The Importance of Rigorous Coursework for All Students: A Teacher’s Perspective

Patrick Kelly, a 2015 Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow, begins his eleventh year teaching Advanced Placement U.S. Government and Politics.

Patrick Kelly, a 2015 Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow, begins his eleventh year teaching Advanced Placement U.S. Government and Politics.

This week, I will be starting my 11th year teaching Advanced Placement (AP) U.S. Government and Politics, and I have seen during that time the importance of a rigorous high school experience in preparing students to succeed in college. That’s why I was excited to see the U.S. Department of Education’s recent announcement of $28.4 million in federal grants to help students access AP classes. These grants are used to help pay for low-income students taking advanced placement tests administered by the College Board, the International Baccalaureate Organization, and Cambridge International Examinations.

As the College Board noted in its 2014 AP Report to the Nation, students who experience success in an AP course are more likely to graduate college on time and earn higher GPAs. Beyond the numbers, I have seen the positive impact of rigorous coursework in the stories of my students.

One of my greatest joys each year is to receive emails, calls, and visits from former students, and they frequently note how well their AP coursework in high school prepared them for a collegiate learning environment. In addition, an overwhelming majority of my students have performed well enough on the AP exam to receive college credit, which, in turn, has given them increased freedom and a leg up in their collegiate studies.

I also know my students are uniquely fortunate, as my home state of South Carolina pays the fee for each student in an AP course to take the exam. The cost to take an exam is nearly $100, and, while the College Board provides a reduced fee for students with financial need, the cost for these students is still over $50. As a result, this fee becomes a major obstacle to accessing a rigorous curriculum for many students in the 38 states that don’t pay for AP exams.

Currently, over 20 percent of our nation’s school-age children come from households living in poverty, and, for these children, paying the fees to take even one AP exam is simply not financially possible. However, this inability to pay does not mean these children lack the ability to thrive and succeed in rigorous coursework. I have taught numerous students who were in poverty or homeless, and they excelled in their coursework and earned college credit via the AP exam just like their more advantaged peers.

By distributing The Advanced Placement Test Fee grants announced last week, the Department of Education is extending opportunity to thousands of students around our country.

In the 21st century, student access to rigorous coursework is an essential right to prepare students for the workforce, and programs like this one are an important step in the right direction. There is still more work required in order to provide students from underprivileged backgrounds with the types of academic supports and systems necessary to succeed in challenging coursework, but eliminating barriers to accessing rigor is an essential first step. The Department of Education’s efforts to provide that access to more students is exactly the type of initiative that will help us reach our nation’s common goal of producing “college- and career-ready” students.

Patrick Kelly is a teacher in Richland County School District Two in Columbia, SC and has been selected as a 2015 Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow.

Leaders Supporting Teachers: The Lehigh Way

The field of education requires MANY “tools for the tool-belt.” Whether educators need to learn how to manage a classroom of students or to learn how to engage students more fully, continual learning is simply required! So often today I find teachers who have the heart and desire to impact students; they are just unequipped with the knowledge or skills to fully engage students in rigorous learning. As a leader, it is my number one priority to support teachers, so they don’t drown as educators. It is all comes down simply to systems for support. We call this The Lehigh Way.

How does it work?

Our keys to success at Lehigh Senior High School:

  • Empower teacher leaders to model and support other teachers.
  • Identify weaknesses and provide learning opportunities.
  • Coach and mentor teachers to lead them to success.
  • Provide continuous, ongoing professional development.
  • Build focused and productive Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) to increase collaboration.

Create Specific Systems:

Our systems at Lehigh Senior High School:

