September School Days Video Journal Highlights the American Jobs Act

News on what the American Jobs Act means for teachers and schools, a report on Secretary Arne Duncan’s back-to-school bus tour, and the winners of the 2011 Broad Prize are among the stories featured in the September edition of “School Days,” the U.S. Department of Education’s monthly video journal.   Watch it here:

Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

Top 10 Highlights from the Back-to-School Tour

Official Department of Education Photo by Leslie Williams

America’s students weren’t the only ones getting back on buses last week. Secretary Duncan and senior Department of Education staff also hit the road, for a Midwest back-to-school tour focusing on  “Education and the Economy.”

With more than 75 events across seven states, Duncan and ED staff spoke with teachers, students, parents, administrators, and business and community leaders on the importance of investing in education to secure our country’s future. Here are the top 10 highlights from this year’s tour.

10An automotive teacher gets ED revved up. At the bus’s final stop at Carl Schurz High School in Chicago, Secretary Duncan visited the classroom of Clairene Terry, an automotive class teacher who has restored automotive mechanics’ stature as an exciting and promising career path for Carl Schurz students.

9Ready. Set. Educate. Before Secretary Duncan delivered his message about the need to educate our way to a better economy in Merrillville, Ind., students from the One Region, One Vision initiative sent a message to Duncan saying they accept the challenge.

8All hands on deck. Nine hundred and sixty new sailors were formally welcomed into the U.S. Navy by Under Secretary of Education Martha Kanter, when she delivered remarks at the basic training graduation for Navy recruits.

7A panel of Wolverines. Secretary Duncan joined a faculty and student panel at the University of Michigan’s School of Education, in Ann Arbor, Mich.. The panel discussed training a new generation of effective teachers, and Duncan highlighted the need for a diverse teaching force.

6. The red coats are coming. In Cleveland, City Year corps members—donning their signature red jackets—cheered for guests as they arrived at East Technical High School for a forum featuring Secretary Duncan. On any normal school day, you would find Corps members cheering for 9th graders in the city who are at risk of getting off track and dropping out of school.

5I’m with the band. Secretary Duncan joined Pittsburgh Superintendent Linda Lane and other officials to discuss labor-management collaboration in Pittsburgh. Secretary Duncan jokingly offered to write a note for the Perry Traditional Academy marching band so they could be excused from classes to join the tour.

4Robots! Secretary Duncan not only shook a robot’s hand in Cleveland, but at the School of Career and Technical Education in Milwaukee, students displayed a number of robotic and mechanical creations.

3One nerdy teacher and cows for college. Day two of the tour produced a number of interesting stories, including a visit with @TheNerdyTeacher on the bus, and a student raising a cow to help pay for college.

2Bet your bottom dollar you’ll lose the blues in Chicago. At the final event of the “Education and the Economy” Back-to-School Bus Tour, Secretary Arne Duncan returned to his hometown of Chicago with an urgent message: Our country needs to invest in education today.

1Six States. Three Days. Secretary Duncan takes a minute to summarize his back-to-school bus tour and describe his wish for the upcoming school year for America.

Check out for all the stories from ED’s 2011 “Education and the Economy” Back-to-School Tour, and keep up to date with the Department of Education by subscribing to our email news alerts.

Discussing Special Education Teacher Prep at Eastern Michigan

Last Friday, I had a great opportunity to participate in a roundtable at Eastern Michigan University (EMU) on special education teacher preparation, recruitment and retention. With six other distinguished panelists that included a state and district representative, an EMU faculty member, a current EMU teacher candidate, a parent and a local teacher representative, we all agreed that integrating some of the preparation of general and special educators was of paramount importance.

For two hours, we shared data on current recruitment and retention rates and best practices for long-term retention.  One of these practices included the need for a strong induction and mentoring program. Michigan currently has a mandatory three-year mentoring program, 15 additional days of professional development, and regional seminars that allow them to hear from and connect to master teachers as they begin their teaching careers. What a great exemplar!

We also discussed the steps EMU is taking to make teacher preparation more successful and how important it is to align university training with what teachers are expected to do in their classrooms. Traditionally, general education and special education teachers have been trained separately, yet as we continue to move towards more inclusive settings, EMU will collaborate to ensure that programs are working together and general and special education are no longer “housed” in separate silos.

During and following the roundtable, I had a chance to chat with some of the over 250 attendees. Some of the topics of interest to audience members included the economic implications of inclusive practices and the need for financial incentives for teachers, especially as we work to increase the number of youth who choose to become special educators.  As I mingled through the crowd, I was excited to meet so many teacher candidates who participated in this event. I want to extend a special thanks to those who participated and remind all of you that investing in education is investing in our future!

