We’re All In This Together – Getting Rid of “Us vs. Them”

Ed. Note: This post is guest authored by Cynthia Stevenson, superintendent of Jefferson County Schools, Colo., and Kerrie Dallman, president of the Colorado Education Association.

“Once you get trust established and work together, that trust expands like fireworks. It goes in all directions.”

That’s compelling. We heard it from an elementary teacher in our district, Jefferson County, Colo.—the state’s largest school district with almost 86,000 students and 12,000 employees. The teacher is part of our strategic compensation pilot, a national research project funded by a Teacher Incentive Fund grant from the U.S. Department of Education testing new ways to support and pay teachers.

A hallmark of the pilot is teamwork. All educators in the 20 pilot schools—principals, teacher leaders, classroom and specials teachers, librarians, psychologists, and social workers—collaborate daily to improve instruction and student achievement.

They’re building trust and learning from each other.

And so is the school district and teachers’ association. It’s not easy. It doesn’t happen overnight. But it can be done.

Read More

ED Mailbag: Arne Answers Your Questions

Secretary Arne Duncan sat down recently to answer questions he received from social media, email and regular mail.

Duncan responded to Dillon’s question about the future of charter schools, saying that “good charter schools are part of the solution, bad charter schools are part of the problem.” Arne noted that there needs to be more successful coordination between charters and school districts. ED recently announced new grants to help foster this coordination.

Ethan asked the Secretary how we can make our schools more competitive on a global scale. Duncan noted that 46 states have voluntarily adopted higher college- and career-ready standards, which will help put American students on a level playing field, and he noted that we have to look at high-performing countries like Finland and Singapore for new ideas on what works.

Duncan also received a question from Brett who asked about the importance of collaboration. Arne says that he can’t overstate the importance of collaboration on “multiple fronts.”

Watch the video and join the conversation in the comments below:

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

Collaboration on Display in Three States: Bus Tour Day Six

Deputy Secretary Tony Miller took part in a town hall on college affordability at Harris Stowe State University in St. Louis on day six of our back-to-school tour. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

Deputy Secretary Tony Miller took part in a town hall on college affordability at Harris Stowe State University in St. Louis on day six of our back-to-school tour. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

Columbia: Rural educators teaching with technology

Rural educators face a challenge of isolation. Miles away from their peers, collaboration and training can often be difficult. Technology is helping bridge this geographic divide, and was the focus of our first Education Drives America event on Wednesday at the University of Missouri in Columbia, Missouri.

Assistant Deputy Secretary Jim Shelton joined rural educators, both in person and via video conference, to discuss the eMints program (enhancing Missouri’s Instructional Networked Teaching Strategies), an Investing in Innovation (i3) grantee that focuses on providing professional development that uses interactive group sessions and in-classroom coaching/mentoring to help teachers integrate technology into their teaching.

St. Louis: Improving college access and affordability

Yesterday, I wrote about the impressive student bands that have greeted the Education Drives America bus, and at Harris Stowe University in St. Louis, we discovered that student choirs are equally impressive. The Harris Stowe choral students set the tone for an important discussion on college affordability and access.

Deputy Secretary Miller joined Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell, director of ED’s Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, Harris Stowe students, as well as community members for the town hall discussion. (Earlier in the week, the Department of Education announced that Harris Stowe received $1.6 million grant – one of 97 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) to receive nearly $228 million to strengthen their academic resources, financial management, endowments, and physical plants.)

“In the past three years,” Miller said. [The Obama Administration has] done more to help students afford college since the G.I. Bill.” Miller spoke of the Administration’s steps to helps students, including increases in Pell Grants, a commitment to keep student loan interest rates low, and the President’s plan to keep college affordable.

Mt. Vernon: Celebrating successful public-private partnerships

Deputy Secretary Tony Miller speaks with a worker at the Continental Tire facility. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

Deputy Secretary Tony Miller speaks with a worker at the Continental Tire facility. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

Following St. Louis, the bus kept us moving to our third stop of the day. The floor of a tire factory isn’t your typical spot to celebrate educational success. Yet, that is exactly where the Education Drives America dropped off Deputy Secretary Miller and staff to talk about the successful partnership between Continental Tire North America (CTNA) and Rend Lake College in Mt. Vernon, Ill.