  • Common Planning PLCs: All of our teachers of like subject areas have common planning. This means that all algebra one teachers are off the same period. PLCs are much more than teachers’ meetings. Once a week, educators meet to unpack their standards, create common assessments, share and review data and to create engaging lessons. They work off of shared norms, set goals, talk through challenges and make plans to solve them.
  • Instructional Leaders: Each department has an instructional coach funded through the Teacher Incentive Fund, TIF Grant. This grant allows us to recruit our most talented teachers to teach half of the time and share their gifts to help other educators the remaining time. These model teachers lead common planning groups to a path of success and spend time in the classroom coaching and supporting teachers with the implementation of good strategies.
  • Strategy Walks. Each month the administration and instructional leaders discuss what areas need support based on our classroom visits. We then identify teachers in the building that can model exceptionally well the teaching strategies our teachers need. Then we provide teachers with options to visit classrooms during their planning time and watch the strategies in action. Teachers are empowered to be leaders by seeing a strategy in action with real students, as well as providing support to those teachers needing growth opportunities.
  • Targeted Weekly Training. Each week we provide optional training after school on Wednesdays, so that teachers have the opportunity to build upon the “tools in their tool-belt.” During coaching sessions, the administration or instructional leaders may suggest certain opportunities to teachers or teachers may go to engage in learning on their own.
  • Apples Program. Our district has a great first-year teacher induction program, called Apples. We meet with our Apples once a month and deliver hands-on professional development. Novice teachers walk out with relevant strategies they can take back to the classroom. They are also provided with an experienced mentor teacher who assists them as they build classroom systems and coaches them during their first year.
  • Coaching: The leaders in our building function as coaches. Our top priority is visiting classrooms frequently and having ongoing discussions about teaching and learning. Whether a new or veteran teacher, all teachers need to experience affirmation and opportunities to grow. We coach and build trusting relationships with teachers, offering constructively and meaningful feedback.
  • Culture for Learning: We are an AVID National Demonstration School. We frame all of our instructional practices around WICOR: Writing, Inquiry, Collaboration, Organization and Reading. Teachers in our building work hard to develop lessons and focus their development around learning content-specific strategies connecting to these five areas. We open our doors to other educators to come and learn best practices real time in our classrooms, creating a collaborative culture focused on continual learning.

In an ever changing hyper-connected global society, we educators must continue to embrace learning. It is the only way we will be able to prepare ourselves with the skills to meet our student’s ever changing needs. Education is no longer a one-size-fits-all proposition, and students don’t thrive under teachers who stand and deliver. When our teachers need preparation, we as leaders must prepare them. We cannot rely on post-secondary programs, as they are outdated at an ever-increasing rate, unable to keep up with the increasing demands. It is our job as leaders to stay current and support teachers with continuous learning and development. Not too ironic, considering we are educators!

Jackie Corey is the principal of Lehigh Senior High School in Lehigh Acres, Florida.

Ron Thorpe, In Memoriam

In March 2015, Secretary Arne Duncan presented a lifetime achievement award to Ron Thorpe, a courageous and thoughtful leader of educators and a good friend to many of us here at ED. Secretary Duncan’s words are posted here today in respectful memory of Mr. Thorpe, who died last night. His legacy will live beyond him.

We’ve spent a little bit of time here talking about the leadership of all of you and before I get out of here I just want to take one minute and talk about this man’s leadership. For decades, thousands and thousands of people in this Country have benefited from and relied upon Ron Thorpe’s wisdoms and ideas and his commitment, and I just thought it was appropriate for us to take a minute now and say thanks.

Visionary is a word that sometimes overused but in Ron’s case, I think it’s exactly the right one. He’s deepened the understanding of this field, not just for our Nation but across the globe. He has helped us to understand why med schools and Ed schools have to have more in common. One profession works to save lives, the other to transform them. And the training for all of this critical work should be equally rigorous.

Over the past nine years, America’s teachers and the broader education community have come together to celebrate and strengthen the teaching profession, and over this time, nearly 50,000 educators have had the opportunity to share ideas and debate important topics and learn from one another. As a result of teaching and learning, the international summit on the teaching profession developed a couple years ago. We had our first session in New York. We’re now traveling across the globe, which I had the pleasure to participate that. We’ve been working with our peers from dozens of countries around the world. This is continued with summits when we go into other capitals like Canada as I said earlier in just a couple of weeks.

For Ron, it’s been a labor of love celebrating the great, great work of America’s teachers. And now as we head into the ninth year of teaching and learning, we would like to recognize Ron for his tireless commitment to leadership. To be an accomplished teacher, one has to commit to a lifetime of learning and that’s what Ron is all about, from his beginnings in the classroom to his work in philanthropy and the media and now here at this incredibly vibrant event. Ron knows and appreciates that teachers and educators deserve conferences like this, filled with chances to learn from one another. Ron’s been the genius behind bringing the world’s fair the dabbles of education to tons of educators. Perhaps most fundamentally, Ron knows it is not enough to believe in the potential of great teaching that it takes tireless and committed effort to realize the hugely important potential.

