Secretary Duncan Visits Charlotte, North Carolina

Secretary Duncan visited Sterling Elementary School in Pineville, NC, where he visited classes, talked with students and teachers, and participated in a discussion on turning around low-performing schools.

Secretary Duncan visited Sterling Elementary School in Pineville, NC, where he visited classes, talked with students and teachers, and participated in a discussion on turning around low-performing schools.

Secretary Duncan delivered keynote remarks at the 2010 Fall Conference for Community Foundations in Charlotte, North Carolina on September 15. The conference, “Powering Communities,” was designed to foster a national dialogue about how the philanthropic sector and community foundations can most effectively advance the public good through grants, strategic planning, leadership development, technology and best practices.

After the conference, Secretary Duncan joined Governor Bev Perdue and State Board Chairman Bill Harrison for a visit to Sterling Elementary School in Pineville, where they visited classes, talked with students and teachers, and participated in a discussion on turning around low-performing schools.

See photos.

President’s Back-to-School Speech Sparks Teachable Moment for Dual-Roled Educator

Teaching Ambassador Fellow Tracey Van Dusen uses the President's back-to-school speech as a teachable moment in her Advanced Placement Government class.

President Obama’s back-to-school address, delivered in a Philadelphia auditorium, was made a teachable moment for high school students who watched the live broadcast of the speech in their Ann Arbor, Michigan, classroom through the efforts of teacher Tracey Van Dusen, recently appointed by Secretary Duncan as a 2010-2011 Teaching Ambassador Fellow (TAF).

“Several students said they liked the way the President related his own less-than-perfect school experiences to really personalize it,” said Van Dusen, who remains a full-time government and history teacher at Pioneer High School while serving part-time in the TAF corps, described by the Secretary as “the voice of teachers in the Department,” and “ambassadors to teachers, students and parents across the country.”

The President’s speech provided Van Dusen a perfect catalyst to integrate those dual roles by sharing her newly-honed insights into the real world of federal policymaking with her Advanced Placement Government class. Before the broadcast began, she walked students through a history of federal education policy in the U.S., from the days of one-room school houses to current education reforms like Race to the Top.

The veteran teacher was impressed with the way the President subtly wove messages about education reform into his speech.

“He drove home the importance of education at this point in history by talking about the real-life recession struggles that many families are experiencing, and linking that to students’ everyday school achievement and its potential impact on their future and on America’s future as we compete with other nations,” said Van Dusen.

Van Dusen’s lesson and Obama’s words sparked lively classroom dialogue on a variety of provocative topics, including the appropriate role of the federal government in education, the value of student testing, and what makes a great school. She looks forward to continuing that discussion in her future AP classes, and to expanding the conversation to students in other Pioneer government classes by incorporating the taped video of the President’s address and similar activities around it.

Donning her Teaching Ambassador Fellow “hat,” Van Dusen is excited about the future opportunities she’ll have to discuss federal initiatives with other educators in their districts and states, and to encourage their input into efforts to improve education at all levels of government.

Julie Ewart
Office of Communications and Outreach

Rethinking and Strengthening Arts Education

Arts in Education Week

September 12th to 18th is Arts in Education Week. The Congressional designation of Arts in Education Week is an important reminder of the essential role that the arts play in the well-rounded education that all American students deserve.

“The arts can no longer be treated as a frill,” said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in his remarks before the Arts Education Partnership (AEP) this past April. In the Secretary’s Listening and Learning Tour in 2009, he heard from teachers and parents that the curriculum has narrowed, especially in schools with disproportionate numbers of disadvantaged students. This led Secretary Duncan to tell his AEP audience of arts, education, government and philanthropic leaders that it is “the time to rethink and strengthen arts education.”

Arts in Education Week

Rethinking it begins with acknowledging the powerful role that regular academic experiences in the arts has for students, particularly economically disadvantaged students, in ways that transcend their accomplishments in the art studio or concert hall. A recent analysis [PDF, 158K] of data from the National Educational Longitudinal Survey (NELS:88) conducted by researchers at the University of California Los Angeles points to significant connections between high involvement in arts learning and general academic achievement. The study tracked students from eighth grade through their twenties and found that “arts-engaged” students from low-income families demonstrated greater college-ongoing rates and better grades in college. As an example, low-income students from arts-rich high schools were more than twice as likely to earn a B.A. as low-income students from arts-poor high schools.

