Summit Closing Opens Universal Doors

A Rural U.S. Principal Reflects on Collective Lessons from the Closing Session of the International Summit on the Teaching Profession.

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the closing session of the International Summit on the Teaching Profession in New York City on March 17.  I found it encouraging that so many of the goals and concerns of educators in the United States are shared by educators around the world.

As an educator from a rural area In Washington, I often feel that much of the national discussion on education involves issues of our urban areas, but I am beginning to see that the challenges are in some ways universal.  We all face the need to raise student achievement and close gaps, whether in rural or metropolitan settings, in Europe or Africa.

•    One panelist observed that in all countries, the quality of education cannot exceed the quality of our teachers.  This is why it is so important that we all find ways to improve our quality of teacher preparation programs and share with each other what is working.

•    Another panelist reminded educators that student learning is the only real aim of our work, and it seemed that her words ring as true in India as they do in Brazil.

•    One participant commented that the changing times have required her country to focus on transforming the curriculum so that the skills students learn arm them to compete in the globally competitive marketplace.  In rural areas of Washington, I have struggled with limited resources to meet this challenge, but I imagine there are teachers in Japan going through the same thing.

A panelist from Norway encouraged me, when he/she urged that as we seek to improve education reform, we must respect and listen to teachers and give them autonomy while building trust.  Trust is something that is earned every day, vertically and horizontally, among teachers and administrators, working all as professionals.  Trust is a universal value, globally understood and appreciated.

By Tamra Jackson

Tamra Jackson is 2009-2010 Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow for the U.S. Department of Education.  She currently serves as the principal Bridgeport High School, a remote rural high school in Bridgeport, WA.

Press release about the Summit
Uncommon Wisdom of Teaching:  Blog Post from the Summit


Secretary Calls Black Men to the Blackboard

Panelists at the Jan. 31 event included Morehouse President Dr. Robert Franklin; distinguished educators from the Atlanta area, Christopher Watson and Derrick Dalton; filmmaker and Morehouse alumnus Spike Lee; and Georgia Congressman John Lewis.

ATLANTA—On Monday, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan renewed his call for more black men to pick up the chalk and teach.

Joined by filmmaker Spike Lee, Duncan issued the invitation during a town hall meeting and panel discussion hosted by Morehouse College and moderated by MSNBC contributor Jeff Johnson. The event was part of the Department of Education’s TEACH campaign, designed to raise awareness of the teaching profession and get a new generation of teachers to join the ones who are already making a difference in the classroom.

One Morehouse student spoke about the importance of African American students seeing caring, responsible and honest black men in positions of authority, because it helps them to recognize what is possible. The student argued that right now not enough of these positive images are visible to today’s youth.

During the town hall, Duncan stressed that the need for black male teachers is the greatest in elementary and middle schools. Panelists echoed this sentiment, many recalling that they did not encounter a black male teacher until late in high school or college.

Spike Lee represents the third generation in his family that attended Morehouse. Lee has been a strong advocate for black men entering the teaching profession.

An overarching theme of the town hall was the importance of education as a civil right. Georgia Congressman John Lewis remarked on the apt timing of the town hall, taking place on the cusp of Black History Month. He recalled that for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and others at the center of America’s struggle for civil rights, education was paramount.  He also recounted the many ways in which Dr. King served as a teacher for those around him.

Morehouse student Anthony Gayles affirmed the importance of education in the struggle for civil rights, saying, “Education is the greatest equalizer…if we are successful in extending quality education to every citizen, there will be no more excuses. No one will be able to say that I didn’t get a chance.”

Gayles and Morehouse student Carlton Collins started the Morehouse Education Association, an organization on campus dedicated to steering new graduates into careers in education.

On a personal note, this was my first visit to Morehouse College—the only all-male historically black college in the country—and I cannot overstate how impressed I was with the students there. Sitting on the campus that produced Dr. King, I couldn’t help but look at this group of smartly dressed, articulate black men and think, “Look how far we have come.” Still, faced with the startling fact that black males represent 6 percent of the U.S. population yet 35 percent of the prison population and less than 2 percent of teachers, I can’t help but think, “How far we have to go.”

