Secretary Duncan Kicks Off Back-to-School Tour in Pittsburgh

Official Department of Education Photo by Leslie Williams

PITTSBURGH- The U.S. Department of Education’s “Education and the Economy” back-to-school bus tour got off to a rousing start with a brassy welcome at the tour’s first stop, Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s arrival at the school, for a discussion with Pittsburgh Superintendent Linda Lane and other officials about labor-management collaboration, was announced by the blue and gray-clad Perry Traditional Academy marching band, which flanked the school’s entrance along with an energetic team of drummers, horn players and cheerleaders. 

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

Secretary Duncan presented principal Jennifer Mikula with a signed basketball bearing the U.S. Department of Education seal, and then headed to the school’s gym for a panel discussion with Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA), Lane, Mikula, co-principal Shana Nelson, Nina Esposito, president of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, and Robert “Bob” Nelkin, president of the United Way, Allegheny County.

Secretary Duncan complimented Pittsburgh’s commitment in the face of the many forces that can stifle student achievement, saying, “This is a battle against poverty, social failure, and unemployment.”

He praised Pittsburgh’s collaborative approach, including the leadership of the school board, the union, and management, singling out teachers for particular praise.  “There’s nothing more important than great teachers,” Duncan said.  “I know how hard this work is, and what you guys are doing collectively is absolutely a model for the country.”

Secretary Duncan challenged the larger Pittsburgh community to join the collaboration to improve the local education system, and tied Pittsburgh’s success to that of the country. “You can’t have a great city without a great public school system,” he said.  “Families will suffer, and communities will see a tremendous negative impact.  This is in everyone’s best interest – it can’t just be the work of the school system and the unions.  A quality education system and a strong, growing, vibrant economy are inextricably linked.  If we do this well, we put our country back on the path to prosperity.”

Official Department of Education Photo by Leslie Williams

Turning to speak directly to the marching band of 9th-12th graders, Secretary Duncan stressed the importance of education for their future success, and the opportunities it would provide, including Pittsburgh Promise, a scholarship program administered by the Pittsburgh Foundation that helps Pittsburgh public school students plan, prepare, and pay for an education beyond high school.
“Every single one of you has to graduate from high school and then you have to think about what the next step on your education journey is.  With Pittsburgh Promise – if you work hard, you get good grades, there’s going to be an opportunity for you,” Duncan said.

The panel discussion covered a range of issues, including how to address resource disparities created by local funding for public schools, how to take advantage of schools’ capacity to serve as community hubs during hours outside of the school day, the importance of early childhood education, and Secretary Duncan’s call to recruit 1 million volunteer mentors and tutors in the nation’s lowest performing schools.

Secretary Duncan stressed that his high expectations extend to his own role, and that of the Department of Education.   “We’re trying to learn how to become a better partner,” he told the audience.   “Please hold me accountable, and my team.  We think there’s a lot that’s broken with the No Child Left Behind Act, and we’re trying to provide communities with relief, flexibility, and accountability.  If we can be a better partner, it will speed up change, and it’s always local educators and stakeholders who know what communities need.”

Official Department of Education Photo by Leslie Williams

Secretary Duncan closed with a tongue-in-cheek offer to the marching band: “I hope you’re thinking about college now – you guys are fantastic!  I want to take you on the road with me.  If your teachers will let me, I’ll put you on the bus with me until Friday – I’ll write a note for you!”

Working Together to Create World-Class Schools

Cross-posted from the White House Blog.

Now that our nation’s children are back in school, I will be travelling through six states with this important message: our nation’s long-term economic security is inextricably linked to education. We have to educate our way to a better economy.

The jobs of today and tomorrow will require knowledge workers with some postsecondary training, whether it is an associate or bachelor’s degree, or technical training available from a vocational school or community college.

Unfortunately, America has a long way to go before we can truly say we’re educating today’s children to be competitive in the knowledge economy. By many indicators, we’re falling far short.

The Obama administration has a cradle-to-career agenda to support states and districts as they reform their schools and make college more affordable for students. This agenda is designed around key principles, including:

  • Creating early learning systems that align all of their resources to get our youngest children ready for kindergarten.
  • Raising standards so they actually prepare students for success in college and careers.
  • Improving the quality of teaching in the classroom by improving the preparation, professional development, and evaluation of teachers and principals.
  • And turning around persistently low-performing schools that have been failing students for decades or even generations.

It’s an aggressive agenda, and we’re backing it up with unprecedented investments in reform. We’ve already made the largest investment in higher education since the GI Bill. We’re creating new incentives for states to align their early learning programs to ensure all children are ready for kindergarten. Through Race to the Top, states have made more progress in reform over the past two years than in the previous decade. And the President has a plan to fix No Child Left Behind by offering states flexibility from its one-size-fits all mandates.

Nevertheless, reform will happen in states and communities. Our job in Washington is to provide resources and support for the excellent work happening in states and communities.

That’s why I’m so excited about this week’s bus tour. All across the Midwest, members of my team will be visiting communities where elected officials, union leaders, business owners, and teachers are working together to transform the lives of children.

