Celebrate Diversity During the Holidays

The holiday season can be a great time for families to celebrate diversity!

Parents and caregivers, you can choose to use this time to teach your children about customs that are different from your own and you can help children to understand and embrace other cultures.

Children learn best by seeing, doing, and being a part of a new experience.

Engage a child through reading.

Engage children through reading.

Engage your child by reading to him or her about how other cultures celebrate holidays during this time of year. The Library of Congress is a great resource for stories about Christmas and Hanukkah. You can choose to search online for resources about observances such as and the way that people in different countries mark the arrival of the New Year. You also can find information about celebrations that happen on or around the winter solstice. Once you’ve read together, encourage your child to create something – like a painting, a drawing, a mask or a sculpture – representing some festival or tradition that interests him or her.

You also can head into the kitchen! Try making a special dish that is served during the holidays in a culture other than your own. Plum pudding or candied yams are just two dishes that come to mind.

Encourage your child to join you in the kitchen!

Encourage your child to join you in the kitchen!

Parents and families can use this time to teach children about the importance of volunteering in the community as well. A visit to a senior facility is one way children can learn about other cultures; the importance of community; and the incredible wealth of wisdom, values, and history that the elder members of any neighborhood have to share with the next generation.

Another fun activity could be exploring how other people and countries celebrate and then creating a list of places to visit.

A trip to your local library is always a fantastic way to find new information and fun activities that will allow your child to discover how wonderful other cultures are. Learning about humanity’s diversity and richness gives us all so much more to celebrate – during the holidays and throughout the year!

Carrie Jasper is director of outreach to parents and families at the U.S. Department of Education.

Buffalo Charter Wired and #FutureReady

At the ConnectED to the Future event. (Photo courtesy of Ayinde Rudolph)

At the ConnectED to the Future event. (Photo courtesy of Ayinde Rudolph)

Two years ago when I arrived in Buffalo, we did not have Wi-Fi in our school. The teachers had tablets, but limited access to the web. The only way our students and teachers could access the internet was in our computer labs.

At the ConnectED to the Future event I recently attended in Washington, D.C., President Obama stated, “In a world where we expect free Wi-Fi with our coffee, we should expect the same in our schools.” He is right. Internet access has become essential and is needed by all, and schools provide an ideal setting for our youngest citizens to gain initial access.

In order to address this challenge, we launched a one-to-one initiative, providing high-speed Internet access to all students and giving each of our third through eighth graders a tablet. We felt this was a journey that every staff member should embark upon, and not just a select few. More importantly, we believed that from an education standpoint, this was the right thing to do, knowing that the digital divide further exacerbates the achievement gap.

This is the journey we’re now on in our part of the Buffalo community. Our goal is to create classrooms where students are given daily learning challenges and are skillfully guided by teachers who support them in sifting through available information toward solutions. For us, technology is a powerful lever to facilitate this kind of teaching and learning.

Our road has been incredibly challenging and messy, but delightful. And we’re still in the early stages. As one of my many colleagues pointed out, the key to our students’ success in Buffalo, and really America, lies in our ability to 1) provide them with the tools to facilitate this learning and 2) give teachers the appropriate professional development to execute this vision for learning.

After attending the event, I feel better about our future prospects. I listened to how other districts are being creative in providing afterhours access. Moreover, I now understand that our pledge to create future-ready students places us on level ground with countries like Singapore and Korea.

It is a long road, but it is definitely a fight worth fighting. After listening and learning from various leaders like President Obama, Secretary Duncan, and Richard Martinez, Superintendent of Pomona Unified in California, I realize that this is truly the direction in which education is headed—to ignore it would be detrimental to our students and our country’s prosperity.

Learn more about the #FutureReady Pledge and watch the president’s remarks from the recent ConnectED to the Future event that took place on November 19, 2014 at the White House.

 Ayinde Rudolph is principal of Westminster Community K-8 Charter in Buffalo, N.Y., a Promise Neighborhood school.

