PTA and ED Team Up to Improve School Safety

Arne speaking with community members at town hall“This job of keeping our children safe, and teaching them well, is something we can only do together, with the help of friends and neighbors, the help of a community, and the help of a nation.”

— President Barack Obama, December 16, 2012

In the wake of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary school, President Obama has called for a collaborative effort to keep our children safe at home, at school, and in the community. The National PTA and U.S. Department of Education have joined together to support schools and communities as we work towards this goal.

To kick off this joint effort, National PTA President Betsy Landers recently joined Secretary Arne Duncan for a town hall meeting to discuss school safety at Loch Raven High School in Baltimore, Md. The event included an open conversation with students, parents, teachers, and community members about school safety in the community. Over 350 community members attended the town hall to voice concerns and share ideas on how we can work together to create a safer learning environment. Watch the video archive of the event here.

Conversations as important as this one must continue long after everyone leaves the town hall. Here are a few good resources that may be helpful to you as we work to improve school and community safety:

U.S. Department of Education –

The National PTA –

     Safety Tool Kit

  1. “Look-a-likes” – poison prevention (en Español)
  2. “Cycling skills clinic”  – bike safety (en Español)
  3. “Get low and go” – fire, burns and scalds prevention (en Español
  4. “Fire escape map” – fire, burns and scalds prevention (en Español)
  5. “Safety sleuths” – playground safety (en Español)
  6. “The ultimate playground” – playground safety contest (en Español)

Kelsey Donohue is a senior at Marist College (N.Y.), and an intern in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach

Duncan Talks College Affordability and Rural Ed in WI and IA

Secretaries Duncan and Vilsack at a town hall in Wisconsin

Secretaries Duncan and Vilsack held a town hall in Wisconsin to discuss rural education and the teaching profession. Official Department of Education photo by Paul Wood.

Waterloo, Iowa – It’s not often that town hall meetings are interrupted by the gentle moo of a calf, but that’s exactly the interjection that two Cabinet secretaries and an audience interested in rural education experienced Wednesday at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville’s Pioneer Farm.

The mooing didn’t seem to bother the hundreds of educators, FFA members and other students who had gathered to discuss the teaching profession and rural education with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. Students and teachers posed thoughtful and challenging questions to the secretaries on stage.

“Our country’s economy can’t be strong if our rural economy isn’t strong,” Duncan said at the event. Both he and Vilsack talked about the importance of public-private partnerships and the fact that communities need to come together in order for America’s economy to continue to grow. Secretary Vilsack noted how important farming is to America, even for those who are far removed from America’s pastures. The U.S. “has an amazing ag story,” he said, explaining that we need to “talk differently in this country about agriculture.”

Duncan and Vilsack also announced a new interagency agreement that will advance agricultural education and promote postsecondary and career pathways, including teaching. Click here for more information and watch a video of the town hall.

College Affordability

The town hall at UW-Platteville was just one stop in a busy day for Secretary Duncan, who started the day discussing college affordability with seniors at East High School in Madison, Wis. Madison Metropolitan School District superintendent Dan Nerad started off the town hall by reminding us that in “the American dream of ensuring that these great young people accomplish more than our generation, postsecondary education must be affordable.”

Click here to read President Obama’s Blueprint for College Affordability.

Together for Tomorrow School Improvement Challenge

Later in the day, Duncan stopped in Dubuque, Iowa, and joined the Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell, ED’s director for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, to hold a “Together for Tomorrow” town hall on the value of community partnerships in helping to propel school improvement.

During the event, Duncan announced the Together for Tomorrow School Improvement Challenge, which challenges schools, national service programs, higher education institutions, and community and faith-based organizations to work together to turn around low-performing schools. Click here for more information.

Click here for a our Storify Story of day one, and check back for updates on day two of Secretary Duncan’s trip.

In Boston: Arne Says We Must Invest in Education

Duncan with Parents

Secretary Duncan stopped by Boston Public Schools’ Parent University during his trip to Boston. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

“Education is an investment,” Secretary Duncan told a town hall audience earlier this week at Emerson College in Boston. Duncan explained that other countries aren’t cutting their investment in education, and for America to compete in the global economy, investing in education is vital.

Duncan started a busy day at Boston University where he discussed Race to the Top with Mass., Commissioner of Education Mitchell Chester, superintendents, union presidents, and others. The Secretary then stopeed by J.F. Kennedy Elementary to visit Boston Public Schools’ Parent University. Following the visit, Duncan updated his Twitter account saying:

Later, Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) joined Arne for the Emerson town hall and a meeting with college presidents on keeping college affordable for America’s middle class. The meeting on college affordability follows on the heels of President Obama’s recently introduced Blueprint for College Affordability. “[W]e’ve got to have an economy in which every American has access to a world-class higher education,” President Obama explained when he unveiled the blueprint. “This country has always made a commitment to put a good education within the reach of all who are willing to work for it, and that’s part of what helped to create this economic miracle and build the largest middle class in history,” he said.

