AAPI DREAM Riders Inspire

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to meet with a group of young people who are mounting an inspiring fight to overcome barriers and make this country stronger. They are called the DREAM Riders, and they are taking their vital message to the entire country.

Duncan meets with DREAM RidersThe DREAM Riders are a group of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) who have been granted deferred action through the Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. What that means is that, for certain young people who came to the United States as children, the government has deferred action that would remove them from the country, and given them authorization for employment.

These young people, along with student supporters, are kicking off the DREAM Riders Tour. This tour will take them all over the country with stops in Washington, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, and California, among others. The group plans to rally local AAPI youth and students around the need for Congress to pass commonsense immigration reform and lay the foundation for relationships and future collaboration with local organizations and leaders.

I was inspired by the stories of the DREAM Riders and their friends and family— stories often rooted in hardship and heartbreak as their parents strive to make ends meet — stories of success and struggle as they try to obtain the best education that our country has to offer.

The DREAM Riders and I discussed the significance of a meaningful pathway to earned citizenship for undocumented individuals and our collective efforts to ensure passage of commonsense immigration reform.  The Senate has passed this legislation in a strong bipartisan vote for legislation in the Senate, but the House of Representatives has not yet taken action.

AAPI communities and families have a huge stake in this debate. According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, approximately 1.1 million individuals of Asian descent are undocumented. According to the Department of State, approximately 2 million individuals of Asian descent are currently waiting abroad to reunite with their families in America.

The future of our country and our economy brightens tremendously under the provisions of this legislation. Earlier this month, the White House released a report highlighting the numerous and varied economic benefits of fixing our broken immigration system, including helping to grow our economy by creating new business and jobs. And according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, the Senate’s bipartisan immigration reform bill will increase the nation’s GDP 3.3 percent by 2023 and 5.4 percent by 2033.  We should not underestimate the economic value of hard-working AAPI immigrant and refugee families: many AAPI immigrants start their journey in the United States as small business owners, investors, and entrepreneurs.

The efforts of these AAPI DREAM Riders will significantly impact younger generations in their communities. I wish these young advocates the best of luck on their upcoming tour and commend their efforts to ensure that the collective voices of their communities are heard.

Arne Duncan is the Secretary of Education

Minnesota: Providing Students A Strong Start

Secretary Duncan and students

Secretary Duncan, right, joined Jody Bohrer’s Kindersprouts circle time during his Minnesota visit along with students Brody Mallunger, left, and Rubi Torres, at Pond Early Childhood Center, .July 16, 2013 in Minneapolis. Photo Credit: Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

This originally appeared in the July 20th edition of the Minnesota Star Tribune. 

The best ideas to put children on a path to school success rarely come from Washington, D.C.

President Obama has put forward a plan to make high-quality preschool affordable for all children — a vital step in putting young people on a path to a thriving middle class. As I saw firsthand in a pair of visits in the Minneapolis area on Tuesday, that effort builds on the work of states like Minnesota.

The day began at Pond Early Childhood Family Center in Bloomington, where I sat with students who sang a song, recited the alphabet and discussed some of their favorite words. The visit was an inspiring example of great educators helping kids get ready for kindergarten in a setting of joy and support.

Later Tuesday, Gov. Mark Dayton, Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius, and other leaders from business, the military, government and the clergy, joined a town-hall discussion at Kennedy Senior High School. At that town hall, parents, teachers, education leaders and others from throughout the state made clear that they have seen the power of early learning — and that they know we must reach many more children.

That understanding did not emerge from Washington. Forward-looking states have led the way — including Minnesota, where Dayton this year signed a bill that invests nearly $200 million in early learning, helping tens of thousands more children attend high-quality child care, preschool and all-day kindergarten.

Minnesota has made a priority of preschool through an Office of Early Learning, a Children’s Cabinet and an Early Learning Council, which together ensure that the cradle-to-career continuum begins with a strong start. In addition, as a winner of a Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge grant, Minnesota is creating systems and infrastructure that offer new ideas to other states.

Minnesota’s work represents real progress for families and children in the face of great need. The state’s new investments will reach about 8,000 children over two years, but that leaves many 3- and 4-year-olds — some 35,000 of them — without access to high-quality early learning opportunities. And that’s why we need to work hard, in Minnesota and across the country, to reach so many more students.

Why? Because of the pivotal role that quality preschool education can play in a child’s life. Studies confirm what every teacher knows: Young children who experience secure, stimulating environments with rich learning opportunities from an early age are better prepared to thrive in school. They reap benefits in high school graduation rates and employment, and are less likely to commit crimes.

