Call with Education Grantmakers

On January 31, the Department of Education hosted its quarterly conference call for education funders. Secretary Arne Duncan addressed the Department’s priorities as highlighted in the President’s State of the Union address, providing more details on the Administration’s initiatives to promote college affordability, a robust and respected teaching profession, and career-oriented education and training that will lead to employment. The Secretary also discussed the progress of Race to the Top states and the effective involvement of the funder community in support of statewide efforts, as well as the application process for states pursuing ESEA flexibility.

Read the transcript, or listen to the call Audio icon.

Secretary Arne Duncan Thanks Teachers

Teachers are doing “the most important work…in our country today,” Arne Duncan says in a new video for the Teaching Channel that is timed to the Thanksgiving holiday.

The Secretary also encourages Americans to thank a teacher on Nov. 25 as part of the “National Day of Listening” organized by the StoryCorps oral history project. On this day — the day after Thanksgiving – Americans of all ages are invited to talk with or about a favorite teacher.

Watch the Teaching Channel video of Secretary Duncan thanking teachers.

Find out more about StoryCorps’ National Day of Listening and the National Teachers Initiative, which was announced at the White House in September.

Screenshot of Secretary Duncan's Teaching Channel video

Answers to Teachers’ Questions About ESEA Flexibility (aka Waivers)

Teacher Question (TQ): What is ESEA Flexibility, what some are calling Waivers?
Answer: ESEA Flexibility is the opportunity for states to seek relief from some of the provisions of the No Child Left Behind law that aren’t working. Until Congress passes a law that fixes NCLB, states are being given the chance to request waivers of certain portions of the law. To qualify for flexibility, states must have plans in place to better prepare our children for college and careers.

TQ: Who can apply for ESEA Flexibility? My state? My school? My union?
A: The federal Elementary and Secondary Education law (now referred to as No Child Left Behind) gives states the responsibility for monitoring compliance with the law. Under the ESEA flexibility plan, only a state can apply. However, states will be creating flexibility plans on behalf of themselves and their districts. States will be encouraged to work closely with their districts to ensure a comprehensive plan that truly increases the quality of instruction and improves academic achievement for all students. Currently, more than 40 states have indicated their intent to request ESEA Flexibility.

TQ: Does ESEA Flexibility require states to make judgments and decisions about my teaching based on a single test?
A: No. Just as a good teacher would never assess a student one time to determine a grade, schools and districts must have multiple ways to assess a teacher’s effectiveness. Under the ESEA flexibility plan, states must use multiple measures of professional practice in teacher evaluation plans, such as portfolios, meaningful observations, peer reviews, parent and student surveys, or other locally developed instruments. The measures must include, as a significant factor, data on student growth. In some cases, this will be means data from state assessments).

TQ: Does testing change under ESEA Flexibility?
A: States will be required to continue measuring students’ achievement annually in at least reading/language arts and math, and to measure students’ achievement in science once in elementary school, once in middle school, and once in high school. However, rather than mandating that all students reach an arbitrary achievement bar on a low-quality test, the flexibility focuses on ensuring that all students are making progress by requiring higher-quality assessments that measure student growth and truly reflect whether or not a student is on track for success in college and a career.

TQ: What will ESEA Flexibility do to change the curricula that teachers use at my school?
A: No Child Left Behind created unintentional incentives for states to water down and narrow their curricula. ESEA Flexibility does not require states or districts to adopt specific standards or a particular curriculum, but it supports states and districts in moving towards higher standards and a meaningful, rigorous and well-rounded curriculum.

With more rigorous standards in place, students can expect more individualized instruction. Furthermore, ESEA Flexibility will promote a well-rounded curriculum by basing accountability decisions on student growth and progress in addition to other measures of student learning and school progress beyond traditional assessment results. States will be able to assess a school’s success by looking comprehensively at how schools are serving their schools and communities in areas like school climate, access to rigorous coursework, and providing a well-rounded education.

TQ: Does ESEA Flexibility mean that states are given a pass on accountability for closing the achievement gap?
A: No. Both the President and the Secretary of Education believe strongly that education is the civil rights issue of our generation. The Department of Education exists to ensure that every child has access to a quality education. States that do not demonstrate a commitment to closing achievement gaps will not be granted flexibility.

