Guidance for Competency Based Education Experimental Site Released

The Obama Administration has worked steadily to increase access to and completion of high quality degrees for students of all ages and backgrounds. One specific thrust has been to remove barriers that stand in the way of innovation in higher education, including those that prevent promising new educational models from expanding. Competency based education (CBE) is one example of a promising new delivery model with the potential to improve degree completion, reduce costs to students and improve transparency and alignment of learning outcomes to the needs of employers and society. And the field is growing – recently, a survey suggested that as many as 600 postsecondary institutions in the United States are currently designing or implementing CBE programs.

In 2014, the Department of Education launched three experiments under the Experimental Sites Initiative – Competency-Based Education, Limited Direct Assessment, and Prior Learning Assessment – as an opportunity to learn more about this and related delivery model and to experiment with Title IV disbursement models designed to incent student achievement and student success. Among those, the Competency-Based Education experiment provided the most expansive regulatory waivers and modifications, and in the time since that experiment was announced, it has become clear that additional detail and guidance from the Department of Education regarding that experiment would be helpful to both institutions and accrediting agencies.

I am delighted to say that we are ready to release the CBE Experiment Reference Guide for institutions participating in the CBE experiment. We believe that this Guide will offer tremendous support for both experienced and new CBE providers as they implement this experiment. We recognize that many of you were anticipating that the Guide would be released earlier this summer, but it was very important for us to have a high level of confidence that the guidance it contains is on very firm ground. The Guide can be located at

Additionally, by the end of this year, we will be issuing an expansion of the current CBE experiment. The CBE experiment was designed to offer institutions a new approach to financial aid disbursement in the hopes of incentivizing student success and cost reduction. Following the release of the 2014 Federal Register notice, we received additional feedback from institutions about the approach provided in the 2014 notice, and we have been working to respond to this feedback. When the expansion is released, we are confident that this experiment will be even more useful to the field, particularly to institutions using a subscription-based tuition model with their CBE programs. As part of the experimental site initiative, ED will be gathering significant data from the participating institutions to enable a rigorous evaluation of the impact of CBE programs on issues of completion, affordability and transparency of degrees.

As always, I encourage and welcome your comments, suggestions and feedback. We are eager to learn from these CBE experiments, and we remain committed to responsible innovation to enhance learning outcomes, lower cost and improve completion rates in higher education.

Ted Mitchell is U.S. Under Secretary of Education.

Hispanic Heritage Foundation Recognizes White House Initiative with Prestigious Award

Alejandra Ceja, executive director for the Initiative

Alejandra Ceja, executive director for the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, accepts the Hispanic Heritage Award.

The Hispanic Heritage Foundation held its 28th Annual Hispanic Heritage Awards on Sept. 17 at the historic Warner Theater in Washington, D.C. The awards celebrated Hispanic culture and heritage and recognized Latino leaders in sports; science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education; innovation; youth work; education; music and health.

This year, the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics (WHIEEH) was awarded the education award for its 25 years of service to the nation’s Latino community. Alejandra Ceja, executive director for the Initiative, received the award on behalf of WHIEEH.

“I’m extremely honored to receive this award on behalf of the Initiative,” said Ceja. “As we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month and the Initiative’s 25th anniversary, let us remember that investing in the educational attainment for Hispanics is absolutely critical to the success of our country. The Hispanic Heritage Foundation’s recognition of our efforts reflects the important role education plays in the lives of Latino students and families across this country. We look forward to working to ensure Latino students, and all students, have the opportunity to achieve their goals and dreams.”

U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who was entering the final leg of his “Ready for Success” bus tour, recognized the Initiative’s accomplishments.

“I am happy to congratulate Executive Director Alejandra Ceja and her entire White House Initiative team on receiving the Hispanic Heritage Award for Education Leadership,” said U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan. “The Hispanic Heritage Foundation’s recognition of her leadership and the critical work her team provides is a testament to the service and dedication of our commitment to our nation’s students and families.”

Created in 1990 to address the education disparities of the nation’s Latino community, particularly the alarming drop out rate, the Initiative has continued to work with local, state and federal stakeholders in support of the educational attainment of Latinos.

