Fixing No Child Left Behind (NCLB) “can’t be done in Washington time. It has to be in real people’s time,” said Secretary Duncan on Tuesday at Dayton’s Bluff Achievement Plus elementary school in St. Paul, Minn.
Duncan, joined at the school by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), was responding to a growing chorus of voices saying that NCLB should be fixed before the start of the upcoming school year. “We need Congress to work with a much greater sense of urgency,” the Secretary noted.
Duncan explained that NCLB is too punitive as well as too loose on goals and too tight on how schools can succeed. The Secretary repeated that the reauthorized law should allow creativity to flourish at the local level. “We won’t dictate curriculum from Washington,” he said. “We need to get out of the way.”
For more information on the Obama Administration’s proposal to fix NCLB, which is formally known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, read “A Blueprint for Reform” which President Obama released in March of 2010.
Agriscience teacher Terry Cornett uses his class to review math and science concepts.
Agriscience teachers prepare students for one of the nation’s oldest and most-rewarding industries: growing safe and healthy food. Terry Cornett makes agriscience come alive for his students at Liberty Middle School in a rural segment of Hanover, Va. A 30-year teaching veteran with tremendous enthusiasm and deep knowledge of his subject, Cornett has dramatically changed the way that agriscience is taught at our school, involving students in both the skills and mission of community farming.
Previously a physical science teacher, Cornett recognized how much his students struggled with math and science concepts. With that notion in mind, he incorporates more of those critical subjects into his agriscience teaching. “Teaching kids how to think and generalize concepts is vital,” Cornett said. “Agriscience allows me to teach cross-curricular (concepts). Students are gaining the theory from their content classes, then I am able to provide the opportunity for practical application in my class.” (Read how the Department’s Blueprint for Reform supports students receiving a complete education that includes science, technology, engineering, and math.)
To fully engage students in science, Cornett has encouraged them to become more involved with award recognition programs. This year, he has reintroduced FFA (formerly Future Farmers of America) into the agriscience program, and students grow and sell plants from the school’s greenhouse. They even had their organically grown greens used in salads offered in the school’s cafeteria.
Left to right: Students Chase Buchannon, Matt Downey, and Clay Welton cultivate their Farm to Table garden and their love of learning.
Under the “Farm to Table” banner and working with Liberty Middle’s home economics teacher, Cornett’s classes have become immersed in promoting locally grown agriculture through education, community outreach, and networking. Farm to Table enhances marketing opportunities for agriscience students; encourages family farming, farmers’ markets, and preservation of agricultural traditions; influences public policy; and furthers understanding of the links among farming, food, health, and local economies. In addition, Cornett is looking to get more involved with First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign next school year.
“Helping to keep traditions alive for our farming community is rewarding,” Cornett said.
This week, national organizations representing school boards, superintendents, principals, teachers, parents and other stakeholders sent Secretary of Education Arne Duncan a letter asking for regulatory relief from the No Child Left Behind Act. While Congress and the Obama administration work on reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to fix NCLB’s flaws, the organizations asked the Secretary to consider using his regulatory authority to alleviate some of NCLB’s flaws.
In a letter, 16 organizations from the Learning First Alliance wrote:
“Absent swift reauthorization of ESEA, LFA member organizations urge the Department of Education to explore its authority for offering regulatory relief around NCLB. Once those areas are identified, we would recommend that the department then engage in collaborative discussions with our individual member organizations – as well as other interested stakeholders, including Congress – and focus on building consensus around proposals offering appropriate and immediate regulatory relief for the upcoming 2011-12 school year.”
Separately, two Learning First Alliance members, the American Association of School Administrators and the National School Boards Association, started gathering signatures for an online petition supporting “regulatory relief for the 2011-12 school year, and any efforts to rescind or modify current regulations and alleviate undue pressure on the nation’s schools.”
Secretary Duncan has been working closely with Congress to create a bipartisan bill to reauthorize ESEA. The President has called on Congress to pass an ESEA bill before the next school year begins. The Obama administration’s main goal is to change the accountability framework to fix the problems created by NCLB, which mislabels too many schools as low-performing and doesn’t reward successful schools.
The Secretary understands the frustrations of education stakeholders and shares their concerns about the slow pace of work in Congress. He remains committed to fixing NCLB so that its flaws are addressed as we move into the new school year.
