We’re Not in Kansas Anymore…But We Were for Bus Tour Day Five

Duncan high fives Corky the Hornet at Emporia

Secretary Duncan gives a high five to Corky the Hornet at Emporia State University. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

Topeka: Celebrating a legacy of hope and courage

If we’ve learned anything in three years of producing back-to-school tours, it’s that an event that begins with a high school band is bound to be terrific. That was certainly the case at the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site in Topeka, Kan., an event that opened with an inspiring performance from the Topeka High School drumline and ended with an inspiring speech by Secretary Duncan.

The backdrop for this first stop of the day was Monroe Elementary, which became the center of a legal challenge in 1950 seeking to end segregation in public schools. Duncan joined National Education Association (NEA) President Dennis Van Roekel to honor the legacy of hope and courage represented by the U.S. Supreme Court case.

The “truth that stands out at these historic landmarks is that our civil rights heroes were often ordinary men, women, and children,” Duncan said. “They remind us that ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary things. From unexceptional circumstances comes exceptional courage—and transformational change.”

Van Roekel and Duncan talked about education as key to providing opportunity for all. “Here, of all places,” Arne said. “Let us affirm again that in America, education is, and always must be, the great equalizer.”

Click here to read Secretary Duncan’s speech.

Emporia: Training the next generation of great teachers

Following the stop in Topeka, the Education Drives America bus kept rolling east to Emporia and Emporia State University. Emporia State is the home of the National Teacher Hall of Fame, and after touring the exhibits and meeting inductees, Duncan and Van Roekel joined hundreds of college of education students, Emporia faculty and students for a standing-room-only town hall on the teaching profession.

Students performing at National Historic Site

At the Brown v Board of Education National Historic Site, elementary students sang Kansas' state song "Home on the Range." Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

Duncan and Van Roekel, who leads the nation’s largest union of education professionals, spoke to the importance of transforming and elevating the teaching profession, as well as training the next generation of great teachers. Duncan implored those students going into the profession to make their voices heard, explaining that changes to the profession must be led by teachers.

Emporia students asked thoughtful questions about teacher training, standards and the use of standardized testing. Van Roekel explained that when it comes to test scores,  “it’s not testing that’s bad; it’s how you use it.”

Watch this ED video about Emporia State’s model teacher preparation program, which emphasizes in-classroom training alongside veteran educators.

Kansas City: Education and the economy inextricably linked

The final stop for Day Five took the Secretary to a rooftop overlooking Kansas City, Mo., for a town hall at the Penn Valley campus of Metropolitan Community College. Produced in conjunction with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, the town hall addressed education issues affecting the Hispanic community.

One of the major themes of the discussion was the importance investing in education from birth and continuing it until career. Duncan noted a recent increase in college enrollment among Hispanics but explained that “the goal can’t just be about going to school, but graduating.”

Responding to a question about charter schools, Arne reaffirmed that he supports high-quality charter schools. Charter or district-run, what the nation ultimately needs is simply “more great public schools,” he said.

The Education Drives America bus keeps moving east, and on Wednesday will be joined by Deputy Secretary of Education Tony Miller for stops in Columbia, Mo., and St. Louis, Mt. Vernon, Ill., and Evansville, Ind.

See what people said on Twitter during Day Five and watch our video summary:

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

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