President’s Back-to-School Speech Sparks Teachable Moment for Dual-Roled Educator

Teaching Ambassador Fellow Tracey Van Dusen uses the President's back-to-school speech as a teachable moment in her Advanced Placement Government class.

President Obama’s back-to-school address, delivered in a Philadelphia auditorium, was made a teachable moment for high school students who watched the live broadcast of the speech in their Ann Arbor, Michigan, classroom through the efforts of teacher Tracey Van Dusen, recently appointed by Secretary Duncan as a 2010-2011 Teaching Ambassador Fellow (TAF).

“Several students said they liked the way the President related his own less-than-perfect school experiences to really personalize it,” said Van Dusen, who remains a full-time government and history teacher at Pioneer High School while serving part-time in the TAF corps, described by the Secretary as “the voice of teachers in the Department,” and “ambassadors to teachers, students and parents across the country.”

The President’s speech provided Van Dusen a perfect catalyst to integrate those dual roles by sharing her newly-honed insights into the real world of federal policymaking with her Advanced Placement Government class. Before the broadcast began, she walked students through a history of federal education policy in the U.S., from the days of one-room school houses to current education reforms like Race to the Top.

The veteran teacher was impressed with the way the President subtly wove messages about education reform into his speech.

“He drove home the importance of education at this point in history by talking about the real-life recession struggles that many families are experiencing, and linking that to students’ everyday school achievement and its potential impact on their future and on America’s future as we compete with other nations,” said Van Dusen.

Van Dusen’s lesson and Obama’s words sparked lively classroom dialogue on a variety of provocative topics, including the appropriate role of the federal government in education, the value of student testing, and what makes a great school. She looks forward to continuing that discussion in her future AP classes, and to expanding the conversation to students in other Pioneer government classes by incorporating the taped video of the President’s address and similar activities around it.

Donning her Teaching Ambassador Fellow “hat,” Van Dusen is excited about the future opportunities she’ll have to discuss federal initiatives with other educators in their districts and states, and to encourage their input into efforts to improve education at all levels of government.

Julie Ewart
Office of Communications and Outreach

Central High School: Courageous as Ever

Central High School: Courageous as EverLITTLE ROCK—The building of Central High looks almost exactly as it did when the school was built in 1927. The students, however, do not.

Since the “Little Rock Nine” helped integrate Central in 1957, the school has become a mix of more than 2,400 students of various races, socio-economic backgrounds and communities. It is also now regarded as one of America’s top-performing public high schools. In a nation where more than a quarter of students drop out before completing high school, Central High sends 80 percent of its graduates to college.

This morning, in front of the high school’s Art Deco and Collegiate Gothic façade, Secretary Duncan joined Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe, U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor and state Commissioner of Education Tom Kimbrell to applaud Central’s achievements since its dark days a half century ago when nine African American teenagers were stopped by National Guard troops when they tried to enter the all-white school.

“From that extra tough experience,” Arne said, “a beautiful flower has grown. And if it can happen here, ladies and gentlemen, it can happen anywhere in the country.”
The Secretary, who was born seven years after what they refer to here as “the crisis,” recalled learning about it in school. He told Minnijean Brown Trickey, a “Little Rock Nine” member in today’s audience, “I can’t tell you how much your courage motivated me and motivated so many young people growing up around the country.”

Central High School: Courageous as EverArne’s first meeting on campus was with a group of Central’s teachers in the school’s library. They asked questions about federal education policy and the Obama administration’s proposal to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which most teachers know as No Child Left Behind. The teachers shared their ideas for improving the law and suggested ways to support a well-rounded curriculum and evaluate teachers.

Arne took this away from their conversation: “For all the progress and success [at the school], nobody is complacent. Nobody is saying, ‘We’ve arrived.’ Everybody’s hungry to get better. And that’s what we have to continue to do as a country. We have to educate our way to a better economy.”

For politicians and policymakers, he told the teachers, “our only job is to support you, to help this country start to recognize how critically important teachers are to our future.”

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Massie Ritsch
Office of Communications & Outreach

Get on the Bus

Across America, school buses are rolling out to pick up students and start a new academic year. Joining those yellow buses this year will be the blue motor coach you see here, and its route will be more than 800 miles long, spanning eight states. Not your typical ride to school.