If the young men who attended Monday’s town hall are any indication, all of America has reason to be hopeful.

More Photos

Jemal Graham ,Teaching Ambassador Fellow

Jemal Graham is a Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow who teaches math in Brooklyn, N.Y. View video of Jemal speaking about the importance of teaching.

View video of Secretary Duncan’s speech at historically black Xavier University, where he launched the TEACH campaign.

Read Arne Duncan’s “Call to Service” lecture at Harvard University.



Small Town School Beats the Odds with Effective Leadership

A quiet town of hard-working families, Tinicum is committed to educational excellence in the face of a declining tax base to fund its schools.

Motorists driving down Route 95 South past Philadelphia might never know that tucked away off exit 9 B, right before the Philadelphia International Airport, lies a community so dedicated to its schools that it has overcome immense odds in order to make dramatic changes in the way it educates its students.

Tinicum Township is a community hit hard by the economic downturn, where 44 percent of the students receive free or reduced meals. Still, the township has proven that by setting high expectations for all, great things can happen. As proof, this year the 4,400 residents of this blue-collar town are celebrating Tinicum Elementary School’s Blue Ribbon School award for 2010.

Five years ago, only 52 percent of the township’s eighth graders reached proficiency in math and reading. This past year, 83 percent reached proficiency in math and 85 percent in reading.

What made the difference?  Most residents attribute this success teachers who were inspired by a great leader. The school’s principal, David Criscuolo, is credited with creating significant changes on two major fronts, academic and behavioral. In both areas, he has directed the school to use data to gauge the progress of each student.

Assistant Superintendent Lawrence Hobdell explains Criscuolo’s strategy:  “Besides valuing teacher input, Mr. Criscuolo values student assessments to see what the data prove.”

In addition to district-wide assessments, Tinicum School monitors students over short periods of time and provides teachers and parents immediate feedback so that adjustments can be made. Frequently, Criscuolo brings together teachers by grade level to discuss instructional strategies, and he always includes the Response to Intervention specialists and special education teachers in these benchmark meetings.

The school leadership realizes that academic achievement cannot happen without socially and emotionally sound students, so, in addition to academic data, behavioral goals are posted throughout the building, and all families are made aware of these expectations. The information collected reflects individual student behavior, but also areas of the school and times where trouble is most likely to occur. Staff members are encouraged to report and reward positive behavior, and all members of the community work together to provide the best learning environment for the children.

Elizabeth Williamson, Communications Team Lead for the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states, based in the Philadelphia Regional Office

Elizabeth Williamson is a former public school English teacher and an adjunct instructor of rhetoric at Temple University.

First Stakeholders Forum of 2011

Thanks to those of you who were able to join us for our first Stakeholders Forum of 2011, which featured the Secretary’s summary of our priorities for the upcoming year, an overview of the Education Dashboard, and a preview of the Department’s online map regarding School Improvement Grant activities and progress.

A transcript of the forum’s proceedings can be found here, and a video of the forum can be found here.

Our next forum in February will highlight the President’s FY 2012 budget request. Please check this site for the announcement of that forum.

Education Funders Conference Call

On Monday, the day before the President’s State of the Union Address, the Department of Education hosted the first quarterly conference call of 2011 for education funders with Secretary Arne Duncan.

Secretary Duncan talked about the importance of reauthorizing ESEA, maintaining momentum for state and local education reform when education systems are facing huge budget cuts, the recent Aspen Innovation in Education Forum & Expo, the upcoming conference on Labor-Management Collaboration for Student Success, and the TEACH campaign.

Listen to the call. Audio icon Read the transcript.

Reflections on the State of the Union: Rebuilding America, One Student At A Time

Antero Garcia is one of 15 classroom teachers hired by the US Department of Education to help bridge education policy and practice.