Under the Obama Administration, the mission of the Initiative is to restore the country to its role as a global leader in education and strengthen the nation by expanding educational opportunities and improving educational outcomes for Latinos of all ages. The Initiative also works to ensure that all Latinos receive an education that prepares them for college, productive careers and satisfying lives.

To learn about the Initiative’s efforts throughout Hispanic Heritage Month, visit and to see the other Hispanic Heritage Foundation honorees visit: 

Alberto Betancourt is a member of the press team in the Office of Communications and Outreach

Investing in Higher Education Innovation

As I have written previously, much is changing in higher education.  Student demographics have shifted significantly, as have the demands of a fast-evolving workforce.  Technology, powerful insights from brain science, and research on teaching and learning are creating vast new possibilities.

In order to build our economy and our democracy, we must invest in the kinds of evidence-based innovations that expand access, affordability, and success to communities that are not currently well served, such as students who would be the first in their families to go to college, those from low-income families, and students of color.

This is exactly what our First in the World (FITW) grant program seeks to do.

Today the Department of Education is awarding nearly $60 million in FITW grants to 17 colleges, universities, and organizations.

This year’s highly competitive applicant pool demonstrated the innovation and creativity flourishing at all kinds of institutions.  Grants will fund projects with a range of goals and approaches, including proactive advising and support services guided by predictive analytics, redesign of online gateway courses to increase student engagement, integration of adaptive learning software into a short-term bridge program, and open source developmental courses delivered through mobile learning apps. Read a few examples of these terrific projects and a list of all of this year’s recipients.

I’m especially pleased that nine of the 17 winning applications came from minority serving institutions (MSIs), three of which are also Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).  These MSIs and HBCUs will receive a total of over $30 million in funding.  I was also pleased to see proposals from strong and broad collaborations: we simply cannot achieve the impact we need with every campus acting alone.

I only wish we were able to fund many more of the high quality applications we received. And in fact, while the President’s FY2016 budget requested $200 million for FITW, Congressional budget proposals have zeroed out the program. Without a change to those budget proposals, we will not be able fund these critical innovations going forward.

Congratulations to the recipients of this year’s grants, and our deepest thanks to them and to all the FITW applicants for their leadership and their commitment to the success of all our nation’s students.

Ted Mitchell is U.S. Under Secretary of Education

Community colleges: America’s economic engines

Duncan talks with students at a roundtable at Cincinnati State

Community colleges are America’s economic engines. They are gateways to middle class jobs, and their open-access, affordable programs hold the key to college access, affordability and completion for millions of students from every walk of life.  This Administration has invested more than $2 billion in community colleges, from TAACCCT grants, to the President’s America’s College Promise proposal, to make two free years of college the norm for every responsible student, as well as the proposed American College Training Fund, to help more workers skill up for high-wage, high-demand careers.

The life-changing potential of a strong community college education was on powerful and moving display at Cincinnati State, where Secretary Arne Duncan and Under Secretary Ted Mitchell visited as part of the Ready for Success bus tour. Among the speakers was Bryan Dell, who for years was a drug addict and dealer, before getting sober and enrolling at Cincinnati State to study social work. He spoke movingly of the turnaround in his life and the deep support from the college staff, credits in large part to Cincinnati State and its Black Male Initiative. “The one thing a person must have to succeed in this is commitment,” he said.

When Bryan arrived on campus a few years ago, he hadn’t been in a classroom since 1979 – the year he graduated from high school.  Since then, it seemed his life had jumped the rails. But Bryan had begun the long journey out of drug and alcohol addiction, and a colleague at the treatment program he was attending recommended he also consider going back to school.  As hard as it was to take that step, once he’d enrolled at Cincinnati State, Bryan never looked back. He was elected president of the Black Male Initiative, was invited to join Phi Theta Kappa, an international honor society, and earned a nearly perfect GPA, graduating cum laude. Armed with his Associate’s degree, Bryan transferred Northern Kentucky University – again earning top marks, and securing a Bachelor’s degree.  He’s now studying to become a licensed social worker and will graduate with his Masters degree from NKU this May – but he still gives back to the Cincinnati State community that helped him get a fresh start: continuing to support BMI, mentoring students and sharing his inspiring experience.

As Bryan puts it: he used to be addicted to drugs; today he’s “addicted to A’s.”  His journey shows how a great education can offer a second chance at a whole new life.  The America’s College Promise proposal – now a bill awaiting action in Congress – could make thousands more stories like Bryan’s possible.

