Serving More Summer Meals in Rural and Tribal Areas

This blog originally appeared on the White House Rural Council blog.

Catholic Charities began their second year providing meals to children up to age 18 through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) to children at the Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan Del Valle, TX on May 24, 2012. The SFSP is a federally funded program that is administered by the states in which they reimburse organizations for meals served to children during the summer months. USDA photo. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture)

Catholic Charities began their second year providing meals to children up to age 18 through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) to children at the Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan Del Valle, TX on May 24, 2012. The SFSP is a federally funded program that is administered by the states in which they reimburse organizations for meals served to children during the summer months. USDA photo. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture)

During the school year, over 21 million children receive free and reduced-price breakfast and lunch each day through the USDA’s National School Lunch Program. But, when school is out, many children who rely on these meals go hungry. The challenge is particularly great in rural areas and Indian Country, where 15 percent of households are food insecure. In these areas, children and teens often live long distances from designated summer meal sites and lack access to public transportation.

According to Feeding America, 43 percent of counties are rural, but they make up nearly two-thirds of counties with high rates of child food insecurity. The consequences are significant. Several studies have found that food insecurity impacts cognitive development among young children and contributes to poorer school performance, greater likelihood of illness, and higher health costs.

The Obama administration has addressed the challenge head-on, investing unprecedented energy and resources to increasing participation in the USDA’s Summer Food Service Program.

And the impact has been significant. In 2014, in the peak operating month of July, over 45,000 summer meal sites were available across the U.S., a 29 percent increase from 2009. All told, last summer the USDA Food and Nutrition Service delivered 23 million more meals than in the summer of 2009. But we know that in order to get every kid a nutritious meal this summer, we need to get everyone involved, from schools to federal agencies to volunteers in local communities. Check out this handy toolkit to see how you can help!

A smiling girl with orange glasses at lunch provided through assistance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Food Nutrition Service (FNS). (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture)

A smiling girl with orange glasses at lunch provided through assistance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Nutrition Service (FNS). (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture)

Today, the Administration is making a series of announcements designed to serve more meals this summer in rural and tribal areas.

  • Launching the “Summer Meals Site Finder.” Children and parents can now go to www.fns.usda.gov/summerfoodrocks on their computer or smartphone and enter an address, city, state, or zip code to find the location and other information of nearby summer meal sites.
  • Bringing in some help! This summer, certain high-need rural and tribal communities will get the help of 60 AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associates to help recruit volunteers, raise awareness of the summer meal program, and provide operational support.
  • Partnering with others. We’re teaming up with organizations like the National Football League and Feeding America to help raise awareness, target outreach, and deliver meals in rural and urban areas.

By working together with families, local schools, and private organizations, we are helping to make sure that children can easily get the nutritious meals they need to be healthy and ready to learn when they return to school in the fall.

Arne Duncan is Secretary of Education and Tom Vilsack is Secretary of Agriculture.

Colorado District Delivers Civil Rights Change

Each day we have the pleasure and honor to meet and work with extraordinary school leaders who are working hard to deliver on the hopes we, as parents, have for our own children and for all students in schools. We want to share the story of one such leader in Colorado, whose work we are excited to see, and whose success in supporting parental involvement and engendering community support for schools we’d like to see replicated in more school communities around the country.

In Colorado’s Adams County School District 14, Superintendent Patrick Sánchez has accomplished transformative change against very tall odds. In April 2014, our Office for Civil Rights (OCR) resolved a complaint against the district to fix what had become a very hostile environment for Latino students, parents and staff. During our investigation we confirmed, for example, that the district had prohibited students from speaking Spanish at school, even in social settings. Staff reportedly used racially hostile language toward Latino students and denigrated students’ cultural backgrounds.

A Latino staff member also reported to us that a principal justified messy bathrooms because “Mexicans are poor and don’t use toilet paper,” and “there are few restrooms in Mexico.” As a cause of the racially hostile environment, many Latino staff were forced to resign or were removed from their jobs.

This is the environment that Superintendent Sánchez sought to immediately fix when he took the reins in July 2012, after the previous Superintendent’s resignation following the start of our investigation. Since that time, the Adams 14 district has made impressive gains to deliver equal educational opportunity to the district’s 7,000+ students. Superintendent Sánchez publicly apologized to parents, the community and staff for harm that they suffered in the past, and has made great strides in restoring the community’s trust and involvement in the district.

