Supporting Our Youngest Innovators: STEM starts early!

Cross-posted from the White House blog.

Summary: The White House is celebrating early STEM learning.

“Why?” “How?” One of the greatest joys of being a parent is the incredible curiosity children have for the world. Children are naturally inquisitive and they observe, investigate, and discover the world around them. The years from birth to third grade are filled with play and active engagement with the environment. They generate an endless number of questions, and their curiosity fuels their motivation to find answers. These are the traits we expect of our best scientists and engineers, yet many children lose the sense of wonder for science, technology, math and engineering (STEM) as they grow older.

Research indicates that as early as infancy, young children start developing and testing hypotheses for how the world around them works. They understand probability and make predictions. They take in information from trusted sources around them, and use that information to guide their behavior. And that all begins in the first year of life. As they progress through the preschool years, their curiosity continues to grow, and the sophistication of their reasoning and inquiry skills, grow along with it.

Too often, we underestimate the concepts our youngest learners can understand. As the most important influencers in our children’s lives, we — whether parents or other caregivers, child care providers, preschool or elementary school teachers — should support this curiosity, guide young children in their exploration, and identify natural learning opportunities to develop and grow these foundational STEM skills.

We know focusing on STEM pays off. Research shows that early exposure to STEM has positive impacts across the entire spectrum of learning.  For example, early math knowledge not only predicts later math success, it also predicts later reading achievement. Despite these powerful findings, our schools and early childhood programs often lack knowledge, resources, and capacity to focus on early STEM learning in developmentally appropriate ways.[i] We must do better. It is critical that we engage our youngest learners and give them the opportunities they deserve to develop their STEM skills in order to prepare them to compete in our global economy=

The President recognizes the importance of exposing all of our learners to STEM experiences. In his State of the Union address earlier this year, the President challenged all of us to provide every student with authentic STEM experiences to learn subjects like science, math, and computer science.

Building on the President’s early learning  and “Educate to Innovate” agendas, the White House,  working with the U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services, hope to advance this focus on STEM experiences in the coming months by identifying research gaps, best practices, and education technologies to support our youngest learners, parents and caregivers, educators and community leaders with early STEM education. This spring, the White House, U.S. Department of Education, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and Invest in US, will hold an event at the White House to focus on this important work and we hope to help highlight your commitments in this area along with a suite of federal resources and materials.

A central part of our goal is identifying organizations focusing on this work at the local level. We are seeking to highlight commitments from philanthropy, industry, advocacy organizations, nonprofits, and local and state governments to address key areas in early STEM education, including:

  1. Building the research base about what works in early STEM learning, including promising practices, interventions and teaching strategies;
  2. Supporting practitioners, including child care providers, home visitors, preschool teachers, and elementary school teachers, with STEM pedagogy and content knowledge;
  3. Supporting children and families in fostering STEM at home;
  4. Strategies and partnerships that foster STEM learning in informal settings (e.g., museums, libraries, zoos, media, toys); and
  5. Programs and partnerships that support children from low-income families in rural, tribal and urban settings and children who may have less access to STEM experiences and education including girls, children of color, children with disabilities, children who are dual language learners, and homeless children.

We would welcome the opportunity to highlight any new, specific, and measurable steps that your organization is ready to take in these or other areas to support early STEM in your community and on a national level. If applicable, portions of your announcement may be incorporated into White House materials in the coming months and your organization and relevant partners may be invited to participate in upcoming White House events on this topic. Examples of White House fact sheets include the fact sheet announcing Computer Science for Alland on Astronomy Night may serve as templates for this event. Please submit your commitments including organization name, organization point of contact, email, city and state, media point of contact and the specific details of your commitment (500 words or less) to by Wednesday, March 23, 2016.

We look forward to working with you on this important initiative to support our young innovators and foster a lifelong love of STEM learning.

Roberto J. Rodriguez is Deputy Assistant to the President for Education. Kumar Garg is Assistant Director for Learning and Innovation in the Office of Science and Techonology Policy.

