Now is the Time for Safe and Equal Access to Education for All Children All Over the World

On October 9th 2012, Malala Yousafzai was on a school bus returning to her home in Pakistan’s Swat Valley. A masked gunman boarded the bus and asked for her by name. When her classmates could not help but to glance at her, the gunman approached Malala and shot three times, hitting her in the head and neck. She was 15 years old and her only crime was advocating for equal access to education for all children.

On December 8th of this year, UNICEF declared that 2014 was a devastating year for children. Two years after the brutal attack on Malala, as many as 10,000 children have been recruited to fight by armed groups in the Central African Republic. In Syria, there have been more than 35 attacks on schools and 1.7 million children are now refugees. And a mere eight days after the UNICEF report was released, Taliban gunman launched an unimaginable attack on a Pakistani school, killing 132 students.

These are just some of the challenges that world leaders and non-governmental organizations face in their efforts to establish a new set of sustainable development goals. Technical experts and advocates from Save the Children and other groups are engaging in a series of global consultations on post-2015 education indicators. What has emerged is this: the only way to offer children a future free of violence and extreme poverty is to provide every child safe and equitable access to quality education. Simply counting the number of children in schools is not enough.

Of course, violence against children is not limited to countries outside our borders. Speaking to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute in October, Secretary Arne Duncan referenced the impact violence has had on his own experience. He said, “I saw children who happened to come from a very violent community; who happened to all be African-American; who happened to be very poor. Despite many real challenges, many went on to do extraordinary things.”

Duncan also pointed out that students of color in the U.S. are more likely to be assigned inexperienced teachers; that they have less access to advanced classes; and that they are more likely to go to schools with lower-quality facilities, such as temporary structures. These are circumstances we can and must change.

In October, ED’s Office of Civil Rights issued guidance to states, school districts, and schools to help ensure students in the U.S. have equal access to educational resources. Initiatives such as My Brother’s Keeper and Excellent Educators for All are designed to help level the playing field for U.S. students who face an uphill battle in attaining an education. The goal is to ensure that our children – no matter their circumstances – have every opportunity to reach their full potential.

In the wake of the brutal attack in Peshawar and the seemingly never-ending violence against children in our own country, there is a tremendous amount of work left to be done. It’s in our nation’s best interest to prepare all of our children, not just a privileged few, for the challenges of the global economy. With the world’s focus turned to safe and equitable access to quality education, now is the time for us to make good on our promises.

Rebecca Miller is an International Affairs Specialist in the International Affairs Office at the U.S. Department of Education.

2015-2016 Teaching and Principal Ambassador Fellowship Program Applications Now Available!

“The Ambassador Fellows are a critical investment in ensuring that the decisions affecting students are informed and implemented by our nation’s best teachers and leaders. The answers to our most challenging educational problems lie in the voices of the courageous principals and passionate teachers our Fellows bring us every day.”
– Secretary Arne Duncan

Teaching Ambassador Fellows gathered at the Teaching and Learning conference for the announcement of the Teach to Lead initiative earlier this year. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Teaching Ambassador Fellows gathered at the Teaching and Learning conference for the announcement of the Teach to Lead initiative earlier this year. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Applications for the U.S. Department of Education’s 2015-2016 cohort of Teaching and Principal Ambassador Fellows opened on December 18, 2014 and are scheduled to close on January 20, 2015 at 11:59 pm EST. For more information about the application process, visit our Teaching and Principal Ambassador Fellows program pages or go directly to the applications for the Teaching and Principal Fellowships on USAJobs.gov.

Since 2008, the Department has employed 87 outstanding teachers on a full- or part-time basis through the Teaching Ambassador Fellowship program. Last year, ED piloted a Principal Ambassador Fellowship that brought three highly-talented principals to work for the Department on a full- and part-time basis.

Teaching and Principal Ambassador Fellows are outstanding educators, with a record of leadership in the school community, strong communication skills, and insights on education policy based in their school and classroom expertise. They come with networks of support from their professional communities and have participated in a variety of activities that have prepared them to write and speak frequently about instruction, school culture and climate, educational leadership and policy.

Both of the highly selective programs reflect the belief that teachers and principals should have meaningful opportunities to learn about and shape the policies that impact students and school communities nationwide. As teachers and principals are often the most trusted sources of information about education policy for parents, community members, colleagues, and students themselves, it is imperative to create more ways to link the Department’s programs, policies, and resources directly to the field.

The 2013-2015 Principal Ambassador Fellows and Secretary Duncan. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

The 2013-2015 Principal Ambassador Fellows and Secretary Duncan. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

The Ambassador Fellows have directly contributed to hundreds of activities at the Department and captured the voices of thousands of teachers and principals from every state. They were particularly instrumental in the RESPECT project and in inspiring and executing the Department’s current Teach to Lead initiative. They were also critical partners in offering flexibility around tying teacher evaluations to new assessments and addressing a culture of over-testing.

