Duncan and Officials Observe Mock Presentation of Innovative Teacher Mentoring and Evaluation Program at AFT Hall

An innovative teacher evaluation plan, developed with the participation of the teachers union in Toledo, Ohio, was the focus of the final stop on the first day of the “Education and the Economy” bus tour.

Secretary Duncan paid a visit late Wednesday to the Toledo Federation of Teachers union hall.  There, along with 75 teachers, union officials, local elected officials and community members, Duncan observed a mock peer-review panel presentation of the Toledo Plan, 2001 winner of the “Innovations in American Government Award” competition co-sponsored by Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and the Council for Excellence in Government, with funding from the Ford Foundation.

Brochures describe the program as an “intensive model of evaluation and mentoring” for intern teachers…“aimed at those most in need of professional help – beginning teachers and those experienced teachers in trouble.”

But Dal Lawrence, former president of the Toledo Federation of Teachers, had a simpler description.

“We want to find out who can teach in Toledo and who can’t,” Lawrence told Secretary Duncan. “We want to give enough expert mentoring and coaching to people so that they can fly on their own.”

During the presentation, two Toledo Public Schools intern consultants, who are assigned to newly hired Toledo teachers (interns) for two semesters, evaluated two former interns, Matthew Ziegler and Amanda Carr (fictitious name). The consultants’ summary evaluation reports were presented to an Intern Board of Review composed of five teachers and four administrators.

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

Their reports, based largely on interns’ progress toward meeting specific goals as determined by the consulting teachers, included descriptions and evidence of the interns’ performance in the areas of teaching procedures, classroom management, subject knowledge and personal characteristics/professional responsibility.

Upon receiving a recommendation from the consulting teachers on the interns’ future employment status, – “yes” for Ziegler, “no” for Carr – the panel had an opportunity to question the presenters and discuss the interns’ performance before conferring and voting on the recommendations.

The dialogue drew out specific areas where the two teachers were either performing well. For Ziegler:  “Weekly goals are outlined and posted on the blackboard, uses baskets to distribute materials quickly, spirals lessons through increasing levels of complexity.” For Carr:  “Students are not engaged consistently, high standards of work are not encouraged, class rules and consequences are posted but not enforced consistently or fairly.”

Afterwards, the panel voted to accept the recommendation in both cases; Ziegler was approved to receive a second one-year contract and released from the intern program, while Carr’s performance was deemed unsatisfactory, with no offer of a second-year contract.

Next, Lawrence asked Ziegler (who went on to become a math teacher after his real evaluation and was in the audience) to stand to applause from the crowd.

Secretary Duncan joked with Ziegler, saying “That must be a little odd – watching your own life like that.”

“I’ve followed this model closely for years, and this was a chance to learn and pay very close attention to the hard work, collaboration, and thoughtfulness that went into this process,” Duncan said.

Duncan Takes to Twitter to Answer Your Questions

(Official Department of Education Photo by Paul Wood)

During the past week, thousands of Twitter users submitted questions to Secretary Duncan for his first-ever #AskArne Twitter Town Hall, and the difficult task of choosing the questions for Arne fell to the event’s moderator, journalist John Merrow. Merrow monitored #AskArne tweets throughout the week and even gave one last look through the steady stream of questions just moments before the camera went live.

Merrow asked Secretary Duncan tough questions covering a broad range of topics, including: standardized testing, cheating, performance pay for educators, and whether Arne truly listens to teachers.

Many Twitter users asked Arne about testing, and whether students are taking too many tests at school.

@pureparents: #AskArne: What specifically will you do to decrease the amount of and emphasis on standardized testing in the US?

Secretary Duncan answered:

@usedgov: Where you have too many tests, or are spending too much time on test prep, that doesn’t lead to good results. #AskArne

@usedgov: Fill-in-the-bubble tests should be a tiny % of what we’re doing. I’m a big fan of formative assessments–more helpful to teachers. #AskArne

A few Twitter users such as Richard wondered if Arne listens to teachers.

@Thanks2Teachers: #AskArne Do you truly LISTEN to the voices & concerns of teachers and parents? Hope this isn’t a hollow public relations exercise.