In these communities, we’ll hear the stories of people working together to create world-class schools. We’re going to see innovative approaches to fixing broken teacher evaluation systems, turning around underperforming schools, and tackling other challenges. We’re going to watch extraordinary people doing extraordinary things to transform the lives of children.

These are the inspirational stories that are happening all over America. They are the reason I’m optimistic that the American people are ready to embrace reform and prepare our young people to be leaders in the knowledge economy.

Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education

Cleveland-area Superintendents Talk Back to Washington

Rep. Marcia Fudge, Cleveland-area school superintendents, and ED's Michael Yudin

Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) convened Tuesday's conversation with Cleveland-area school superintendents and ED's Michael Yudin.

CLEVELAND—After a morning spent with students promoting school nutrition and physical education, Acting Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education Michael Yudin sat down Tuesday afternoon with superintendents from more than a dozen school districts in the Cleveland metropolitan area, including Cleveland Metropolitan School District CEO Eric Gordon, who joined Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) as co-host for the lunchtime meeting in the district’s board room.

“We can’t just talk about education. We have to do something,” Congresswoman Fudge said in opening up the conversation. “If we really want to be a country that competes, we need to prepare our young people to do it.”

Yudin, who was joined by ED Special Counsel Julie Miceli, gave an overview of the Obama administration’s cradle-to-career education strategy and talked about the importance of addressing problems with the current No Child Left Behind Law. Secretary Arne Duncan has warned that the nation’s K-12 education system is on course for a “slow-moving train wreck” unless the law is fixed and a more realistic, meaningful and effective accountability system is put in place for America’s schools.

“I agree with the Secretary… It’s a slow-moving train wreck,” said Mark Freeman, the superintendent of the Shaker Heights district. Freeman added that, “I mentioned that to some colleagues on the way down, and they said, ‘No, it’s already a wreck.’ “

Yudin agreed. The current law over-labels schools as failures, does not reward growth and does not give states and local districts flexibility to focus on their biggest problems. “It just isn’t making sense. It isn’t working for too many school districts across the country,” Yudin said. In particular, “The ability to measure growth—and real, meaningful growth—is where we need to go.”

Yudin’s office will soon be announcing a package that will allow states and school districts flexibility within the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (No Child Left Behind’s formal name) in exchange for commitments to college-and-career-ready standards, effective teaching and school leadership, and improving their lowest-performing schools.

Tuesday’s wide-ranging dialogue with local superintendents touched on special education and its financial costs, the Department’s program to turn around low-performing schools, high school graduation rates and how best to measure them, charter schools, and how to identify and nurture effective teaching.

As the superintendents thanked Yudin for visiting and taking their feedback back to Washington, he expressed his gratitude for their work in Cleveland’s communities. “Thank you all,” he said, “for your commitment to improving outcomes for kids.”

Office of Communications & Outreach

Cleveland Middle School Helps Put ED Tour in Motion

Michael Yudin with Solon students, retired NFL player Lomas Brown, Ohio dairy farmer Davis Denman and Chomps, the Cleveland Browns' mascot.

Acting Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education Michael Yudin (second from right) with Solon students, retired NFL player Lomas Brown, Ohio dairy farmer Davis Denman and Chomps, the Cleveland Browns' mascot.

SOLON, Ohio—For a back-to-school sprint through the Great Lakes region, it just seemed to make sense to warm up with a little physical activity. So that’s what Michael Yudin, the Department’s acting assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, did Tuesday morning at Solon Middle School, a 2010 National Blue Ribbon School outside of Cleveland. Secretary Duncan will visit Cleveland on Wednesday afternoon.

Yudin joined Solon City School District Superintendent Joseph Regano, Principal Eugenia Green and representatives from the dairy industry and the National Football League’s Fuel Up to Play 60 program for an assembly to motivate Solon Middle’s 400 8th graders to make smart food choices and be physically active. Lomas Brown, a retired NFL player who spent the 1999 season with the Cleveland Browns, was also on hand to encourage the students, as was Chomps, the Browns’ canine mascot.

Solon Middle School Principal Eugenia Green

Solon Middle School Principal Eugenia Green leads a 2010 National Blue Ribbon School that is now participating in the Fuel Up to Play 60 program.

“We know that healthy students are better students,” Yudin said, congratulating Solon Middle on its Blue Ribbon award and its commitment to student health. Through quality school nutrition and the integration of physical activity into the day, schools are one of the key pillars of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative to combat child obesity.

After the assembly in the school’s gym and a toast to the new school year—with milk, of course—Yudin, Brown and Chomps joined the students on the school’s athletic field for a football, Frisbee, running and walking break.

Solon Middle School students

Following an assembly, students took a mid-morning activity break on the school's football field.

Launched by the National Dairy Council and the NFL in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Fuel Up to Play 60 empowers youth to take action to improve nutrition and physical activity at their school and for their own health.

“Just as the NFL uses their playbook…we can use Fuel Up to Play 60 playbooks to choose the activities that are best for each of us,” said Solon 8th grader Jeff Lidawer, one of several student-athletes who spoke at the assembly.