Experts — including Art Rolnick, a former senior vice president at the Federal Reserve office here, who joined the town-hall discussion — have made a strong case that public investments in preschool return many times more in savings and benefits. As Rolnick — a tireless advocate for early learning — has said: “The best economic development strategy is investment in early childhood.” Acting on that knowledge will help to position young people to do well in an increasingly competitive and globalized workforce.

Yet today, millions of young children in this country lack that opportunity. Among 4-year-olds in the United States, fewer than three in 10 attend a high-quality preschool program. The availability of high-quality learning and development programs for infants and toddlers likewise presents challenges for families. And the gap is especially pronounced in low-income communities.

That’s why the president has put forward a plan to make high-quality, full-day preschool available to all 4-year-olds from families whose incomes are at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty line — a major help to families working to balance work and family responsibilities and the costs of child care. All federal costs of this proposed state-federal partnership would be covered by a new tobacco tax — meaning it won’t add a dime to the deficit. States would receive incentives to provide voluntary high-quality preschool with low class sizes, qualified teachers and stimulating learning experiences.

The plan also would launch a new Early Head Start-Child Care partnership to expand high-quality early learning opportunities for infants and toddlers, along with voluntary home-visiting programs in which nurses, family educators and social workers connect low-income families to health, social and educational supports.

President Obama has spoken about America’s basic bargain: that people who work hard and shoulder their responsibilities should be able to climb into a thriving middle class. Restoring that bargain, he said, is the unfinished work of our generation.

Minnesota is doing that work in earnest. Your children are better for it.

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

New Flexibility for States Implementing Fast-Moving Reforms: Laying Out Our Thinking

Over the last four years, states and school districts across America have embraced an enormous set of urgent challenges with real courage: raising standards to prepare young people to compete in the global economy, developing new assessments, rebuilding accountability systems to meet the needs of each state and better serve at-risk students, and adopting new systems of support and evaluation for teachers and principals. Meeting this historic set of challenges all at once asks more of everybody, and it’s a tribute to the quality of educators, leaders, and elected officials across this country that so many have stepped up.
Secretary Duncan talking with student

One crucial change has been the state-led effort to voluntarily raise standards. That effort dates back to 2006, when a bipartisan core of leaders – governors, state superintendents, business people — came together because they recognized that America’s students needed to be prepared to compete in a global economy that demanded more than basic skills. They began a movement that has ended up with nearly every state adopting standards that reflect the knowledge and skills young people actually need to succeed in college and careers. Especially in communities where students historically have not been held to high standards, this state-led push is nothing less than a civil rights issue.

To put student learning squarely at the center of school decisions, states agreed to evaluate principals and teachers based in part on student growth, as measured by test scores, along with measures like principal observation, peer review, feedback from parents and students, and classroom work. These commitments became part of waiver agreements that have helped states dispense with the most broken parts of the federal No Child Left Behind law.

The US Department of Education also provided $350 million to two consortia of states to develop online assessments, benchmarked to the new standards, which will improve significantly on today’s “bubble tests.” All but a few states have agreed to implement these new evaluation systems by the 2015-16 school year.

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Empowering Learners in the 21st Century

There is so much need, and so much potential, to bring innovation to the learning of our students. Several events over the past two weeks have left me charged with enthusiasm about what’s possible: a real upgrade for the education of all students.  From my trip to Mooresville, NC with President Obama last week to my experiences at the Reimagining Education: Empowering Learners in a Connected World conference in Washington, DC on May 28-29, I sense a groundswell of excitement and support for a new approach to learning that is better designed for our times.

Obama at Mooresville Middle School

President Barack Obama views student projects created on laptops during a tour at Mooresville Middle School in Mooresville, N.C., June 6, 2013 (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

We co-hosted the Reimagining Education conference with the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation because we know that none of this will be accomplished by government alone.  Together, we convened teachers, leaders, academics, advocates and entrepreneurs from many different sectors to think about designing student and teacher learning experiences for today and, more importantly, for a future that we cannot even imagine. The result was a rich discussion and a series of concrete recommendations for new approaches that will better engage, inspire, and prepare students.

Critical to supporting our students’ success is making sure the latest technologies are available and integrated into their learning environments. In this digital age, with tools like open online courses, handheld tablets, and enhanced learning diagnostics, we have the capability to give each student a personalized learning experience tailored to their interests and needs, and the opportunity to give every teacher the advanced tools and training that they deserve.