Arts in Education Week

Moreover, the UCLA researchers found the students engaged in the arts were more likely to be employed in jobs with potential career growth and more involved in volunteerism and the political life of their communities. “These are big effects … [that] we would like to see more schools replicate,” says Secretary Duncan.

But we must strengthen the arts in all schools, not only to replicate the advantages in life and careers that the arts provide, but principally for the knowledge and skills that the arts uniquely embody as academic disciplines and that they impart on developing minds, bodies, and personalities. At the heart of a solid education in the arts are the appreciation of beauty and the aesthetic qualities of our lives and society; the ability to communicate the ineffable through images, music and movement; and the appreciation of diverse cultural expressions.

Arts in Education Week

In celebration of Arts in Education Week, the Arts Education Partnership is offering up-to-date information on actions that it and hundreds of schools, associations, and others are doing to heighten awareness of the importance of arts education. Our schools need to rethink and strengthen arts education. All our children need and deserve nothing less.

What is your school or district doing to rethink and/or strengthen arts education? Please share your comments below.

Doug Herbert
Office of Innovation and Improvement

Under Construction: Secretary Duncan Explains How the Education Department Is Promoting Reform

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty talk with students about their work in the auto shop at Weston Collegiate Institute.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty talk with students about their work in the auto shop at Weston Collegiate Institute.

Secretary Duncan travelled to Toronto yesterday to participate in a conference entitled “Building Blocks for Education: Whole System Reform.”

The event, which was sponsored by the Ontario Ministry of Education, brought together experts from across the world to discuss how to use a small number of policies and strategies to improve schools across an education system.

In his remarks, Secretary Duncan had two messages: First, the Obama administration has an ambitious and unified theory of action that propels our agenda. And, second, while the administration has an ambitious vision, there are no silver bullet answers and we must continue to learn and refine our work supporting the work of states, districts, and teachers.

“Systemic change, in short, takes time,” the Secretary said. “Yet I am convinced that the U.S education system now has an unprecedented opportunity to get dramatically better—and that nothing is more important in the long-run to American prosperity than boosting the skills and attainment of the nation’s students.”

The Obama administration’s agenda is built around the four areas of reform that are the center of Race to the Top and other programs under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act: college- and career-ready standards and assessments; improving the preparation, professional development, and evaluation of teachers and school leaders; building longitudinal data system that measure student growth over time and support instructional practice; and turning around our lowest-achieving schools.

Speakers representing several leading nations on education presented at the Toronto conference.

With funding from Race to the Top, 11 states and the District of Columbia are leading the way in reforms that are based on these building blocks. A total of 46 states created bold, comprehensive reform plans under the Race to the Top competition.

But Duncan acknowledged that the U.S. Department of Education doesn’t have all of the answers to help states.

He promised that the Department will revamp its technical assistance for states.

“We can never abandon our fiscal and compliance responsibilities,” the Secretary said. “But we are committed to establishing a different relationship with states—one more focused on providing tailored support to improve program outcomes.”

This was Duncan’s first official trip outside of the United States as Secretary. Before the conference, which also included speakers representing Australia, Finland and Singapore, he toured a Toronto high school that specializes in teaching students computer and manufacturing skills.

See the text of Secretary Duncan’s remarks.

Secretary Duncan Designates 304 Schools as 2010 Blue Ribbon Schools

Secretary Duncan at Blue Ribbon Schools event at School Without Walls

Secretary Duncan at Blue Ribbon Schools event at School Without Walls

Earlier today Secretary Duncan joined Washington, D.C., Mayor Adrian Fenty, D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, D.C. State Superintendent of Schools Kerri Briggs, George Washington University Provost Steven Lerman and staff and students at School Without Walls Senior High School in the District to announce the 304 schools throughout the nation designated as 2010 Blue Ribbon Schools. The schools – 254 public and 50 private – will be honored at an awards ceremony Nov. 15-16 in Washington, D.C.