To learn more about the First Lady’s Let’s Move initiative, including five steps that schools can take, visit

Office of Communications & Outreach

Department of Education’s Back-to-School Bus Tour Gets Rolling

Starting tomorrow, Secretary Arne Duncan and senior ED staff will travel to the Great Lakes region for a Back-to-School Bus Tour to visit schools, colleges and universities; engage with business and community leaders; and talk with educators. The tour’s theme is “Education and the Economy: Investing in Our Future,” and Secretary Duncan explains in the video below “that education is the economic strategy for the 21st Century.”

Our children will be competing with the rest of the world for the jobs of the future. Your children’s—my children’s—long-term financial security is directly tied to the quality of the public education we provide.

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

You can follow the progress of this year’s back-to-school tour by visiting, by following #EDTour11 on Twitter and by signing up for email updates from the Department of Education.

As Tour Revs Up, Chicago Automotive Classroom Is on the Map

This week, Secretary Arne Duncan and a team of ED officials are embarking upon the Department’s 2011 back-to-school tour—this year under the theme of “Education and the Economy: Investing in our Future.” The tour will take Arne and a big blue bus throughout the Great Lakes region, with stops at a number of outstanding schools and communities. The bus’s final stop will be in the city where Arne served as CEO of the public schools, Chicago, before coming to Washington. At Carl Schurz High School, he’ll visit 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.

Students Get Hands-on in Clairene Terry's Class

Terry, a product of Chicago Public Schools herself, restored the automotive mechanics program at Schurz, and grew it into one of the most sought-after classes at the school. “There were always at least 120 students signing up for the [35-student] program. The numbers never dropped off,” she recalls.

Terry enthusiastically transfers her passion for diagnosing and fixing problems in cars, along with thinking skills, to her students. After she began teaching at Schurz in 2000, she led a team of students to a national automotive mechanics competition, where the team earned 5th place nationally and 1st place among Chicago high schools. “I love being competitive, that’s what drives me,” she says.

Working in auto mechanics today isn’t the same as it was 20 year ago. With advanced computer technology integrated into new vehicles, maintaining and repairing autos requires higher-order computer and math skills. Terry acknowledges how quickly technology in the field evolves, but she ensures that her students still have a solid understanding of the basics. “If you understand the basics, nothing changes; the concepts remain the same,” she explains. Despite increasing automation, core mechanic competency areas such as brakes, steering and engine performance have remained largely unchanged over the years, she says.

As an African-American woman at the forefront of high school automotive mechanics teaching, Clairene Terry is rare, if not unique, among educators in her field. She is currently the president of the Illinois College Automotive Instructors Association, an organization with more than 200 members. Before becoming an educator, Terry considered a variety of careers; she worked in insurance, as a security guard and served in the military. Automotive mechanics was the only one she found where she didn’t “hit a ceiling,” she recalls.

Just as Terry broke into a male-dominated field, as a teacher, she wants her students to understand that, despite what people may tell them, “no door is closed.” She prods them on to bigger and better things, asking them often, “Who can tell you what you can do?”

Secretary Duncan will visit Terry and her successful program during the bus tour’s final stop on Friday, before a forum highlighting a landmark education reform package that recently became law in Illinois. Arne recently acknowledged that career and technical education—and programs like Terry’s—is  not receiving the attention it deserves during education reform discussions.

“The need to re-imagine and remake career and technical education is urgent,” Duncan said. “CTE has an enormous, if often overlooked, impact on students, school systems, and our ability to prosper as a nation.”

Follow this year’s back-to-school tour by visiting, by following #EDTour11 on Twitter, and by signing up for email updates from ED and Arne.


Luke Ferguson, a student at Oberlin College in Ohio, was an intern over the summer in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach.

Back-to-School Bus Heads to the Great Lakes

During last week’s #AskArne Twitter Town Hall, Sarah, a third grade teacher, asked if it is possible for Arne to “tour and sponsor real town halls with educators.” This week, ED announced that Secretary Duncan and his senior staff will be holding more than 50 such events next week.

Secretary Duncan stops in New York during last year's back-to-school bus tour.

Starting on Wednesday, September 7, Secretary Duncan and senior ED staff will head to the Great Lakes Region for a Back-to-School Bus Tour. Arne will be making stops in Pittsburgh, Erie, Cleveland, Toledo, Detroit, Merrillville, Ind., Milwaukee and Chicago, and senior ED officials will be hosting dozens of events throughout the Midwest. The theme of the tour is “Education and the Economy: Investing in Our Future.”

Arne will be meeting with educators and talking with students, parents, administrators, and community stakeholders. Among the topics that Secretary Duncan and senior staff will discuss include the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge, K-12 reform, transforming the teaching profession, civil rights enforcement, efforts to better serve students with disabilities and English Language Learners, Promise Neighborhoods, the Investing in Innovation (i3) fund, STEM education, increasing college access and attainment as well as vocational and adult education.

Click here for additional details on Secretary Duncan’s back-to-school bus tour stops.

You can follow the progress of this year’s Back-to-School tour right here at the ED Blog, by following #EDTour11 on Twitter, and by signing up for email updates from ED and Secretary Duncan.