There are two different options for candidates. The Washington Fellowship is a full-time appointment, based at the Department’s Headquarters in Washington. The Classroom Fellowship, on the other hand, enables teachers and principals to participate on a part-time basis, while still allowing them to fulfill their regular school responsibilities.

All Teaching Ambassador Fellows spend one year learning about key federal programs and policies, sharing their expertise with federal staff members, and providing background on federal initiatives to other educators. This helps teachers better understand and implement these efforts at the federal, state and local levels. For the Fellows, the program provides greater knowledge of federal educational policy, strengthens their leadership skills, and gives them the firsthand opportunity to address some of the  challenging issues facing education today.

“Being a Teaching Ambassador Fellow has been the best professional learning of my career,” says Tami Fitzgerald. “I have learned about educational policy, but more than that, I have discovered that my voice can be heard, and our collective voices can make a difference.”  Principal Ambassador Fellow, Rachel Skerritt adds, “The Principal Ambassador Fellowship is intended to be a beneficial resource to the Department, allowing ED to hear valuable input from school leaders. However, the experience has been just as beneficial to my own learning and leadership. I constantly bring back best practices to my own school, having had the privilege of meeting passionate principals nationwide.”

Great teachers and principals—please consider applying and sharing this information with your colleagues! Sign up for updates on the Teaching and Principal application processes, call 1-800-USA-Learn, or email us at TeacherFellowship@ed.gov or PrincipalFellowship@ed.gov with questions.

Gillian Cohen-Boyer is Director of the Principal and Teaching Ambassador Fellowships Programs at the U.S. Department of Education.

Student Voices Session: Shining a Spotlight on Native Youth in Foster Care

Youth from every ethnicity and population group experience challenges. American Indian and Alaska Native youth in the foster care system often also must contend with a disconnection from their tribal communities and cultures.

On Dec. 8th, I attended a Student Voices session at the White House hosted by the Department of Education (ED) and Department of Interior. During this time, I witnessed the Obama Administration turn a corner on an issue that is too often invisible to the general public and politicians – understanding the plight of Native youth in foster care.

Fifteen current and former foster care youth representing American Indian and Alaska Native nations from across the United States sat down with Secretaries Arne Duncan and Sally Jewell/ (Photo credit: Paul Wood/U.S. Department of Education)

Blog author Seanna Pieper-Jordan (far right) joined fourteen other current and former foster care youth representing American Indian and Alaska Native nations from across the United States in a discussion with Secretaries Arne Duncan and Sally Jewell. (Photo credit: Paul Wood/U.S. Department of Education)

Fifteen current and former foster care youth representing American Indian and Alaska Native nations from across the United States sat down with Secretaries Arne Duncan and Sally Jewell at the event to discuss the unique struggles that Native youth face.

They all courageously shared stories of survival before entering foster care and of a heartbreaking desire to remain connected to their tribes when placed in foster homes far from their tribal communities. For me, their stories and my own share a key message — take us away from our homes and our culture, and you take us away from our identity and our drive to achieve.

After the meeting, Secretary Duncan asked how ED could help improve academic achievement and the well-being of Native youth in the foster care system.

With 566 federally recognized tribes—each with its own history, language and customs—no one curriculum plan or program can adequately provide the needed emotional, cultural and academic support for all Native youth. Fortunately, numerous tribes and tribal organizations desire a chance to partner with the government to improve the situation. My hope is that new tribal partnerships – specifically for American Indian and Alaska native foster youth – could make schools a safe and trusted alternative to the turmoil these students often encounter outside the school environment.

For me, school was my only haven, allowing me a few hours each day to forget the abuse and neglect I suffered in my most formative years. But, unfortunately, my educational experience is not the norm. My teachers did not address my behavioral problems, frequent absences from school, and lack of foundational skills, such as phonics, because I was always the brightest student in class. I also had thick skin to the racism I experienced in public school. Being Native Hawaiian, as well as American Indian, enabled me to attend Kamehameha Schools, a K-12 boarding-and-day institution that immerses students in Native Hawaiian culture. Kamehameha became my advocate, protector and family. Eventually, my school counselor became my foster mother.

I know firsthand that educational institutions can be not only a source of academic and emotional support for all students with unfortunate circumstances at home, but also a place of cultural opportunity for American Indian and Alaska Native youth disconnected from their tribal communities. So, I am happy to say that my time at the White House and with Secretaries Duncan and Jewell has shown me that the Administration is searching for new ways to improve the lives of Native foster youth. And, more personally, it showed me that people do care about what happens to the invisible.

Seanna Pieper-Jordan is a former foster care youth of Native Hawaiian and American Indian (Blackfeet) descent. She graduated from Yale University with a Bachelors of Arts degree in Sociology in 2013 and Kamehameha High School with honors in 2008. She currently works as a public policy specialist in Washington, D.C.

