New Site Highlights State and Local Innovative Ideas from Educators’ Perspectives

Maryland Teacher Mandy Tang

Mandy Tang teaches first graders a math lesson in Chinese. Photo credit: Nancy Zuckerbrod

The U.S. Department of Education has launched a new online resource, PROGRESS, to highlight state and local innovative ideas, promising practices, lessons learned, and resources informed by the implementation of K-12 education reforms.

These stories will showcase the exciting transformations taking place in classrooms, schools, and systems across the country through the leadership of teachers, school, district and state leaders and their partners.

The Department launched PROGRESS to emphasize the voices and perspectives of educators, students, and administrators to better understand how policy changes are spurring education improvement and to draw out what can be learned from areas of progress occurring at the state and local levels.

Read about:

  • Delaware and Hawaii teachers and coaches using data to identify student needs and inform instructional improvement strategies;
  • Maryland elementary school students learning science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) through new foreign language courses;
  • Hundreds of students from rural communities in Florida gaining access to incredible STEM learning opportunities through a state Race to the Top initiative to expand STEM education in rural schools;
  • Tennessee’s 700 teacher-coaches providing 30,000 of their colleagues with intensive summer training on new college- and career-ready standards through an ambitious and comprehensive statewide program;
  • Kentucky’s 100-percent increase in total Advanced Placement (AP) qualifying scores over the last five years, largely driven by the success of the AdvanceKentucky program in expanding access to AP classes for low-income students.

The PROGRESS blog will spotlight partnerships among the U.S. Department of Education, states, districts, educators, and families that are helping to build a better education for children.  Of particular focus is:

  • How students are being prepared to succeed in college and careers;
  • How educators are receiving higher quality support and opportunities; and
  • How innovative leaders and educators are transforming school systems to meet new, higher expectations.

PROGRESS does not recommend or endorse any particular approach. It is intended to share information that can be of use to educators, parents, learners, leaders, and other stakeholders in their efforts to ensure that every student is provided with the highest quality education and expanded opportunities to succeed.

We’re always looking to learn from the field. Have an idea for content? Please let us know via email at

Preventing Drug Abuse to Prevent Dropouts

Even though National Substance Abuse Prevention Month has ended, it doesn’t mean our dedication to reducing the number of Americans hurt by alcohol and drug abuse has ended as well. At the Department of Education (ED), encouraging safe and healthy environments for students is a year-round effort.

Recently, ED brought together researchers, policy experts, as well as White House officials to discuss new research on the role drug use plays in America’s dropout crisis.

The new report found that researchers and educators who study adolescent substance abuse often recognize the link between substance use and academic failure, but that the link is rarely acknowledged among state and federal policy makers. The briefing at ED’s headquarters was a step to correct this problem.

The briefing also touched upon the White House’s national strategy to combat illicit drug use, and the important role schools play in local drug-free community coalitions.

David Esquith, director of ED’s Office of Safe and Healthy Students noted that parents, teachers and school counselors “are a first line of defense in prevention,” and that ED has created resources to assist in prevention. He explained that the Department also provides technical assistance for colleges and schools in helping them engage with students in preventing drug use.

You can watch the entire event here, and check out the resources below.

Norris Dickard is Healthy Students Group Leader in ED’s Office of Safe and Healthy Students

Family and Community Engagement: The Ultimate Back-to-School Supply

In the last few months, all across the country, millions of students headed back to school. For many, this was a season of memorable experiences: having their fathers accompany them to their classrooms on the first day, pick them up from their first afterschool activity, and help them study for their first test. Activities like these highlight an important pillar of this Administration’s education agenda: encouraging caring adults – especially parents, and dads in particular – to take an interest in the academic performance of every child.

Family and parent engagement is a leading driver in students’ academic success. Research has linked meaningful family engagement to results like improved grades, higher achievement test scores, lower drop-out rates, increased confidence and ability to learn, and a stronger sense of the value of education.  For these and many other reasons, the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans supports opportunities for fathers, families and communities to engage with students throughout the school year.

