Secretary Duncan’s Straight Talk Is Music to Puerto Ricans’ Ears

Secretary Duncan speaks in Puerto Rico

Secretary Duncan speaks at the Puerto Rico Education Summit. (Official Department of Education Photo by Joshua Hoover)

On the island of Puerto Rico, home to the third-largest school district in the United States, Secretary Duncan on Monday brought a tough, but optimistic message to the “Investing in Our Future” Education Summit.

Puerto Rico, Duncan said to the more than 300 attendees, must choose “the path of embracing innovation, academic rigor, accountability, and effective strategies for accelerating learning for all students.”

In the first official visit by a U.S. Secretary of Education to Puerto Rico in 18 years, Secretary Duncan delivered opening and closing remarks at the 7-hour summit.

Duncan’s message was summarized Tuesday in the front-page headline of Puerto Rico’s largest newspaper, El Nuevo Dia, which read; “U.S. Education Secretary Sings the Truth.”

Convened at the recommendation of the President’s Task Force Report on Puerto Rico’s Status, the summit brought together local elected officials, teacher unions, nonprofits, Puerto Rico Department of Education stakeholders, mainland education experts, as well as the business community.

Participants in the summit included Puerto Rican Governor Luis Fortuño; resident commissioner Pedro Pierluisi; San Juan mayor Jorge Santini; Vadim Nikitine, founder of the Flamboyan Foundation, and Nelson Colon, President of the Community Foundation of Puerto Rico.

Summit panels included System Wide Education Reform; Labor Management Collaboration as Key to Student Success; Beating the Odds in Traditionally Failing Environments; and a Business and Philanthropy in Education roundtable.

Student achievement has floundered in Puerto Rico, and 63 schools have been identified as persistently low-achieving.

Duncan acknowledged the challenges, but pressed summit attendees to meet those challenges, including poverty, with a spirit of collaboration and optimism.

“I know that poverty is not destiny,” Duncan said.  “We have all seen lives change because of opportunity, support, and guidance from great teachers and mentors.”

The summit’s panel on labor-management collaboration was the subject of particular attention, and Dr. Linda Lane, Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent, and Nina Esposito-Visgitis, President of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, shared with the audience how they forged a strong working relationship.

“It all began when they asked me to participate in a teacher evaluation discussion, and I realized they were listening to me,” Vigisitis said.  “That really is where things began.”

The Department of Education, along with the Task Force, will continue to follow-up on the recommendations and lessons learned from the Summit.

During his visit, Secretary Duncan also conducted a town hall with parents and teachers at a school in Bayamon, as well as a small meeting with high school seniors at a school in San Juan.

Setting Sail for Success

Photos courtesy of U.S. Navy Recruit Training Command

NAVAL STATION GREAT LAKES – Nine hundred and sixty new sailors were formally welcomed into the U.S. Navy on Friday by Under Secretary of Education Martha Kanter, when she delivered remarks at the basic training graduation for Navy recruits.

Kanter served as the reviewing officer for the ceremony, held at Naval Station Great Lakes, where every Navy recruit in the country undergoes an 8-week boot camp for sailors.  Fittingly, it was one of the last events Department of Education staff participated in on the final day of the “Education and the Economy” bus tour.

Before the ceremony, Kanter toured the USS TRAYER, where the recruits underwent Battle Stations 21: a rigorous 12-hour capstone training exercise to test their skills in everything from routine activities like loading stores and getting underway, to handling emergency conditions like floods and shipboard fires.  The TRAYER is a _ scale model Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, housed within a 157,000-square-foot building, and equipped with salvaged components.  The training simulator uses Hollywood-style special effects – including controlled flooding and fire – to create challenging and realistic training scenarios that gauge the readiness of the recruits.

“The program has been rigorous, demanding incredible dedication and persistence from every single recruit,” Kanter said during her remarks before row upon row of sailors dressed in gleaming dress whites.  “The experiences these sailors have had here at Naval Station Great Lakes serve as a reminder of the importance of dedicating one’s self to service and education all through life.”

After her remarks, Under Secretary Kanter met with a number of graduating sailors and their families, including Dominique Wright, from Leonardtown, Maryland, who received a Military Excellence Award as the top recruit of the class.

“Watching the superior performance of these newly minted sailors, I’m confident that the nation’s future will be a secure and prosperous one,” Kanter said afterwards.

Daren Briscoe
Office of Communications and Outreach

College Access Gets a High Tech Boost

YPSILANTI-There was a field trip on just the third day of the school year at Ypsilanti New Tech High School @ Ardis, but it wasn’t students doing the traveling.  Instead, the school itself was the destination, for Greg Darnieder, Education Secretary Duncan’s senior advisor on the College Access Initiative, who visited the school as part of ED’s back-to-school tour through the Midwest.

As one of ten schools in Michigan’s New Technology High School Network, Ypsilanti New Tech @ Ardis employs the system’s Project-Based Learning (PBL) approach to “use technology and inquiry to engage students with issues and questions that are relevant to their lives,” according to promotional materials.