Aboard the blue bus will be U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, headlining a Back to School tour with the theme “Courage in the Classroom: Honoring America’s Teachers.” Over the next two weeks Arne will visit schools that are facing challenges head-on—and demonstrating success. He will talk with teachers about how they are helping their students achieve and how the federal government can best support educators.

The tour kicks off in the South on Aug. 26 at iconic Central High School in Little Rock, where in 1957 nine courageous teenagers were the first African Americans to desegregate the school. Then the bus will travel on to Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. The second, northeastern leg begins Aug. 30 in Albany, traveling on to Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine.

Click here for an accessible version of the video.

All along the way we’ll be talking with teachers and other educators about the critical work they’re doing to educate America’s young people. We’ll talk to parents and students about their goals for the new school year and beyond.

Joining Arne will be some of the Department of Education’s Teaching Ambassador Fellows, who join us from the classroom for a year to ensure that the teacher’s voice is always being heard.

You can follow the Back to School tour here on, as well as on Facebook and Twitter. Look for updates from the road each day, along with photos and video from events and behind the scenes.

Massie Ritsch
Office of Communications and Outreach

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Call with Reporters on President’s Higher Education Speech

Secretary Arne Duncan participated in a press conference call with reporters today to preview President Obama’s speech on higher education and to discuss the impact of the Administration’s higher education agenda on the Hispanic community. Juan Sepulveda, director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, also participated in the call.

Listen to a recording of the call. Audio icon

Top 5 Things You Should Know Before Heading Back to College

Cross-posted from the White House blog.

Today President Obama is traveling to the University of Texas at Austin to discuss what the Administration is doing to meet his goal of having the highest proportion of college graduates by 2020. Thousands of college students will be heading back to school in the next few weeks, so here’s a list of the top five things you need to know before you head back to school:

  1. Many students’ wallets are going to be a little heavier. The President has invested more than $40 billion in Pell Grants and provided support to help these scholarships keep pace with inflation in the coming years. The great thing about Pell Grants is that they are free and clear – they don’t have to be paid back if your family qualifies. Since taking office, the President has helped grow the maximum Pell Grant scholarship by $800. This is real money that students and families can use to pay for tuition and fees.
  2. If you don’t have a job after graduation lined up and are stressed about health insurance, don’t worry. If you’re under 26 years of age, you may already be able to get on a parent’s health insurance plan – and all plans will allow this in September.
  3. Not ready for a 4 year institution? Community colleges are a great alternative, and they will receive an extra $2 billion over the next four years to invest in degree and training programs that will prepare you for the jobs of the future.
  4. If you attend one of America’s 105 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) or 225 Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs), your school might get a cut of $2.55 billion in coming years. That means better courses, facilities, and programs for you.
  5. Interested in pursuing a career in math or science? The Department of Energy, in partnership with the National Science Foundation, will dedicate $19 million in funds for its undergraduate and graduate fellowship, scholarship, and traineeship programs.

Click here for more information on President Obama’s agenda for higher education.

ED Reading Institute July 19-21

The 2010 U.S. Department of Education Reading Institute will be held from July 19 to 21 in Anaheim, CA.

Registration is free, and the institute is open to all who work in the area of literacy instruction.  If the U.S. Department of Education grant you work on permits use of federal funds for professional development, you may wish to consider using those funds to attend this institute. Please consult with Department program staff to determine whether you may use such funds to support your participation in the 2010 Reading Institute.

This year, there will also be seven sessions with online access to allow remote participation; registration is now open for these featured sessions.  In addition, the National Title I Association has collected references and prepared abstracts based on information suggested by Institute presenters.  Participants in the Early Learning and Development strand are encouraged to review this information before the conference.

For more information and registration, please see

Featured Sessions with Online Access at the 2010 Reading Institute: Early Learning and Development Strand

Secretary Arne Duncan Kicks Off Let’s Read. Let’s Move.

Secretary Arne Duncan Kicks Off Let’s Read. Let’s Move.On Tuesday, June 29, Secretary Arne Duncan and his wife, Karen Duncan, kicked off the Department of Education’s summer enrichment series, “Let’s Read. Let’s Move.” on the outdoor plaza of the Lyndon Baines Johnson headquarters building with book readings, writing and arts activities, healthy snacks, and games. Children in pre-kindergarten through third grade from various local schools and the Prince George’s County Judy Center and Head Start programs received free, new books and a lunch tote to take home and enjoy as part of the session.