Since 2005, CTNA has partnered with Rend Lake College to develop and staff a new training center at CTNA. The facility boasts a 24-station computer lab with teacher station, a distance learn¬ing room which seats 24 students, and Rend Lake provides a coordinator to work full-time in the training center, over¬seeing the college programs.

The public-private partnership allows CTNA employees to take classes that meet the CTNA’s business needs and puts its employees on a path towards an associates degree and in some cases a bachelors degree. It is an impressive partnership that is model for communities throughout the country.

Evansville: Collaboration is key

Because two states in one day wasn’t enough for day six of ED’s back-to-school tour, our last stop of the day took us to Glenwood Leadership Academy in Evansville, Ind., for a discussion on labor-management collaboration.

Deputy Secretary Miller joined National Education Association (NEA) President Dennis Van Roekel, Superintendent of Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation David Smith, and President of the Evansville Teachers Association Keith Gambill.
Glenwood is both an NEA priority school and a recipient of an ED School Improvement Grant, and has pulled in the entire community to ensure success of its students.

Superintendent Smith spoke passionately about the need for collaboration, saying that it is necessary to “take time to invest in relationships.”

At a number of stops on the Education Drives America tour, we’ve witnessed communities coming together to help their children succeed, and Evansville is another powerful example of support and commitment.

During the town hall, you could hear the emotion in the voices of the audience as they spoke of how proud they were to be a part of the school’s success. One student asked how she could give back to her teachers because she sees that they work so hard. In response, the entire audience gave the Evansville teachers a powerful standing ovation, which left a deep impression on those of us passing through.

The Evansville stop made for a perfect ending to a great day in the Midwest. The bus moves on and will be rejoined by Secretary Duncan today for stops in West Virginia.

See what people had to say on social media during day six, stay connected to the Department of Education throughout the year by getting email updates, and watch our video summary of day six:

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

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital engagement and is blogging and tweeting his way from coast to coast during ED’s annual back-to-school bus tour.

State and District Education Leaders Collaborate to Transform the Teaching Profession

Leaders of the eight co-sponsoring organizations discuss their support for collaboratively transforming the teaching profession. Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Education.

Leaders of the eight co-sponsoring organizations discuss their support for collaboratively transforming the teaching profession. Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Education.

Cross-posted from the White House Blog.

Last week, state and district education leaders from across the country traveled to Cincinnati, Ohio to share their stories, strategies, and best practices around a topic in education that seldom sees the spotlight: labor-management collaboration. For a second time, the U.S. Department of Education partnered with national education organizations, including the American Association of School Administrators, American Federation of Teachers, Council of the Great City Schools, Council of Chief State School Officers, Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, National Education Association, and National School Boards Association, to host a major convening centered on changing the way that school administrators, board members, and union leaders work together to improve teaching and learning.

While news headlines tend to focus on the challenges of collaboration among these parties, for the State and school district teams journeying to Cincinnati, collaboration is an essential “part of the job”—and one that helps them meet the needs of both teachers and students. Particularly in today’s tough economic climate, these leaders maintain that increased collaboration, shared responsibility, and joint decision-making all produce thoughtful and creative solutions to meet a common agenda.

Like last year, the conference’s national co-sponsors are not only encouraging and supporting states’ and districts’ collaborative efforts—they are modeling the same student-centered, action-oriented relationships at the national level. At the opening of the event, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan joined leaders of the seven other co-sponsoring organizations in signing a shared vision for the future of the teaching profession that sets out common goals around increased student achievement, equity, and global competitiveness, and addresses seven core elements of a transformed teaching profession, including a culture of shared responsibility and leadership, continuous growth and improvement, professional career continuums with competitive compensation, and engaged communities.

ED's Storify

Click the image to read our Labor-Management Conference Storify

This year’s conference, Collaborating to Transform the Teaching Profession, drew teams of State and district leaders from 41 states and more than 100 school districts to highlight innovative approaches to better prepare students for college and careers by dramatically changing the teaching profession and growing the number of highly effective teachers in our nation’s schools.