What You Missed: Shakira and Secretary Arne Duncan Answer Your Questions on Early Education

This post originally appeared on The White House Blog.

Earlier today, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Grammy award-winning artist Shakira took to Twitter to answer your questions about the early childhood education.

Shakira, who is a member of the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, and a strong advocate for high-quality early education, joined Duncan in highlighting $1 billion in new public and private commitments that were announced as part of today’s White House Summit on Early Education.

At the Summit, President Obama reiterated his call to expand access to high-quality early childhood education to every kid in America, and announced the launch of the Invest In Usinitiatitive. The new initaitive challenges public and private partners, business leaders, philanthropists, advocates, elected officials, and individuals to build a better nation by expanding high-quality early childhood education.

Take a look at the full #ShakiraEdChat Q&A below, or over on Storify, and check out Shakira’s new PSA videos on InvestInUs.org.

Cameron Brenchley is Senior Digital Strategist for the Office of Digital Strategy at the White House.

Helping States Improve and Enhance Early Education for All

High-quality early education shouldn’t just be a privilege for some children—it must be an opportunity for all children in America. We know the foundation of a thriving middle class is access to a strong education for every child beginning in the first few years of life. But right now, the U.S. ranks 28th in the world in preschool access for four-year-old children.

The Obama administration is working to change that.

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U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell announced today that 18 states have been awarded new funding, totaling more than $226 million, under the Preschool Development Grants program.

These grants will reach 33,000 children across the U.S. In the first year of the program alone, more than 18,000 additional children will be served in high-quality preschool. Preschool Development Grants will help the 18 winning states to build or enhance their state early learning infrastructure and expand high-quality preschool programs in high-need communities.

There are two types of grants. Development Grants are for states that serve less than 10 percent of four-year-olds. Expansion Grants are for states that serve 10 percent or more of four-year-olds. Check out our fact sheet (link to pdf here) for more information.

The importance of early learning is clear. Studies prove that children who have rich early learning experiences are better prepared to thrive in kindergarten and beyond.

Today’s White House Summit on Early Education convenes state and local policymakers, mayors, school superintendents, corporate and community leaders, and advocates to highlight collective leadership in support of early education for America’s children.

Leaders at the Summit will share best practices in building public-private partnerships that are expanding early education in communities across the country. Participants will discuss effective strategies and programs that support and bring high-quality early childhood education to scale. Follow this discussion on Twitter with the hashtag #InvestinUS.

And, for more information about the importance of early learning and the steps that the Obama administration is taking to ensure access for all children, check out our Early Learning page.

Dorothy Amatucci is a digital engagement strategist at the U.S. Department of Education.

Join Shakira and Secretary Duncan for a Twitter Q&A on Early Education

For every dollar we invest in early childhood education, we see a rate of return of $7 or more through a reduced need for spending on other services, such as remedial education, grade repetition, and special education, as well as increased productivity and earnings for these kids as adults.

Early education is one of the best investments our country can make. Participation in high-quality early learning programs—like Head Start, public and private pre-K, and childcare—provide children from all backgrounds with a strong start and a solid foundation for success in school.

Tomorrow, President Obama will host a White House Summit on Early Education, announcing new commitments and building on his call to expand access to high-quality early childhood education to every child in America.

As part of the Summit, Grammy award-winning artist Shakira and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will be taking to Twitter on Wednesday, December 10, at 10:00 a.m. ET to answer your questions about early education. Shakira is a member of the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, and has been a strong advocate for high-quality early education.

Here’s how you can get involved:

Learn more about the President’s plan to expand access to high-quality early childhood education, and then join Shakira and Secretary Arne Duncan for a Twitter chat on Wednesday, December 10, at 10:00 a.m. ET.

This post originally appeared on The White House blog.

Painting a Different Picture of Education in the Juvenile Detention Center

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Secretary Duncan and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder today announced a Correctional Education Guidance Package aimed at helping states and local agencies strengthen the quality of education services provided to America’s estimated 60,000 young people in confinement every day.