Following his visit to Emerson, Duncan gave a speech at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education’s Askwith Forum, entitled “Fighting the Wrong Education Battles.”  Duncan encouraged education advocates to “seek common ground—knowing that it will both take you outside of your comfort zone and require tough-minded collaboration.” He said that we need to “stop defending the status quo when it hurts children. Let’s wage the right education battles. Together, let’s work collectively to advance achievement and a love of learning in America.”

Read the entire speech here.

Duncan Discusses College Affordability During Florida Town Halls

Secretary Duncan at Florida Town Hall

Secretary Duncan holds a town hall in Pembroke Pines, Fla. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

“The way we’re going to bring in and keep the great jobs in this country is by having the most educated workforce,” Secretary Duncan said last week at a town hall in Pembroke Pines, Fla. Speaking with a large group of students, teachers and parents, Duncan explained that the U.S. used to be 1st in college completion and is now ranked 16th. Arne also echoed the President’s State of the Union message that we are facing a “make or break moment” for America’s middle class.

Over the past week, President Obama and Secretary Duncan both described that more than ever, education is essential to helping Americans become full contributors to the American economy. The unemployment rate for Americans with a college degree is about half the national average, and in our knowledge-based economy, our nation’s economic prosperity will be determined by the education of our people.

Before arriving in Pembroke Pines, Duncan stopped in Tallahassee to hold a community town hall around the same theme of keeping college affordable and within reach for all Americans. And while Duncan reminded the audience that college has never been more important, he also noted that it is also more expensive than ever. The Obama Administration has taken significant action in helping students and their families afford college, and on Friday, Secretary Duncan joined President Obama at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor to outline a Blueprint to making college more affordable.

Click here to read more about the President’s Blueprint, and click here to watch a video of Vice President Biden and Secretary Duncan traveling the country addressing the cost of college.

Minnesota Town Halls Focus on College Affordability and FAFSA

Secretary Duncan speaks at a town hall

Secretary Duncan at South High School. Official Department of Education photo by Leslie Williams

Secretary Duncan travelled to the Minneapolis area last Friday to host two town hall meetings with teachers, parents, students, and national, state and local leaders. Arne started the day speaking with students at South High School in Minneapolis about the importance of higher education and college affordability. “College isn’t just for the rich or someone else,” he said. “We need to raise expectations so all students know college is within their reach.”

The Obama Administration has taken extraordinary steps to make it easier for students to get financial aid and understand the true cost of college, including:

    • The biggest investment in college since the G.I. Bill
    • $40 billion for Pell Grants
    • Simplifying the FAFSA
    • Pay as you Earn” income-based repayment
    • Know Before You Owe” financial aid shopping sheet

Duncan also announced the launch of the @FAFSA Twitter account, and explained how important it is that students fill out the FAFSA. For many students who think that higher education is out of reach, the FAFSA will explain many of available aid and loans that can help a student pay for college.

Click here to get started on the 2012 FAFSA.

Keeping College Within Reach

VP Biden and Arne Duncan in Ohio

Vice President Biden speaks to students about college affordability at Lincoln High in Gahanna, Ohio. (Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover)

“What college you go to may be one of the least important decisions in your life,” said Vice President Joe Biden yesterday in Ohio. “It’s deciding to go that is the most,” he said.

Secretary Duncan joined Biden at Lincoln High School in Gahanna, Ohio yesterday to speak to students and parents about the importance of college and college affordability, and to answer questions from the audience. “The jobs of the future are going to require some type of higher education,” Duncan said, explaining that it could be college, community college, trade school, or technical or vocational training.

The Vice President and Secretary Duncan described the steps that the Obama Administration is taking to ensure that college stays within reach of the middle class, including:

  • Increasing the maximum size of Pell Grants by $800 to $5,550.
  • Increasing the number of students who receive Pell Grants from 6.1 million in 2008 to over 9 million today.
  • Enacting a tuition tax credit worth up to $10,000 over 4 years.
  • Ensuring that future graduates won’t have to spend more than 10% of their discretionary income on student loan payments.

Duncan also explained that ED has simplified the FAFSA form, making it easier for students to apply for aid in the first place.

While Vice President Biden encouraged the students in attendance to commit to higher education, Secretary Duncan said that the next step is finishing. “Whatever it takes to get you across the finish line,” he said.

Regional Town Hall Meetings Focus on Ending Violence Against Women, Part II

Cross-posted from the White House Blog. Read Part I.

In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness month this past October, the Department of Education, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development collaborated to hold ten town hall events throughout the country on the topic of Engaging Men and Boys in Ending Violence Against Women.

