D.C. Public School Students Celebrate Their Creativity and Knowledge in the Arts at ED

Students from Stoddert Elementary School, in collaboration with Fillmore Arts Center, perform their piece, “Swinging at Fillmore,” on the ED stage.  (Photo Credit: Joshua Hoover/U.S. Department of Education)

Students from Stoddert Elementary School, in collaboration with Fillmore Arts Center, perform their piece, “Swinging at Fillmore,” on the ED stage. (Photo Credit: Joshua Hoover/U.S. Department of Education)

Student artists from 14 District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) gathered at the U.S. Department of Education (ED) headquarters on March 4, 2015, to exhibit their creative work in the visual arts, film, dance and music. More than 200 educators, family members, arts leaders, DCPS community partners and ED employees also joined in the festivities to honor these students.

ED’s Principal Ambassador Fellow and 2012 Magnet Schools of America National Principal of the Year, Jill Levine, kicked off the presentation and recounted the moving story of one of her students whose education experience was transformed by the arts, “When kids feel important … when they feel part of something bigger, when they feel inspired about going to school, we don’t need [candy, home visits, court hearings, and other such measures] to make them go to school because they are drawn to the school through the arts.”

Students from School Without Walls Senior High School perform their piece, “Scripts and Scores,” which examines the relationship between music and silent film.  (Photo Credit: Joshua Hoover/U.S. Department of Education)

Students from School Without Walls Senior High School perform their piece, “Scripts and Scores,” which examines the relationship between music and silent film. (Photo Credit: Joshua Hoover/U.S. Department of Education)

Demonstrating such inspiration through the arts were three vibrant student groups. The Capital String Ensemble, from John Eaton Elementary School in partnership with Washington Performing Arts, performed a call-and-response piece and the Baroque piece, Pachelbel’s Canon. Four students from School Without Walls Senior High School presented their powerful composition of guitars and silent film, Scripts and Scores, to explore the difference between reality and perception. Stoddert Elementary School partnered with Fillmore Arts Center to help students create Swinging at Fillmore, a performance using dance, music and history to explore the work of legendary swing dancer Norma Miller.

Students in the Capital String Ensemble perform during the DCPS art exhibit opening. (Photo Credit: Joshua Hoover/U.S. Department of Education)

Students in the Capital String Ensemble perform during the DCPS art exhibit opening. (Photo Credit: Joshua Hoover/U.S. Department of Education)

Kaya Henderson, chancellor of DCPS, deservedly proud of her school system’s students and teachers, stressed the significance of arts education, “A world-class education includes the arts. … [T]o compete against children all over the world, then our young people have to have a well-rounded education, and that includes the arts.”

The director of the arts at DCPS, Nathan Diamond, emphasized the value not only of arts education but also of the collaborative nature of the exhibit, “This is a particularly special show in that it really highlights what happens when the public school system and the arts community come together to work for students.”

One student examines the work of her student artist peers following the performances and ribbon-cutting ceremony. (Photo Credit: Joshua Hoover/U.S. Department of Education)

One student examines the work of her student artist peers following the performances and ribbon-cutting ceremony. (Photo Credit: Joshua Hoover/U.S. Department of Education)

In fact, 13 community arts organizations that partnered with DCPS are featured in the exhibit. Dancer and choreographer Mickey Davidson from the Fillmore Arts Center’s collaboration with Stoddert Elementary reiterated Diamond’s perspective, “One of the biggest challenges was the continuity … but by [working with the students] once a week [and] being consistent … what we did, we did it solid.”

The students shared her sentiment, using “amazing,” “excellent” and “gold” to describe their performance. And the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities’ Executive Director Lionell Thomas stated the high goals of such collaborations with DCPS, “To have arts education at the forefront of what we do,” in order to contribute to the cognitive, socialization and creative skills of every student.