Duncan explained to Merrow:

@usedgov: I listen to teachers daily, in visits to schools, in mtgs @ ED and through our teaching ambassadors. Visited hundreds of schools. #askarne

Several Twitter users inquired about the Secretary’s stand on school vouchers:

@thefooshshow: #AskArne Heritage Fndn sz vouchers most viable way to *dismantle* pub #education. Will u unequivcbly take v off table?

Duncan responds:

@usedgov: Duncan: I will never support school vouchers. They take $ away from public system. I want great PUBLIC schools in this country. #AskArne

(Official Department of Education Photo by Paul Wood)

During the town hall, Secretary Duncan noted that he’s still a Twitter “novice” and he looks forward to future chats and to engaging with teachers online. If you missed the town hall, you can watch the archived video here, and you can see a more comprehensive list of questions and answers through ED’s Twitter page.

To keep up-to-date on all things ED, follow @ArneDuncan, @usedgov, @ED_Outreach, @EDPressSec on Twitter, or click here to see all of ED’s social media accounts.

A Teacher’s Agreement and Frustration at the Save Our Schools Rally

At the SOS rally with other teachers at the ellipse in front of the White House this weekend, I wrestled with conflicting emotions. On the one hand, signs everywhere testified to our universal frustration with the failed policies of NCLB and to damaging cuts to education:  Education Cuts Never Heal . . . Education is Not Just for the Rich & White . . . No Teacher Supports the Status Quo . . . Education is Not Test Prep . . . Build Schools, Not Bombs.

I came to ED one year ago as a Teaching Ambassador Fellow, and have extended my position for one additional year. I share teachers’ concerns expressed at the rally. But, unlike them, I have witnessed Arne Duncan’s team working tirelessly to fix these very problems and overhaul the No Child Left Behind Act. President Obama’s Blueprint for Reform would dramatically reduce the number of schools labeled as failing for not making AYP so that only the bottom five percent would be identified, and those schools would receive considerable support to turn around. It would end the flawed practice of requiring students to reach an arbitrary bar on a poor proficiency test and ask states to focus on each student’s growth instead. It would provide incentives for programs to support teachers’ professional learning and use multiple measures to evaluate them, not only student growth scores. It would encourage states to expand their curricula to include the arts, history, and others neglected under NCLB. And the plan would support the states in their efforts to create better tests that cover critical thinking and really show what students know and can do.

And this is the source of my frustration:  that the teachers at the rally seemed unaware that the administration is with them on so many of the issues they care about. Since he took office, Arne Duncan has been calling for ESEA to be reauthorized so that we can fix the very problems that plague our schools, handcuff teachers, and handicap students. He talks with teachers continually and listens to their concerns. Secretary Duncan is working hard with Congress to pass a bill. If Congress fails to act before the beginning of the school year, he will consider offering regulatory flexibility to help alleviate the burdens of NCLB.

The Arne Duncan who I know developed a passion for education while his mom tutored students in her inner city Chicago Sunday school class who couldn’t read. He worked with her to help these kids, and since then he has built a career focused on educational equity, on ensuring that students do not to become victims of their zip code. He believes the fight for education is a fight for social justice.

At the rally, however, teachers clearly were angry at Arne Duncan for the law that he did not create and that he does not support.  Instead of blaming him, teachers and policymakers need to work together as a team to fix a law that we all agree is broken.

Laurie Calvert

Laurie Calvert is a teacher liaison on loan from Buncombe County Schools in N.C. and working temporarily at the Department of Education.

View A Teacher’s Guide to Fixing No Child Left Behind

Inspiration Overcomes Anxiety for Future Teachers in Rural Illinois

Why teach?

“This may sound like a hippie answer, but I want to change the world,” said future teacher Joelle Schulda, when asked what drew her to education. “If I can reach just one child—who knows?—that child could grow up to be the president of the United States.”

A small group of future educators shared their career inspirations and concerns with Deputy Assistant Secretary of Rural Outreach John White during a recent TEACH campaign town hall at the Illinois Valley Community College in rural Oglesby, Illinois.