Transforming Schools into Community Hubs

Cleveland, OH

Turning struggling schools into vibrant community hubs was the focus of Acting Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education Michael Yudin’s Wednesday morning stop on the back-to-school bus tour.

Yudin visited Lincoln-West High School (home of the Wolverines), met with students and teachers, and hosted a roundtable discussion with fifteen principals working to transform some of Ohio’s persistently lowest-achieving schools, with federal dollars from the School Improvement Grants (SIG) program.

Yudin’s tour was led by students from the school’s themed academies: international studies, wraparound services, and computer programming and software development. The school also houses academies that provide support for ninth-graders and immigrant families.

The principals who joined the roundtable lead a wide range of schools, covering grades P-12. All are in their first or second year of a three-year SIG grant. As the principals shared their vision, challenges, and successes thus far, Yudin connected their work to Ohio’s future success – and the nation’s. “All of you are strong leaders, and I applaud your commitment to improving outcomes for your students,” he told the group.

The panel discussion brought out several strategies that can help turn around low-performing schools, including offering students extended learning time, improving students’ access to educational technology tools, using data to drive instruction and decision-making, improving instructional practices, and building strong teacher-led accountability teams. All the principals noted the importance of creating safe, welcoming learning environments for students and their families.

“These school teams are working to build positive cultures and climates for learning,” Yudin said. “They are coordinating all the supports and resources they can, to make these schools the strong centers – the beacons of hope – of their communities.”

Teachers: If Your Students Think They Can’t Afford College…

Secretary Arne Duncan watches a student in Denver, Colorado complete her FAFSA form online.

Secretary Arne Duncan watches a student in Denver, Colorado complete her FAFSA form online.

Point them to these FAFSA Resources!

As a high school English teacher in a rural section of North Carolina, I often found that my students avoided college preparatory classes because they believed, erroneously, that a college education was out of the question for them financially.

It didn’t help when I brought out pie charts demonstrating that of the 30 fastest-growing occupations in America, half require a bachelor’s degree or more. For them, the expense of tuition, fees, books, and board made college seem like a pipe dream.

If I could change one thing for these students, after working at the U.S. Department of Education since July 2010, it would be to let them know that even if they are the first person in their family to seek higher learning, there is money to finance their college dreams.

The federal government awards $150 billion annually in financial aid to students who might not otherwise be able to afford college. This aid takes the form of federal grants (like the Pell Grant, which doesn’t have to be paid back), federal work-study programs, and low-interest federal student loans. For students who have the desire to attend and the skills to succeed, college is absolutely possible, regardless of race, gender or income.

During class, I would also want to point my students to the following resources that can help them to make a plan to pay for college.

Current high school seniors should, if they haven’t already, go to the Federal Student Aid FAFSA site and apply for aid. The federal government has a very generous 18-month timeframe to submit the FAFSA (from January 1 of every year through June 30 of the following year) but many states and postsecondary institutions have earlier deadlines, so it is critical that high school students apply as soon as possible after Jan. 1 of their senior year. The FAFSA application form as been recently redesigned so that it is easier to complete.

Students in grades 6-11 can go to the FAFSA Forecaster, which enables them to predict what kinds of financial aid they may qualify for so that they can begin college planning.

All students may also be interested in the College Preparation Checklist, which is a “to do” list, starting with elementary school, to help students prepare academically and financially for education beyond high school. Each section is split into subsections for students and parents, explaining what to do and which publications or websites might be useful to them.

The College Board also houses a College Matchmaker that enables students to enter in characteristics of schools that interest them—such as size, location, majors available, etc.—and be matched with schools that meet their needs.

Teachers wanting to help motivate students to think about college may want to direct students to “I’m Going to College” on Federal Student Aid’s site. This site includes testimonials and a motivational video.

Students having questions or needing assistance completing the FAFSA can call toll-free: 1-800-433-3243.

At the end of their time with us, all teachers want our students to learn more, to go to a college, university, or community college. We want them to have satisfying work and financially secure futures. Pointing them to these resources is one step in the right direction.

Laurie Calvert
Laurie Calvert is a Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow on loan from Buncombe County, N.C.

Tools to Help Students Become Financially Literate!

