Courage in the Classroom: Trip Report

Back in Washington after an eight-state bus tour, Secretary Duncan has summarized the trip and his impressions on Below is his post and a video compilation of the Courage in the Classroom tour.

Click here for an accessible version of the video.

As students head back to school this fall, I travelled over the last two weeks on an eight-state bus tour to highlight “Courage in the Classroom.” The mission of the tour was simple: to honor our nation’s unsung heroes—our teachers.

We started in Little Rock, Ark., where I visited historic Central High School and talked to a group of teachers there about the Obama administration’s proposal to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), commonly known as No Child Left Behind. Our big blue bus then continued on to Hamburg, Arkansas, where I saw the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) at work on a rural high school campus that’s being upgraded and visited a pre-kindergarten center that is helping young learners start school on the right foot.

We then rolled into Louisiana. I joined students at a Monroe magnet school for a tour of their school’s garden and a conversation with the faculty about the importance of creating a healthy school environment. As both Secretary of Education and a parent, I’m a huge believer in the First Lady’s Let’s Move initiative. I also stopped by a lively gathering of the state teachers union and emphasized the important role their organization plays in shaping our nation’s future. In Tallulah, Louisiana, I got a workout when I played basketball with the Madison High School Jaguars.

The next day, we woke up in Jackson, Mississippi, and visited the Kids Kollege Children’s Defense Fund Freedom School at Jackson State University to talk with teacher interns about what we can do to recruit a new generation of effective teachers. We stopped for lunch in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, where I got teachers’ ideas for improving assessments of students’ learning and better compensating and evaluating teachers. In the last event of the southern leg of the tour, I visited George C. Hall Elementary School in Mobile, Alabama,  to learn  how the school and surrounding community have successfully turned around that school.

The trip through the South was a busy two days, but our tour didn’t end there. After a weekend back in Washington, the bus set out again, this time in the Northeast. We started in Albany, New York, where I joined Gov. Paterson to praise the state for its courage in reforming education, which the  Department of Education recently recognized with a Race to the Top award.

In Massachusetts, another Race to the Top winner, I visited a high school in Springfield for a conversation about ways we can better engage students in their educations. Next, we went to Keene, New Hampshire, to meet some college students who are preparing to become teachers. We talked about how we can improve training to help them address the challenges they’ll face in the classroom. In Manchester, New Hampshire I dropped by Bakersville Elementary and toured the neighborhood, which is home to students from 18 different countries.

In Portsmouth, New Hampshire I talked with military families at the Naval Shipyard about the difficulties they face in providing their children with a consistently top-notch education as they move around our country and the world in our nation’s service.

Our last stop was Maine, one of several states on this tour that I hadn’t visited before as Secretary. In Portland I enjoyed the presentations of three rising 8th graders about the impact of the civil rights movement in their lives today.

Throughout the “Courage in the Classroom” tour, I was encouraged by teachers who are working hard to make a difference in the lives of students, often in difficult circumstances. From a teacher-in-training in Arkansas, who started his education as a 4 year old in the pre-kindergarten program I visited, to a teacher in Maine who has been in the classroom 35 years, the people I met along the way were truly inspiring. Through their tireless work, I am confident our nation will be able to achieve the President’s 2020 goal of having the highest college graduation rate in the world.

Although the tour is over, I remain interested in hearing from you about how Americans can educate our way to a better economy and once again lead the world in education. We can continue this conversation on’s blog, on my Facebook page and on Twitter (@ED_Outreach).

Have a great school year, everyone.

Arne Duncan
Secretary of Education

Remembering the Titans, Fulfilling the Promise

Alexandria, Va.—Billed as a “family reunion,” more than a thousand educators from Alexandria City Public Schools kicked off their school year Thursday morning with a convocation at T.C. Williams High School, and Secretary Duncan joined them.

In a moving ceremony, school district officials honored Ferdinand “Fred” Day, an educator and civil rights leader who was superintendent of Alexandria’s schools in 1971, during the time when the T.C. Williams football team made history by breaking racial barriers later chronicled in the film Remember the Titans. Day went on to become the first African American school board member in Virginia.

Secretary Duncan presented Day with a flag flown over the U.S. Capitol during President Obama’s 2009 inauguration, recognizing his contribution to civil rights. “I am grateful, grateful, grateful,” Day told the crowd.

Moments later, Alexandria Supt. Morton Sherman introduced Arne as the keynote speaker and acknowledged that T.C. Williams and other Alexandria schools have been identified by their state as having significant work to do. “Though we may not love (being a) persistently low-achieving school,” Sherman told the Secretary, Alexandria’s educators must remain true to “a strong, free public education for all.” He also applauded the Secretary’s leadership in urging Congress to pass the recent $10 billion education jobs bill, stating, “Some in this room have their jobs because of your efforts.”

Partly for fun and partly to make a point about what Sherman perceives as an over-emphasis on standardized testing, he asked a group of Alexandria staff called the “Superintendent’s Songsters” to regale the audience with a message for federal education policymakers, a song whose refrain declared that students “don’t need to know what’s not on the test.”