[i] National Research Council. (2012). A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas. Committee on a Conceptual Framework for New K-12 Science Education Standards. Board on Science Education, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

Huntsville Shows Off Impressive STEM Learning Resources

Reposted from the OII Blog


Alabama A&M University leaders (l. to r.) Provost Daniel Wims; President Andrew Hugine, Jr.; senior-year computer science student Charlevester Wims; and College of Engineering, Technology, and Physical Sciences Dean Chance Glenn join OII’s STEM executive director, Russell Shilling (second from right), following Education Secretary Arne’s Duncan’s visit to NASA’s Space and Rocket Center. (Photo courtesy of Alabama A&M University)

As Education Secretary Duncan’s bus tour departed Huntsville, Ala., on September 9th, I remained to explore the STEM and technology education programs in the area. Huntsville, home to NASA’s Space and Rocket Center, has the advantage of being a small city with huge resources to support education. I wanted to see what they were doing that might be exported to a wide range of schools across the U.S.

After Secretary Duncan’s visit to the Space and Rocket Center and its Space Camp, I was greeted by the president of Alabama A&M University (AAMU), Dr. Andrew Hugine, Jr., along with staff and students. Once on their beautiful campus, Dr. Chance Glenn, dean of the College of Engineering, Technology, and Physical Sciences, discussed the various programs AAMU has developed to help students pursue and excel in STEM fields.

As of 2012, the college, according to the American Society for Engineering Education, ranked No. 4 of 352 in the production of African American engineers and No. 11 for female engineers. This success is credited to multiple programs that support students at various points in their academic careers. AAMU, for example, provides full, four-year scholarships to 12 STEM Star Scholars, covering their tuitions and fees. The Summer Bridge program, which brings students to the campus for two weeks prior to starting their freshman year, focuses on mathematics, social development, and study skills, as well as a providing a campus orientation.

A roundtable discussion with faculty, staff, and current and past students from engineering, computer science, and the basic sciences concluded a very motivating visit to the AAMU campus.

The following day, I met with the Huntsville City Schools superintendent, Dr. Casey Wardynski, and his staff to discuss their STEM and technology strategies and tour a few of the local schools. At Blossomwood Elementary, I chatted with teachers and students about their work in robotics, information technology, and math. The Huntsville strategy has been to provide iPads for classroom use up to second grade and laptops for the rest of the student population to use at home and in school. Technology use was particularly well integrated in mathematics instruction, but also evident across the curriculum.

At Huntsville Middle School, laptops were again being well utilized in classroom instruction, especially in mathematics. Students were also actively learning to develop computer games in classrooms that have been well adapted for group work. I was particularly impressed by the school’s collaboration with the Elizabeth Forward school system in Pennsylvania. A particularly innovative application developed at Elizabeth Forward was being used to demonstrate linear progressions. In the application, students physically interact with a room-sized screen projected on the floor combined with sensors to track their movements. It’s a very good example of how hubs of innovation in local areas can propagate leading practices and why we need to continue to build opportunities to bring these innovators together.


Russell Shilling (center) joins faculty and students at the Huntsville Center for Technology to learn about Greenpower Team USA. The Huntsville City Schools, which was the only U.S. competitor in last year’s international Greenpower competition, is expanding participation in the unique STEM learning initiative. (Photo courtesy of the Huntsville City Schools)

One of the most interesting aspects of the schools tour was the visit to the Huntsville Center for Technology, where I was introduced to Greenpower Team USA. Last October, Huntsville students competed in an international competition held in the U.K. to design, build, and test electric cars. The cars are built from scratch, including the aerodynamic composite bodies.

The Huntsville team won the Best Newcomer Award and the Siemens Innovator Award their first time out, placing 10th out of 32 competitors in the 90-minute race and 32nd out of 74 competitors in the four-hour race. Speeds average around 30 mph, but duration and durability are the primary goals. They were the only team outside of the U.K. in the finals. Team Huntsville has brought the concept home to the U.S., building test tracks around several Huntsville high schools to increase student participation citywide. And with the U.K. competitions including a category for 9- to 11-year-olds, which uses “Goblin Car” kits that average top speeds of 15 mph, Greenpower is an engaging way for STEM learning to reach a wide age range of students.

Clearly, Huntsville benefits from some unique local assets not available to all school systems, but many others could learn from the city’s leadership in developing technology integration strategies and their hands-on approach to STEM education.

