Secretary Duncan meets Montgomery Blair High School students
We want to recruit the next generation of excellent teachers to lead our nation’s classrooms was the clear refrain for the day when Secretary Arne Duncan joined Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel, Montgomery County Superintendent of Schools Jerry Weast, local leaders, elected officials and distinguished educators at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Maryland, to celebrate the 89th anniversary of American Education Week.
American Education Week—historically observed during the first full week before Thanksgiving—honors teachers and support professionals who have dedicated themselves to the education of young people. Duncan, O’Malley and Van Roekel visited Blair High School on November 18th to serve as the school’s guest Educators for a Day and led two student forums where they discussed the importance of education and urged Blair students to consider the teaching profession as a career.
Students asked the panel a number of insightful questions from the focus on standardized testing to the priorities for the O’Malley and Obama administrations to the support for alternative certification programs like Teach for America. Secretary Duncan focused on the urgent need to recruit America’s best and brightest students to the profession and to help revitalize and transform public education in America. “We’re going to need over a million new teachers in this country,” stated Duncan. Due to current population trends, “we need more teachers of color, and more men.”
In response to the impending teacher shortage, the U.S. Department of Education recently launched the TEACH campaign to encourage Americans, especially minorities, to pursue careers in teaching. To learn more about the TEACH campaign and to view public service announcements (PSAs) by celebrities, Administration officials and local leaders, visit www.teach.gov. The site provides information and resources for students and prospective teachers—including a new interactive “pathway to teaching” tool designed to help individuals chart their course to becoming a teacher. More than 7,000 teacher job listings also are posted on the site.
View a video about the event posted by Montgomery County Public Schools, or see our photos.
Nick Greer discusses benefits of teaching with juniors at Montgomery Blair High School.
Low pay. Annoying kids. Disrespect. Long hours. These are some of the reasons eleventh-grade journalism students gave me for why they don’t consider teaching as a career option.
This discussion with high school students took place yesterday when I joined U.S. Education Secretary Duncan, Maryland’s Governor Martin O’Malley, and National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel at Maryland’s Montgomery Blair High School to celebrate American Education Week and encourage young people to think about careers in education.
As a teacher who now temporarily works in the policy world as a Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow, I felt invigorated to walk the halls of a school again and to spend time talking with students. While the energy that the students provided reminded me of the joys of teaching, I was disheartened to hear their reasons for rejecting education as a career option.
The students’ remarks remind of how challenging it is to recruit new teachers. My decision to become a teacher was an extremely personal one. I knew I would have to give up many of the amenities available to my friends. When I chose to teach, I relinquished the high salaries that typically come with a science degree, the flexibility to be present for many evening and weekend social events, and the ability to work from home on days when I am sick.
What I gained from this decision—and what I told the students at Montgomery Blair—was the ability to alter the lives of others permanently.
I think of a student, Miles, who came to my class in ninth-grade without the skills necessary to succeed in school, including the ability to sit still, read for extended periods of time, and get organized. Through persistence and hard work, Miles made it to his senior year, and he has picked out a few colleges that we will visit over the winter. Will Miles make a success of his life? Only he can answer that. I can, however, say that I have helped to develop the skills within him to allow him to be successful.
When I’m asked why I chose teaching over a career in science – I draw from one of over 500 Miles’ stories that I have from eight years in the classroom. I urge people of all ages to become teachers and begin cataloging their own stories of inspiration. Perhaps through telling our personal stories we will recruit the next generation of teachers.
Nicholas Greer is a Teaching Ambassador Fellow and science on loan from the Baltimore City Schools to work for one year in the U.S. Department of Education. He currently serves in the Office of the Secretary where he is involved in a campaign to recruit teachers.
Panelists participating in the briefing at the National Press Club pose before a follow-up presentation on Capitol Hill. From left to right: Andrea Thomas-Reynolds, Jonathan Eckert (moderator), Claudia Perez, Michael Savage, Roseanne Lopez, Dennis Dotterer, and Amy Holcombe.
Representatives from six school districts that received Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) grants from the U.S. Department of Education held a panel discussion Monday, Nov. 15 at the National Press Club to share their experiences and insights from implementing pay-for-performance evaluations systems for teachers.
The panelists represented the six sites outlined in the report and presented promising preliminary data showing increased student achievement, wide stakeholder support, improvements in recruitment and retention, and positive changes in school culture.