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An Equal Investment in Each Child’s Future

America is built on principles of equality and opportunity for all. In education, that means all our students deserve fair and equal access to strong academic programs, great teachers, new technology, and appropriate facilities, no matter where they live. Those values motivate committed educators and their partner organizations throughout this country.

Yet today, not every child in America gets a fair shot at success, including equal access to educational resources. Many students in high poverty districts are short-changed. Often, their peers in low poverty districts receive more per-pupil funding, and that translates to more resources, more opportunities, and better access to effective teaching.

For our nation to be strong, we must offer a real opportunity to every child – it’s a moral imperative and an economic necessity. Yet wide gaps continue to prevail in how we fund schools for rich and poor students. Low-poverty districts spend, on average, 16 percent more per student than high-poverty districts. In some states – like Pennsylvania, Vermont and Indiana – the gaps are much wider.

These gaps should spur bold action by all of us — educators, district leaders, community members, and elected and appointed officials. And there are examples throughout the country of just that kind of collective action.

Just outside D.C., in Prince George’s County, Maryland, the education budget trails far behind those in neighboring districts like Montgomery County, or Virginia’s Fairfax County. But in Prince George’s, advocates are considering bold steps to close some troubling funding gaps, target more resources for struggling schools, and boost academic achievement.

Faced with limited state funding and longstanding local shortfalls, the county executive and the local school board have proposed a significant budget increase to better meet the needs of the district’s students.  They also plan to address a-decades-old property tax cap that has squeezed tax-based contributions to their schools.

The approach is backed by community leaders and stakeholders who want to see their county flourish as neighboring counties have under new education efforts that support all students.  Additional dollars could help increase per-pupil spending, raise teacher salaries which lag behind those in nearby counties, and expand full-day pre-k programs.

For instance, James Madison Middle School, in Upper Marlboro, serves nearly 800 students, most of them African American and roughly 45 percent from low-income families. Under the proposed budget, the school would receive more than $125,000 to focus on improving essential college and career-ready skills for students.  More equitable funding would allow the principal to hire a literacy coach and an 8th grade digital literacy instructor, to help ensure that every student becomes a strong reader, and can perform well in our technology-rich world, from computer-based tests, to the digital workplace.

In Minnesota, Governor Dayton convened a working group of superintendents, business managers, school facilities directors and school board representatives to develop recommendations to create an adequate and equitable funding formula for Pre-K –12 programs. The group “Schools for Equity in Education” is also working with state officials to draft a budget formula that meets the state’s obligation to provide a uniform quality education to all students. The combination of these efforts, the voice of school leaders, and a strong state-level vision has yielded remarkable progress. In the latest legislative session, lawmakers drafted plans to expand programs to close the achievement gap and address funding differences between rural and urban school districts.

True leadership by lawmakers, advocates, and civic leaders means taking courageous action to meet the needs of all students. We cannot cut our way to better education. We have to listen to those who know what is needed – superintendents, district chiefs, educators, and parents – and develop laws and policies to support practices that work.

In Pennsylvania, which leads the nation in school funding disparities, local education leaders recently convened to tackle this issue collaboratively. At the same time, the state’s Basic Education Funding Commission has hosted statewide conversations to increase community participation in developing recommendations for the legislature. And, in late April, community members, superintendents and educators came together to discuss the problem of unequal funding between well-off and poorly funded districts. When teachers and students have the support they need, everyone does better.  The wealthier counties are joining the conversation and developing solutions alongside high-poverty districts.

I’ve seen firsthand how important it is for all of us, at all levels, to join with and support those leaders who are willing to take on the toughest conversations and the most challenging issues.

We now face a crucial national opportunity to advance equity, as Congress debates reauthorizing the most important national education law, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. I’ve called for scrapping the current law, known under the label No Child Left Behind, and replacing it with one that expands funding and support for schools and educators, and maintaining high expectations for students.

The nation faces clear choices here. Some proposals under discussion could exacerbate existing inequities by allowing funds to move out of high poverty schools into wealthier ones.  Other, better proposals would take important steps to ensure all students have the resources and support they need, closing a longstanding loophole in order to ensure that funding intended for the neediest students actually reaches them.

Wise proposals would also help to close opportunity gaps by ensuring an equitable distribution of resources. It’s basic: no matter where they are – in Prince George’s County, in Pennsylvania, or anywhere in this country – kids should have access to challenging, high-level classes and technology, and teachers should have the resources they need to their jobs.

When we adults do our civic duty and take strong steps to ensure that all our children have equal access to a great education, we improve their chances to succeed in college, careers and life – and our own future, as well.

Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education.