Russell Shilling is Executive Director of STEM in the Office of Innovation and Improvement.

My Confidence in Future Young Scientists


Cross-posted from the EPA’s It All Starts with Science blog 

The students were taking part in “enrichment clusters,” sessions in which they learn about one important public issue in depth. I was invited by 2nd-grade teacher Ms. Claborn to visit her cluster on water purification and to present a real-life example of a water filter.

I had recently worked to develop an affordable filter that removed not only bacteria and contaminants from water, but also arsenic, a poisonous substance that affects nearly 150 million people across the world today. I had the opportunity to present my water filter at the 2012 Intel International Science Fair, where I won 3rd place and EPA’s Patrick J. Hurd Sustainability Award. The Hurd Award included an invitation to present my project at the annual National Sustainable Design Expo, which showcases EPA’s People, Prosperity, and the Planet (P3) program.

I presented the filter to the class and answered questions, learning just as much from them as they did from me.  I was invited to stay for the remainder of the cluster, where the students were putting final touches on their own water filters. Ms. Claborn gave each of the students some muddy water to run through the filters. It was exciting for me to see the children’s smiles as they looked at the clean water slowly trickling out of the open edge of the soda bottle after traveling through the sand and rocks. The filters were based on a water filtration activity that EPA designed specifically for students.

Afterwards, I was invited to attend the upcoming STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) exhibit that the school was hosting. The students’ mini filters would be on display, and I was invited to display my filter alongside theirs. As the stream of curious parents and students came in, I gladly talked about both what the students did and my own filter, and what this means for the future of environmental sustainability issues like water.

This was my first opportunity to present my work outside of my school and science fairs. I felt very honored and happy to be able to give something back to the community. I hope to find ways to keep doing so!

Thabit Pulak

About the Author: Guest blogger Thabit Pulak of Richardson, Texas was the winner of the Patrick H. Hurd Sustainability Award at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF) 2012. As part of this award, he was invited to attend and exhibit at the National Sustainable Design Expohome of the P3: People, Prosperity and the Planet Student Design Competition for Sustainability in Washington, DC. He was also the recipient of the 2013 Davidson Fellows Award

Wheeling Students ‘Take the Leap’ Into Nanotechnology

Arriving at Chicago’s Wheeling High School on brisk October morning, we sensed that something awesome was about to happen. The anticipated arrival of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and other dignitaries generated a palpable energy that spread to us – college interns soaking in the behind-the-scenes excitement at the official opening of the school’s new nanotechnology lab.

However, we found WHS itself — powered by strong leadership — to be a true lightning rod for student success.  It has harnessed partnerships with employers to spark students’ interest in nanotechnology and other Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) career pathways – which is also the aim of newly-announced federal Youth CareerConnect grants.

Duncan in lab

Secretary Duncan gets a lesson in nanotechnology from Wheeling High School student Drakkari Lott.

Tucked into a modest community in Chicago’s northwest suburbs, Wheeling is among the first high schools in the nation equipped with a nanotechnology lab. Nanotechnology allows users to examine matter atom-by-atom, and is typically studied only in industry laboratories and on college campuses.

Former principal (now Associate Superintendent) Dr. Lazaro Lopez secured an investment from the Illinois Science and Technology Coalition of businesses, colleges and research labs for the $615,000 lab. The ISTC is partnering with Wheeling HS to coordinate the lab’s use as a regional resource for other schools as well as businesses as part of the Illinois Pathways program, which aligns education, business and government resources to provide students career pathways in high-growth STEM areas. Illinois Pathways is partially funded by an ED Race to the Top grant.  Additional funding for the lab came from District 214.

Nanotechnology is just the latest element of Wheeling’s structure to support STEM careers, spearheaded by Lopez beginning in 2007. Named Illinois’s 2013-2014 Principal of the Year, Lopez wanted “kids to graduate from Wheeling High School with a future.” HIs vision is becoming a reality.

While still in high school, students can gain real-world experience in STEM fields, from nursing to manufacturing, and now nanotechnology. Through a dual-credit partnership with nearby Harper College, students are often able to transition out of high school with industry certification or college credit – an impressive feat for a school with 40 percent of its students classified as low-income.