The public school, in just its second year of operation, is funded in part by more than $1.2 million in Federal Title II support to the state of Michigan that has helped seed six New Tech schools.

Darnieder toured several classes at the school, including Geo(graphy)Tech and PhysicsTech, guided by sophomores Kelsey Scott and Zachery Roberson.

While the campus bristles with high-end technology like high-definition cameras, flat screen TVs and laptop computers, school officials say the goal is for students to embrace technology – in all its forms – as a tool to advance learning.

Scott and Roberson enthusiastically endorsed the approach, describing a class project from their freshmen year where students put together a multimedia project on the Roaring 20’s, including producing a newspaper, videos and class presentations built around research into the technological developments, significant events and important figures of the time.

“It’s a really fun way to learn,” Scott said, “and you don’t even realize until later how much you have learned.”

Holly Heaviland, director of the New Tech network in Michigan’s Washtenaw county, explained to Darnieder that the school strives to “marry innovations with other things kids need,” including strategies to increase college access.  She introduced him to two teams of College Advising Corps members from the University of Michigan and Michigan State University.  Together, the teams provide valuable college counseling support to 33 Michigan urban and rural schools.

“You guys are in a key role,” Darnieder told the group, mentioning President Obama’s goal of reaching 8.2 million new college graduates by 2020.  “I want to thank you for stepping out there and venturing into the land of young people.  So much of success in this area is about building relationships.  It’s about academics, too, but especially for first generation college-going students, success revolves around relationships.”

His point was echoed by Joilyn Stephenson, a member of the University of Michigan college advising corps.   “A lot of people don’t realize that these students are helping us as well,” Stephenson said.  When we can see some of the challenges they’re overcoming, it encourages us to do our best.”

-Daren Briscoe
Office of Communications and Outreach

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.

Education Will Open Doors, Duncan Tells Cleveland Students

Official Department of Education Photo by Leslie Williams

Nearly 1000 people filed into the East Tech High School auditorium in Cleveland on Wednesday afternoon for the third stop, and the largest crowd yet, on the “Education and the Economy” bus tour.

But Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has a personal message for a small group of them. He asked the students in the audience to stand. Several rows of young, mostly African-American men wearing black sweater vests, white dress shirts, ties and khakis seated in the front rows stood, to applause from the crowd. 

Duncan spoke directly to them.

“When I was in high school on the south side of Chicago, my friends could drop out of high school and go to work in the stock yards and steel mills, get a job and take care of a family.  That’s gone now.”

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

He went on to implore everyone attending to find a role in improving Cleveland’s education system and to reject complacency.

“If you do that, doors will open for you, if not – it’s going to be tough.  Cleveland has made real progress, but your goal should be to be the best urban school system in the country four or five years from now.  Cleveland has had some great successes, but now is not the time to rest on your laurels.”

The event “Connecting Cleveland’s Communities and Classrooms,” featured a panel discussion and audience Q&A with Duncan and national and local leaders in community service.  Participants included Joshua DuBois, executive director of The White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships; Acting CEO for the Corporation for National and Community Service Robert Velasco II; Reverend Tracy Lind; Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson; Cleveland schools CEO Eric Gordon, and Nikki Gentile, a 3rd grade teacher from Marion-Sterling school.

But the conversation began before Secretary Duncan’s bus rolled onto East Tech’s campus. The White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships held a forum for leaders of Cleveland community-based organizations. Representatives of the federal Departments of Labor, Agriculture, Health and Human Services and Education, as well as the Corporation for National and Community Service, offered information about federal programs that support local communities.

Representatives of nonprofit groups talked about how they are putting that funding to work in the Cleveland area. Outside in the main hallway of East Tech, government agencies and community groups showcased their programs and provided information to the guests.
Once the main event kicked off, Secretary Duncan said the goal was simple: “Connecting Cleveland’s communities and classrooms – what’s working, and what can be done to improve?”  And, he noted, “Any time you have an auditorium full of people talking about education, that’s a good thing.”

The panel discussed topics and audience questions ranged widely; how to increase meaningful parental engagement; how Cleveland has increased graduation rates; what the appropriate role for charter schools is; and from a student in the audience who said he was in foster care and wanted to know, “What will happen in three years when Race to the Top money runs out?  Are students like me going to be left on our own with no help from the system?”

Secretary Duncan was optimistic.  “Race to the Top has catalyzed huge amount of change in this system,” he said.  “Forty-four states have signed on to common core academic standards.  For the first time in Ohio, children are being held to a much higher standard.  When the (Race to the Top) money goes away – I don’t think that goes away.  My hope is that we’ve taken our country in a new direction and will continue to improve.”

Read more about City Year corps members who participated in the East Tech High event.

Making Early Connections in Erie

ERIE- Second stop for Secretary Duncan on the 2011 “Education and the Economy” bus tour: the Early Connections pre-K Learning Center. Here the Secretary participated in a roundtable discussion about early childhood education with Senator Bob Casey, Pennsylvania state educators, parents and business leaders, along with Duncan’s Senior Advisor on Early Learning Jacqueline Jones, and Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services Alexa Posny.