Teacher Leadership on the Global Stage

During the last weekend in March, union leaders, state education leaders, teacher leaders, one of ED’s Principal Ambassador Fellows and I joined delegations from 15 high-performing education systems across the globe for the 5thInternational Summit on the Teaching Profession in Banff, Canada. As countries around the world share a common desire to give every child a chance in life and to support teachers who devote their lives to that goal, the summit is a unique opportunity to learn from each other’s successes and challenges and to look for ways to replicate or adapt back home what other countries are doing well. We all appreciated the hospitality of Alberta Minister Gordon Dirks and his colleagues from across Canada for providing us the opportunity to grow and learn in such a beautiful setting.

Each year at the international summit each participating country commits to work in key areas over the course of the year and then report back on progress at the next summit. Together with the AFT, NEA, and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), we reported on the progress of our commitments from 2014 on teacher leadership, early learning and labor-management collaboration to increase learning for all students.

This year, the U.S. delegation introduced Teach to Lead, an initiative that seeks to advance student outcomes by expanding opportunities for teacher leadership both in and out of the classroom, to the global stage sparking international interest in this teacher-led and designed initiative to promote meaningful opportunities for teacher leadership that improve student outcomes. Teach to Lead has become an important vehicle through which so many teachers are fighting to make their leadership dreams a reality.

While at the summit our U.S. teachers, including six who have been active in Teach to Lead, convened a meeting with Canadian, Dutch, German and Estonian teachers and are now creating an international team of teachers exchanging ideas and working to advance teacher leadership and innovation across the globe. The teachers who attended are also getting the word out to educators across the U.S. and are beginning conversations about one of the commitments we made this year–a domestic summit modeled after the international summit to highlight and expand teacher leadership opportunities in the U.S.

During the summit, countries discussed their different approaches to leadership and the importance of collaboration. The Ontario Minister described their competitive Teacher Learning and Leadership Program to fund teacher projects; Singapore builds leadership development into each of its three career tracks; Finland starts leadership training in its initial teacher preparation; and New Zealand discussed its new Communities of Schools initiative and Teacher-led Innovation Fund.

I came away from the summit discussions with a renewed energy and commitment to teacher leadership and collaboration at all levels of education. With Jeff Charbonneau, 2013 National Teacher of the Year, presenting, the U.S. delegation committed publicly to:

  • Convene a summit in the U.S. to highlight teacher leadership and expand leadership opportunities.
  • Continue to work to increase the number of children with access to high-quality early learning and encourage teacher leadership in this regard.
  • Work to increase access for learners of all ages to high-quality career and technical education and encourage teacher leadership in this regard.

As Sharif El-Mekki, principal of Mastery Charter School-Shoemaker Campus in Philadelphia, said “I was proud that teachers and principals were a part of the decision making process for establishing the United States’ commitments for this coming year. A classroom teacher (and leader) presented our commitments to the world. The significance of this was profound, and lauded by the other international teachers in attendance. It was a proud moment for teacher leadership, nationally and internationally.”

With our teachers in the lead, we are already moving ahead on our commitments and will report back on our progress to the international community next year at the 6th summit in Berlin, Germany. As Mark Sass, high school teacher leader from Colorado, said “It is exciting to know that the work we are doing around teacher leadership is building nationally, as well as internationally. I left the Summit empowered and energized knowing there is a global collective focused on elevating the profession.”

When we hosted the first international summit in New York City in 2011, it wasn’t evident that it would create an ongoing international community of practice dedicated to enhancing the teaching profession, and dedicated to improving learning for all students. But it has and that reflects the global view that all teachers and principals need and deserve excellent preparation, support and opportunities for growth. Our educators and students deserve nothing less.

Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education.

A Bipartisan Proposal to Fix No Child Left Behind: A Good First Step; Further to Go

Earlier this week, Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA), the Chair and Ranking Member of the Senate education committee, announced an agreement to begin a bipartisan process of fixing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The committee will consider the proposed bill next week. This agreement, however, is just a beginning. As I detailed in a speech yesterday at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in Washington, D.C., there is work ahead to deliver a bill that fulfills the historic mission of this law.

Congress originally passed ESEA 50 years ago this week. Then as now, it stood to connect civil rights to education, enshrining America’s core value that every child deserves a quality education, no matter her race, disability, neighborhood, or first language. I am happy to see this bipartisan effort come together, yet I also know the distance we have to go toward a bill that establishes an expectation of excellence for all American children, and stays true to ESEA’s role as a guarantor of civil rights.

ESEA must continue this nation’s vital progress in closing gaps for vulnerable students. In that effort, there is more yet to do.