As often happens during these events, some of the more interesting information rose out of the question-and-answer session, where audience members had a chance to bring up sticking points. The panel addressed two great questions that NEA representative David Schein raised.
Dr. Jonathan Eckert is a professor in the education department at Wheaton College where he is helping to prepare the next generation of great teachers.
How do school districts deal with problems of using data to evaluate and pay teachers, including issues of transparency, bias, and missing information? Panelists addressed this issue a number of ways. Amy Holcombe (Guilford County, N.C.) described her district’s program, which includes a data quality plan to ensure transparency and the use of good data. She said that before the numbers are run for an individual class, the classroom teacher gets a chance to scrutinize and scrub the data, to weed out scores that may not be valid if, for example, a student has been at the school for only two weeks. Holcombe advised that giving teachers the right to challenge the data on their students builds educators’ trust. They also feel trust, she added, because they know that the scores are examined in terms of both growth and achievement level.
Dennis Dotterer, director of TAP [the System for Teacher and Student Advancement developed by the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching] for South Carolina, reported that his state relies on multiple points of data, not just one set of test scores, to evaluate a teacher’s knowledge, responsibilities, and contributions to student growth. This approach is consistent with President Obama’s Blueprint for Reform, which calls for multiple measures and an emphasis on student growth. According to Mr. Dotterer, because no single high-stakes test determines how well teachers are doing in South Carolina, they have more control over their evaluations. He also emphasized that his state goes to “great lengths to be sure that everyone understands the model” for evaluation.
Other participants stressed how a shift in thinking and culture has helped teachers to feel more comfortable with the use of data. Claudia Perez, a master and mentor teacher at Pan American Charter in Philadelphia, described how the challenge of accelerating student growth helps teachers to work together and become less competitive.
Mike Savage, principal of Audelia Creek Elementary in Dallas, concurred and described how the culture of his school has changed under its pay-for-performance system. “Teachers don’t focus on compensation” much anymore, he said. Mr. Savage went on to explain that the “payouts at first were widely disparate.” Now that the staff have gotten used to the system, and they enjoy its success, Mr. Savage reports that the payouts are more consistent and teachers focus on helping each other get better so that the whole school succeeds as a team. Savage is the head of one of 27 TIF-funded schools in Dallas, and his school has gone from a rating of almost “academically unacceptable” to “exemplary” in just a few years.
How do districts receiving TIF grants deal with the fact that the current TIF grants will expire? To face this challenge, panelists reported that they are realigning their funding sources to funnel money toward what actually works. “We can’t be all things to all people. We have to work more strategically,” said Dr. Andrea Thomas-Reynolds (Algiers, La.). In South Carolina, Mr. Dotterer said that this means talking with legislators and the state school board about channeling money into paying teachers for outstanding performance. Roseanne Lopez (Tuscon, Ariz.) agreed but added, “We also know that we need a good base salary, a strategy to pay teachers more equitably with other professions.”
Laurie Calvert is Washington Teacher Ambassador Fellow on loan from teaching high school English in Candler, NC
Secretary Duncan and Brandon Taylor celebrate education. Brandon, a 4th grader at Christa McAuliffe Elementary School in Germantown, Maryland, introduced both Arne Duncan and special guest Melody Barnes.
Outstanding teachers and principals from the 2010 Blue Ribbon Schools gathered in Washington this week for a two-day celebration in their honor. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and other officials offered their congratulations to representatives from the 250 public and 64 private schools named in this year’s competition.
“I thank all of you for the example you set for me, and I thank all of you for the example you set for the country,” Duncan said.
The U.S. Department of Education’s Blue Ribbon Schools Program honors public and private elementary, middle and high schools whose students achieve at very high levels or have made significant progress and helped close gaps in achievement, especially among disadvantaged and minority students. During the ceremony, 10 of the principals also received the Bell Award, an additional distinction recognizing their outstanding leadership in fostering successful teaching and learning.
Duncan acknowledged the important role that principals play in creating the conditions under which teachers can succeed in the classroom. “We have no good schools in this country without good principals, and, I assure you, we have no great schools without great principals,” he said.
As part of the two-day Blue Ribbon event, Teacher Ambassador Fellows from the Department of Education facilitated five round-table forums with Blue Ribbon principal and teachers, helping them to collaborate from one another on issues of great importance to teachers such as parent/community engagement and developing and evaluating great teachers.