A Classroom Teaching Fellow Responds to the President’s Jan. 25, 2011, State of the Union Address

Like millions of Americans, I watched President Obama’s State of the Union Address Tuesday. I watched it particularly with hopes that his words and vision would speak directly to me and to the ninth graders I teach every day at Manual Arts High School in South Central Los Angeles.

With shootings at two schools in Los Angeles last week, many of my colleagues anticipating being laid off at the end of the year, and student achievement showing only marginal change at my inner-city high school, the atmosphere in public education has been one of perseverance through discouragement and setback.

As the president listed the many things that will strengthen the country in his forthcoming budget proposal, I was continually reminded that none of these items is possible without an improved educational foundation. The “hard work and industry” that will drive the country toward prosperity can be achieved only by reaching out to Kimberly and Michael in my homeroom class each morning. Likewise, discussing the future of America’s science and engineering, I couldn’t help but think of Jessica and De Andre and Carlos – the students who are as inspiring as they are challenging every day. These are the youthful faces I see when Obama speaks of making sure America is “poised for progress.”

The president then offered a sobering view of education today and the challenges we are facing “that have been decades in the making.” As a teacher in a high poverty community with a dropout rate of more than 60 percent, I am reminded daily of these challenges. I feel like I know all too well how inconsistency, chaotic shifts in personnel and shifting educational agendas have all but decimated student achievement for the black and Latino students who are the sole demographic populations at my high school.

As such, I recognize and second Obama’s call to “out-educate” the rest of the world and urge him and Congress to consider making this happen by focusing on the disenfranchised and the high-poverty schools like mine. I can say I am constantly reminded of the amazing work my colleagues and I dedicate to our family of students; the Manual Arts mascot, the Toiler, stands as tribute to the students’ own perseverance.

The proposed reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act would free us from the implausible demands and outlandish goals, which still mire my classroom.

Efforts like the DREAM Act and college tax credits are essential for the success of the myriad students in my school who struggle to graduate and support their families. I am pleased with these efforts that the president defined during his speech.

And if we as a country are to take his call to respect teachers–to “reward good teachers and stop making excuses for bad ones”–it, too, will be a step that requires financial resources. Yes, it is valuable for our students to hear, “Your country needs you,” and to promote the teaching profession. However, financially, the profession needs to be able to receive financial compensation, non-privatized models of instruction, and increased resources for schools with the most need. I imagine that the teachers, students, and clerical staff at my school are curious if the bi-partisan applause that Obama’s affirmations of the teaching profession received will likewise yield the kinds of necessary resources to make this struggling system an equitable educational juggernaut.

Ultimately, however, it was Obama’s strong affirmation of the need to embrace the changing world as a result of technology that resonated with me most strongly as an educator. The president emphasized the necessity to connect “every part of America to the digital age.” And while the administration’s Blueprint to reauthorize ESEA and Race To The Top program ]will improve accountability for the current classes of students, the need to connect to the digital youth in our classrooms is imperative. Theirs are learning needs that extend beyond the traditional, factory models of education from which most public schools are operating.

Every text message sent from behind a propped textbook, every confiscated headphone and accidental ringtone going off in class is a reminder that students are communicating and producing information in ways that traditional schooling is unprepared for. Obama mentioned every way that we will move our nation into a position of continued leadership in the 21st century; however, the skills of youth to be able to foment innovation in this new paradigm require new ways to teach and connect with our students.

Our country’s success will live or die by our commitment to the students who are yawning and struggling at Manual Arts High School and similar schools that are not recognized in the same way, or have narratives as successful as Bruce Randolph High School in Denver. One of President Obama’s concluding remarks was that our nation will win the future through “ordinary people who dare to dream.” I am critically pragmatic in seeing past educational reform efforts as ones that have shunned the dreams and potential of students mired by poverty. Now is an opportunity for the country to dare to allow all youth to do more than just dream. Now is an opportunity for the country to empower all youth to achieve.

Antero Garcia
Antero Garcia is U.S. Department of Education Classroom Teaching Fellow, a UCLA doctoral candidate, and a high school English teacher at Manual Arts High School in South Central Los Angeles, Calif.

