to Schools: To Keep Great Teachers, RESPECT Their Careers

After earning her law degree while teaching full time, Lori Wheal thought she might leave the field of education. She had spent 10 years as a middle school teacher in the Bronx and was tired. Thanks to low pay, little respect, and limited opportunities for growth, she was at a crossroads. Should she leave a profession she truly loved for something more financially lucrative and well-respected?

Before Lori had to make that decision, she was encouraged to apply for a new position at her school as a master teacher. In this role she would teach fewer classes and spend the remainder of her time observing and mentoring her colleagues. She got the position and returned to M.S. 391 in the fall. “That position is what kept me in the classroom,” Wheal said. “If I hadn’t had this opportunity, I would have left the entire system.”

Teachers from E4E’s Pay Structure Policy Team present recommendations from their report on teacher compensation.

Teachers from E4E’s Pay Structure Policy Team present recommendations from their report on teacher compensation.

Providing career lattices that give excellent teachers opportunities to lead in their schools is just one of Educators 4 Excellence’s (E4E) recommendations in their new report on teacher compensation. “A New Way to Pay: Reimagining Teacher Compensation,” penned by 16 New York City teachers on E4E’s Pay Structure Policy team, suggests that a different compensation structure can elevate the teaching profession. Their recommendations include increasing starting pay to $60,000 and providing incentives for promising candidates to teach hard-to-staff subjects.

Many of the recommendations made in the report align with the U.S. Department of Education’s RESPECT Project, which stands for Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence, and Collaborative Teaching. The project seeks to engage teachers, school and district leaders, teachers’ associations and unions, and state and national education organizations in a much-needed transformation of our profession.

I had the opportunity to attend the release of E4E’s report and participate in a panel discussion about their recommendations. The room was filled with more than 100 teachers who chose to spend a schoolnight discussing education policy. They probably had papers to grade, families to call, and their own lives to lead, but they decided to join their colleagues in a conversation about elevating their profession.

I was truly inspired when I left the room. I was also reminded that we, as teachers, need to be involved in education policy at every level. Alongside unions and other associations of educators, more policy-focused organizations like E4E and programs like the Department of Education’s Teaching Ambassador Fellowship must exist at the school, local, and state levels. How do we ensure that teachers have a voice in creating policies that affect our students and our profession? How do we challenge states and districts to make these opportunities the norm? Our future depends on it. We can’t afford to lose more teachers like Lori. Neither can our students in the Bronx.

Geneviève DeBose is a Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow on loan from Bronx Charter School for the Arts in New York City

Duncan Heads to Capitol Hill for Budget Hearings

“We must come together as a country to make sound, bipartisan investments in education,” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said earlier today at a budget hearing on Capitol Hill. “It is unconscionable for us to ask a generation of students to pay the price for adult political dysfunction.”

Secretary Duncan Testifies on Capitol Hill

Archive photo of Secretary Duncan testifying on Capitol Hill. Official Department of Education Photo by Paul Wood

Duncan testified before the House Committee on Appropriations as part of the annual federal budget process. In the early months of each year, the President submits his budget request to Congress. Congress can then choose to accept the President’s request or develop its own budget, deciding which programs to authorize and fund before the new fiscal year starts on October 1.

Secretary Duncan testified that the Obama Administration’s fiscal year 2013 education budget reflects the Obama Administrations commitment to reduce spending, make government more efficient and invest to secure our future. “We must educate our way to a better economy,” Duncan said.

Key areas of the budget that the Secretary highlighted include:

  • Making college affordable and the middle-class dream alive for Americans by providing new incentives for states and institutions to keep college costs from escalating;
  • Providing billions of dollars a year in aid to college students through Pell grants;
  • Prevent student loan interest rates from doubling this summer;
  • Double the number of work-study jobs within five years;
  • Make the American Opportunity Tax Credit permanent;
  • And dedicating significant resources to transforming the teaching profession through a new program called RESPECT.

Read more about 2013 budget and what it means for you.

Learning International Lessons in Principal and Teacher Preparation

International Summit on the Teaching Profession

International Summit on the Teaching Profession. Photo by Andy Kropa for the Department of Education.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan joined education leaders from twenty-three high-performing, rapidly-improving countries in New York City last week. Over the course of two days, each country shared ideas and successful, innovative practices for teacher preparation and school leader development during the second-ever International Summit on the Teaching Profession.

Just last year, the Department held the first Summit, bringing together not just national education ministers, but also union leaders in partnership with teachers, and education experts to help to shape the conversation. Through a public discourse, participants identified common challenges in education across different countries and cultures while also laying out the need for systematic reform.