This guidance package builds on recommendations in the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force report released in May to “reform the juvenile and criminal justice systems to reduce unnecessary interactions for youth and to enforce the rights of incarcerated youth to a quality education.” Today’s guidance package is a roadmap that states and local agencies can use to improve the quality of educational services for confined youth.

Secretary Duncan and Attorney General Holder visited The Northern Virginia Juvenile Detention Center School to announce this new guidance. Kathleen Fitzpatrick, the art teacher, writes about the impact of the art program is having on the students in the detention facility.

When envisioning a juvenile detention center, people often think of an institution with barbed wire set away from a populated area; a forgotten place where children go to be punished and removed from the public eye. It certainly isn’t regarded as an educational institution where learning and creativity happen. My goal is to paint a different picture. It’s a picture of a place that offers hope in place of doubt, care in place of harm, and knowledge in place of ignorance.

Ghandi

One student’s artwork at the Norther Virginia Juvenile Detention Facility

The Northern Virginia Juvenile Detention Center School is housed within a single wing of the detention center. As you walk down our school’s hallway, you see artwork displaying where our students have been, where they are now, and where they hope to be in the future. Further down the hall, you might hear students presenting evidence discovered in a science experiment or discussing the personality traits of characters they read about in English class.

The classes at the Center are small, co-taught, and focus on project-based learning. Students receive differentiated instruction and individual attention from every teacher, which helps improve their academic skills. They frequently express that they benefit from this kind of education and insist they would have attended their former schools more regularly if it had been more like this.

The “d-center” school, as it is referred to by staff and students, has grown into a program that has helped students receive their high school diploma, obtain scholarships to community and state colleges, and, ultimately, have a positive impact in their own communities. Here, I have seen students slowly but surely remove the personal barriers they have so carefully built over the years. They trust the education program is here to offer them a chance for change and provide new opportunities. As educators, we realize this may be the first opportunity they’ve ever been given to explore different sides of themselves, tell their story, and truly practice being self aware.

At the end of the day, we measure our success by the small steps we see our students take on a daily basis. For some, it may be the first time they master math concepts, or speak in front of a history class. We don’t view our students as criminals or prisoners; to us they are students who deserve the best education a child can have. We foster an environment that sets high standards and encourages each one to discover their personal best. And in the process, we often end up finding our own personal best.

To learn more about the art education program at the Northern Virginia Juvenile Detention Center School please visit the Art room website

Kathleen Fitzpatrick works for Alexandria City Public Schools and is an art teacher at the Northern Virginia Detention Center School. In 2013, she received the 2013 Agnes Meyer Outstanding Teacher Award.

A Bold New Plan to Protect Students

Recently, the Department of Education announced our support for a deal that will strengthen the education prospects of nearly 40,000 college students on 56 Everest and WyoTech brand campuses, currently owned by the for-profit network Corinthian Colleges Inc. Under this plan, the Educational Credit Management Corporation (ECMC) Group’s new nonprofit education arm, Zenith Education Group, will buy the campuses from Corinthian and transform them from for-profit into nonprofit schools.

There has been considerable attention paid to this important and complex action, and it is essential that everyone have the facts. So I would like to explain why our Department decided it was necessary to take action on Corinthian, why we are supporting this sale, and what the results have been so far. I am proud of what our team has been able to accomplish in protecting students.

This is the latest step in a case that began when Corinthian failed to respond to the Department’s repeated requests for answers about questionable practices, including concerns that Corinthian was using false and misleading job placement data to market its schools and recruit students, and that it might be changing student grade and attendance data to hide performance problems. Following intense and thoughtful deliberations, the Department made the decision that we believed would most effectively prevent further damage and took action to heighten our oversight of Corinthian, ultimately leading to an agreement with the company that will end their ownership and operation of these schools.