And I’m so grateful to call Ron a friend, a partner. His integrity and his courage inspire me every single day. It’s because of his bold vision that I think we all should honor Dr. Ronald Thorpe with the National Board’s first ever Award for Distinguished Service in Teaching and Learning.

Heroic Hearts, Humble Outlooks During Teacher Appreciation Week

Last week, across the country, educators were celebrated during Teacher Appreciation Week. For our own part here at ED, we carried out a number of activities with the sole intention of expressing gratitude for those who’ve chosen this unsung profession. A lucky few of us listened in when Secretary Duncan called classroom teachers across several disciplines and in various parts of the country.

Although my interactions with educators here at ED remind me daily of the intelligence and genuine passion it takes to work as an educator, during our calls, I was struck by a humility that is unmatched in any other profession. In a day and age where tweets, social media posts and news stories are dominated by a celebrity’s dress or public figure’s snarky comment, truly remarkable acts of teachers’ kindness, support, and heroism are just part of what’s lost in the cyberspace of minute-to-minute broadcasts.

This week, that humility was so apparent in a three-word phrase that my Education Department colleagues and I heard time and time again: just a teacher. “I can’t believe you called me, I’m just a teacher.” “I never aspired to be anything other than just a teacher.” I’m not sure what to say, Mr. Secretary, I’m just a teacher.

Each of them, in turn, describing themselves in this way: I’m just a teacher.

From the young Albuquerque teacher who inspires her seniors to a college-attendance rate five times higher than the national average for Native students. To the Baltimore art teacher who wouldn’t allow riots just blocks from her campus to come between her students and their community beautification project on the morning after the worst of the city’s violence. To the true teacher leaders—who’d never think to apply that term to themselves—who decided to leave stable classroom assignments to work in disadvantaged schools with high-needs, struggling students to try and make a difference.

There’s a lesson here, for all of us, but it’s not one to be taught or explained. It’s demonstrated, in all those kind, supportive and heroic actions in classrooms and schools, humbly performed by individuals grateful for the opportunity to have a positive impact on the life of a child.

For teachers, everywhere, actions they do selflessly, every single day—Thank you!

Karen Stratman is the Director for National Public Engagement at the U.S. Department of Education.

Testing: Can We Find the Rational Middle?

Recently I visited Glen Iris Elementary School in Birmingham, Alabama to meet with a group of teachers and their principal. I was in Birmingham as a Teaching Ambassador Fellow and it was highly recommend by local educators that I visit Glen Iris while in Birmingham to see the incredible work going on at the school. During my visit I learned about the school’s focus on project-based learning, how it energizes teachers and promotes cross-curriculum connections and implementation of college and career ready standards in a way that has significant meaning for students and the surrounding community. I learned how this type of learning relies on several factors including the internal capacity among teachers to lead and bring others along in this work and a supportive principal who will work to make sure the resources needed are provided (even grow a beard and sleep on the school roof to fundraise if necessary!). I also learned about their school garden, which was a sight to behold and a powerful a lesson for how to keep learning focused on developing the whole child.

The assessment culture was also very different at Glen Iris Elementary. It was clear that every teacher in the room agreed that we can and should measure learning, but, also, that current “tests” were measuring learning. When I asked Principal Wilson to share his views on testing he looked at me very calmly said, “There is more than one way to measure the standards. We have to be ever-growing.”

Since returning from Birmingham, much has happened in the “testing” world.

Recently, the Foundation for Excellence in Education came out with an analysis of district testing calendars from the 2013-14 school year. The foundation looked at 44 districts and found huge variation; some required as few as eight tests on top of required state assessments – and one required 198 additional exams. In addition, the Council of Chief State School Officers and Secretary Duncan have shined a spotlight on testing and are asking states and districts to have difficult conversations about the quantity and quality of tests administered to students. Also in recent weeks, several school districts in Florida have moved to cut down on testing. Miami-Dade County cut 24 interim assessments, adding 260 minutes of instruction back into the schedule, while Palm Beach County cut 11 diagnostic tests and made all district-level performance assessments optional. Moreover, Hillsborough County school district leaders are calling on the state to reduce the amount of testing in schools while several school officials have already eliminated final exams at middle and high school levels, as well as reduced the number of assessments for elementary grades in math, science and language arts.

