An Education Masterpiece in Baton Rouge

This week, the Department of Education released a video about a remarkable public elementary school that combines the art of learning with the learning of art.

Produced for ED by the History Channel, the new video tells the story of Forest Heights Academy of Excellence in Baton Rouge, Louisiana—an award-winning public magnet school where students excel in both academics and the performing and the visual arts.

In addition to the standard academic curriculum, Forest Heights students have the opportunity to study instrumental music, visual arts, drama, dance, and vocal music. Their arts curriculum is comprehensive and is based on national, state, and local standards. Kids learn everything from costume design and stage lighting to jazz and tap dance, and the school also has a modern, high-tech theater and arts facility.

At Forest Heights, students also learn math, science, language, and social studies through their study of the arts. Thus, kids encounter mathematical principles through music and learn lessons about history while they work on theatrical productions.

More than half the school’s population is disadvantaged. About 85 percent of the students are African-American.

In 2008, the U.S. Department of Education named Forest Heights Academy of Excellence a Blue Ribbon School, the highest honor the federal government bestows on schools throughout the country. For a public school to win this award, student achievement must be in either the top 10 percent on state assessments or show improvement to high levels with at least 40 percent of the school’s population from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Earlier this year, Secretary Arne Duncan spoke about the critical importance of an education in the arts:

“First, the arts significantly boost student achievement, reduce discipline problems, and increase the odds that students will go on to graduate from college. Second, arts education is essential to stimulating the creativity and innovation that will prove critical to young Americans competing in a global economy. And last, but not least, the arts are valuable for their own sake, and they empower students to create and appreciate aesthetic works.”

See the full text of Secretary Duncan’s remarks on the importance of the arts and a well-rounded curriculum or more information on the Blue Ribbon School’s program.

John McGrath
Office of Communications and Outreach

Click here for an accessible version of the video.

Illuminating Positive Change: Rural Transformation at West Carter Middle School

Illuminating positive change: Rural Transformation at West Carter Middle SchoolTurning around a low-performing school is difficult work. It can present particular challenges in rural communities located far from resources and social support structures. However, this work is possible with strong leadership and by building upon the strengths of a small school that serves as the center of its community, as is illustrated by the West Carter Middle School success story.

Located in Olive Hill, KY, within the Appalachian coal mountain region, West Carter Middle School serves fewer than 500 students, more than two-thirds of whom are eligible for free and reduced-priced meals. Before 2005, student achievement was stagnant and persistently low in math and reading.

However, under new leadership, West Carter underwent a transformation. Principal Sherry Horsley, an assistant principal at West Carter for four years, set a new direction for students and staff. She increased community and staff collaboration, increased learning time for students, and established a vision for the future.

Students now plan and prepare for success in college or a career. The faculty is now collaborating more.  Teachers are using data and technology to target student needs.  Parents have been encouraged by the results.

West Carter now ranks among the top 15 percent of middle schools in Kentucky and was honored as a “School to Watch” by the Kentucky Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform this year.

Voices from Turnaround Schools

This week, the Department of Education released new videos featuring the personal testimonies of teachers, principals, parents and students explaining what it’s like to turn around low-performing schools. Called “Voices of Reform,” the videos look at schools in three cities that each underwent a different turnaround approach.

A variety of individuals talk about what happened as their schools went from struggling to high-achieving. The challenges and hard work as well as the joy that are part of many turnaround schools’ experience are reflected in the interview subjects’ own words, such as these from a first grade teacher at Mobile’s George C. Hall Elementary School: “The students have a sense of pride about themselves now. They have pride about not only the school but the community from which they come.”

Forest Grove High School, Forest Grove, Oregon

Click here for an accessible version of the video.

Pickett Middle School, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Click here for an accessible version of the video.

Hamilton County Schools, Chattanooga, Tennessee

Click here for an accessible version of the video.

George C. Hall Elementary School, Mobile, Alabama

Click here for an accessible version of the video.

To view the complete Turnaround video playlist, click here.

What’s Possible: Turning Around America’s Lowest-Achieving Schools

“Because we know that about 12% of America’s schools produce 50% of America’s dropouts, we’re going to focus on helping states and school districts turn around their 5,000 lowest-performing schools in the next five years,” President Obama said this week.

Turning around the nation’s 5,000 lowest-performing schools, Secretary Duncan has said, is “part of our overall strategy for dramatically reducing the drop-out rate, improving high school graduation rates and increasing the number of students who graduate prepared for success in college and the workplace.”

The Obama administration is making an historic commitment to support state and local education leaders in turning around the nation’s lowest-achieving schools.

The U.S. Department of Education is providing $4 billion for this effort. To qualify for this funding under the Title I School Improvement Grant program, states must identify their lowest-performing schools in economically challenged communities and transform those schools using one of the four following intervention models:

  • Turnaround model: Replace the principal and rehire no more than 50% of the staff, and grant the principal sufficient operational flexibility (including in staffing, calendars/time and budgeting) to fully implement a comprehensive approach to substantially improve student outcomes.
  • Restart model: Convert a school or close and reopen it under a charter school operator, a charter management organization, or an education management organization that has been selected through a rigorous review process.
  • School closure: Close a school and enroll the students who attended that school in other schools in the district that are higher achieving.
  • Transformation model: Implement each of the following strategies: (1) replace the principal and take steps to increase teacher and school leader effectiveness; (2) institute comprehensive instructional reforms; (3) increase learning time and create community-oriented schools; and (4) provide operational flexibility and sustained support.