From the start, we have kept students and their interests at the heart of every decision we have made about Corinthian, and charted a careful course through what threatened to be a major collapse of a large institution. We worked to avoid immediate closure of all Corinthian schools and prevent the sudden disruption of education for 72,000 students and the jobs of 12,000 employees. And, to defend student and taxpayer interests, we have put an independent monitor in place to oversee Corinthian’s actions as the company begins to sell and wind down its campuses. We selected the respected firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP & Affiliates, under the leadership of former U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, for this vital role.

ECMC has never run a college campus before, and I think everybody recognizes that improving Corinthian campuses will be a serious challenge. But there are many reasons why we feel this new agreement will particularly benefit students, and why we are confident they will receive a better education under ECMC and Zenith’s leadership:

Lower college costs. Students who attend the newly purchased campuses will receive a 20% cut in tuition.

Matching training numbers with real-world needs. For a college program to be truly worth the time, cost and effort, there must be jobs openings in students’ fields of choice when they graduate. Under this new plan, ECMC will work to balance the number of students enrolled in specific career programs with local and regional labor market trends – so students can understand which career fields have the greatest demand for workers, and gain the skills they will need for actual, available jobs.

Closing low-performing programs. At the same time, the Zenith Education Group will begin weeding out poor performers in Corinthian’s portfolio of programs, and steering students toward higher-quality programs. Students that are in poor performing programs will have several choices, including the possibility of transferring to other Zenith programs or receiving a partial refund of their costs.

Fresh leadership. No senior executive from the former Corinthian group will remain when the campuses are acquired by ECMC – making a clean break from previous management and from the types of practices that put the schools and students in jeopardy.

An unprecedented – and voluntary – commitment to oversight. As part of the acquisition and transition plan, the ECMC has agreed to hire a monitoring firm. The monitor will have access to Zenith’s data to ensure that the ways they recruit potential students, how they market their services, and the data they report on performance, especially on student outcomes, are fair, true and accurate. By volunteering for this level of review, Zenith is showing a strong commitment to transparency, and to sharing the types of information that help students and families make good decisions about the schools and programs that will best serve their needs. And the hiring of a monitor demonstrates just how serious ECMC is about remedying the past problems of Corinthian, and charting a new course.

This purchase plan also fends off disastrous consequences. First and foremost, students who are enrolled in Corinthian programs will have the opportunity to complete their education and receive the degrees and certificates that they have worked so hard to obtain. This sale, if ultimately approved by the Department, accreditors, and state authorizing agencies, will avoid disruption and displacement for tens of thousands of students – approximately 22 percent of whom are within 3 months of graduating.

Throughout our interactions with Corinthian, we have been guided by the belief that the best path forward for these students would be helping them to stay in school and complete their programs. Higher education can help students tremendously in fulfilling their career and life goals. And while all postsecondary students face unique challenges and hurdles, those who are enrolled in for-profit and career training programs are often among the most vulnerable. In many cases, they are juggling classes as well as a job (or two) and a family. Some have tried before to earn a degree, and found the courage to return to school even though earlier efforts didn’t work out. These are the students who most need the opportunities that higher education can bring.

The last thing we want to do is make them start over, especially when so many are close to finishing. They have already invested thousands of dollars and hours of their time earning credits that may not transfer to new programs at other schools. It would be unacceptable for any of them to be left holding public or private student loan debt, with no degree or certificate to show for it. We could not afford that risk with tens of thousands of students.

ECMC has made good commitments to safeguard the way forward for these students, and its nonprofit will operate independently from the larger corporation. We want to make sure ECMC does what they have said they will do – and we will watch them carefully. But we should all give them a chance to keep their promises and help make these students’ lives better.

This agreement lets students transition from a problematic for-profit company to a nonprofit that is committed to giving them a new start and better chances to succeed. We will also keep close track of sale or wind-down efforts on Corinthian’s other campuses, so students in programs that won’t be acquired as part of this deal can also finish their education without interruption. Ensuring that all students are served well remains our top priority, and we will continue to work on behalf of students and taxpayers.

We have posted the full list of schools that ECMC Group intends to buy here. All of Corinthian’s students can find more information on the Department’s website at www.studentaid.gov/Corinthian.

