Washington D.C. Charters, District Schools Collaborate Around College- and Career-Ready Standards

The rhythmic sound of poetry could be heard coming from the second-grade classroom at Ross Elementary School in Washington, D.C., though the students already had left for the day. Inside, teachers from several schools in the city were trying to find a poem that would captivate second graders, teach them about figurative language, and serve as the basis for a writing assignment.

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Ross Elementary School educator Kelly Worland Piantedosi leads a group of second-grade teachers in a discussion about literary analysis and poetry as part of the DC Common Core Collaborative. Photo credit: Nancy Zuckerbrod

The teachers are part of the DC Common Core Collaborative, which has about 200 participants from 22 District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) and public charter schools in the city. They get together regularly to discuss how to align their instruction with new college- and career-ready standards, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), which were voluntarily adopted by the District of Columbia and 45 States to prepare students for college and careers. The teachers work in small teams of about six educators, all of whom teach the same grade, but at different schools in the city.

Kelly Worland Piantedosi teaches at Ross Elementary School and serves as the coach for the group of second-grade teachers that met in her classroom that afternoon. She said the teachers get inspired by hearing about strategies other educators use. “The exchange of ideas is great—nine times out of 10 you hear, ‘Oh we hadn’t thought about that yet,’” she said. “I know for myself, collaboration makes me a better teacher.”

Now in its third year, the Collaborative is managed by E.L. Haynes Public Charter School. Haynes and the Cesar Chavez Public Charter Schools for Public Policy were both awarded Professional Learning Communities for Effectiveness sub-grants from D.C.’s Race to the Top program. One of the purposes of Race to the Top was to ensure that teachers and principals were receiving the support, coaching, and professional learning opportunities they needed to help their students succeed.

While all States that received Race to the Top grants are working to achieve that goal in various ways, the District of Columbia program stands out because it helped forge connections among teachers in charter and district schools. Julie Green, the chief marketing and development officer for E.L. Haynes called the Race to the Top grant “really profound for the city,” in that it brought together the traditional and charter sectors in common purpose. “It was tremendous to move toward a unified vision for the kids in the city,” Green said.

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Ross Elementary School educator Kelly Worland Piantedosi leads a collaboration of Washington DC second-grade teachers. Photo credit: Nancy Zuckerbrod

The idea for the Collaborative developed when teachers at E.L. Haynes started to shift to the CCSS a few years ago. They were eager to share what was working for them and gain insight into the experiences of other teachers, Green said.

The teachers meet a few times a month for sessions that tend to last about an hour-and-a-half to two hours. They discuss what they are teaching and how it relates to the standards, produce lessons to try out in their classrooms, and set goals for what they want to accomplish with those lessons. The teachers report back to the group at a subsequent meeting on how well the lessons worked. A web portal also allows teachers in the Collaborative to share their work, such as videos of them giving their lessons.

The Collaborative is definitely working from the perspective of Raquel Maya, one of several Powell Elementary School teachers in the program and part of the team that met at Ross Elementary School. Maya said the group, and her coach Kelly Worland Piantedosi, gave her useful strategies for helping students access nonfiction. Maya said even teachers who aren’t participating in the Collaborative are benefiting from it.

“Once you have an idea from someone in the Collaborative, naturally you go back to your school and share your ideas,” Maya said. “For sure, it’s impacted teaching broadly at our school.”

So the promising collaboration can continue, the Marriott Foundation has agreed to keep the program going after the Race to the Top grant expires.

Read the full story, including takeaways and resources on PROGRESS

Class of 2014: What’s Next for Your Student Loans?

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I’m not afraid to admit that being a college senior was a little frightening (okay, slight understatement  it was extremely frightening!). As you, the Class of 2014, prepare to say goodbye to the comforts of your college community and say hello to the real world, you’re faced with many realities. Where will I live? How am I going to find a job? Will I make ends meet? Will I be happy?

And with all these new exciting challenges, one of the last things on most of your minds is repaying your student loans. Yet it’s one of our responsibilities and you need to be prepared for when the first bill arrives in the mail.