“The quality of any school relies on the strength of its educators at the front of the classroom,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “Across the country, there are remarkable success stories shaping the next generation of teaching. The goal of this year’s conference is to help their colleagues learn from one another and take this work to the next level.”

The conference, which was funded by grants from the Ford Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and GE Foundation, was designed to facilitate learning and sharing at every level. In order to RSVP, State and district teams, composed of school chiefs, union leaders, and school board presidents,had to commit to attend the conference together, collaborate to improve student achievement in their State or district, and arrive at the convening prepared to present their plan for transforming the teaching profession.

State and district plans were shared during a three-hour “Transformers’ Dialogue,” where each team showcased their work in an expo-like fashion. In a large ballroom abuzz with conversation, team members took turns manning booths, surveying the plans displayed by others, and broadcasting the highlights using a designated conference Twitter feed: “Check out #LMConf12 booth 113. Portland Public Schools have littered their contract with the word ‘collaboration’” tweeted Greg Mullenholz, a Teaching Ambassador Fellow with the U.S. Department of Education.

Goals, strategies, tactics, and measures of success were varied. Leadership from Oak Lawn-Hometown School District 123 (Illinois) used the analogy of building a kaleidoscope—something their board president has experience with—to describe their strategy for collaboratively reaching district goals using a “backward design model” that starts with a clear understanding of the desired end product and then works in reverse. A handcrafted kaleidoscope sat prominently displayed on their presentation table.

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

Team members from Meriden Public Schools (Connecticut) outlined their collaborative work around a number of transformative programs, including a leadership academy for teachers, peer-to-peer coaching, and learning walks connected to the instructional core and anchored in student data.

Despite differences in plan specifics, a number of clear, overarching messages emerged: Collaboration must be student-centered, focused on improving student outcomes; collaboration must be about action, not words alone; to engender trust and endure difficulty, collaboration must occur on an ongoing basis and be expansive in scope; and finally, collaboration is most likely to be sustained where there is space and time explicitly set aside for it.

On day two of the conference, teams attended breakout sessions led by experts and practitioners and had an opportunity to “shop” for tools in a resource marketplace intended to assist leaders with some of the most challenging, yet foundational, elements of transforming the teaching profession, such as implementing effective professional learning and building meaningful career lattices. The event concluded with time for reflecting on and improving the plans that conference participants arrived with.

There was one final message that these bold leaders from across the U.S. brought with them to Cincinnati: Collaborating to transform the teaching profession and advance student achievement is urgent work. Students can’t wait for changes in local leadership, healthier budgets, or a more supportive climate; there simply isn’t time for dysfunction, blame, or inaction. Let’s hope that others hear this message and follow their lead.

For further information including conference video, resources, and presentations, visit:http://www.ed.gov/labor-management-collaboration.

Roberto Rodriguez is the Special Assistant to the President for Education Policy. Aurora Steinle is a Policy Advisor for the Domestic Policy Council.

2012 Labor-Management Conference Kicks Off – Watch Live

Secretary Arne Duncan, national education leaders and over 100 district and state leadership teams are converging in Cincinnati today to kick off the two-day 2012 Labor-Management Conference. The conference will encourage participants – teams of state and district school chiefs, union leaders, and school board leaders from over 100 states and districts — to exchange ideas, share lessons learned, and encourage leaders to take on similar efforts when they return home.

LMC LogoParticipate: 

Opening Session

Wednesday, May 23, 2012 – 1:00-2:15 p.m. ET

Watch LIVE here

Leaders will discuss the past year’s challenges and progress in collaborating to transform the teaching profession in the service of increasing students’ success.

Closing Session

Thursday, May 24, 2012 – 2:00-2:30 p.m. ET

Watch LIVE here


Join the conversation and see what people at the conference are tweeting about by following hashtag #LMConf12

Click here for a list of participants in this year’s conference, and visit our Labor-Management Conference page for more information on the 2012 conference.

Read “Transforming the Teaching Profession,” a shared vision for the future of the teaching profession that was released during the opening session.

Announcing the 2012 Labor-Management Collaboration Conference

The invitation to this year’s Labor-Management Collaboration Conference is now open. The conference, titled Collaborating to Transform the Teaching Profession, will take place May 23-24 in Cincinnati, and brings together management and labor teams from across the country.