These town halls provided a unique opportunity for federal and community partners to participate in important discussions regarding the inclusion of men in ending violence against women and helped to further the efforts of those working tirelessly for this cause in local and regional communities across the nation.

Read More

Regional Town Hall Meetings Focus on Engaging Men in Ending Violence Against Women

Cross-posted from the White House Blog.

In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness month this past October, the Department of Education, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development collaborated to hold ten town hall events throughout the country on the topic of Engaging Men and Boys in Ending Violence Against Women.

These town halls provided a unique opportunity for federal and community partners to participate in important discussions regarding the inclusion of men in ending violence against women and helped to further the efforts of those working tirelessly for this cause in local and regional communities across the nation.

Read More

Supporting Teachers Through Family Engagement

Ed. Note: Mandy Grisham is an urban music educator from Memphis Tennessee, and a mother of two boys, ages five and two. She was a recent delegate to Parenting Magazine’s second annual meeting of the Mom Congress. Here she shares her impressions from a recent town hall on education reform and offers her own suggestions for how parents can support their child’s education.

Last week I had the opportunity to join, via satellite, some of the country’s leading education reform advocates in an education reform National Town Hall Meeting, held in Washington, D.C. The town hall participants included Deputy Secretary of Education Tony Miller, House Committee on Education and Workforce Ranking Member George Miller (D-Calif.), New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Sen. Michael Bennett (D-Colo.), and Harlem Children’s Zone founder Geoffrey Canada.

After hearing about many different reform efforts, it’s obvious that government at all levels can have a significant impact over what happens in a child’s life during school hours. But what goes on in the child’s life after school is often out of the hands of our elected officials.

Most of us can agree that the people who influence a child during these post-school hours are an important factor that cannot be left out of the reform movement equation.  So what can we do as parents to support teachers, and improve the quality of education our children receive?

1. Engage with your child, first and foremost. Family engagement begins at home. Whatever your family looks like, take time to play and talk with your child. Ask questions like “what was your favorite part of the day?” Or, “Tell me something interesting that happened today?” If this is the most you can do, then stop right here and do it well!

2. Engage with your child’s friends and their families. “It takes a village to raise a child.” So find out what other parents are learning from their children.

3. Engage with your child’s teachers. Most teachers are eager to partner with you to help make the most of those hours your child is at school. The more they hear from you, the more they know you really care.

4. Engage with your child’s school. Look for ways to serve the PTA or Leadership Council. Ask what skills you have that may serve them.

5. Engage with the system. Get to know your school board members and learn about the budget. Districts will be spending the most money on the matters most important to them. If you don’t agree with the choices, get involved.

6. Engage the government. It only takes a few squeaky wheels to get a politician’s attention and make a difference. Make yourself available to be a “parent on the field.” When they need feedback from their constituents, be available to offer your opinion.

– Mandy Grisham

If you missed the reform town hall, you can still watch it by clicking here.

Duncan Joins Congressman Chris Van Hollen and Superintendent Jerry Weast for Community Forum

When it comes to reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), “we have to raise the bar,” Secretary Duncan told a group of parents, students, teachers and community leaders earlier last week at a town hall meeting at John F. Kennedy High School in Silver Spring, Maryland. Congressman Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Montgomery County Superintendent of Schools Jerry Weast and Kennedy Principal Eric Minus joined the Secretary at the event where participants weighed in on how decision makers at the local, state and federal level can strengthen our educational system and prepare all students to be college and career ready.

Participants in the town hall meeting discussed several issues such as the importance of a well-rounded curriculum, ways to effectively engage parents in schools, and the role of testing and its emphasis in schools. One participant asked “what was best about the current law and what absolutely had to change” for us to improve and succeed.  Duncan stated that the current law has been successful in unmasking racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps, but that overall the current law is far too punitive with too many ways for schools to be labeled failures and no incentives for schools to strive for excellence.

Secretary Duncan noted that the Obama Administration is committed to fixing No Child Left Behind and replacing it with an ESEA reauthorization that is fair and flexible.  In March, President Obama called on Congress to fix NCLB this year, saying, “let’s seize this education moment. Let’s fix No Child Left Behind.”

For more information on the administration’s proposal to fix NCLB, read A Blueprint for Reform.

You can also see photos and view a video from the John F. Kennedy town hall meeting.

One Million Volunteer Mentors and Tutors

CNN’s Soledad O’Brien, White House Domestic Policy Council Melody Barnes, United Way Worldwide President CEO Brian Gallagher, and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan at the United Way Town Hall. Photo by Max Taylor.

Cross-posted from the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnership blog.

Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships staff from the U.S. Department of Education and the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) participated in the United Way Education Town Hall on March 31, 2001 in Washington, D.C. The event was held at Trinity University, and brought together students, teachers, nonprofit and business leaders, and education advocates, and representatives from government.