Following the performances, a ribbon cutting formally opened the exhibit. Some students from King Elementary discussed their portraits of famous people. These works, they explained, encapsulate the intersection between art and inspiration as a means of self-expression — one of the greatest forms of learning.

Perhaps the highest accolade of the day came from Andy Finch of the Association of Art Museum Directors, “Wow – I am proud to be a citizen of the District!”

Students excitedly take part in the ribbon-cutting ceremony, which represents the official opening of the DCPS Intersections student art exhibit. (Photo Credit: Joshua Hoover/U.S. Department of Education)

Students excitedly take part in the ribbon-cutting ceremony, which represents the official opening of the DCPS Intersections student art exhibit. (Photo Credit: Joshua Hoover/U.S. Department of Education)

Jessica Dillow is an intern in the Editorial Policy, Print and Art Services Office at the U.S. Department of Education and a senior at the Ohio State University.

All photos in this blog are by Joshua Hoover. More photos from the event may be viewed on the Department of Education’s Flickr.

Blog articles on Homeroom provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. The articles do not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.

The Department’s Student Art Exhibit Program provides students and teachers an opportunity to display creative work from the classroom in a highly public space 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.

Look and Listen: 10 Reasons Why We Can’t Afford to Cut Education Funding

Cross-posted from The White House Blog.

As you might have seen, House Republicans released their Fiscal Year 2016 budget this week — and to put it very simply, its priorities are pretty different from those in the President’s budget. The House GOP would cut taxes for millionaires and billionaires, all while slashing investments in the middle class that we know would grow the economy — particularly in job training, manufacturing, and education.

Their budget would cut funding for pre-k through 12 education (also known as “Title I Funding”) by $3.1 billion. That money could fund 4,500 schools, 17,000 teachers and aides, and 1.9 million students.

Earlier this week, the President met with superintendents and other school officials from all across the country. Each of them brought at least one object — from photos to books to charts — that represented what this vital funding means to their school districts.

Every American should know exactly what disinvestment in Pre-K through 12 education would mean for school districts around the country. Listen to each of these school leaders describe the vital programs in their districts that Title I helps fund.


1. “Acceleration Academies” that provide a month’s worth of learning in one week’s time.

Michael O’Neill, Chairperson of the Boston School Committee (Boston, MA)

2. A “Parent Academy” that has helped more than 3,000 parents prepare their kids to apply for college.

Barbara Jenkins, Superintendent, Orange County Public Schools (Orange County, FL)

3. “Parent University” college bus tours that make college a reality for more underserved kids.

Eric Gordon, Superintendent, Cleveland Metropolitan School District (Cleveland, OH)

4. A “Focus on Freshman” mentorship program that has increased graduation rates by more than 10 percent.

Valeria Silva, Superintendent, ISD 625 – St. Paul Public Schools (St. Paul, MN)

5. Extended school days that result in double-digit gains in math and reading scores.

Kaya Henderson, D.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction (Washington, D.C.)

6. Professional mentorship programs that connect students with professionals in cutting-edge fields.

Juan Cabrera, Superintendent, El Paso Independent School District (El Paso, TX)

7. Smaller classes that provide more direct attention to students in need of support.

Richard Carranza, Superintendent, San Francisco Unified School District (San Francisco, CA)

8. College and career-preparation programs that make sure students are ready to succeed.

Darienne Driver, Superintendent, Milwaukee Public Schools (Milwaukee, WI)

9. Development classes that have reduced truancy issues among young black students.

Jumoke Hinton, Board Member, Oakland Unified School District (Oakland, CA)

10. An after-school robotics team that competes regionally.

Airick West, Board Member, Kansas City Public Schools (Kansas City, MO)

At a time when it’s more important than ever to make sure young people have the skills they need to compete in a modern economy, the House Republican budget would bring per-pupil education funding to its lowest levels since 2000.

If you don’t want to see that happen, then make sure as many people as possible know what’s at stake.


Roberto J. Rodríguez is Deputy Assistant to the President for Education.