That is why I was thrilled to join President Obama this past Thursday to announce our plan, called ConnectED, to equip our schools with 21st century technology. The President challenged the nation to work with us to meet the goal of providing high-speed broadband internet to 99% of students within five years. Countries around the world are outpacing us in providing high-speed Internet to their students and their investments are getting results. Through the ConnectED initiative, we can level the playing field and give our students the best chance to succeed in the global economy.

During President Obama’s visit to Mooresville, the words of Professor John Seely Brown resonated with me.  He kicked off the Reimaging Education conference by outlining a vision for a dynamic learning environment in which we “teach content, mentor skills, and cultivate dispositions.”  This means we must expand our idea of the classroom beyond daily lectures and homework assignments. Our students need to experiment, engage, and create in the areas they find truly exciting. Schools are a crucial part of that vision, and better access to technology and the worlds that technology puts at our fingertips, is an essential part of this work.

To accomplish this, we need mentors, employers and artists working together in new ways to get all of our students involved and interested in their own learning. This doesn’t mean diminishing the role of teachers. Nothing can replace the importance of having a great teacher working with students. This does mean redesigning the school environment and its connection to what takes place outside of school so that teachers are not limited by their classroom.   Often it is the limitations of the system and the technology that keep them from getting the access and the support that they need.

I often hear people say that students are dropping out because school is “too hard.” But I think it’s more often the opposite: they think it’s too easy and they do not see the relevance to their daily lives.

In the days since the summit and the President’s call for a modernization of E-rate and a better connected education system, several exciting commitments and projects have been announced that further support this approach of connecting learning to student’s passions and real world experiences.   The MacArthur Foundation’s upcoming Summer of Making and Connecting and the Department’s Connected Educator Month, scheduled for October, will provide limitless opportunities to engage students and teachers in their own learning.

The President and I are committed to this work in our budget proposal as well. Our high school redesign proposal—a plan introduced by President Obama at this year’s State of the Union—would establish a $300 million program to support innovative high school models that better link students to college and careers, providing the relevant experiences that our students want and need. The high schools supported by this program would prepare students for both college and the workforce—a preparation that is not an either/or proposition.

These are all steps in the right direction. We’re planting seeds that will bear fruit in the years to come, and we must act now. These changes are about whether we want to be leaders or laggards as a nation in achieving great futures for our students. In order to provide the best education in the world again, we must develop educational opportunities and resources that excite and prepare all of our students. Technology alone won’t solve this, but we also cannot succeed without it.

Teacher José Rodriguez, with whom I participated in a panel discussion at the Reimagining Education conference, best summarized the importance of this work when he said: “Many of my students asked me why I was absent the last two days. As I tried to explain to them my experience at Reimagining Education, I looked them all straight in the eye with excitement and said, ‘I went to their future. What I saw there was beautiful.’” Let’s make that future today’s reality.

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

Connecticut Leads the Way on Protecting Children

This was originally posted on the White House Blog.

At a town hall meeting last week on school safety at the Classical Magnet School in Hartford, I got to hear firsthand how Connecticut is leading the nation in adopting common-sense solutions to reduce gun violence and improve school safety.

In the aftermath of the massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School last December, the courage and resilience of teachers, parents, children, and communities in the Newtown area has been nothing short of remarkable.

From Governor Dannel Malloy to state lawmakers to the members of the Sandy Hook Promise, the entire state worked together to pass comprehensive legislation to reduce gun violence.

Unlike here in Washington, Connecticut’s lawmakers didn’t defend the status quo or shrink from tackling difficult questions. With bipartisan support, they enacted a comprehensive law to help curb gun violence and mass shootings that does not infringe on the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens to defend themselves and hunt.

Connecticut’s leaders have set an example of political courage that can teach a lot to Congress and the rest of the nation. At today’s town hall meeting, Governor Malloy talked about how he decided to press ahead for new gun violence prevention measures, despite fierce attacks from the NRA.

By contrast, in Washington, Congress has so far failed to take the sensible step of expanding the background check system to close loopholes that allow criminals and the mentally ill to buy guns.

Those loopholes make no sense—and 90 percent of the public backs expanding background checks. I hope that Congress soon takes up universal background checks again.

Both the state and federal government are lending a helping hand in the recovery of Newtown and surrounding communities affected by the violence at Sandy Hook. At today’s town hall, Governor Malloy and I announced two new grants to help in the recovery process.