I will be honest in saying the repayment process is a little intimidating, and before writing this post I was at a loss on where to begin. Luckily, the Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) has tools available to walk soon-to-be grads through the loan repayment process:

  • Exit Counseling: Redesigned to be more interactive, Exit Counseling provides important information to student borrowers who are preparing to begin student loan repayment. Exit counseling is required when you graduate, leave school, or drop below half-time enrollment, so talk to the financial aid office at your school about completing it.
  • Federal Loan Repayment Plans: Understanding the details of repayment can save you time and money. Find out when repayment starts, how to make your payment, repayment plan options, what to do if you have trouble making payments, and more!
  • Repayment Estimator: Federal Student Aid recently launched a Repayment Estimator that allows you to compare your monthly student loan payment under different repayment plans to help you figure out which option is right for you. You can either enter your average loan amount or log-in to have your current federal student loan information automatically pulled in so you can compare repayment plans based on your specific situation.

So with all of these great resources, I’ve found that things were clearer, and not quite as scary. Class of 2014 you are about to embark on a new adventure. Best of luck to each and every one of you!

For additional information and tips, visit Federal Student Aid on Twitter , Facebook, and YouTube.

Kelsey Donohue is a 2013 graduate of Marist College (N.Y.)

5 Things To Consider When Taking Out Student Loans

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Federal student loans can be a great way to help pay for college or career school. While you shouldn’t be afraid to take out federal student loans, you should be smart about it. Before you take out a loan, it’s important to understand that a loan is a legal obligation that you will be responsible for repaying with interest.

Here are some tips to help you become a responsible borrower.

  1. Research starting salaries in your field. Ask your school for starting salaries of recent graduates in your field of study to get an idea of how much you are likely to earn after you graduate. You can use the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook to estimate salaries for different careers or use a career search tool to research careers and view the average annual salary for each career.
  2. Keep track of how much you’re borrowing. Don’t wait till right before you graduate to figure this out. Think about how the amount of your loans will affect your future finances, and how much you can afford to repay. Your student loan payments should be only a small percentage of your salary after you graduate (8% is a good rule of thumb!), so it’s important not to borrow more than you need. If you’ve already borrowed for your education, you can view all of your federal student loan information in one place. Go  to nslds.ed.gov, select Financial Aid Review, and log in. You can also use our Repayment Estimator [TP1]  to calculate what your monthly payments might be based on your current loan balance.
  3. Understand the terms of your loan and keep copies of your loan documents. When you sign your promissory note, you are agreeing to repay the loan according to the terms of the note even if you don’t complete your education, can’t get a job after you complete the program, or didn’t like the education you received.
  4. Keep in touch with your loan servicer. Your loan servicer is the company that handles the billing and other services on your federal student loan on behalf of the U.S. Department of Education. When you begin paying back your loan, you will work directly with your loan servicer. Also, make sure you notify your loan servicer if you change your name, address, or Social Security number or when you graduate, withdraw from school, drop below half-time status, or transfer to another school. Staying in contact with your servicer will make it easier for you to successfully repay your student loans once you’ve left college.
  5. Stay ahead of your student loan payments. Once your loan enters repayment, you are required to make your scheduled loan payment as determined by your repayment plan.[TP2]  If you’ve done your homework, your scheduled monthly payment amount won’t be a surprise and you’ll be prepared to begin making payments. But, if you do find yourself having trouble making your scheduled loan payments, take advantage of our flexible repayment options. Contact your servicer immediately to discuss ways to keep your loan in good standing.

Remember, federal student loans are an investment in your future so invest wisely and borrow only what you need. Find out more about student loan repayment, including when repayment starts, how to make your payment, repayment plan options, and more!

Tara Marini is a communication analyst at the Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid

Bringing the Tech Revolution to Early Learning

Why do I advocate for “early tech”? I’ll give you three good reasons: my granddaughters Ella, Clara, and Zayla. I’ve seen the way technology has helped them to take charge of their own learning and opened doors to subjects and activities that really catch their interest.

It’s nothing short of amazing to think about how far we’ve come in the past ten years. Our children – and our grandchildren – pick up a device and instantly know how it works. They shift seamlessly from a hand-held device to a laptop or desktop and back again.

Whether we’ve seen it firsthand in our families, read about it in the papers, or heard about it from our friends and co-workers, we know that technology can be a great tool for early learning. That’s why America’s early learning community – and anyone who wants to help build a brighter future for the next generation – must make smarter use of these cutting-edge resources, provide better support for the teachers who use them, and help ensure that all our young children have equitable access to the right technology. “Early tech” can be an incredible tool to increase access and quality, when we understand how to use it for good.