Last December, the Department released a draft framework emphasizing the importance of building effective school, family and community partnerships to support learning and development for children. Created at the Department’s request by Dr. Karen Mapp, from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, this framework encourages schools and districts to include parents and families as partners in the learning process. The framework suggests strategies like professional development, effective communication, and engagement strategies directly tied to student learning, as ways to work meaningfully with families. And, this is a two-way partnership. It’s vital to equip districts, school leaders, teachers and school staff to work with families.  It’s equally important for families to feel comfortable and welcome in their children’s schools, and to play an active role in supporting their academic success.

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Going Green in the Golden State

Students in gardenCalifornia was proud to welcome Andrea Falken, director of U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS), and other federal, state, and local officials and stakeholders for the start of the West Coast leg of this summer’s inspired Education Built to Last Facilities Best Practices Tour.

A long-time supporter of green school facilities, California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said, “I’m thrilled to see these outstanding schools showcased as part of the national tour on best practices. The students, teachers, parents, and communities have made countless efforts to improve the environmental sustainability of their campuses, increase school health as well as boost academic achievement.”

At the California Department of Education, ED-GRS is administered in School Facilities and Transportation Services, and we adhere to the time-tested architectural adage, form follows function. Our office envisions school facilities that enhance the achievement of all students and are learner-centered, safe, sustainable, and centers of the community.

Last month, several ED-Green Ribbon Schools showcased these attributes, reminding us just how much can be accomplished in the three pillars of ED-GRS, even in older and portable buildings. These schools are leading the way by ensuring students are vested partners in their education and conscious, civic-minded citizens. From composting, gardening, and recycling to xeriscaping, daylighting, and rainwater harvesting—these students get it.

Students in busTour participants visited five California ED-GRS honorees in two days. At Journey School, a Waldorf-style charter school, an eco-literacy curriculum and partnerships with Earthroots Field School and Master Gardeners of Orange County grow the whole child green—despite the school being housed on a campus comprised entirely of portable buildings.

At Environmental Charter High School, students are leaders in their community, operating a bicycle repair shop to reduce vehicle miles traveled to and from school.

At Grand View Elementary School, parents and Grades of Green founders champion Trash Free Tuesdays and Walk to School Wednesdays, things any school can do to start the cultural shift toward greener, more sustainable schools and communities.

And, at adjacent Long Beach schools Longfellow Elementary School and Hughes Middle School, recycling rules! The schools have also made huge strides to reduce their resource use and environmental impact. Although the main school buildings date to the 1940s, both earned perfect ENERGY STAR scores.

Although state bond funds have contributed $35.4 billion dollars to school construction and modernization since 1998, California is still faced with a huge need for capital investment—particularly for building renovation and replacement. The California Department of Education is working with lawmakers and other stakeholders to ensure that the next round of investment is guided by policy that links funding to educational programming, like high performance and career technical education.

Across California, schools are using the resources they have to improve efficiency, ensure health and wellness, and deliver effective and inspiring environmental curriculum. With the passage of 2012’s Proposition 39, that pool of resources is about to get bigger. Schools will have access to new funding to plan and execute energy efficiency projects. “Your capital expenditures can immediately help your General Fund,” reminded tour participant Eric Bakke of the Los Angeles Unified School District.

With Prop. 39 money coming down the pipeline and the prospect of a new statewide bond on the horizon, California is sure to see more exemplary facilities and ED-GRS honorees in the coming years.  California’s application for ED-GRS 2014 is available now on the California Department of Education Web page.

Kathleen Moore is Director of the School Facilities and Transportation Services Division, and Lesley Taylor is the program lead for ED-GRS at the California Department of Education.

Back-to-School Bus Tour Heads to the Border

Secretary Arne Duncan makes time for an unscheduled bus ride in Columbus, NM. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

Secretary Arne Duncan makes time for an unscheduled bus ride in Columbus, NM. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

With four bus tours under his belt and hundreds of school visits, one thing Secretary Arne Duncan is sure of, is that there is no lack of inspiration in America’s schools. Yesterday’s stops on Duncan’s Strong Start, Bright Future Back-to-School Bus Tour through the Southwest took the Secretary right to the border.