Since the school began its STEM focus, students have earned during their years at WHS:

  • 108 industry certifications
  • College credit for 460 dual credit classes
  • College credit for 3,171 Advanced Placement classes, which have had enrollment spike by 161 percent at Wheeling since 2005.

Noting the widespread excitement surrounding Wheeling’s innovation, Secretary Duncan told reporters that it “isn’t just about jobs.”

“It’s about being excited about coming to school every day,” he said. “It’s about having relevance to the real world.”

Lopez seemed thrilled but not surprised by the impact of his vision turned into reality.

“I knew that our teachers could deliver, and our students could take the leap,” he said, during a panel discussion with the Secretary, and a teacher and students.

As two college students –  a physics major and a future educator – we certainly hope that other high schools follow Wheeling’s example. We’re excited that the U.S. Department of Labor’s new $100 million Youth CareerConnect grant program that will help many schools to make that leap!

Aliana Piatt and Elliott Washington are interns in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach in Chicago

Shooting for the Stars: Let’s Read! Let’s Move!

LRLMnasa1The third installment of the Let’s Read! Let’s Move! summer series at the Department of Education took kids’ imaginations all the way to the moon and back this week with space-themed activities and a strong focus on STEM. The event was part of the Corporation for National and Community Service’s Let’s Read! Let’s Move! summer enrichment series, which engages children in summer reading and physical activity over the summer months, and promotes healthy eating habits.

Thanks to NASA, educators from the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, and Miss America 2013 Mallory Hagan, the children received a special opportunity to “Train like an Astronaut” through core strength exercises, and learned about the solar system through an interactive “mission to space” dance.

Hagan, along with Secretary Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) and two-time space shuttle astronaut, George Zamka,  joined forces to read Pluto’s Secret: An Icy World’s Tale of Discovery to a room of eager young learners. Zamka told the children that Neil Armstrong’s “one small step for man” was only achieved through a series of preceding little steps, like working extra hard on homework.

LRLMnasa2The Let’s Move! portion of the afternoon, carried out with the help of the YMCA of Metropolitan Washington, included a “Shooting Stars Jumbo Jam,” “Comet Blast Relay,” and food tasting station with healthy star fruit. At the end of the active afternoon, children were encouraged to keep their minds active as well, by taking home a new book and book bag, courtesy of Target.

The last two installments of this summer’s Let’s Read! Let’s Move! series will take place on August 1 and 6. Each event supports First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move initiative, dedicated to promoting healthy eating and an active lifestyle, while also encouraging strong early learning programs to ensure children get started on the right track.

For highlights of this week’s event, watch our video wrap up here!

Sandra Ramos is a student at Cornell University and a current intern in the Office of Communication & Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education.

Reimagining Learning in Philadelphia

Jeff Scott and Students

Engineering doctoral candidate Jeffrey Scott instructs students during the workshop on Music Information Retrieval at Drexel University in Philadelphia

It’s “full steam ahead” for Philadelphia area high school students participating in Drexel University’s Summer Music Technology program focused on connecting technology with the arts.

For the past seven years, more than 150 aspiring young engineers and musicians have participated in hands-on, multi-media workshops funded in part with a National Science Foundation grant and housed in the College of Engineering. This year, with continued support from private funding, 28 students attended a week-long session at Drexel’s new Expressive and Creative Interaction Technologies (ExCITe) Center. The Center is a hub where teams of faculty, students, and entrepreneurs collaborate on multi-disciplinary projects in a variety of fields.  It’s part of a nationwide effort to enrich teaching and learning in the science, technology, engineering and math – or STEM – fields, by adding a focus on the arts. Supporters have dubbed this approach STEAM.

Students at Drexel

Students Brandon Tran and Chia Chen, with Dr. Youngmoo Kim, demonstrate musical instruments produced in a 3D printer at the ExCITe Center.

“Our goal here is to explore the benefits of arts-integrated research and learning, or STEAM education, for everyone, from ‘K to gray.’ We especially work with young high school students and hope that the things they learn here will help them make good career choices,” said the Center’s director, Dr. Youngmoo Kim.