Some current and former IVCC education students stand with ED’s John White: (front, from left) Kris Sienza, White, Megan Mikesell and Marissa Vicich; (second row) Cortney Mikesell, Joelle Shulda, Jackie Heim and Aseret Gonzalez; (back) Abby Derix and Chris Tidmore. Photo courtesy of IVCC.

White was joined by Illinois State University Dean of Education Deborah Curtis, IVCC Education Program Coordinator Jill Urban-Bollis and IVCC Early Education Program Coordinator Diane Christianson for the panel, moderated by IVCC Vice President for Learning and Student Development Rick Pearce.

Aseret Gonzalez said she sees a “lack of mentorship” in her community and wants to help fill that void as an educator.  Another student hopes to follow in the footsteps of numerous family members who are current or former teachers. “I’ve always known that I wanted to teach,” said IVCC student Kris Sienza.  “I chose math because I used to love it, but found the classes to be really boring as I got older.  I want to get kids excited about math.”

While the students’ passion for education was clear, several discussed concerns about their chosen career path.  “Everything that’s known about teaching is very much changing,” remarked Christianson, as the dialogue turned to teacher layoffs, labor disputes, and other issues facing present-day educators such as the restrictive demands of NCLB.

White discussed the President’s Blueprint for Reform which would “stop labeling schools as failures” by changing its accountability provision to focus on students’ growth over time rather than “measuring different kids each year on one test on one day.”

Despite their concerns, the IVCC students embraced the goals of the TEACH campaign described by White — recruiting nearly 1 million new teachers over the next 5 years to replace the retiring teachers of the baby boomer generation, and celebrating today’s great educators.

The participants plan to work with ED’s communications and outreach team for the Great Lakes Region, based in Chicago, to serve as TEACH “ambassadors” with local high schools in order to encourage more students to consider the teaching profession.

Julie Ewart is the Senior Public Affairs Specialist in the Chicago Regional Office. She is the mother of three school-aged children.

ED Wraps Up National Conversations on English Learner Education

The lack of valid and reliable assessments for English learners (EL), the loss of instructional time due to an overemphasis on testing, and the lack of English as a Second Language (ESL) teaching strategies in teacher preparation and professional development programs were dominant themes that emerged from the six National Conversations on English Learner Education hosted by the Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA) over the last four months. The needs for fostering greater family and community engagement, and ELs with special needs were also themes that cut across all six conversations held in Dallas, Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle, New York City, and Charlotte, North Carolina. Other themes from these conversations will be identified and synthesized in a report, which will inform the work plan for this office for the coming year.

Hosted in collaboration with the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE), the office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS), the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics (WHIEEH), the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (WHIAAPI), and the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), these meetings brought together a diverse group of EL stakeholders including educators,  researchers, policymakers, university instructors, and advocacy groups who were asked to consider and discuss the question, “What makes for a quality education for English Learners in the 21st Century?”

Utilizing a format that was intentionally meant to be participatory, interactive, and action-oriented, these meetings were characterized by dynamic and engaging dialogues that served to identify current areas of major concern,  share promising practices for classrooms and schools, and define new directions for reform and transformation in English learner education.

In addition to this series of national conversations, our office has many complementary efforts planned in the coming months.  These include two forums: one on English learners with disabilities that will take place in Las Vegas on May 18th in collaboration with the Council of the Great City Schools (CGCS), and a second on English learners and STEM education that will take place in DC in July. OELA will also host webinars for practitioners and continue working to inform key initiatives including ESEA reauthorization.

There is no question that human capital is our nation’s greatest resource.  Failure to prepare the nearly 5 million ELs in our pre-K–12 systems – more than a tenth of all our students – would squander something very precious and is something our nation cannot afford. Ensuring that all students are ready for college and careers has never mattered more than now, if we hope to realize President Obama’s goal for the United States to have the best-educated workforce and the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020.

Rosalinda B. Barrera, Ph.D. is assistant deputy secretary and director of the Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA) at the U.S. Department of Education

Top 5 Things We Heard at the National Youth Summit

More than 400 youth from over 30 states gathered on Feb. 26 for the National Youth Summit in Washington to discuss the issues that are most important to them. The Summit was a product of last year’s successful National Youth Listening Tour, which held roundtable discussions with youth in 13 cities across the country. During the Tour, Department of Education officials collected the top issues raised by the youth and those became the breakout discussions during the national summit. 