“New Normal” Is Harsh Reality, Duncan Tells Principals

The “new normal” was the subject of a conversation for school leaders last week between Secretary Duncan and Dr. Gerald Tirozzi, executive director for the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP). Dr. Tirozzi was interviewing Arne for NASSP’s online radio show and podcast. Their candid discussion centered on the very real choices that school leaders are being forced to make in the face of the reduced overall funding levels for education while our country’s economy recovers from a prolonged economic downturn.

As someone who spent seven years as a district superintendent, Duncan acknowledged that these are indeed the toughest financial times educators have ever seen. He also offered hope that the circumstances may provide opportunities to look to improve productivity and proficiency at the school level.

“What I’ve tried to be clear about is the wrong way to go about this: by cutting back in a manner that damages school quality and hurts children,” Arne said. He warned against such imprudent steps as reducing the number of days in the school year, slashing instructional time spent on task, eliminating the arts and foreign language classes, abandoning promising reforms, or laying off talented young teachers in the name of overall savings. Instead, he urged school and district leaders to focus on steps such as deferring construction projects, cutting under-utilized bus routes, lowering the costs of textbooks and health care, improving energy and efficiency in school buildings, and reducing central office personnel as more productive ways to cut costs.

The Secretary emphasized with Dr. Tirozzi and his listeners that NASSP members and all school leaders should look to minimize the negative impact of funding cuts, while increasing their focus on those improvement strategies where it can be demonstrated that they’re working.

“This is not a time for folks to throw their hands up,” Arne warned. “In fact, this is a real test of leadership for those within the education community.” You can listen to this conversation on NASSP’s website.

Karen Stratman-Krusemark, Associations Liaison, Office of Communications and Outreach
Ms. Stratman-Krusemark taught high school English in Mesquite, Texas, prior to joining the Department of Education.

At Carl Harvey Elementary, Data Drive Learning

(Far Left) Teacher on Special Assignment, Lucia Cortes, describes the working relationship at Carl Harvey as as more than a team. "We're a family here. And we have our differences, but we talk about it, we deal with it," Cortes said. Standing with Cortes (from left) are kindergarten teacher Margarita Gest, Principal Teresa Stetler, and special ed teacher Karla Ledon.

Seasoned educators have a sixth sense about what works in the classroom.
At Carl Harvey Elementary School, in Santa Ana, California, the faculty of experienced teachers combine intuition with analysis of ongoing test results to determine students’ needs.

The approach works. In 2010, the U.S. Department of Education named Carl Harvey Elementary a Blue Ribbon School.

Special education teacher Karla Ledon credits the school’s Data-Driven Instruction program for the school’s success. “We’re using weekly tests with some students, to see if what we’re using is effective,” said Ledon. “And I think that has created an immense knowledge for us as to what to use – because not every student is a cookie-cutter learner.”

All curricula start with assessments. At the beginning of the school year, kindergarten and first-grade teachers review the second-grade scores to identify areas of focus for future second-graders, according to Margarita Gest, kindergarten teacher. “There’s never a blame game,” explained Gest. “We ask, ‘Okay, what’s the next goal?'” Principal Teresa Stetler agreed. “We don’t have any lone wolves here. Everybody works together as a team. And we found out we can accomplish a lot more if we listen to one another, support one another,” she said.

Ultimately, Carl Harvey’s success depends on everyone – teachers, support staff, principal and parents – taking responsibility. Stetler, who started at the school as assistant principal, recalls earlier excuses for why students were not learning to their potential. “We tended to make a lot of window statements: ‘Oh, it’s because they’re second-language learners,’ ‘Oh, it’s because of their socio-economic backgrounds,’ ‘Oh, it’s because we don’t have the fancy computers.’ Now we’re making mirror statements. ‘What can I do to be able to have that child be successful? How can I change my instruction? How do I know I’m meeting the educational needs of that student?’ That was the big, major change – taking responsibility.”