Improving Education One Classroom at a Time

Elise Patterson faces challenges in her classroom every day, but there’s nothing else she’d rather be doing than teaching. Patterson is an English teacher who, like so many educators across the country, is tackling challenges and making a difference in her classroom and in her students’ lives.

Now is a time of profound change in education, perhaps the greatest change in decades. Teachers are leading the change, taking on the hard work of implementing higher standards in their own classrooms, and, like Patterson, discovering that they can do what they love with even greater results for their students.

See what it’s like to teach today through Patterson’s eyes in the first installment of a new video series that takes viewers behind the scenes with teachers and other educators who are doing the hard work to lead change, innovation, and improvement in classrooms throughout the country.

Improving Education: The View from Ms. Patterson’s Classroom, shows how a teacher at Eastern Senior High School in Washington, D.C., is helping her students to excel.

“I’m passionate about teaching because I get to interact with so many people in such a meaningful way,” she says. “The reason I decided to make this my career is because I think there’s such a need for good teaching … [and] because I see how much of a change you can make on a day-to-day basis with individual students.”

Her tips include more collaboration with other teachers and between departments, and really challenging students to improve upon their leadership and critical-thinking skills. Her passion has helped her successfully implement higher standards in her classroom. Learn more about Patterson’s story below:

As we continue to highlight extraordinary educators doing remarkable things in classrooms nationwide we want to hear from teachers. Get in touch with us, and help us share your inspiring stories.

To learn more about Patterson and her classroom tips, visit our Partners in Progress page.

Celebrate Diversity During the Holidays

The holiday season can be a great time for families to celebrate diversity!

Parents and caregivers, you can choose to use this time to teach your children about customs that are different from your own and you can help children to understand and embrace other cultures.

Children learn best by seeing, doing, and being a part of a new experience.

Engage a child through reading.

Engage children through reading.

Engage your child by reading to him or her about how other cultures celebrate holidays during this time of year. The Library of Congress is a great resource for stories about Christmas and Hanukkah. You can choose to search online for resources about observances such as and the way that people in different countries mark the arrival of the New Year. You also can find information about celebrations that happen on or around the winter solstice. Once you’ve read together, encourage your child to create something – like a painting, a drawing, a mask or a sculpture – representing some festival or tradition that interests him or her.

You also can head into the kitchen! Try making a special dish that is served during the holidays in a culture other than your own. Plum pudding or candied yams are just two dishes that come to mind.

Encourage your child to join you in the kitchen!

Encourage your child to join you in the kitchen!

Parents and families can use this time to teach children about the importance of volunteering in the community as well. A visit to a senior facility is one way children can learn about other cultures; the importance of community; and the incredible wealth of wisdom, values, and history that the elder members of any neighborhood have to share with the next generation.

Another fun activity could be exploring how other people and countries celebrate and then creating a list of places to visit.

A trip to your local library is always a fantastic way to find new information and fun activities that will allow your child to discover how wonderful other cultures are. Learning about humanity’s diversity and richness gives us all so much more to celebrate – during the holidays and throughout the year!

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

Buffalo Charter Wired and #FutureReady

At the ConnectED to the Future event. (Photo courtesy of Ayinde Rudolph)

At the ConnectED to the Future event. (Photo courtesy of Ayinde Rudolph)

Two years ago when I arrived in Buffalo, we did not have Wi-Fi in our school. The teachers had tablets, but limited access to the web. The only way our students and teachers could access the internet was in our computer labs.

At the ConnectED to the Future event I recently attended in Washington, D.C., President Obama stated, “In a world where we expect free Wi-Fi with our coffee, we should expect the same in our schools.” He is right. Internet access has become essential and is needed by all, and schools provide an ideal setting for our youngest citizens to gain initial access.

In order to address this challenge, we launched a one-to-one initiative, providing high-speed Internet access to all students and giving each of our third through eighth graders a tablet. We felt this was a journey that every staff member should embark upon, and not just a select few. More importantly, we believed that from an education standpoint, this was the right thing to do, knowing that the digital divide further exacerbates the achievement gap.

This is the journey we’re now on in our part of the Buffalo community. Our goal is to create classrooms where students are given daily learning challenges and are skillfully guided by teachers who support them in sifting through available information toward solutions. For us, technology is a powerful lever to facilitate this kind of teaching and learning.

Our road has been incredibly challenging and messy, but delightful. And we’re still in the early stages. As one of my many colleagues pointed out, the key to our students’ success in Buffalo, and really America, lies in our ability to 1) provide them with the tools to facilitate this learning and 2) give teachers the appropriate professional development to execute this vision for learning.

After attending the event, I feel better about our future prospects. I listened to how other districts are being creative in providing afterhours access. Moreover, I now understand that our pledge to create future-ready students places us on level ground with countries like Singapore and Korea.