During one of the general Summit sessions, each attendee had the chance to vote with keypads to indicate their opinions on a range of issues, including the themes of the individual breakout discussions. The following are the top five observations from the Summit:

1. Young people are motivated to go to college to be role models for family members.

Nearly 9 in 10 students at the National Youth Summit agreed that being a role model motivated their college aspirations. During the Tour, many of the respondents said that they wanted to be the first in their families to graduate from college to encourage their younger siblings and even their parents to do the same.

2. Young people want to have their voice included in teacher evaluations.

Close to 94% of the students at the summit agreed that including student voice in teacher evaluations would be fair. Youth have opinions about the quality of the instruction that they receive, and they feel left out of the debate over teacher evaluations.

3. Contrary to what some may believe, young people yearn for more challenging classes and do not feel that enough college preparatory courses are available to them.

The voting results from the Summit reveal that 90% of the participating youths wanted more challenging coursework available in their schools, and many of the youth agreed that their school needs more challenging courses that prepare them for college and for the SAT or ACT.

4. Young people believe that school climate surveys are an important first step toward improving school safety, but they believe more needs to be done.

Youth at the Summit and on the Tour expressed that some of their schools have such a strong focus on discipline that it creates a prison-like atmosphere rather than an enriching, safe learning environment.

5. Young people wanted to see more collaboration between their high school and colleges.

Nearly 96% of the young people at the Summit agreed that they would like to see more colleges form partnerships with high schools to encourage students to visit the campus, assist with applications, and even to hold some classes on campus.

Holly Bullard is an intern in the Office of Communications and Outreach at the Department of Education

Citizens Give ED High Ratings in National Survey

The Department of Education was the runner up—second only to the U.S. military—in a recent Gallup survey that asked respondents to name the “government agency that is the most important to the future of the United States.” The survey, which was featured in yesterday’s Washington Post, included more than 40,000 U.S. households. The results also showed that young adults rated the Department of Education near the top among federal agencies as a possible employer.

Read the entire Gallup report.

ED Staff

Heard on the Tour: Secretary Arne Duncan Visits Anchorage

Secretary Arne Duncan visits Anchorage.

Secretary Arne Duncan visits Anchorage.

We had a great day in Anchorage yesterday, our first of three days in Alaska to gather input as part of the “Listening and Learning” education reform tour.

Our first stop, the Alaska Native Heritage Center, was much more than a visit to a museum. We saw children and adults learning about Alaskan history, native dances and sports, and more. We watched women making coats by hand. We saw subterranean homes. Student and adult guides explained how the homes were made and described unique design features, including the narrow tunneled entrances, which keep out polar bears. We saw whale bones and heard about salmon runs and the many types of fish (red, silver, pink salmon, kingfish, halibut, others). One of the student guides said his father caught a 97-pound salmon this year. He said his family hauled in 128 salmon on a recent fishing trip. This should last them one month this winter.

At our second stop, Cook Inlet Tribal Council, Senators Murkowski and Begich joined Arne for the listening and learning event. More than 50 people attended — teachers, state department of education and university of Alaska officials, parents, and media. In his opening remarks, Arne announced the three-year $1.2 million grant to Anchorage public schools to help reduce the dropout rate and prepare students for college and careers. There were many good questions. Afterward, Arne and ED chief of staff Margot Rogers met with Governor Sean Parnell.

Arne seemed to accomplish everything he wanted on the first day in Alaska, except seeing a moose. But maybe in Hooper Bay today.

John White
Press Secretary

See Photos

Heard on the Tour: North Star Academy, Newark

North Star Academy students at all-school community circle

North Star Academy students at all-school community circle

Everywhere Secretary Duncan has visited on his listening tour — a Montana Indian reservation, a high school in Detroit, a middle school in West Virginia — students are saying, “Challenge me, push me, make me work, and I will do it.”