And, as part of the Obama Administration’s efforts to promote quality and accountability in higher education, the Department has announced a federal interagency task force – which I will lead on behalf of Secretary Duncan – to help ensure proper oversight of for-profit institutions.

A quality education that leads to good outcomes – like a well-paying job and a strong future – is still the best investment anyone can make. Students seeking a better life shouldn’t pay a penalty for following their dreams. We cannot – and we will not – let their efforts go to waste.

Ted Mitchell is U.S. Under Secretary of Education.

ED Celebrates Student Art with ‘Yo soy … Je Suis … I am … My Neighborhood’ Exhibit

The entrance halls and ground floor public spaces of the U.S. Department of Education are filled year-round with color, creativity, and powerful ideas, thanks to the talents of young artists from the United States and around the world. In November, ED conducted a host of special activities celebrating the 15th anniversary of International Education Week, including an opening reception and ribbon cutting for the 2014 VSA international children’s art exhibit Yo soy…Je Suis…I am…My Neighborhood, presented by the Office of Very Special Arts (VSA) & Accessibility and the Department’s Student Art Exhibit Program. Each year VSA, a Jean Kennedy Smith Arts and Disability Program of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, receives over 700 international and national entries from students with disabilities, ages 3–22, and competition winners display their artwork at ED.

Caption: P.S. 177 Technology Band member Jeremiah Estick appreciates the exhibited work of visual artists from Singapore and the United States. (Photo credit: Paul Wood/U.S. Department of Education)

P.S. 177 Technology Band member Jeremiah Estick appreciates the exhibited work of visual artists from Singapore and the United States. (Photo credit: Paul Wood/U.S. Department of Education)

The event featured a robust lineup of speakers, including education leaders as well as a student, teacher, and parent. Highlights also included a performance by the NPR-acclaimed P.S. 177 Technology Band, made up of nine students from a school in Queens, N.Y., for students with disabilities. The exhibit featured art pieces by students from Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, Saint Lucia, Taiwan, and the United States, depicting the importance of their neighborhoods. 

ED and the U.S. Department of State established International Education Week in 2000 to promote and celebrate the role that education plays worldwide. Maureen McLaughlin, director of ED’s International Affairs Office, spoke about the importance of arts education in supporting international cultural awareness: “Visualizing our neighborhoods allows each of us the opportunity to show the people and places that we love.” Emphasizing the exhibit’s importance, she stressed that “[l]anguage can be a barrier, but pictures bridge that gap.”

In a recorded message, Secretary Arne Duncan highlighted the value of international study programs in fostering cultural understanding, social development, and economic health. He said, “The ways in which citizens interact with each other … have fundamentally changed,” and emphasized the importance of education as we “redefine what it means to be ‘neighbors’ in an increasingly interdependent world.”

To be a neighbor also means to ensure access to success, regardless of background or ability. Michael Yudin, acting assistant secretary of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, championed the values of inclusion, equity, and opportunity: “It starts with expectations, with high expectations. If we have high expectations for kids with disabilities, we have high expectations for all of our kids.” He emphasized ED’s focus further, saying “[I]t’s making sure that we’re focusing on results and better outcomes for our kids.”

Adam Goldberg, music teacher and founder of the P.S. 177 Technology Band, exemplifies what it means to set high expectations and foster opportunity for students with learning disabilities to dream big and succeed. Through Goldberg’s inspired teaching, students not only develop musical skill but also social awareness and confidence. Student performer Denzel Jackson commented, “I’ve learned to play rhythms within a steady groove. … It’s all about watching, listening, and feeling the music.” Hyacinth Heron Haughton, mother of band vocalist Jason Haughton, stated, “With the help of Mr. Goldberg [my son] has excelled tremendously.”