See a collection of social media posts from day two of the tour.

El Paso

The day got a bright start just miles from the U.S./Mexico border at the El Paso Transmountain Early College High School (TECHS), in El Paso, Texas. There isn’t a lack of inspiration at this school that participates in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), and has teamed up with El Paso Community College to allow students to take courses and receive an Associate degree before they graduate high school.

Following a classroom visit where Duncan got a hands-on science lesson from students, Duncan participated in a STEM town hall to talk about the school’s successes. Duncan sought answers from the group on how to make STEM more hands-on and listened to emotional stories of hope from the school’s students who are now on their way to college and careers, armed with the power of a quality education.

Dr. Diana Natalicio, president of the University of Texas-El Paso said during the town hall that it takes an entire community to prevent barriers to student progress, and we saw that in action at TECHS.


With our stop in Texas complete, the back-to-school bus headed west with a stop at Columbus Elementary in Columbus, N.M. This rural school not far from the U.S./Mexico border, has a very unique student body. Seventy-five percent of its students live in Mexico and cross the border each day for school. All are U.S. citizens and many rise as early as 4:30a.m. in order to make it to the border in time to present their laminated birth certificate before boarding a bus for Columbus.

Secretary Duncan participated in a discussion with the principal and teachers, listening to the challenges faced by the faculty. Teachers told stories of students who had never read a book or used indoor plumbing, and explained how difficult it is to coordinate with parents who are unable to visit their child’s school for parent-teacher conferences.

Following the discussion, Duncan altered his agenda and boarded one of the final buses to leave Columbus for the border. During the short drive, Duncan sat with two students, talking about their schoolwork and taking at look at one student’s recent poster project. Day two of the tour ended as we watched the students walk back across the border into Mexico. Columbus Principal Armando Chavez said that each day they send them back hoping that a parent is there to greet them on the other side.

Day three of the tour takes the bus to Tucson and Tempe, AZ.

Watch the video below to hear Secretary Duncan recap day two:

Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital strategy and is blogging and tweeting his way from the bus during ED’s annual back-to-school bus tour.

Reimagining Education through Summer Learning Partnerships

Group meeting in the South Bronx

NYC School Chancellor Dennis Walcott joined community partners, school leaders, and students for the kickoff of Summer Quest at P.S. 211 in the South Bronx

As our students head back to school, we are reflecting on initiatives we saw this summer that can invigorate student engagement and learning year round. As part of Together for Tomorrow –our effort to strengthen partnerships among schools, families, and communities — we visited summer learning initiatives in the South Bronx, Pittsburgh, and Chicago. Director of the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships Brenda Girton-Mitchell and I led discussions in these communities to share promising practices and to provide feedback to shape the U.S. Department of Education’s community and family engagement efforts.

These discussions also extended work the Department began earlier this year, along with the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, on Reimagining Education. Each place we visited is home to a Hive Learning Network — a collective of organizations, made possible through MacArthur Foundation support, where young people can pursue a diversity of learning experiences in their community. The summer initiatives we explored were anchored by strong collaboration among schools, families, and community-based organizations (CBOs).

In the South Bronx, we visited Summer Quest, which brought together New York City schools, and CBOs to provide learning and enrichment activities for nearly 1,800 elementary and middle school students from low-income families. In preparation for Summer Quest, teachers and CBO staff participated in joint professional development around project-based learning and co-facilitation. Program organizers observed from their experience in 2012 that the deeper level of collaboration between schools and CBOs required by Summer Quest resulted in better-aligned and impactful programming during the regular school year.

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Cities Announced! 2013 Back-to-School Bus Tour

Bus Tour MapIt’s back-to-school time, which means that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and senior ED officials are hitting the road once again for the Department’s annual back-to-school bus tour. This year’s tour, themed Strong Start, Bright Future, will run September 9-13 and includes visits to states throughout the Southwest with stops in the following cities:

  • Santa, Fe, N.M.
  • Albuquerque, N.M.
  • Socorro, N.M.
  • El Paso, Texas
  • Columbus, N.M.
  • Tucson, Ariz.
  • Tempe, Ariz.
  • Phoenix
  • Scottsdale, Ariz.
  • Yuma, Ariz.
  • Chula Vista, Calif.