It is a long road, but it is definitely a fight worth fighting. After listening and learning from various leaders like President Obama, Secretary Duncan, and Richard Martinez, Superintendent of Pomona Unified in California, I realize that this is truly the direction in which education is headed—to ignore it would be detrimental to our students and our country’s prosperity.

Learn more about the #FutureReady Pledge and watch the president’s remarks from the recent ConnectED to the Future event that took place on November 19, 2014 at the White House.

 Ayinde Rudolph is principal of Westminster Community K-8 Charter in Buffalo, N.Y., a Promise Neighborhood school.

A Bold New Plan to Protect Students

Recently, the Department of Education announced our support for a deal that will strengthen the education prospects of nearly 40,000 college students on 56 Everest and WyoTech brand campuses, currently owned by the for-profit network Corinthian Colleges Inc. Under this plan, the Educational Credit Management Corporation (ECMC) Group’s new nonprofit education arm, Zenith Education Group, will buy the campuses from Corinthian and transform them from for-profit into nonprofit schools.

There has been considerable attention paid to this important and complex action, and it is essential that everyone have the facts. So I would like to explain why our Department decided it was necessary to take action on Corinthian, why we are supporting this sale, and what the results have been so far. I am proud of what our team has been able to accomplish in protecting students.

This is the latest step in a case that began when Corinthian failed to respond to the Department’s repeated requests for answers about questionable practices, including concerns that Corinthian was using false and misleading job placement data to market its schools and recruit students, and that it might be changing student grade and attendance data to hide performance problems. Following intense and thoughtful deliberations, the Department made the decision that we believed would most effectively prevent further damage and took action to heighten our oversight of Corinthian, ultimately leading to an agreement with the company that will end their ownership and operation of these schools.

From the start, we have kept students and their interests at the heart of every decision we have made about Corinthian, and charted a careful course through what threatened to be a major collapse of a large institution. We worked to avoid immediate closure of all Corinthian schools and prevent the sudden disruption of education for 72,000 students and the jobs of 12,000 employees. And, to defend student and taxpayer interests, we have put an independent monitor in place to oversee Corinthian’s actions as the company begins to sell and wind down its campuses. We selected the respected firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP & Affiliates, under the leadership of former U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, for this vital role.

ECMC has never run a college campus before, and I think everybody recognizes that improving Corinthian campuses will be a serious challenge. But there are many reasons why we feel this new agreement will particularly benefit students, and why we are confident they will receive a better education under ECMC and Zenith’s leadership:

Lower college costs. Students who attend the newly purchased campuses will receive a 20% cut in tuition.

Matching training numbers with real-world needs. For a college program to be truly worth the time, cost and effort, there must be jobs openings in students’ fields of choice when they graduate. Under this new plan, ECMC will work to balance the number of students enrolled in specific career programs with local and regional labor market trends – so students can understand which career fields have the greatest demand for workers, and gain the skills they will need for actual, available jobs.

Closing low-performing programs. At the same time, the Zenith Education Group will begin weeding out poor performers in Corinthian’s portfolio of programs, and steering students toward higher-quality programs. Students that are in poor performing programs will have several choices, including the possibility of transferring to other Zenith programs or receiving a partial refund of their costs.

Fresh leadership. No senior executive from the former Corinthian group will remain when the campuses are acquired by ECMC – making a clean break from previous management and from the types of practices that put the schools and students in jeopardy.

An unprecedented – and voluntary – commitment to oversight. As part of the acquisition and transition plan, the ECMC has agreed to hire a monitoring firm. The monitor will have access to Zenith’s data to ensure that the ways they recruit potential students, how they market their services, and the data they report on performance, especially on student outcomes, are fair, true and accurate. By volunteering for this level of review, Zenith is showing a strong commitment to transparency, and to sharing the types of information that help students and families make good decisions about the schools and programs that will best serve their needs. And the hiring of a monitor demonstrates just how serious ECMC is about remedying the past problems of Corinthian, and charting a new course.

This purchase plan also fends off disastrous consequences. First and foremost, students who are enrolled in Corinthian programs will have the opportunity to complete their education and receive the degrees and certificates that they have worked so hard to obtain. This sale, if ultimately approved by the Department, accreditors, and state authorizing agencies, will avoid disruption and displacement for tens of thousands of students – approximately 22 percent of whom are within 3 months of graduating.

Throughout our interactions with Corinthian, we have been guided by the belief that the best path forward for these students would be helping them to stay in school and complete their programs. Higher education can help students tremendously in fulfilling their career and life goals. And while all postsecondary students face unique challenges and hurdles, those who are enrolled in for-profit and career training programs are often among the most vulnerable. In many cases, they are juggling classes as well as a job (or two) and a family. Some have tried before to earn a degree, and found the courage to return to school even though earlier efforts didn’t work out. These are the students who most need the opportunities that higher education can bring.