Secretary Duncan stops at Randolph Elementary on Teacher Appreciation Day
No doubt about it, last week was a great time to be a teacher at the Department of Education. During Teacher Appreciation Week, the atmosphere brimmed with teacher focus and teacher gratitude.
All week our staff wrote pieces reflecting on the value of teachers. Arne Duncan opened the week with a video message thanking English teacher Darlene McCampbell and encouraging the nation to thank teachers. Later Duncan wrote an open letter to America’s teachers that triggered hundreds of impassioned comments from teachers and generated a robust debate around issues of testing, teacher evaluation and ways to strengthen the profession.
Assistant Secretary Thelma Melendez wrote an homage to her kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Silverman, and followed with a video message. Elizabeth Williamson, who works in Region III, posted a message thanking two teachers whose kindness changed her life, while Deputy Secretary Martha Kanter praised Miss Leverich, and Assistant Secretary Alexa Posny commended Mr. Otto. The president of the Future Educators Association, Leilani Bell, weighed in on our blog with a note of appreciation for Ms. de Costa. The Department also launched Twitter and Facebook campaigns to #thankateacher and sponsored a blog encouraging students to create videos thanking teachers. The #thankateacher tweets and retweets garnered a number of celebrity messages including those from Al Roker, Randi Weingarten, Kurt Warner, and Nancy Pelosi.
The week was also spent celebrating teaching and talking with teachers about issues they face in the classroom. Arne Duncan began Teacher Appreciation Day with a surprise visit to the Arlington County Teacher of the Year at Randolph Elementary School, and he thanked all of the teachers at the school for making a difference in children’s lives. He also congratulated the State Teachers of the Year at a ceremony in their honor at Rose Garden of the White House with President Obama.
On Thursday, the Teaching Ambassador Fellows hosted the Teachers of the Year at the Department for roundtable discussions about important issues in education and a Town Hall with senior staff. New Jersey Teacher of the Year, Danielle Kovach, captured her experience at the roundtable and Town Hall in a post on our Strengthening Teachers Page. While at the Department, several of the Teachers of the Year also took a few minutes to record short videos thanking teachers who had changed the trajectory of their lives.
Besides our respect and admiration for these teachers, the Department of Education offered teachers something that they can use every day of the school year: relief from No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Following the Town Hall, the teachers viewed a preview of a new video entitled “A Teacher’s Guide to Fixing No Child Left Behind,” which explains the President’s plan to solve many problems created by the flawed law, including an over-reliance on testing, narrowing of the curriculum, and evaluating teachers based on one limited measurement.
Over cake afterward, teachers commented that when we truly fix NCLB, every day will be a great day to be a teacher.
Receiving input directly from educators is a high priority for the Department of Education and the Obama administration, which is why the White House recently invited a group of teachers to the White House to participate in a roundtable discussion as part of their “Champions of Change series: Winning the Future Across America.” The White House’s weekly series spotlights individuals who have done extraordinary things in their communities, and teachers came from across the country to discuss with senior administration officials the need for transformational change within the educational system to turn the teaching profession into an “iconic profession.”
Champions of Change roundtable discussion at the White House
“As educators we can and should have a voice in moving student learning forward not only in our own classrooms and schools, but in the broader landscape of policy as well,” said roundtable attendee Kris Woleck, a K-5 Mathematics Coordinator at the New Canaan Public Schools in New Canaan, Conn., and a former ED Teaching Ambassador Fellow. Woleck noted that the most powerful part of the discussion “was the opportunity to hear about the work of so many other tremendous educators from across the country.
To hear each of them share not only their experiences but also their insights into the solutions and next steps that might support education in this country was inspiring. It brought me great pride to know that as a teacher, I have colleagues who have such a voice and the potential to make impact on policy at the national level, in their states, and in their local districts.
Tracey Van Dusen, another Champion of Change, an AP Government and American Studies teacher at Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow explained that senior administration officials were eager to hear ideas from teachers:
We discussed the desire for more effective communication and partnerships with parents, differentiated professional development opportunities, and improved evaluation and accountability systems.
After attending the conference, Lisa Coates, a teacher at Liberty Middle School in Hanover, Va., and an ED Teaching Ambassador Fellow, noted that the most powerful movement in education reform can start within the communities we work. “Everyone has to play a part in their communities to out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world,” she said.
Teachers across the nation are working tirelessly to provide, safe, high-quality learning environments in classrooms to help secure America’s competiveness in the 21st century and are the true “champions of change.”
For more information on the Champions of Change series, including a video of Kris, Tracey, and Lisa, visit whitehouse.gov/champions.