Arne reported to the audience on his “remarkable journey” touring eight states on a bus to celebrate and listen to teachers. He described Central High School, in Little Rock, Ark.—where, in 1957, nine African American students were denied entrance into an all-white school—as a place which “from that time of darkness, an unbelievable flower has grown.” And he touted educators at George C . Hall Elementary School, in Mobile, Ala., who transformed their school from one of the lowest performing in the state to one of the highest through their “tenacious, courageous” staff.

Then the Secretary turned his attention to apprehensions he heard from teachers on the road. “We absolutely have to fix NCLB (No Child Left Behind, the federal education law),” he acknowledged. In contrast to NCLB, the Obama administration’s plan for reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act focuses more on student and school “growth and gain” than on snapshots of academic achievement. Duncan also decried the “dummying down of standards for political reasons” that he noted has taken place as a result of NCLB, forcing educators to “lie to parents and children, telling [students] they are prepared (for college) when we know they are not.”

During a question-and-answer period, Duncan addressed ways he is working to address the needs of students living in poverty, including $60 billion in new Pell Grants for college, a $2 billion investment in community colleges, and a doubling of the federal funding for programs that engage parents in their children’s educations. He also previewed the Department’s announcement later in the day of more than $330 million in grant awards to states for the development of a new, better generation of student assessments, addressing a common complaint from teachers that current “bubble tests” aren’t useful to them.

“Poverty should never be destiny,” Arne told the crowd of teachers, and with a standing ovation, they seemed to agree.

Laurie Calvert
Teaching Ambassador Fellow

Central High Student Keeps His Eyes on the Prize

High school junior Tailore Dawson (front row, fourth from left) and friends at Central High School in Little Rock, Ark.

As we wandered around the manicured grounds of Central High School in Little Rock, Ark., last Thursday—it’s the only active school in America that’s also a national park—a young man came over.

“Need help finding something?” he asked.

Tailore Dawson, 17, is a junior at Central. It’s not the school he’d normally attend, since his family lives in another part of town. But his neighborhood high school isn’t up to his mother’s standards—or his own.

“My academic standard for me is different than for other students,” Tailore said. Also, “I want to go to a school that has some type of character, and Central has character. And it has history.”

Tailore’s homework the night before we met him included a three-page profile of a classmate. The assignment—to get “beyond the surface” and really learn about the other person—was for a communications and college preparation program called AVID, Advancement Via Individual Determination. Worldwide, AVID serves approximately 400,000 students, grades 4-12, in nearly 4,500 schools in 45 states, the District of Columbia and 16 countries and territories.

Central’s communications teacher, Stacey McAdoo, coordinates the AVID program there and was part of a roundtable discussion with Secretary Duncan and teachers Thursday morning. A partnership with the University of Arkansas-Little Rock provides tutors for the Central students to get them focused on college.

“They help students navigate the college choices they will have,” McAdoo explained. Visits to colleges and universities throughout the year give the high schoolers a sense of what life on campus is like.

“Leaving high school, people don’t know what to do next,” Tailore said, estimating that 60 percent of his friends have an idea of what they’ll do after graduation. “Having those connections at these colleges—those friends—helps you get where you want to go.”

Two years from graduation, Tailore already knows where he wants to go: Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., where he wants to major in robotics or genetics. He’s preparing to apply to the Ivy League school by taking physics and chemistry, along with several Advanced Placement classes, and he is a member of Central’s robotics club. He is taking the right tests for admission—the ACT last year (which he’ll take again) and the SAT this year.

Central High School’s history as a flashpoint in the civil rights movement is not lost on Tailore. He’s African American—more than half of Central’s students are—but in 1957, federal troops had to be called in so that nine black teenagers could enter what was then an all-white school.

“People thought, ‘These nine got in. Why can’t we do it?’ They got the mentality and kept coming and coming, and eventually we just mixed all together…Everybody’s friends with everybody. There’s no segregation of anything.”

When we met him last week, Tailore hadn’t yet heard about President Obama’s national education goal—that the United States will once again lead the world in college graduates by 2020—but he immediately homed in on what it will take to be successful.

“I think we can achieve this goal,” he said, “but what we’ll need is everybody helping. A few people can’t do good and cover up for everybody else. We need everybody’s help.”

On the path to college, Tailore Dawson is doing his part.

Massie Ritsch
Office of Communications & Outreach

At Beginning and End, Bus Tour Focuses on Civil Rights

Secretary Duncan visits King Middle School

Kelly Martinez, Joanna Quinn, and Mohamed Nur show their civil rights project to Secretary Duncan

The “Courage in the Classroom” bus tour started at a landmark of the civil rights movement.

And it ended today in Portland, Maine, with middle school students telling Secretary Duncan about their in-depth research project on how people in their community participated in that movement.

At the stop at King Middle School in Portland, a group of three rising 8th graders made a poster presentation to the secretary about how they interviewed local residents about their participation in marches and protests to advance civil rights.
The project, completed last spring, was an interdisciplinary effort. The students learned the history of the movement. They practiced interviewing skills with family members. They interviewed local residents. They published a book about their project.