In one workshop led by Jeffrey Scott, a doctoral candidate in engineering, students learned about Music Information Retrieval (MIR) and worked in groups to develop playlists, label and tag features of songs, and create a collaborative filtering system. MIR is a growing field that develops efficient and intelligent methods to analyze, retrieve and organize music. Dr. Kim hopes this kind of targeted, experiential learning will develop future engineers.

The workshops aren’t just for fun: the approach has attracted several aspiring engineers to pursue higher education and the STEAM fields.

Seth Nicosia, a current sophomore at Drexel’s College of Engineering, attended the summer engineering program in 2010, and attributes his decision to major in engineering to that experience. “I have always been interested in music, and the Summer Music Technology program showed me how I could apply my musical knowledge in new and practical ways,” said Nicosia. “The program motivated me to enroll in college and major in engineering.”

Drexel’s ExCITe Center is a feast of fun for anyone interested in innovative, engaging research in technology and the arts.  There’s a magnetic resonator piano that allows the piano to create sounds that were previously impossible on the instrument. There’s a life-size robot that students program to play percussion.  There’s Darwin, a soccer-playing robot. And, there’s a 3D printer that students use to make musical instruments.

This May, at a conference titled, “Reimagining Education: Empowering Learners in the 21st Century,” Secretary Duncan emphasized the need to create a bold new vision for our classrooms. “Our students need to experiment, engage, and create in the areas they find truly exciting. Schools are a crucial part of that vision, and better access to technology and the worlds that technology puts at our fingertips, is an essential part of this work,” said Duncan. “To accomplish this, we need mentors, employers and artists working together in new ways to get all of our students involved and interested in their own learning.”

Clearly, this vision for high-quality STEAM education is helping to power Drexel’s ExCITe Center, as it fast-track students to academic and career success.

Elizabeth Williamson is a supervisory education program specialist in the Office of Communications and Outreach in Philadelphia.

In State of the Union, Obama Outlines Bold Education Proposals to Grow the Middle Class

President Obama Delivers the State of the Union

Education was one of the main themes in President Obama's State of the Union address. Official White House photo by Pete Souza.

In a State of the Union address focused on growing a strong middle class, President Obama outlined a series of bold proposals that will increase access to high-quality education. Among them were initiatives to make quality early education accessible to every child, to tame the spiraling cost of college, and redesign the country’s high schools to meet the needs of the real world. The President called for a new College Scorecard to show parents and students “where you can get the most bang for your educational buck.”

These proposals complemented other efforts to strengthen the middle class, including calls to raise the minimum wage and reform immigration. Education was one of the major themes of the President’s annual speech delivered to Congress and the country.

Educators and students were also well represented as guests to First Lady Michelle Obama. Here are the education excerpts from the speech:

Early Learning

Study after study shows that the sooner a child begins learning, the better he or she does down the road.  But today, fewer than 3 in 10 four year-olds are enrolled in a high-quality preschool program.  Most middle-class parents can’t afford a few hundred bucks a week for private preschool.  And for poor kids who need help the most, this lack of access to preschool education can shadow them for the rest of their lives.

Tonight, I propose working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America. Every dollar we invest in high-quality early education can save more than seven dollars later on – by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime.

In states that make it a priority to educate our youngest children, like Georgia or Oklahoma, studies show students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, and form more stable families of their own.  So let’s do what works, and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind. Let’s give our kids that chance.

Building the Skills that Lead to High-Quality, High-Wage Jobs

Let’s also make sure that a high school diploma puts our kids on a path to a good job.  Right now, countries like Germany focus on graduating their high school students with the equivalent of a technical degree from one of our community colleges, so that they’re ready for a job.  At schools like P-Tech in Brooklyn, a collaboration between New York Public Schools, the City University of New York, and IBM, students will graduate with a high school diploma and an associate degree in computers or engineering.

In the President’s Plan for a Strong Middle Class & A Strong America, released in conjunction with the address, the President is calling on Congress to commit new resources to create a STEM Master Teacher Corps, enlisting 10,000 of America’s best science and math teachers to improve STEM education. The President continued by saying,

Four years ago, we started Race to the Top – a competition that convinced almost every state to develop smarter curricula and higher standards, for about 1 percent of what we spend on education each year.  Tonight, I’m announcing a new challenge to redesign America’s high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy.