Alexa Posny is Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services at the U.S. Department of Education.

A Network of Strong Supporters for Brown Street Academy, Milwaukee

Many senior staffers at the Department of Education hit the road last week as part of Secretary Arne Duncan’s back-to-school bus tour. On Thursday, ED’s chief of staff Joanne Weiss, visited Brown Street Academy, a designated Investing in Innovation Fund (i3) school in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I was lucky enough to accompany Weiss and several members of the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships on a tour of this facility. Later we met with educational stakeholders who are deeply invested in Brown Street’s success.

Walking into the school quickly took me back to my own elementary schools days some 35 years ago. Bright sunshine streamed in through the tall windows as the sound of our shoes echoed on the polished wood floors. I peeked in through open classroom doors to see butterflies on bulletin boards, desks in neat rows, and students peeking back out at me. I began to wonder, “What is so special about this school?”

At the conclusion of the tour, we were led to a room where fifteen individuals were eagerly waiting to share the ways they are engaged in improving reading proficiency at Brown Street Academy. Representatives from non-profit and business groups, parent organizations, teachers and others described their contributions to the i3 Milwaukee Community Literacy Project–now located in seven elementary schools. Students identified as struggling readers are assigned to an AmeriCorps tutor. The tutor is trained by and works closely with the site teacher and University of Milwaukee facilitators. Parent liaisons open up and maintain the lines of communications with parents. Business partners and non-profits augment grants with additional funds to keep everything running smoothly.

Weiss seemed impressed by combined efforts and commented, “I challenge you to continue to promote community connections…and scale up and share what you’re doing with other communities.”

Yes, community partners such as the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee and Milwaukee Public Schools are working together to increase reading proficiency, but they are also promoting a sense of ownership in the process. As Tom Devine, Executive Director of Wisconsin AmeriCorps said, “We are interested in the test scores but we are also really interested to see if these kids volunteer at a later date. When we see neighbors helping neighbors, that’s a success story.”

Leah Lechleiter-Luke

Leah Lechleiter-Luke is a Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow who teaches English and Spanish in Mouston, Wisconsin.

See an article on the OII homepage about early learning projects supported by the i3 Fund by clicking here.

Setting Sail for Success

Photos courtesy of U.S. Navy Recruit Training Command

NAVAL STATION GREAT LAKES – Nine hundred and sixty new sailors were formally welcomed into the U.S. Navy on Friday by Under Secretary of Education Martha Kanter, when she delivered remarks at the basic training graduation for Navy recruits.

Kanter served as the reviewing officer for the ceremony, held at Naval Station Great Lakes, where every Navy recruit in the country undergoes an 8-week boot camp for sailors.  Fittingly, it was one of the last events Department of Education staff participated in on the final day of the “Education and the Economy” bus tour.

Before the ceremony, Kanter toured the USS TRAYER, where the recruits underwent Battle Stations 21: a rigorous 12-hour capstone training exercise to test their skills in everything from routine activities like loading stores and getting underway, to handling emergency conditions like floods and shipboard fires.  The TRAYER is a _ scale model Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, housed within a 157,000-square-foot building, and equipped with salvaged components.  The training simulator uses Hollywood-style special effects – including controlled flooding and fire – to create challenging and realistic training scenarios that gauge the readiness of the recruits.

“The program has been rigorous, demanding incredible dedication and persistence from every single recruit,” Kanter said during her remarks before row upon row of sailors dressed in gleaming dress whites.  “The experiences these sailors have had here at Naval Station Great Lakes serve as a reminder of the importance of dedicating one’s self to service and education all through life.”

After her remarks, Under Secretary Kanter met with a number of graduating sailors and their families, including Dominique Wright, from Leonardtown, Maryland, who received a Military Excellence Award as the top recruit of the class.

“Watching the superior performance of these newly minted sailors, I’m confident that the nation’s future will be a secure and prosperous one,” Kanter said afterwards.

Daren Briscoe
Office of Communications and Outreach

Business and Community Leaders Champion Education Reform

For Deputy Secretary of Education Tony Miller, last week’s “Education and the Economy” tour took him to Cleveland and Chicago, where he spoke with a diverse group of business, community and education leaders.

In Cleveland on Thursday, Sept. 8, Miller met with leaders representing small businesses, large corporations, young professional organizations, community colleges, and the workforce development sector, in a White House Business Council roundtable hosted by the Greater Cleveland Partnership.