Each stop will highlight the importance of ensuring that all students benefit from high-quality educational opportunities, including Preschool for Allcollege affordabilityConnectEDfirst-term education efforts, and comprehensive immigration reform’s impact on education.

This is the fourth back-to-school bus tour for Secretary Duncan. Last year, the Department’s tour took us coast to coast, in 2011, the tour rolled through the Midwest, and in 2010, Duncan and his team visited the South and the Northeast.

Check back soon for additional information on the tour, or simply sign up to receive Strong Start, Bright Future tour updates in your email inbox.

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital strategy at the U.S. Department of Education

School Facilities That Go Beyond Beige

Green Ribbon Garden

Federal, state and local officials joined stakeholders, administrators, parents, teachers and students during a tour of Bedwell Elementary School’s garden during the New Jersey/ New York leg of the ‘Education Built to Last’ Facilities Best Practices tour on August 13th.

August 13, 2013, was a big day: the ‘Education Built to Last’ School Facilities Best Practices Tour visit by the U.S. Department of Education and Environmental Protection Agency, beginning at a Staten Island ED-Green Ribbon School (Hubert Humphreys) and continuing to three ED-GRS honorees in northern New Jersey. While I drove the 70 miles to the event through pouring rain and high winds, I was secure in my belief that, at the end of the day, my feelings toward school facilities would be unchanged. After many years of designing, building, managing, reviewing, and approving school facility projects for the State of New Jersey, I believed that my “Theory of Beige” would remain intact.

The “Theory of Beige” is quite simple. At one of the school districts where I was previously employed, all the classrooms were painted beige. They were intended to be neutral and unnoticed. As long as the walls remained in their beige state, they never received criticism. They were only noticed when they became damaged from desks or chairs scuffing the paint, water leaking through the ceiling, or graffiti marring the walls. Over many years of working for the district and attending more than 200 school board meetings, I do not recall a single instance that someone praised the pristine condition of the beige walls. They did, however, complain about dented walls, dirty floors, broken lockers, and the like.

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Free of Fear, Violence, and Bullying

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and staff from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) recently released an “It Gets Better” video to address the importance of fostering safe spaces for learning across the country. Part of the Department’s initiative is ensuring that students are protected from the harmful effects of bullying within their communities.

Home | StopBullying.govOne of the tools available to help is The site offers a variety of resources for students, teachers, and parents to help with conflict resolution, provide support to those affected by bullying, and promote general acceptance within their local communities for the upcoming school year and beyond. Here are few tips from the site that you might find helpful:

    1. Assessing Bullying and Aiding in Conflict Resolution: It is important to confront bullying at its source and address conflicts between students as responsibly as possible. is a fantastic resource for understanding how parents, educators, teens and kids can all play a role in understanding bullying, stopping it at its source and keeping it from escalating further.
    2. Providing Support: It is critical to provide a strong support structure and network of allies for victims of bullying within local communities. Responding to bullying appropriately is critical for the well-being of all students involved.
      • Stop bullying on the spot by intervening and supporting those being bullied immediately if possible.
      • Find out what happened. Determining what actually occurred can help you best support victims of bullying.
      • Support the kids involved, whether this means simply communicating to victims of bullying that it is not their fault, or helping them gain access to counseling or mental health services to cope with the effects of bullying.
      • Be more than a bystander by being an ally to victims of bullying by reporting abuse, helping to resolve a situation, or by simply being a good friend.
    3. Promoting and Guaranteeing Acceptance in Your Community: While bullying in your community may be a local issue, there are many state and federal laws that protect victims of bullying.
      • There are a variety of laws that protect victims of bullying across the country against discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, disability, or religion. It is important for students and parents to know their rights and seek out the appropriate support if they feel that their or their child’s civil rights have been violated.
      • Students who identify as LGBT or youth with special needs are more likely to be targets of bullying and have a greater chance of feeling subjugated as an effect. It is important to support the individual needs of these students and there are resources available to help fight for the rights of these groups specifically.
      • Creating student-led organizations such as Gay-Straight Alliances (GSA) or Diversity organizations, something that Secretary Duncan underscored on National GSA Day, can help provide critical support for students who feel like they have nowhere else to go. The Equal Access Act of 1984 and many state and local laws guarantee the right to create these types of groups in schools if student need is demonstrated.