Melody Barnes, the President's Domestic Policy Advisor, brought President Obama's support for education reform and said that he is committed to working with Congress to make the American education system "the envy of the world."
The two-day event also included a surprise guest – Melody Barnes, the President’s Domestic Policy Advisor and the Director of the Domestic Policy Council in the White House, who brought greetings from President Obama.
“Thank you for your hard work to make our schools better – for everything you do to make sure our children succeed,” Ms. Barnes said. “And I want you to know that you are not alone. The President is prepared to work with teachers, principals and parents; governors, mayors and superintendents; business and philanthropic leaders; and the Congress to ensure that once again the American education system is the envy of the world, our children are prepared for bright futures and our country is able to compete and win on the world stage.”
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and England Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove discuss the common challenges of school reform in the United States and England.
This week, I traveled to London where I met with England’s Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove and several of England’s education leaders to discuss our common challenges and goals for reforming education. We talked about our shared understanding of education that education is a moral responsibility and an economic imperative.
We also face common challenges. Like the United States, England’s education progress has fallen behind international peers over the past decade. England also is struggling to turn around low-performing schools and is working to prepare and recruit the next generation of talented principals and teachers.
Throughout our discussions, I found that the U.S. and England are taking similar approaches to addressing these challenges and we have much to gain from sharing our experience.
Like the Department of Education, England’s education department works with local school officials to identify and turnaround low-performing schools. One method is to close a school down and reopen it as an academy, an independently managed school run by sponsors from business, faith or charitable organizations.
I had the opportunity to visit one of the most successful academies, Mossbourne Community Academy. Mossbourne was formerly Hackney Downs School before it closed. Hackney was known as one of the worst schools in England, having fallen victim to the neighborhood violence and poverty that surrounded the school. In 2004, Mossbourne opened in its place under the leadership of Sir Michael Wilshaw who helped implement dramatic improvements by extending the school day, creating professional working groups for teachers and building a culture of high expectations around academic performance and positive behavior. This year more than 90 percent of Mossbourne students taking the national exam received the highest rating. During a brief classroom visit, a group of 11th graders shared their appreciation for the Mossbourne school environment. They told me they feel “challenged” and “cared for” by adults. Mossbourne and schools like it, in both England and the United States, are testaments to the ability of adults to transform the lives of students.
Education leaders across the world share a common goal to empower our youth and invest in our nation through education. As I continue to meet with leaders from England and other countries, I look forward to learning about their experiences so we can pursue their best ideas in the United States.
Secretary of Education made his first official trip to Europe this week. After his visit to England, he travelled to Paris for meetings with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.
That was a key message from Peter Cunningham, ED’s assistant secretary for communications and outreach, to arts educators, government and cultural leaders and others assembled for remarks at the “Ohio Imagination Conversation,” part of a Lincoln Center Institute national initiative to put imagination, creativity and innovation at the center of American education in Columbus, Ohio on October 14. The assistant secretary discussed the Obama Administration’s commitment to strengthening education in the fine arts as a part of a well-rounded curriculum, alongside reading, math, writing, history and the sciences.
In my role as a 2010-2011 Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow, I had the unique opportunity to support Assistant Secretary Cunningham in a variety of outreach efforts in Columbus, culminating with his remarks at the Columbus Museum of Arts and a subsequent Q & A session. I enjoyed the chance to step out of my normal professional area of high school-level social studies during a whirlwind day of listening and learning about examples of innovation and excellence in arts education and elementary reading.
Assistant Secretary Cunningham, ED regional representative (from Chicago) Julie Ewart and I began the day at West Franklin Elementary School to observe a “Reading Recovery” lesson in action. Ohio State University’s Reading Recovery program is one of only four i3 “scale-up” grant winners designed to support local efforts to expand research-based innovative programs with strong records of success. Patience, a first grader with delightfully expressive reading style, demonstrated the Reading Recovery technique with a third-year West Franklin reading teacher training to teach Reading Recovery. Those of us at the secondary level can attest to the importance of early intervention to support struggling readers, and I look forward to hearing about this program’s expansion to almost 500,000 more students over the next five years.
Prior to the “Imagination Conversation,” Assistant Secretary Cunningham and I had a conversation with a mix of K-12 arts teachers, higher education faculty members, government officials, museum staffers, and non-profit representatives. I was impressed with the educators’ thoughtful comments in describing their best practices and challenges. Several teachers reinforced the significance of arts education to problem-solving and critical thinking, suggesting that the arts be added to STEM initiatives, making them STEAM. Some participants expressed strong frustration with No Child Left Behind, with one arguing that testing under the current law is “sucking the life and curiosity out of our children.”