In addition to using traditional instruments, students used iPads to produce complex musical arrangements. The band performed three musical selections. When You Come Back, written by South African artist Vusi Mahlasela, had the audience clapping to its soulfulness. Though the lyrics for Being Me were written by Goldberg, the melody was inspired by student vocalist Jason Haughton. An instrumental version of the opera classic Nessun dorma (None Shall Sleep), an aria from Puccini’s Turandot, was the most difficult to perform because the beat fluctuated, requiring students to follow the conductor intently. Of his students’ success Goldberg declared, “I am so proud of them. … Every time we do this song … it gets better and better and better.”

Adam Goldberg conducts a musical arrangement performed on iPads by members of the P.S. 177 Technology Band. (Photo credit: Paul Wood/U.S. Department of Education)

Adam Goldberg conducts a musical arrangement performed on iPads by members of the P.S. 177 Technology Band. (Photo credit: Paul Wood/U.S. Department of Education)

After each performance the audience applauded the band with loud cheers and standing ovations. Tobi Lakes, the band’s keyboardist, surprised the crowd with his spontaneous post-performance speech when he excitedly yelled, “We are incredible! Yes! We did it! We made it! We have been working very hard since the beginning of the year, and we got it! Thank you!”

P.S. 177 Technology Band member Tobi Lakes celebrates the band’s performance success. (Photo credit: Paul Wood/U.S. Department of Education)

P.S. 177 Technology Band member Tobi Lakes celebrates the band’s performance success. (Photo credit: Paul Wood/U.S. Department of Education)

This event culminated with the traditional celebratory ribbon-cutting ceremony to open the student art exhibit to the public. Though this year’s International Education Week activities and celebrations have come to a close, the exhibit will be on view through Dec. 31 as a vibrant testament to the power of high expectations, diverse student voices, and art’s capacity to unite individuals and nations.

Proud members of the P.S. 177 Technology Band participate enthusiastically in the ribbon cutting ceremony. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Proud members of the P.S. 177 Technology Band participate enthusiastically in the ribbon cutting ceremony. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

View more photos from the event.

Isadora Binder and Asheley McBride are staff in the Office of Innovation and Improvement (OII), and Olivia Murray is an OII intern from the University of California San Diego.

The Department’s Student Art Exhibit Program provides students and teachers an opportunity to display creative work from the classroom in a highly public place that honors their work as an effective path to learning and knowledge for all. To visit the exhibits or for information about exhibiting, contact Jackye Zimmermann at jacquelyn.zimmermann@ed.gov.

The White House College Opportunity Day of Action

Cross-posted from the White House blog.

President Barack Obama, with First Lady Michelle Obama and Bard College student Troy Simon, delivers remarks during the College Opportunity Summit in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building South Court Auditorium, Jan. 16, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama, with First Lady Michelle Obama and Bard College student Troy Simon, delivers remarks during the College Opportunity Summit in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building South Court Auditorium, Jan. 16, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

At the beginning of his administration, President Obama set a goal that the U.S. would once again lead the world in college graduates. The President believes that expanding opportunity for more students to enroll and succeed in college is vital to building a strong economy and a strong middle class.

The President has already taken important steps to increase college access, including:

  • Increasing Pell scholarships by $1,000 a year
  • Creating the American Opportunity Tax Credit, worth up to $10,000 over four years of college
  • Limiting student loan payments to 10 percent of income
  • Laying out an ambitious agenda to reduce college costs and promote innovation and competition

In January, 140 college presidents and other leaders made commitments to support student success at the first White House College Opportunity Summit. To build upon the success of that summit, on Thursday, December 4, President Obama and the First Lady will join college presidents and other leaders making new commitments to improve degree completion, sustain community collaborations that encourage college-going, train high school counselors as part of the First Lady’s Reach Higher initiative, and produce more STEM graduates with diverse backgrounds.