Today, devices can not only bring the world to our students, but they also can bring what children create to the world. Kids can generate their own media through digital still and video camera and recording applications and, if they want, share it with students around the world. Our kids have the power to learn so much from their own creativity – creativity that technology supports and encourages.

In short, technology can spark imagination in young children, remove barriers to play and provide appropriate learning platforms as tools for reflection and critical thinking. It also offers children the ability to reflect easily by erasing, storing, recalling, modifying and representing thoughts on tablets and other devices.

As an educator, I’m excited by the almost limitless potential of really good technology to teach children new skills and reinforce what they already know. Tablets, computers, and hand-held devices, like smart phones and mp3 players, can be powerful assets in preschool classrooms when they’re integrated into an active, play-based curriculum. The National Association of Educators of Young Children, a leading organization that promotes early childhood education, agrees: technology and interactive media should be used intentionally to support learning and development.

What’s more, recent research has found that when used properly, technology can support the acquisition of what are called “executive functioning skills,” such as collaboration, taking turns, patience, and cooperative discussion of ideas with peers.

Technology can also dramatically improve communication and collaboration between each child’s school and home. With the click of a mouse or the touch of a screen, teachers can connect with parents, updating them about student’s academic progress or providing information about an upcoming school event.

While we know its power to transform preschool classrooms, systemic and cultural barriers have prevented the early learning field from fully embracing technology. Preschools often have limited funding and few good hardware and software choices. At times, early learning teachers and directors have actually had less exposure to technology than their students have. They fear that technology won’t be developmentally-appropriate and that devices will distract students from rich, play-based classroom experiences. Teachers have told me they are daunted by the task of selecting the right apps and devices.

We need to change this way of thinking – and the systems behind it.

We need all early learning centers to have broadband access like that provided to schools. As the ConnectED Initiative works to ensure all schools and libraries have the infrastructure to take advantage of learning powered by technology, we also need to make sure all Head Start and community-based preschool programs are included, so our youngest children can take advantage of these tools.

Center directors, school principals and other early learning leaders must step up and lead by example, facilitating the successful use of technology, particularly in preschool settings. Teachers shouldn’t – and can’t – be alone in this endeavor. They need fearless principals and administrators who will advocate for pre-service and in-service learning that supports teacher understanding of how to use technology in early learning settings.

At the same time, we need more models of how technology works in early learning classrooms. Technology strengthens and deepens classroom instruction. It can extend and support a child-centric, play-based curriculum just as other manipulatives  do, including wooden blocks, magic markers or a classroom pet – but in a format that can be accessible far beyond the classroom. But, in order to make effective use of these new strategies, teachers need to see them in practice – and that currently isn’t happening in enough places.

We need research that helps identify effective technology tools to support learning – and we need this research to be completed on a timely basis. A study that takes three years to complete doesn’t help educators and parents make informed decisions today. We need more places like The Joan Ganz Cooney Center to help us understand the challenges of educating children in a rapidly changing media landscape.

We also need easier ways to find the best tools and apps. We need more programs like Ready To Learn, which has adapted its former TV-only content to new platforms and is now available to all families and children across the country.

And last, but certainly not least, we need more funding for early learning. When Congress passes legislation to implement and fund the President’s Preschool for All proposal, we will have the financial resources to drive the tech revolution that we so urgently need in our early learning system.

We have, quite literally, tens of millions of reasons for taking action in all our precious children and grandchildren. Each and every one of them deserves a great start in life – and that’s exactly what “early tech” helps to provide.

Libby Doggett is Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Early Learning in the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education at the U.S. Department of Education

Early Screening is Vital to Children and their Families

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The Unity Sunshine Program of Unity House of Troy in Troy, New York, offers an inclusive early learning program.

How a child plays, learns, speaks, moves, and behaves all offer important clues about a child’s development. A delay in any of these developmental milestones could be a sign of developmental challenges, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Early intervention services, like those services that help a child learn to speak, walk, or interact with others, can really make a difference and enhance a child’s learning and development. Unfortunately, too many young children do not have access to the early screening that can help detect developmental delays.