15 Principals, One United Voice

Melissa Fink poses with Secretary Duncan during her visit to ED. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Melissa Fink poses with Secretary Duncan during her visit to ED. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

A version of this post originally appeared on the Jones Elementary School blog.

What happens when you pull together 15 principals from Arkansas, Indiana, New York, Montana, California, Louisiana, Illinois, New Jersey, Tennessee, Kansas and Idaho together for a meeting? One united voice begins to emerge working to improve the quality of education for children in America.

I was recently invited to Washington, D.C., to participate in a round table discussion at the U.S. Department of Education. We were privileged to meet with Secretary Arne Duncan, Assistant Secretary of Education Deb Delisle and other senior staff members.

Prior to attending the meeting, I was very reluctant to voice my opinion in public. I had a preconceived notion no one cared what a principal from Arkansas thought. I never imagined myself talking to leaders of a federal agency.

When I received the invitation to visit ED, I felt many emotions. I felt humbled and honored to be selected to be part of a prestigious group. I felt scared because I was traveling far away to a place where I didn’t know anyone. I felt intimidated because I had never been placed in the political spotlight. I felt inadequate to speak to such important people.

My fears and insecurities began to melt away the first evening in D.C. We had an informal dinner to meet our colleagues. I started to feel more comfortable as we talked about our schools, our communities and our personal lives. It became apparent that although we came from different backgrounds, served in different communities, led diverse staffs, taught children from all ethnic backgrounds and social statuses, we had many similar ideas regarding best educational practices.

The next morning, we arrived at ED ready to meet with leadership.

As we met with different officials, it was apparent that they all wanted to learn from us. The day was spent with reciprocal learning happening around us — us learning from them — them learning from us.

The time we spent with Secretary Duncan felt very natural and relaxed, as well. He entered into the room with his sleeves rolled up and was eager to learn from us. It was a great meeting!

If I had to sum up my experience with one word, I would say it was empowering. My experience in Washington, D.C. has opened my world. I am now serving on several state level committees to improve education for Arkansas students. I have also begun to contact my state legislators and representatives to encourage policy makers to make decisions in the best interest of students. I’ve also been given the opportunity to address the Arkansas State Board of Education to discuss best teaching and leadership practices.

Before my trip, I was nervous about taking action. Now, after stepping out of my comfort zone, I feel empowered to be the voice for children everywhere. I take comfort in knowing the other 14 administrators I became friends with are also fighting this courageous battle with me although we are miles apart. It was a great experience and one I would highly recommend to anyone.

Melissa Fink is Principal of Jones Elementary School in Springdale, Arkansas.

Learn more about Jones Elementary and how the teachers work with Fink to encourage their students to succeed.

How We’ve Improved the Customer Experience for ED’s Grant Opportunities

Providing information on the Department’s grant opportunities is one of the core functions of our website, ED.gov. The ED team works year-round to share relevant, timely details about grant opportunities. We recently made some improvements to how we publish grant information on some of our most popular webpages, using technology solutions to speed up the process.

Now we can post the most recent numbers every day. 

We used Sharepoint and developed an automated process to gather and transform data from Grants.gov in an accurate daily update on ED.gov. This change significantly reduces the amount of time that our program office and Forecast staff must spend to update information and prominently displays the eligibility criteria and application link for each grant opportunity. This means more frequent and timely forecasts as well as a better overall experience!

What’s next? Our Web Team is working to improve the internal and external customer experiences for ED.gov program information. We are re-engineering, streamlining, and automating publishing grant information and related documents. Here’s what’s in store:

  • Improve management of program information and update the look/ feel of program pages.  
  • Provide an API (application programming interface) for developers and others to easily access our program data.Offer a program-finder tool that matches customers with opportunities in their area of interest and eligibility.
  • Align with the Digital Government Strategy initiative and Open Data Policy.
  • And much more!

Stay tuned!