Cincinnati State represents the strength of the community college model, welcoming 21st century students, including low-income, first-generation, minority, adult students with jobs and families, and workers seeking to skill up for better career ladders. During a roundtable discussion with the Secretary, school administrators, professors, students, alumni, business partners, and civic leaders had the opportunity to share some examples of the difference this hub for quality education skills training, and workforce development is making for graduates, employers, and the region’s economy.

The school offers dual enrollment opportunities, so high school students can earn credits toward a degree, and has launched a new high-quality charter school – a STEM academy right on campus. Through the “C-State Accelerate” program, low-income students with remedial get the extra support they need to get an Associate’s degree in 3 years, with tuition/textbook assistance, monthly incentives, academic coaching/career guidance.  Cincinnati State offers scholarships to help reduce college costs, and increase retention. The college’s Workforce Development Center offers everything from courses toward a technical certificate or degree, to short-term technical training tied to labor market needs.

And, targeted student networks and services help to ensure that every student has the inspiration and resources needed to succeed.  For example, the Black Male Initiative (BMI) is dedicated to helping men of color earn more degrees and reach their full potential.

The visit began with a tour of a classroom where students in Information Technology were working to set up servers and desktop computer hardware and software – part of a “capstone” project designed to provide every student with hands-on, real world experience before they graduate and join the workforce.  Through this experience, students prove they have the skills needed to configure the same complex hardware and software that’s in demand in today’s corporate world.

Watch Secretary Duncan wrap up day four of the Ready for Success bus tour:

Preparing Students for College and Cutting-Edge Careers in Kentucky

Secretary Duncan looks at technology with students at effersontown High School Magnet

What’s one of the greatest challenges for today’s teachers and students? How to prepare students to thrive in the most competitive global economy the world has ever known, where workers won’t just have multiple jobs over the course of a lifetime – they’ll have multiple careers!  And, in our fast-paced, technology-driven marketplace, many of those jobs haven’t even been invented yet!

To learn how one school is meeting this challenge, Thursday morning brought us to Louisville, Kentucky, to visit Jeffersontown High School Magnet Career Academy – the home of the Chargers.

The school serves a diverse student body of 1,400 students, including many from low-income families.  Learning is organized around career themes, through four academies.  The Design Academy features engineering, Computer-Aided Design and Drafting, and Web design; the Build Academy features robotics and electronics; the Create Academy houses the fine arts; and the Lead Academy offers JROTC and business.  All of the academies offer all the coursework needed to prepare students for college and careers, along with specialized technical training and certification and the opportunity to earn college credits along with a high school diploma.

These career academies have strong support from the surrounding cities and from the region’s employers, who see it as key to developing a competitive workforce and filling high-demand jobs.  For instance, the Design Academy houses the Ford Partnership for Advanced Studies, based on a model first launched in 1990 by the Ford Motor Company to encourage students to pursue education and build successful careers in business, engineering, and technology.  Last year, the Jefferson County Public Schools was named a Ford Next Generation Learning community – on of 18 communities in the U.S. to earn this designation.  The goal of the program is to help districts and communities implement plans that improve student performance and readiness for college and careers.   Funding from Ford and America’s Promise Alliance will help the district roll out its plan.

Watch Secretary Duncan wrap up day four of the Ready for Success bus tour:

Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month and Bright Spots in Hispanic Education to Fulfill America’s Future

Today, nearly one in four students in our nation’s public schools is a Hispanic youth. Making sure Latinos have the opportunity to achieve their dreams isn’t just the right thing to do for the Latino community —it is also the right thing to do for our country.

In just the next few decades, Hispanics will represent nearly one in three American workers. It’s clear; the future of our nation is inextricably linked to the future of our Hispanic communities.

From September 15 through October 15, our nation observes Hispanic Heritage Month. Each year, especially during this time, we celebrate the incredible contributions of the Hispanic community, honor its heritage, and look ahead to even more progress for Latinos across America. But this year is unique.

The White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, established in 1990 to address the educational disparities faced by the Hispanic community, is celebrating its 25th anniversary. In honor of this historic milestone, the Initiative launched a year of action in October 2014 to highlight the tremendous progress Latinos are making in education and the challenges that remain to ensure true educational opportunity for all and ensure their educational success is a shared responsibility between all sectors.

