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
Secretary Duncan teamed up with John Hill, director of the National Rural Education Association, during a call to both journalists from rural communities and education writers who cover rural schools on Wednesday, January 26. The Secretary and Hill discussed the importance of fixing the federal mandates of No Child Left Behind that do not work for rural schools and answered questions from the media about the challenges and opportunities that rural schools have.
Secretary Duncan was joined by by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) in a national press call on January 26. The Senators, who currently serve on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, which Harkin chairs, called for fixing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, commonly known as No Child Left Behind.
Secretary Duncan with students at Crystal Lake Elementary School
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s professional basketball experience is well known, but Lakeville, Minnesota students were thrilled to experience his team playing on a very different “court” during his visit to Crystal Lake Elementary School with U.S. Rep. John Kline and Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius in suburban Minneapolis Friday.
The three visitors each joined a team of Crystal Lake 4th graders for a rousing game of Jeopardy during science class, with Duncan among the “McFlurries,” Kline with the “Earthquakes,” and Cassellius a member of the “Ice Cubes.” Water was the theme of the classroom version for the longtime TV game show.
Kline’s team went first, choosing the category “waters to waters.” The question was, “type of precipitation depends on _____ outdoors?” The Earthquakes correctly responded with “temperatures,” and erupted with high-fives as they were awarded 50 points.
Tensions were thick for the McFlurries as they chose “water vocabulary” as their category and got the question, “crystals of ice can also be referred to ________?” Just seconds before the buzzer was sounded, Duncan’s teammate Tyler correctly blurted-out, “Snow!”
“That was clutch, boy!” exclaimed the Secretary to his beaming teammates as they celebrated the victory.
In response to students’ questions afterwards, Duncan confirmed that he does get to play basketball with the President. He also discussed the tougher aspects of his position, noting that he gets “a lot of homework” every night, including hefty reading assignments.
The Secretary, Kline and Cassellius also visited a 2nd grade English Language Learners classroom, which read a welcome letter to the visitors.
Duncan preceded the school visit with a speech hosted by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce to business, community and political leaders about the important link between education and economic prosperity, and how the President’s agenda supports reform on the K-12 level and makes college affordable for students.
“I think we’re fighting for our nation’s economic security,” he said, noting earlier that about 25% of all students currently choose to drop-out of high school, although there are virtually no good job opportunities available to them. “In a globally-competitive, knowledge-based economy, those with low skills are going to lose. Those communities with high skills and a highly-educated workforce will be successful.”
At an education stakeholders’ meeting today, Secretary Duncan announced the launch of an online tool designed to help educators, parents, students, and policy makers “have a much more transparent conversation” about what is working—and what is not working—in American education today.
Called the Education Dashboard, the site offers all 50 states’ pre-kindergarten-12th grade data around 16 key indicators that are tied to the nation’s educational goals, as well as some measures of states’ postsecondary systems. Specifically, the indicators focus on measuring progress toward realizing the President’s vision that by 2020, the United States will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.
Deputy Secretary Tony Miller explained at today’s launch that the key indicators in the Dashboard were selected because they are relevant, reliable, and measurable across all 50 states. While some of the data have been seen before, much of the information is new, including information about which state systems allow student achievement data to be incorporated into evaluations for teachers and disparities in funding between high- and low-poverty schools.
According to Miller, the data indicate that “we are a far cry from where we need to be” and show a “wide variation in what we see in both performance and trends” between states. Secretary Duncan described the Education Dashboard as a starting point, a tool to “increase the visibility and increase the debate” about best practices and how to results for students.
The Dashboard can be found at http://dashboard.ed.gov/. The Department welcomes feedback on the new site, which users can submit via links throughout the Dashboard.
Laurie Calvert is a Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow on loan from her position teaching at Enka High School in Buncombe County, N.C.
Secretary Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner, and D.C.'s Wilson High School Assistant Principal Charlette Butler
We cannot underestimate the impact of the American Opportunity Tax Credit on 9.4 million students nationwide. This tax credit will make college more affordable for our future business leaders, scientists and teachers and help families struggling with rising tuition bills and growing student loans.
—Secretary of Education Arne Duncan
Expanded tuition tax credits for working class families, larger Pell Grants for low-income students, and making student loans more affordable for all college graduates were on the docket today as U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan joined U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner, D.C.’s Wilson High School Assistant Principal Charlette Butler, nearly 50 Wilson seniors, their teachers, parents and community leaders at the University of the District of Columbia for a town-hall style forum on the Administration’s efforts to ensure all Americans reach their college dreams. (See photos.) Wilson High School, the District’s largest comprehensive high school and boasting an impressive 90% college-going rate among graduates, is currently housed on the UDC campus while a $100 million renovation is being completed at the high school campus.
The town hall forum commenced with Secretaries Duncan and Geithner extolling the benefits of the recently extended and enhanced American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC). The credit, initially created under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and extended through 2012 as part of the Tax Relief, Unemployment Reauthorization and Job Creation Act of 2010, provides families with college tuition expenses the opportunity to claim a tax credit of up to $2,500 each year for up to four years per student. For students claiming the maximum credit for these four years, the AOTC will provide up to $10,000 to help pay for the cost of college.