Join educators and students across America to participate in the National Financial Capability Challenge, where high school students can learn about how to take control of their financial futures. Lesson plans in the Challenge can help students make positive decisions about spending, saving, borrowing, and protecting against risk.

The program, which includes a free, voluntary, online exam, runs through April 8, 2011 and includes valuable information for students to learn about their finances. Certificates will be given to participating educators, and to top scoring students who take the online exam. For more information, go to challenge.treas.gov and check out the video message from Secretary Duncan encouraging teachers to sign up.

Linda Yaron
Linda Yaron is a Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow on loan from Los Angeles, Calif.


Click here for an accessible version of the video.

Deadline for the Race to the Top Commencement Challenge is March 11

Cross-posted from the White House blog.

The Race to the Top Commencement Challenge is back and we’re asking public high school students from across the country to tell us about ways their school is preparing them for college and a career. In return, we’ll make sure one high school has a graduation they’ll never forget – including a commencement address by President Obama himself.

President Obama and our Administration believe education is key to winning the future. In order to ensure our long-term economic success, we need to focus on out-educating and out-competing the world. That means helping to prepare students today for the jobs of tomorrow. It means equipping students with the skills they’ll need to succeed in the 21st Century economy – encouraging them to be creative, to solve problems, to work together to design solutions to important problems.

The Race to the Top Commencement Challenge is just one of the many ways we’re encouraging young people to actively engage in their educational success. Last year, over 1000 schools applied. This year, we hope to continue encouraging applications from students from across the country. The deadline has been extended to Friday, March 11 to ensure that all interested schools have the chance to apply. Applications are available at WhiteHouse.gov/Commencement.

Apply today and don’t miss this opportunity to have an unforgettable high school commencement.

Melody Barnes
Assistant to the President and Director of the Domestic Policy Council

At Labor-Management Conference, “C” Is for Collaboration — and More

Participants at the Labor-Management Collaboration Conference in discussions

DENVER—If we had a dollar for every time someone used the word “collaboration” at the Department of Education’s labor-management conference that wrapped Wednesday, the Department might not have needed financial support from the Ford Foundation to underwrite this first-ever gathering.

Collaboration, we learned through the conference’s plenary panels, breakout sessions and sidebar conversations, can take many forms in a community’s P-12 public school system. At its most basic, it relies on mutual respect among parties who occasionally have divergent viewpoints—school boards, superintendents and teachers unions and associations. At a minimum, everyone plays nice even when they disagree.

In its more advanced form, collaboration entails tackling challenges together as soon as they arise, or—as one participant put it in a tweet from the conference—wrestling with issues, not with each other. These districts cooperate to tackle such difficult issues as teacher evaluation, school design and schedules and compensation and benefits.

And in those school districts where a collaborative spirit is the most ingrained, stakeholders who don’t personally sit at the negotiating table are nevertheless engaged in order to tap their experience and know-how; in those situations, it’s not just their representatives coming up with all the solutions or making all of the decisions.

In addition to “collaboration,” there were two other “c” words we heard frequently in Denver:

  1. Commonality. The 150 school districts invited to this conference came from 40 states. About a third were from urban areas, another third from suburban and a third from small towns or rural areas. Some of the districts serve affluent communities, while others work with a very poor population. In total, they serve 4 million students. But regardless of their demographic and geographic differences, they found in discussing their experiences that they had quite a bit in common. “One thing I’ve learned is we’re not alone,” said Michael Denker, the president of the school board in Wagner, S.D. “Other people have the same problems you do—that’s for sure.”

  2. Consistency. In the places where adults collaborate well to serve students, it was not unusual to hear that those adults had grown up in the community—some attended the very same public schools they lead today—or they had otherwise been working alongside each other for years. Where there is low turnover among school superintendents, union leaders and school board members, it’s understandably easier to build trusting, enduring relationships. “This stuff takes time,” said Anne Bryant, executive director of the National School Boards Association, a conference co-sponsor. “It takes trust between administrators, school board members and teachers.”

In Secretary Duncan’s closing remarks to the 450 school superintendents, board leaders and teacher representatives who voluntarily came to Denver for the conference on Advancing Student Achievement Through Labor-Management Collaboration, he employed two more words that start with “c.” He praised the attendees for their courage, and he asked for their commitment to take what they learned back home and get to work on forging a new labor-management relationship that has students at the center.