United Way Worldwide President and CEO Brian Gallagher announced United Way’s commitment to recruit one million readers, tutors and mentors to enhance the education and lives of young people.

CNCS CEO Patrick Corvington talked about how education is a central priority for national service. “More than half of our funding goes to education,” said Corvington. “We make it possible for great nonprofits across the country to support tutors and mentors and school volunteers that reach three million disadvantaged youth each year.”

The event moderator, CNN’s Soledad O’Brien, interviewed Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council Melody Barnes and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Duncan praised the United Way’s commitment saying that when community organizations and schools work together our young people from the toughest of backgrounds can do extraordinarily well.

Barnes highlighted the role that CNCS serves in helping to channel the energies and good intentions of everyday Americans into volunteer opportunities that support students and schools.

Talking about the importance of high-quality mentoring, Secretary Duncan said, “All of us need those adults in our lives who are going to help us uncover those gifts, uncover those talents, that we may not even know that exist within us. And for students that don’t have the support that we would like for them to have at home, this will change their lives forever.”

Duncan urged the United Way to join with the Department, states, and local school districts to focus the efforts of these one million new volunteers on helping to turn around the nation’s lowest performing schools. He emphasized that partnerships will help increase the rate of change for these schools and communities.

The Town Hall was broadcast live on the internet, and the full video is available here . The event underscored the mission and work of the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the Department of Education to promote student achievement by connecting schools and community based organizations, both secular and faith-based. We applaud the United Way’s commitment, and will continue working with them and other faith and community organizations to propel school improvement.

Let us know your thoughts, if you attended the event and whether you are helping in this commitment by clicking here . We want to hear your feedback.

Michael Robbins serves as the Senior Advisor for Nonprofit Partnerships, Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the U.S. Department of Education.

School Field Trip to California

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan sits with Eric Simmons in his first grade classroom at Shoal Creek Elementary in San Diego, Calif., March 23, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

Cross-posted from the White House Blog

No two schools are the same, and in a giant and diverse state like California, you need to visit a lot of classrooms and talk to a lot of teachers, administrators, students, parents and political leaders before you can even begin to understand the public education system’s accomplishments and challenges. Last month, I returned to the Golden State for a packed two-day visit to Los Angeles, Long Beach and San Diego.

At an education summit organized by the United Way of Greater Los Angeles, I directly challenged the city’s leaders, community groups, unions, parents, educators and students. Los Angeles, I told them, is a world-class city with a second-class school system. They can use the current and very real budget crisis as an excuse to continue on the road they have been on, or they can take the road less traveled—the harder road. To paraphrase the poet Robert Frost, that road less traveled will make all the difference.

At L.A.’s Fremont High School, I was greeted by the energy and enthusiasm of student leaders. In February, some of them came to Washington for a national youth summit that the Department of Education convened. These students have taken ownership for their educations and are demanding more from their schools and from themselves.

Another school with high expectations—and great results to show for it—is Tincher Preparatory School in Long Beach. There, I participated in a roundtable with Tincher’s fantastic principal, Bill Vogel. A music teacher, Laura Strand, asked me if I could pull off “a miracle” and solve California’s budget problems, which are cutting into arts programs like hers. I am proud that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has saved more than 300,000 education jobs over the last two years and supported state and locally led reforms, but I recognizethat schools in California and elsewhere are facing brutally tough funding decisions. There are smart and not-so-smart ways to make those decisions. The not-so smart ways include cutting back on arts and music instruction or implementing other cutbacks that harm learning in the classroom.

Education’s miracle workers are teachers like Ms. Strand who work magic with their students, and in very tough conditions. What those of us in Washington, D.C., can do is give states, school districts, schools and the educators who work in them greater flexibility—with accountability—to be creative in addressing their students’ individual needs. This is where the current federal education law known as No Child Left Behind(NCLB) falls short. While the law is rightfully credited for shining the spotlight on achievement gaps, it’s too prescriptive and too punitive. As President Obama said recently, we want to get this law fixed before students go back to school in September.

In the San Diego area, I was pleased that one of Congress’s leaders on education, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), agreed that this year we need to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act—the official name for No Child Left Behind—and fix NCLB’s problems. With Congressman Hunter, I visited Shoal Creek Elementary School. Then we joined current and retired military leaders at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. It is astounding to me that three out of four young Americans do not meet basic requirements to serve in our military; either they lack a high school diploma, they’re physically unfit, or they have a criminal record. This is a national security risk that we must address. And the best way to get our children ready for college and careers, including military service, is to invest first in high-quality early education programs.

March was a busy month for education. The President, Vice President and I, as well as other administration officials, visited schools throughout the country to emphasize the importance of investing in education to win the future. President Obama put it best when he said recently that “in the 21st century, it’s not enough leave no child behind. We need to help every child get ahead.”

Arne Duncan is the Secretary of Education.

Visit to see a photo gallery of the Secretary’s visit.