Conference logoFor those interested in attending, please complete the RSVP form (including all three required signatures) and submit it by 5:00 p.m. ET on March 30, 2012. To access Secretary Duncan’s invitation and to download the application package, please click here.

Last year’s conference in Denver, titled, Advancing Student Achievement through Labor-Management Collaboration, focused on the principles of labor-management collaboration. During the conference, Secretary Duncan stated, “President Obama and I are convinced that labor and management can collaborate to solve many of our nation’s enduring educational challenges. And we believe that progress more often follows tough-minded collaboration than tough-minded confrontation.”

This year in Cincinnati, we’re building on those principles by bringing districts and states together to talk about their collaborative work in transforming the teaching profession.

Last year’s event was for districts only, but this year’s event will be open to state as well as district teams. The state team will include the State Chief and the state’s NEA and AFT teacher’s union presidents(s).  The state school boards association and the state administrators association leaders are encouraged to attend as well. District teams will consist of a district superintendent, a school board president and a teacher’s union or association president. All teams that RSVP will share their visions, strategies and plans for increasing student achievement by transforming teaching into a 21st-century profession during the conference centerpiece titled “Transformers’ Dialogue.”

This year’s Labor-Management Conference partners include:

    • U.S. Department of Education
    • American Federation of Teachers (AFT)
    • National Education Association (NEA)
    • National School Boards Association (NSBA)
    • American Association of School Administrators (AASA)
    • Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO)
    • Council of the Great City Schools
    • Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS)

We hope to see you this May in Cincinnati!

Chareese Ross is Special Advisor to the Chief of Staff at the Department of Education

Finding Courage in Labor-Management Collaboration

At a recent Teacher Union Reform Network (TURN) meeting in Long Beach, Calif., I learned how labor-management collaboration can change the working dynamic in a school district. TURN is a national organization that supports union-driven reform to improve education for students. Jo Anderson, a Senior Advisor to Secretary Duncan, and I represented the Department of Education at TURN’s meeting to both encourage and support collaborative efforts between management and labor.

TURN Roundtable

Jo Anderson (far right) talks with TURN participants

There are five regional TURN organizations in addition to the national group, but all have a similar way of working. All participating school districts send teams composed of representatives from management and labor. Mary McDonald, co-chair of the Great Lakes Teacher Union Reform Network, explained that TURN meetings “are all about the work. It’s about getting down to the important collaboration that we do in labor-management teams.”

But what is the work of Labor-Management collaboration? I learned quickly that creating a more cordial and pleasant working atmosphere is not an end in itself. The point of the collaboration is to work together to foster more effective teaching and increase student learning.

It’s important to share powerful examples, like that of Hillsborough County Public School District in Florida, where the labor-management team has come together to take a daring look at teacher evaluation systems, by including student growth in all subject areas. Peer assistance and review models, like the one used in Toledo, Ohio, demonstrate ways that teachers can take on the role of professional consultants to evaluate and support their peers. Some district teams use innovative approaches to professional learning by creating online “communities of practice” which use 21st century tools in the service of students. All of these examples provide evidence of effective labor-management practices that improve schools.

To learn more about what all this might look like in practice, I sat down with a district team from Sacramento City, California.

“Do these conversations really matter?” I asked a teacher at the table.

“We used to wear black every Wednesday after school and protest,” the veteran teacher answered.  “Now, we’re collaborating to help our students. It’s amazing to see how far we’ve come. It used to be really different.”

ED’s Anderson attends TURN meetings to help foster such productive collaboration. TURN members refer to Anderson as “their favorite bureaucrat.” They trust him to share information about vital federal programs and initiatives that will help districts improve. Anderson describes the Obama administration’s support for collaboration as unprecedented, and he points to last February’s successful Labor-Management conference where 150 districts were charged to, “Redefine labor-management relations for the new century.”

TURN Participants

ED's Teaching Ambassador Fellows at a TURN conference. From left: Maryann Woods-Murphy, Steve Owens, Robert Baroz, Gamal Sherif and Senior Advisor Jo Anderson

TURN is a place where people can start a dialog in an open exchange of information. Relationships matter and having the space to come together at meetings like these, creates the context where tough conversations can really happen. The U.S. Department of Education is committed to fostering problem-solving relationships that focus on student achievement, knowing, as Secretary Duncan has said that “it takes courage and conviction to publicly commit to working together with groups that are sometimes portrayed as adversaries, rather than as allies.”

