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.
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 email@example.com.
Sarah Sisaye is with the Office of Safe and Healthy Students at the U.S. Department of Education.
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.”
(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.
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:
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.
From sea to shining sea, our country is home to gorgeous landscapes, vibrant waterways, and historic treasures that all Americans can enjoy. But right now, young people are spending more time in front of screens than outside, and that means they are missing out on valuable opportunities to explore, learn, and play in the spectacular outdoor places that belong to all of them.
President Obama is committed to giving every kid the chance to explore America’s great outdoors and unique history. That’s why today he launched the Every Kid in a Park initiative, which calls on each of our agencies to help get all children to visit and enjoy the outdoors and inspire a new generation of Americans to experience their country’s unrivaled public lands and waters. Starting in September, every fourth-grader in the nation will receive an “Every Kid in a Park” pass that’s good for free admission to all of America’s federal lands and waters — for them and their families — for a full year.
Because we know that a big reason many kids don’t visit these places is that they can’t get there easily, we will also help schools and families arrange field trips and visits by providing key trip-planning tools and helping to cover transportation costs for schools with the greatest financial need. For example, the National Park Foundation — the congressionally chartered foundation of the National Park Service — is expanding its program to award transportation grants for kids to visit parks, lands, and waters. The President has also requested new funding in his FY 2016 Budget to support youth education programs and to support transportation for school outings to parks for students from low-income areas.
And because the great outdoors is one of our greatest classrooms, we are making sure that more kids can benefit from the wide range of educational programs and tools that already exist. For example, a number of our agencies participate in Hands on the Land, a national network connecting students, teachers, families, and volunteers with public lands and waterways. And the National Park Service is launching a revised education portal featuring more than 1,000 materials developed for K-12 teachers, including science labs, lesson plans, and field trip guides. With this kind of support, we can help our children become lifelong learners — both inside and outside the classroom.
Designating New National Monuments
Along with the Every Kid in a Park Initiative, the President today announced he is designating three new national monuments to permanently protect sites unique to our Nation’s extraordinary history and natural heritage. In fact, the President has protected more acres of public lands and waters through the Antiquities Act than any other administration. Together, these actions will help us make sure young people will get to experience for themselves some of America’s greatest assets. We hope that these efforts mean that next year, fourth-graders in Chicago will learn how activists in their city prompted the 20th century labor and civil rights movement at the Pullman National Monument, that an elementary school class in Colorado will discover the spectacular landscape of Browns Canyon National Monument, and that kids in Hawaii will learn more about the tremendous value of our civil rights at the Honouliuli National Monument. And decades from now, those children will get to share America’s heritage and wonder with their own families.
The Pullman National Monument will preserve and highlight America’s first planned industrial town, and a site that tells important stories about the social dynamics of the industrial revolution, of American opportunity and discrimination, and of the rise of labor unions and the struggle for civil rights and economic opportunity for African Americans and other minorities. Photo courtesy of Office of State Historic Sites, Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.
Browns Canyon National Monument in Colorado will protect a stunning section of Colorado’s upper Arkansas River Valley. Located in Chaffee County near the town of Salida, Colorado, the 21,586-acre monument features rugged granite cliffs, colorful rock outcroppings, and mountain vistas that are home to a diversity of plants and wildlife, including bighorn sheep and golden eagles. In addition to supporting a vibrant outdoor recreation economy, the designation will protect the critical watershed and honor existing water rights and uses. Photo by Bob Wick, U.S. Department of Interior, Bureau of Land Management.
Honouliuli National Monument in Hawaii permanently protects a site where Japanese American citizens, resident immigrants, and prisoners of war were held captive during World War II. Located on the island of Oahu, the monument will help tell the difficult story of the internment camp’s impact on the Japanese American community and the fragility of civil rights during times of conflict. Photo by R.H. Lodge, courtesy Hawaii’s Plantation Village.
Arne Duncan is Secretary of Education.
Sally Jewell is Secretary of the Interior.
Tom Vilsack is Secretary of Agriculture.
