Secretary Duncan Wants to Hear from You

Cross-posted from the White House blog.

This morning, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan sent the following message to the White House email list.

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Last week, I met Brittany.

She’s a hardworking student at West Georgia Technical College who is now just months away from being certified as a nursing assistant, but there was a point when she didn’t think she’d be here. In high school, Brittany became pregnant and her future suddenly became uncertain. Her high school counselor suggested she apply for the 12 for Life program, a local program that offers students who have fallen behind in high school the opportunity to attend class, work and get back on their feet.

As I talked with Brittany and her fellow students — many of whom were the first in their family to graduate high school — they spoke powerfully and tearfully of the program’s success, and how it had given them hope for the future.

Brittany’s inspiring story is just one of many I heard last week during the Department of Education’s annual back-to-school bus tour. This year’s tour took us to Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee, and provided my team and me with the opportunity to see innovations in education and to discuss progress, promise, and results.

I wish I could see every innovative program — every initiative creating promise for our children — happening across the country, but even after visiting all 50 states and more than 350 schools during my time as Secretary, I can’t visit every school. So that’s where you come in.

What cutting-edge programs are your local schools undertaking? Or, if you don’t know of any, what would you like to see them do?

We’ll share some of your stories and suggestions on the White House blog.


Brittany tells Secretary Arne Duncan about her positive experience in the 12 for Life Program during a stop on his back-to-school bus tour in Carrolton, Ga. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Education by Joshua Hoover.

This was my fifth back-to-school bus tour, and with each tour, I become increasingly optimistic about our country’s ability to elevate and strengthen education. High school graduation rates are at an all-time high, college enrollment has hit record levels, dropout rates are dramatically down, and principals, teachers, parents, and students are taking the lead on improving education for all students.

But during the bus tour and around the country, I also hear a lot of people worried that our children won’t inherit a better America than we did. That’s why we have such an important shared mission: to make sure that every student, everywhere, gets an effective education. It’s a mission that we can all agree on, and it’s one that matters immensely.

The best ideas in education will never come from Washington, which is why the Obama Administration is working hard to help states and communities strengthen schools — in particular, through supports for great teaching, and higher standards. It’s inspiring to see states and local communities stepping up to expand access to high-quality early education, transition to college- and career-ready standards, and support innovation in education.

So I want to know what’s happening in your community. Share the innovative things the schools in your area are doing — or what you’d like to see happen.

We should celebrate the gains we’ve made these past couple years, but we can’t be fully satisfied. There’s still more to do to support all students so they may reach their full potential. So, in this new school year, let’s get to work.

Thanks for sharing,


Secretary Arne Duncan
Department of Education



  1. Dear Mr. Arne,

    Solving food safety in our public schools is a task beyond any individual or organization that believes our students need to spend more time in school than to stay home or to go to clinic doctor due to contaminated foods.

    I am a former health inspector & food scientist/engineer. I create a plan to reduce foodborne illnesses by 90% in our public school. I just send you a letter and I hope you receive it. I am waiting your supports on this to solve this silent crisis in our public schools in the US. Thanks.



  2. I am going to really try to convince Mr. Arne Duncan, who is doing a great job, to really think about the starting time for high schools! Too many high school students have been hit six-thirty a.m. waiting for the school buses in the dark. Too many students involed in after school activities are not getting more than six hours of sleep a night. Pleasr join me in letting Mr. Arne Duncan know your opinion on starting time of high schools! Thank you

  3. There should be more emphasis on physical education. Academic scores may be high in school, but how does that transfer to the real world and life. A great deal of these so call academic subjects taught in schools are useless in the real world. Physical education has many more benefits in health and fitness and not just the body but also the mind, which does transfers to the real world.
    The standard of physical education is getting lower and lower. As stated by Michelle Obama on the Dr. Oz Show last year, “Only 2% of the schools in this country have physical education.” Great powers fell due to the lack of physical education, (Introduction to Physical Education, Exercise Science, and Sport Studies 206). This county is headed in that direction. There is scientific evidence that physical education transfers to academics. The children should be educated on the importance of nutrition and physical exercise, which would insure a stronger and healthier nation. Presently, this is a very sick country. How are the students going to think without the proper nutrition and exercise? What you eat now affects you later in life.
    What are you planning in the area of physical education?