Latinos are in fact doing better. For example:

Our nation’s high school graduation rate is the highest in history, and Latinos, the fastest growing population of students, have made the greatest gains – at 76 percent – in graduation rates. From 2011 to 2013, Latino graduation rates have improved by more than four percentage points. Our nation’s high school dropout rate is at a historic low, with the Hispanic dropout rate half of what it was in 2000. And more minority students, including Hispanics, are enrolling in higher education at higher rates.

But the work does not stop there. At only 16 percent of Latinos who hold a Bachelor’s degree or higher, we can and must do better. To help build the national narrative on Latino progress and to share promising practices the Initiative called for nominations for Bright Spots in Hispanic Education. These Bright Spots are evidence-based organizations, models, or initiatives that are helping to close achievement and opportunity gaps, from cradle to career, for Latinos.

Earlier this week, we were proud to recognize more than 230 Bright Spots in Hispanic Education that are working to increase the educational attainment of the Latino community in key areas, including: early learning; K-12 and college access, science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education; Latino teacher recruitment; and postsecondary completion.

We know that identifying and implementing strategies and solutions that support Hispanic students is critical to ensuring their success. We also hope that by highlighting work that already is happening across the country, we can encourage more programs, groups, and individuals to collaborate; share data-driven approaches, promising practices, and peer to-peer advice; and build effective partnerships, ultimately resulting in increased educational outcomes for Hispanic students, and all students.

You can find all of the Bright Spots in this national online catalogue, and here is a sampling of what’s there:

Early Learning

  • LAUP, based in CA, has prepared more than 105,000 children for kindergarten and beyond by funding, rating, and raising the quality of preschool programs.

STEM education

  • The ARMAS program in NM was created to increase the number of Hispanic students earning a bachelor of science degree in STEM and offers supplemental instruction and tutoring in STEM courses.

College access

  • The Valley Initiative for Development and Advancement (VIDA) Project, based in TX, provides extensive wraparound support services and financial assistance so that the students can attend college full time.

Hispanic teacher recruitment

  • The ALBA school in WI works with local universities to create a pipeline to teacher certification, encouraging teacher assistants and parents to pursue credentials to become fully certified educators.

College completion

  • The Dream Project in VA is addressing the needs of undocumented students striving for higher education.

It is critical to continue to identify and highlight asset-based, solutions-oriented innovations that are helping to close achievement and opportunity gaps for Latinos. Throughout Hispanic Heritage Monththe Obama administration is celebrating Latino progress and highlighting the work and investment put it in by parents, community leaders, educators, and students to ensure Latinos achieve.

Visit this blog and the Initiative’s webpage for more updates throughout Hispanic Heritage Month.

View the statement from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on National Hispanic Heritage Month

View President Obama’s proclamation on Hispanic Heritage Month, 2015

Alejandra Ceja is Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics

Extending Welcoming Communities to New Americans

American communities have traditionally prided themselves on being welcoming places that foster a sense of security and offer helping hands for fellow community members. And it’s important to extend the characteristic warmth of our communities to the immigrants and refugees who compose roughly 13 percent of the U.S. population. Currently, there are over 4.7 million foreign-born students enrolled in pre-kindergarten to postsecondary education, representing six percent of the total U.S. student population. Another 20 million students are the children of foreign-born parents. Ensuring access to high-quality learning opportunities and safe and welcoming school communities is vital in supporting the civic, linguistic, and economic integration of immigrants, refugees, and their families. By supporting these families, our communities will help build the next generation of American leaders.

Long-term success for new Americans depends upon a cradle-to-career strategy that supports effective and innovative education programs. This is why the Department of Education is determined to improve the educational outcomes of early learning, elementary, secondary, adult education and postsecondary students from immigrant and refugee families, especially those who are not yet proficient in English.

English learners (ELs), many of whom come from immigrant and refugee families, face significant opportunity and achievement gaps compared to their non-EL peers. To close those gaps, we have and will continue to share resources that will help states, districts, and individual programs strengthen their educational offerings. By leveraging the rich cultural and linguistic assets that ELs, including immigrants and refugees, bring to the classroom, we will enable them to achieve their full academic potential and enrich the education experience of all children, youth and adults.