I recently sat down with Secretary Duncan to hear his perspective on the current state of testing and accountability. While the testing pendulum has swung from one side to the other, my hope is that we will land somewhere in the rational middle. And as I continue in my education journey, I will forever keep those timely words of Dr. Wilson at the forefront of my mind and will challenge all of us to be “ever-growing.”

Emily Davis is a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education.

#AskArne: Teaching and Leading

At this year’s National Board for Professional Teaching Standards Teaching and Learning Conference, over 5,000 educators from all 50 states shared in two days of teacher paradise, which included some of the most influential and knowledgeable trailblazers in education. I felt proud to be part of the event and even more proud to witness history in the making.

Watching Secretary Duncan unveil a new initiative titled “Teach to Lead,” I saw heads nodding and smiling. Even though I work at the U.S. Department of Education (ED), hearing that ED is partnering with the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards to focus on advancing teacher leadership is music to my ears.

But is it really? As a Teaching Ambassador Fellow I have had the opportunity to listen to hundreds of educators the past few months talk about what it means to be a teacher leader. Their responses range from self-initiated teacher leaders, who reach out to help colleagues on a daily basis, to teachers who are excited to take on new roles, but don’t know where to start. Others want to join in but feel they already have too much on their plates.

When I think about the size and scale of an undertaking such as Teach to Lead, it is easy to become cautious, if not skeptical. How we will be able to highlight all of the different types of teacher leadership that occur in schools throughout this country already? How will we even define teacher leadership, given the many forms it may take? How will we involve principals and state and district leaders in a vision of teacher leadership that truly improves education? Will they be willing to share power and rethink structures to create systems for teacher leadership to thrive?

What I am not skeptical about is whether or not teachers will embrace leadership. I have seen firsthand that teacher leadership is alive and well. Monika Johannesen a veteran teacher from Dan Mills Elementary School in Nashville, Tenn., explained that in her 20 years of teaching, not a day has gone by that she hasn’t helped teachers foster their craft. Her ability to collaborate and build relationships within her school has directly impacted the school’s success, and she is viewed by all as a teacher leader.

As the Teach to Lead initiative takes off, I am encouraged that teachers are the ones being called on to help shape it. As Teaching Ambassador Fellows continue to engage with teachers from the field and work with the National Board to engage educators via survey, I am reassured to hear Arne Duncan voice sentiments like these, “Teachers have spoken eloquently about how important it is to have a voice in what happens in their schools and their profession — without leaving the classroom.”

I recently sat down with Secretary Duncan to ask him how @TeachToLead will work, but more importantly how we will maintain the integrity of teacher leadership, without it being just more thing on our plate. Ultimately, creating an initiative by teachers for teachers can and will lead to historic transformative change that will boost student learning and provide a critical next step for the teaching profession as envisioned in the RESPECT blueprint.

I look forward to next year’s National Board conference to see how far we have come and the milestones we “teacher leaders” have accomplished. The road ahead is not an easy one, but it is one worth taking.

Tweet us your ideas @TeachtoLead using the hashtag #TeachToLead.

Emily Davis is a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education

#ThankATeacher and Share on Teacher Appreciation Day


Peter Markes (@PeterMarkes) the 2014 Oklahoma Teacher of the Year, and Edmond North High School Orchestra Director, tweeted his #ThankATeacher sign during a visit to the U.S. Department of Education headquarters.

Tuesday, May 6, is National Teacher Appreciation Day, and we want your help in thanking a teacher that has inspired you. Click below to download our “#ThankATeacher” sign, fill it out, and on Tuesday, May 6, post your picture on social media using the hashtag #ThankATeacher.

There’s no doubt that teachers deserve a special week and day, but our appreciation and support for teachers needs to be a year-round effort. At the U.S. Department of Education, one of our top priorities is to continue to strengthen the teaching profession. Read more about the Obama Administration’s plan to improve teacher preparation, leading from the classroom through Teach to Lead, and the RESPECT proposal to elevate teaching and leading so that all of our students are prepared to meet the demands of the 21st century.

Download your #ThankATeacher sign!