Find out more about the Department of Education’s work in the area of Labor-Management Relations.

Maryann Woods-Murphy

Maryann is a Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow on loan from Allendale, NJ.

AFT and TFT Share “The Toledo Plan” with Secretary Duncan

Ed. Note: Maryann Woods Murphy is a Spanish teacher and a Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow on loan from her school in Allendale, NJ. This former New Jersey State Teacher of the Year and 33-year teaching veteran travelled with Secretary Duncan’s bus tour to meet with teachers and teachers unions.  Here she shares her first-hand experience with a visit to the AFT Union Hall in Toledo, Ohio on Wednesday, where the Secretary viewed a demonstration of Toledo’s innovative program to mentor and evaluate teachers.

 “Welcome to the home of peer review,” says Francine Lawrence, Vice President of the American Federation of Teachers and the former president of the Toledo Federation of Teachers. “We are so proud to recognize what we have done together.”

The room at Union Hall, Toledo, is packed. Teachers, educational leaders and community members are here to share “The Toledo Plan” with the Secretary of Education on his bus tour. There is excitement in the air.

 “The Toledo Plan” is a peer review process that uses master teachers to guide and support the professional development of a newly hired probationary teacher or a non-probationary teacher who needs assistance.

Official Department of Education Photo by Leslie Williams

Dal Lawrence, former President of the Toledo Federation of Teachers, was a key player in the creation of the plan 31 years ago. He says that it’s about seeing which teachers can “fly on their own” after they get expert mentoring.

Tonight we are watching how the panel reviews the work of two probationary teachers. Each intern teacher has been assigned a trained, consulting teacher who has worked with the intern extensively throughout the year. Now it’s time for that consulting teacher to present a case for the retention or release of their mentee to the panel.

One of the teachers that the consultant presents, shows great organization, an ability to connect with students, expertise in the design of learning activities, clear expectations and terrific routines. This intern seems to be a capable and caring educator and this is what the consulting teacher recommends to the panel.

But the panel needs to probe and clarify any doubts, asking the consultant for evidence of the intern’s positive performance. Finally, the panel decides to affirm the consultant’s recommendation. This teacher will be offered a non-probationary contract for the following school year.

The next probationary teacher presenting to the panel really struggles. Though she is well meaning, her directions are unclear to kids. In her kindergarten class, students are distracted, doodling on themselves with markers, standing up at will and tossing paper cups. Despite the fact that the consulting teacher has offered many helpful suggestions and strategies, the intern cannot get her teaching together. The year has gotten progressively worse, and students are just not learning.

The panel agrees with the consultant’s negative recommendation. This teacher has not learned to “fly” and won’t be invited back to teach in Toledo. She didn’t make the cut.

After the mock peer review process concludes, Arne takes the microphone: “I have followed this model very closely for years,” he says, “I am always looking for models that the country should be looking at.” He goes on to say that he’d like to see more “tough minded collaborations” and “more districts working together in a thoughtful and collaborative way.”

Francine Lawrence, the Vice President of AFT closes the evening by saying that “in every school where you have significant student achievement, you have union and staff collaboration.”

The positive climate I see tonight and the long history and success of the peer review process show that working together for the good of students is possible. In fact, it’s been happening in Toledo for a very long time.

Maryann Woods-Murphy

Read a previous bus-tour post about the Toledo event.

Duncan and Officials Observe Mock Presentation of Innovative Teacher Mentoring and Evaluation Program at AFT Hall

An innovative teacher evaluation plan, developed with the participation of the teachers union in Toledo, Ohio, was the focus of the final stop on the first day of the “Education and the Economy” bus tour.

Secretary Duncan paid a visit late Wednesday to the Toledo Federation of Teachers union hall.  There, along with 75 teachers, union officials, local elected officials and community members, Duncan observed a mock peer-review panel presentation of the Toledo Plan, 2001 winner of the “Innovations in American Government Award” competition co-sponsored by Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and the Council for Excellence in Government, with funding from the Ford Foundation.