“I think this is the start of something historic,” Arne said, “and I think you guys collectively are going to help lead the country where we’re going to go.

“My only request to you,” he continued, “is that you go ‘all in’ on this. We can’t hold back… We’ll do everything we can [at the Department of Education] to be a good partner.”

Similar pledges were made in the closing session by the leaders of the conference’s other co-sponsoring organizations—the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, the National School Boards Association, the American Association of School Administrators, the Council of the Great City Schools and the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.

Watch a summary of Wednesday’s proceedings in this short video (below). See photos from the first day of the conference.


Click here for an accessible version of the video.

All of the labor-management conference’s plenary sessions were webcast, and you can view archived video on the Department’s Ustream channel. A variety of blog posts and materials related to the conference are available on ED.gov.

Conference on Labor-Management Collaboration

On Tuesday, Feb. 15, 150 school districts from across the United States will meet in Denver for a conference to address this question: in education, how can we transform the relationship between management and labor into a strong partnership for improving instruction and student achievement?

At this first-of-its-kind conference, participants will hear from other superintendents, school boards, and teacher union leaders who are working together to redefine the labor-management relationship in their communities. They’ll be asked to take a fresh look at their own unique relationship, and the policies and agreements that affect it. They’ll be invited to develop their own plans for redefining that relationship in their schools. Most importantly, they will do this critical work as a team; in order to attend the conference, each district is sending its superintendent, school board leader and the leader of its union or teachers association.

The event is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education in partnership with the American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association, National School Boards Association, American Association of School Administrators, Council of the Great City Schools, and the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. Funding to support the conference is being provided by the Ford Foundation.

Materials developed for the Feb. 15-16 conference are now available on ED.gov. You can find the agenda, presenters and attendees, the welcome message from conference sponsors, and principles of student-centered labor-management relationships at the “Advancing Student Achievement Through Labor-Management Collaboration” website. The site will be updated with additional materials during the conference and after.

We invite you to visit the “Advancing Student Achievement Through Labor-Management Collaboration” website!

ED Staff

Michigan Class Queries Cunningham on ED Policy

Cunningham standing and talking to students seated at a table

After speaking with Tracey Van Dusen's class, Peter Cunningham engages "Rising Scholar" students brought by Dr. Victor Kennerly and Tyrone Weeks to a presentation of Ann Arbor Public Schools' innovative programs, such as their lab school. The goal of the program is to address achievement disparities by reaching out to a diverse stream of under-served but high achieving students.

When I began my year as a Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow, it was a priority of mine to bring my students into the experience as much as possible. My hopes were exceeded last month when my Advanced Placement Government and Politics students got a first-hand lesson in federal education policy from Assistant Secretary for Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education, Peter Cunningham.

After a morning visit with Detroit Public Schools, Mr. Cunningham traveled to my school — Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on January 21 . After giving us a brief description of his job, the Assistant Secretary talked about the Department’s work to recruit and reward high quality teachers and to support education reform taking place in schools across the country. He spent most of his time answering their questions, which ranged from inquiries about No Child Left Behind to whether he knows Rahm Emanuel.

I was proud of my students’ thoughtful comments about the importance of listening to student input when evaluating teachers, their concerns about “teaching to the test,” and the need for arts education.

“They’re more than just classes for me,” said one of Pioneer’s music students. “It’s who I am.”

While in Ann Arbor, Mr. Cunningham and I also conducted a round table conversation about education policy with teachers, and earlier the same day, we visited several schools in Detroit. I appreciate Mr. Cunningham’s visit, which provided a unique opportunity for me to visit and learn more about the Detroit schools and to give my students and colleagues a chance to contribute to our national conversation about education. When the bell rang to signal that class was over for my AP students, everyone was disappointed. After the kids applauded, Mr. Cunningham responded, “That was fun!”
And it was.

Cunningham looking over the shoulder of students

Peter Cunningham discusses with Western International High School students the real world applications of science experiments in understanding the damage of last year's Gulf oil spill. The high school is one of 34 Detroit Public Schools recently approved by the Michigan Department of Education to receive federal School Improvement Grant funds for turning around its academic achievement.