As Secretary Duncan has said repeatedly, this is difficult work—he took it on as CEO of Chicago’s public schools. No matter which model is used, turning around a chronically low-performing school requires hard work from our best teachers and school leaders.

State and local leaders around the country have taken on the challenge, with encouraging results.

Learn about the Title I School Improvement Grant Program and how the communities of Mobile, Alabama; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Chattanooga, Tennessee were successful in implementing turnaround, restart and transformation models to revitalize and transform their lowest performing schools.

En Español

Click here for an accessible version of the video.

In Chicago, Harvard School of Excellence, operated by the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL), is an example of the turnaround model. Before 2007, it ranked among the 10 worst elementary schools in all of Illinois. Now, three years later, it has key components of the turnaround model: a new principal; highly trained and effective teachers; a curriculum based on high expectations and frequent assessments; and a culture of intellectual curiosity and personal respect.

In just two years, the number of Harvard students meeting or exceeding state testing standards has increased 25%. And AUSL is applying its turnaround model to more struggling schools in Chicago.

Click here for an accessible version of the video.

Johnson Public School in Chicago is another turnaround story. In 2008, only 40% of Johnson’s students met state standards in reading, math and science. There were gangs in the school and violence in the halls. Expectations were low. Many students were not succeeding.

The following year, AUSL took over the leadership of the school. Expectations and conditions in the school changed. The impact in a short time is clear.

Click here for an accessible version of the video.

In Los Angeles, Locke Senior High School took the restart path, bringing in Green Dot Schools, a charter operator. Locke’s teachers work under a union contract.

Click here for an accessible version of the video.

David Terry
Office of Communications and Outreach

A Promise Kept, A School Renewed: Locke High School’s Turn Around

In 2006, Locke Senior High School was among the lowest performing schools in Los Angeles. Plagued by gang activities and low expectations for students, Locke was sending just 5% of its graduating students to 4-year colleges and universities.

That’s where the California-based nonprofit Green Dot came in. With the support of the community, Green Dot has implemented a school turnaround model focused on making sure students achieve academically and are ready for college and careers when they graduate from high school.

The change is visible throughout the school. Now, students are showing up for school on time. Class attendance has risen above 90 percent. Test scores have increased.

As a result of the model—and lots of hard work by teachers, students, and the community—the school is a far cry from what it used to be.

As Secretary Duncan has said, “Our communities need to be courageous in their desire to implement change. Only then will we be able to turnaround our nation’s failing schools.”

Watch the video of Locke’s story.

Click here for an accessible version of the video.

States can apply for Student Improvement Grants (SIG), which serves to support implementation of the fundamental changes needed to turn around some of the nation’s lowest-achieving schools. Learn more here:

Jobs and Reform: How the Recovery Act is Providing a Lifeline to Two School Districts

Nationwide, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has already saved or created at least 325,000 jobs in education, according to information submitted by the states and released this month by the Office of Management and Budget.  At the same time, ARRA is supporting critical reforms in our schools, helping advance student achievement and giving our children the education they need to compete in the global economy of the 21st century.  This video tells the story of ARRA’s impact on the school districts of Clark County, Nevada, and Memphis, Tennessee, two of the thousands of communities where stimulus funds are making a real difference.

Click here for an accessible version of the video.

Celebrating Excellence

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Principals and teachers representing the 2009 Blue Ribbon Schools gathered in Washington, D.C., this week for their national award ceremony, and Secretary Arne Duncan was on hand to help them celebrate.   This year, a total of 271 public and 50 private schools won the honor, which recognizes high levels of academic performance and dramatic gains in student achievement.  Duncan delivered his congratulations at the awards luncheon and stayed around for a lively question and answer session with the teachers and principals.

“I can’t tell you personally how much it means to me to see the example you set, not just for your schools and your students, but for the entire nation,” he said.  “If we can take what you guys are doing, take these pockets of excellence, and make them systems of excellence — if we can learn from your hard work, your dedication, your relentlessness, and take those lessons to scale — then we’re going to see our country and our children turn around.”

See a list of all 321 schools and additional information, including school applications, schools in the top 10% of their states, and more.

ED Staff

More photos

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Jobs Saved: 85 Teaching Facilitators in St. Louis

Preliminary data suggest that at least 250,000 education jobs across the country have been saved or created thanks to the Recovery Act, according to a report this week from the Domestic Policy Council.

Secretary Duncan noted that these initial data from states indicate that “…many districts are using stimulus dollars in ways that will move us beyond the status quo. There is a lot more work to be done, but we applaud those districts that have successfully used stimulus funding to stave off catastrophic layoffs and invest in critical reforms.”

One of those school districts is St. Louis Public Schools.  The district used Recovery Act funds to address key needs, including the saving of 85 teaching facilitator jobs.  This video tells the story of three of those teaching facilitators.

Click here for an accessible version of the video.

For more information about preliminary data on Recovery Act education spending, please see the press release about the DPC report, or the full report itself — “Educational Impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.”

ED Staff

Scott Coleman, Principal

For Scott Coleman, principal at Mt. Vernon Community School in Virginia, the Recovery Act is not only about reforming our education system—it’s about investing in future generations. As an educator for over 9 years, Scott believes that we can restore our promise to these children so that they can receive a competitive global education. This is his story.

ED Staff

Click here for an accessible version of the video.