Positive Steps

The Alexander-Murray proposal moves reauthorization forward in important ways, including requiring States to adopt college- and career-ready standards as part of the effort to ensure that all students are prepared for the demands of higher education and the workforce. It also would require that states set achievement goals and graduation rate goals for all students and student subgroups. And, the proposal would provide more flexibility than NCLB for states and school districts, and ensure that parents know how their children and children’s school are doing by keeping requirements for annual statewide assessments.

The bipartisan agreement also provides improved support for educators, especially for principals and teachers. And it takes steps in the right direction by promoting transparency on resource inequities and rejecting earlier proposals to allow resources to be siphoned away from our neediest schools.

Further to Go

Yet there are areas where this bill doesn’t do enough to support the learning of students throughout this country. As the bill progresses, we look forward to working with Congress to ensure that a final bill will do more to maintain the crucial federal role in protecting our country’s most vulnerable students. The goal is not just to identify a problem, but to do something about it.

A good bill must expand access to high-quality preschool, to give children a chance to get off to a strong start in life.

A good bill must ensure that schools and educators have the resources and funds they need to do their jobs – and that schools with high proportions of low-income and minority students receive their fair share of those resources.

A good bill must ensure meaningful accountability, and support for action, in any school where subgroups or the whole school are persistently underperforming.

A good bill must ensure bolder action and focused resources for the lowest-performing five percent of schools, including America’s lowest-performing high schools.

A good bill must ensure strong support for innovations by local educators that change outcomes for students.

And a good bill needs to close a long-standing loophole in federal law that undermines the ability of Title I funds to provide supplemental resources for schools serving high concentrations of students from low-income families, and allows local funding inequities to continue.

Photo of Star

Star Brown

Yesterday, at the Martin Luther King Jr., Memorial Library in Washington, D.C., I had the great opportunity to share the story of four-year-old Star Brown from Minneapolis. In her short life, she and her family have faced enormous challenges, and she could easily have ended up behind, before she ever started school.

With the help of teachers at the Northside Achievement Zone, however, Star is overcoming her challenges and is on track to start kindergarten next year. Her story is one of opportunity made real.

It’s easy to say that every child deserves opportunity—regardless of race, disability, zip code or family income. And it’s easy to say that we expect excellence from all our children. But it takes work to make opportunity real. Star, and the millions more students like her, deserve all the support and opportunity this country has to offer. Our work is to make sure that opportunity is not just a possibility, but a promise. Now is not the time to turn back the clock.

 Arne Duncan is U.S. Secretary of Education

The Student Aid Bill of Rights: Enhancing Protections for Student Loan Borrowers

Cross-posted from the White House blog.

The single most important investment anyone can make in their future is to pursue higher education. But the one thing I often hear from families is that they are worried about the cost.

Too many students are graduating from college feeling burdened by their student loan debt. The Obama Administration has – and will continue to – make college more affordable through increased Pell Grants and education tax credits, while improving transparency so that students and families have the information they need to select schools that provide the best value. Today, we are building on the Administration’s success helping students manage their debt and stay on track.

My team at the U.S. Department of Education has been working with our federal partners to make sure that student loan borrowers are getting accurate information about how to avoid – or get out of – delinquency and default. And we’ve been doing more to improve student loan servicing and protect borrowers so they receive the treatment and respect they deserve, regardless of the type of loan they have.

But across the Administration, we want to do more.

That’s why today, President Obama has proposed a new Student Aid Bill of Rights that outlines a series of new actions that direct the Department of Education, Department of Treasury, Office of Management and Budget, Office of Science and Technology Policy and Domestic Policy Council, working with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Social Security Administration, to make paying for higher education an easier and fairer experience for millions of Americans.

studentbillofrights

Working together, the Obama administration will:

  • Develop a state-of-the-art – and simple – process for borrowers to file complaints involving their federal student aid, and working with a team across the federal government to figure out the best way to address those complaints.
  • Make sure the banks that service federal loans are held to high standards and provide better information to borrowers; and raising the bar for debt collection to make sure that fees charged to borrowers are reasonable and that collectors are fair, transparent, and help borrowers get back on track.
  • Use innovative strategies to improve borrowers’ experience and improve customer service. At the Department of Education, we are committed to finding new and better ways to communicate with student loan borrowers and to creating a centralized, easier process for repaying loans. And we will see what changes to regulations and legislation, including bankruptcy law, may be necessary to protect borrowers – regardless of the type of loan they have.
  • Work across the federal government to see what lessons can be learned from similar situations, like mortgage and credit card markets and other performance-based contracts, to help us make sure that ultimately, we are continually strengthening consumer protections for students.