The last thing we want to do is make them start over, especially when so many are close to finishing. They have already invested thousands of dollars and hours of their time earning credits that may not transfer to new programs at other schools. It would be unacceptable for any of them to be left holding public or private student loan debt, with no degree or certificate to show for it. We could not afford that risk with tens of thousands of students.

ECMC has made good commitments to safeguard the way forward for these students, and its nonprofit will operate independently from the larger corporation. We want to make sure ECMC does what they have said they will do – and we will watch them carefully. But we should all give them a chance to keep their promises and help make these students’ lives better.

This agreement lets students transition from a problematic for-profit company to a nonprofit that is committed to giving them a new start and better chances to succeed. We will also keep close track of sale or wind-down efforts on Corinthian’s other campuses, so students in programs that won’t be acquired as part of this deal can also finish their education without interruption. Ensuring that all students are served well remains our top priority, and we will continue to work on behalf of students and taxpayers.

We have posted the full list of schools that ECMC Group intends to buy here. All of Corinthian’s students can find more information on the Department’s website at www.studentaid.gov/Corinthian.

And, as part of the Obama Administration’s efforts to promote quality and accountability in higher education, the Department has announced a federal interagency task force – which I will lead on behalf of Secretary Duncan – to help ensure proper oversight of for-profit institutions.

A quality education that leads to good outcomes – like a well-paying job and a strong future – is still the best investment anyone can make. Students seeking a better life shouldn’t pay a penalty for following their dreams. We cannot – and we will not – let their efforts go to waste.

Ted Mitchell is U.S. Under Secretary of Education.

ED Celebrates Student Art with ‘Yo soy … Je Suis … I am … My Neighborhood’ Exhibit

The entrance halls and ground floor public spaces of the U.S. Department of Education are filled year-round with color, creativity, and powerful ideas, thanks to the talents of young artists from the United States and around the world. In November, ED conducted a host of special activities celebrating the 15th anniversary of International Education Week, including an opening reception and ribbon cutting for the 2014 VSA international children’s art exhibit Yo soy…Je Suis…I am…My Neighborhood, presented by the Office of Very Special Arts (VSA) & Accessibility and the Department’s Student Art Exhibit Program. Each year VSA, a Jean Kennedy Smith Arts and Disability Program of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, receives over 700 international and national entries from students with disabilities, ages 3–22, and competition winners display their artwork at ED.

Caption: P.S. 177 Technology Band member Jeremiah Estick appreciates the exhibited work of visual artists from Singapore and the United States. (Photo credit: Paul Wood/U.S. Department of Education)

P.S. 177 Technology Band member Jeremiah Estick appreciates the exhibited work of visual artists from Singapore and the United States. (Photo credit: Paul Wood/U.S. Department of Education)

The event featured a robust lineup of speakers, including education leaders as well as a student, teacher, and parent. Highlights also included a performance by the NPR-acclaimed P.S. 177 Technology Band, made up of nine students from a school in Queens, N.Y., for students with disabilities. The exhibit featured art pieces by students from Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, Saint Lucia, Taiwan, and the United States, depicting the importance of their neighborhoods. 

ED and the U.S. Department of State established International Education Week in 2000 to promote and celebrate the role that education plays worldwide. Maureen McLaughlin, director of ED’s International Affairs Office, spoke about the importance of arts education in supporting international cultural awareness: “Visualizing our neighborhoods allows each of us the opportunity to show the people and places that we love.” Emphasizing the exhibit’s importance, she stressed that “[l]anguage can be a barrier, but pictures bridge that gap.”

In a recorded message, Secretary Arne Duncan highlighted the value of international study programs in fostering cultural understanding, social development, and economic health. He said, “The ways in which citizens interact with each other … have fundamentally changed,” and emphasized the importance of education as we “redefine what it means to be ‘neighbors’ in an increasingly interdependent world.”

To be a neighbor also means to ensure access to success, regardless of background or ability. Michael Yudin, acting assistant secretary of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, championed the values of inclusion, equity, and opportunity: “It starts with expectations, with high expectations. If we have high expectations for kids with disabilities, we have high expectations for all of our kids.” He emphasized ED’s focus further, saying “[I]t’s making sure that we’re focusing on results and better outcomes for our kids.”

Adam Goldberg, music teacher and founder of the P.S. 177 Technology Band, exemplifies what it means to set high expectations and foster opportunity for students with learning disabilities to dream big and succeed. Through Goldberg’s inspired teaching, students not only develop musical skill but also social awareness and confidence. Student performer Denzel Jackson commented, “I’ve learned to play rhythms within a steady groove. … It’s all about watching, listening, and feeling the music.” Hyacinth Heron Haughton, mother of band vocalist Jason Haughton, stated, “With the help of Mr. Goldberg [my son] has excelled tremendously.”