“Our nation has a responsibility to help all children realize their full potential,” Duncan said. “Schools honored with the Blue Ribbon Schools award are committed to achievement and to ensuring that students learn and succeed. Their work reflects the conviction that every child has promise and must receive a quality education.”

The award 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. Each year since 1982, the U.S. Department of Education has sought out schools where students attain and maintain high academic goals, including those that beat the odds.

Watch the announcement ceremony below:

Click here for an accessible version of the video.

More Photos.

Uninsured Children: An Education Challenge

If there were millions of children in America whose families didn’t know they could enroll in school, we’d feel an urgent need to get the message out them, wouldn’t we? Well, that’s the situation with our nation’s health insurance program for children—five million children are eligible but they remain uninsured because of a lack of awareness.

This is an education problem on two levels. First, as I’ve suggested, we need to educate families about this option they have for health coverage. Second, if a child is not healthy, he or she cannot learn. There is nothing more important than ensuring that our nation’s children are safe and healthy.

I joined Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius last week to highlight the Connecting Kids to Coverage Challenge to enroll five million children in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) within five years. A phenomenal coalition of partners, ranging from state governors to national advocacy organizations, has stepped up to the challenge to enroll kids and educate families.

I want to thank my good friend Secretary Sebelius for her extraordinary leadership and unwavering commitment to ensure that everyone has access to excellent and affordable health care. Kathleen and her team have been phenomenal partners with the Department of Education on so many issues, from early learning programs to H1N1 flu. It is fair to say there has never been as much cooperation and collaboration among the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services as there is today.

We have also been working closely with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack on improving USDA’s school lunch program and have had a major role in the First Lady’s Let’s Move initiative—an effort that has ushered in an unprecedented wave of attention and action to tackle the issues around childhood obesity.

On the issue of health coverage for children, nearly all of the nation’s low-income, uninsured children are eligible through Medicaid or CHIP. Now, the challenge for all of us is to connect children with that coverage. America’s schools can help lead that effort.

Our job is to make sure everyone knows how to enroll. There is a role for every member of the school community, including superintendents, principals, teachers, school nurses, and lunch room staff to get involved.

In fact, recent federal legislation has made it possible to use the school lunch application to do more than refer families to health coverage. Under certain conditions, school lunch programs can share information from a student’s application with Medicaid and CHIP, speeding up the process of getting children covered.

As a former school superintendent, I would have loved to have had this type of efficient communication. I saw so many children who would have benefited tremendously from the simplicity this brings, and I know this will have a measurable effect on participation in these programs.

There is no better time than now to raise awareness about getting children enrolled in health care. As parents help their children get a new school year underway, staying healthy should be at the top of everyone’s school supply list.

Arne Duncan
Secretary of Education

Students Quiz Secretary

High school students from the Washington, D.C., region joined me Thursday for a conversation on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation.” A group of more than 30 young men and women gathered in NPR’s studio with host Neal Conan, and, along with calls and e-mails from other listeners, they asked some fantastic and important questions:

  • How do we level the playing field for students in underserved communities and raise academic standards?
  • How do we continue to improve education in the face of a challenging economy?
  • How do we better serve teachers so they have the tools they need to ensure academic excellence for our nation’s students?

As U.S. Secretary of Education, my job is to try and make sure that every student in this country has a chance to get a world-class education. A great way to understand how we can better serve our nation’s students is to talk to them directly.

Our country faces huge challenges—two wars and a recovering economy. Despite these challenges, I have never been more hopeful for our nation’s youth and the future of our country.

The students I met Thursday and those I meet in schools every week make me unbelievably optimistic about where we’re going as a country. I’ve witnessed in conversations like this one the commitment of America’s young people, not just to their own education, but to making a difference in their communities and to moving our country forward.

I invite you to listen to our discussion here.

Arne Duncan
Secretary of Education

Bursting the Bubble Tests

Secretary Duncan, state education leaders and ED staff spoke to reporters today to announce $330 million in grants to develop better student assessments.

Secretary Duncan, state education leaders and ED staff spoke to reporters today to announce $330 million in grants to develop better student assessments.