Joe Barison

Joe Barison is director of communications and outreach for the Department of Education’s Region IX office, based in San Francisco. He is a former teacher in the Continuation High School Program of the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Student Board Members Dial Up Secretary

Sunday afternoon for a high school student can look a lot like this: hang out with friends, spend some time online, start a project due Monday, download music. Their weekend agenda doesn’t typically include this: participate in a conference call about education policy with the U.S. Secretary of Education and student leaders from across the country.

But for 24 students from 14 states, the District of Columbia, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, that was how Sunday, Nov. 21 went as these student members of state boards of education gathered by phone to share their experiences, their ideas, and to talk with Secretary Duncan. The conference call was organized by NASBE, the National Association of State Boards of Education, which had convened the student board members for a virtual orientation session.

Arne told the students he was impressed by their commitment to public service. “You’re so far ahead of what I was thinking about in high school,” he said, thanking them for representing their fellow students at the state level.

Nearly half of the country’s state boards of education include students in board deliberations and decision-making, and many local school boards do, also. Every school board should, Arne said, adding that while he talks to students as part of his frequent visits to schools around the nation, he would like to get their advice more regularly.

“Our job (as education policymakers) is to work for you,” he said, “and if we’re not listening to you, we’re kidding ourselves. It’s like our head’s in the sand.”

For about half an hour, the students asked questions and offered their thoughts on the state of education and school reform. Myles Gearon from Illinois, the Secretary’s home state, expressed concern that under current federal education law (commonly known as No Child Left Behind), schools are expected to make “adequate yearly progress” (AYP) on state tests, and if they fall short—even by one measure—they are considered failing. Currently, the law expects that by 2014 every student will be proficient in reading and math and that every school will be “perfect.” Gearon called that requirement “grossly unrealistic” and demoralizing to educators and students.

Arne agreed. No Child Left Behind is too punitive—the law, which is formally known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)—sets up “50 different ways to fail,” he said. To remedy that, the Obama Administration’s Blueprint for Reform proposes to scrap the current pass/fail accountability system and replace it with one that differentiates between schools with persistent achievement gaps across the board and those that have shortcomings here and there. The proposal would give schools in the latter category much greater flexibility in addressing their needs while also including rewards for schools where growth in student achievement is greatest.

Where the Blueprint does not waver, Arne said, is on breaking down data on student achievement to measure how subgroups of students are performing and growing, so that students don’t slip through the cracks because of  their race or ethnicity, English language abilities, special needs or socioeconomic status.

Arne encouraged the student board members to focus on combating the dropout rate in their states, communities and schools. Losing 1 million students a year is “morally unacceptable and economically unsustainable,” he said. In response to a question from Donald Handeland from Alaska, he added, “When students drop out today, they’re basically condemned to poverty and social failure. There are just no good jobs for them. Our economy has changed.”

Zhan Okuda-Lim of Nevada asked the Secretary about the federal role in education and what role he thinks states play. Arne replied that he sees the Department’s role as supporting states and, in turn, local school districts. “So much of the action in school reform is at the state level. We think that’s where the real lever is,” he said. “Our goal—and our opportunity, really—is to support that great local leadership.”

Arne expressed his hope that Congress would reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in the coming year and that states and local school districts would continue to make bold changes to improve our nation’s education system.

“Education,” he said, “has to be the one thing where we put politics aside and simply do the right thing by America’s children and the country.”

Wrapping up the conversation, Arne told the students they “make me very, very hopeful for where we’re going.”

Massie Ritsch
Office of Communications and Outreach

Carrying on the Tradition of Great Teaching

Jami Burns and Allison Nys are carrying on the tradition of good teaching in rural Montana schools.

They are proof that great teachers do more than produce high-achieving students in their classrooms today. They have the power to inspire the next generation of great teachers that our nation needs and America’s prosperity depends on.

Both told their stories at the 102nd annual National Rural Education Association conference in Branson, Missouri this week.

