U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan Visits Rhode Island and Connecticut to Listen and Learn

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This week, Secretary Duncan took his national “Listening and Learning Tour” to New England, with visits to Rhode Island and Connecticut. Since May, the secretary has traveled across the country to nearly 30 states in an effort to receive feedback on federal education policy and input on the Obama administration’s education agenda.

While in the Ocean State, Secretary Duncan visited Hamilton Elementary School in North Kingstown with U.S. Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse and U.S. Representative Jim Langevin. Lily Eskelsen, vice president of the National Education Association (NEA), and Lawrence Purtill, president of the Rhode Island NEA affiliate, also participated in conversations with 75 educators and administrators.

The dialogue in Rhode Island largely focused on the concerns of education support staff—who are, too often, overlooked in discussions of effective schools. These professionals help teachers in the classroom, transport and feed students, ensure that schools are safe and clean, and connect with parents. Sen. Reed, whose father served as a custodian in nearby Cranston, R.I., shared that he has a unique appreciation for the role of support staff in creating a community of adults who are dedicated to the wellbeing of children in a school.

Secretary Duncan heard from cafeteria workers who relayed their ideas about how to make school lunches more nutritious and teachers’ aides who were interested in receiving more opportunities for high-quality professional development. Secretary Duncan noted that although Rhode Island is a relatively small state, it has a chance to do exciting things in the national “Race to the Top” to improve education.

During the Listening and Learning event at Norwalk Community College (NCC) in Connecticut, Secretary Duncan was joined by NCC President David Levinson, U.S. Representative Jim Himes, and Superintendent of the Stamford Public Schools Joshua Starr. Secretary Duncan urged the gathered educators, administrators, policymakers, and community and religious leaders to challenge the status quo, adding that the state has a real opportunity to break through on closing its academic achievement gap—which is one of the largest in the country.

Dr. Edward Zigler, who also was in attendance and frequently has been called “the father of Head Start,” noted that he is more hopeful today than he has been in the past 50 years about the administration’s commitment to early childhood education. Gwen Samuel, chairperson of the State of Black Connecticut Alliance, made an impassioned plea to the secretary to support programs that make it easier for parents to get involved in their children’s schools, and noted the importance of communities engaging in shared leadership.   “No one group works alone,” Secretary Duncan agreed. “If folks can collaborate—and we need to collaborate—we have the chance to see dramatically better results.”

ED Staff

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ED General Counsel Charles Rose visits Renton, WA for listen and learn


On October 14, 2009, ED’s General Counsel, Charles P. Rose, visited Renton High School in Renton, WA, for Listening and Learning meetings with teachers and parents.

The Renton school district serves a diverse population of 14,000 students.  Although Renton High School has been in restructuring status for the past five years, the school has made progress toward elevating achievement and preparing students for college and careers.  Their success is made possible by a hard-working staff of teachers and administrators and dedicated parents.

During Rose’s visit, he heard from many of these very teachers and parents on a variety of issues, returning to the Department with a wealth of on-the-ground feedback.

Teachers spoke candidly about reforms they deemed helpful and others that they viewed with less enthusiasm.  Many lauded the value of high-quality data and professional development in improving instruction, while others expressed concerns about adequate yearly progress (AYP) benchmarks and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act’s reliance on test scores.  Parents provided insightful comments of their own about the need for uniform assessments, expressed support for efforts geared toward increased learning time, and suggested that the Federal government reassess Federal poverty measures to more fairly reflect regional differences in the cost of living.

Rose thanked all of the teachers and parents who attended the Listening and Learning meeting and who demonstrated their extraordinary commitment to Renton High School and its students.  He has since taken their questions and comments back to Washington where they will contribute to the continuing efforts of ED officials to enact meaningful education reform.

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Listening and Learning tour stops in Des Moines, WA with ED General Counsel Charlie Rose


On October 14, 2009, ED’s General Counsel, Charlie Rose, visited Aviation High School in Des Moines, WA, for a Listening and Learning meeting.  A magnet school in the Highline school district, Aviation trains its students for careers in aerospace and related science and technology fields.  The school enjoys substantial support from business and community partners that include the Port of Seattle and the Gates Foundation, and attracts students from across the Seattle metropolitan area, many of whom commute more than two hours to attend.

During his visit, Rose heard from more than 40 students, parents, teachers, administrators and school partners about Aviation’s unique approach to learning.  Many spoke about Aviation’s rich ties with the local aerospace community, the value of programs that pair students with professional mentors, and the importance of alternative certification programs.  Several stakeholders also spoke about the need for greater facilities funding in public education, particularly as Aviation looks to build a new campus.

Most of all, attendees championed Aviation’s focus on problem solving, and encouraged the Department to invest in innovative models like theirs.  Highline School District Superintendent John Welch also noted that although Washington State has no charter laws, innovative schools like Aviation still manage to thrive.

At the conclusion of Rose’s visit, he spoke directly with students in the school’s robotics lab, witnessing live demonstrations of their projects and listening to them describe how Aviation High School is helping them pursue their dreams.