  4. Glad to see Secretary Duncan asking to hear from the average citizen. Usually the response one gets is that the state doesn’t intervene in local district’s matters and federal departments don’t get involved in states’ affairs. Hopefully the request from the public is genuine and the responses would be taken into account. My main concern is the lack of outreach to stakeholders of color who can relate better to ethnic minority students, their parents and families in smaller New England urban areas. Many cities have seen demographic changes like Ferguson. However, many local governments could care less about the majority of students’ populations who are African American and/or linguistic minority groups . They tend not to hire teachers or staff from the students’ backgrounds or seek insight from professionals of color though they praise that their schools are diverse and up to 80 or 90 languages are spoken in their respective district. In terms of the immigrant population, the focus is on their home countries, or immigration reforms, not the immigrants’ involvement in K-12 education.

    Given the lack of role models in smaller urban areas schools, funding and support for Community based afterschool or weekend programs run by the leadership from at risk students’ population can be envisioned.
    On the same note, despite the need for teachers who represent the school population, many veteran , qualified and skilled tenured teachers are forced out of public school classrooms. In case of Black teachers, New Orleans and Chicago are not the only districts that have lost thousands of teachers of African descent. In many instances, teachers are asked to sign papers not to speak of their wrongly dismissal or demotions or file legal suits. So one doesn’t know exactly how many thousands of teachers of color in the country are forced to leave the classroom, displaced, or demoted.

    The new school demographics consist of not only Latino immigrants, but immigrants from Africa, the West Indies, Arab countries, East and South Asian countries. As aforementioned, most local government in smaller urban Ferguson like districts tend to ignore a significant population of professionals of color whose insights , skills and experience can be very instrumental in improving performance for English Language Learners, help in cross cultural /global Education, foreign language teaching, two way language learning programs besides Spanish. Outreach to Black parents and families in smaller, medium size, cities and towns is also needed. Many of these cities are run by the same political families who tend to hire their mainly Caucasian friends and families. 90 to 95% of teachers and staff in most New England smaller urban, Ferguson like districts, but more ethnically diverse are Caucasian . Hiring professionals from the students’ backgrounds is not often included of many smaller urban districts’ vision. Students’ culture and the changing demographics are often overlooked in these sub/urban districts. The new school paradigm should require educational leaders and policy makers to pay attention to the changing population and engage professionals with global experience and those from the students’ backgrounds. Veteran, skilled , tenured, displaced teachers of color can fill this void. Please consider reversing the dismissals of these teachers and put their skills to use in smaller urban districts that have almost no teachers of color.

    Appreciate Secretary Duncan reaching out for the public’s opinion.

  5. This is truly just another “lip service” attempt to drive the narrative about openness and transparency in the federal government.

    While the interest in “education” is of universal concern to everyone, I just can’t find where in the Constitution we provided that the federal government has ANY role in the delivery of education. It doesn’t, and for good reason. That reason being that the central government hasn’t the agility or familiarity with the diverse education needs and priorities of the various communities in the nation. And indeed it would appear that since it nosed its way into the EXCLUSIVELY state area of education in 1965 with ESEA we see that not only has education NOT improved, it has taken the opposite direction.

    While providing some financial resources to encourage experimentation might be warranted, it should be limited in scope and amount. And besides a transition program to extract the distorting effects of student aid that has long since abandoned its initial mandate, we should be dismantling the Department of Education. If all those 1000’s of DOE employees are so talented they should go out and compete in the private sector. And we should be getting rid of dead weight of bureaucrats like Arnie before anything.