In addition to using traditional instruments, students used iPads to produce complex musical arrangements. The band performed three musical selections. When You Come Back, written by South African artist Vusi Mahlasela, had the audience clapping to its soulfulness. Though the lyrics for Being Me were written by Goldberg, the melody was inspired by student vocalist Jason Haughton. An instrumental version of the opera classic Nessun dorma (None Shall Sleep), an aria from Puccini’s Turandot, was the most difficult to perform because the beat fluctuated, requiring students to follow the conductor intently. Of his students’ success Goldberg declared, “I am so proud of them. … Every time we do this song … it gets better and better and better.”

Adam Goldberg conducts a musical arrangement performed on iPads by members of the P.S. 177 Technology Band. (Photo credit: Paul Wood/U.S. Department of Education)

Adam Goldberg conducts a musical arrangement performed on iPads by members of the P.S. 177 Technology Band. (Photo credit: Paul Wood/U.S. Department of Education)

After each performance the audience applauded the band with loud cheers and standing ovations. Tobi Lakes, the band’s keyboardist, surprised the crowd with his spontaneous post-performance speech when he excitedly yelled, “We are incredible! Yes! We did it! We made it! We have been working very hard since the beginning of the year, and we got it! Thank you!”

P.S. 177 Technology Band member Tobi Lakes celebrates the band’s performance success. (Photo credit: Paul Wood/U.S. Department of Education)

P.S. 177 Technology Band member Tobi Lakes celebrates the band’s performance success. (Photo credit: Paul Wood/U.S. Department of Education)

This event culminated with the traditional celebratory ribbon-cutting ceremony to open the student art exhibit to the public. Though this year’s International Education Week activities and celebrations have come to a close, the exhibit will be on view through Dec. 31 as a vibrant testament to the power of high expectations, diverse student voices, and art’s capacity to unite individuals and nations.

Proud members of the P.S. 177 Technology Band participate enthusiastically in the ribbon cutting ceremony. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Proud members of the P.S. 177 Technology Band participate enthusiastically in the ribbon cutting ceremony. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

View more photos from the event.

Isadora Binder and Asheley McBride are staff in the Office of Innovation and Improvement (OII), and Olivia Murray is an OII intern from the University of California San Diego.

The Department’s Student Art Exhibit Program provides students and teachers an opportunity to display creative work from the classroom in a highly public place that honors their work as an effective path to learning and knowledge for all. To visit the exhibits or for information about exhibiting, contact Jackye Zimmermann at jacquelyn.zimmermann@ed.gov.

Testing: Can We Find the Rational Middle?

Recently I visited Glen Iris Elementary School in Birmingham, Alabama to meet with a group of teachers and their principal. I was in Birmingham as a Teaching Ambassador Fellow and it was highly recommend by local educators that I visit Glen Iris while in Birmingham to see the incredible work going on at the school. During my visit I learned about the school’s focus on project-based learning, how it energizes teachers and promotes cross-curriculum connections and implementation of college and career ready standards in a way that has significant meaning for students and the surrounding community. I learned how this type of learning relies on several factors including the internal capacity among teachers to lead and bring others along in this work and a supportive principal who will work to make sure the resources needed are provided (even grow a beard and sleep on the school roof to fundraise if necessary!). I also learned about their school garden, which was a sight to behold and a powerful a lesson for how to keep learning focused on developing the whole child.

The assessment culture was also very different at Glen Iris Elementary. It was clear that every teacher in the room agreed that we can and should measure learning, but, also, that current “tests” were measuring learning. When I asked Principal Wilson to share his views on testing he looked at me very calmly said, “There is more than one way to measure the standards. We have to be ever-growing.”

Since returning from Birmingham, much has happened in the “testing” world.

Recently, the Foundation for Excellence in Education came out with an analysis of district testing calendars from the 2013-14 school year. The foundation looked at 44 districts and found huge variation; some required as few as eight tests on top of required state assessments – and one required 198 additional exams. In addition, the Council of Chief State School Officers and Secretary Duncan have shined a spotlight on testing and are asking states and districts to have difficult conversations about the quantity and quality of tests administered to students. Also in recent weeks, several school districts in Florida have moved to cut down on testing. Miami-Dade County cut 24 interim assessments, adding 260 minutes of instruction back into the schedule, while Palm Beach County cut 11 diagnostic tests and made all district-level performance assessments optional. Moreover, Hillsborough County school district leaders are calling on the state to reduce the amount of testing in schools while several school officials have already eliminated final exams at middle and high school levels, as well as reduced the number of assessments for elementary grades in math, science and language arts.

I recently sat down with Secretary Duncan to hear his perspective on the current state of testing and accountability. While the testing pendulum has swung from one side to the other, my hope is that we will land somewhere in the rational middle. And as I continue in my education journey, I will forever keep those timely words of Dr. Wilson at the forefront of my mind and will challenge all of us to be “ever-growing.”