We hope that these resources can aid in stopping bullying at its source and give victims strategies to combat bullying, help individuals stand up to injustice in their communities, and ultimately improve the welfare of students.

Secretary Duncan recently noted that “all of us here at the Department of Education are committed to making sure that young people today can grow up free of fear, violence, and bullying and do everything we can to protect them.”

Adam Sperry is a student at New York University and a current intern in the Office of Communication & Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education.

Green Schools Concept Taking Root in Rural Alabama

John White in Talladega

Deputy Assistant Secretary for Rural Outreach John White visited Munford Elementary in Talladega County, Ala. as part of the “Education Built to Last” tour of U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools. Photo courtesy of Alabama Department of Education.

Last week, I traveled with Andrea Falken, director of the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools Program, to Talladega County public schools in the Appalachian Mountains of Alabama.

State Superintendent Tommy Bice, district staff, teachers, students and community leaders all turned out to show us why the green schools notion makes sense educationally and financially in rural areas during the first leg of the “Education Built to Last” tour of U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools.

Teachers have engaged students in their own learning by connecting lessons to research and discovery in the mountains, forests and streams right outside their classroom windows. Facility improvements have saved millions of dollars, hundreds of thousands of kilowatts of electrical power, and turned school buildings into tools for learning.

Partnerships with the Forest Service, local farms and other businesses have increased students’ awareness of health and nutrition, their personal impacts on the environment, and career pathways in their local communities.

“That’s real world stuff,” said Talladega County school board member Johnny Ponder, while giving a tour of Munford Elementary, one of six U.S. Forest Service-adopted schools nationwide. Its interactive, museum-quality exhibits were produced with support from public and private sector partners. They include visual and audio information on birds, other wildlife and their habitats, fire prevention, jobs in the forest, and they are routinely used to enhance the school’s curriculum across all subject areas.

The 2013 ED-Green Ribbon Schools and District Sustainability Award winners were recognized for reducing their environmental impacts, including energy use, waste and water; creating healthy learning environments, fostering wellness practices, and providing effective environmental education that includes STEM, green careers, and civics to prepare students to succeed in the 21st century. The tour is a chance to share best practices by connecting schools to ED’s Green Strides resources. In the coming weeks, the tour will continue in New England, the Great Lakes and the West Coast.

“We want to get the word out about what works in these schools. It’s not because they are uniquely rich. They are resourceful, have great partnerships, and are using cutting-edge educational practices,” Falken said.

At Fayetteville High School in Sylacauga, Ala., students have used classroom computers to research environmental science before heading outdoors to construct and plant gardens, follow forest rangers into the marsh to test water quality and conduct other experiments with the forest service.

Like many rural schools, Winterboro High School in Alpine, Ala., is a hub of community activity. In fact, community members brought stone from the foothills in wagons pulled by mules to build the school in the 1930s. Recovery Act funds were used to purchase and install insulation in Winterboro High for the first time in 2009. Other facility improvements have led to Energy Star certification at Winterboro and 14 other Talladega County Schools for a district-wide energy cost avoidance of $4 million annually.

Today, Winterboro High is a modern 21st Century Community Learning Center that extends learning with a project-based curriculum that is infused with technology and links science, math and language arts with environmental education during the day and after school.

John White is deputy assistant secretary for rural outreach at the U.S. Department of Education.

Hope, Perseverance, Family, & Access to Education

On June 6, 2013, the U.S. Department of Education hosted an internal immigration reform briefing in which we shared how comprehensive immigration reform relates to the work we do at the Department of Education.  Immigration reform is not only about how the country deals with undocumented workers and the children they bring with them; it is also about how we help all immigrants assimilate and integrate into American society.