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Secretary Arne Duncan Visits Delaware, New Jersey


Yesterday Secretary Arne Duncan participated in a statewide leadership forum at the University of Delaware with Gov. Jack Markell and Delaware Secretary of Education Lillian Lowery.  He discussed the importance of improving schools and the state’s plan to turn around failing schools. See media coverage of the forum and highlights of remarks by Duncan and other speakers. Read about Delaware’s plan to provide a world-class public education to every student in the state, Vision 2015.

Later in the day, Duncan traveled to New Jersey, where he joined Gov. Jon Corzine for a tour of Rosa International Middle School in Cherry Hill.  They visited classes and talked with students, teachers, and administrators, including Principal Ed Canzanese, science teacher Christine Weigel, and humanities teacher Carolyn Grossi. While there, Duncan and Corzine participated in a roundtable discussion with students, parents, and teachers and congratulated the school for its Blue Ribbon Schools award.  The Blue Ribbon Schools Program recognizes schools that make significant progress in closing the achievement gap.

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Secretary Arne Duncan Takes Listening Tour to Wyoming

Secretary Arne Duncan Takes Listening Tour to Wyoming

Secretary Arne Duncan visited Glenrock, Wyoming, to hear about education challenges facing rural communities and ideas for reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in ways that address rural needs.

On September 18, Senator Mike Enzi joined Secretary Arne Duncan for a stop at Grant Elementary School in Glenrock, Wyoming, as part of his NCLB Listening and Learning Tour. The discussion—which included Glenrock area teachers, administrators, parents and students, as well as state leaders—focused on education challenges facing rural communities and ideas for how the Elementary and Secondary Education Act should address rural needs.

Teachers and administrators testified to the difficulties in attracting and retaining talented educators in rural areas and asked about ways to incent qualified teachers. They expressed concerns about the emphasis on testing and current accountability measures under NCLB, as well as the unique challenge rural communities face in complying with the highly qualified teacher (HQT) regulations. The local high school principal likened the HQT challenge to fielding a basketball team where all the pool of available players are all undersized. “You field the team that you have available in rural communities,” he said.

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Back-to-School National Town Hall Meeting with Secretary Arne Duncan

ED News Virtual Town HallLast night Secretary Arne Duncan hosted a virtual national “listening and learning” event before a live studio audience of 60 parents and educators at the WETA television studio in Arlington, VA.

Watch the town hall meeting now.

In addition to hearing from the audience, Secretary Duncan responded to phone calls, emails, and video submissions from across the nation.  (See photos.) Dave from Iowa asked about standards.  A mother in California asked how to improve teaching for children with disabilities.  A caller from Nevada questioned whether teachers should be evaluated based on student test scores.  A parent from Tennessee asked how to gain buy-in from teachers for a longer school year.

The town hall-style meeting was broadcast live on many of the approximately 800 public access, PBS, and Dish Network stations that are registered broadcast partners.

Secretary Duncan and his leadership team will visit all 50 states this year to listen and learn from students, teachers, and communities in preparation for working with Congress on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

John White
Press Secretary

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Heard on the Tour: Secretary Arne Duncan Visits Anchorage

Secretary Arne Duncan visits Anchorage.

Secretary Arne Duncan visits Anchorage.

We had a great day in Anchorage yesterday, our first of three days in Alaska to gather input as part of the “Listening and Learning” education reform tour.

Our first stop, the Alaska Native Heritage Center, was much more than a visit to a museum. We saw children and adults learning about Alaskan history, native dances and sports, and more. We watched women making coats by hand. We saw subterranean homes. Student and adult guides explained how the homes were made and described unique design features, including the narrow tunneled entrances, which keep out polar bears. We saw whale bones and heard about salmon runs and the many types of fish (red, silver, pink salmon, kingfish, halibut, others). One of the student guides said his father caught a 97-pound salmon this year. He said his family hauled in 128 salmon on a recent fishing trip. This should last them one month this winter.

At our second stop, Cook Inlet Tribal Council, Senators Murkowski and Begich joined Arne for the listening and learning event. More than 50 people attended — teachers, state department of education and university of Alaska officials, parents, and media. In his opening remarks, Arne announced the three-year $1.2 million grant to Anchorage public schools to help reduce the dropout rate and prepare students for college and careers. There were many good questions. Afterward, Arne and ED chief of staff Margot Rogers met with Governor Sean Parnell.

Arne seemed to accomplish everything he wanted on the first day in Alaska, except seeing a moose. But maybe in Hooper Bay today.

John White
Press Secretary

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Secretary Arne Duncan Takes “Listening and Learning” Tour to Orlando

Secretary Arne Duncan continued his national discussion on education reform yesterday in Orlando, Florida. He toured Lake Nona YMCA Family Center and North Lake Park Community School. He also met with YMCA President and CEO Jim Ferber, North Lake Park Principal Wendy Wagner, a student representative, elected officials, and community and business leaders.