Additionally, the CDC states that an estimated one in every 68 children in the United States has been identified as having an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). ASD is a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication, and behavioral challenges. Unfortunately, most children identified with ASD were not diagnosed until after age four, even though children can be diagnosed as early as age two or younger.

While it is imperative that all young children have access to screening and appropriate services, research highlights the need to ensure developmental screening in low-income, racially diverse urban populations, where the risk of delay is greater and access to services can be more difficult. Studies found that by 24 months of age, black children were almost five times less likely than white children to receive early intervention services, and that a lack of receipt of services appeared more consistently among black children who qualified based on developmental delay alone compared to children with a diagnosed condition. The research suggests that children of color are disproportionately underrepresented in early intervention services and less likely than white children to be diagnosed with developmental delays.

Statistics such as these can help us raise the awareness about the importance of early screening. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children receive developmental screenings with a standardized developmental screening tool at 9, 18, and either 24 or 30 months of age. Children who are screened and identified as having, or at risk for, a developmental delay can be referred to their local early intervention service program (if they are under 3 years of age), or their local public school (if they are 3 years of age or older), for additional evaluation to determine whether they are eligible for IDEA Part C or Part B 619 services. Further, screening young children early may help families to better access other federal and State-funded early learning and development services, such as home visiting, Early Head Start, Head Start, preschool, and child care.

Last month, I was pleased to announce that the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services worked together to launch Birth to 5: Watch Me Thrive! This initiative encourages early developmental and behavioral screening and follow-up with support for children and families by providing a compendium of research-based screening tools and “how to” guides for a variety of audiences, including parents, doctors, teachers, and child care providers. Research shows that early identification can lead to greater access to supports and services, helping children develop and learn.

I’ve seen first-hand how States and local providers are working to ensure that some of our most at risk children get the supports and services they need…early. I’ve met with providers of early childhood services from Las Cruces, New Mexico to East Boston, Massachusetts. The Unity Sunshine Program of Unity House of Troy in Troy, New York offers a fully integrated and inclusive early learning setting for young children with disabilities to learn alongside their typically developing peers. I’ve also learned how critical it is for States and local providers to engage, support, and empower families of young children with disabilities.

Early screening and identification are critically important steps towards giving young children with disabilities a strong start in life. Check out Birth to Five: Watch Me Thrive! and learn how you can support some of our most vulnerable children and their families.

Michael Yudin is Acting Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services at the U.S. Department of Education

 

Teen Dating Violence and Sexual Assault in Schools: Resources and a Call to Action

Every year, about 1 in 10 American teenagers experiences physical violence at the hands of a boyfriend or girlfriend, and many others are sexually and emotionally abused. Dating violence can inflict long‑lasting pain, putting survivors at increased risk of substance abuse, depression, poor academic performance, suicidal ideation, and future violence. The U.S. Department of Education is dedicated to working with students, families, educators, and communities to prevent abuse and support survivors.

In one Texas high school, a student was raped in the band room. After reporting it to her teacher, she was told to confront her attacker to discuss what happened. The school district then accused the teenager of “public lewdness” and then removed her from her high school. She – and the rapist – were sent to the same disciplinary school.

Rather than supporting her, she was punished by the people charged with protecting her.  The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights investigated and found that the school had violated Title IX, a federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in education. As part of the settlement, the district agreed to, among other things, revise its policies and procedures, provide mandatory annual training for staff, and designate a counselor at each school as “on call” for students reporting sexual harassment.

The Department of Education, our federal partners, and countless schools and colleges nationwide are committed to preventing incidents like this. We are working together to raise awareness, develop effective prevention strategies, and educate young people about healthy relationships. We recognize that the real work of preventing teen dating violence and sexual assault happens at the local level, in schools, in homes, and in community centers across the nation. Schools must clearly communicate that they will not tolerate violence of any kind, will respond to any students who report it, and will hold offenders accountable. It is also critical that we support those students who have experienced violence, which may include providing access to academic support or counseling.

The Department is vigorously enforcing compliance with Title IX and the Clery Act—laws that help make our schools safer. The following resources provide more information to support schools and communities in their efforts to create safe, healthy learning environments and identify, investigate, and remedy teen dating violence and sexual assault:

If you, a friend, or a loved one, is in an abusive relationship, the National Dating Abuse Helpline will offer immediate and confidential support.  To contact the Helpline, call 1‑866‑331‑9474, text “loveis” to 22522, or visit www.LoveIsRespect.org.