The briefing featured three student speakers who shared personal stories about their experiences with the immigration system.  These stories highlighted challenges faced by many immigrant students in financing their educations.

Claudia Rojas, a Northern Virginia Community College student hoping to one day pursue a Ph.D. in creative writing, shared her story of moving to Virginia twelve years ago under Temporary Protected Status (TPS) after an earthquake destroyed her town in El Salvador. Claudia explained that her single mother works tirelessly to make ends meet and help pay for Claudia’s education, and, in Claudia’s words: “Though I often feel guilty attending college, as a first generation student, I remind myself that my degree will not be mine alone; it will belong to my mother, who couldn’t finish elementary school.”

Diego Sanchez, who is a recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and is now pursuing a Master’s Degree in International Affairs and Public Policy, shared his story of how he did not fully comprehend his undocumented status until his academic advisor, at the age of 15, told him that he could not go to college. Diego explained that he felt his world was going to end, but instead of giving up, he applied and was accepted into a private college and thanks to his high standardized test scores, was given a scholarship that covered half his tuition. In order to pay the rest of his tuition, he joined the school choir, ran cross-country and joined the student government to obtain institutional funds.

Another student speaker, Angelo Mathay, is also a DACA recipient and currently serves as a law fellow at the National Immigration Law Center.   Angelo shared his experience that “the vast majority of immigrants I have worked with have fled poverty, violence and discrimination; they bring little except an unrelenting desire to work hard, contribute to society, and educate their children to become the next generation’s doctors, lawyers, and teachers.”  Angelo explained that he plans to practice immigration law to “help ensure social justice and equality for all.”

It is inspiring to learn what these students have all accomplished despite their challenges. Like other students across America, they are driven by a purpose to improve the world, a commitment to public service, and a belief that their education is the key to their success. Immigration reform is important not only for students like Angelo, Diego, and Claudia but for America’s future.

Gabriella Gomez, Assistant Secretary for The Office of Legislation and Congressional Affairs. 

Seize the Summer: Keep Kids Active & Engaged in Learning

Did you know? Students can experience learning loss when they do not engage in educational activities during the summer months. On average, students lose the equivalent of two months of math and reading skills during the summer months. More than half of the achievement gap between lower- and higher-income youth can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities.

ReadingThis summer, let’s work to change that. Together, parents, guardians, and community members can help give our children the best foundation for the upcoming school year.

Stay Engaged:

Encourage reading all summer long. This will help prevent the “summer slide” and provide benefits that can be seen year-round.

  • Visit the local library and help your child put together a summer reading list. Celebrate each time he or she finishes a book, this will encourage them to complete the list by the time the summer ends.

Be Creative:

Summer is the perfect time to let your child’s imagination run wild and stimulate creativity. provides resources for arts and crafts projects that will keep children engaged and their minds active while having fun.

  • NGA Kids – Choose from a variety of activities or projects from the National Gallery of Art, enjoy an animated musical adventure, take a tour through the sculpture garden, and more.
  • Smithsonian – Are your children fans of Night at the Museum? Then this is the perfect activity for them. Here you are magically taken to the museums at night. To get back home, you have to solve mysteries and help your new friends find their artworks.

Stay Active & Healthy:

In addition to academic risks, children can also be at an increased risk of weight gain when they are out of school during the summer months. Take advantage of the warmer weather and keep youth active outdoors.

  • – How do you feed a picky eater or encourage a child to play outside? Learn how to keep your child healthy with the right foods and exercise.
  • Let’s Move! – Opportunities for kids to be physically active, both in and out of school and create new opportunities for families to be moving together.
  • USDA Summer Food Program–  This U.S. Department of Agriculture program provides free meals to all children 18 years old and under in areas with significant concentrations of low-income children.

For additional tips throughout the summer, follow @usedgov on Twitter, and check out the U.S. Department of Education Facebook page.

Kelsey Donohue works in the Office of Communication and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education