Cunningham talking with a teacher with Tracey Van Dusen standing on the left in a black coat

Cunningham and Van Dusen observe a 7th grade pre-algebra class at Burton International School for a first-hand look at Detroit Public Schools' new academic plan that provides students a daily "double dose" of reading and math. (Photos courtesy of Detroit Public Schools).


Tracey Van Dusen
Tracey Van Dusen is a Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow teaching AP Government and American Studies at Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

The Next Generation of Teachers

Cross-posted from the White House blog.

President Obama and I believe that education is the civil rights issue of our generation. It is the one factor that can prevent a person’s zip code from determining his or her destiny. During Black History Month, it’s important to reflect on where we must go as a nation to ensure that all children, regardless of race or ethnicity, are given the world-class education they deserve.

Yesterday at Morehouse College in Atlanta, I shared a stage with some great leaders who reminded me that the struggle for education has always been a matter of civil rights and that now more than ever it is imperative that we work to ensure all children have access to an excellent education. I joined Congressman John Lewis, director Spike Lee, Morehouse President Dr. Robert Franklin, and MSNBC’s Jeff Johnson as we spoke to a crowd of nearly 800 young men – both high school and college students – who are deciding their career trajectory. All of us onstage encouraged these high-achieving men to answer the call to serve their country in the classroom.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Close Up

Education Secretary Arne Duncan speaks on a panel at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia

The statistics paint a clear picture of where we need to go. Nearly 35% of our students in this country are Black or Hispanic, but less than 2% of our nation’s teachers are Black or Hispanic men. We need to change this so the teachers in our schools reflect the diversity of the students that they teach. It is for this reason, and because we must ensure that we have a new generation of great teachers, that the U.S. Department of Education launched the TEACH campaign this past September. The mission of TEACH is to increase the number, quality, and diversity of teachers in the classroom as we see the baby boomers retiring over the next ten years.

Morehouse College was the most appropriate place for our discussion. A century-old institution dedicated to the education of Black men, the College has an amazing history of producing civil rights leaders who became change agents for our country. The passion in the air was palpable as students shared their dreams for their future careers. I was inspired by the stories of several young men who are choosing to become teachers so that they can fill what they feel is a void of male role models in schools. Dr. Franklin reminded us of the words of perhaps the most famous Morehouse alumnus, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who said, “We can all be great, because we can all serve.”

Dr. Franklin urged the students of Morehouse College, and to young African-American men everywhere, to answer the call to serve by being a teacher. After yesterday, I’m hopeful that many of them will answer that call.

For more information on teaching, and how you can start your pathway to the classroom, visit www.teach.gov.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Wide View

Education Secretary Arne Duncan speaks on a panel at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia

Arne Duncan

Rural Charter School Makes Education Real for Students

https://cmi.ed.gov/news/photos/rural-charter-school-makes-education-real-students

The community of Walton, Kansas, has embraced a charter school as a tool for designing an educational program that is meaningful in their distant rural town.

Using a charter school grant from the U.S. Department of Education, the Walton 21st Century Rural Life Center has fully integrated agriculture and project-based learning throughout its curriculum and established partnerships between local farms.

But agriculture is only one of many possible career paths for students at Walton, said Principal Natise Vogt. They learn science while raising chickens and gathering eggs, math and angles while making planter boxes, and both literacy and computer skills while researching wind energy generated by the turbine outside their windows.

Walton has used the flexibility of the charter program in innovative ways to add relevance to the curriculum for his rural students. Students learn by making tangible connections between their education, the community, and the larger global economy. As a result, Walton has seen community involvement and pride increase—along with higher test scores.

“Kids can be excited about learning, and want to learn when what they’re learning makes sense to them,” said Principal Vogt.

The President’s fiscal year 2011 budget requests a $54 million increase in the Charter School Grants Program, seeking $310 million and representing another step toward meeting the Administration’s commitment to double financial support for the program. Where it makes sense, grants from the charter schools program can serve as a tool for innovation in rural communities.

John White, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Rural Outreach


More information about the Charter Schools Program is available from the Education Department’s Office of Innovation and Improvement at: http://www.ed.gov/programs/charter/index.html.

Watch a video telling the story of this compelling rural charter school.

View more photos.