America’s Standing Among Nations Relies on Great Teachers

Click here for an accessible version of the video.

After his remarks, Secretary Duncan took questions on a wide variety of education issues.

LITTLE ROCK—If America is to regain its pre-eminence in education compared to other nations, we owe it to our teachers to share with them useful data and other feedback so they can help children succeed and continually improve at their jobs, Secretary Duncan said tonight. And, he added, parents deserve to know how successful their children’s teachers are at helping students grow academically.

“Under the best of circumstances, this information would be openly discussed among teachers, parents and principals with the goal of identifying the strongest teachers so we can learn from them and better support those who are struggling,” he told nearly 1,000 educators, civic leaders and community members gathered at Little Rock’s Statehouse Convention Center for a lecture hosted by the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service.

In tonight’s audience were two of the “Little Rock Nine”—those courageous African American teenagers who helped desegregate Little Rock’s Central High School in 1957. Elizabeth Eckford and Minnijean Brown Trickey received a standing ovation as Arne praised their courage in entering Central’s classrooms a half-century ago. He will kick off the Back to School tour at Central High on Thursday morning.

Minnijean Brown Trickey (left), one of the "Little Rock Nine," attended the event.

The Secretary’s remarks on teacher quality tonight were in response to a recent report by the Los Angeles Times that used students’ performance on standardized tests to determine which teachers get the greatest gains out of their students. Arne stressed that testing data should be only one piece in determining teacher quality—and that we need better tests than we have now. He pointed to Finland, Canada, Singapore, China and South Korea as countries from which the United States could learn.

“Educators deserve more than statistics to do their jobs well,” he said. “They need constructive feedback from their principal and their peers against clear standards and other relevant measures.”

He continued, “This information should be rolled up into a meaningful, ongoing assessment of their work that both helps improve instruction and is tied to opportunities for advancement, bonuses, collaboration and professional development.”

To applause, Arne advocated using a variety of data to highlight what’s not working—and what is—in our PreK-20 education system, in addition to being more transparent about teacher effectiveness.

Click here for an accessible version of the video.

Before taking a wide range of questions from the audience, he framed the “Courage in the Classroom” tour with a simple message for America’s teachers:

“You are our national unsung heroes. Not only do we trust you but we hold you in the very highest esteem. We understand that you are doing society’s most important work. We will support you in your work and we will work together with you to elevate and strengthen the teaching profession, because nothing less than America’s future rests on your collective shoulders.”

Here you can read the full text of Arne’s remarks, as prepared for delivery.

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Massie Ritsch
Office of Communications & Outreach

In Arkansas, Duncan Reflects on Clinton Education Legacy

At the Little Rock airport, the Secretary checks e-mail to get speech updates for tonight's address.

At the Little Rock airport, the Secretary checks e-mail to get speech updates for tonight's address.

LITTLE ROCK—On the eve of his “Courage in the Classroom” tour, Secretary Duncan touched down this afternoon in Arkansas’s capital city and is preparing for a speech tonight on our national imperative to regain our global standing in education. Recognizing that great teachers are essential to achieving this goal, Arne will also discuss ways we can better support teachers in continually improving their skills, recognize and reward those who are most successful at this critical job, and arm parents with useful information on their children’s education.

Tonight’s lecture is part of a series put on by the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service and was to take place at the library and museum to the 42nd president. But when more than 1,000 people expressed interest in attending, it had to be moved to Little Rock’s convention center to accommodate the crowd.

Both as governor of Arkansas and as president, Bill Clinton was an early and active voice in the education reform movement. While in the White House, he pioneered a financial aid program that made the federal government, instead of private banks, the direct lender to college students. This year, Congress expanded the direct lending program, fully eliminating wasteful subsidies to banks and recouping billions of dollars in savings to send millions more needy students to college and invest in our nation’s community college system.

President Clinton also spurred states toward rigorous standards in elementary and secondary education and better assessments of student learning. And in the last year, under the leadership of governors and state education chiefs along with incentives from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA), the movement toward higher standards has advanced considerably, with 36 states and the District of Columbia—and counting—signing on to a common set of college- and career-ready standards that they developed together. ARRA is providing $350 million to develop a set of 21st century assessments that will better measure students’ readiness for college and careers, and the Department plans to award that money to groups of states in the coming weeks.

President Clinton also passed a school-to-work law, recognizing one of the ultimate goals of education—to prepare students for careers that are rewarding to themselves and to society. The Obama administration’s education agenda continues this emphasis on preparation for the workplace, and the Department of Education has proposed regulations to ensure that career-focused college programs are providing training that leads to gainful employment for their graduates.

So, in many aspects of its education agenda, the Obama administration is building on programs and policies for students that began in the Clinton administration nearly two decades ago. (And, coincidentally, President Clinton’s education secretary, Dick Riley, also marked the back-to-school season with a bus tour.) Secretary Duncan plans in his speech tonight to salute the former president for “for his life of service to his state and his nation, and his continuing work on behalf of disadvantaged people both here and abroad.”

The Department's Teaching Ambassador Fellows met the tour bus in Little Rock.

The Department's Teaching Ambassador Fellows met the tour bus in Little Rock.