The lessons learned from the practices of high-performing systems during last year’s Summit, had a big impact in the United States. It helped lay the groundwork for a new Obama Administration project called RESPECT, which stands for Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence, and Collaborative Teaching.

Last month, President Obama proposed this new competitive grant program to empower states and districts that commit to pursuing bold reforms at every stage of the teaching profession. Throughout the planning, teachers themselves had—and will continue to have—a major voice in shaping RESPECT. The Department’s team of Teaching Ambassador Fellows—active classroom teachers who spend a year working at the U.S. Department of Education—have already held more than 100 roundtable meetings with teachers across the country and will hold several more in the coming months. The development of RESPECT also benefitted enormously from the input of American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten, and from National Education Association (NEA) President Dennis Van Roekel’s and his leadership in the NEA’s Commission on Effective Teachers and Teaching.

Translators at the International Summit on the Teaching Profession

Translators at the International Summit on the Teaching Profession. Photo by Andy Kropa for the Department of Education.

This year’s Summit reaffirmed the central role that school leaders and teachers play in successfully implementing reform to improve student learning and why the RESPECT project is so important to the United States. We heard, for example, from the head of Singapore’s National Institute of Education who talked about the knowledge, skills and values teachers need to be able to engage 21st century learners. Teachers in Singapore open their classrooms to colleagues to watch and listen so they can all work together to improve teaching and learning rather than closing their doors and working in isolation. This is truly a collaborative way to promote educational success and excellence and one the U.S. can work to emulate.

Certain practices and policies were repeated throughout the Summit like the need to attract talent to education through competitive pay scales and career-ladders; the benefits of providing support through school-to-school, principal-to-principal, and teacher-to-teacher networks; and the large-scale value of identifying high-level, common standards that are consistent from pre-K through high school in order to prepare students for college and careers.

With these great challenges come great opportunities. Engaging with international education leaders has contributed valuable insight and input that will help the U.S. continue our work to elevate our nation’s education system. Accomplishing this broad, imperative goal will depend on our ability to attract and retain great talent over the short term so the U.S. can effectively shape public education for generations to come.

We look forward to continuing the conversation at the next Summit, which will be convened by the Netherlands in Amsterdam in 2013.

Click here for more information on the International Summit on the Teaching Profession, and click here to read Secretary Duncan’s opening remarks.

Liz Utrup is the Assistant Press Secretary at the U.S. Department of Education

What Happened in February at ED?

In the February edition of “School Days,” the U.S. Department of Education’s monthly video journal, President Obama names the first states to receive flexibility from the requirements of No Child Left Behind, Secretary Arne Duncan visits the Green Schools National Conference, the Administration proposes new education investments in the Fiscal Year 2013 budget, and ED unveils the RESPECT project aimed at transforming the teaching profession – and lots more.  Don’t miss clips from the NBA Celebrity All-Star Game and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

Watch “School Days”:

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

Putting the “E” in STEM during National Engineering Week

Duncan at Google Headquarters

Official Department of Education photo by Leslie Wiliams

To celebrate National Engineering Week, and to highlight the need for highly skilled science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) teachers, Arne stopped by the launch of the new public-private partnership 100Kin10. The 100Kin10 initiative is working to help meet President Obama’s goal of recruiting and training 100,000 world-class STEM teachers within 10 years.

Duncan pointed out at the launch that there is a chronic shortage of highly skilled STEM teachers in our schools, particularly in hard to staff schools like rural and poor urban areas. The problem will only get worse as the baby boomer generation begins to retire over the next decade, making the need to fix the pipeline for recruiting high-quality STEM teachers.

Following the event, Duncan noted on Twitter that the 100Kin10 initiative is “a public/private partnership at its best.” Investments like those made by 100Kin10, work side-by-side with stepped-up efforts by the Obama Administration to achieve the President’s goal. In the Administration’s recent 2013 budget proposal, ED is seeking to work with Congress for:

    • $80 million for an Effective Teachers and Leaders program
    • $2.5 billion for a competitive fund that will prepare highly-qualified STEM teachers
    • $5 billion for RESPECT, a funding program for states and districts to pursue reforms that better prepare, support and compensate teachers

Read more about the 2013 budget, and click here to find out more about 100Kin10.