It is our responsibility to make sure that the more than 40 million Americans with student loans are aware of resources to help them manage their debt, and that are doing everything we can to be responsive to their needs. The Student Aid Bill of Rights builds on the efforts our Administration has been taking over the last several years to make college more affordable and continues to chip away at the burden of student debt – so no one should feel overwhelmed by their student loans.

Agree with me? Take the pledge for a Student and Borrower Bill of Rights:www.whitehouse.gov/college-opportunity

Arne Duncan is Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education.

My Brother’s Keeper: A Year of Progress

This post originally appeared on The White House Blog.

When President Obama launched the My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) initiative one year ago, he did so with a powerful call to action to help more of our young people stay on the right track and achieve their full potential. Too many young people, including boys and young men of color, face daunting opportunity gaps and, like all of us, the President knows that America will be most successful when its young people are successful.

At the launch of MBK, the President called for government, businesses, nonprofits, schools, districts, and individuals, to commit to making a difference in the lives of our nation’s young people. Since then, nearly 200 cities, counties, and tribal nations from 43 states have accepted the MBK Community Challenge, a call to build and execute locally driven plans with a focus on achieving excellence and equity from birth through adolescence and the transition to early adulthood.

Last May, I joined young men in Denver, an MBK Community, for an open and honest discussion about their lives – their challenges, support systems, and visions for the future. So many of their stories – both heart-wrenching and inspiring – stick with me, but what perhaps struck me most were the words of Elias, who was once told he was “an exception to his race.” The words weighed heavily on him, as they did on me.

Elias told me that he doesn’t want to be an exception to his race. Rather, he envisions a system where schools partner with nonprofits and higher education to create a pipeline to success that will work for everybody.

The good news is that Elias’s vision is starting to take shape. Partners from across the country are recognizing the important work of MBK, with more than $300 million independently pledged by foundations and corporations. And, in July, AT&T, the NBA, and the NBA Players Association announced efforts that will expand opportunities for learning, mentorship, volunteerism, and jobs for all youth, including boys and young men of color. From nonprofits and foundations to businesses, private sector efforts are accelerating the work of MBK to promote academic and career success, and mentoring and public engagement.

The Department of Education is doing its part, too, by improving existing programs to better serve our youth, and by creating new and better public-private partnerships that best serve the needs of our young people. And, the Council of the Great City Schools is coordinating the leaders of 63 of the largest urban school systems in the country in an unprecedented joint pledge to change life outcomes by better serving students at every stage of their education.

In December, the Department of Education convened the White House Summit on Early Education, where we announced $750 million in new federal grant awards from the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services, to support early learning for over 63,000 additional children across the country.

And, I was pleased to join US Attorney General Holder in releasing a Correctional Education Guidance Package, which builds upon the recommendations in the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force report. The guidance will help states and agencies strengthen the quality of education services provided to the approximately 57,000 young people in confinement every day.

Earlier this year, the Department of Education and the Department of Justice released joint guidance reminding states, school districts and schools of their obligations under federal law to ensure that English learner students have equal access to a high-quality education and the opportunity to achieve their full academic potential. The Departments also released additional tools and resources to help schools in serving English learner students and parents with limited English proficiency, including a toolkit to help school districts identify English learner students.

Great efforts are underway in communities across the country – but our young people still face great challenges. To truly change the face of opportunity in this country – to truly make the bounty of America available to the many, and not just the few – we must replicate and expand what’s working.

Our work is far from over. Let’s move forward, together, to do right by all our nation’s young people.

Read the My Brother Keeper’s Task Force one-year progress report to the President.

Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education.

It’s Past Time to Move Beyond No Child Left Behind: Addressing America’s Teachers and Principals

For more than a decade, states and schools throughout this country have worked within the narrow confines of the No Child Left Behind law. It’s long past time to move past that law, and replace it with one that expands opportunity, increases flexibility and gives schools and educators more of the resources they need.

Today, seven years after the law was due for renewal, there is real movement on Capitol Hill toward a new law, with many important decisions happening in just the next few weeks. But it is by no means certain what that law will look like — or whether it will, indeed, be a step forward.

No Child Left Behind is the title applied to the 2001 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the most important education law in the country, which turned 50 years old in January.