Test obsession, narrow curricula, blaming teachers—these are a few of the problems created by the No Child Left Behind law that are unpacked in this animated video available online now.
The video details some of the problems created by NCLB and describes President Barack Obama’s proposal to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and solve them. Written by a teacher at the U.S. Department of Education, the video offers a vision that strengthens teaching, narrows achievement gaps, raises standards, and prepares all students for colleges and careers in a global economy. It includes video clips of Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
When it comes to reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), “we have to raise the bar,” Secretary Duncan told a group of parents, students, teachers and community leaders earlier last week at a town hall meeting at John F. Kennedy High School in Silver Spring, Maryland. Congressman Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Montgomery County Superintendent of Schools Jerry Weast and Kennedy Principal Eric Minus joined the Secretary at the event where participants weighed in on how decision makers at the local, state and federal level can strengthen our educational system and prepare all students to be college and career ready.
Participants in the town hall meeting discussed several issues such as the importance of a well-rounded curriculum, ways to effectively engage parents in schools, and the role of testing and its emphasis in schools. One participant asked “what was best about the current law and what absolutely had to change” for us to improve and succeed. Duncan stated that the current law has been successful in unmasking racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps, but that overall the current law is far too punitive with too many ways for schools to be labeled failures and no incentives for schools to strive for excellence.
Secretary Duncan noted that the Obama Administration is committed to fixing No Child Left Behind and replacing it with an ESEA reauthorization that is fair and flexible. In March, President Obama called on Congress to fix NCLB this year, saying, “let’s seize this education moment. Let’s fix No Child Left Behind.”
When I go to events, I like checking out the crowd, to take their temperature and learn their priorities.
At Princeton, students don t-shirts that read, “Help us close the achievement gap.” They are part of an organization called “Students for Educational Reform.” Congressional members, professors, dignitaries, local teachers, and educational leaders sit in this wood-paneled hall of deep thought.
Maryann Woods-Murphy is the 2010 New Jersey State Teacher of the Year
The president of Princeton University, Shirley Tilghman, introduces Secretary Duncan as “the most assertive secretary of education we’ve ever had.”
Arne takes the podium and informs the Princeton crowd that he had really wanted to attend this university but that the Princeton coach didn’t feel that he had what it took to play basketball on the team. He went to Harvard instead.
The anecdote is telling. If one door closes, the secretary will open another. This is not a man who is easily convinced that he doesn’t have what it takes or that his goals are impossible.
And now, as the U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan is on the stage urging us to “work together in ways that we haven’t before.” He calls us to get over “adult dysfunction” and “use collective bargaining to drive student achievement, to raise the bar to close the achievement gap.”
America used to be number one in the world for college graduation rates in the world and now we’ve slipped to number 9. It’s a matter of national security, he warns. Right now, less than 25% of students can qualify to enter our own military services. “We have to get better faster” because “businesses are going to go where the knowledge workers are.”
Secretary Duncan at Princeton University
He cites Illinois as a place we should look at as a model of collaborative educational decision-making. We need to get past the “heated rhetoric” that is not helpful to our goals.
As a life-long teacher, this is music to my ears. My teaching colleagues need to be energized and assured that teachers are important, that we are the “nation builders” that President Obama called us in his State of the Union.
It’s inspiring to hear the Secretary remind us that poverty is not destiny in America. He urges us to “look over the horizon,” and past our fiscal woes, to recruit the best teachers possible, teachers who believe in the innate potential in every child.
That’s our common ground. My take away from the Secretary’s talk? We must have “honest conversations along the continuum.” We need to open doors.
(Left to right) Back: Seniors Maura Nestor, Miwa Haraguchi, Ashley Holleran, Leah Haines, Eilis McGovern, teacher Maryann Woods-Murphy, Sarah Stettin, Tom Grueter, Scott Waxenbaum, Fred Tracy; front: Dan Abraham, Tom Wolff, Connor Pilkington
The poster behind each speaker’s chair reads, “If you want to make a difference in the life of a child, TEACH.”
The atmosphere buzzes at 200 Washington Avenue in Newark, as we wait for Secretary Arne Duncan, Mayor Cory Booker, and Congressman Donald Payne to arrive to our teacher town hall.
In the meantime, teachers in the front rows introduce themselves.
“I train pre-service teachers.”
“I’m a Spanish teacher.”
“I’m a principal of a charter school.”