Under Connecticut’s new Gun Violence Prevention and Children’s Safety Act, signed into law by Governor Malloy last month, Connecticut will provide $5 million to municipalities to boost school security.  State funding will go to schools with the most need—buildings with little or no security infrastructure in school districts that are struggling financially.

At the federal level, the U.S. Department of Education will provide a $1.3 million Project School Emergency Response to Violence (SERV) grant to the Newtown Public School District to assist the community in recovering from the shootings.

The Project SERV grant will help fund grief support groups for siblings who lost classmates, skill-based counseling for students suffering posttraumatic stress, security guards, an academic-booster summer session for students, and many other services.

Our efforts to assist the recovery of Newtown from this tragedy are only the beginning of the steps that our schools, communities, Congress, and our country must take to ensure our children grow up safe and free from fear.

Every community needs to appraise its values–and look at whether the community, parents, business leaders, faith-based leaders, political leaders, and schools are doing everything that they can to keep our nation’s children safe from harm.

This is a collective responsibility. None of us gets a pass. As a nation, we cannot “move on” and forget the pain and unbearable tragedy of 20 young children and six educators gunned down in an elementary school in a matter of minutes on December 14, 2012.

The students I talked with in Connecticut last week were bright, spirited, and eager to go on to college to get their degrees. They are the faces of the future. Our nation’s leaders, our parents and our educators owe it to them and to all our children to do everything in our power to make sure their dreams are not cut short by violence.

Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education

More Substantive and Lasting than a Bagel Breakfast

Great teaching can change a child’s life. That kind of teaching is a remarkable combination of things: art, science, inspiration, talent, gift, and — always — incredibly hard work. It requires relationship building, subject expertise and a deep understanding of the craft. Our celebrated athletes and performers have nothing on our best teachers.

But, in honoring teachers, I think Teacher Appreciation Week needs an update. Don’t get me wrong — teachers have earned every bagel breakfast, celebratory bulletin board, gift card and thank-you note. Given the importance of their work and the challenges they face, teachers absolutely deserve every form of appreciation their communities can muster.

But we need to do something a bit more substantive and lasting than the bagel breakfast, too.

Complex as teaching has been over the years, it’s more so now — in part because of reforms my administration has promoted. The reasons for these changes are clear. Despite many pockets of excellence, we’re not where we need to be as a nation. The president has challenged us to regain our place as world leader in college completion, but today we rank 14th. A child growing up in poverty has less than a 1-in-10 chance of earning a college diploma.

To change the odds, we have joined with states and communities to work for major reforms in which teachers are vital actors. The biggest are new college- and career-ready standards that 46 states and the District of Columbia have chosen to adopt. These higher standards require a dramatic rethinking of teachers’ daily practice: working toward standards tied to literature and problem-solving; using data to inform and adapt instruction. It’s hard work — but done well, our children will have a better shot at a solid, middle-class life.

The teachers I talk to don’t question the need for broad change. They are enthusiastic about instruction that emphasizes depth rather than coverage, worthy literature to read and real-world problems to solve. They passionately want to be part of helping more students get prepared for college and career. But many have told me that the pace of change is causing real anxiety.

I’ve heard repeatedly that, given the newness of the college- and career-ready standards, teachers really want to see what they’re aiming for. They want models of excellence that they can study. And it all feels like the change is happening at once. It’s impossible not to be touched by the strength of their feelings — their desire to get it right, and for many, the worry that they won’t.

There’s no question in my mind that raising the bar for our students is necessary and that America’s educators are up to it. But I want to call on the other adults in the system to redouble their efforts to support our teachers through this change.

I’ll start with my own team at the Department of Education. We are listening carefully to teachers and other experts as we walk through this transition, and working hard to figure out how to make it as smooth as it can possibly be for teachers and for their students. And I pledge to redouble our own efforts to work with states, districts and schools to help connect educators who can offer a vision of outstanding teaching under these new standards.

But I also want to call on policy makers, district leaders and principals to find ways to help ease these transitions to higher standards. What does that mean?