Jo-Ellen Darcy is Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works.
Kathryn Sullivan is Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere at the Department of Commerce, NOAA.
According to the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention (CDC), teen dating violence includes the physical, sexual, psychological, or emotional violence that may occur within a relationship. In many cases, teens in abusive relationships experience severe psychological conflict which can lead to changes in their behavior. Some warning signs to watch out for include increased levels of aggression, isolation from family and friends, and erratic mood swings. If you suspect a teen is experiencing an abusive relationship or are unsure of the warning signs, the National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline will offer immediate and confidential support.
Every year, about one in 10 high school students report being hit, slapped, or physically hurt on purpose by their partner. While anyone can be affected by domestic violence, teens are more likely to be affected by the long-term effects of abuse: depression and anxiety, drug and alcohol addiction, suicidal tendencies, and an increased risk for victimization during college. It can be easy to overlook some behaviors like teasing or name calling as “normal” in a relationship, but these acts can escalate to abuse or more serious forms of violence.
ED, its federal partners, and a growing number of schools nationwide are committed to increasing awareness of teen dating violence by educating the public about healthy relationships. We recognize that the real work of preventing teen dating violence and sexual assault happens at the local level, in schools, in homes, and in community centers across the nation. Schools must clearly communicate that they will not tolerate violence of any kind, will respond to any students who report it, and will hold offenders accountable.
We remain dedicated to vigorously enforcing compliance with Title IX and the Clery Act – laws that make our schools safer. The following resources provide more information to support schools and communities in their efforts to create safe, healthy learning environments and identify, investigate, and remedy sexual assault, domestic violence and teen dating violence:
If you’re planning on going to college this fall, you will definitely want to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®). The FAFSA not only gives you access to grants and loans from the federal government, but many states and schools also use information from the FAFSA to award their financial aid.
If you are considered a dependent student for the purposes of the FAFSA, you are required to provide information about your parent(s) on the application. (Note: The dependency guidelines for the FAFSA are set by Congress and are different than those used on your tax return.) You might be wondering which parent’s information to report or what you should do if your parents are divorced, remarried, or if you live with another family member.
Don’t worry; we can help you figure out whose information to include. For a quick visual reference, check out our infographic, Who’s My Parent When I Fill Out the FAFSA?
Or, if you want to more information, here are some guidelines. Unless noted, “parent” means your legal (biological or adoptive) parent.
If your parents are living and legally married to each other, answer the questions about both of them.
If your parents are living together and are not married, answer the questions about both of them.
If your parents are divorced or separated and don’t live together, answer the questions about the parent with whom you lived more during the past 12 months. If you lived the same amount of time with each parent, give answers about the parent who provided more financial support during the past 12 months or during the most recent year that you actually received support from a parent. If you have a stepparent who is married to the legal parent whose information you’re reporting, you must provide information about that stepparent as well.
The following people are not considered your parents on your FAFSA unless they have adopted you: grandparents, foster parents, legal guardians, older brothers or sisters, and uncles or aunts.
The media center at GHS was packed for “FAFSA Fill-in Day”. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)
I wish all my mornings could be like this – visiting schools filled with excited students, as they explore their options and take action to turn their college dreams into realities.
Students, teachers and administrators packed the Media Center at Gaithersburg High School (GHS) in Gaithersburg, Maryland as they prepared for their “FAFSA Fill-in Day” to encourage seniors to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) at school, and find out more information regarding other financial aid options, and scholarships. They’d been kind enough to ask a team of us from the Department to join them – and there was no way I was going to miss out on the experience!
School spirit filled the room. A sea of blue Gaithersburg apparel adorned the crowd in the Media Center, with the phrase “Blue Crew” emblazoned on shirts and sweaters. Multiple flags from around the world hung from the ceiling, celebrating the diversity of the Gaithersburg High School community.