Championing International Education Priorities

This past January, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon designated the U.S. as a Champion Country of the Global Education First Initiative (GEFI). The initiative aims to focus the world’s attention on three specific priorities: to put every child in school, improve the quality of learning and foster global citizenship. This is a tremendous opportunity for the U.S. to lead by example, to spur on strategic global investments in education, technology and innovation and to help implement programs that provide youths and adults with the necessary skills to be global citizens.

Fifty seven million children worldwide do not have access to primary education. This is the staggering news delivered by the Global Monitoring Report (GMR). While adult illiteracy rates fell to 16 percent in 2011, 774 million adults worldwide still cannot read or write. Even in wealthier countries, young people showed poor problem-solving skills due to low secondary school completion rates. In 80 percent of low-income countries, girls are less likely than boys to get even a primary education. Girls and boys who do go to school are often in classes with 40 classmates or more and only one teacher. Most of those students will have untrained teachers. And the U.S. is not immune. Despite big pushes for early childhood education, U.S. enrollment hovers around 65 percent, putting it in the company of countries like Albania and Bolivia.

Why does this matter? It matters because almost half of those fifty seven million children will probably never see the inside of a classroom. Yet the infant mortality rate would fall dramatically if all women completed even a primary education. In places like Tanzania, workers are 60 percent less likely to live under the poverty line with a secondary education. And people with higher levels of education are more likely to ask questions, seek out answers, sign petitions and vote. In other words, the more education a person has, the more likely he or she is to participate in civil society.

Education leads us all away from poverty and disease, away from ignorance and strife, and towards open minds, sustainable change, mutual understanding and prosperity. The task ahead may seem daunting, but the goals are achievable. According to the GMR, improved teacher quality is key: attracting the best teachers, improving their training and encouraging them to teach where they are most needed. Accepting the challenge of being a GEFI Champion Country is an important first step towards reaching these goals.

Check out the video below from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in support of the United Nations Global Education First Initiative (GEFI).

Rebecca Miller is an international affairs specialist at the U.S. Department of Education

How Can the Department of Education Increase Innovation, Transparency and Access to Data?

Despite the growing amount of information about higher education, many students and families still need access to clear, helpful resources to make informed decisions about going to – and paying for – college.  President Obama has called for innovation in college access, including by making sure all students have easy-to-understand information.

Now, the U.S. Department of Education needs your input on specific ways that we can increase innovation, transparency, and access to data.  In particular, we are interested in how APIs (application programming interfaces) could make our data and processes more open and efficient.

APIs are set of software instructions and standards that allow machine-to-machine communication.  APIs could allow developers from inside and outside government to build apps, widgets, websites, and other tools based on government information and services to let consumers access government-owned data and participate in government-run processes from more places on the Web, even beyond .gov websites. Well-designed government APIs help make data and processes freely available for use within agencies, between agencies, in the private sector, or by citizens, including students and families.

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Delaware’s Teacher Preparation is Setting a Higher Bar

Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education

Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education

When Frederika Jenner began teaching elementary school mathematics 42 years ago, she realized that she wasn’t fully prepared. “I didn’t have opportunities to learn innovative ways to teach mathematics,” she said. “There were some important skills and strategies that were missing.”

Jenner is now president of the Delaware State Education Association and her experience at the beginning of her career is just one reason she strongly supported legislation signed in June 2013 by Delaware Governor Jack Markell to increase the rigor of the process of recruiting and preparing teachers and principals. “Educators need more meaningful, real world training,” she said.

Acutely aware of the challenges her members face, Jenner explained that new teachers “need training in integrating technologies in the classroom, and how to judge student work.” Working with parents, classroom management and transition times are other areas where she believes educators need preparation.

Senate Bill 51 raises the bar for teacher preparation programs by:

  • Requiring candidates to have either a 3.0 grade point average, be in the top half of their most recent graduating class, or pass a test of their academic skills.
  • After they complete their classes, teacher candidates will have to pass a test of their knowledge of the subjects they plan to teach, demonstrate their teaching skills and complete a 10 week classroom residency (at minimum) supervised by a mentor.
  • The Delaware Department of Education and the teacher preparation programs themselves will monitor the performance of their graduates in the classroom and data on the programs will be reported to the public.