These business owners and corporate officers see education reform as central to their vision for job creation and growth in Northeast Ohio, and to ensuring that U.S. companies can compete in today’s global economy. “This active and engaged group of champions demonstrates the impact of strong partnerships between the business, and foundation and education sectors,” Miller remarked.

The discussion covered a range of issues, from the importance of raising standards and expectations at the state and local levels, and helping all children achieve, to the need to equip students with the skills they’ll need to join the 21st century workforce, including helping students engage and excel in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. Participants pointed out that America’s increasingly diverse student population means an increasingly diverse workforce, and underscored the need for schools to help English Language Learners and other diverse learners succeed, from cradle to college and career.

The meeting also saw the release of new findings from Cleveland’s Breakthrough Schools, a network of high-performing, free, public charter schools aimed at providing all students in Cleveland’s under-served neighborhoods with access to an outstanding college preparatory education. In five years’ time, from 2006-2011, the number of Cleveland-area children in high-performing schools has nearly tripled.  “You’re showing the art of what is possible, when the business community becomes a factor in working to increase student achievement,” Miller said.

Miller speaking in Chicago as part of ED's back-to-school tour

The group also discussed Department of Education initiatives aimed at sparking innovation and scaling up what works, like the Promise Neighborhoods and Investing in Innovation (i3) programs, and how these align with the business community’s interest in comprehensive reform, and helping communities take ownership for raising student outcomes. The group applauded the trend toward ensuring that reform efforts include standards to measure progress, and use data to drive continuous improvement.

The Deputy Secretary noted, “We’re seeing tangible results, and showing how sustained engagement from the business community can overcome poverty and other barriers. Your ongoing commitment is helping to produce positive, systemic change for the children in your communities.”

Chicago is another metropolitan area where business leaders and philanthropists are stepping up to support the community’s students, who will one day become its workforce. On Friday, Sept. 9, Miller joined Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to celebrate a major announcement from United Way of Metropolitan Chicago (UWMC).

In a breakfast event attended by several hundred business and community leaders, UWMC announced its goal to help 50,000 Chicago-area students graduate from high school over the next 10 years. Its initial investment of $9.3 million will go toward supporting early childhood education and middle school transition into high school, in collaboration with 48 non-profit partners.

Miller cited statistics from the Alliance for Excellent Education about the economic impact of reducing Chicagoland’s dropout rate. If the area were able to cut its dropout rate in half, those new graduates, collectively, would earn as much as $227 million more in an average year, resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars more in increased home sales, vehicle purchases, economic growth and tax revenue.

As they say in business, that’s a healthy return on investment.

Melissa Apostolides
Office of Communications and Outreach

American Jobs Act Will Invest in Education Now

Carl Schurz students greet Secretary Duncan in Chicago. (Official Department of Education Photo by Leslie Williams)

At the final event of the “Education and the Economy” Back-to-School Bus Tour, Secretary Arne Duncan returned to his hometown with an urgent message: Our country needs to invest in education today.

During a roundtable discussion at Carl Schurz High School in Chicago, Duncan reviewed some of what he learned during the three-day, six-state tour where he met with teachers, parents, students, administrators, and community leaders. The sobering news is that districts are continue to struggle financially and are facing tough choices in this schools year.

In Pittsburgh, the district is considering eliminating extracurricular activities. In Cleveland, the district may have to lay off teachers in the middle of the school year. “Think about what it will mean to students to see those teachers disappear,” he told the audience at Schurz, which include Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Sen. Richard Durbin, Gov. Pat Quinn, and other city and state leaders.

Secretary Duncan and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel at a panel discussion in Chicago. (Official Department of Education Photo by Leslie Williams)

In Milwaukee, art, music, and physical education teachers may face layoffs. “When you lose art, music, and physical education, none of that’s good for children,” he said.

Duncan urged Congress to pass the American Jobs Act, which President Obama had unveiled the night before in a speech to Congress. You can read the transcript here.

The bill will allocate $30 billion to support teacher jobs and $30 billion for school modernization and renovation. In Illinois alone, the bill would provide $1.24 billion for teacher jobs – enough to support 14,500 jobs for one school year. Chicago would receive $609 million to renovate and modernize schools, with another $503 million available for the rest of the state.

Based on what he learned on the tour, Duncan recognizes the urgency facing states and districts across the country.

“If Congress passes this bill, we’ll move the money to state and districts as fast as we can,” Duncan said.

Click here for state-by-state information on the American Jobs Act.