We’ll reward schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering, and math – the skills today’s employers are looking for to fill jobs right now and in the future.

Holding Colleges Accountable for Cost, Value and Quality

Now, even with better high schools, most young people will need some higher education. It’s a simple fact: the more education you have, the more likely you are to have a job and work your way into the middle class.  But today, skyrocketing costs price way too many young people out of a higher education, or saddle them with unsustainable debt.

Through tax credits, grants, and better loans, we have made college more affordable for millions of students and families over the last few years.  But taxpayers cannot continue to subsidize the soaring cost of higher education.  Colleges must do their part to keep costs down, and it’s our job to make sure they do.

Tonight, I ask Congress to change the Higher Education Act, so that affordability and value are included in determining which colleges receive certain types of federal aid.  And tomorrow, my Administration will release a new “College Scorecard” that parents and students can use to compare schools based on a simple criteria: where you can get the most bang for your educational buck.

Rebuilding our Schools

The President also proposed a “Fix-It-First” program that would focus on urgent infrastructure repairs, which included schools.

And to make sure taxpayers don’t shoulder the whole burden, I’m also proposing a Partnership to Rebuild America that attracts private capital to upgrade what our businesses need most: modern ports to move our goods; modern pipelines to withstand a storm; modern schools worthy of our children.

Read, watch and share your “Citizen Response” to the State of the Union address, and read the President’s Plan for a Strong Middle Class & a Strong America.

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital strategy at the U.S. Department of Education

Arne Duncan Gave Me Homework!

Last Wednesday, I found myself invited to a meeting at the White House with Secretary Arne Duncan and some of President Obama’s advisors.  I didn’t know I would walk away with homework!

Eleven colleagues and I were invited to discuss the Obama administration’s proposed STEM Master Teacher Corps. Previously Steve Robinson (a former science teacher and Special Assistant in the White House Domestic Policy Council) and I had shared a conversation about how my work as a teacher leader at North High School was being transformed after receiving a School Improvement Grant (SIG).  As Robinson described the Master Teacher Corps, I noticed parallels to the work I’ve been doing for the last two years.  Needless to say, I was enthusiastic about the proposal.

Jessica Gogerty, sandwiched between Arne Duncan and Presidential advisor Roberto Rodriguez, attended a White House conversation to discuss the STEM Master Teacher Corps. Photo courtesy of White House intern Bobby Dresser.

Jessica Gogerty, sandwiched between Arne Duncan and Presidential advisor Roberto Rodriguez, attended a White House conversation to discuss the STEM Master Teacher Corps. Photo courtesy of White House intern Bobby Dresser.

Empowering teachers and building their leadership capacity is critical to improving science and mathematics education in our schools. Government policy and programs can inspire and incentivize, but the people in the school must do the real work of school reform. For example, without the additional manpower and resources that North received from the SIG grant, reform would have happened much more slowly or not at all. It is easy to let tradition carry us—to allow our unchallenged belief in our capacity to determine what we will achieve—for good or ill.   SIG gave us the impetus for the necessary introspection required to improve our school.   The Master Teacher Corps has that same potential because it invests in the people, not in new or particular programs.

So, when I found myself seated between Secretary Duncan and Roberto Rodriguez, special assistant to the President for Education, I told the story of my school, and how the most important cultural change I see is a shift to genuine teacher collaboration around instructional practices.  In 2010, when teachers went into their own classrooms and did their own thing, we were the lowest achieving high school in the state of Iowa.  Ours is a very diverse high school with 25% of the students learning English, 29% special education students, and nearly 80% on Free and Reduced Lunch.  One year into the SIG grant, our students had gained 19 points in Reading, 19 points in Science and 11 points in Mathematics on the Iowa Test for Educational Development.  The school had the same demographics and largely the same teaching staff.  But now we had “One Vision, One Mission, One Destiny” as the instructional leadership harnessed the collaborative power of the adults in the school. We changed the master schedule twice in the first year, creating new classes, bell times and embedded times for staff collaboration and support.  We changed the attendance policy, discipline policy and the grading policy.  Teacher Leaders taught the staff how to collect and analyze data on student performance and led discussions about strategies to address deficiencies.  Teachers became empowered to help the students rise to their destiny instead of falling to their fate.