Kate Devine and Alan Smigielski are both members of the Web Team in the Office of Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education.

Innovative Teaching and Learning Strategies at Austin Community College

 ted_drbiden

Earlier this week Dr. Jill Biden and I had the privilege of visiting Austin Community College (ACC), in addition to meeting with innovators at the SXSWedu education conference. Once again I was inspired by the tremendous collective effort to increase student success—from the students themselves to college leaders to technology entrepreneurs.

During our visit, Austin Community College student Jenny Bragdon allowed us to observe her work at the Learning ACCelerator lab. The school believes the lab to be the nation’s largest computer lab, and it combines computers—more than 600 — with faculty and tutors who help students when they need assistance.

When Jenny arrived at ACC, she was told she was prepared for college-level English courses, but needed to take some courses to get her ready for college-level math, since it had been over 20 years since her last math course.   She enrolled in one of the classes that meet in the Learning ACCelerator, a developmental math class that allows students to reach college-level math in a self-paced environment.

In addition to the faculty and tutor assistance in the lab, Jenny’s professor, Prof. Vance, schedules optional small lessons in one of the adjoining conference rooms on subject areas where many students indicated they needed assistance. In one example, Prof. Vance offered a lesson on fractions, which was a topic Jenny had already moved beyond. But by attending the lesson, Jenny learned some helpful tips that reinforced her understanding. ACC has worked to build a model that integrates the best of technology-based and face-to-face teaching and learning on a large scale.

Jenny said that the impact of the developmental math class has been tremendous. She is on pace to finish three semesters worth of content in just one semester. And while she has always had the goal to teach, she is now considering teaching math, based on her rich experience in the math lab. Jenny, who has a young daughter, wants to encourage all young people—especially girls—to love math as much as she has come to.

The Austin Community College ACCelerator lab is just one example of innovative thinking by community college leaders, a strategic use of technology tools, and the hard work and dedication of students. My visits to the two community colleges and with technology entrepreneurs at SXSWedu underscored the importance of bringing all of these resources together to ensure student success.

At the Department of Education, we’re working to identify, support, and build the evidence base for these kinds of innovations. Our First in the World grant program will award $60 million in the upcoming competition for innovations to increase student success, and is currently inviting comments on its proposed priorities (due March 25). And our current round of Experimental Sites in Federal Student Aid includes a focus on competency-based education, to better support students in self-paced programs.

Our great thanks to the students, faculty, and leadership of ACC and those across the country working to increase student access and success.

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

4 Reasons Why Community College Was Perfect For Me

As a senior in high school, I felt as if I was the only one not excited about graduation because I had been denied acceptance to the universities for which I had applied. I had given up on having a glamorous college experience and had no idea what the future had in store for me and enrolled at a community college.

During my two years in community college, I reflected on career choices and my future as a whole, all the while using that time to boost my GPA. Once I figured out what I wanted to do, I applied to four-year universities and was accepted to the perfect school for me.

As you are preparing to apply for college, keep community college in mind. It’s a great place to begin your higher education.

Here are four reasons why:

  1. Community college is affordable

The cost of attendance for two years at my community college cost less than one semester at a state college. This is huge advantage that most students don’t realize until they graduate and have to start repaying loans.

  1. Flexibility

Community colleges offer class times designed to accommodate a variety of schedules, making a part-time job manageable for full-time students. There is now a limit on the maximum period of time that you can receive Direct Subsidized Loans and the Pell Grant, so make sure to keep track of how you’re progressing in your degree program. You don’t want to lose eligibility for these types of financial aid!

  1. Better Transfer Opportunities

Community college is a perfect solution for those who don’t have the best grades coming out of high school. While obtaining my associate degree, I was able to boost my GPA and resume by working. After graduation I transferred to a university that I would have otherwise not been accepted to in high school. Community college can be seen as a second chance as long as you are willing to make the commitment and college admissions offices understand that some students need more time and experience to discover what they want out of life.

TIP: Many community colleges have “Guaranteed Admissions Programs” whereby students who successfully complete their associate degree at a community college are offered automatic admission to participating four-year colleges and universities.

  1. Attain multiple degrees

Unlike universities, community colleges provide the opportunity for an associate degree that feeds directly into a bachelor’s degree. The time a typical university student will have spent on one degree, a community college transfer will have received two degrees!

Talla Hashemi is a junior at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill majoring in Journalism and Public Relations. She is a virtual intern for the U.S. Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid.

Open Education Week 2015

Cross-posted from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy blog.

As we celebrate Open Education Week 2015, we look forward to implementing the new U.S. Open Government Partnership National Action Plan to promote Open Educational Resources and building momentum for Federal open education initiatives. The availability of high-quality, low-cost digital content in our schools is a priority for the President and a pillar of his ConnectED Initiative. Fostering the use of Open Educational Resources in our nation’s K-12 and post-secondary classrooms can help meet this goal.

Open Educational Resources are learning tools that reside in the public domain or that have been released with intellectual property licenses allowing their free use, continuous improvement, and modification by others. Open Educational Resources can deliver two great benefits for students: lower cost in obtaining the educational resources needed to succeed in school, so that students and schools can redirect funds for other instructional needs; and access to a universe of high-quality, updated content that can be tailored minute-by-minute by educators to reflect new developments and current events.

The Department of Labor has been at the forefront of advancing Open Educational Resources.  The Department recently developed new granting policies for its Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Training Grant Program (TAACCCT), which aims to expand post-secondary education and training capacity.  For the first time, the Department has incorporated requirements for grantees to openly license all educational content created with grant funds, promoting institutional collaboration and sharing of Open Educational Resources. Since the program’s inception, grantees at over 700 colleges have launched over 1,500 new programs of study, including degree and certificate programs that prepare students for careers in emerging and expanding industries. By requiring all content, curricula, and learning objects created using TAACCCT funds be licensed using a Creative Commons Attribution license, the Department of Labor is investing in the world’s largest collection of Open Educational Resources.

The Department of Education’s Learning Registry project is another example of Federal efforts to increase the discoverability of open educational content, particularly for use in K-12 contexts, by aggregating and sharing data about online educational content through an open source platform. Several states, including Illinois and California, have built portals that allow educators to search, save, and share Learning Registry resources from institutions including the Smithsonian, National Archives, and NASA.

In the coming year, we will continue to build on these successes at the Federal level as we look to promote the use of Open Educational Resources. Current plans include launching an Online Skills Academy to leverage free and openly-licensed learning resources and using technology to create high-quality, low-cost pathways to degrees, certificates, and other employer-recognized credentials. In addition, the Department of State will conduct three overseas pilots to examine new models for using Open Educational Resources to support learning in formal and informal contexts. The results of the pilots will be shared later this year at a workshop – co-hosted by the Department of State, the Department of Education, and the Office of Science and Technology Policy – on challenges and opportunities in open education.

We look forward to working together to advance these initiatives.

Sara Trettin is Digital Engagement Lead in the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education.

Dipayan Ghosh is a Policy Advisor in the Office of the Chief Technology Officer at the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Beyond High School Diplomas: Educators Aim Towards College Completion

Nationally, just 18 percent of all 9th graders complete four year degrees within 10 years. There needs to be a real sense of urgency as we move forward in creating and sustaining greater college access and completion for all students, which is why it is so important that we address this issue at the federal, state and local levels.

As we prepare students to succeed as adults, we know that most will need advanced learning beyond their high school diplomas to get good jobs. For some, that may mean completing professional certificate programs. Others will go on to earn advanced degrees. Schools and community partners need to track and support students’ completion of advanced learning beyond high school as the new aspiring standard for public education.

This was the most important message that we took away from the “On Track to College Completion” forum hosted by the U.S .Department of Education’s regional office in Chicago on Feb. 25.  

As educators from Rockford Public Schools 205, we had the chance to connect with leaders of other school districts and partner organizations from 17 communities spanning Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin. Led by Greg Darnieder, senior advisor for college access to Secretary Duncan, we discussed current innovations and practices for college access and completion.

This forum began with an authentic example of how Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has progressed toward that new standard. The district’s efforts over the past nine years have led to a near-doubling of its percentage of 9th graders earning a four-year college degree within 10 years of starting high school, according to research from the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research (CCSR). Darnieder, Jenny Nagaoka, deputy director of CCSR, and Aarti Dhupelia, chief officer for college and career success for CPS, discussed how the district’s progress came about, and what it means for other schools and students throughout the country.

Since 2011, RPS 205 has worked with community partners to redesign our five high schools into college and career academies that are better preparing students for college and the workforce. This effort is beginning to reap great results: More 9th graders are on track to graduate in 4 years, attendance has improved and graduation rates have increased.

The session helped us make some much needed connections. For example, RPS 205 is working with Alignment Rockford, a community partner, to develop a site-based scholarship program modeled after the Kalamazoo Promise, which funds college for Kalamazoo Public Schools graduates. This forum gave us the opportunity to meet Janice Brown, founder of the Kalamazoo Promise and get her direct insights about starting a similar initiative.

The session was also a catalyst for sharing information about effective college access and completion resources. They included data sources like the National Student Clearinghouse and the Illinois Department of Employment Security, which may be used to collect and monitor college completion rates, as well as the federal GEAR UP program, which helps low-income middle and high school students to enter and success in post-secondary education.

This is very rewarding work, but it’s not easy. We’re all experiencing some of the same challenges to prepare our students for success in the 21st century economy. Exchanges like this one are vital to leverage best practices and to collaborate to develop new strategies.

David Carson is Executive Director of College and Career Readiness for Rockford Public Schools 205 and Janice Hawkins is Principal of Guilford High School in Rockford Public Schools 205.

#AskDrBiden About Community Colleges at SXSWedu 2015

Cross-posted from the White House blog.

Dr. Biden meets with students during her Community College to Career bus tour in 2012. (Gary Fabiano/U.S. Department of Labor)

Dr. Biden meets with students during her Community College to Career bus tour in 2012. (Gary Fabiano/U.S. Department of Labor)

Community colleges have entered a new day in America. They lead the way in preparing graduates in the fields of green technology, health care, teaching, and information technology — some of the fastest-growing fields in America and the rest of the world. Community colleges are able to meet the needs of their community and provide students and workers with the education and skills they need to succeed and to get good-paying jobs to support their families.

That’s why I am excited to attend SXSWedu 2015 to discuss the importance of community colleges to America’s future. I have been an educator for more than 30 years, and I have spent the last 20 years teaching at community colleges. And, as Second Lady, I have traveled across the country to see firsthand the critical role community colleges play in creating the best, most-educated workforce in the world.

Before I get to SXSWedu 2015, I want to hear from you. Starting today, you can tweet your questions about community colleges to me @DrBiden using the hashtag #AskDrBiden. Then, watch here on Tuesday, March 10 at 9 a.m. CST/10 a.m. EST as I respond to some of your questions during a live event moderated by a community college student.

Dr. Jill Biden is a full-time community college English professor and Second Lady of the United States.

Overcoming Challenges through Perseverance and the Arts

Ledbetter creates inspirational artwork in his Studio and Media Art class to encourage students to consider the effects of bullying and to inspire hope. (Courtesy Thomas Ledbetter)

Thomas Ledbetter creates inspirational artwork in his Studio and Media Art class to encourage students to consider the effects of bullying and to inspire hope. (Courtesy Thomas Ledbetter)

At age two, Thomas Ledbetter was diagnosed with Autism and was not expected to be able to speak; however, thanks to a great support system and an incredible amount of work on his part, he managed to overcome many of the obstacles in his life. Thomas experienced bullying throughout elementary and middle school and decided to channel these negative experiences and feelings into positive graphic design.