Almost everywhere Secretary Duncan goes, complaints about “bubble tests” bubble up. Teachers are usually the first ones to bring up their issues with the ways states currently assess their students. We heard these criticisms over and over on our recent “Courage in the Classroom” tour.

“The number-one complaint I heard from teachers is that state bubble tests pressure teachers to teach to a test that doesn’t measure what really matters,” Arne said on a call with reporters this afternoon where he announced $330 million in grants from the Race to the Top program so states can develop a new generation of more sophisticated assessments. The grants aim to give teachers the assessments they’ve been asking for—tests that measure students’ critical thinking and other higher-level skills, gauge student growth over the course of a school year and provide ongoing feedback to teachers so they can adjust their approaches.

What’s unique about the Race to the Top assessment grants is who gets them—not individual states, but large coalitions of states that will work together to develop common assessments measuring college and career readiness. Sharing the work will save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, if not billions, Arne said.

“Fifty states doing this individually (as they have historically done) has made no sense, whatsoever,” he said. All together, the 44 states in the funded coalitions, along with the District of Columbia, serve 85 percent of the nation’s public school students—and states not participating in a consortium are free to use the assessments that are developed.

The new generation of tests—Arne dubbed them “Assessments 2.0″—will be aligned to the higher standards that were recently developed by governors and chief state school officers and have been adopted by 36 states. The tests will assess students’ knowledge of mathematics and English language arts from third grade through high school. The assessments will be ready for use by the 2014-15 school year.

These more advanced assessments will replace tests currently in use and shouldn’t result in more time devoted to testing. “These tests will give us the tools to get better and smarter,” said Gene Wilhoit, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers. In addition, he said, the tests will be “more thoughtful and more connected” to the more streamlined college- and career-ready standards that states have developed together.

Small Rural Schools and Teachers Personalize Education

On Tuesday, Aug. 31, the second day of school at Nute Middle School in rural Milton, NH, first-year teacher Kelley Settelen was exactly where she wanted to be—teaching math in a small school where she could get to know each of her students and their families. Milton School District was able to hire the New Jersey native and offer the small, personalized teaching environment that Settelen was looking for using funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Feeling that anonymity is the enemy of student achievement, veteran teacher Sabrina Kirwan moved from a larger urban school to Nute Middle, enrollment less than 200 across grades 6, 7, and 8, for the same opportunity to connect more closely and make a difference in the lives of rural students.

On the final day of the “Courage in the Classroom” bus tour to honor America’s teachers, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and his staff visited urban, suburban, and rural schools in the northeast.

The unique strengths of rural school districts were on display at the small three-building campus in Milton, NH that housed the Nute Middle and High Schools, and the community’s public library. The close-knit nature of the community was evident as Dennis Lauze, Nute High School class of 1969, was proudly admiring the new cement steps that students used outside the school. Lauze and other “Friends of Nute High School” replaced the crumbling staircase on the original structure, which dates back to 1890. The community has helped with furniture, books, and other classroom improvements as well.

Milton superintendent Gail Kusher anticipates using federal School Improvement Grant funds to add computers and educational software to math and other classrooms to support student achievement and school turnaround efforts. Nute High School also has outfitted a small room with four computers to connect students with high-quality instruction and coursework online in subjects that would not otherwise be available.

Rural schools often struggle to recruit and retain teachers in communities challenged by poverty and the loss of major industries, such as paper mills in the northeast. However, rural schools have many strengths. They tend to have lower student-to-teacher ratios, making it easier to deliver personalized instruction, and frequently serve as the centers of community life.

John White
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Rural Outreach
U.S. Department of Education

Central High Student Keeps His Eyes on the Prize

High school junior Tailore Dawson (front row, fourth from left) and friends at Central High School in Little Rock, Ark.

As we wandered around the manicured grounds of Central High School in Little Rock, Ark., last Thursday—it’s the only active school in America that’s also a national park—a young man came over.

“Need help finding something?” he asked.

Tailore Dawson, 17, is a junior at Central. It’s not the school he’d normally attend, since his family lives in another part of town. But his neighborhood high school isn’t up to his mother’s standards—or his own.

“My academic standard for me is different than for other students,” Tailore said. Also, “I want to go to a school that has some type of character, and Central has character. And it has history.”