Click here for an accessible version of the video.

Secretary Duncan launched the Listening and Learning Tour in May to get input from a broad group of stakeholders around federal education policy. To date, the tour has included stops in Colorado, Indiana, Montana, Michigan, New Jersey, West Virginia and Vermont. The goal of the tours is to solicit feedback on the No Child Left Behind Act and the Obama Administration’s education agenda, including such issues as early childhood, higher standards, teacher quality and workforce development.
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Listening and Learning Tour in Indianapolis

Last week, Secretary Duncan’s “Listening and Learning” tour stopped in Indiana to hear from a broad range of stakeholders about education in Indiana and their thoughts education reform.

Peter Groff, Director of the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships represented the Secretary in the discussions and events around the city of Indianapolis.

Groff and other staff visited Ivy Tech Community College, which reported a significant increase in dual enrollment courses during the last school year, up almost 44% from the previous year. More than 16,000 students took dual credit classes, saving Indiana parents nearly $8 million in higher education costs. Growing enrollment and aging facilities has required Ivy Tech, like many of the nation’s community colleges, to stretch limited resources to serve even more students.

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Turning Around Low-Performing Schools

“We need everyone who cares about public education to take on the toughest assignment of all: turning around our lowest-performing schools.”

That’s what Secretary Duncan said at a national charter schools conference yesterday. There are about 5,000 low-performing schools—about 5% of all schools in the U.S.—that fail our kids year after year. We have a moral obligation to try to fix these schools. And now, for the first time, we have the money: $5 billion dollars for turnarounds over 2 years.

He described 4 approaches for turning around schools:

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Heard on the Tour: North Star Academy, Newark

North Star Academy students at all-school community circle

North Star Academy students at all-school community circle

Everywhere Secretary Duncan has visited on his listening tour — a Montana Indian reservation, a high school in Detroit, a middle school in West Virginia — students are saying, “Challenge me, push me, make me work, and I will do it.”

He heard the same message in Newark, N.J., one of America’s poorest cities. Many families there face so many challenges: rising unemployment, foreclosures, an overburdened social services system. One in three children lives in poverty. No more than half of the 8th grade students pass state tests. A quarter of high school seniors do not graduate.

Yet parents and students find hope in the form of a promise of a better life through education. In Newark, nowhere does that hope shine brighter than at North Star Academy. Children enter this public charter school at the 5th grade often significantly behind their state peers. Less than 35 percent of entering students are proficient in literacy and 15 percent are proficient in math. Yet over 95 percent of 7th graders — who have been in the school less than 2 full years — scored proficient or advanced in language arts literacy and math. Based on these results, North Star is the highest performing school in Newark and 2nd highest among all urban schools in New Jersey.

The secretary and those of us travelling with him observed classes, participated in the all-school “community circle,” and heard students and parents testify to the passion and commitment of the teachers and administrators at North Star. We heard how educators take the time to really know their students, and students and parents really know teachers and staff. We saw how teachers challenge students not to just learn but to make good choices — the right choices — and thereby develop their character and an ethos of service. Students talked about their teachers as their second parents — available to them at all hours, on weekends, and whenever they really need them. The passion and commitment of the North Star community has students believing that failure is not an option.

The youth of North Star understand that despite the unwavering efforts of dedicated teachers and supportive staff, the responsibility for learning, achieving and growing ultimately depends on them. These young scholars commit to a schedule that has them attending class or involved in enrichment and remediation activities far after the regular school day ends for other students in the city. And, to avoid the summer slide in academic skills, North Star students have a longer school year and a shorter summer break, with students in class for 200 days a year. Students said this helps build confidence and character and an understanding of the expectations that lie ahead: college. For the North Star student, college is not a “dream, an aspiration or a goal; it is their destiny.”

Parents in the North Star community believe fervently in their role as advocates for their children and the children of Newark. They believe in being more accountable and responsible for their children’s academic success. They embrace it and feel passionately about it. As one parent said, “the happiest day of my life was when I knew my son would be enrolled in North Star and he would have an opportunity to receive a great education.” They believe that charter schools like North Star are beacons of hope for parents and students. As one parent said “build on what works, expand it to benefit the entire public education system, and, in turn, renew and revitalize Newark.”

Todd May

Secretary Arne Duncan Takes Listening Tour to New Jersey, Visits Charter School

Last week Secretary Duncan took his “Listening and Learning” tour to New Jersey. This was the fifth stop in his multi-state effort to get feedback on federal education policy and input on the Obama administration’s education agenda.

During the trip, he visited North Star Academy-Clinton Hill, a charter school that, based on 2008 data, is the highest performing school in Newark and the second highest among all urban schools in New Jersey. (See the press release.)

Visit to North Star Academy-Clinton Hill 1 Visit  to North Star Academy-Clinton Hill 2 Visit  to North Star Academy-Clinton Hill 3
Visit  to North Star Academy-Clinton Hill 4 Visit  to North Star Academy-Clinton Hill 5