Thomas had this to say about his piece, “Everyone in this world is like a flower: biologically similar, but personally distinct and beautiful in [their] own way… However these flowers will sometimes go through experiences that will take away their personal happiness, joy.” Using this metaphor, Thomas hoped to create something that, “shed light on the complex and often emotionally ambiguous nature of bullying,” and something that would, “give people hope and help them embrace who they are despite the obstacles standing in their way.”

“I created my poster for my Studio in Media Art class. Many people have seen the printed copies of the poster I made in the hallways of the school and have told me how amazing they thought it was and asked me about what the art means. After explaining the message I wanted to convey, they said that they really liked the poster’s meaning and loved how inspiring and poignant it was. I’m glad to see that people understand the message I wanted to send and that they’re being inspired by my poster little by little.”

Thomas’ father, Tom Ledbetter, is a member of the local Board of Education and has been working to increase the surrounding community’s awareness of bullying and how it impacts students. He constantly advocates for, “more comprehensive policies that include educating students and staff about bullying prevention; that create effective counter measures to prevent bullying; and that include consequences that are appropriate, educational and effective deterrents to bullying.”

Thomas’ plans for the future include, “teaching others that people who have a disability [or a difference] are worth just as much as anyone else and that all people have value.” Most of all, he wants to help others overcome adversity and find joy and happiness in their lives.

“My dream job is to become a psychologist, more specifically a neuropsychologist, and even though I want to specialize in helping people with neurological disabilities, I want to be able to help anyone and everyone as a psychologist and give people the ability to see their own value and worth one small step at a time.”

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) is strongly committed to preventing bullying of all students, including the 6.75 million public school students with disabilities. ED’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) investigates and resolves complaints of disability discrimination at public schools. OCR recently issued guidance to public schools to help school officials understand their federal responsibilities to respond to bullying of students with disabilities. This guidance builds on anti-bullying guidance the U.S. Department of Education has issued in recent years concerning schools’ legal obligations to address bullying, including ensuring that students with disabilities who are bullied continue to receive a free appropriate public education. OCR issued a fact sheet for parents (available in Spanish) that addresses key points of the recent guidance and provides information on where to go for help. To learn more about federal civil rights laws or how to file a complaint, contact OCR at 800-421-3481 (TDD: 800-877-8339), or ocr@ed.gov.

Sarah Sisaye is with the Office of Safe and Healthy Students at the U.S. Department of Education.

The Importance of Early Education for All

It’s time for reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. There’s no doubt change is necessary to ensure our children’s civil rights to a high quality education. While the media has focused on the annual assessments mandated by NCLB as being key, I want to highlight another critical improvement needed: high-quality preschool.

We are a family that can speak to the benefits of high-quality preschool for every child. We have lived in the north, south, east, and west. Our whole lives have been about education and overcoming struggle and “the odds.”

LaToyaSmithFamily

(Photo courtesy LaToya Smith.)

I am an African American born to teenage parents thirty years ago in Michigan. Yet, now that I have my own children, I understand how fortunate I was to attend a Montessori program at age three and then preschool at my public elementary school at age four. Since then, excelling in school has been second nature to me. I was high school valedictorian and magna cum laude at a top major university.

I was nearly finished with college in Los Angeles when I got married and my husband and I started our family. I wanted my children to have high-quality preschool like I did, but it came at a steep price. We found the same to be true from California to Mississippi — North Carolina and Michigan.

Three years ago we moved to Washington, D.C., where our three-year-old son could go to school with our five-year-old daughter each day. We were so relieved. He was excelling in many ways — cognitively, socially, and emotionally.

I could see the results of his early learning at home. He was more conversational. He spoke to us about his friends at school. He has learned the alphabet, to count, the names of basic shapes and colors, and so much more. He talked about the stars and the galaxy, and D.C. as the nation’s capital. He knew of President Obama, the names of the First family, including their pets, and even their address — “1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW!” He asked about visiting the White House.

He was excited about learning!

Having my son enrolled in high quality preschool definitely prepared him for kindergarten. I believe he will have a strong start like I did, a life-long thirst for learning, and achieve anything he wants. Regardless of what type of money a child’s parents make, their cultural background, their native language, where they live, as Americans, they should have access to the same high quality education early in life. Why? Because we know it’s what’s best for them, their future, their family’s future, and thus the future of our country. It would be a disservice not to include preschool in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Latoya Smith is the Founder and President of Pros4Kids and Chair of the DCPS Early Childhood Education Policy Council.

Creating a New Federal Education Law: Have you asked me?

As a Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow, I have the unique opportunity to view education through two perspectives—first, as a teacher in metro Atlanta and, second, as an employee of the U.S. Department of Education. Having the privilege to serve in this dual capacity comes with a great responsibility to question what I see every day in education and to share my truth.

With the proposed reauthorization for the nation’s education law—the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)—moving at light-speed in the world of policy, it left me wondering what my ESEA looks like.

ESEA was introduced in 1965, but most people know the law by the name it received in 2001 when it was updated—we call that renewal the No Child Left Behind Act. There are two proposals to create a new ESEA in Congress right now—a bill from Congressman John Kline and a discussion draft of a bill from Senator Lamar Alexander. They are similar, and they have enormous implications for teachers.

I wonder what would happen if lawmakers had the courage to ask the people in the trenches what their ESEA would look like. Novel idea, right?

What are the thoughts of those educators who, day-in and day-out, cross thresholds into buildings where impressionable young minds are nurtured and supported? How would this law impact the people who spend hours pouring care, sowing seeds of inspiration, and imparting knowledge into our future leaders?

I wonder what would happen if lawmakers asked how teachers feel about the need for higher expectations. I wonder if they know my true feelings about rigorous, college- and career-ready academic standards and what it would look like if all of us stayed the course long enough to see results before cutting ties.

I wonder what would happen if we had the ability to leave the “this too shall pass” mentality behind and focus on results for kids. I wonder if policymakers think about the investment that states and districts have made—with taxpayer dollars—to try to implement standards that will catapult our students into a realm where they can easily compete with any student, anywhere. Imagine that.

My school is one where some students are homeless, and the attendance zone includes children who come from three drug rehabilitation centers as well as transitional housing centers. I wonder what would happen if my school was faced with losing Title I funds, which come from ESEA. The House bill on Capitol Hill right now cuts funding for education.

If we lost resources, would that mean that the extra teachers—who my principal hires to reduce class sizes and provide more concentrated interventions to our most vulnerable students—would be eliminated? The students with the greatest needs should receive the most resources. This is a simple truth.

I wonder, as a teacher and a parent, should high-quality early childhood education for all children be a luxury or the norm? Countless amounts of research show that the return on investment for early learning is huge. Yet, the benefits of providing all our children with access to quality early learning is yet to be realized in this country, and I wonder if proposals in Congress do enough to expand preschool opportunity.

All of these things matter. These are the reasons that I get up at 5:30 every morning to drive to Dunwoody Springs Elementary School. These are the reasons that I applied to be a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the Department of Education. These things represent my colleagues, my students, and my own two beautiful, brown baby boys.

But I am just one voice, so we need to hear from you too. Tell us what your ESEA looks like. How does it affect you, your school, your class, or your child:

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ESEA reauthorization impacts us all. I hope that policymakers and others who are central to this effort will listen to educators, and what they hope will be in their version of a new ESEA—a law that takes into account their experiences, their truths, and that expands opportunity to all children.

Patrice Dawkins-Jackson is Teaching Ambassador Fellow who continues to serve from Dunwoody Springs Elementary School in Sandy Springs, GA.