David Hoff
Office of Communications and Outreach

Answering Federal Student Aid Questions in Chicago

CHICAGO – Parents and students voiced questions about federal funding for college, and got some answers in an informal town hall meeting with Assistant Secretary of Postsecondary Education Eduardo Ochoa at Mather High School on Chicago’s north side last Friday. The forum followed Secretary Arne Duncan’s return to his hometown on the final day of his 3-day “Education and the Economy” Back-to-School Bus Tour.

Eduardo Ochoa at Mather High School in Chicago

The discussion was thoughtful and diverse, with topics ranging from the newly simplified Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to President Obama’s strong support for preserving maximum Pell Grant awards at $5,550.  Ochoa was also able to clear up some misconceptions about Federal Student Aid.

In response to a students’ question about funding for Pell Grants, he noted that the discretionary funding that Congress approves each fiscal year is “just an estimate.”

“We will grant a Pell Grant to every eligible applicant,” he said. “There is no cap.  We never shut that window.”

In response to a parent’s complaint that the FAFSA application didn’t realistically reflect his ability to pay for his children’s college education, Ochoa highlighted resources to help parents, including 1-800-4-FED-AID, the Federal Student Aid Information Center.

Rich Blasen, Chicago-based staffer of FSA’s Student Experience Group, also encouraged parents and students with similar issues to consult college financial aid offices, which “can look more in depth at families’ specific situations.”

Ochoa urged students and parents to fill-out the FAFSA, noting that a much higher percentage of students who fill out the form end up going to college than those who don’t.

Ochoa and Blasen were joined by Jim Manning, Chief of Staff for Federal Student Aid, Aarti Dhupelia, Interim Officer of the Office of College and Career Preparation for Chicago Public Schools and several other FSA and CPS officials for the forum.

Back-to-School Stop Puts Spotlight on STEM Initiatives Preparing Students for College and Careers

On Friday, ED’s assistant secretary for postsecondary education Eduardo M. Ochoa, held a lively discussion hosted by Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU) regarding innovative STEM initiatives designed to prepare students to succeed in college and make an easier transition into the workforce.  Ochoa’s visit was part of the Department of Education’s back-to-school tour that included over 50 events throughout the Midwest.

Representatives from NEIU spoke of the success of their GEAR UP partnership grant, which helped ignite student interest in a broad range of medical careers through a partnership with Chicago’s Children’s Memorial Hospital. The Children’s Memorial Hospital provides opportunities for middle and high school students, from low income backgrounds, to shadow health care providers and participate in internships and summer programs relating to a broad range of medical careers.  The grant also engages students in hands-on STEM activities such as robotics and game design.

Ninth grade students who participate in these types of programs typically see a significant improvement of grades and standardized test scores.  Additionally, it was noted that 89% of seniors who participated in GEAR UP programs completed and submitted Federal Student Financial Aid (FAFSA) applications, demonstrating their motivation to finish high school and continue onto college.

Students highlighted how their participation in GEAR UP activities sparked interest in science, inspiring them to major in science fields in college.  Other forum participants, representing businesses, a museum, grant programs and other universities, passionately described their engagement and support around STEM education.

The forum sparked a great deal of cross fertilization, which we hope will provide additional opportunities for future collaboration and continued success.

Lynn Mahaffie
Office of Postsecondary Education

Improving the Lives of Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities and their Families

Cross-posted from the White House Blog.

On Tuesday, I had the great opportunity to be on a call with Secretary Duncan and Kareem Dale, Special Assistant to the president for Disability Policy, a call in which we announced the release of final regulations for the early intervention program otherwise known as Part C.  The intent of the regulations is to improve the lives of infants and toddlers with disabilities and their families.

Kurt Kondrich, Pennsylvania State Interagency Coordinating Council Chair and parent advocate with Alexa Posny in Erie, Pa., during ED's Midwest Back-to-School Tour.

To further spread the great news, we held a roundtable event at the YMCA in Erie, PA and along with Maureen Cronin, Bureau Director of Early Intervention Services for the state of Pennsylvania I was able to share and discuss more about the IDEA Part C regulations.  At the YMCA I spent time in the classrooms and played with some of the children, met local parents from the community and provided information regarding those regulations with parents, early intervention service providers, service coordinators and lead agency personnel.  I spoke about a few of the changes that were made to ensure that the administration’s reform goals were addressed; reducing burden; increasing flexibility and most importantly—striving to improve outcomes for our infants and toddlers with disabilities. I believe we’ve done that.

It was exciting to share this information in Pennsylvania, a state that Secretary Duncan praised for their commitment to early childhood education, and as Maureen noted, one of the first states to effectively pair early intervention with early childhood and put all programs “under one roof.” Among the approximately 40 attendees at the roundtable discussion were parents and families, who were able to share some of their experiences and urged others to advocate for their children to ensure they receive the best services possible.