After the meeting, Secretary Duncan asked me to write up our story and send it to him. I had plenty of time to think about it at the airport since storms delayed travel.

This is what I want him to know:  The themes emerging from our national focus on school reform are reverberating at the state and district level.  The idea of teacher leadership and collaboration around instructional practice is changing the way we educate our children.  We’ve got to continue to develop an educational system that allows teachers to collaborate across the hall, across the building, across the district, across the state and across the nation.  We’re in this together and that’s the only way we will become the best educational system in the world.

Secretary Duncan, I’ve turned in my homework. I see it as extra credit though. My real assignment is to make sure all of my students get the education they deserve.

Jessica Gogerty

Jessica Gogerty is a National Board Certified Teacher, a Presidential Awardee for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching, and a School Improvement Leader now serving at Roosevelt High School in Des Moines, Iowa. 

Education + Industry + Race to the Top = Pathways to Good Jobs in Illinois

Just a few years ago, Alegandro Barrera thought he’d continue working at a local grocery store after graduating from high school in Wheeling, Ill.  It wasn’t a bad option, but he felt like he had no other choices.  But then, Wheeling High School’s advanced manufacturing program showed him that he “could do more and be more,” through its innovative partnership with local industries and career certification opportunities. Now Barerra says he has a great-paying full-time job as a machinist, studies computer science part-time at Harper College, and feels in control over his future.

“It’s good to be me,” Barrera exclaimed to more than 300 business, government and education leaders and Gov. Pat Quinn at the launch of lllinois Pathways earlier this year in Bloomington, Ill.  Illinois Pathways is a Race to the Top (RTTT)-funded initiative that pulls together the state’s public K-12 schools and colleges with businesses, to develop career paths in the Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) fields.

Similar partnerships through Illinois Pathways will partner K-12 schools, businesses and higher education to provide students with hands-on training and early college opportunities for nine STEM career clusters.  Funded with $3.2 million of the $42.8 million RTTT funding awarded to Illinois, the initiative works to boost enrollment in STEM programs through public-private statewide networks called Learning Exchanges in each career cluster.

Wheeling High School junior Aline Bardak discusses how her school’s Career Pathways program enabled her to become a certified nursing assistant.

With Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn looking on, Wheeling High School junior Aline Bardak discusses how her school’s Career Pathways program enabled her to become a certified nursing assistant.

The idea was hatched in 2009 when Illinois applied for the first round of the RTTT competition. While Illinois was not awarded funding in the first two phases of RTTT, the state’s high performance earned it a share of the $200 million granted in the program’s 3rd phase, along with six other states.

“We were actually done a favor, not having won in the first two rounds of RTTT,” said Rick Stephens, a senior vice president for Chicago-based Boeing Co. and chairman of the Illinois Business Roundtable, which helped to develop the initiative. “It allowed all the constituents of the state to come together in a proposal that truly made sense.”

Other Pathways partners include the Governor’s P-20 Council and Advance Illinois, an education advocacy organization.  Six state agencies were also vital to establishing the initiative and make up its Interagency Committee:  Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, Illinois State Board of Education, Illinois Community College Board, Illinois Board of Higher Education, Illinois Student Assistance Commission, and the Illinois Department of Employment Security.

Stephens says that employers have a lot to gain from RTTT-funded initiatives that aim to better prepare students to succeed in college and careers.  He notes that “we don’t have a labor shortage, but we do have a skills shortage” with about 125,000 jobs that today are going unanswered in Illinois. He adds that the Pathways effort is important to industry to ensure that new employees “not only have tech knowledge but soft-skills knowledge,” like relating to others in the workplace and critical thinking. “This is what happens when you have real, hands-on training: When you graduate from school you can go get a job, or go on to college.”

Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia have received RTTT grants.  Initially developed with American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds in 2009 to implement transformational reforms and provide examples for States and local school districts throughout the country, Congress has approved RTTT funds each successive year. On May 22, ED announced a new Race to the Top District competition that is aimed squarely at the classroom level with a focus on the relationship between teachers and students.