Successful immigrant and refugee integration takes a concerted effort on the part of the federal government, states, and local civic, nonprofit, faith-based, private sector, and philanthropic leaders. On Thursday, Sept. 17, President Obama launched the Building Welcoming Communities Campaign, which invites local communities to commit, collaborate, and act on a set of principles to aid new American integration. These principles focus on building inclusive, welcoming communities that advance efforts in the core areas of civil, economic, and linguistic integration. The campaign recognizes the significance of local efforts given that each community has unique circumstances and opportunities. We ask that communities heed the call to create welcoming environments for new Americans in their own schools, neighborhoods, homes, agencies, and institutions. Encouraging broader participation in civic life, providing hubs where skills and job training can be developed, and supporting English language acquisition are clear steps that communities can take to ensure that new Americans feel accepted and supported in the places they call home. Enabling each other to succeed is the cornerstone of all successful communities.

To support these efforts, we will continue to provide critical resources and information to help schools, communities, state and local education agencies, institutions of higher education, and educators better serve this population and their families. One such resource, a Department-sponsored webinar series, focuses on key areas of the Building Welcoming Communities Campaign.

Learn more about how you can welcome, engage, and enhance the lives of new Americans (pdf).

Libia Gil is the assistant deputy secretary and director of the Office of English Language Acquisition at the U.S. Department of Education.

Johan Uvin is the acting assistant secretary of the Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education at the U.S. Department of Education.

Back-to-School Bus Tour Stops at Purdue

Arne Duncan and Mitch Daniels on stage during the event at Purdue

Following an inspiring visit to the University of Illinois Champaign, Duncan stopped stopped at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, for a conversation with students and University President (and former two-term Governor) Mitch Daniels.

At a time when college matters more than ever before to the success of individual Americans, and our nation as a whole, the nation’s attention is focused on ways to ensure that all students have the opportunity to access, pay for, and complete a quality degree that truly equips them for a great career with a strong salary, active engagement in their homes and communities, and everything else that life has to offer.  To achieve the goal of helping unprecedented numbers of students, from more diverse backgrounds, than ever, to gain knowledge, skills and a valuable degree, at a reasonable cost – we can’t rely on business as usual.  We need to innovate: at the federal, state, and local levels.  We need higher education institutions and leaders willing to do things differently.

Purdue is one of the schools showing the way.

At a time when rising tuition costs are grabbing headlines, the total cost of attending Purdue has actually fallen since President Daniels arrived on campus. Total loan debt among the student body has also fallen 18% or $40 million.  Purdue announced it would freeze tuition for two years, later extending the freeze for a third year.  Four-year graduates from the class of 2016 will be the first in at least 40 years to leave Purdue without ever having experienced a tuition hike.

The Secretary praised President Daniels and Purdue for this and other innovative efforts to help students access, afford and complete their degrees.  The two discussed the University’s focus on: building a stronger pipeline between secondary school and college with a new charter model – Purdue Polytechnic Indianapolis High School – scheduled to open in 2017 with university-aligned curriculum and standards; redesigning coursework to accelerate degree attainment; launching a new Gallup-Purdue Index to measure the value of a college degree; and implementing proven strategies to help an increasingly diverse student population –  including more low-income and first generation college students – succeed in higher education.

Purdue was also the recipient of a 2014 “First in the World” grant from the Department.  The school is using $2.3 million in federal funding for a new “Success through Transformative Education and Active Mentoring” project: an experimental study to determine why active learning models in schools succeed, and focused on overhauling 30 courses in the fields of science, technology, engineering, math and the arts. This effort builds on Purdue’s existing “IMPACT” model, which has already transformed 120 traditional lecture-style courses into active, student-centered learning environments, in past 4 years.

Watch Secretary Duncan wrap up day three of the Ready for Success bus tour:

Task Force Continues its Work to Improve Sexual Assault Prevention and Response

Today, the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault (Task Force) announced the release of two essential resources to assist practitioners in their efforts to prevent and respond effectively to sexual violence on college and university campuses across the country.

First, the Task Force released a Resource Guide, which is a compendium of materials that support students, administrators, and stakeholders in their efforts to create supportive campus communities, prevent sexual assault, and improve the response to sexual violence when it does occur on campuses. The Resource Guide includes links to previously released Task Force deliverables as well as other resources, and it serves as a one-stop shop for guidance, tools, emerging promising models and practices, training and technical assistance, and funding opportunities to help finance preventative resources and services for victims.