  6. The loan forgiveness program is a joke. I have talked with 3 different lenders (actually, I believe they are debt collectors promoting this scam of a program) and I have received 3 different answers, none of which seem legitimate. I am a govt employee looking for school loan relief through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. I have initially signed an application, but now I cannot get anyone to call me back to answer more questions and explain exactly where the relief comes into play. They want $800 up front to get this all started……..I have called to cancel and no one will take responsibility……’s already in processing they say and can’t be stopped…I am within my legal 3 day cancellation notice. Frankly, I am ready to call Obama myself………… What a joke…………I am almost ashamed to admit that I work for the govt…………

  7. So happy to hear that Sec. Duncan wants to hear from Educators. I have been a teacher for 34 years! I have worked with at risk students for the majority of my career. I would love to be able to be given the opportunity to provide input on the new standards and The Common Core! Thank you for your consideration!

  8. I received the “Brittany” message, but I have to say this: Arne Duncan, you are part of the problem. More tests, more “accountability” for everyone EXCEPT those who run these programs, which are just avenues for private companies to steal public money.

    Personal example? In 2011 I worked for a tutoring company that charged the State of Hawai’i over $60/hour per student for tutoring, but they only paid me $20, not including prep time, travel or any of the supplies I purchased to help my students. They skimmed off the other $40/hr and barely supplied me with any support at all. The privatization of tutoring is a BIG SCAM, as is the administration of endless testing. This needs to stop.

  9. There is nothing happening in my community to help students that I know of or parents who students are trying to better themselves. New York State is the worst state for any assistance with anything. Here is my story:
    This is not a question but rather an email of disappointment regarding the pay back options of a parent plus loan that I owe for my daughter who has graduated this past May 2014. She has graduated from Bryant and Stratton College in New York State and has not been able to acquire a job yet. She unexpectedly had a baby in June 2014 and I have been supporting myself (single), my daughter and my 3 month old grandson. I have been supporting them, the father is now in jail for domestic violence. He violated the order of protection my daughter has on him and he has gone to jail for this. He is in and out of jail all the time and is no support financially or emotionally and my daughter does not want him around the baby either he has serious anger issues.

    My daughter is NOT living on any assistance from New York State I cover it all and all I ask is some assistance with the 24,000.00 loan that has accumulated. I have put the loan in forbearance but the interest is getting ridiculous from this. I work for a public school district and I received this number 1- 866-393-4087 in my email and I called to find out about getting some type of loan forgiveness or lower payments. When I called I was told that this is not an option for me because I live in New York State. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? New York State is not part of this program because too many of the providers {Great Lakes is mine) are in New York and need to collect as much money from us as possible. As one of the highest taxed states this should not be the case here at all for parents or students that struggle. So I am back to square one with a over 300$ a month payment for a student loan that I am unable to make. I have just built my credit score back up to the 700’s and now I hope this does not ruin it. Mt daughter would like to continue with her bachelor’s degree but at this rate it is not possible.

    If there are any other options available I would love to know what they are. Thank you for listening,
    Becky DeVos

    • Arne Duncan I would like for all Americans to take ownership over their reading levels instead of scale scores that don’t allow readers to know their exact reading level as it relates to 100 words from a book they love to read, sentences, and syllables — correlated on the Edward Fry Readability Graph.

      Literacy, reading and writing, is the “holy grail,” as we can’t function without it. Religiously read and write to be sure you know all your options. You are allowed many ways to receive a college education and repay loans with forbearance, deferment, percentage of earnings, etc. Budgeting goes a long way when paying back loans before default — actually if you can’t afford to pay it back you have incentive to stay in school and improve your human capital. You are not asked to repay what you can’t afford.

      If you want to monitor your reading level with a book you love to read search the web for the Fry readability graph to be sure you are literate enough to know all your options. Most information genre is written on the 5th grade reading level, but sometimes small print can get complicated, so you may want to seek legal services.

  10. I recomend you watch the PBS ken burns on the roosevelts and read diane ravitch’s reign of error
    Thank you

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