Emily Davis is a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education.

Future Ready: Why Action Today is Required to Meet the Challenges of Tomorrow

John Hutton

Superintendent John Hutton participated in the President’s “ConnectED to the Future” at the White House on Nov. 19. (Photo credit: Gurnee School District 56)

I had the opportunity to join the President at the White House recently to sign the Future Ready pledge for transforming education through increased digital learning. The convening drew 109 fellow superintendents in person, and thousands of others virtually. My selection as an attendee was based on the incredible transformation Gurnee District 56, north of Chicago, Illinois, has made in establishing a student-centered learning environment. Buoyed by a 1:1 iPad initiative and a supportive school culture, personalized learning, self-paced instruction, and digital and open source content have become the norm in our school district.

The accolades we have received are based on very real progress which is directly related to how we use technology. Last school year our K-8 students achieved unprecedented targeted growth proficiency in reading, from 56% to 63.5% and math, from 56% to 71%. In recognition of our accomplishments, the district received the Apple Distinguished Program award in November of 2013 and in the spring of 2014, Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, lauded the district in his annual speech to shareholders.

As the President said in his speech, we are losing ground in this race to ensure that our children can compete in the 21st century global economy. To reverse this, students must have access to a rich digital learning environment. I have always believed that in order to create change of this magnitude, and compete with countries that are currently Future Ready, we must establish a sense of urgency and make it clear to everyone that nothing less will solve the problem.

The President challenged all of us to carry the torch on behalf of our nation’s children to ensure that we are prepared for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. After his speech—and I believe that I am speaking on behalf of my colleagues—we were convinced of the need to be Future Ready and eagerly accepted his challenge to join him on this journey.

It is now time for us to continue this conversation. As Deputy Secretary of Education Jim Shelton asked, “What will Future Ready look like when we accomplish it?”

Consider these questions:

  • Does Future Ready apply to our technology, curriculum, students, teachers, parents, the nation? If so, how will we be able to, in specific terms, describe what Future Ready means?
  • How do we make Future Ready an important concept to those school districts that are not even close to being Future Ready?
  • For those of us who are committed to this path, how do we ensure that our conversations are practical rather than philosophical?
  • How committed are we to helping others rather than spending all of our time and attention on our own school districts?

The President has made it clear that the time to act is now. I look forward to working in unison with my colleagues to make sure that Future Ready is a road map that will protect the greatness of America.

John Hutton is superintendent of Gurnee School District 56 in north suburban Chicago, Illinois. He participated in the President’s “ConnectED to the Future” convening at the White House on Nov. 19.

Know It 2 Own It: Students Reflect in a Time of Thanksgiving

With Thanksgiving around the corner, people across the country will be reflecting on the things they are most grateful for. During this time, the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services at the U.S. Department of Education would like to recognize and express gratitude to the teachers, parents, coaches, mentors, and others who have made a difference.

One of the ways we do this is through our ongoing Know It 2 Own It campaign. We want to encourage young adults to learn about the history of the disability rights movement and for those with disabilities to understand their rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act. We also want to hear from young adults with disabilities who are working to make a difference in their communities.

As we have demonstrated in past blog posts, disabilities don’t all look alike. Each month we strive to tell different stories about challenges and successes within the disability community.

November is Epilepsy Awareness Month. We recently invited students and young adults living with epilepsy to express their appreciation for those who have helped them along the way. Below are some of the compelling responses we received:

Dalton lauded his camp counselors. (Photo credit: Epilepsy Foundation)

Dalton thanks his camp counselors. (Photo credit: Epilepsy Foundation)

My name is Dalton, I am 19 years old and live in Texas.  I can’t honestly narrow down a mentor to just one person.  My mentors were my camp counselors Jonathan, Jake and Ryan at the summer camp I attended in 2008 for children with epilepsy.  When I first arrived I was nervous, homesick and withdrawn.  I had hardly opened up with anyone since my diagnosis two years earlier.  After spending one week with them my life completely changed for the better.  I realized that epilepsy was not going to keep me from living my life and that I could have friends and have fun just like any other kid.  Because of camp, I joined the football team and then became a pole vaulter!  Now I am a camp counselor just like they were, and even was a head counselor last summer!  I hope to make a difference in a kid’s life, just like they did mine. (Dalton, Texas)

Ryan was diagnosed at the age of 14. (Photo credit: Epilepsy Foundation)

Ryan is inspired by his teachers and counselors. (Photo credit: Epilepsy Foundation)

I had just begun high school when at the age of fourteen, I was diagnosed with epilepsy. I had never heard of the condition, wasn’t familiar with the causes, and didn’t know which treatment option to select. My teachers and counselors not only offered valuable advice but helped me navigate the fears I had. When I needed them most, they were there, and I will forever be grateful to each and every one of them. (Ryan, Missouri)