Brochures describe the program as an “intensive model of evaluation and mentoring” for intern teachers…“aimed at those most in need of professional help – beginning teachers and those experienced teachers in trouble.”

But Dal Lawrence, former president of the Toledo Federation of Teachers, had a simpler description.

“We want to find out who can teach in Toledo and who can’t,” Lawrence told Secretary Duncan. “We want to give enough expert mentoring and coaching to people so that they can fly on their own.”

During the presentation, two Toledo Public Schools intern consultants, who are assigned to newly hired Toledo teachers (interns) for two semesters, evaluated two former interns, Matthew Ziegler and Amanda Carr (fictitious name). The consultants’ summary evaluation reports were presented to an Intern Board of Review composed of five teachers and four administrators.

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

Their reports, based largely on interns’ progress toward meeting specific goals as determined by the consulting teachers, included descriptions and evidence of the interns’ performance in the areas of teaching procedures, classroom management, subject knowledge and personal characteristics/professional responsibility.

Upon receiving a recommendation from the consulting teachers on the interns’ future employment status, – “yes” for Ziegler, “no” for Carr – the panel had an opportunity to question the presenters and discuss the interns’ performance before conferring and voting on the recommendations.

The dialogue drew out specific areas where the two teachers were either performing well. For Ziegler:  “Weekly goals are outlined and posted on the blackboard, uses baskets to distribute materials quickly, spirals lessons through increasing levels of complexity.” For Carr:  “Students are not engaged consistently, high standards of work are not encouraged, class rules and consequences are posted but not enforced consistently or fairly.”

Afterwards, the panel voted to accept the recommendation in both cases; Ziegler was approved to receive a second one-year contract and released from the intern program, while Carr’s performance was deemed unsatisfactory, with no offer of a second-year contract.

Next, Lawrence asked Ziegler (who went on to become a math teacher after his real evaluation and was in the audience) to stand to applause from the crowd.

Secretary Duncan joked with Ziegler, saying “That must be a little odd – watching your own life like that.”

“I’ve followed this model closely for years, and this was a chance to learn and pay very close attention to the hard work, collaboration, and thoughtfulness that went into this process,” Duncan said.

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!”

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.

The Quiet Revolution Turning Around Michigan City Area Schools

Secretary Duncan Visits a Classroom at Lake Hills Elementary School in Michigan City, Indiana

On a visit to Lake Hills Elementary School in Michigan City, Ind., earlier today, Secretary Duncan saluted the community for renewing a spirit of enthusiasm and pride among teachers, staff, parents, students, and the community and he commended everyone for working together to improve student outcomes.

Michigan City Area Schools (MCAS) is an example of labor and management working together to improve education. MCAS recently reached a contract agreement with teachers that establishes school-based leadership teams to ensure collaborative decision-making and planning. The agreement also included a new principals’ compensation package that incorporates a “pay for performance” component, showing that through collaboration, school leaders are being held accountable for student achievement, and rewarded for student success.

Under the leadership of Superintendent Barbara Eason-Watkins and with the support of Mayor Chuck Oberlie, MCAS is working to re-energize and re-focus, offering more choices and opportunities for students. This fall, the district will launch their first two magnet schools, with Lake Hills Elementary School transitioning to a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) focused school, and Pine Elementary will become a visual and performing arts themed school.

MCAS has been recognized at the state and national levels for its innovative classroom technology, and by the way it uses new ways to engage students in learning. Believing that economic success is closely tied to school success, MCAS is working to realign career and technical education by partnering with local businesses, Ivy Tech Community College and Purdue University North Central to create a better trained workforce that will meet the needs of area businesses.

The reforms being implemented at MCAS are the same reforms that ED is supporting through programs such as Race to the Top, Investing in Innovation, School Improvement Grants, and the Teacher Incentive Fund. Secretary Duncan calls this the “quiet revolution,” and it is largely being driven by motivated parents, great educators and administrators challenging defeatism, elected officials and stakeholders who value education, and foundations and entrepreneurs who are bringing fresh new thinking to help schools and students grow and improve.

–Sherry Schweitzer