Plenty of Room at the Teachers’ Table

I’ve been a Spanish teacher for more than 30 years. All of the voices of educators I’ve known – in urban, suburban, public and private schools – sounded in my head last Wednesday as I listened to Secretary Duncan launch the RESPECT Project, a national agenda to radically transform and elevate the teaching profession. At the launch, Secretary Duncan called for a “national conversation” with America’s teachers because he believes that teachers know the best way to lead this professional transformation.

I also thought of the thousands of students I’ve taught — particularly to those whom are now teachers — and how they triumph and struggle in their own classrooms. I thought of my daughter, Melynda, an accomplished middle-school teacher in New Jersey, who goes to the classroom every day energized to give her students what they need to succeed. I thought of my husband, Joe, who teaches Ethics in an independent school and my son-in-law, Billy, the principal of a charter school. Then I thought of my son, Joe, who regales me with stories at dinner of his students who use wheelchairs, whose dreams are unbound, because each and every educator at his school believes in helping them achieve. Add to that, the voices of my colleagues and the educators I’ve spoken to around the country, through over 100 teacher roundtables run by Teaching Ambassador Fellows from the Department of Education.

What would they all think about this national conversation? Would it improve education and the bottom line for America’s students?

I know that these voices matter. What teachers do matters a lot. President Obama said it in his State of the Union and now Arne Duncan is calling on all of us to look at ways we can improve teaching and learning.  At the launch event at the U.S. Department of Education, teacher after teacher got up to ask Arne questions about what the administration was going to do to help teachers improve education, the Secretary responded that he trusts teachers to figure out the most effective ways to lead this effort in the way that best fits the local needs and contexts.

The Obama Administration’s Fiscal Year 2013 budget includes a $5 billion competitive program to reform the teaching profession. This proposal challenges us to look at how teachers can transform their own for their students and themselves. We want to examine how leadership in schools can be better distributed through new roles for teachers that tap into their talents and passion. We are eager to recruit and support great talent to the profession to replace the million teachers about to retire in the next decade.  We want to explore how to pay teachers better salaries so that they don’t have to take on extra jobs to make ends meet. And we want to sit down with states, unions, professional organizations and other reform leaders to hammer out innovative and bold plans to change the very culture of teaching so that it meets the needs of the 21st Century.

I believe that the teachers I know and love want this to happen: we are eager for it. I have heard colleagues speak at my dinner table and in the teachers’ lounges and hallways about how they are tired of teaching to the test. They want to be held accountable, but they need reasonable, helpful ways that show what students know and are able to do. They need support and time to work together in vibrant teams to make better schools. The tired model of a few weary administrators, handling all of the big picture stuff in schools is a relic of the past, an old system that isn’t serving anybody. Teachers want to be at the table, and it’s a very big table with room for everyone.

In the coming months, we’ll be reaching out to teachers throughout this nation to become a part of Project Respect. Please look for ways to join the conversation when the conversation comes to your area and send an email request to TeachTalk@ed.gov if you are interested in participating.

Maryann Woods-Murphy is a Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow who teaches Spanish in Allendale, NJ. She is also the 2009-2010 New Jersey Teacher of the Year.

Launching Project RESPECT


Official Department of Education Photo by Leslie Williams

“Our goal is to work with educators in rebuilding their profession—and to elevate the teacher voice in shaping federal, state and local education policy,” said Secretary Duncan today at the launch of the RESPECT Project. “Our larger goal is to make teaching not only America’s most important profession—but America’s most respected profession,” he said.

The RESPECT Project (Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence and Collaborative Teaching), is a national conversation led by active classroom teachers working temporarily for the Department to help provide input on the administration’s 2013 budget proposal, and on the broader effort to reform teaching.

The Obama Administration’s 2013 proposed budget includes a new $5 billion competitive program that would challenge states and school districts to work with teachers, unions, colleges of education and other education stakeholders to reform the teaching profession.

“We need to redefine what it means to teach in today’s global economy,” Duncan said. “Because what you learn in school today is the foundation for what you will need to know tomorrow to be successful.”

Click here (pdf) to read more about the RESPECT Project, and sign up for our Teaching Matters newsletter for regular updates on the teaching profession and future information about the RESPECT Project.

Read Secretary Duncan’s remarks at the event.

View the archived video of today’s launch.

Visit our RESPECT Project homepage.

Teachers Want to Lead the Transformation of their Profession

“Teachers matter. So instead of bashing them, or defending the status quo, let’s offer schools a deal.  Give them the resources to keep good teachers on the job, and reward the best ones. In return, grant schools flexibility:  To teach with creativity and passion; to stop teaching to the test; and to replace teachers who just aren’t helping kids learn.”