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


Taking Action to Improve Teacher Preparation

Recruiting, preparing, developing and supporting great teachers has a direct impact on the learning and success of America’s students. Research confirms that the most important in-school factor in a student’s success is a strong teacher, and excellent teachers are especially important for our neediest students. However, the vast majority of new teachers – almost two-thirds – report that their teacher preparation program left them unprepared for the realities of the classroom.

President Obama believes that we need to give schools the resources to keep good teachers on the job and reward the best ones, and give teachers the flexibility to teach with creativity and passion. Earlier today, the President directed the U.S. Department of Education to lay out a plan to strengthen America’s teacher preparation programs for public discussion by this summer, and to move forward on schedule to publish a final rule within the next year.

Teacher Prep StatsThe Administration’s plans will:

  • Build on state systems and efforts and the progress in the field to encourage all states to develop their own meaningful systems to identify high- and low-performing teacher preparation programs across all kinds of programs, not just those based in colleges and universities.
  • Ask states to move away from current input-focused reporting requirements, streamline the current data requirements, incorporate more meaningful outcomes, and improve the availability of relevant information on teacher preparation.
  • Rely on state-developed program ratings of preparation programs – in part – to determine program eligibility for TEACH grants, which are available to students who are planning to become teachers in a high-need field in a low-income school, to ensure that these limited federal dollars support high-quality teacher education and preparation.

These critical changes will help to increase recognition for high-performing teacher preparation programs, and create a much-needed feedback loop to provide information to prospective teachers, schools and districts, and the general public, and drive improvement across programs.

Read more about the Obama Administration’s proposal, get a pdf copy of our teacher prep infographic, and visit to learn about additional ways the administration is ensuring that teachers and leaders have the support they need from preparation and through their careers.

Listening and Learning at the International Summit on the Teaching Profession

ISTP 2014

Delegations from high-performing education systems across the globe gathered for the 4th International Summit on the Teaching Profession in New Zealand.

At the end of March, National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, Chris Minnich, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, and I joined delegations from high-performing and rapidly improving education systems across the globe for the 4th International Summit on the Teaching Profession. Whether large or small, highly decentralized or not, countries share a common desire to create a high-quality education system that prepares all children for success in their personal and professional lives. The summits provide a unique opportunity for education ministers and teacher leaders to come together to learn from each other, share best practices, and look for ways to replicate or adapt back home what other countries are doing well.

New Zealand welcomed us with a powhiri, the traditional Maori ceremony, which is something most of the international guests and I had never seen. It was a beautiful and moving welcome and I was honored, as the host of the first summit in 2011, to accept the New Zealand challenge for a successful 4th summit on behalf of the international community. Many thanks to New Zealand Minister of Education Hekia Parata and her team for being gracious hosts during the summit.

This year’s summit focused on Excellence, Equity and Inclusiveness. There was complete agreement that where you live or what your parents do for a living should not determine your access to a quality education. We need to invest in education to close opportunity gaps that exist for too many children and create learning environments that allow all children to thrive. Using PISA 2012 data, OECD showed that there’s a false choice between equity and excellence: education systems as diverse as Korea and Canada can, and do, achieve both.

Maori Welcome

The International delegations began the summit in New Zealand with an official Maori welcome ceremony.

The countries represented at the summit stressed strong support for early interventions to help children start school healthy and ready to learn—one minister even suggested early learning as the focus of the next summit. Many of the countries around the table, including our New Zealand hosts, have a stronger commitment to early childhood education than we do in the U.S. Young children in New Zealand can receive 20 hours of free early learning opportunities each week. Data show that 95 percent of New Zealand children have had some early childhood education when they start school. The U.S. rate of 65 percent pales in comparison.  

During the summit, we also talked a lot about teacher leadership and collaboration. For example, Canada involves teachers in making and implementing policy. Representatives from Singapore talked about the importance of consultation and feedback, as well as the country’s three career tracks, which provide different options for teachers’ career progression. New Zealand discussed its proposed program to create new roles and pathways, while Hong Kong mentioned a new school leadership program. These interventions and many others confirmed to me that our new Teach to Lead (T2L) initiative and our ongoing labor-management collaboration mirror what high-performing systems are doing.