He heard the same message in Newark, N.J., one of America’s poorest cities. Many families there face so many challenges: rising unemployment, foreclosures, an overburdened social services system. One in three children lives in poverty. No more than half of the 8th grade students pass state tests. A quarter of high school seniors do not graduate.

Yet parents and students find hope in the form of a promise of a better life through education. In Newark, nowhere does that hope shine brighter than at North Star Academy. Children enter this public charter school at the 5th grade often significantly behind their state peers. Less than 35 percent of entering students are proficient in literacy and 15 percent are proficient in math. Yet over 95 percent of 7th graders — who have been in the school less than 2 full years — scored proficient or advanced in language arts literacy and math. Based on these results, North Star is the highest performing school in Newark and 2nd highest among all urban schools in New Jersey.

The secretary and those of us travelling with him observed classes, participated in the all-school “community circle,” and heard students and parents testify to the passion and commitment of the teachers and administrators at North Star. We heard how educators take the time to really know their students, and students and parents really know teachers and staff. We saw how teachers challenge students not to just learn but to make good choices — the right choices — and thereby develop their character and an ethos of service. Students talked about their teachers as their second parents — available to them at all hours, on weekends, and whenever they really need them. The passion and commitment of the North Star community has students believing that failure is not an option.

The youth of North Star understand that despite the unwavering efforts of dedicated teachers and supportive staff, the responsibility for learning, achieving and growing ultimately depends on them. These young scholars commit to a schedule that has them attending class or involved in enrichment and remediation activities far after the regular school day ends for other students in the city. And, to avoid the summer slide in academic skills, North Star students have a longer school year and a shorter summer break, with students in class for 200 days a year. Students said this helps build confidence and character and an understanding of the expectations that lie ahead: college. For the North Star student, college is not a “dream, an aspiration or a goal; it is their destiny.”

Parents in the North Star community believe fervently in their role as advocates for their children and the children of Newark. They believe in being more accountable and responsible for their children’s academic success. They embrace it and feel passionately about it. As one parent said, “the happiest day of my life was when I knew my son would be enrolled in North Star and he would have an opportunity to receive a great education.” They believe that charter schools like North Star are beacons of hope for parents and students. As one parent said “build on what works, expand it to benefit the entire public education system, and, in turn, renew and revitalize Newark.”

Todd May

Heard on the Tour: Vermont Coffee House


Secretary Duncan stops at Muddy Waters cafe in Burlington, Vt., to talk with teachers on his listening tour about education reform.

Two weeks ago In West Virginia, our first listening tour stop , teachers told me they would have liked to have met Secretary Duncan after school for coffee.  They said the conversation he’d started at their school could have gone on for hours.  They’d have time for that after school, when they could relax and just let the conversation roll.

We took that advice to heart.  Before arriving in Vermont last week, we contacted a teacher at Colchester High School and asked where her teacher friends hang out.  She mentioned a café in nearby Burlington, a few blocks from the university.

That’s where 10 elementary and high school teachers stopped in right after school got out, grabbed a coffee, and sat down for an hour with Secretary Duncan for an open-ended conversation.  Teachers talked about everything from their personal reasons for becoming teachers, to experiences with their students, dealing with discipline, pressure to “teach to the test,” national standards, media perceptions of teachers, parents who are intimidated by teachers and schools, cooking for their families after working all day, class sizes, what to wear to school, music, support for teachers who want to be principals, “loan forgiveness” and more.  The conversation kept running for a couple hours, even after the Secretary had to leave for his next appointment.

Something that kept coming up again and again throughout the conversation was the realization that  teachers laugh and cry a lot.  We cry mostly in the first few years, then we learn to laugh more, and as we get older we cry with joy when our students succeed and graduate.  Maybe the teachers in Vermont are just highly emotional, but I don’t think so.  The teachers in West Virginia told us similar stories, with similar emotional reactions.  It seems that if you’re going to have a free-wheeling conversation with teachers, you better bring some Kleenex, or if you’re in a café, stock up on the napkins.  You’re going to laugh until you cry, and you’re not leaving until everybody hugs each other.  This “meeting” really set the tone for the next day’s school visits.