Just before his keynote address, we went to historic East High School, where Assistant Secretary Cunningham delivered greetings from Secretary Duncan to the Columbus City Schools at their annual “State of the Schools” meeting. Columbus is the largest school district in Ohio, and its superintendent, Dr. Gene Harris, is one of the longest serving urban superintendents in the nation. Under her leadership, CCS has increased two ratings in the overall state report card to “Continuous Improvement” and has improved its graduation rate by 18%.
My favorite comment of this energizing day occurred at the end of the Q&A session following the assistant secretary’s address. After listening to the audience’s reflections on their practices and the state of education reform, Cunningham thanked the assembled educators for their hard work and passion, summing up the administration’s goals for teacher improvement by saying, “We want to put great people in the classroom, and then try to stay out of their way.”
President Barack Obama meets with the student finalists of the NFTE National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge in the Oval Office. These students – four of who are still in high school – have all started new businesses and competed against 24,000 other young people in the competition.
President Obama is the first to recognize that not all good ideas come from adults, and that’s why for the second year in a row he offered his personal congratulations to the winners of a challenge organized by the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE).
NFTE organizes the National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge and has for years helped young individuals from low-income communities unlock their potential for entrepreneurial creativity. In a show of his support for the youthful innovators of our Nation, President Obama—as he did for last year’s NFTE winners—welcomed the five young winners of this year’s competition to the White House for a meeting with him, where he not only congratulated them but also picked their innovative brains. View the full press release from NFTE here (pdf).
The five winners of the Challenge are:
Nia Froome, a 17-year-old student from Valley Stream, NY, who won the grand prize for her business, Mamma Nia’s Vegan Bakery. Inspired by her mother’s battle with breast cancer, she says she plans to donate a portion of her winnings to Susan G. Komen for the Cure, in addition to investing in her business and education.
Bosnian immigrants Zermina Velic and Belma Ahmetovic, from Hartford, CT, who took First Runner-Up for their computer services company, Beta Bytes.
Crystal Vo of San Jose, CA, who won Second Runner-Up for her cake ball company, Sweet Tooth Bites,
Steven Gordon of Brooklyn, NY, who won NFTE’s first Online Elevator Pitch Challenge for his business, TattooID.
Since NFTE began in 1987, more than 330,000 people have been part of the program, which has activities going on in 21 states and ten countries.
At New Salem-Altmont High School, Secretary Duncan and Representative Earl Pomeroy watched as students attended an anatomy class where a lead instructor teaches students in five schools at once through satellite television. It is one way the school is using technology to overcome distance and increase access to quality instruction. The video technology empowers the different classrooms to see and hear one another, and students can interact with the teacher and one another.
The program is available to even more communities, preparing students for college and careers in places where certain courses may not be available otherwise, given the struggle to find science teachers in North Dakota as it is nationwide. This distance learning classroom is one of many innovative approaches rural schools are using to boost learning and accelerate achievement.
Secretary Duncan recognizes that small towns and rural schools face unique challenges and unique opportunities. They may have difficulty recruiting and retaining great teachers and offering a diverse array of courses, but the close-knit nature of their communities enables them to adopt changes quicker, get speedy approval to expand or replicate successful programs, and deliver more personalized instruction than in most urban districts.
The Obama administration’s proposal to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act would reauthorize the Rural Education Achievement Program and other programs that support reform in rural schools. Representative Pomeroy has introduced a bill to reauthorize REAP. The Department makes sure the federal government better supports schools in rural areas by promoting the use of technology to deliver content, giving schools and communities support for programs that meet their specific local needs, and improving technical assistance to ensure that rural districts aren’t disadvantaged in competitive programs.
Secretary Duncan challenged his audience at New Salem-Altmont High School to be a part of the solution. “I want to challenge you to think about what else can be done at the local level to prepare all students to be career-and college ready, to prepare all students to have the skills necessary to succeed in the global economy of the 21st century. … The challenges facing our small-town districts and schools are considerable, but so is the opportunity to reshape the status quo for the better for our children.”
Earlier today, Secretary Duncan and Congressman Fattah headlined a live, national event that celebrated and encouraged the work of GEAR UP projects across the country. GEAR UP is a grant program that assists students in obtaining a secondary school diploma as well as preparing for and succeeding in postsecondary education.