In the crowd, a familiar face stood out to our Department of Education (ED) staff. GHS English Resource Teacher and former Teacher Ambassador Fellow, Ms. Jennifer Bado-Aleman, welcomed attendees and announced that Federal Student Aid representatives were on hand to answer questions about the application. As seniors began filling out their forms, I was invited to a roundtable where students described their experiences in using the FAFSA, shared their college and career aspirations, and even opened up about some higher education fears.
“I always knew I wanted to go to college. Unfortunately, I didn’t look into it until last year,” one senior explained. “We need to start a plan by our freshman year,” interjected another. When I asked about the college information they needed, some mentioned: information about which majors specific colleges offer, guidance on how much to emphasize extra-curricular activities on their college applications, and how much their average SAT scores would count in how colleges considered candidates. Others said they took a step further and first looked at careers they wanted to pursue, before narrowing down their list of schools with a strong focus in that field.
They were pleased to learn that ED had released our College Ratings framework. President Obama asked our Department to design a ratings system that will give parents and students more information about their college choices by recognizing institutions that focus on accessibility, affordability and completion. The students also offered their opinions on how and by which measures colleges should be rated, including the quality of their majors, their graduation rates, and the employment rates of their graduates. Others chimed in on ratings options as the conversation continued:
“Financial aid to students,” Blake volunteered.
“Internship placements,” added Joanne.
“Tuition rates,” said Hakeem.
Parker thought colleges should be rated on “freshman retention, and the employment of their graduates. [Colleges] need to consistently be living up to their expectation.”
Chatting about the FAFSA. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)
I was glad to be able to share the many ED resources and tools that help students guide and focus their college search, like the College Navigator, which allows students to search for colleges based on majors, institution type and geography, and the College Scorecard, which gives students access to more information about a school’s affordability and value.
Paying for college was another important theme; and several students expressed fears about student debt. “My siblings all went to college and now struggle to pay their loans,” DJ noted. Blake told me he’d been considering out-of-state schools, but didn’t want to be saddled with years of loans to repay.
I’ve heard from many students who worry about how they will manage their student debt. That is why President Obama outlined a set of actions that can help borrowers better manage their student loan debt, including expanding his Pay As You Earn plan so more borrowers can cap monthly payments at 10 percent of their income. In addition, those that enter public service full-time may have their loans forgiven through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.
Since President Obama took office, our Department has made key investment in federal student aid such as creating the $2,500 American Opportunity Tax Credit, raising the maximum Pell Grant award by $1,000, and bringing millions of dollars back into the hands of students by eliminating billions of dollars of subsidies to banks.
The first step in receiving federal student aid is filling out the FAFSA, just like so many of the students I visited in Gaithersburg did. Getting help to pay for college is the best investment any student can make in their future. So, go for the green! Learn more and help us spread the word by visiting StudentAid.ed.gov.
Ted Mitchell is the U.S. Under Secretary of Education.
Back in March of 2012, ED’s Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) announced the release of this innovative tool to help guidance professionals, school administrators, and practitioners track and subsequently increase FAFSA completions at high schools across the country.
Over time, we enhanced the Tool to not only provide FAFSA submission and completion totals for high schools during the current year but also totals for the same time the year before and other key benchmark dates.
The 2015 version provides updated information on a weekly basis during the peak FAFSA application period. This means that counselors and administrators will have access to current data so they can more accurately gauge the impact of outreach efforts and identify successful local strategies.
Before we developed the tool, the only source of data on FAFSA completions that high schools had was from self-reported student surveys, which were highly unreliable.
Now, educators have real-time access to reliable data to track FAFSA submission and completion and gauge their progress in increasing FAFSA completion. This is incredibly important because studies have indicated that FAFSA completion correlates strongly with college enrollment, particularly among low-income populations.
We encourage high schools to use this data as one component of a comprehensive college access and completion program within their school. To help educators, counselors, and others with this and other aid awareness and loan repayment efforts, we’ve created the Financial Aid Toolkit.
The Toolkit consolidates financial aid resources and content into a searchable online database, making it easy for individuals to quickly access the information they need to support their students. It also provides counselors with access to valuable resources, such as how to host a FAFSA completion workshop. We’re also encouraging folks to help us get the word out about FAFSA completion on their social media accounts – and we’ve even written some sample posts to help get the conversation started!