— President Barack Obama, January 24, 2012, “State of the Union”

Tuesday night President Barack Obama said what many teachers in America have been yearning to hear from their president: teachers matter, we change lives, and we do this hard work to make a difference in the lives of students.

He also acknowledged what every good teacher knows: that an accountability system that puts too much emphasis on test scores undermines a well-rounded education. But implicit in his speech was a challenge to America and to teachers to rebuild and strengthen the profession – a challenge that teachers are more than eager to accept.

As 2011 U.S. Department of Education Teaching Ambassador Fellows, we have heard from many teachers that the field has lost its luster. In our role as Teaching Ambassadors, we have talked with teachers in many groups, and we have heard real despondency over the constraints of NCLB that have caused schools to focus on testing and teacher evaluation in ways that are oppressive and rob our profession of much of the joy of teaching and learning.

We’ve listened to countless stories about a law that has raised standards without providing support for schools to meet them. And we have cringed when some of our most effective colleagues acknowledged that they can no longer afford to stay in a difficult profession that asks so much of them but barely affords a middleclass lifestyle. “We didn’t get into teaching to be millionaires,” they say, “but we have to be able to feed our families.”

What we like about the President’s speech is not that he acknowledges our grievances though, admittedly, it feels good to be heard. What appeals to us is that the President understands that as a country we must do much more than simply tweak a structure that is not working. Educators want to lead the transformation and rebuilding of teaching so that our work improves students’ lives and restores pride in our profession.

Teachers welcome this transformation. Neither students nor teachers are served by a structure that treats some teachers like interchangeable cogs in a machine. We long to lead our own profession because when we drive our craft, we will see huge shifts in the responsibility, leadership, pay and respect. As NEA President Dennis Van Roekel describes in the NEA’s December 8, 2011 Action Agenda to Strengthen Teaching, “The true essence” of our work “is putting teachers in charge of the quality of their profession.”

What would teachers do if they ran the schools? We would raise the bar for membership in our profession, recruiting the best candidates and insisting that teacher preparation programs become more rigorous and relevant. About 62 percent of all new teachers—almost two-thirds—report they felt unprepared for the realities of their classroom. As Secretary Duncan has said, “Imagine what our country would do if 62 percent of our doctors felt unprepared to practice medicine—you would have a revolution in our medical schools.”

A transformed profession would give teachers much more responsibility and flexibility to make decisions that meet their students’ educational needs–allowing access to and training with technology, shifting class sizes, and restructuring the school day so that they have time to collaborate with colleagues and engage in professional learning and problem-solving.

We would offer teachers a professional salary and career pathways that acknowledge their skill and commitment in one of the most complex, demanding, and important jobs in the world. We would insist on great school leaders, with principals who have high expectations, develop all teachers as lifelong learners, and create positive school cultures where students and teachers succeed.

As the President acknowledged, teachers are creative and passionate. But like workers in many other professions, we expect to be held accountable for results. We yearn to help create fair and thorough teacher evaluation systems and have access to data to make informed decisions about what is working and what isn’t, to direct our professional learning, and to help decide who stays in our profession. President Obama was right when he said, “That is a bargain worth making.”

Now more than ever, teachers long to lead their profession so that we finally resolve the important educational challenges in this country. A quarter of our children fail to finish high school on time and barely four in ten earn any type of post-secondary degree. For children of color, outcomes are even worse. When we see the statistics–that 7,000 students drop out of school every day–we feel pain for those teens and shame and guilt that we were not able to prevent this tragedy.

On top of that, school districts are getting ready to slam into an awful reality, that before the end of the decade, more than a million Baby Boomer teachers—fully a third of America’s teachers–will retire or leave the teaching profession. To recruit and retain the best teachers, we need to offer rewarding jobs and competitive salaries.

We were especially pleased to read in the Blueprint for an America Built to Last, released yesterday with the speech transcript, that the President plans to ask Congress for funding that will “challenge states and districts to work with their teachers and unions to reform the entire teaching profession – from training and licensing to compensation, career ladders and tenure.”

Educators want to take on this work. As highly skilled specialists, we are not afraid of owning our profession. We are not afraid of being held accountable for results when we are given the responsibility and flexibility to craft our profession. We are confident that the President understands what it will take to transform teaching to meet the challenges of the 21st Century, and we are eager to join with our colleagues across the country in moving the profession forward.

2011 U.S. Department of Education Teaching Ambassador Fellows Geneviève DeBose, Claire Jellinek, Greg Mullenholz, Shakera Walker, and Maryann Woods-Murphy.