  • Find opportunities for teachers to lead this work. There is far too much talent and expertise in our teaching force that is hidden in isolated classrooms and not reaching as far as it can to bring the system forward. Teachers and leaders must work together to create opportunities for teacher leadership, including shared responsibility, and that means developing school-level structures for teachers to activate their talents. This may mean reducing teaching loads to create “hybrid” roles for teachers in which they both teach and lead.
  • Find, make visible and celebrate examples of making this transition well.Teachers often tell me they’re looking for examples of how to do this right. Let’s spotlight teachers and schools that are leading the way.
  • Use your bully pulpit — and share that spotlight with a teacher. Whether you are a principal, superintendent, elected leader, parent or play some other role, you have a voice. Learn about this transition, and use your voice to help make this transition a good experience for teachers, students, and families. Especially important is educating families about what to expect and why it matters. Invite a teacher to help you tell the story and answer questions.
  • Be an active, bold part of improving pre-service training and professional development, and make sure that all stages of a teacher’s education reflect the new instructional world they will inhabit. Teachers deserve a continuum of professional growth; that means designing career lattices so that teaching offers a career’s worth of dynamic opportunities for impacting students.
  • Read and take ideas from the RESPECT Blueprint, a plan released last month containing a vision for an elevated teaching profession. The blueprint reflects a vision shaped by more than a year’s worth of intimate discussions the department convened with some 6,000 teachers about transforming their profession. Teaching is the nation’s most important work, and it’s time for concrete steps that treat it that way — RESPECT offers a blueprint to do that.

Don’t get me wrong — teachers deserve a week of celebration with plenty of baked goods. But I hear, often, that this is a time that teachers want some extra support. They deserve real, meaningful help — not just this week, but all year long.

Arne Duncan is U.S. Secretary of Education.

This article originally appeared in  SmartBlogs on Education

Celebrating and Listening to Our Nation’s Teachers

So many of America’s teachers are amazing. Each day, they take on the extraordinary responsibility and highly complex work of moving all students forward. As I visit schools across the country and talk with teachers at the U.S. Department of Education, they astound me continually with what they accomplish every day. Not only are teachers some of the smartest, most compassionate people I know, but they do work that few of us could accomplish on our best days.

Secretary Duncan with teacher

Secretary Arne Duncan speaks with a teacher at Elk Elementary Center in Charleston, W.Va., during his 2012 back to school bus tour across America.

During Teacher Appreciation Week, the people who value teachers often take time to send them a note of thanks or a token of appreciation. This is appropriate. The least we can do once a year is to push “pause” on our lives and thank them in the short term. However, what our teachers really need—and deserve—is our ongoing commitment to work with them to transform America’s schools. They need us to acknowledge them as professionals who are doing our nation’s most important work. We can begin this work by making it a priority to listen to and to celebrate teachers.

Here are some ways we plan to listen to and to celebrate teachers at the Department of Education this week.

Listening. On Monday, May 6, we will host a Google hangout celebrating African-American educators around the country, broadcasting from the campus of Howard University. You can view the conversation – “Celebrating African-American Teachers in our Classrooms” – live at 4 pm Eastern or check out the archived version of the Hangout afterwards at our YouTube site. You can also follow the discussion on Twitter at #AfAmTeachers. On Wednesday and Friday, our Teaching Ambassador Fellows will host roundtable discussions with teachers of children with exceptionalities and teachers of English language learners. We want to know from them what is working in their schools, what is not working, and how we can better support them.

Celebrating. Every day this week I will be making phone calls to great teachers who are leading change from their classrooms. We will also be celebrating teachers on Twitter; please be part of that by using the hashtag #thankateacher. On Wednesday I will drop by a local Teacher Appreciation Breakfast to thank teachers for making tremendous progress closing gaps and raising achievement in their school. We are also hosting a reception at the Department for the more than 400 current and former teachers who work at the Department of Education, and talking about how we can better make use of their experiences to improve our work.

Walking in Teachers’ Shoes. One of my favorite activities all year long is our ED Goes Back to School Day, taking place this year on Thursday, May 9. More than 65 of my senior staff and regional officers will shadow a teacher for a day or half-day, witnessing firsthand how demanding and rewarding it can be to juggle reforms, pedagogy, and practice. After the shadowing, the teachers and staff will meet with me back at ED to talk about their experiences and share lessons learned. Last year our staff benefitted tremendously from the experience, talking about what they saw for months afterward and connecting their experiences with their daily work here.

I encourage everyone to take time this week to not only take a more active role honoring teachers, but to listen to them actively and to celebrate their great work. I hope this week will be your chance to ask a teacher, How can I support you in America’s most important work, all year long?

Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education

Observing National Day of Silence

Today GLSEN hosts its national Day of Silence-a day where students throughout the country take a vow of silence to call attention to anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in schools. I want to encourage all of us NOT to be silent on an important issue: the need to address and eliminate bullying and harassment in our schools.

No student should ever feel unsafe in school. If students don’t feel safe, they can’t learn. And if left unaddressed, bullying and harassment can rapidly escalate into even more serious abuse.

I want to remind students, parents, and administrators of the power of supportive clubs, like the Gay Straight Alliances or GSAs, to foster safe school environments. The Department of Education has provided guidance to schools on their obligations under federal laws to provide equal access to extracurricular clubs, including GSAs, as well to address bullying and harassment and gender-based violence.

Let’s work together to end bullying and harassment in schools.

Please visit StopBullying.gov and find additional resources from the Department of Education below–including school obligations under federal law:

Arne Duncan is U.S. Secretary of Education

Universal Preschool is a Sure Path to the Middle Class

This op-ed appeared in the Apr. 19, edition of the Washington Post.

President Obama put forward a plan last week to make access to high-quality early learning a reality for every 4-year-old in America by making full-day preschool available to families with incomes at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty line.

Parents, teachers and principals nationwide agree that we need to do more to ensure that children from disadvantaged families begin kindergarten at the same educational starting line as do children from better-off families. The president’s plan includes a cost-sharing arrangement with states, with the entire federal investment of $75 billion covered by a new cigarette tax, and with incentives for states to make programs available for even more middle-class families.

Members of Congress have asked me: How do we know early learning works? What about its lasting impact?

Let’s examine the record.

At an elementary school I recently visited in Bladensburg, teachers told me how much better-prepared students are for the classroom if they’ve been to preschool. “It makes a huge difference,” said one 21-year teacher.

Research backs her up. Studies consistently demonstrate that high-quality early education gives children the foundation they need to succeed. No study is perfect, but the cumulative evidence that high-quality preschool works is overwhelming. Consider a study of 4-year-olds in Tulsa who attended Oklahoma’s high-quality universal preschool program, with small class sizes and well-trained teachers — features that are components of the president’s proposal. They started kindergarten seven months ahead in literacy skills and four months ahead in math skills. Likewise, children who attended Boston’s high-quality preschool program gained seven months in literacy and math. Studies of preschoolers in New Jersey showed substantial gains in literacy and math. These consistent gains are critical steps toward long-term success in school.

Skeptics of early learning say these programs “don’t work” because some studies have failed to find major effects in later grades — the so-called “fade out.” But that’s not quite right.

The most rigorous research that can be compared with what we are proposing — high-quality, full-day preschool — shows crucial benefits in high school graduation rates, employment and avoidance of criminal behavior. Although the best scientific evidence for the long-term effects of early education comes from studies of multiyear programs dating to the 1960s and 1970s, a recent study of New Jersey students who received one year of high-quality public preschool found that by fifth grade, they were less likely to be held back or placed in special education. The few more recent long-term assessments of public preschool consistently indicate similar benefits, including increased graduation rates and reduced arrest rates.

High-quality preschool appears to propel better outcomes by enhancing non-cognitive skills such as persistence, self-control and emotion regulation — skills that depend on early brain development and social experiences and contribute to long-term academic outcomes and career success.

The study often cited by skeptics — the Head Start Impact Study — isn’t a great comparison to the president’s proposal. It examined the effect of offering access to Head Start, not the effect of participation (nearly 20 percent of the 4-year-olds in the Head Start group never attended). The president’s proposal would require higher qualifications for staff than was the case in this study, and this administration has begun putting in place needed quality-control improvements to Head Start.

Preschool works. But is it worth the cost?

Studies of the savings from high-quality early learning demonstrate that the answer is yes. Graduates of such programs are less likely to commit crimes or rely on food stamps and cash assistance; they have greater lifetime earnings, creating increased tax revenue. Although the range of savings varies across studies, the studies consistently find robust returns to taxpayers.

Can we replicate what works? We can, and we must. If the United States is to remain a global economic leader, high-quality preschool must become the norm. The moral case is compelling, too. As President Obama has said, every child should have the opportunity, through hard work, to join the middle class. Children shouldn’t be denied equal educational opportunity at the starting line.

The countries we compete with economically are well ahead of us in preschool opportunity. We rank 28th in the proportion of 4-year-olds enrolled in early learning in surveys by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and 25th in public funding for early learning. Fortunately, we have great examples to learn from: Oklahoma, Georgia, New Jersey and Boston all have excellent preschool programs.