“He is an inspiration to people of every generation,” Arne plans to say. “He has made a difference in so many ways for so many people and yet—by all appearances—he shows no signs of slowing down. He is—in the fullest sense—a public servant whose extraordinary insights into the challenges facing our world are exceeded only by his tireless efforts to address them.”

Look for coverage of the Secretary’s remarks later this evening on the bus tour’s blog.

Massie Ritsch
Office of Communications & Outreach

Get on the Bus

Across America, school buses are rolling out to pick up students and start a new academic year. Joining those yellow buses this year will be the blue motor coach you see here, and its route will be more than 800 miles long, spanning eight states. Not your typical ride to school.

Aboard the blue bus will be U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, headlining a Back to School tour with the theme “Courage in the Classroom: Honoring America’s Teachers.” Over the next two weeks Arne will visit schools that are facing challenges head-on—and demonstrating success. He will talk with teachers about how they are helping their students achieve and how the federal government can best support educators.

The tour kicks off in the South on Aug. 26 at iconic Central High School in Little Rock, where in 1957 nine courageous teenagers were the first African Americans to desegregate the school. Then the bus will travel on to Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. The second, northeastern leg begins Aug. 30 in Albany, traveling on to Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine.

Click here for an accessible version of the video.

All along the way we’ll be talking with teachers and other educators about the critical work they’re doing to educate America’s young people. We’ll talk to parents and students about their goals for the new school year and beyond.

Joining Arne will be some of the Department of Education’s Teaching Ambassador Fellows, who join us from the classroom for a year to ensure that the teacher’s voice is always being heard.

You can follow the Back to School tour here on, as well as on Facebook and Twitter. Look for updates from the road each day, along with photos and video from events and behind the scenes.

Massie Ritsch
Office of Communications and Outreach

This School Bus Has Feet

(Clockwise from bottom left) Niah Gamble, her grandmother Ellen Williams, teacher Mamie Vick and kindergarten classmates Amari and Chelsea.

Lincoln Park in Washington, DC’s Capitol Hill neighborhood comes alive every morning—children swing on the playground equipment, dogs chase balls, bicyclists take shortcuts to get to work, and cars, trucks and buses snake around the park’s four corners on their morning commute. There’s just enough chaos to make an elementary school student want a hand to hold and a friend to walk with.

That’s the idea of the Walking School Bus—there’s safety in numbers.

Every week at Maury Elementary School, families gather in the surrounding neighborhood to walk to school together. This morning the crowd was especially large—more than 100 students on foot, bikes and scooters joined their parents, grandparents and younger siblings in strollers for the stroll to campus. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan joined in with D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, Chancellor Michelle Rhee, and Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez of the U.S. Department of Transportation, which manages the federal Safe Routes to School program to encourage more of the nation’s students to walk or bike to school.

Click here for an accessible version of the video.

The group that had clustered in Lincoln Park quickly spread out as those on wheels sped to the front. Walking in the middle of the pack with Chancellor Rhee, Mayor Fenty yelled ahead to Arne, who, at 6 ft. 5 in., has an unusually long stride.

“Secretary, you’ve got to slow down with those long legs, man,” the mayor said. “You’re leaving us little-legged people behind.”

For Niah Gamble, 5, and her classmates at Maury, Tuesday was the second day of school. In her hair Niah had tied ribbons in the school’s colors—blue and white—which also matched her brand-new uniform. On her feet were sparkly purple shoes, complementing a pink backpack that seemed unusually stuffed for a kindergartener.

She held the hand of her grandmother, Ellen Williams. Even before her granddaughter enrolled, Ms. Williams was volunteering her time at Maury. “What I do for her, I do for all,” she said. After the first day of classes, when Niah’s grandmother asked her to draw a picture of what she had liked best about school, she drew her teacher, Mamie Vick.

Ms. Vick greeted Niah and her 18 other students on the playground as they lined up to go inside. “We had a great day yesterday,” she said. “I think everybody went home happy.”

Ms. Vick is going back to school herself, attending a weekend program at a local university to get her master’s degree in education. Even with 22 years of experience, she’s still seeking to improve her teaching.

Secretary Duncan joined Principal Carolyne Albert-Garvey and the families of Maury Elementary School on this morning's "walking school bus."

Maury Elementary’s spirit of family and community involvement wasn’t lost on Secretary Duncan. “If every school had this kind of camaraderie, this kind of energy, we’d be a much better education system,” he said during a news conference on the playground.

Walking to school is not only a way to be safe, Arne said;  it’s a way to get exercise. “It may be a little bit old school, but I think it’s absolutely what our children need,” he said.

The school year is off to a smooth start, Chancellor Rhee reported. That hasn’t always been the case. There was a time not long ago, Arne said, when “DC had a school system that the city could not be proud of.” Now, he said, its public schools are on the right track.

“DC is fast becoming a model for the country, and I could not be prouder” of the district’s progress, he said. (Update @ 12:15 PM: Later today the Department further acknowledged the District of Columbia’s progress by awarding it up to $75 million from the Race to the Top program to pursue a bold education reform plan. DC and 9 states all won Round 2 grants in this unprecedented competition.)

Today’s visit to Maury Elementary was a prelude to the Secretary’s Back to School bus tour, which rolls out Thursday in Little Rock, Ark. You can follow the “Courage in the Classroom” tour online at and via Twitter and Facebook.

Massie Ritsch
Office of Communications and Outreach