Tailore’s homework the night before we met him included a three-page profile of a classmate. The assignment—to get “beyond the surface” and really learn about the other person—was for a communications and college preparation program called AVID, Advancement Via Individual Determination. Worldwide, AVID serves approximately 400,000 students, grades 4-12, in nearly 4,500 schools in 45 states, the District of Columbia and 16 countries and territories.

Central’s communications teacher, Stacey McAdoo, coordinates the AVID program there and was part of a roundtable discussion with Secretary Duncan and teachers Thursday morning. A partnership with the University of Arkansas-Little Rock provides tutors for the Central students to get them focused on college.

“They help students navigate the college choices they will have,” McAdoo explained. Visits to colleges and universities throughout the year give the high schoolers a sense of what life on campus is like.

“Leaving high school, people don’t know what to do next,” Tailore said, estimating that 60 percent of his friends have an idea of what they’ll do after graduation. “Having those connections at these colleges—those friends—helps you get where you want to go.”

Two years from graduation, Tailore already knows where he wants to go: Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., where he wants to major in robotics or genetics. He’s preparing to apply to the Ivy League school by taking physics and chemistry, along with several Advanced Placement classes, and he is a member of Central’s robotics club. He is taking the right tests for admission—the ACT last year (which he’ll take again) and the SAT this year.

Central High School’s history as a flashpoint in the civil rights movement is not lost on Tailore. He’s African American—more than half of Central’s students are—but in 1957, federal troops had to be called in so that nine black teenagers could enter what was then an all-white school.

“People thought, ‘These nine got in. Why can’t we do it?’ They got the mentality and kept coming and coming, and eventually we just mixed all together…Everybody’s friends with everybody. There’s no segregation of anything.”

When we met him last week, Tailore hadn’t yet heard about President Obama’s national education goal—that the United States will once again lead the world in college graduates by 2020—but he immediately homed in on what it will take to be successful.

“I think we can achieve this goal,” he said, “but what we’ll need is everybody helping. A few people can’t do good and cover up for everybody else. We need everybody’s help.”

On the path to college, Tailore Dawson is doing his part.

Massie Ritsch
Office of Communications & Outreach

At Beginning and End, Bus Tour Focuses on Civil Rights

Secretary Duncan visits King Middle School

Kelly Martinez, Joanna Quinn, and Mohamed Nur show their civil rights project to Secretary Duncan

The “Courage in the Classroom” bus tour started at a landmark of the civil rights movement.

And it ended today in Portland, Maine, with middle school students telling Secretary Duncan about their in-depth research project on how people in their community participated in that movement.

At the stop at King Middle School in Portland, a group of three rising 8th graders made a poster presentation to the secretary about how they interviewed local residents about their participation in marches and protests to advance civil rights.
The project, completed last spring, was an interdisciplinary effort. The students learned the history of the movement. They practiced interviewing skills with family members. They interviewed local residents. They published a book about their project.

The capstone of the project was an assembly where they presented their findings to the community, including many of their interview subjects.

“I learned that people in Portland that made a difference, not just people down South,” said Joanna Quinn, who presented about the project along with classmates Keyly Martinez and Mohamed Nur.

More Photos

Helping Military Families Through Education Transitions

Air Force Sgt. Cynthia Carter discusses the challenges military children face when moving to new schools.

Air Force Sgt. Cynthia Carter discusses the challenges military children face when moving to new schools.

Military families make incredible sacrifices to serve our country. One of them is moving several times during their careers.

Secretary Duncan stopped at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard to discuss how educators can address the unique needs of military children.

The Portsmouth Shipyard is one of more than 200 military bases that have a liaison who works with local schools to help ease the transition for students.

But the most important development is the interstate compact in which states share student records, according to Hannah McCarthy, the school liaison for the shipyard.

Through the compact, she can provide information such as grades, an individualized education program, and test scores that help schools address the needs of students.

“The compact has been instrumental in helping alleviate some of the challenges that military families have,” McCarthy told the secretary.

McCarthy also says she reaches out to school districts that will be enrolling students whose families are moving to new assignments.

“I can call wherever they’re going and help set them up,” she said.

Click here for an accessible version of the video.

More Photos