Making quality early-learning opportunities a norm for every 4-year-old will take more than money. It will take a new commitment to recruiting and keeping excellent staff, and tackling many of the other challenges in our K-12 system. That’s why we propose to invest an additional $750 million to support innovation and preschool capacity-building in states. To make a critical difference for all children, high-quality early learning must be followed by rich educational opportunities and robust learning experiences at every stage of the journey to college and careers.

The evidence is clear. We need to stop asking whether early learning works — and start asking whether we have the national will to make it a reality for the children who need it most.

Source information about studies mentioned in this column has been posted at www.ed.gov/early-learning/research.

Arne Duncan is U.S. Secretary of Education.

Testing, Early Learning, and the Pace of Reform: Talking with Teachers

Our work at the US Department of Education aims to make sure that students throughout this country have the education that they deserve – an education that will give every student a genuine opportunity to join a thriving middle class. A crucial part of that work is supporting, elevating and strengthening the teaching profession.

As often as I can, I spend time talking with teachers about their experience of their work, and of change efforts to improve student outcomes. (We have an important effort, called the RESPECT Project, dedicated to make sure that teacher voices consistently informed policy and program efforts here at the Department of Education.)  Lately, we have begun bringing a video camera to the conversation, and teachers have been generous in letting us capture these conversations so others can see them.

Recently, I visited Rogers Heights Elementary School in Bladensburg, Maryland, near Washington, DC. Rogers Heights’ students bring the diversity typical of so many urban communities; its student body is 97% minority, and 89% qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch. Half the students have limited proficiency in English.

I was really struck by how smart, committed and passionate the teachers were. We had an intense, honest, sometimes difficult conversation, and I left inspired. The kids at Rogers are in great hands.

I invited teachers to take on any topic they wanted to, and they took on some important and even difficult ones: the pace of reform, the need for arts education, the impact of early learning, and testing. These conversations with teachers help us get smarter about change in education in this country. I hope you’ll take a look; we’ve posted an 8 minute excerpt along with the full video of the hour-long conversation.


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

Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education 

The Impact of Gun Violence: A Conversation with Students

All my life, I have been aware of the impact that violence – and especially gun violence – has on children, families and communities. Young men who I got to know in pickup basketball games in Chicago – just kids, as I was myself back then – were buried far, far before their time, killed in moments of senseless stupidity.

Early on a recent morning, I visited Hart Middle School in the Anacostia neighborhood of DC, literally on the way from home to my office. I simply asked the students to tell me their experiences, and they bravely and honestly did – even with a video camera in the room. They talked about the family members they have lost – every single one of them knows someone who has been shot. They talked about their fears that an unspeakable tragedy like Newtown could happen at their own school, and their doubts they would survive to live a full lifetime. And they talked about the senselessness of the violence—people getting shot over a pair of shoes.

These are kids who deserve the best. They’re trying to do all the right things, and they deserve more than we adults have done for them. It’s our job to create a climate where they can grow and learn free from fear, and as you will hear, we are far from succeeding at our task. We need to do better.

It’s impossible to witness the conversation without being moved. I hope you’ll watch, and think about what it means for our communities. We have posted an 4 minute excerpt along with the full video of the hour-long conversation. Please watch.


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

Arne Duncan is U.S. Secretary of Education

It’s Time to Fix Warped Incentives in Division I College Sports

Check out who would win the men's NCAA tournament  based on academic performance. Click to enlarge.

Check out who would win the men’s NCAA tournament based on academic performance. Click to enlarge.

This op-ed by Arne Duncan and Tom McMillen is cross-posted from USA Today.

March Madness is underway, but the 2011 champion, the University of Connecticut, is conspicuously absent. The Huskies men’s team isn’t competing this year because it failed to meet the minimal academic requirements set by the NCAA for postseason play.

The fate of UConn’s team sent shock waves through locker rooms, coaches offices and the suites of athletics directors and university presidents. For the first time, a powerhouse program lost its opportunity for postseason glory because of years of poor performance in the classroom. We think this is a good start toward restoring a healthier balance between academics and athletics in Division I college sports — and toward reaffirming that the mission of a university is to educate all of its students. But it is just a start.

The NCAA should be commended for raising the academic benchmarks that teams must meet for postseason play. New NCAA regulations essentially require teams to be on track to graduate half of their players to be eligible for postseason play, and graduation and academic progress rates are up significantly for tournament teams this year. Yet governing boards of universities and college presidents also need to do more to reinforce the educational mission of their institutions. Too often, presidents and trustees undermine that mission by providing lucrative incentives to coaches that downplay the importance of athletes getting a college education.