Catalyzing Change 

State leaders had long recognized the need to strengthen teacher preparation in the state. But the entities that would have needed to work together to strengthen the system—the Delaware General Assembly, the five teacher preparation institutions in the State, the Delaware State Education Association, and the State Department of Education—had not been able to forge a consensus on how to accomplish that.

That changed when the State began putting together its application for a federal Race to the Top grant, which it won in 2010. One of the priorities of Race to the Top was to ensure that teachers and principals had the knowledge and skills they needed to help students graduate from high school ready to succeed in college or careers.  Senate Bill 51 put into law the commitments the State made in its application.

“Race to the Top has given many stakeholders a lot of courage and support to make some really hard decisions, like increasing the selectivity of teacher preparation programs,” said Christopher Ruszkowski, who heads the Delaware Department of Education’s Teacher and Leader Effectiveness Unit.

John Gray, dean of the College of Education at Wilmington University, the largest producer of teachers in the State, also was enthusiastic. “This is the first time there’s been a real conversation at the State level involving different stakeholders talking about teacher preparation,” he said.

Collaboration Welcome 

Over the past two years, numerous states have also made major policy changes aimed at improving teacher preparation and selectivity.  The response from teachers in Delaware has been overwhelmingly positive. “Senate Bill 51 is an incredibly good first step toward improving the quality of teaching,” said John Sell, Delaware’s 2013 Teacher of the Year, who was actively involved in shaping the legislation. “Raising the bar will strengthen the teaching profession by producing higher caliber teachers.”

“For the first time I’ve ever seen, the State, local districts and higher education institutions are working together in a much more systemic way,” said Donna Lee Mitchell, a lifelong educator and the executive director of the Professional Standards Board, the agency responsible for educator licensing and certification. “We don’t always agree, but the work is really moving forward as a result of the collaboration.”

Support is particularly strong for making teacher candidates’ clinical experiences more meaningful. Beginning next fall, candidates will participate in parent/teacher conferences and professional learning communities, and teach students while being observed by their mentors. “Teachers want to see [preparation] programs become more connected to actual classroom practice,” Ruszkowski said.

Jenner, the president of the teachers’ association in Delaware, agreed. Teachers “need to have appropriate instructional skills and strategies modeled, they need to practice them, they need to do some troubleshooting and then try them again.”  

Read the full story on PROGRESS

What I’ve Learned in 50 States

US Photo Collage“The best ideas come from outside Washington, D.C.” I’ve used that phrase in a lot of speeches and conversations during the past five years, and I repeat it because it’s true. Earlier this month in Hawaii, I visited two schools and talked with military families at Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam about college and career ready standards. The stop in Hawaii marked my 50th state that I’ve visited since being Secretary, and the visit once again reinforced the importance of listening to what matters most at the local level.

During the past five years, whether my visit was to a conference, a community center, a business, an early childhood center, a university, or one of the more than 340 schools I’ve stopped by, I’ve come away with new insight and knowledge into the challenges local communities face, and the creative ways people are addressing them. I know, that in order to do this job well, it’s vital to never stop listening, especially to those in the classroom each day.

Across the country I’ve witnessed courage in action. States and districts are raising standards and expectations for students, and teachers are thinking deeply about their practice and their profession. And thanks to the hard work of parents, community members, educators, and students themselves, the high school graduation rate is now the highest on record.

Many of the states I’ve visited have brought unexpected surprises. At YES College Prep in Houston, the spirit of the student body moved me as it gathered for its annual College Signing Day. In Columbus, N.M., I saw the conviction and dedication of educators as they grapple with providing a quality education to more than 400 students who cross the U.S.-Mexico border each morning. And in Joplin, Mo., I witnessed a community working together to ensure students continued their education after a tornado destroyed the high school and killed many of their family members.

As I travelled the country, I saw places that inspired me, and others that left me angry, or heartbroken. I’ve visited schools where education funding is too low, and the buildings are in need of desperate repair. I’ve been to neighborhoods where poverty and crime present unique challenges to educators and administrators. I’ve listened to students talk openly about not feeling challenged or inspired. And when I met with grieving parents from Newtown, Conn., I once again saw how devastating gun violence can be for our children and communities.