The Department launched “Let’s Read. Let’s Move.” to combat summer learning loss and physical inactivity that commonly occur during the school break. Secretary Duncan noted, “We know that for far too many children, reading achievement stalls when schoolwork stops during the summer. In fact, most low-income children can lose more than two months of reading skills progress during the summer.” Additionally, research shows that the problem of obesity threatens the healthy future of one-third of all American children. According to some studies, children can gain weight three times faster during the summer months, which is often equal to the amount of weight they would typically gain over the course of an entire school year.

Through activities designed to promote reading and academic achievement, healthy lifestyles and physical fitness, as well as general enrichment, “Let’s Read. Let’s Move.” aims to increase awareness about the critical importance of summer learning and highlight the tenets of First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” national campaign to combat childhood obesity.

During six sessions held weekly at the Department of Education between June 29 and August 3, Secretary Duncan, Cabinet members, Administration officials, and other public figures will be invited to read books, promote healthy lifestyles, and participate in games and fitness activities with children. The series is a direct response to President Barack Obama’s national volunteer campaign, “United We Serve,” which challenges all Americans to engage in sustained, meaningful service activities in their communities this summer. The Department is working together with the Corporation for National and Community Service on this initiative. The books, refreshments, games, and fitness equipment for “Let’s Read. Let’s Move.” have been donated by Target Corporation, which is one of the organizations answering President Obama’s call to service.
Look for the next session on Wednesday, July 7 at noon.

Tiffany Taber
Office of Communications and Outreach

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Listening and Learning About Early Learning Tour Announced for DC, Denver, Orlando, and Chicago

Over the next two months, the U.S. Departments of Education (ED) and Health and Human Services (HHS) will hold a series of Listening and Learning About Early Learning meetings.

The meetings will focus on topics related to early learning (birth through 3rd Grade): Understanding Preschool – Grade 3 Structures, Workforce and Professional Development, Family Engagement, and Standards and Assessments.

The meetings will be led by Secretary Duncan’s senior advisor on early learning, Jacqueline Jones, and HHS’s Deputy Assistant Secretary and Inter-Departmental Liaison for Early Childhood Development at the Administration for Children and Families, Joan Lombardi.  The meetings will help inform the work of ED and HHS around early learning.

The meetings will occur from 10:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m on the dates and at the locations that follow.

  • Understanding Preschool – Grade 3 Structures: Friday, April 23, 2010, at the LBJ Auditorium at the Department’s headquarter building in the Lyndon Baines Johnson Building, 400 Maryland Ave. S.W., Washington, D.C.
  • Workforce and Professional Development: Monday, April 26, 2010, in the auditorium at the Center for Early Education, 3245 E. Exposition Avenue, Denver, CO
  • Family Engagement: Tuesday, May 4, 2010, at the Orange County Public Schools Educational Leadership Center, 445 W. Amelia Street, Orlando, FL
  • Standards and Assessments: Tuesday, May 11, 2010, at the Polk Bros. Lecture Hall at the Erikson Institute, 451 N. LaSalle Street, Chicago, IL

We anticipate that each meeting will include three components:

1) Opening statements by officials from ED and HHS

2) Input from invited panels of experts

3) Open opportunity for public speakers to share input

  • Each individual registered and scheduled to speak will have up to 5 minutes to provide oral input on the topic of the specific meeting at which they speaking.
  • There will be a time for questions and written submissions will be accepted.

Registration: To attend or speak at a meeting, you must register at  Please register at least 4 business days prior to each meeting you plan to attend.  Seating and speaker slots are limited, so registering early is important.  If you want to speak at a meeting, please come to the meeting prepared to provide an electronic copy of your comments (e.g., CD or flashdrive).  We are committed to gathering and sharing publicly the input from the meetings and written submissions.  We will share any updates and written input that we receive from members of the public at

Webinar Attendance for April 23, 2010 – The first meeting (April 23) will be offered also as a webinar.  Anyone may listen to the meeting and watch the slide presentations live may do so by going to and registering as a webinar attendee. Webinar attendees will be in “listen” mode only.

Assistance to Individuals with Disabilities: Meeting sites will be accessible to individuals with disabilities and will have sign language interpreters for anyone wishing to attend or speak who requests them at least five days prior to each meeting they plan to attend.  Attendees who need a sign language interpreter or any other special accommodation must indicate so in the “special accommodations” portion of the registration form.  Attendees requiring an auxiliary aid or service to participate in the meeting (i.e., interpreting service such as oral, cued speech, or tactile interpreter; assisted listening device; or materials in alternate format) should notify the contact person listed under “For Further Information Contact” at least two weeks before the scheduled meeting date.  Although we will attempt to meet a request we receive after this date, unless we receive two week’s notice, we may not be able to make available the requested auxiliary aid or service because of insufficient time. If you use a telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD), call the Federal Relay Service (FRS), toll free, at 1-800-877-8339.

Submission of Written Input: ED must receive all written submissions of comments on the four early learning topics on or before 5:00 p.m., Washington, DC time, on Tuesday, May 18, 2010.  For those planning to submit written input, we encourage submissions by e-mail using the following address:  Submissions must include “Listening and Learning about Early Learning” and the topic area(s) to be addressed in the subject line of the e-mail.  Those who prefer to send their input by regular mail, must address it to the Office of the Secretary, Attention:  Listening and Learning about Early Learning – Public Input Meetings, U.S. Department of Education, 400 Maryland Avenue, SW., room 7W219, Washington, DC 20202.  When submitting input at the meetings, we request that you submit one paper copy and an electronic file (CD or flashdrive) of your statement.  Please include your name and contact information on the paper and electronic files.

For Further Information: Katy Chapman, U.S. Department of Education, 400 Maryland Avenue, SW., Room 7W219, Washington, DC 20202. Telephone: (202) 453-7275 or by e-mail:

We look forward to seeing you on the tour!

Steven Hicks
Special Assistant on Early Learning

Detroit Community Rallies Around School Improvement Efforts

Courtesy of United Way of Southeastern Michigan and Rogers Wm. Foster.

Courtesy of United Way of Southeastern Michigan and Rogers Wm. Foster.

More than 250 community leaders, government officials, educators, parents and students discussed turning around the Detroit area’s lowest-achieving schools with Director of Community Outreach Alberto Retana at two local summits Feb. 24, hosted by United Way of Southeastern Michigan’s Greater Detroit Education Venture Fund.

The visits were part of Retana’s community engagement tour throughout the U.S. to strengthen grassroots support for transforming America’s lowest-performing schools, and to inform communities about Title I School Improvement grant funding available for those efforts.

This spring, ED will award states a total of $3.5 billion in Title I School Improvement grants to turn around their lowest-performing schools. The funds will be awarded by formula to states, which will then make competitive grants to local education agencies (LEAs). Michigan is eligible to receive $135.9 million to turn around its lowest-performing schools.

Retana said that strong community support is required to ensure success of school transformation efforts.

“It’s not enough to have funding, it’s not enough to have charismatic leaders, and this is not just about opening another charter school,” Retana said to the morning session’s crowd at Detroit’s Cody Academies. “It’s also about community mobilization. We need a movement of people to stand up and say, ‘we will no longer accept low expectations for our children.’”

Retana also brought a similar message to Melvindale High School in suburban Detroit. Both Cody Academies and Melvindale High School are undergoing turnaround efforts supported by funding through the Greater Detroit Education Venture Fund. Both sessions also included panel discussions with educators and students that generated dialogue about what is and isn’t working with their respective transformations.

After the summits, Retana talked with Detroit Public Television about the importance of turning around low-performing schools, successes and challenges, and federal resources available to help.  Watch the interview.

Helping America Become a Grad Nation

10-043 POTUS and AD at America's Promise Grad Nation Event 3

President Obama and Secretary Duncan joined General Colin Powell for the announcement of “Grad Nation” — a 10-year campaign to mobilize America to reverse the dropout crisis and help our children be prepared for success in college, work and life.

Goals of the campaign:

  • Ensure that 90% of today’s 4th graders graduate from high school on time.
  • Help fulfill the President’s goal to be the world’s leader in the proportion of college graduates by 2020.

Find out more at the America’s Promise Alliance website.   Read General Powell’s blog post on the White House website.

Read the transcript of the video below.