Tom (McMillen) recently examined around 50 contracts for head coaches of college football and basketball, many of them culled from the USA TODAY Sports coaches’ salary database. Most of what he found will surprise no one: Salaries and rewards for big-time college coaches are astronomically high. In 2011, 32 NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision coaches and 11 NCAA Division I men’s basketball coaches earned more than $2 million annually. The highest paid basketball coach that year, Rick Pitino, was paid $7.5 million by the University of Louisville — a little more than $20,500 a day.

Coaches today earn whatever the market pays. But many coaches work at public universities, funded with taxpayer dollars. In 2011, in Oklahoma, Connecticut and Maryland, a head football or basketball coach was not only the highest-paid employee at the university but the highest-paid state employee.

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin earned $147,000 in 2011, while the football coach at the University of Oklahoma, Bob Stoops, was paid $4.875 million, 33 times as much as Gov. Fallin. Moreover, nine Oklahoma football assistant coaches were paid more than the governor, including the tight ends/tackles coach, who pulled down a $240,000 salary.

Coaches receive huge financial bonuses when their team is winning. Yet the incentives for academic success in the contracts Tom examined show how warped priorities have become at some institutions.

If academic performance determined the winners of the NCAA women's tournament, Princeton would come out on top. Click to enlarge.

If academic performance determined the winners of the NCAA women’s tournament, Princeton would come out on top. Click to enlarge.

About two-thirds of the basketball contracts and three-fourths of the football contracts did include a bonus for academic performance. But these incentives were dwarfed by bonuses for performance on the field or court. Academic incentives averaged $52,000 per coach, while athletic incentives averaged $600,000 per coach — a lopsided ratio of 11-to-1.

When many states are reducing funding for higher education, it is hard to justify such skewed priorities and runaway athletic spending. Even at Division I institutions, few athletic programs are self-supporting — which means that institutional funds must typically be diverted to pay for athletic programs.

A recent study by the Delta Cost Project compared spending per athlete and student at Division I institutions. In the six “power conferences” that form the Bowl Championship Series, median athletic spending per athlete topped $100,000 in 2010, compared to about $15,600 spending per student.

Escalating coaches’ salaries are the single largest contributing factor to the unsustainable growth of athletic expenditures. And we believe that universities and colleges must start rethinking coaches’ compensation, at least in the Division I revenue sports.

If universities and colleges want to readjust a coach’s priorities, they need to change the penalties and incentives they offer coaches.

In almost every one of the contracts Tom reviewed, a coach can receive bonuses for winning games, even if his team fails academically. Poor academic performance means the team or the individual player — not the coach — gets punished.

But no coach should receive financial bonuses when much of his team is flunking out or failing to get a degree.

Many boards are too cozy with athletic departments, allowing athletics directors to negotiate contracts for coaches with little oversight. A recent survey by the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges found that only about 15% of board members think the salary of their football or basketball coach is excessive. Board members sometimes forget their job is to protect the institution — not the coaches, not the boosters and not the fans.

We are not suggesting any regulatory scheme for capping or restricting coaches’ compensation. Nor can we specify the balance between athletic and academic spending that, to paraphrase the Goldilocks principle, is just right. What we can say is that this balance is plainly out-of-whack with the educational mission of many Division I universities.

Governing boards and college presidents can take steps to right that imbalance. They could adopt a model of “best practices” that includes greater parity in new contracts for coaches between academic and athletic bonuses and provides penalties for poor academic performance.

Today, coaches can enjoy multimillion-dollar contracts when they jump to another university, even when their former team suffers sanctions for misconduct that happened under the coach’s watch.

We would like to see “clawback” provisions in new contracts that would enable institutions to recoup some salary and bonuses from coaches and ADs for rogue programs, even after coaches leave an institution.

Creating a healthier balance between academics and athletics in our universities is not rocket science. All of these steps are doable.

But it will take courageous leadership and a willingness by college presidents and trustees to buck the status quo.

This we know for sure: The current path of big-time college sports is neither economically sustainable nor morally defensible.

Duncan is U.S. Secretary of Education; McMillen is chairman and CEO of the Timios National Corp. Both played college and professional basketball. McMillen is a member of the University System of Maryland board of regents.

Audio of Press Call (03/21/2013) Audio icon