I came away from the summit discussions with a renewed energy and commitment to early learning teacher leadership and collaboration, and to continuing the challenging work of education improvement. The U.S. delegation committed publicly to:

  • Continue to work to increase access to high-quality early learning opportunities,
  • Increase opportunities for teacher leadership,
  • And, support labor-management collaboration to increase learning for all students.

Dennis, Randi, Chris and I are already moving ahead on our commitments and will report back on our progress to the international community next year at the 5th summit in Alberta, Canada.  Little did we know three years ago, when we hosted the first international summit, that it would become an international community of practice dedicated to enhancing the teaching profession to improve learning for all students. Now, let’s get to work.

Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education

Q-and-A: Back to School with Arne Duncan

With back-to-school season in full swing, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently sat down to respond to some pressing education questions from SmartBlog on Education. Below is the full Q&A:

What is the biggest challenge that teachers face as they go back to school this fall? What guidance would you give them to help them meet the challenge?

Back to school stampThe large majority of states are now making the shift to the Common Core State Standards, a state-led effort to raise standards for which the U.S. Department of Education has provided some support. Educators across the country have embraced the enormous, urgent challenge that goes with this transition to more rigorous academic standards, new assessments, and updated teacher evaluation systems. Teachers are faced with a level of change and reform in schools and districts that is unprecedented.

Overwhelmingly, I’ve heard teachers say that it’s the professional challenge of a lifetime to raise standards so every American student can compete and succeed in the global economy. In discussions with more than 4,000 educators, my team at the U.S. Department of Education and I also have heard teachers say that it’s imperative that we, as a nation, get this right for our kids.

The  Common Core State Standards focus on college- and career readiness and have been adopted voluntarily by a majority of states. The new standards set the bar for student performance high. But they also give teachers the opportunity to go deep into content and innovate. In surveys, three out of four teachers say these standards will help them teach better.

Read More

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

Duncan Discusses Influence of Teacher Voice on New Flexibility Decision

Today, Secretary Duncan announced that ED is offering states flexibility around high stakes personnel decisions and double testing—a decision greatly influenced by educators’ voices.

His decision addresses two areas. First, states will be able to ask for an extra year beyond current plans for teacher evaluation systems before data from new assessments impacts personnel decisions for educators.

Second, during next school year (2013-2014), some schools will field test new assessments. ED will work with states to avoid double-testing students. Over-testing is a very real concern, and schools participating in the field test will receive the option to administer only one assessment in 2013-2014 to any given student— either the current statewide assessment or the field test.

Dan Brown, a Teaching Ambassador Fellow (TAF), interviewed Secretary Duncan on his decision.

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

Secretary Duncan’s decision doesn’t come out of the blue. In fact, it was significantly influenced by discussions with teachers around the country. As full-time TAFs, teachers on temporary release from our schools to bring teacher perspective to federal policy-makers, we were literally at the table— and consistently asked to provide educator voice to the high level discussions being held.

In the interest of hearing and elevating teachers’ voices, the 12 members of our TAF team (six full-time Fellows and six part-time Classroom Fellows) traveled to 34 states over the past year and held discussions with well over 4,000 teachers. Teachers, who are the actual implementers for these reforms, are uniquely positioned to offer candid, authentic advice about how to make these urgently needed reforms work best for students.

As Arne describes in the video, we heard from teachers over and over about the unprecedented level of change and reform going on throughout the country as states transition to new standards, new assessments, and new teacher evaluation systems.

Overwhelmingly, we heard support from teachers around the country for raising standards that will ensure students can compete in the global economy. At the same time however, we also heard widespread concern that teachers need time, models, and quality professional development to teach to the new standards effectively. In states where there is a strong commitment to collaboration, teachers feel more empowered, supported, and positive about the current state of reform efforts.

From our vantage point, we believe that the Department and Secretary Duncan are committed to learning from educators. This offer of flexibility reflects the Department’s responsiveness to teachers’ voices. Whether states request the flexibility or not, we hope that we all hear the needs expressed by teachers across the country to make this significant transition sustainably, with room and support for innovation and cycles of professional learning.

Cynthia Apalinski, Jennifer Bado-Aleman, Dan Brown, Kareen Borders, Lisa Clarke, and Marciano Gutierrez are the 2012-2013 Full-Time Teaching Ambassador Fellows at the U.S. Department of Education.