Since its beginnings in 1965, ESEA aimed to give students living in poverty, minority students and others who had historically struggled for a fair chance, in part, by providing billions of dollars in Title I funds to schools with high concentrations of poverty, and by supporting teacher professional development, and other essentials. When he introduced it in January 1965, President Lyndon Johnson said the law would establish “full educational opportunity as our first national goal,” and said, “I believe deeply [that] no law I have signed, or will ever sign, means more to the future of America.”

In hundreds upon hundreds of conversations with educators, I have heard about frustrations with the 2001 No Child Left Behind law, and I am hopeful that lawmakers will find their way to a bipartisan agreement on a law that serves students, teachers and principals better.

The intentions of the No Child Left Behind revision were good, but the implementation, for many, has been frustrating. It aimed to bring transparency and meaningful responsibility for the learning progress of “subgroups” of students who had struggled in the past — students in poverty, minority students, those with disabilities, those learning English and others. That’s a good idea. But in practice, the law created dozens of ways for schools to fail and very few ways to help them succeed.

I believe we need to do precisely the reverse, giving schools more resources, more support and more flexibility. I believe we need to scrap No Child Left Behind and replace it with a far better law — a law that continues key supports for equity in education as a national priority, rather than making equity of opportunity optional.

Recently, I laid out core ideas for a new law that ensures real opportunity. Teachers, principals, students and families have helped to spur enormous progress in education throughout the country — leading to our highest high-school graduation rate in history, dropout rates at historic lows, and a million more black and Hispanic students in college than there were in 2008.

I believe we need to double down on that kind of progress and expand opportunity for America’s children — not turn back the clock. In order to do that, I called for doing several things that have enormous relevance to educators.

First, we must make sure that schools and educators have the resources they need to do their vitally important work. Among significant increases for education in the budget the President recently laid out, he requested $2.7 billion in new funding for ESEA, including a billion-dollar increase for Title I.

A new ESEA should ensure that students are ready for school, by making high-quality preschool available and affordable for every family that wants it.

It should support teachers better throughout their careers, including through improved training.

It should provide support and funding to cut back on the time devoted to standardized testing in places where testing is excessive, without walking away from annual statewide assessments that provide valuable information to drive improvement and are critical to measuring growth instead of just proficiency.

In fact, the law should focus on the learning growth of all students, including subgroups that have struggled in the past, and ensure that where groups of students or schools do not make progress, there will be a plan for action and improvement.

It should help to ensure that students receive a well-rounded education that includes the arts, physical education, financial literacy, the sciences, and much more.

It should ensure that funds intended for high-poverty schools actually get to those schools.

It should ensure that all students have the benefit of high, state-chosen standards aligned with readiness for college and career.

And it should support innovation by educators at the state and local levels that drive improvements in student learning.

All of these steps will help accelerate the progress that America’s students are making, strengthen opportunity for all students, and ensure greater economic security for our nation.

I am hopeful that lawmakers from both parties will be able to come to agreement on a law that does all these things. I have been clear about my concerns about early proposals that have gone in a very different direction — one that would impose painful cuts on our schools, including a potential loss of as much as $675 million in the neediest schools. But I’m delighted to see that the leading Republican and Democrat on education in the Senate, Sen. Lamar Alexander and Sen. Patty Murray, have announced their intention to develop a bipartisan bill.

I believe that ensuring a strong education for our young people — and ensuring that schools and educators have the resources they need to provide that education — is among the nation’s most important responsibilities.

I am hopeful that Republicans and Democrats in Congress will work together to reach bipartisan agreement on a bill that holds true to the promise of real opportunity.

I urge you to get the facts about this vital decision.

Arne Duncan is U.S. Secretary of Education.

Get Your Schools Up to Speed

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In June 2013, I joined the President in Mooresville, NC, to launch ConnectED – an initiative to close the technology gap in our schools and bring high-speed Internet to 99 percent of America’s students within five years. This vision – that all students should have access to world-class digital learning – is well on its way to becoming a reality.

Thanks to the leadership of the President and the FCC, the resources are in place to meet the President’s connectivity goal. In addition, various private-sector partners are making over $2 billion worth of resources available to students, teachers, and schools. These include tablets, mobile broadband, software, and online teacher professional development courses from top universities. Fewer than 40 percent of public schools currently have the high-speed Internet needed to support modern digital learning.

But now we have the resources to solve this problem. We just need help from our nation’s superintendents and school technology chiefs.

Last year, the FCC approved the first major update to the E-Rate program since it was created in 1997. E-Rate (also known as the Universal Service Program for Schools and Libraries) makes it more affordable for schools and libraries to connect to high-speed Internet – with the goal of making the gigabit speeds we see in cities like Cedar Falls, Iowa, and Chattanooga, Tennesseethe norm in schools across the country.