The event was held at Friendship Public Charter School (FPCS) in Washington and included video and audio connections with GEAR UP projects in Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Texas. The event was emceed by FPCS student Trayon Barber,
The event highlighted the work of the Pennsylvania GEAR UP project in the area of academic performance improvement, the North Carolina GEAR UP project’s use of data and the efforts of the Texas GEAR UP project to involve family in efforts to get students through high school and into college.
Secretary Duncan and Congressman Fattah said that they happy to hear that students in these GEAR UP programs were on track to graduate from high school and enroll in college. In particular, Congressman Fattah spoke out in favor of early college efforts that offer high school students the chance to earn college credits while still in high school. Secretary Duncan noted that “without a college education, many doors will be closed to you. With a college education, you can pursue your passion.”
When Secretary Duncan asked the students at FPCS if they planned to go to college, they all raised their hands.
Last week we were proud to join Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to announce the 21 Promise Neighborhoods planning grantees. The event in our nation’s capital was a great opportunity not only to publicly recognize the first cohort of Promise Neighborhoods, but also to acknowledge the efforts of all communities across the country engaged in the important work of building great schools and strong support systems for children and youth.
While we took time to congratulate the organizations receiving grants, we also recognized that these grantees are representative of a much broader movement of communities committed to Promise Neighborhoods approach. From the west in California, to the north to Minnesota, east to Massachusetts, and south to Mississippi, an analysis of the initial group of Promise Neighborhoods reflects the tremendous need and great potential of all the communities that applied for planning grants.
In large urban areas, mid-size cities, and rural towns, children in 21 Promise Neighborhoods face significant barriers to getting a great education. For example, in one neighborhood, residents require five times the rate of health services as the rest of the city. In another neighborhood, one in five children has an incarcerated parent. In another, a study found that only three percent of high school students are college eligible.
These statistics are not unique to Promise Neighborhoods grantees. In fact, they are just a sample of the challenges facing every community that applied for a planning grant, and the hundreds of others engaged in this movement.
Similarly, the grantees reflect the broader field of nonprofits, colleges, and universities that are working with districts and communities to turn around our country’s most persistently low-performing schools. Many of these organizations have strong leaders with years of experience and a clear and compelling vision for improving their communities. They are building new partnerships and sustaining existing collaborations, and continuing to break down silos between agencies and programs at the local level so that no child falls through the cracks.
The nearly $7 million in matching funds secured by the 21 grantees, which includes $2.3 million in contributions from foundations, businesses, and individuals, is only a small amount of the total funds committed to the more than 300 Promise Neighborhoods applicants.
In the next several weeks, we will post selected information about high‐scoring applications on our website. We encourage the supporters of these applications and all communities engaged in this work to maintain their commitments. There is a tremendous opportunity to fill the gap between the number of quality Promise Neighborhoods proposals and the limited planning grant funds available from the Department of Education to support those proposals.
In fact, some of the support for Promise Neighborhoods comes from other Federal agencies, which are doing their part to break down “silos” inside the Beltway. We were so encouraged to be joined at the announcement by Melody Barnes, the director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan, and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius. We also recognize the commitment and leadership of Attorney General Eric Holder. These leaders are not only supportive of the Promise Neighborhoods movement, but they are finding ways to align their assets with the program.
Whether or not a community applied for or received a planning grant this year, the Department of Education adds our voice to the chorus of supporters encouraging all communities to continue their efforts in this vein:
Build comprehensive plans to ensure each child in your community has the continuum of support they need to be successful from birth through college and career. Follow through on the partnerships required to deliver these plans and ultimately implement your community-based solutions.
Design models to provide new or expand highly-effective early learning opportunities, after-school and summer programs, and approaches to ensuring the health and safety of each child.
Identify research-based programs where possible and prepare to rigorously evaluate the promising but unproven elements of your plans.
Create clear metrics to determine whether progress is being made and use data to make decisions.
Work to “braid” public and private funding to ensure the sustainability of projects.
Most importantly, we encourage communities to continue to put providing high quality schools and other educational options at the center of their work.
As this movement grows, the innovative and comprehensive approach of Promise Neighborhoods will blaze the path to improving the lives and life outcomes of children and youth in distressed communities throughout our country.