Jarin honored his friends. (Photo credit: Epilepsy Foundation)

Jarin thanks his friends. (Photo credit: Epilepsy Foundation)

My friends always support and encourage me. They will do epilepsy runs with me and remind me to take my meds. My friends are trained to know what to do if I have a seizure and to recognize symptoms. My friends encourage me when I participate in sports and don’t make me feel like I can’t do what they are doing because I have epilepsy. (Jarin, Wisconsin)

Abie touted her mother as her biggest source of support. (Photo credit: Epilepsy Foundation)

Abie says her mother is her biggest source of support. (Photo credit: Epilepsy Foundation)

Throughout my 4-1/2 year journey with epilepsy, one important person in my life comes to mind that has supported, helped, encouraged and cheered me on to speak up, speak out and be bold about my diagnosis. To share my story with the world so as to help other teens and families going through the same roller coaster ride of emotions that me and my mom have lived every day since my diagnosis. My mother, she has been my biggest and strongest advocate. Watching how she has taken this bull by the horns instead of letting epilepsy drag us by the tail, has shown me her strength, determination and — biggest of all — her unwavering faith that we will live life exactly as God has planned for us.I may never fully understand why I was given epilepsy but as I always say, “God gave me this life because He knew I was strong enough to live it.” He has put people and opportunities in my path over the years where I can use my voice to tell my story and to help inspire other teens like me not to fear the diagnosis but to have Hope for our futures. (Abie, Texas)

The testimony above showcases the resiliency of young people with disabilities and the value of their support networks. We want to continue to highlight stories like those above – and want to hear from you. Please continue to share your stories with us on social media by using the hashtag #know2own. And view past blog posts for additional inspiration.

Alexis Perlmutter is a Special Assistant in the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services at the U.S. Department of Education.

Ensuring a Global Education for All Students

Our world has never been more interconnected or interdependent. We’re all global “neighbors,” and each of us can make a commitment to understanding each other and working together.

Each November, the U.S. Departments of Education (ED) and State invite educational institutions and cultural programs to celebrate how they prepare people to become effective global citizens and attract students from abroad to study, learn, and share ideas with their peers in this country.

This year, International Education Week runs from Nov. 17 through 21.

Here at ED, I work in the International and Foreign Language Education office researching our grantees’ practices and successes, particularly related to outreach to minority serving institutions and community colleges, local teachers, and colleges of education.

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Katrina Dillon is a former teacher who is helping educators to foster global understanding in their students. (Photo credit: University of New Mexico)

To learn more about how our university partners work to foster global understanding on the local level, I recently interviewed Katrina Dillon—a former teacher—who is helping educators to foster global understanding in their students.

During her time as an elementary and middle school teacher in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Dillon used to struggle to find content that reflected the diversity in her classroom, which includes a large number of Latino students.

“Students need to see themselves in the curriculum, and as their teacher, you feel responsible for filling in those gaps in content,” Dillon explained.

Today, Dillon works at the Latin American and Iberian Institute (LAII) at the University of New Mexico, where she develops resources that teachers around the country can use to infuse their K-12 curriculum with rich, culturally appropriate content. The LAII is one of 100 National Resource Centers supported by grant funding from ED under Title VI of the Higher Education Act. As part of the outreach at the LAII, Dillon said, “We’re trying to create materials with content we feel is relevant across the board for students.”

The Institute’s offerings include the Vamos a Leer blog and a monthly book club that highlight Latino and indigenous literature, as well as resources such as ¡Viva la Revolución! An Educator’s Guide to the Mexican Revolution. These works contain lesson plans, background information, activities, and novel and film guides to help educators incorporate Latin American history and culture into the classroom. The Institute also hosts workshops with topics like, “How to Teach About El Día de los Muertos,” to train teachers to bring Latin American content into the classroom.

Dillion working with teachers during the “How to Teach About El Día de los Muertos” workshop. (Photo credit: University of New Mexico)

Dillion working with teachers during the “How to Teach About El Día de los Muertos” workshop. (Photo credit: University of New Mexico)

In addition to her work at LAII, Dillon is a doctoral candidate in Language, Literacy, and Sociocultural Studies at the University of New Mexico. After graduation, she hopes to continue working with students in teacher education programs to advance the mission of ensuring a global education for all students.

Through my studies, my internship at the Department, and in talking with educators like Katrina Dillon, one thing has become increasingly clear—rich, international education is necessary. In a country as diverse as ours, students can benefit from learning to interact comfortably and confidently with people from all backgrounds and points of view. Our students also can benefit from understanding their own cultures and backgrounds, and how their histories and values contribute to the richness of the American experience.

Kaley Palanjian is a junior at Georgetown University studying linguistics, with a minor in education, inquiry, and justice. She is interning in the Office of Postsecondary Education for the International and Foreign Language Education office.