These updates have unlocked funding to support internal Wi-Fi network upgrades in schools and libraries this year for the first time since 2012. Wi-Fi is important because no matter how fast the Internet connection is to a school, students can’t take full advantage of it without a robust wireless network within the school.

To secure E-rate support for Wi-Fi, schools and libraries must submit a form describing their project needs to the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC). USAC then posts the request for competitive bidding. The Department of Education has prepared an Infrastructure Guide to help district leaders navigate the many decisions required to deliver cutting-edge connectivity to students. That said, schools and libraries have the final say when they submit an application to USAC for approval.

Bringing our schools up to speed is a major priority, and E-rate provides an opportunity to make doing so much more affordable. For all of the superintendents and technology officers: If you haven’t yet done so, get your requests submitted by February 26, 2015, and your applications in before March 26, 2015 (requests must be up for 28 days before a school can choose a vendor). Your students, your community, and your country will thank you for bringing our classrooms into the 21st century.

Arne Duncan is U.S. Secretary of Education.

In Ferguson — and All of Our Communities — Education Can Be the Great Equalizer

This post originally appeared on The Root.

WATCH: Secretary Duncan Visits Ferguson
Following Michael Brown’s tragic death, people across the country—and the world—have grieved together and engaged in critical conversations about race and community relationships. When President Obama hosted a dialogue with young people on the issues in Ferguson, I asked the youngest members of the Ferguson Commission how I could be helpful. They asked me to visit Ferguson—to listen to the stories of the people who live there—because youth, in particular, were hurting.

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Secretary Duncan speaks to students at Clyde C. Miller Career Academy in St. Louis, MO, on December 16, 2014. (Joe Portnoy/U.S. Department of Education)

I listened. Recently, I traveled to Ferguson, Missouri. I visited the Clyde C. Miller Career Academy High School, Grandview High School, Ferguson Library, and the Greater St Mark Family Church to meet with students, educators, and community leaders to hear their thoughts on race, equity, and trust since the death of Michael Brown.

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Students and educators shared their stories with Secretary Duncan at the Ferguson Library in Ferguson, MO, on December 16, 2014 (Joe Portnoy/U.S. Department of Education)

The stories I heard from students showed a real sense of fear and uncertainty about the future that far too many young people in communities across this country feel. During one of several stops through Ferguson, I met with Gbemisola Fadeyi, a student at Hazelwood East Middle School. Gbemisola said, since the death of Michael Brown, “I feel like it would be a blessing to get to the age of 16 without being killed by someone. I am so fearful of a lot of things now, and I shouldn’t be scared, I shouldn’t be scared.”

She’s right—all young people should grow up free from fear and violence. But there are too many neighborhoods and communities where fear and violence are part of a student’s daily life. Gbemisola and other young people said that they have been scared not only for themselves—but also for their family members—particularly since Michael Brown’s death.

From the students, to the teachers, to superintendents and school board members, to union leaders—what I felt was searing honesty as well as a deep sense of selflessness. Diamond Smith, a junior at Riverview Gardens High School, shared that in an effort to help her community, she gave her entire paycheck from her after-school job to a homeless man who was feeling broken and hopeless. Stories like these from Gbemisola and Diamond are both heart-wrenching and inspiring.

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Diamond Smith shares her story about giving her entire paycheck to a homeless man. (Joe Portnoy/U.S. Department of Education)

In Ferguson, I also saw a willingness to reflect and a commitment to long-term action. While there is a great deal of hurt and anger, there’s also great interest among the youth, community leaders, and educators to work together to turn around a very tough situation—to ensure trust and to build strong relationships among law enforcement and other officials and the communities they serve. The students I met with at Clyde C. Miller Career Academy High School, for example, are reviewing their old classroom notes on the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s in the hope of organizing their own movement toward social justice in 2015. They’re seeing and sensing that they are a part of rewriting the history of their own community.

Like Civil Rights leaders who came before them, these students and educators see education as a means of addressing inequities and injustices. They noted that they are tired of the disparities in their local schools systems—whether it’s a lack of access to quality early childhood education, to Advanced Placement classes, to adequately funded schools, to strong instruction, or to after-school programs.