We stop abruptly, however, and spin around to face front as the U.S. Secretary of Education takes his seat with fellow leaders. We are all thinking about how educational decisions affect the students and teachers we know.
When Secretary Duncan speaks, he offers a challenge to Newark: in five years, Newark should become an educational model for the nation. Lots of smiles and nods around the room.
“I welcome the debate, the dialog,” says Duncan, as he looks directly into the crowd.
Teaching must be elevated to a level of national respect to attract and retain the hardest working, most committed teachers, he says. With creativity, energy and hard work, we’ll stop “perpetuating poverty” and we’ll work with the necessary “sense of urgency.”
He reports that post-Katrina New Orleans is now improving faster or as fast as any school district in the country. “Can Newark come together to get better faster?” Secretary Duncan looks around the room. His style is personal and open, but it is clear that he means business.
Arne tells a story about President Obama’s meeting with the President of South Korea. When President Obama asked him to describe the biggest challenge he faces in education in his country, the leader of South Korea exclaimed, “My parents are too demanding!”
That gets a chuckle around the room, but it also makes us think. We reflect on what being that demanding means. We know that when parents and teachers work together in an atmosphere of the highest expectations, it’s better for kids. We just needed to be reminded.
The April 20 Teacher Town Hall meeting was a call to action. The Department of Education can inspire a sense of urgency, provide funds to create innovative programs, set the tone. But, it’s up to usthe educators, parents and students around the countryto get up every day to do this work.
“It’s not about got ya,” said the Secretary, “it’s about continued development.”
Being a teacher has never held greater challenge and promise.
In education, teacher union reform is a constellation of ideas and practices from proactive labor leaders to enhance student learning and empower teachers to improve policy. By bringing the voice of the practitioner to the table, unions have historically been a powerful force in education.
The Teacher Union Reform Network (TURN) is a nationwide network of more than 50 union locals promoting progressive reforms in education and in teacher unions – to improve student achievement, increase teacher connectivity, and elevate teachers’ voices in the reform debate. TURN is not only a national network; the group has been developing a network of regional satellites which meet at least twice a year.
I was in Boston on April 15 and 16 for the national TURN meeting. As a Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow for the Department of Education as well as president of my local in Vermont, the Washington Central Education Association, and a board director for VT-NEA, I have a foot in two worlds. It was fascinating to participate in this meeting from this dual perspective.
TURN members are curious about a wide variety of innovative ideas. We heard from Harvard economist Ron Ferguson on the role of student evaluation of teachers. According to Ferguson, this data correlates with student achievement and can be a useful part of a menu of multiple measures for improving teaching. Author Patrick Dolan gave a penetrating structural analysis of the contemporary teacher union landscape that for me had considerable explanatory force. With skill and aplomb that brought this tough audience to their feet, American Federation of Teachers (AFT) president Randi Weingarten delivered a message that our unions can no longer go it alone, that we must build bridges to other stakeholder communities.
Jo Anderson is a senior official in the Office of the Secretary who assists unions with their reform efforts.
The US Department of Education had a strong presence at this meeting in the person of Jo Anderson, a senior advisor to Secretary Arne Duncan. His role at the Department in part is to assist unions to deal creatively and proactively with education reform. Jo is a critical friend of TURN, and a longtime leader of the group in his former role as Executive Director of the Illinois Education Association. Jo centered his remarks on three events.
At the Department’s February 2011 labor-management conference in Denver, ED worked with unions, boards and administrators to build capacity for new collaborative relationships that put great student outcomes first. As I wrote in a previous blog entry, this “was the Department of Education at its best, connecting people, ideas and resources and setting a vision for change.”
The March 2011 International Summit on the Teaching Profession in New York City highlighted the achievements of 15 nations that exceeded the United States on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) results. Jo emphasized that many of these countries have strong teacher unions that all give practitioners voice in the way education is delivered and regard teachers as valued professionals. The picture that emerged from the summit is consistent with the goals of the United States’ two national unions, AFT and NEA.
Jo also spoke of the pending school reform legislation in Illinois, which emerged through the collaboration of a broad coalition of stakeholders, including the state’s teacher unions. While he was not at the forefront of these efforts in Illinois because of his current role at the Department, there is no doubt that Jo’s many years of work in Illinois contributed to the collaborative infrastructure that made this agreement possible. The Illinois legislation stands in stark contrast to more combative processes in Wisconsin, Ohio and Florida.