I was thrilled to see that everyone shared a common goal and that all were able to recognize the value of Pennsylvania’s early childhood programs, including the early intervention program serving infants and toddlers with disabilities.  As one parent noted, in a time of strained budgets, investment in early childhood saves money in the long term. As a final thought, it is through collaboration that we are able to make these programs successful for our youngest populations of learners. I want to offer my thanks to all those who participated in the event and for everything they do to help meet the needs of our youngest populations.

Read the press release for the announcement of these regulations and learn more about the IDEA Part C regulations.

Alexa Posny is Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services at the U.S. Department of Education.

American Jobs Act Will Create Jobs Today and in the Future

Secretary Duncan and White House advisor Melody Barnes visit a classroom in Milwaukee (Official Department of Education Photo by Leslie Williams)

President Obama’s American Jobs Act will make immediate investments that will help today’s students compete in tomorrow’s economy.

The Jobs Act will provide $30 billion to support teachers’ jobs and another $30 billion to modernize and renovate schools. Both are essential ingredients to the President’s plan to create and preserve jobs to move the economy forward. But they also will ensure children get the preparation needed to compete for jobs in the knowledge economy of the 21st Century.

When the Education and the Economy bus tour stopped in Milwaukee on Friday, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Director of the Domestic Policy Council Melody Barnes emphasized the critical role that the Jobs Act will play in creating jobs today and in the future.

In a town hall at the School of Career and Technical Education, Barnes pointed out that the average Milwaukee public school was built 70 years ago. The Jobs Act will provide $169 million for Milwaukee to modernize and renovate their buildings, ensuring they have the facilities to prepare students to compete for careers tomorrow.

“We can teach students about science and technology, but if they can’t put their hands on, it doesn’t make sense to them,” Barnes said.

Secretary Duncan watches the President's speech aboard the back-to-school tour bus.

The funding for teachers will support 280,000 jobs across the country and 7,400 in Wisconsin alone. Without it, schools will have to make tough choices to increase class sizes or cut programs in the arts and other subjects essential to a well-rounded curriculum.

“None of that is good for our children across the country,” Secretary Duncan said at the event.

The President outlined the American Jobs Act in a speech to Congress on Thursday night.

“There should be nothing controversial about this piece of legislation,” the President said.  “Everything in here is the kind of proposal that’s been supported by both Democrats and Republicans.  And everything in this bill will be paid for.”

Northwest Indiana Is Ready

Official Department of Education Photo by Leslie Williams.

We are ready. That’s the message that the One Region, One Vision initiative sent to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan when the Education and the Economy bus tour stopped in Merrillville, Ind., on Thursday afternoon.

Before Secretary Duncan delivered his message about the need to educate our way to a better economy, the conference organizers showed that they’d already learned that lesson.

In a short video that preceded the secretary’s speech, educators and students from throughout the region explained how they are organizing their work around the goal of preparing all students being to be ready for college and careers.

The students talked about how their teachers help them track their progress toward their academic and career goals starting in 8th grade. Shannon Rostin, who is a high school freshman, plans to attend Indiana University and pursue a degree in education. She knows what courses she needs to take to be admitted to IU and is on the path to earning up to 30 credit hours in a dual enrollment program before she even enrolls at the state’s flagship university.

Shannon, like all of those speaking in the video, ended her story by saying: “I am ready.”

The goal of the One Region, One Vision partnership aligns well with President Obama’s agenda to reform America’s schools. In both Race to the Top and the Blueprint for Reform of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Department has encouraged states to set standards that are aligned with college and career expectations.

Official Department of Education Photo by Leslie Williams.

In his speech, Secretary Duncan praised the collaboration of educators, business executives, and community leaders for working together for education reform. But he also warned that Indiana – and the rest of the country – faces a difficult task if it wants its students to be competitive in the 21st Century economy.

“The reality is tough: Those countries are out-educating Indiana. Plain and simple, they are doing a better job of promoting educational excellence,” Duncan said.

“I know my message today about Northwest Indiana’s educational system has been a sobering one.  But I don’t believe that we do our children or our nation any favors by sugarcoating reality,” he added. “We must deal with these challenges openly and honestly, and with a sense of urgency that has been missing for far too long.”

Duncan praised the region for its commitment to expanding dual enrollment programs and turning around low-performing schools. He also singled out the commitment to college- and career-readiness and the willingness to be held accountable for reaching those rigorous standards.

Those investments in education will yield dividends in the 21st Century economy.