Students: Do You Want to Make a Positive Difference in Education?

As President Obama said in his State of the Union Address, when we act together, in common purpose and common effort, there is nothing the United States of America cannot achieve.

The Department of Education (ED) is reaching out to our most valuable allies – STUDENTS.

If all students are going to graduate from high school and continue their education, we must seek your grassroots input and innovative ideas to address this goal. Are you a problem-solver, innovator, or entrepreneur?

Do you have innovative ideas on how to:

    1. Help middle school students’ transition to high school and graduate?
    2. Develop skills for success in postsecondary education?
    3. Choose affordable colleges that best suit student needs, consistent with their education and career goals?
    4. Increase the likelihood students complete their college degrees on time or early?

On February 1, 2012, ED launched a National Education Startup Challenge at ED is inviting students to develop innovative, real-world solutions to help students to be college and career ready.

Students are invited to submit a business plan and a video clip promotion for a for-profit or non-profit startup that includes an innovative strategy, product or service designed to address one of the four topics above.

If you are in 6th grade through postsecondary or an out-of-school youth, you are eligible to participate. Dont miss this opportunity to share your best and brightest ideas! The deadline for submissions is May 1st, 2012.

To learn more about this and other exciting competitions, visit the website at

If you have questions regarding the National Education Startup Challenge, email: or for assistance, please contact Scott Hess at 202-245-7772 or

Steve Brown

Steve Brown is an Educational Program Specialist in the Office of Vocational and Adult Education

President Obama on Back-to-School: “Set Your Sights High”

President Obama greets students after delivering his back-to-school speech.

President Barack Obama shakes hands with students after delivering his third annual Back-to-School speech at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School in Washington, D.C. Sept. 28, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Cross-posted from the White House Blog.

This afternoon, students from across the country tuned in as President Obama addressed them directly in his third annual Back-to-School speech. The President encouraged America’s students to use their time in school to try new things, discover new passions and hone their skills to prepare themselves for the kind of profession they want in the future:

It starts, obviously, with being the best student that you can be. Now, that doesn’t always mean that you have to have a perfect score on every assignment.  It doesn’t mean that you’ve got to get straight As all the time — although that’s not a bad goal to have.  It means that you have to stay at it.  You have to be determined and you have to persevere.  It means you’ve got to work as hard as you know how to work.  And it means that you’ve got to take some risks once in a while.  You can’t avoid the class that you think might be hard because you’re worried about getting the best grade if that’s a subject that you think you need to prepare you for your future…

And that’s why when you’re still a student you can explore a wide range of possibilities.  One hour you can be an artist; the next, an author; the next, a scientist, or a historian, or a carpenter.  This is the time where you can try out new interests and test new ideas.  And the more you do, the sooner you’ll figure out what makes you come alive, what stirs you, what makes you excited — the career that you want to pursue.

The President explained that being engaged in school is not just for the students themselves, but for the country as a whole. He acknowledged that young people today are growing up fast and students have a lot of responsibility to take on, “because you’re not just kids.  You’re this country’s future.  You’re young leaders.  And whether we fall behind or race ahead as a nation is going to depend in large part on you.”

That’s why President Obama called on America’s students to set a goal to continue their education after they graduate from High School. “The fact of the matter is, is that more than 60 percent of the jobs in the next decade will require more than a high school diploma — more than 60 percent.  That’s the world you’re walking into.”

The President also spoke about the tireless work America’s teachers do on behalf of our students:

Teachers are the men and women who might be working harder than just about anybody these days.  Whether you go to a big school or a small one, whether you attend a public or a private or charter school –- your teachers are giving up their weekends; they’re waking up at dawn; they’re cramming their days full of classes and extra-curricular activities.   And then they’re going home, eating some dinner, and then they’ve got to stay up sometimes past midnight, grading your papers and correcting your grammar, and making sure you got that algebra formula properly.

And they don’t do it for a fancy office.  They don’t — they sure don’t do it for the big salary.  They do it for you.  They do it because nothing gives them more satisfaction than seeing you learn.  They live for those moments when something clicks; when you amaze them with your intellect or your vocabulary, or they see what kind of person you’re becoming.  And they’re proud of you.  And they say, I had something to do with that, that wonderful young person who is going to succeed.  They have confidence in you that you will be citizens and leaders who take us into tomorrow.  They know you’re our future.  So your teachers are pouring everything they got into you, and they’re not alone.

Watch the video of the President’s Back-to-School address:

FFA at White House Rural Economic Forum

“I was an FFA member back in the day” … “Some of my greatest memories are as a student in a rural setting” … “We believe in the future of agriculture and in students like you.

Comments like these were common from White House Staff, business leaders and attendees at the White House’s Rural Economic Forum held at Northeast Iowa Community College on August 16. State FFA Officers from Wisconsin, Missouri, Iowa and Illinois joined rural advocates, small business owners, cabinet members, my national FFA officer teammate, Wyatt DeJong, and me in a discussion focusing on rural America.

Riley Pagett and Wyatt DeJong at the White House’s Rural Economic Forum

The day was a success in developing ideas for effective rural communities, recruitment to such areas and other issues involving rural persons and businesses. The day also marked a great step forward for the American education system. People became more aware of the importance of education of people of all ages from all walks of life through breakout sessions. Business and industry leaders, staff, cabinet members and others brainstormed ideas in which we could enhance rural America – educational standards, increased broadband coverage, and opportunities for students to return to production agricultural areas and family farms were topics covered. Thoughts in the breakout sessions were solidified during President Obama’s remarks to the group.

“It’s always a mistake to bet against America. It’s always a mistake to bet against the American worker, the American farmer, the American small business owner, the American People,” President Obama said. As the President wrapped up the rural economic development forum, he said he has confidence in our nation’s economic recovery and is encouraged by what he saw on his trip through rural Iowa and Minnesota.

His comments seemed to motivate attendees and summed up the day. He explained that the future direction of the Rural Council is to support the work done that day and the work of rural people he had encountered during his term.  He thanked “the future farmers” for our commitment to young people, agriculture, education and rural America.

To me, his comments spoke highly of today’s youth and of what we had achieved that day in Iowa – awareness, need for opportunity in rural areas and a sense of community among all.

Riley Pagett
Oklahoma student
2010-11 National FFA President

Giving Youth a Voice

Official Department of Education Photo by Joshua Hoover

We can’t improve education if we don’t listen to students, Secretary Duncan often explains when he talks about the need for an ongoing conversation with students, teachers and parents. As part of that ongoing conversation, some of the Secretary’s top advisers met with a group of students from the National Campaign for Quality Education last month to discuss ideas on education reform and how we can increase student achievement throughout the country. The students highlighted their proposed legislation entitled the Youth SUCCESS Act, which calls for a student Bill of Rights, investment in job opportunities, and ending the school-to-prison pipeline.

The youth described how their personal experiences in their communities and classrooms have influenced their education, and they expressed a strong interest in continuing to work with ED to close our country’s achievement gap.

The meeting was the result of a request from a student during ED’s Voices in Action: National Youth Summit at Howard University in February. Following the meeting, hundreds of students from the National Campaign for Quality Education staged a rally on ED’s plaza and marched to the Department of Labor to continue their call for youth investment.

Read about the top five things we learned at the National Youth Summit, and continue the conversation by becoming a fan of ED Youth Voices on Facebook.

Robert Gomez is a Management and Program Analyst at the Department of Education