Also released today is Safe Place: Trauma-Sensitive Practice for Health Centers Serving Students. This is a new toolkit for health center managers, developed by the Department of Education’s National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments Technical Assistance Center. It is designed to promote the expansion of campus health centers that have a deep understanding of trauma and the needs of all students, particularly survivors of sexual assault. Through tools like individualized online learning modules and materials to conduct a review of the physical environment, clinical encounters, and relevant policies and procedures, managers can learn how to actively engage with their centers to improve the delivery and care, and promote trauma-sensitive practices.

The Resource Guide can be found on the website alongside the Task Force’s initial report and deliverables released throughout the past 18 months. We at OCR, along with all of our partners, are eager to continue this critical work to ensure every student is safe in their learning environment.

Jessie Brown is Senior Counsel in the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education

Family Engagement Town Hall in Indianapolis

Students on stage speaking with Secretary DuncanOn Wednesday night of the Ready for Success Back-to-School Bus Tour, Secretary Arne Duncan visited Crispus Attucks Medical Magnet High School in Indianapolis, where enrollment has jumped by 48 percent since 2011.

When it was opened in 1927, Crispus Attucks was the first and only public high school for African Americans in the city. The world has changed a lot in the nearly 90 years since then, but the country still needs to do more so that all of its students – especially students of color — have the chance to learn, achieve, and succeed.

Breaking down barriers to opportunity was at the heart of the discussion at Crispus Attucks, where the Secretary participated in a roundtable discussion with Indianapolis high school students. M. Karega Rausch, vice president of research and evaluation for the National Association for Charter Schools Authorizers, moderated a conversation about overcoming obstacles and striving for college- and career-readiness.

Then, Broderick Johnson, assistant to President Obama and chair of the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force, followed by Secretary Duncan, held a conversation with students that touched on two specific goals of the President’s My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) initiative: graduating more students ready for college and careers, and encouraging young people to complete postsecondary education or training. MBK was introduced in 2014 to ensure that all youth, including boys and young men of color, have opportunities to improve their life outcomes and overcome barriers to success.

Students take a group photo with Secretary DuncanStudents rose to the occasion, asking their own questions about what they can do to advance justice for the generation they are part of, and beyond.

As part of the initiative, the White House launched the MBK Community Challenge, to bring communities together to implement cradle-to-career strategies that improve outcomes for all young people. As one of the first cities to accept the Challenge, Indianapolis hosted its own MBK local action summit last year.

In Indianapolis and across the country, cities are making progress toward the goals of MBK – but America isn’t there just yet. To move the needle on some of our most pressing challenges – including and especially those we face in education – we must continue to speak honestly about the obstacles to opportunity that far too many of our young people face.

Then – and only then – can we truly move forward with community-led solutions that promote equal opportunity for all students.

Watch Secretary Duncan wrap up day three of the Ready for Success bus tour:

Back-to-school bus stops for college tour at University of Louisville

Bus in front of Jeffersontown High School

Secretary Duncan stopped to pick up students at Jeffersontown High School before heading to the University of Louisville for a college tour and discussion.

Secretary Arne Duncan told more than a dozen high school seniors from Louisville, Kentucky, on Thursday that the challenges they face in attending college will also be their badge of strength.

Secretary Duncan and Under Secretary Ted Mitchell talked with students in a round table at the University of Louisville during a stop on the Ready for Success bus tour aimed at helping students think about navigating the college experience. Many will be the first in their families to attend college, or to do so in this country, and they spoke of a variety of challenges – particularly, that while their parents want to support their college-going goals, they don’t know firsthand how to help.

A student whose parents immigrated from Tanzania spoke of the language barrier they face: “English is not their first language. Or their second. Or their third.”

Secretary Duncan told them that their role as pioneers should give them pride, and should be a source of strength for them – and, together with Under Secretary Mitchell, laid out tools that can help them, including the new College Scorecard.