The Tool is a critical component of President Obama’s FAFSA Completion Initiative and this year, local completion efforts are getting a boost from Mrs. Obama’s “FAFSA Completion Challenge,” a video competition the First Lady recently launched to encourage more high school students to complete the FAFSA.
FAFSA data isn’t just for determining eligibility for federal student aid. Many states, institutions, and private organizations rely on the FAFSA to determine eligibility for non-federal sources of aid.
Last year, over one million high school seniors did not submit the FAFSA, which made them ineligible for federal grants and loans, as well as most state-based and institutional aid. When students complete the FAFSA, they help themselves and make a positive contribution to their school, communities, and states.
The promise of the FAFSA Completion Tool lies in its simplicity and its use of current data to effectively measure the success of FAFSA completion efforts. Last year, it provided FAFSA submission and completion data for the senior classes at over 25,000 high schools in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and all U.S. territories.
For more information on the Tool and to search updated FAFSA Completion Tool data by high school for the senior class of 2015, visit StudentAid.gov/FAFSA-HS-Data.
Todd May is Federal Student Aid’s Director of Communication Services and Greg Fortelny is the Acting Director of Federal Student Aid’s Customer Analytics Group.
There are school deadlines, state deadlines, and a federal deadline. An easy rule of thumb to remember is: You should submit your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) based on the earliest due date possible.
If you plan to attend college between July 1, 2015, and June 30, 2016, and you want to be considered for financial aid, your deadline could be as early as February!
You don’t have to wait until you or your parents file your taxes to submit your FAFSA; you can estimate your tax information and update your FAFSA later.
For college deadlines, visit the school’s website or contact its financial aid office.
Check out the table below for information about states with first-come, first-served programs and information for states and territories that require checking in with your school’s financial aid office. If your state is not listed in the table below, click here to find your state’s FAFSA deadline.
For more specific deadline information from your state of legal residence, use this easy FAFSA deadlines tool.
April Jordan is a Senior Communications Specialist at Federal Student Aid.
Juan Rodriguez is a 33-year-old son of migrant farm workers and the father of three school-aged children. He recently earned an associate’s degree in welding technology from Lake Washington Institute of Technology (LWIT).
Before enrolling in the training program, Juan had been laid off from his job and was relying on unemployment benefits and federal food assistance to support his family. After graduating, Rodriguez was hired as a quality manager at Skyline Steel’s manufacturing mill. He has since moved his family to Texas, where he works as a welding engineer for Kiewit Offshore Services and earns more than $100,000 a year.
He credits the education and training he received at LWIT with helping him reach his dream of securing a good job that allows him to support his family without public assistance.
Rodriguez is just one of many Americans who has benefited from high-quality career and technical education (CTE) programs, which is why the American Technical Training Fund is so important.
President Obama recently proposed a bold plan to make two years of community college free for all Americans who are willing to work hard toward graduation. In addition to America’s College Promise, the President’s FY 2016 budget request includes a proposal to create a new $200 million American Technical Training Fund that would expand innovative, high-quality technical training programs that are aligned with the workforce needs of employers in high-demand industries.
This new fund would enable the creation of 100 technical training centers across the country, modeled on the Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology (TCAT), which have achieved impressive program completion and job placement rates with many non-traditional postsecondary students.
The President’s proposal comes at a time when earning a college certificate or degree has never been more important. In fact, some level of postsecondary education or training has become a prerequisite for joining the middle class. Labor market projections show this trend is only going to increase. By 2020, economists predict that nearly two thirds of all jobs will require some level of education and training beyond high school. However, less than 60 percent of Americans 25 years and older currently have this level of preparation. We also know that the U.S. needs to dramatically improve the skills of its adult population. In the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD)most recent Survey of Adult Skills, about 36 million working age adults in the U.S. scored at the lowest literacy and numeracy levels. We are risking America’s ability to be economically competitive if we ignore the call to increase the education and skills of our adult workforce.