Julie Ewart is the director of communications and outreach in ED’s Chicago Regional Office

Students Find Success in Metro Academy Programs

After watching Camille Jackson blossom in the Metro Academy program at City College of San Francisco, her mother was inspired to go back to school and continue her own education. This is just one instance of how this innovative program is producing positive ripple effects throughout communities. Jackson and other students shared their stories earlier this month during a Metro Academy briefing sponsored by Rep. Lynn Woolsley (D-Calif.), at the U.S. Capitol, explaining how the successful partnership between San Francisco State University (SFSU) and City College of San Francisco (CCSF) is helping them work their way to fulfilling the American dream.

Panel at the Capitol

SF State Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Sue Rosser, from left, Metro Academies Program Director Mary Beth Love and Metro Academies Curriculum and Faculty Affairs Director Savita Malik participate in a Capitol Hill briefing on Metro Academies in Washington, D.C. Photos by Rishi Malik, courtesy of San Francisco State University.

Metro Academy is a structured two-year program, supported in part with a Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) grant from ED’s Office of Postsecondary Education, that helps lead students directly to an associate’s degree and then into a bachelor’s degree program. The Academy programs cover all the general education requirements of the bachelor’s and are designed around career themes.

The problem-based curriculum keeps students engaged, and the lockstep sequence of courses shortens completion time and raises completion rates. So far, the SFSU-CCSF partnership has Academy programs in health and early childhood education, with another program focused on STEM careers starting in the fall.

As reported by Savita Malik, the Metro Academies’ curriculum and faculty affairs director, the program adopts many of the best practices in higher education, such as the learning outcomes recommended by the American Association of Colleges and Universities, and high-impact educational practices such as learning communities, writing-intensive courses, integrated student support services, and others.

The results have been remarkable: higher persistence rates, higher GPAs, and faster progress to degree. And best of all, these practices are cost-effective. While they require a small additional investment per student, it actually lowers the cost per completed degree, as Jane Wellman—a higher education cost expert—informed the briefing attendees.

Like Camille Jackson, Alexander Leyva-Estrada is another student who credits his success to Metro Academy, from which he graduated in 2010. Leyva-Estrada, a first-generation college student, is now a junior majoring in health education at San Francisco State, and thoroughly enjoying the new world of learning and opportunities that is unfolding before him. Both Camille and Alexander gave moving personal testimonials about their experience during our briefing, demonstrating that success for all our students is possible and within our reach.

Eduardo Ochoa is Assistant Secretary for Postsecondary Education

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.

Recognizing Science, Math, and Engineering Mentoring

Oval Office Group Photo

President Barack Obama greets the 2010 and 2011 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring recipients in the Oval Office, Dec. 12, 2011. (Official White House Photos by Pete Souza)

Cross-posted from the White House Blog.

The President recently proclaimed January National Mentoring Month, a tribute to the many selfless Americans who devote themselves to the important educational endeavor of mentoring. His proclamation came on the heels of his recent personal recognition of 17 individuals and organizations who, at a White House ceremony in December, were awarded the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring (PAESMEM).

The PAESMEM program, administered by the National Science Foundation (NSF), identifies outstanding individuals or programs that, through mentoring, enhance the participation and retention of students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) classes—especially students who are members of groups underrepresented in the sciences, including persons with disabilities, women, and minorities.

President Obama met with the winners of the 2010 and 2011 PAESMEM in the Oval Office on December 12.  Afterwards, at a ceremony led by OSTP Director John Holdren and National Science Foundation Director Subra Suresh, the awardees received letters of congratulations from the President, thanking them for their dedication to education and innovation. In his letter, the President noted that the awardees’ efforts to inspire young people to reach new heights brings the Nation closer to achieving a community of scientist, engineering and mathematicians that reflects the full diversity of our union.

The ceremony and meeting with the President were part of two days of educational and recognition activities for the awardees in Washington, D.C., last month. In addition to the trip to Washington, D.C., each received a monetary award from NSF to support future mentoring endeavors.

OSTP congratulates the individuals and organizations recognized with this prestigious honor and encourage others to invest in our Nation’s future by helping children discover the best in themselves as they pursue their education. For information and resources about mentoring opportunities, visit: