Duncan to Talk Family Engagement During #PTchat

It’s no secret that parents have the power to transform educational opportunity in our country. Which is why their voice is so vital.

On April 8, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will be taking to Twitter to gain additional feedback from parents and educators on community and parent engagement best practices during the weekly #PTchat. The chat will coincide with the National Family Engagement Conference in Cincinnati, which aims to bring together educators and community activists to raise awareness of community involvement in schools.

Duncan will moderate the Twitter chat and share information about recently released family and community engagement resources from the Department of Education.

  • What: #PTchat with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
  • When: 9pm EDT, Tuesday, April 8.

Your voice is important, and even if you can’t make the Twitter chat, please don’t hesitate to leave feedback in the comments below and sign up for our Engaging Families email updates.

Seeing Success in Hawaii: Duncan’s 50th State as Secretary

Ka Waihona o ka Na’auao

Students at the Ka Waihona o ka Na’auao Public Charter School perform the hula for U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan during his visit on March 31, 2014, in Nanakuli, Hawaii. Photo By Eugene Tanner.

Andrea, a senior at Hawaii’s Waipahu High School, came to the U.S. just four years ago after emigrating from the Philippines, but now she’s a proud Waipahu Marauder. From her first day in the classroom, she found the “opportunity to explore” and became interested in cancer research and science.

This fall, thanks to her dedication and the teachers she has at Waipahu, she’ll attend Columbia University on a full-ride scholarship.

Andrea was one of many students Secretary Duncan met during a visit to Oahu earlier this week, which also included stops at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam for a discussion with military families and a visit to Ka Waihona o ka Na’auao Public Charter School.  During Duncan’s visit to Waipahu, Andrea presented her AP Biology project – “Synthesizing a STAT3 Dimerization Inhibitor Molecule via Retrosynthetic Analysis” – and explained the partnership with the University of Hawaii’s Cancer Center that helped her to pursue her research. “What I’ve learned here is if you want to do something, you can find a way to do it,” she said.

Waipahu High School, located about 20 minutes outside of Honolulu, provides a number of educational programs, with each incoming student picking a “College and Career Theme” to explore. Students at Waipahu High School learn through pathways, which are smaller learning communities that encourage students to identify their career interests and take relevant courses while in high school. They have the opportunity to take classes in programs like creative media, culinary arts, engineering, finance, law and justice administration, and teacher education. Waipahu also offers tuition-free early college courses.

Michael, also a senior at Waipahu, has seen a growth in his abilities since he started as freshman. Despite starting on the school’s business track “not knowing anything,” Michael has been able to excel. “I was able to make connections with what I was learning … and I saw a change in my grades,” he said. A recent project allowed him to combine his budding business knowledge with his passion for woodwork by designing a business where he could sell the skateboards he creates using natural wood and varnish. The school has enabled him to able to explore art in other areas, too. Michael was able to help paint words like “courage,” “ambition,” “honor” and “integrity” – which he says are “words that encompass who we are” – onto the steps of Waipahu High School.

A focus on relevant, hands-on experiences is a theme among programs at Waipahu. During a tour of the school, students led Secretary Duncan through their research and studies of fish as part of an aquaponics system in the Natural Resources Academy Pathway. Teacher Jeff Garvey, who Secretary Duncan called the “mastermind” behind the aquaponics system, used his private-sector background to build the open-air center and create the chance for students to study aquaponics, which combines fish and plants in a symbiotic, sustainable environment.  The program is rapidly expanding as interest grows, including from nearby eighth graders who want enroll at Waipahu. And despite worries that the system would be hard to maintain, Garvey points to students’ leadership with the center. “Give them ownership, and they take care of it,” he said.

Waipahu serves mostly minority students, and most are from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. Despite those challenges, from 2011-2013, proficiency scores on state tests have risen, as have college-going rates. In that same time, the number of suspensions was nearly cut in half.

Waipahu’s growing success story is one of many throughout the state of Hawaii. The 2013 National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) results indicated that Hawaii was one of the top 5 fastest improving states in the country, with an 8-point increase in math for fourth and eighth grade, a 4-point increase in reading in fourth grade, and a 5-point increase in reading in eighth grade, when compared to 2009 NAEP results.

To accelerate its reform efforts and better support the state’s educators, Hawaii applied for and received a $75 million grant through Race to the Top in 2010. The grant has empowered the state’s leaders to collaborate in new ways and create plans tailored to their needs to prepare students to be ready for college and careers. Through these funds, the state has developed tools, like a classroom data dashboard and teacher-focused reports, to support teachers and school leaders to use timely and actionable data to improve instruction. Hawaii has also created tools to transition to higher standards and training to develop STEM expertise, and the state and community has supported schools that fall within the Zones of School Innovation to provide students with extended learning time, after-school and summer programs, and comprehensive wraparound services.

And the work is just beginning. State Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi credited the “catalytic nature of Race to the Top” in enabling the state to try new ideas and create new systems – “an opportunity we’ve taken with both hands” – and acknowledged this is just the start. Gov. Neil Abercrombie echoed that sentiment. “I ask anybody in the state, before you make a judgment about the public schools, see what’s been accomplished in the last three years. By any outside observation, Hawaii public schools are rising, and we’re going to keep on rising,” Abercrombie said.

Hawaii’s progress is thanks to leadership from state and administrative officials, teachers and principals, who have encouraged their students and provided new learning opportunities, even when there have been challenges and tough transitions. “These are profiles in courage,” Secretary Duncan said. “So much of what is going on here can be a model for the nation.”

Watch a short video about Waipahu High School.

Sara Gast is director of strategic communications at the U.S. Department of Education

Celebrating a Disability Rights Pioneer

Ed Roberts is one of the most important pioneers of the disability rights movement. Roberts was a talented athlete with dreams of playing professional baseball when he was disabled by polio in 1953 at the age of 14. Having a disability taught him many things, not the least of which was the importance of a good education. He could only move a couple of fingers and a couple of toes, yet he attended three years of high school by phone while lying in his iron lung at home.

After a senior year back in the school building, Roberts still had to fight to be allowed to graduate, but eventually he received his diploma with his mom Zona by his side. When he went to college and graduate school, he had to find a place to live on campus that could accommodate the iron lung he slept in every night.

Roberts also started using a power wheelchair while he was in graduate school. If you’ve ever used a curb cut to help you cross a street with a stroller, a rolling suitcase or a wheelchair, you can thank Ed Roberts and his allies with disabilities. His iron lung and his power wheelchair are now in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution here in Washington, D.C.

Besides his advocacy for educational rights, Roberts was a founder of the Independent Living (IL) movement and director of Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) in California. Both IL and VR have been part of the Department of Education since it began, and the programs operate in all 50 states and DC. Later in his life, Roberts took time to speak to hundreds of young adults with disabilities and parents of children with disabilities across the US. That’s where I met him, when my son Charlie was only seven years old. Roberts taught what nobody else did: that people with disabilities belong everywhere; that a student with the most profound disabilities has a lot to offer in any classroom; and that my job as a parent was to ensure that my son could make his own choices, and make his own voice heard, even if he couldn’t speak. Ed showed every day that charisma is not limited to able-bodied people, and that just being present is a form of advocacy. No wonder he won a MacArthur fellowship “genius” award: he helped us all understand that learning to thrive with disability was about expectations, education, employment, and empowerment above all else.

In January, the Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services invited current and emerging leaders of the civil rights movement of people with disabilities to celebrate Roberts’s life. Guests discussed their own experiences in the civil rights movements of people with disabilities, the impact Ed Roberts had on their lives, and the importance of sharing his story with future generations of students.

Many students and families still don’t know about the civil rights movement of people with disabilities. Empowerment comes with knowledge. Learning about Ed Roberts is a great place to start.

To learn more about Ed Roberts and the civil rights movement of people with disabilities the Minnesota Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities website.

Sue Swenson is deputy assistant secretary in the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services

Four New Civil Rights Data Collection Snapshots

Last week, the Department of Education released the latest data from the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC). The CRDC is a vital resource that provides the public an opportunity to understand how our nation and individual states, districts, and schools serve all students, including our students of color, English learners, and students with disabilities. The troubling disparities revealed in this comprehensive, searchable database serve as a reminder of the importance of ensuring all students have equal access to educational opportunities.

Holder at Wilson Elementary

Attorney General Eric Holder talks with a student following the announcement of the latest CRDC collection at J.O. Wilson Elementary School in Washington, D.C.

For the first time in more than a decade, the CRDC contains information on approximately 16,500 school districts, 97,000 schools, and 49 million students. The data shines a spotlight on educational equity in areas such as discipline, access to preschool, teacher equity, and access to college- and career-ready courses.

To coincide with the most recent data release, the Office for Civil Rights has created four new snapshots to help understand the data:

Data Snapshot: Early Childhood Education

Examples:

  • Public preschool access not yet a reality for much of the nation: About 40 percent of school districts do not offer preschool programs.
  • Black children make up 18 percent of preschool enrollment, but 48 percent of preschool children suspended more than once. Boys receive more than three out of four out-of-school preschool suspensions.

Data Snapshot: School Discipline, Restraint, & Seclusion Highlights

Examples:

  • Disproportionately high suspension/expulsion rates for students of color: Black students are suspended and expelled at a rate three times greater than white students. On average, 5 percent of white students are suspended, compared to 16 percent of black students. American Indian and Native-Alaskan students are also disproportionately suspended and expelled, representing less than 1 percent of the student population but 2 percent of out-of-school suspensions and 3 percent of expulsions.
  • Disproportionate suspensions of girls of color: While boys receive more than two out of three suspensions, black girls are suspended at higher rates (12 percent) than girls of any other race or ethnicity and most boys; American Indian and Native-Alaskan girls (7 percent) are suspended at higher rates than white boys (6 percent) or girls (2 percent).

Data Snapshot: College and Career Readiness

Examples:

  • Limited access to high-level math and science courses: Nationwide, only 50 percent of high schools offer calculus, and only 63 percent offer physics.
  • Significant lack of access to other core courses: Nationwide, between 10-25 percent of high schools do not offer more than one of the core courses in the typical sequence of high school math and science education — such as Algebra I and II, geometry, biology, and chemistry.

Data Snapshot: Teacher and Counselor Equity

Examples:

  • Teacher salary disparities: Nearly one in four districts with two or more high schools reports a teacher salary gap of more than $5,000 between high schools with the highest and the lowest black and Latino student enrollments.
  • Access to school counselors: Nationwide, one in five high schools lacks a school counselor.

Learn more about the 2011-12 CRDC collection at ocrdata.ed.gov.

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital strategy at the U.S. Department of Education

Five Ways Race to the Top Supports Teachers and Students

In the four years since the Obama Administration announced its first Race to the Top grants, the President’s signature education initiative has helped spark a wave of reform across the country, according to a new report released today by the White House and Department of Education.

RTT States and AwardsSince the Obama administration announced the first Race to the Top grants to Tennessee and Delaware four years ago – many state and local leaders, educators, and communities are deep in the hard work of education improvement, and the nation is seeing progress.

Today, the innovations unleashed by Race to the Top are touching nearly half the nation’s students and 1.5 million teachers in schools across the country – for an investment that represents less than 1 percent of education spending.

Amid that climate of positive change, America’s educators, students and families have made major achievements. The high school graduation rate is now at its highest on record (80 percent). Student test scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) are the highest since the test was first given 20 years ago. And there have been double- digit gains on state tests at some of the lowest-performing schools – many of which had not seen any improvement for decades.

Today’s report highlights examples of the most innovative and effective reforms that are taking place in states across the country to prepare students for college and careers, support educators, and spur innovative educational strategies. Below are five ways Race to the Top is supporting teachers and students.

1. Race to the Top Has Provided More Students with Access to Challenging Classes

Under Race to the Top, states have spearheaded efforts to create plans tailored to their students’ needs. For example, Massachusetts provided more students with access to AP classes by training more than 1,100 middle and early high school teachers to prepare their students for new, high academic standards. Initial findings from the external evaluation of Massachusetts’ college- and career-readiness initiatives indicate patterns of increased AP course-taking, exam-taking, and exam performance.

RTTAP2. Race to the Top Has Supported Hard-working Educators in New Ways

Under Race to the Top, schools and districts are making sure we have excellent principals leading our schools and skilled teachers who inspire students. In Rhode Island, the state had more than 400 first-year and 40 second-year teachers engage with the state’s new teacher induction program, which includes weekly coaching and professional development.

Delaware launched the Delaware Talent Cooperative, which provides retention awards – between $2,500 and $10,000 over two years – to highly effective educators and leaders willing to work and stay in schools with the highest needs.

3. Race to the Top Has Provided More STEM Opportunities to Students

Maryland developed and translated five STEM curriculum modules for use in language programs statewide, and in Florida, Race to the Top funds have helped hundreds of students from rural communities get new STEM opportunities through the STEM Scholars initiative.

4. Race to the Top is Helping Educators Transition to New Standards

With the help of Race to the Top, Ohio expanded alternative certification pathways for teachers and principals; developed 800 curriculum resources aligned to higher standards; and trained 24,000 teachers to use those resources. And in an ambitious and comprehensive effort, Tennessee provided 30,000 teachers with intensive summer training as part of its transition to the Common Core State Standards—more rigorous academic standards in English language arts and mathematics.

5. Race to the Top is Supporting States in Turning Around Lowest-Performing Schools

Under Race to the Top, states have designed plans to turn around some of their lowest-performing schools using new ideas that engage students and transform school culture. In Georgia, the state created two non-traditional schools to accommodate high school students at risk of dropping out. And in Tennessee, the state awarded grants or provided Tennessee Academic Specialists to address performance gaps at the 167 schools identified as Focus Schools based on significant achievement gaps in school year 2011-2012. Based on 2012-2013 state assessment results, the state made progress closing achievement gaps in these 167 schools.

Read the entire report: Setting the Pace: Expanding Opportunity for America’s Students under Race to the Top.

Sara Gast is director of strategic communications at the U.S. Department of Education

Award-Winning Science Teacher: “How I Came to Study, Teach, and Love Science”

Obama greets teachers at the White House

President Barack Obama meets with Presidential award for excellence in math and science teaching winners in the East Room of the White House, March 3, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Recently I stood in the East Room of the White House as President Obama welcomed and congratulated recipients of the 2012 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST). This immense honor made me feel very proud, and I experience pride by reflecting on the people who have guided me toward an accomplishment.

I began to reflect about how I came to study, teach, and love science. I recalled a friend, braver than me, who encouraged me join her at the remote scientific station where I learned to love fieldwork. And I thought of professors whose contagious enthusiasm got me excited about photosynthesis. But I suddenly realized that the reason I saw myself as capable in science at all was because a teacher once told me, “You might be the first woman to walk on Mars.” I was surprised to discover how much my identity as a scientist was largely shaped by his belief in me.

Many of my PAEMST colleagues were already aware that role models get children hooked on STEM. In fact, the importance of STEM role models was one of the major themes of discussion among PAEMST recipients and the scientists with whom we met during four days of celebrating and learning in Washington, DC.

During a visit to the National Science Foundation, a group of scientists fondly shared stories of teachers who inspired their career paths.  At another discussion, teachers buzzed with agreement when a panel of physicists called for greater visibility of female scientist role models to inspire more girls to pursue science.

My fellow educators don’t just agree; they’ve designed school-based programs to foster relationships between students and STEM role models. One teacher organizes single-sex conversations among scientists and students, so that relationships are build on interest in science, as well as gender identity. This teacher does not leave mentoring to chance because she knows role models can inspire a life-long love of science and the confidence to pursue STEM careers.

Recently, my student Tattiana confessed, “People don’t think I like science because of the way I look.”  We began talking about what it’s like to love science and to be a woman, when her working image of a scientist is an elderly white man. Our conversation highlighted that, as a woman and her teacher, I might be the person most responsible for fostering her identity development as a female scientist this year.

My fellow PAEMST recipients constantly inspire young people like Tattiana to engage with science and math. I’m glad that so many women among this year’s winners are modeling our passion for STEM for the young girls we teach.  However, teachers of color were underrepresented, and as a result recipients did not reflect the diversity of America’s students. This year, I hope educators, parents, and students will visit https://www.paemst.org/nomination/nominate to nominate more amazing science and math teachers of color. By recognizing a diverse group of science and math educators, we will help all of our students discover their own potential to succeed in STEM careers.

Erin Dukeshire teaches sixth grade science at Orchard Gardens K-8 School in Roxbury, Mass. She is a 2012 Presidential Awardee for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.

Five New Facts from the Civil Rights Data Collection

Equity – the push to ensure strong educational opportunity for every student – drives everything we do at the U.S. Department of Education, and particularly in the Office for Civil Rights. From preschool enrollment to college attendance and completion, our office’s work is grounded in the belief that all students, regardless of race, gender, disability, or age, need a high-quality education to be successful.

Yet despite the gains we’ve made as a country, too many students are not receiving the education they deserve, and it is our collective duty to change that. Data is crucial to this work and helps us understand the extent of educational inequity throughout the U.S. and make informed decisions for action.

Since 1968, the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), formerly the Elementary and Secondary School Survey, has collected data on key education and civil rights issues in our nation’s public schools. Our office uses this data to focus our equity efforts and monitor the effectiveness of our programs. Earlier today we released new data from the 2011-12 collection, and for the first time since 2000, we collected data from every public school in the nation. This newest collection also includes data on preschool suspensions and expulsions for the first time as well.

Below are five striking new facts from the 2011-12 CRDC collection:

  • Access to preschool is not a reality for much of the country. About 40 percent of public school districts do not offer preschool, and where it is available, it is mostly part-day only. Of the school districts that operate public preschool programs, barely half are available to all students within the district.
  • Suspension of preschool children. Black students represent 18 percent of preschool enrollment but 42 percent of preschool students suspended once, and 48 percent of the preschool students suspended more than once.
  • Access to courses necessary for college is inequitably distributed. Eighty-one percent of Asian-American high school students and 71 percent of white high school students attend high schools where the full range of math and science courses are offered (Algebra I, geometry, Algebra II, calculus, biology, chemistry, physics). However, fewer than half of American Indian and Native-Alaskan high school students have access to the full range of math and science courses in their high schools.  Black students (57 percent), Latino students (67 percent), students with disabilities (63 percent), and English learner students (65 percent) also have diminished access to the full range of courses.
  • Access to college counselors is uneven. Nationwide, one in five high schools lacks a school counselor.
  • Disparities in high school retention.  Twelve percent of black students are retained in grade nine – about double the rate that all students are retained (six percent).  Additionally, students with disabilities served by IDEA and English learners make up 12 percent and five percent of high school enrollment, respectively, but 19 percent and 11 percent of students held back or retained a year, respectively.

Learn more about the CRDC at ocrdata.ed.gov.

Catherine E. Lhamon is assistant secretary for the Office for Civil Rights.

Taking Time to Talk with Your Child about Tests

Assessments are part of life at school, but they don’t have to be a source of stress. Helping your child prepare properly for an exam is important, and the conversation doesn’t have to stop after the test is complete.

PencilsBelow are some tips parents might consider discussing with their child:

  • Let your child know that you are proud of his/her achievements and together you will work on troublesome subject matter.
  • Learn about the type of tests the classroom teacher is using to prepare the children for the tests.
  • Learn about the type of tests the school, district, and state are using to measure the achievement of your child.
  • Find the school, district, or state website for information on the test. Samples of previous tests given may also be found at the website.  Use as practice items for your child to prepare them.
  • Be familiar with the terms used on the test (such as proficient, percentile, and norm-referenced) and be prepared to ask what those terms mean when talking with the classroom teacher, counselor, or principal.
  • If needed, schedule a meeting with the teacher to discuss your child’s test results.
  • Ask your child’s teacher for tips and ideas about working with your child at home. Are there specific packets or materials available that will help your child improve?
  • Ask the teacher if a private tutor might be available. Are there resources the teacher can provide?
  • Create a plan with the teacher to periodically check on your child’s progress in deficient areas.

Involvement before and after any test can help children achieve their goals in the 21st century classroom.

Check out our Parent Power booklet for more information. Additional practice information can be found at the NCES Kids’ Zone.

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

Protecting Americans from Predatory and Poor-Performing Career Training Programs

Students at for-profit colleges represent only about 13 percent of the total higher education population, but about 31 percent of all student loans and nearly half of all loan defaults. Of the for-profit gainful employment programs analyzed by the Department of Education, the majority—72 percent—produced graduates who on average earned less than high school dropouts.

Debt Graphic

The Obama Administration announced new steps on Friday to address growing concerns about burdensome student loan debt.

In an effort to reduce the number of American families with enormous debt loads, and to encourage responsible actions by colleges and programs, the Obama Administration announced new steps on Friday to address growing concerns about burdensome student loan debt by requiring career training programs to do a better job of preparing students for gainful employment.

The regulation proposed by the Department will help to strengthen students’ options for higher education by giving all career training programs an opportunity to improve, while stopping the flow of federal funding to the lowest-performing programs where the debt of former students in comparison to their earnings or the rate at which they default on their student loans consistently fail to meet minimum standards. Institutions will also be required to make public disclosures regarding the performance and outcomes of their career training programs.  The disclosures include information on costs, earnings, debt, loan repayment rates, and completion rates.

While this proposal applies equally to public, private and for-profit programs, students at for-profit colleges have had particularly concerning outcomes.

After the proposal released last week publishes in the Federal Register, the public will have 60 days to comment on the draft regulations. The Department will take that feedback and finalize the rule in the following months.

Read more about the gainful employment announcement.

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital strategy at the U.S. Department of Education

Teach to Lead: From Rubber Stamps to Voice and Vision

Panelists at Teaching and Learning

Panelists from left to right: Secretary Duncan, Maddie Fennell, Omari James, Kim Ursetta, Sarah Brown Wessling and James Liou.

“That was inspiring; I’m walking away giving myself permission to lead,” said Alan Chen, a teacher from L.A. Alan had just heard Secretary Duncan’s remarks and panel discussion with teachers at the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) Teaching and Learning Conference.

In the midst of discussing the tremendous changes now under way in American classrooms, Secretary Duncan announced that over the next year, he and Ron Thorpe, NBPTS President and CEO, will co-convene a new initiative called “Teach to Lead,” or T2L. The initiative will foster ambitious commitments on authentic opportunities for teachers to take up leadership roles without leaving the classroom. The goal is to ensure that when important decisions are being made about the work teachers do, they are there to help set the direction for their classrooms, schools, the profession, and ultimately ensure students have the best opportunities to learn.

The Secretary explicitly identified a few things teacher leadership is not (managing projects and initiatives in which you had no say; rubber stamping ideas that have already been decided) and also what it could be (hybrid roles that involve vision and voice). However, Secretary Duncan said, “Ultimately, it’ll be up to all the folks involved to define what powerful, ambitious commitments look like – this effort must be shaped by teachers.”

Teach to Lead will entail a series of meetings that engage teachers, principals, state chiefs, teachers’ groups and district leaders. In the course of the year, participants will commit to acting on the steps necessary to create more opportunities for teacher leadership in the field. The Secretary and President Thorpe will then report back on the commitments and activities from this diverse group at next year’s NBPTS meeting.

Secretary Duncan also promised ED’s support: “I am asking our team to make supporting teacher leadership a focus in all relevant funds, and to make sure we can build authentic teacher leadership into everything we do. We will also get information to states and districts about how those funds can be used to support teacher leaders.”

The foundation has already been laid for this work. In 2012 ED released the Blueprint for RESPECT, which was informed by input from thousands of educators and calls for strengthening and elevating the teaching profession in the United States. Importantly, rather than envisioning this teacher leadership as requiring teachers to leave their classrooms, RESPECT calls for career pathways so teachers can lead from their classrooms.

The U.S. Department of Education and NBPTS are currently working out a process for participation that will engage national organizations and educators across the country. More information, and video of the speech, will be posted on this blog when available.

While I am excited about this initiative, it alone cannot create cultures and structures that support teachers leading our profession in all schools. We, as teachers, must give ourselves permission to lead and we must encourage our colleagues to join us. This idea struck a chord for me personally. I had always challenged my students to seek out ways that they could change the world, but realized that I had restricted my own leadership to the classroom. And while there is much to be done in the classroom, for teachers to truly step into their roles as leaders, we must also look beyond our classrooms and participate in larger education debates in our schools, districts, states and nation.

Lisa Clarke is a Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow and social studies teacher on loan from Kent, Washington.

Boston School Turns Around With Focus on the Arts

First Graders

Orchard Gardens (MA) first graders recite a portion of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech during a school assembly earlier this week.

“I have a dream!” Orchard Gardens’ first graders shouted in unison before hundreds who had gathered for a school assembly earlier this week. Line by line, the students recited the entire ending of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous speech. The performance created a palpable energy in the room, and when the students finished, the audience—which included students, parents, teachers, state and local officials and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan—rose to its feet for a standing ovation.

Orchard Gardens is a K-8 school in Roxbury, Mass., which has undergone a dramatic transformation. When it opened in 2003, the school was designated as one of the lowest performing schools in the state. In 2009, the school became part of the Boston Public Schools’ Arts Expansion Initiative, and received a federal School Improvement Grant from the U.S. Department of Education. In 2012, Orchard Gardens became a Turnaround Arts Initiative school, through the President’s Committee on Arts and Humanities.

Classroom Visit

Secretary Duncan visits a classroom at Orchard Gardens K-8 school in Roxbury, Mass.

Since 2009, students’ math proficiency scores have improved from six percent to 34 percent. English scores improved from 13 percent to 43 percent proficiency, from 2009 to 2013. Orchard Gardens provides student-specific interventions, coordinated by two full-time school site coordinators. Through community partnerships, students receive health and social services supports.

During Secretary Duncan’s visit he stopped by band class for an impromptu mini concert. One of the students told Duncan that playing the French horn makes him want to come to school each day. Following the assembly, Duncan toured several classrooms and participated in a roundtable discussion with educators and members of the President’s Committee on Arts and Humanities to discuss the importance of arts education.

Damian Woetzel, former Principal Dancer with New York City Ballet, and a Turnaround Artist for the Turnaround Arts Initiative, spoke about the importance of arts education during the day’s assembly. “It’s not how we can fit the arts in,” he said, “[but] how the arts can be part of a whole education.”

Secretary Duncan told the students and faculty that the eyes of the country are on them and they’re showing the country what’s possible.

Learn more about the Turnaround Arts Initiative.

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital strategy at the U.S. Department of Education 

President Obama Announces New FAFSA Completion Initiative

Earlier today at Coral Reef High School in Miami, President Obama announced the launch of an exciting initiative to help ensure that more of America’s students take the first step towards college success: completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form.

FAFSA GraphicThe FAFSA Completion Initiative helps states, districts and schools give students the support they need to complete the form which serves as the gateway to accessing financial aid for college, career school, or graduate school.

The FAFSA not only gives students access to the nearly $150 billion in grants, loans, and work-study funds that the federal government has available, but many states, schools, and private scholarships require you to submit the FAFSA before they will consider you for any financial aid they offer.

FAFSA Completion Initiative:

  • We will be partnering with states to enable them to provide to schools and districts limited, yet valuable information on student progress in completing the FAFSA  beginning in the 2014-15 school year.
  • Additionally, the Office of Federal Student Aid has updated the existing FAFSA completion tool with FAFSA completion numbers for the 2014 high school graduating class at over 25,000 high schools across the nation.
  • These new resources can help increase FAFSA completion rates, and by extension, promote college access and success.

Resources:

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital strategy at the U.S. Department of Education