Education is—and must continue to be—the great equalizer that overcomes differences in background, culture, and privilege. Educational opportunity represents a chance at a better life, and no child should be denied that chance. Where our children lack that opportunity—it’s not just heartbreaking, it is educational malpractice, it is morally bankrupt, and it is self-destructive to our nation’s future. I don’t believe that we are going to solve the challenges in Ferguson and places like it from Washington alone; but, we can be part of the solution if we listen closely to the people living in these communities. Making things better for kids, their families, and their schools will take all of us working together. We can—and we must—get to a better place.

President Obama and this entire Administration are committed to finding practical solutions to seemingly complex problems. In keeping his promise to find a way to bridge the gap between law enforcement and the communities they serve, the President established the Task Force on 21st-Century Policing, which will be releasing its recommendations by March. I also have assigned members of my team to continue to work with the Ferguson community. In the long term, we are committed to growing opportunity through the My Brother’s Keeper initiative and through laying out principles for equity that must guide a new Education and Elementary Secondary Act.

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

Why Education Is a Global Matter

This year marks the 15th anniversary of International Education Week (IEW), a time to recognize, reflect, and celebrate the important role education plays worldwide.

Educators, families and students are working hard to implement a comprehensive vision for cradle-to-career improvements here in the U.S. so every child can receive a world-class education, and to ensure that our nation remains globally competitive. But U.S. education leaders are also committed to an international education agenda that’s deeper and more collaborative than ever.

In November 2013, at the invitation of Haiti’s education minister, Secretary Duncan visited Haiti and met with students, teachers, government officials, and other stakeholders.  National leaders in Haiti are committed to expanding educational opportunity and raising educational quality. We saw clearly that children in Haiti want an education and are willing to try despite the odds against them.   Read more about the Secretary’s visit here. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

In November 2013, Secretary Duncan visited Haiti and met with students, teachers, government officials, and other stakeholders. Read more about the Secretary’s visit here. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

That is why, during IEW 2012, Department of Education released its first fully-integrated international strategy, Succeeding Globally Through International Education and Engagement, linking our domestic and international priorities. Increasing the global competencies of all U.S. students, learning from other countries to improve our education policies and practices, and engaging in active education diplomacy will help to strengthen U.S. education and advance our nation’s international priorities.

Just last month, Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani teenager shot in the head by Taliban gunmen for advocating for girls’ education, became the youngest ever recipient of the Nobel Peace prize. As she said, “We realized the importance of pens and books, when we saw the guns.” What a courageous and amazing young person. All of us – educators, parents, policymakers, and world leaders – desire a bright and happy future for our children and our nations. Education must help to ensure that future: a better educated world is a more prosperous world, a healthier world, and a safer world. When we became a Global Education First Initiative (GEFI) Champion Country  earlier this year, we committed to be leaders in this effort.

I’ve seen the difference education makes in my experience growing up in Chicago and later as head of the Chicago Public Schools; during my time in Australia when I worked with wards of the court; and in the communities and schools I’ve visited as Secretary. Two visits from the past year are particularly vivid for me: Columbus Elementary, situated just a few miles from the Mexico border, where students wake up before sunrise to cross the border for school each day and my trip to Haiti where I saw in the eyes of so many children the desire and commitment to get a basic education despite the odds against them.

I also place a high priority on benchmarking ourselves against other education systems and learning from them to see how we can improve. OECD’s Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), the international assessment of reading, math and science, has been an important yardstick for me because it is taken by 15-year-old high school students around the globe. The most recent PISA results show a picture of educational stagnation for the U.S., a wake-up call against complacency and low expectations. PISA also helps to show that there’s a false choice between equity and excellence: education systems as diverse as Canada and Korea can, and do, achieve both.

We know that a key component of educational success is starting early yet the U.S. is 25th in the world in our enrollment of four-year-olds in preschool. This gap highlights the urgency of our efforts to increase enrollment in high quality preschool. Young children in New Zealand, for example, can receive 20 hours of free early learning opportunities each week.  Data show that 95 percent of New Zealand’s children have had some early childhood education when they start school. The U.S. rate of 65 percent pales in comparison.

We hosted – with international and domestic partners – the first-ever International Summit on the Teaching Profession in 2011, bringing together ministers and union leaders with high-performing and rapidly improving education systems from around the world to discuss how to enhance and elevate the teaching profession worldwide. The summit proved such a success that it is now hosted annually by countries around the world.  What we heard at the summits have had an important impact on U.S. teacher policy, including RESPECT and Teach to Lead.

I hope, this week and every week, you’ll find ways to encourage and support the shared vision of International Education Week – that every child, in every country, grows up globally competent and appreciates cultural diversity.

Watch Secretary Duncan’s IEW 2014 message:

Arne Duncan is U.S. Secretary of Education.