Here’s how you can participate in the College Opportunity Summit on Thursday, December 4th:

  • Watch the entire summit live here, or at www.whitehouse.gov/live.
    • 9:00 a.m. ET: Opening remarks by Cecilia Muñoz, Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council and Secretary Arne Duncan, U.S. Department of Education
    • 9:15 a.m. ET: Panel discussions moderated by Cecilia Muñoz and Secretary Julian Castro, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
    • 11:50 a.m. ET: Remarks by the President Barack Obama
    • 2:45 p.m. ET: Remarks by First Lady Michelle Obama
    • 3:00 p.m. ET: Remarks by Vice President Joe Biden
  • Add your voice to the conversation and follow along on social media with the hashtag #CollegeOpportunity.

AM Live Stream: Remarks by Cecilia Muñoz, Secretary Julian Castro, and President Barack Obama:

PM Live Steam: Remarks by the First Lady and Vice President Biden:

Cameron Brenchley is Senior Digital Strategist for the Office of Digital Strategy at the White House.

Testing: Can We Find the Rational Middle?

Recently I visited Glen Iris Elementary School in Birmingham, Alabama to meet with a group of teachers and their principal. I was in Birmingham as a Teaching Ambassador Fellow and it was highly recommend by local educators that I visit Glen Iris while in Birmingham to see the incredible work going on at the school. During my visit I learned about the school’s focus on project-based learning, how it energizes teachers and promotes cross-curriculum connections and implementation of college and career ready standards in a way that has significant meaning for students and the surrounding community. I learned how this type of learning relies on several factors including the internal capacity among teachers to lead and bring others along in this work and a supportive principal who will work to make sure the resources needed are provided (even grow a beard and sleep on the school roof to fundraise if necessary!). I also learned about their school garden, which was a sight to behold and a powerful a lesson for how to keep learning focused on developing the whole child.

The assessment culture was also very different at Glen Iris Elementary. It was clear that every teacher in the room agreed that we can and should measure learning, but, also, that current “tests” were measuring learning. When I asked Principal Wilson to share his views on testing he looked at me very calmly said, “There is more than one way to measure the standards. We have to be ever-growing.”

Since returning from Birmingham, much has happened in the “testing” world.

Recently, the Foundation for Excellence in Education came out with an analysis of district testing calendars from the 2013-14 school year. The foundation looked at 44 districts and found huge variation; some required as few as eight tests on top of required state assessments – and one required 198 additional exams. In addition, the Council of Chief State School Officers and Secretary Duncan have shined a spotlight on testing and are asking states and districts to have difficult conversations about the quantity and quality of tests administered to students. Also in recent weeks, several school districts in Florida have moved to cut down on testing. Miami-Dade County cut 24 interim assessments, adding 260 minutes of instruction back into the schedule, while Palm Beach County cut 11 diagnostic tests and made all district-level performance assessments optional. Moreover, Hillsborough County school district leaders are calling on the state to reduce the amount of testing in schools while several school officials have already eliminated final exams at middle and high school levels, as well as reduced the number of assessments for elementary grades in math, science and language arts.

I recently sat down with Secretary Duncan to hear his perspective on the current state of testing and accountability. While the testing pendulum has swung from one side to the other, my hope is that we will land somewhere in the rational middle. And as I continue in my education journey, I will forever keep those timely words of Dr. Wilson at the forefront of my mind and will challenge all of us to be “ever-growing.”

Emily Davis is a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education.

Future Ready: Why Action Today is Required to Meet the Challenges of Tomorrow

John Hutton

Superintendent John Hutton participated in the President’s “ConnectED to the Future” at the White House on Nov. 19. (Photo credit: Gurnee School District 56)

I had the opportunity to join the President at the White House recently to sign the Future Ready pledge for transforming education through increased digital learning. The convening drew 109 fellow superintendents in person, and thousands of others virtually. My selection as an attendee was based on the incredible transformation Gurnee District 56, north of Chicago, Illinois, has made in establishing a student-centered learning environment. Buoyed by a 1:1 iPad initiative and a supportive school culture, personalized learning, self-paced instruction, and digital and open source content have become the norm in our school district.

The accolades we have received are based on very real progress which is directly related to how we use technology. Last school year our K-8 students achieved unprecedented targeted growth proficiency in reading, from 56% to 63.5% and math, from 56% to 71%. In recognition of our accomplishments, the district received the Apple Distinguished Program award in November of 2013 and in the spring of 2014, Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, lauded the district in his annual speech to shareholders.