We must continue to invest at every level of our educational system, from preschool to higher ed. We must fight for our children’s right to grow up safe, free of fear, in schools and communities that cherish and nurture them.

After 50 states, and visits in urban centers, remote rural schools and tribal communities, I am more optimistic than ever. I’m optimistic because of the educators I’ve met, because of the parents and community leaders that rally for great education, and because students everywhere demonstrate their deep conviction that working hard and getting a great education will transform their life chances. They come to school every day because they feel safe, they feel engaged, and they feel loved and valued by their teachers.

America’s public schools embody our American values of creativity, industry and ingenuity, and from Hawaii to Maine, I am fortunate to have learned this firsthand.

Check out the interactive map below, which includes visits to all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Click here to see a larger version.

Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education

Listening and Learning at the International Summit on the Teaching Profession

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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

ED’s Second Annual Jazz Informance Celebrating America’s Music and Values

Monk_JAM

As part of Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM), the Department hosted its second annual jazz informance (an informational performance) on April 4th with a full house of D.C. public charter school students, educators, arts leaders, and ED staff—jazz lovers and jazz novices alike. Under the direction of J.B. Dyas, vice president for education and curriculum development at the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, students from Arts High School in Newark, N.J., part of the National Performing Arts High School Jazz Program, and special guest recording artist, trumpeter Terell Stafford, director of Jazz Studies and chair of Instrumental Studies at Temple University, performed during the event.

ED’s acting General Counsel Phil Rosenfelt gave opening remarks on how the Department’s inaugural Monk informance in 2013 broadened his musical horizons and finally allowed him to appreciate jazz—something that had eluded him his entire life. “I saw the individuality and the unity, working together, in innovative ways, to address a common goal. I finally got it. And it was special that I got it at the Department where we value learning so much—breaking out of our barriers and stereotypes and comfort zones … and that’s what jazz and the Department are all about,” said Rosenfelt.

In the informational portion of the event, Dyas explained that jazz was born in America and is, “America’s greatest artistic gift to the world,” enjoyed by people of every ethnicity on every continent. He described the improvisational process—90 percent of every jazz performance—as a conversation, both among the musicians and between the musicians and the audience, using music instead of words. Dyas later asked the musicians to illustrate this conversation as they “talked” to one another with their instruments.

As Dyas said, jazz represents important values that students need to learn, such as “teamwork and unity with ethnic diversity.” Students from the Monk jazz program, in a recorded video, spoke of the many positive qualities they have learned through playing jazz.  Among them are:

  • A sense of responsibility within a group
  • Drive to become a better musician
  • Ambition to pursue music education in college
  • Greater knowledge of other cultures
  • Collaboration

The Arts High Jazz Quartet comprising Rahsaan Pickett on guitar, Galo Inga on piano, Joseph Quiles on bass, and Derek Fykes on drums, joined by Stafford, played an up-tempo selection of tunes.  These included Herbie Hancock’s Cantaloupe Island, Dexterity by Charlie Parker, and Ask Me Now by Thelonious Monk. The playing was lively and nicely balanced, while solo breaks gave each performer a chance to shine.  The performers created a textural, musical journey with variances in speed, tempo and rhythm over a sustained steady flow.

After the informance, the student performers answered questions from the students in the audience, including, “Why did you start playing music?” Fykes’ answer: “It’s something I love. It has to be a passion.” And, “How much do you practice?” Answer: Several hours daily, including doing a lot of listening.

All in attendance thoroughly appreciated hearing such great music and learning how it is performed, as evidenced by the frequent toe-tapping and spontaneous applause!  And another jazz convert was born.

Sarah Sisaye of OESE wrote: “Before today, I wasn’t too crazy about jazz. I grew up listening to it, but having played the flute for 9 years, I am more comfortable with classical music. However, the performance/lecture today, made it very accessible. I will definitely be listening to more jazz! I even won a poster [of John Coltrane] and was able to get all the musicians to sign it—I’ll be hanging that on my wall!”

For more about the Department’s involvement with JAM, click here.

View photos from the event.

Nicole Carinci is a management and program analyst in the Office of Communications and Outreach