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

It began with a quick classroom observation, where in teacher Meghan Haskins’s class, Secretary Duncan’s visit competed for the attention of youngsters with building blocks, crayons, and crafts.

Next, Secretary Duncan joined a capacity crowd in another classroom, sitting with other panel participants at a U-shaped table. Though the classroom was designed for a pint-sized audience, Senator Casey – participating via Skype – introduced Secretary Duncan with a very adult rationale for investing in early childhood education.

The investment, Senator Casey said, “is important so every child can shine to the full measure of their potential. The return on investment is irrefutable, from a low estimate of a $3 return for every dollar spent, to estimates as high as $17 for every dollar invested. Whatever the number, it’s a great return.”

Secretary Duncan praised Senator Casey’s commitment to early childhood education as a way to avoid cascading achievement problems further down the line. “I’m tired of playing catch-up,” Duncan said. “You have colleges blaming high schools when kids aren’t ready: high schools blaming middle schools, middle schools blaming elementaries. There’s nothing more important we can do to get our babies off to a great start. If we can get our three, four and five-year-olds ready for kindergarten, so many of these challenges go away.”

One by one, the participants around the table spoke to the importance of real commitment to quality early childhood education.

Jacqueline Jones agreed with the consensus, highlighting the Department’s $500 million commitment made with the Department of Health and Human Services. She confirmed that their new Race to the Top–Early Learning Challenge grant program offers funding that will increase access to quality early childhood education. “We’re doing everything we can,” Jones said, “to try to make your job easier, and to make sure that teachers and classrooms have what they need, but most of all that children have what they need.”

Secretary Duncan Kicks Off Back-to-School Tour in Pittsburgh

Official Department of Education Photo by Leslie Williams

PITTSBURGH- The U.S. Department of Education’s “Education and the Economy” back-to-school bus tour got off to a rousing start with a brassy welcome at the tour’s first stop, Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s arrival at the school, for a discussion with Pittsburgh Superintendent Linda Lane and other officials about labor-management collaboration, was announced by the blue and gray-clad Perry Traditional Academy marching band, which flanked the school’s entrance along with an energetic team of drummers, horn players and cheerleaders. 

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Secretary Duncan presented principal Jennifer Mikula with a signed basketball bearing the U.S. Department of Education seal, and then headed to the school’s gym for a panel discussion with Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA), Lane, Mikula, co-principal Shana Nelson, Nina Esposito, president of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, and Robert “Bob” Nelkin, president of the United Way, Allegheny County.

Secretary Duncan complimented Pittsburgh’s commitment in the face of the many forces that can stifle student achievement, saying, “This is a battle against poverty, social failure, and unemployment.”

He praised Pittsburgh’s collaborative approach, including the leadership of the school board, the union, and management, singling out teachers for particular praise.  “There’s nothing more important than great teachers,” Duncan said.  “I know how hard this work is, and what you guys are doing collectively is absolutely a model for the country.”

Secretary Duncan challenged the larger Pittsburgh community to join the collaboration to improve the local education system, and tied Pittsburgh’s success to that of the country. “You can’t have a great city without a great public school system,” he said.  “Families will suffer, and communities will see a tremendous negative impact.  This is in everyone’s best interest – it can’t just be the work of the school system and the unions.  A quality education system and a strong, growing, vibrant economy are inextricably linked.  If we do this well, we put our country back on the path to prosperity.”

Official Department of Education Photo by Leslie Williams

Turning to speak directly to the marching band of 9th-12th graders, Secretary Duncan stressed the importance of education for their future success, and the opportunities it would provide, including Pittsburgh Promise, a scholarship program administered by the Pittsburgh Foundation that helps Pittsburgh public school students plan, prepare, and pay for an education beyond high school.
“Every single one of you has to graduate from high school and then you have to think about what the next step on your education journey is.  With Pittsburgh Promise – if you work hard, you get good grades, there’s going to be an opportunity for you,” Duncan said.

The panel discussion covered a range of issues, including how to address resource disparities created by local funding for public schools, how to take advantage of schools’ capacity to serve as community hubs during hours outside of the school day, the importance of early childhood education, and Secretary Duncan’s call to recruit 1 million volunteer mentors and tutors in the nation’s lowest performing schools.

Secretary Duncan stressed that his high expectations extend to his own role, and that of the Department of Education.   “We’re trying to learn how to become a better partner,” he told the audience.   “Please hold me accountable, and my team.  We think there’s a lot that’s broken with the No Child Left Behind Act, and we’re trying to provide communities with relief, flexibility, and accountability.  If we can be a better partner, it will speed up change, and it’s always local educators and stakeholders who know what communities need.”

Official Department of Education Photo by Leslie Williams

Secretary Duncan closed with a tongue-in-cheek offer to the marching band: “I hope you’re thinking about college now – you guys are fantastic!  I want to take you on the road with me.  If your teachers will let me, I’ll put you on the bus with me until Friday – I’ll write a note for you!”