If authorized by Congress, the American Technical Training Fund will help more community colleges and other postsecondary institutions develop and scale high-quality training programs aligned with the needs of employers in high-demand industries, ensuring more hard-working students will have access to the kinds of life-changing opportunities that Juan Rodriguez and countless others like him have benefited from.
Johan Uvin is the Acting Assistant Secretary of the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE) and Mark Mitsui is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Community Colleges at the U.S. Department of Education.
The room was electric. Just a year ago, back in my own classroom, this scene would have been unimaginable to me.
I watched as hundreds of teachers, overflowing with formidable drive, shared innovative ideas and engaged in deep discussion on teaching and leading in Denver, Co. The same dynamic played out weeks before in another packed venue in Louisville, Ky.
What drove these teachers to Denver and Louisville?
Despite diverse backgrounds, each was prompted by a desire for authentic, meaningful opportunities for leadership in their schools and beyond – without leaving their classroom and students.
And Teach to Lead is the vehicle through which so many teachers are fighting to make their leadership dreams a reality.
Born of a partnership between the Department of Education and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, Teach to Lead is spotlighting and scaling up promising projects across the country to expand teacher leadership opportunities and to improve student achievement.
To accomplish these goals, Teach to Lead is hosting three regional summits – in Louisville, Denver and, soon, Boston. Later this year, local leadership labs will help select projects culled through the summits and the online community at Commit to Lead to develop further.
The moments I experienced in Louisville and in Denver have filled me with certainty: this effort will lead to real change for teachers and kids, and these amazing teachers (alongside principals and advocates who support them) will be the ones to lead it.
I felt this certainty as I watched 2015 Principal of the Year Jayne Ellspermann help teachers at the summit understand how to develop an alliance with their principals as part of their efforts to lead.
I felt this certainty when State Teachers of the Year shared tried and tested advice about how to make their voices heard with administrators and policymakers alike.
And, more than anything, I felt this certainty when I heard the voices of energetic, empowered teachers like Sean from Oklahoma, who said, “It’s so powerful to be in a room with all of you … and to know that we share the same struggles. That gives me the motivation to continue moving forward.”
The expectation of Teach to Lead is not that every idea will be successful. We know that, in some places, the appetite or room for real teacher leadership is lacking.
But, Teach to Lead is not about any single idea. It’s not even about the summits.
It’s about helping teachers build a sense of empowerment and the skills to lead adults as confidently as they lead youth. And it’s about equipping teachers to replicate great leadership in their communities so that teacher leadership is not just an idea in the halls of the Department, in the heads of aspiring teacher leaders, or in forward-looking states and districts like Iowa, Hawaii, Kentucky, Denver, and Long Beach.
Teacher by teacher, we’re building a movement – one that says our nation’s hard-working educators should undeniably have a voice in the decisions that shape their work and lives; that they should lead their schools, districts, and states; and that their expertise shouldn’t be honored simply with words, but with actions.
And all of this leads me back to my own path as a teacher leader.
I loved teaching. My students constantly amazed me with their intellect, spirit, and joyful approach to learning. But I felt stymied by the limitations of my role. Though my classes and school were high achieving, my ability to make a difference was obstructed by the walls of my classroom and the attitudes of others toward me – that I was “just a teacher.”
So, I left. And, though serving the President and Secretary Duncan is an immense honor, I paid a heartbreaking price.
This is the real power of Teach to Lead. I know there are many teachers out there like me – who yearn to use their leadership skills and to be heard by decision-makers. Our nation is losing an unquantifiable resource as teachers make the tough choice to leave the classroom year after year.
It’s time that we recognize that the toughest problems facing education today cannot be solved without teachers, their input, or their leadership. We must build systems at the federal, state, and local levels to equip teachers with the resources and support to develop as educators and as leaders.
In these efforts, Teach to Lead is undoubtedly moving the needle. And as the movement heads to Boston and beyond, I feel incredibly lucky to play a part.
Kelly Fitzpatrick is a confidential assistant in the Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development at the U.S. Department of Education.