Jo’s exposition of these three events presents an alternative narrative to the efforts of extremists to destroy teacher unions. It is apparent to me as a union leader that the Department views our unions as valued partners in the process of improving education and is willing to invest in our capacity to change so that we can be full participants in a constructive process that leads to great student learning.
What constructive role do you see for unions in education reform?
What suggestions do you have for how the Department can build the capacity of stakeholders to participate meaningfully in the great policy debates of our time?
Steve Owens is a Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow in Calais, Vermont.
At Kenmore Middle School to hear President Obama are Hope Street Group Education Director Alice Johnson Cain and members Dina Rock, Darcy Moody, Lisa Mills, Sam Row, and Doug Clark
Ed note: Throughout the month of March, President Obama, Vice President Biden and Secretary Duncan highlighted the importance of investing in education to win the future. On March 14, the President spoke at Kenmore Middle School in Arlington, Va., about the importance of reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act—commonly referred to currently as No Child Left Behind—in a way that is fair, flexible and focused.
Below, one teacher in the audience at Kenmore, Dina Rock of Solon, Ohio, shares her thoughts on the Obama administration’s Blueprint for Reform.
President Obama inspired me as I listened to him speak at Kenmore Middle School in Arlington, Va., a couple of weeks ago. The President affirmed that No Child Left Behind’s (NCLB)—goals to help all students to learn are right. “It’s the strategies,” he said, that took a wrong turn. That resonated with me because I have long felt that NCLB had great intentions, but that the law’s unintended consequences have derailed its original goals.
As President Obama and Secretary Arne Duncan spoke of the need to have effective teachers in the classroom, I found myself nodding in agreement and thinking that we must move toward having thoughtful and sound evaluations for teachers, not just ones based on test scores, but evaluations that take other variables into consideration.
There is a myth that teachers don’t want change and accountability. Actually, we welcome it. As a teacher in my 23rd year, who still loves to teach, I can tell you that many teachers are reform-minded. We long for change. Perhaps part of our problem is that we’ve been down the reform road before. Our classrooms are filled with binders stuffed with the latest greatest “philosophy” of the month, all with the intention of transforming education, but rarely is there any follow through.
I suppose I would be thoroughly jaded by now, if it weren’t for the game-changing work I’ve done with the nonprofit Hope Street Group over the past two years. Together, teacher leaders from around the country have collaborated for months to create a set of eight thoughtful and important recommendations for teacher evaluation systems. Being involved with other teachers in this process of reform, rather than having it imposed on me, has made a tremendous difference. I am hopeful that teacher groups like Hope Street can begin to look at the real issues and strengthen teaching so that it becomes a revered, iconic profession.
As long as the President and Arne Duncan are transforming education with teachers, instead of doing it to us, I am in. All in.
Dina Rock teaches 5th and 6th Grade at Agnon Elementary School in Beachwood, Ohio.
A Rural U.S. Principal Reflects on Collective Lessons from the Closing Session of the International Summit on the Teaching Profession.
I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the closing session of the International Summit on the Teaching Profession in New York City on March 17. I found it encouraging that so many of the goals and concerns of educators in the United States are shared by educators around the world.
As an educator from a rural area In Washington, I often feel that much of the national discussion on education involves issues of our urban areas, but I am beginning to see that the challenges are in some ways universal. We all face the need to raise student achievement and close gaps, whether in rural or metropolitan settings, in Europe or Africa.
• One panelist observed that in all countries, the quality of education cannot exceed the quality of our teachers. This is why it is so important that we all find ways to improve our quality of teacher preparation programs and share with each other what is working.
• Another panelist reminded educators that student learning is the only real aim of our work, and it seemed that her words ring as true in India as they do in Brazil.
• One participant commented that the changing times have required her country to focus on transforming the curriculum so that the skills students learn arm them to compete in the globally competitive marketplace. In rural areas of Washington, I have struggled with limited resources to meet this challenge, but I imagine there are teachers in Japan going through the same thing.
A panelist from Norway encouraged me, when he/she urged that as we seek to improve education reform, we must respect and listen to teachers and give them autonomy while building trust. Trust is something that is earned every day, vertically and horizontally, among teachers and administrators, working all as professionals. Trust is a universal value, globally understood and appreciated.
By Tamra Jackson
Tamra Jackson is 2009-2010 Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow for the U.S. Department of Education. She currently serves as the principal Bridgeport High School, a remote rural high school in Bridgeport, WA.