Burns teaches at Huntley Project Elementary, a distant rural K-6 school of approximately 360 students in the Worden, MT of Yellowstone Country. She teaches at the school she attended as a child. She said that she is one of a dozen members of her former classmates who became teachers.

“And I truly believe we all became teachers because we had great teachers when we were growing up,” Burns said.

Nys was named the Montana Rural Teacher of the Year by the Montana Association of County School Superintendents. She teaches fifth- and sixth-graders – a combined class with eight students in each grade – at Pioneer School, north of Billings, MT. The Pioneer School has a total enrollment of 60 students in grades prekindergarten to six.

Nys said she chose to teach at the small rural school that she once attended and to live in a rural community, because it is a great place live, work and raise a family. She believes her students do well because of the personalized instruction she is able to provide.

She also believes she is a teacher today, because of her teachers and the positive experience of attending a small rural school.

It is estimated that our nation will need more than one million new teachers in the next five years. Some rural communities face unique challenges with teacher recruitment. Rural communities also have many strengths that include parental involvement, small class sizes, and personalized instruction that is often applicable to their communities and makes education meaningful to students.

On September 27, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan launched a national teacher recruitment campaign that features a new website — www.teach.gov — dedicated to providing information and resources for students and prospective teachers — including a new interactive “pathway to teaching” tool designed to help individuals chart their course to becoming a teacher.

The world is changing. Shape it. Pursue your passions – TEACH, http://www.teach.gov/why-teach/make-impact.

John White
Office of Communications and Outreach

Pathways to Teaching

Last week, Secretary Duncan launched the TEACH campaign, and with it a new website, http://teach.gov, where aspiring teachers can come to find their pathway to teaching. As an ongoing series, we will be featuring teachers from around the country, and have them tell their story of how they found their calling in the classroom.

Nick Greer, a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the Department of Education, was a Baltimore City high school science teacher and former Baltimore Teacher of the Year.

“This child is more frustrated than she needs to be,” I thought to myself as I watched a frustrated young girl throw parts of the toy she was playing with across the room. “…Just another day at New Beginnings Learning Center, I suppose,” was my next thought. As I approached, I recognized that she was trying to solve a three-dimensional puzzle that involved cogs and gears that could be used to move an object. I also realized the problem she was having right away, and recognized two options for helping her. The first was to simply pick up the pieces, finish the puzzle for her, and allow her to rejoice in the working model. The second was a more involved approach, and wouldn’t be as easy. The alternative involved having young Shartaya pick up the pieces she threw and sit down with me while I asked her questions leading her to discover the solution on her own. Enjoying a challenge, I chose the more complicated of the two options. The feeling I received from watching Shartaya rejoice in her own solution to her perplexing predicament left me second-guessing my future career goals in my second-to-last year at the University of Pittsburgh.

Never in my wildest dreams, or nightmares for that matter, had I contemplated teaching as a career choice. Even through high school while tutoring friends and teammates, hearing my mother exclaim that my path had already been laid out as a teacher, I refused to listen. Even while studying Neuroscience (my intended life’s goal), yet not feeling particularly attracted to the research labs that appeared to be calling my classmates away, I refused to see the obvious signs. How could I return to the ruthless high school environment after all the years spent watching other students harass and belittle teachers, supposedly working on their most important life skill: insubordination? After my brief encounter with Shartaya it seemed I never even had a choice. My remaining year at Pitt was spent finishing my Biological Sciences degree, then taking the prerequisite courses needed to apply for the rigorous Master of Arts Teaching graduate program at Pitt. “I told you so,” was the only statement my mother uttered. My time as a Masters student was funded through Federal Student Aid Stafford loans and a couple of award-based grants that I received for showing promise in my future career.

Looking back, Shartaya taught me that if I’m patient and creative enough my students will extract life-long lessons: comprehension that isn’t provided in a textbook. She led me to become addicted to inspiring people so that they too may become addicted to learning.”

To hear more from Nick about his experience in the classroom, and about why our students need strong male role models, check out: http://teach.gov/teaching-experience/who-teaches

Find your path to teaching at http://teach.gov.