As the President said in his speech, we are losing ground in this race to ensure that our children can compete in the 21st century global economy. To reverse this, students must have access to a rich digital learning environment. I have always believed that in order to create change of this magnitude, and compete with countries that are currently Future Ready, we must establish a sense of urgency and make it clear to everyone that nothing less will solve the problem.

The President challenged all of us to carry the torch on behalf of our nation’s children to ensure that we are prepared for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. After his speech—and I believe that I am speaking on behalf of my colleagues—we were convinced of the need to be Future Ready and eagerly accepted his challenge to join him on this journey.

It is now time for us to continue this conversation. As Deputy Secretary of Education Jim Shelton asked, “What will Future Ready look like when we accomplish it?”

Consider these questions:

  • Does Future Ready apply to our technology, curriculum, students, teachers, parents, the nation? If so, how will we be able to, in specific terms, describe what Future Ready means?
  • How do we make Future Ready an important concept to those school districts that are not even close to being Future Ready?
  • For those of us who are committed to this path, how do we ensure that our conversations are practical rather than philosophical?
  • How committed are we to helping others rather than spending all of our time and attention on our own school districts?

The President has made it clear that the time to act is now. I look forward to working in unison with my colleagues to make sure that Future Ready is a road map that will protect the greatness of America.

John Hutton is superintendent of Gurnee School District 56 in north suburban Chicago, Illinois. He participated in the President’s “ConnectED to the Future” convening at the White House on Nov. 19.

Ferguson: Broken trust and the urgency of equal opportunity

The recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, have been on the minds of many of us at the Department of Education. Secretary Duncan addressed the topic in a staff-wide email just before the Thanksgiving holiday. Because of the importance of the topic, we are posting his email below.

Dear Colleagues,

Like many of you, I have been troubled by the death of Michael Brown, the tragic loss to his family and his community, and what has been happening in Ferguson, Missouri, over recent months and over the past 36 hours.

We come to work at this agency each day because we believe in the world that is possible when equity and justice and peace and opportunity are a reality in the lives of our communities and our young people.  Thus, it is especially difficult to watch the scenes of violence and unrest in Ferguson.  Evident in those scenes is a broken trust that exists within communities well beyond Missouri, between people – particularly those of color – and the official institutions that are there to serve them.

I must stress that nonviolence is the most powerful strategy and the only path to a real solution.  What we are seeing in Ferguson speaks to some important and deep issues that won’t be resolved just by bringing quiet to the streets there.

For our young people to succeed, they have to be connected, to know that they have a stake, to have opportunities open to them, to trust in our legal system, and trust that the adults and society around them have their best interests at heart.  I worry when young people may have lost their trust in our system of laws and democracy, and become disconnected – from adults, from society, from school, and from the police.  I believe that this alienation, lack of trust, and disconnect is how we start to lose some of our young people, especially in communities of color.  I believe it is our job as adults to do everything we can to rebuild that trust – in Ferguson and throughout the country.

Solving those problems and setting communities on a path to trust isn’t a quick fix.  Relationships are built – or damaged – over time.  We should take away from Ferguson that we need a conversation to rebuild those relationships, throughout the country, and that need is urgent.  It needs to involve everyone – our young people, our parents, our schools, our faith communities, our government officials, and the police.  It needs to happen now.

Moving that conversation forward is part of the work that so many of us do – and in fact, for many of us, it’s the reason for it.  We are together in that effort, and it has never been more important.  Thanks for what you do every day to advance opportunity, cohesion, understanding, trust, and justice.

Finally, as you gather with your families and in your communities for Thanksgiving, let’s all be thankful for our many blessings and hopeful that we can get to a place where all of America’s children feel they have an equal opportunity to succeed in life thanks to a great education, a rewarding job, and the caring of adults around them.

Best wishes,

Arne