Tim Tuten
Director of Events, Office of Communications and Outreach

Heard on the Tour: Detroit

Cody High School Principal Johnathon Matthews (center) speaks to Student Forum attendees, who included Secretary Arne Duncan, Detroit Mayor David Bing, Gov. Granholm, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Russlyn Ali in addition to Cody students.

Cody High School Principal Johnathon Matthews (center) speaks to Student Forum attendees, who included Secretary Arne Duncan, Detroit Mayor David Bing, Gov. Granholm, and Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Russlynn Ali in addition to Cody students.

This week we went to “ground zero” for our second stop on the listening and learning tour. We listened to a community hobbled by the decline of an industry that was once the engine of the city’s economy, a housing market bust as bad as it gets, recent political strife the likes of which one couldn’t make up in a Hollywood screenplay, and a school system suffering beyond compare. Today we listened to Detroit.

We heard heart wrenching stories about unfulfilled dreams from policy-makers, community leaders, educators, parents, and student themselves. We heard from teachers struggling to teach with few needed supports. Teaching, for example, rigorous high school science using a laboratory that is devoid of even the basics, like running water. We listened as high schools seniors told us that more than half of their peers starting with them in the 9th grade were either dead or in jail by the 12th grade. We heard from community activists and elected officials begging for national attention and support in their moment of urgent crisis.

But today, we also witnessed hope, responsibility and courage. Hope that finally the forces were aligning for positive change and sustainable reform. Hope in a new Mayor with the will to do whatever it takes to fix an utterly broken school system. Hope in a Governor with the passion and commitment to help an ailing people. We witnessed courage by everyone to confront the challenges head on; steely determination by students to thrive, no matter what; parents taking ultimate responsibility for their children’s future; and teachers finding creative ways to restructure their schools to meet their students’ needs. More than anything, we saw an entire community united with the spirit of survival.

Today we listened to a city ready to transform its schools from a national disgrace to a national model. And, albeit with a heavy heart, we were inspired.

Russlynn Ali

Assistant Secretary, Office for Civil Rights

Heard on the Tour

One of the most important things we can do as policymakers is stay connected with the people who will be affected by the decisions we make.  Our first listening tour stop was a powerful reminder of the value of listening to teachers, parents, and students.

The elementary school teachers and parents reminded us of three things:

  • Leadership matters. In both schools, teachers told us that they stayed because their principals allowed them to perfect their craft, removed barriers, effectively brokered resources, and supported them. Parents felt welcomed by the principals and recognized that great principals attract and retain great teachers.
  • The use of formative assessments – and the resulting data – can be transformative. In both schools, teachers used formative assessments frequently to gauge student progress, shuffle student groupings, determine who needed extra support (including Response to Intervention) and extra challenge, and to otherwise drive their instruction. They painted an incredibly clear before picture (“we told parents that their children couldn’t read, but that was all”) and after picture (“we can tell parents that their child can’t read because he has a specific challenge decoding a short ‘a’ sound”) and spoke passionately about how their use of data made them better at their jobs. Parents commented on how this specific information was much more helpful to them.
  • Preparation matters. Teachers generally agreed that their education had not prepared them to be highly effective in the classroom. Many teachers commented that they felt like they got an education that taught them how to teach 25 years ago, and not one that prepared them for teaching in the 21st century.

We heard an equally important set of themes at the community college event:

  • Cost – even at community colleges – makes it difficult for people to go back to school for retraining. It is hard to raise a family and find enough money to take courses.
  • We need to continue to work on quality articulation agreements between community college and four-year institutions, so that the courses taken at community colleges can be transferred when students pursue a four-year degree at a college or university.
  • People are grateful for community colleges and their ability to serve such diverse constituencies. In many instances cited by people who spoke, the community college was the critical part of the path to enabling them to fulfill their higher education dreams.

As we leverage big opportunities – and work through inevitable challenges – in the coming months and years, I’ll be reminded constantly of the impact of decisions on people in the classroom, both K-12 and higher education.  I am grateful to the people of West Virginia for their openness in sharing with us what makes a difference in their lives every day.

Margot Rogers