All of the high school seniors were from nearby Jefferson County Public Schools – and, while they were all interested in attending college, some had fears about getting there. Unfortunately, fear prevents far too many academically-qualified young people from reaching their full potential beyond high school. More than half of high-achieving students from low-income families – 53 percent – never apply to schools with median SAT and ACT scores similar to their own. In fact, most students apply to just one, unselective school.

Secretary Duncan on a college tourAlongside University of Louisville Executive Director of Admissions, Jenny Sawyer, and Department of Education Under Secretary Mitchell, Secretary Duncan answered questions from high school seniors about the importance of higher education.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer joined the conversation, and Secretary Duncan praised his 55,000 Degrees initiative, which aims to help the city transition from manufacturing to innovation by increasing the number of college graduates in the city. He urged students to follow the guidance of Muhammad Ali, combining vision and effort: “Think big, and do the road work.”

Duncan urged students to remember that graduating, not merely  going to college, is the goal, and spoke of his own experiences being homesick when he went away to college at Harvard.

But the most electric moment came when Sawyer called out one of the students in the discussion and announced that he had been admitted to the University of Louisville.

Following the conversation, the Secretary joined the students on a campus tour, where dialogue continued.

All Americans – regardless of their zip code – deserve access to high-quality education that makes the journey to the middle class possible. The Obama Administration has taken several steps toward that goal, including simplifying the FAFSA, raising the maximum Pell Grant, introducing new tools and resources, and more.

Seeing Teacher Leadership in Action – #ReadyforSuccess in Cedar Rapids

Teach to Lead at Roosevelt

As an educator, there is great value in visiting classrooms and observing the profession of teaching in action. As a 6th grade teacher in California, I did this many times in my school. In my role as a Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow, I have the added opportunity to visit schools across the country, learning from a diverse set of colleagues.

This week, I visited classrooms in the state of Iowa as part of the Department’s annual back-to-school bus tour. Iowa recently implemented the Iowa Teacher Leadership Compensation System (TLC) which is designed to reward effective teachers with leadership opportunities and higher pay across the entire State. The Council Bluffs Community School District, where Superintendent Dr. Martha Bruckner set a vision for the year of “Defying Gravity”, and the Cedar Rapids Community School District were two of the first districts to receive state teacher leadership grants and are in their second year of implementation.

I observed four major elements of effective teacher leadership in both districts:

  • flexibility in developing systems and positions of leadership that work for individual district needs
  • student centered transparent collaboration among all stakeholders
  • support and guidance from school and district administration to successfully implement these systems, and
  • time and space for teachers to effectively collaborate with one another.

The classroom instruction, grade level collaboration, and professional development sessions that I observed in both districts made it clear that placing value on teacher leadership results in student success. One of the most significant drivers to this success was peer-coaching from a student centered perspective.  The coaching conversations we witnessed were focused on the needs of the students, not the deficits of the educator.  This perspective promotes a growth perspective for both teachers and students.

Duncan holds a sign with students at Roosevelt High in Cedar RapidsAt Roosevelt Middle School in Cedar Rapids, Secretary Arne Duncan observed a coaching session between Laura Zimmerman, an English Language Learner teacher, and Anne Ironside, an Instructional Design Strategist. During the session, the teacher and coach participated in a respectful post-observation lesson discussion of specific teaching strategies and evidence for the progress towards goals set for students. The coach shared feedback, asked clarifying questions, provided resources for future lessons, and kept the conversation focused around students. As a teacher, it was compelling to watch Secretary Duncan witness the power of teacher leadership and hear Principal Autumn Pino discuss the benefits of such teacher leadership opportunities, stating, “This has been the most rewarding work we’ve ever done.”

Following the session, the Secretary then held a panel discussion with state and local education leaders in about the development of the TLC system, the role of Teach to Lead in advancing their work, and the successes they have seen as a result of the tangible support teachers and administrators receive to be the instructional leaders in their buildings. Local leaders stressed that the driving force behind the district’s success is undoubtedly the support for teacher leadership, and they made it clear that sustaining teacher leadership initiatives is a continued priority for supporting student success.

After just two days among these Iowa school districts’ teacher leaders, it’s clear that schools are indeed “Defying Gravity” and it is systemic support for effective teacher leadership that is taking them to new heights.

Watch Secretary Duncan wrap up day two of the Ready for Success bus tour:

Aman Dhanda is a 6th grade teacher at Woodland Prairie Elementary School and is currently a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education.