Jim Shelton, Assistant Deputy Secretary, US Department of Education
Larkin Tackett, Deputy Director, Promise Neighborhoods
The U.S. Department of Education and the Corporation for National and Community Service are providing unprecedented support to states and communities to help turn around the nation’s chronically low-performing schools. We frequently talk with faith, national, and community service leaders who are eager to assist these school turnaround efforts, but many of them don’t know where to start.
This is why the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships teamed up with the Department of Education and the Corporation for National and Community Service to host a landmark White House Convening on the Role of Community-Based Organizations in Turning Around Low-Performing Schools. On September 20 we brought together a select group of national education, nonprofit, and faith leaders from across the country who are committed to the idea that we all play critical roles in turning around our nation’s lowest-performing schools. Joshua Dubois, Executive Director of the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and Patrick Corvington, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, launched the conversation by acknowledging expertise of the audience and letting them know this is the start to a working relationship between the agencies in support of the Administration’s goals.
The conversation was robust and thoughtful. “There is so much to learn about how to successfully and consistently turn around chronically under-performing schools. What we already know, however, is that we can do more to bring the right resources to the right schools, and that schools and systems lack the capacity to do this work alone. Community-based organizations have a huge role to play in both building local capacity and creating public support for reform.” said Justin Cohen, President of the School Turnaround Group at Mass Insight.
Participants discussed how to strengthen partnerships between school districts, schools, and community-based organizations. The group also identified promising ways that community and interfaith service initiatives can help transform schools through academics, youth development, social and health supports, and family engagement.
Zeenat Rahman from Interfaith Youth Core talked about how interfaith service can not only benefit schools but strengthen communities. “Faith communities have immensely high levels of social capital, and are an important resource to tap,” said Rahman, “Interfaith partnerships bridge and multiply this social capital.”
Eric Schwarz from Citizen Schools, Lucy Friedman from TASC, Dan Cardinali from Communities In Schools, and Lester Strong from Experience Corps discussed the way that national and community service brings much needed talent and leadership to schools, while boosting academic achievement. Several speakers outlined concrete steps to improve the coordination of supports in schools and to anchor those supports in research-based strategies. Elevating the paradigm of national, community, and interfaith service is the platform to transform our schools into centers of excellence for all of our children.
We’ll soon be sharing the results of the convening with schools systems, community, and faith organizations across the country. This meeting was just the beginning of this critical conversation, and we are excited to transfer this discussion into actions that will help transform low-performing schools.
Mara Vanderslice is the Deputy Director at The White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
To celebrate Constitution Day, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan joined civil rights leaders and educators at the Dorothy I. Height Community Public Charter School in Washington.
To celebrate Constitution Day, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan joined civil rights leaders and educators at the Dorothy I. Height Community Public Charter School in Washington. The speakers encouraged students to honor the freedoms provided by the Constitution by working hard to shape their own destiny.
Julieanna Richardson, the founder of HistoryMakers, kicked off the program, explaining that her motivation to study history came when she was embarrassed as a child in school. When everyone in her class was asked to describe their ancestors, Richardson had nothing to say. “Others talked about their rich European heritage,” she explained, but the only African Americans she had learned about were George Washington Carver and slaves. The experience later motivated Richardson to begin the HistoryMakers project, which is a 7,000-hour video archive of testimony from well-known and unsung African American heroes.
Both Secretary Duncan and featured speaker Rev. Al Sharpton said that as children they were inspired by great African American leaders, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Dorothy I. Height, for whom the school is named.
Roger Wilkins, who worked with Dr. King and other civil rights leaders in the 1950s and 1960s, described growing up in a segregated Kansas City in the 1930s and attending a segregated school with a roof so leaky that rain dripped into his classroom.
The speakers urged students to not let their circumstances or backgrounds determine their future. “If you work hard and get a good education, there is nothing you can’t achieve,” Duncan said. Sharpton echoed Duncan, reminding students not to take short cuts along the way. “Talent is good,” he said, “but undisciplined talent is a disaster.”
In a question-and-answer session, Secretary Duncan described the importance of remembering the Constitution and using it to make decisions for today. “The signing of the Constitution was a seminal moment in our country’s history,” he said. “We learn about what to do now by studying history.”
Principal Kent Amos, who left a successful career at Xerox to start the Dorothy I. Height Charter School, introduced a class of students who would be leaving later in the day to continue their study of the Constitution at a local history museum. Learn more about Constitution Day.