The capstone of the project was an assembly where they presented their findings to the community, including many of their interview subjects.

“I learned that people in Portland that made a difference, not just people down South,” said Joanna Quinn, who presented about the project along with classmates Keyly Martinez and Mohamed Nur.

More Photos

Helping Military Families Through Education Transitions

Air Force Sgt. Cynthia Carter discusses the challenges military children face when moving to new schools.

Air Force Sgt. Cynthia Carter discusses the challenges military children face when moving to new schools.

Military families make incredible sacrifices to serve our country. One of them is moving several times during their careers.

Secretary Duncan stopped at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard to discuss how educators can address the unique needs of military children.

The Portsmouth Shipyard is one of more than 200 military bases that have a liaison who works with local schools to help ease the transition for students.

But the most important development is the interstate compact in which states share student records, according to Hannah McCarthy, the school liaison for the shipyard.

Through the compact, she can provide information such as grades, an individualized education program, and test scores that help schools address the needs of students.

“The compact has been instrumental in helping alleviate some of the challenges that military families have,” McCarthy told the secretary.

McCarthy also says she reaches out to school districts that will be enrolling students whose families are moving to new assignments.

“I can call wherever they’re going and help set them up,” she said.

Click here for an accessible version of the video.

More Photos

Bakersville Elementary School, Manchester, NH

Secretary Duncan and Manchester, N.H., Mayor Ted Gatsas meet with Bakersville Elementary School students and talk about the first day of school coming up.”

Secretary Duncan and Manchester, N.H., Mayor Ted Gatsas meet with Bakersville Elementary School students and talk about the first day of school coming up.

This morning’s stop at Bakersville Elementary School started with a tour – not of the school, but of the neighborhood.

Here’s a video of the tour and the discussion with teachers and parents that followed.

Click here for an accessible version of the video.

More Photos

Duncan Asks: How Do We Improve the Teaching Profession?

Melinda Treadwell, the dean of professional and graduate studies, and Secretary Duncan lead a conversation with current and prospective teachers at Keene State College in New Hampshire.

Melinda Treadwell, the dean of professional and graduate studies, and Secretary Duncan lead a conversation with current and prospective teachers at Keene State College in New Hampshire.

Imagine you’re a studying to be a teacher, and on the first day of the new semester, the U.S. Secretary of Education arrives to ask your opinions about the future of the teaching profession.

That’s what happened at Keene State College in New Hampshire on Monday’s evening stop on the “Courage in the Classroom” bus tour.

During the discussion, Secretary Duncan had more questions than answers for the class of that included undergraduates preparing to be teachers and current teachers working toward a master’s degree.

How do we recruit one million new teachers over the next four years?

How do we retain them in the profession?

How do we improve the way we prepare teachers?

Will better preparation programs lead to higher retention rates because teachers feel better prepared for success in the classroom?

One current teacher said that teacher preparation programs should focus on classroom-based experiences rather than philosophical discussions.

So many of a teacher’s daily tasks—such as managing a classroom, working with parents, and planning lessons—are best learned by doing the work yourself or watching an experienced professional, said Denis Jobin, who teaches English learners in Milford, N.H.

“You can talk about those things, but it’s interactive to learn them,” Jobin said.

Secretary Duncan agreed that teacher colleges need to find ways to integrate real-life teaching experiences into their preparation programs.

But he believes that the larger challenge is to improve the status of the profession so that teachers feel respected and valued.

“Teaching must be a much more revered profession,” he told the group. “Teachers haven’t been revered for a while.”

Click here for an accessible version of the video.

More Photos

Working Together to Address Students’ Needs

Paul Winspeare, a junior at the High School of Commerce, tells a community forum about the importance of keeping high school students engaged in school.

Paul Winspeare, a junior at the High School of Commerce, tells a community forum about the importance of keeping high school students engaged in school.

Education is everybody’s responsibility, and everyone has a role to play: teachers, parents, elected officials, and school leaders.

In Springfield, Mass., today, Secretary Arne Duncan heard of the collaborative efforts of communities across the state and the city to reform their schools. By engaging educators and members of communities, the state strengthened its Race to the Top application. Last week, Massachusetts won a $250 million grant in the second phase of the competition, scoring higher than any other applicant.

“All the stakeholders worked together on the final application to make sure it was centered on helping students succeed,” Tim Sullivan, the vice president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, said at a meeting at the High School of Commerce in Springfield.

Students at the event reminded Secretary Duncan and others that providing them a world-class education is the ultimate goal of Race to the Top and other reforms.

Students need to be engaged in academics, sports, or other activities, Paul Winspeare responded when Secretary Duncan asked what schools need to do to keep students from dropping out.

“That motivation keeps them coming to school every day,” said Winspeare, a junior who says the Junior Reserve Officer Training program is a program that keeps him engaged at the High School of Commerce.

Click here for an accessible version of the video.

Click here for an accessible version of the video.

More Photos