The credit equals 100 percent of the first $2,000 of expenses, and 25 percent of remaining expenses, up to a total credit of $2,500. The maximum available credit for 2011 would cover about 80 percent of tuition and fees at the average two-year public institution, or about a third of tuition and fees at the average four-year public institution. In addition, the AOTC is partially refundable, meaning that low-income families with no federal income tax liability can receive up to a $1,000 tax refund to help defray college expenses.
Secretary Geithner unveiled a new Treasury Department analysis showing that 9.4 million families with college students across the nation will benefit from over $18.2 billion in tax relief to help make college more affordable and accessible in 2011. He further noted that in the District of Columbia, the Wilson Class of 2011 and nearly 16,000 families of enrolled college students across the city will be eligible to file for the tax credit this year. For parents and students struggling to pay college tuition and fees or budgeting for future student loan debt, this partially-refundable tax credit will make a positive difference in their lives.
Wilson students and parents inquired about the range of federal initiatives to assist low-income families with the rising costs of college and engaged the Secretaries on the Administration’s historic increases in the Pell Grants program as well as access to Federally subsidized student loans and college work-study programs; discussed actions taken to simplify and streamline the FAFSA form and federal financial aid process and pressed the Secretaries for opinions on the future passage of college access legislation for immigrant families like the DREAM Act. Angela Benjamin, a physics teacher at Wilson, and feted at the forum by Secretary Duncan for her recent designation as one of the seven most effective teachers in DC Public Schools, asked about the benefits of the recently expanded income-based repayment program (IBR) and whether its existing loan forgiveness provisions for teachers would be “grandfathered in” for experienced educators like herself. To the delight of the crowd, Duncan replied, “Angela, me and you lose on this one”.
However, for millions of America’s future college graduates and our nation’s future public servants, IBR will make a huge difference in their personal finances and ability to afford their student loan payments. Under IBR, borrowers who assume loans after July 1, 2014 will be able to cap their student loan repayments at 10 percent of their discretionary income. If they make their payments, all borrowers will have loan balances forgiven after 20 years. Teachers, nurses and other public servants will have any remaining student loan debt forgiven after 10 years.
To read more about what Secretary Duncan and Geithner wrote about today’s visit and the benefits of AOTC, see their blog post.
Secretary Arne Duncan joined Labor Secretary Hilda Solis today to announce a historic $2 billion investment in helping meet the President’s goal of having the “most-educated, most-competitive workforce in the world by 2020″: the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training Grant Program.
In our globally competitive, knowledge-based economy, employers need workers with postsecondary skills, credentials, and degrees. Our postsecondary institutions must dramatically increase their completion rates and build partnerships with industry to ensure that the skills that are being taught are the skills employers need.
These grants also represent one of the largest expansions of access to high-quality job training and educational resources in history. They are designed to use evidence to replicate success, build institutional capacity to use evidence to increase outcomes, and build a body of evidence to inform investment decisions. All learning materials created in this process—from full courses to textbooks—will be made freely available online. Additionally, institutions can apply to develop a new generation of high-quality, cutting-edge shared courses and resources to help students learn more quickly at lower costs.
This program is being run by the Department of Labor, in close collaboration with the Department of Education.
Speaking at the Aspen Institute’s Education Innovation Forum and Expo on January 20, Secretary Duncan discusses roadblocks to education innovation with Aspen President and CEO, Walter Isaacson. “It’s not a technology challenge,” Arne Duncan explains. “It’s a courage challenge.”
On Tuesday, some of our country’s most creative minds converged in Washington, DC for the first Investing in Innovation Fund (i3) Project Directors’ Meeting.
The meeting brought together project directors and staff from school districts and non-profits who last year won grants as part of the Department’s i3 competition – a grant program that supports local efforts to start and expand research-based innovations that help close the achievement gap and improve outcomes in high need districts. In September, the Department announced that 49 school districts, non-profit organizations, and institutions of higher learning were selected from a pool of nearly 1,700 applicants to receive a share of the $650 million fund.
The two-day event, organized by the Office of Innovation and Improvement, provided an opportunity to recognize the innovative projects successful applicants are undertaking, to facilitate networking among grantees, and to provide training in grant management and evaluation design.
Attendees participated in a number of breakout sessions and heard from a great line up of speakers including a surprise guest, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
Addressing the packed hall, Secretary Duncan talked about the tremendous hope he felt being in a room with so many bold education innovators. “All of you represent the great hope of where our country can go,” he said. “If the collective force of this room can be replicated, we will really be able to break through as a country.”
Secretary Duncan also discussed the Department of Education’s aspiration to be a powerful engine of innovation, rather than a compliance-driven bureaucracy. He acknowledged that Washington doesn’t have all of the answers, and that many of the best ideas will come from communities across the country.
That’s why i3 grants were awarded to bold applicants like the Beaverton School District, which (in partnership with Young Audiences Oregon and Southwest Washington, Young Audiences Arts for Learning National Office, and the University of Washington) will use its grant to develop and implement a novel academic program focused on improving achievement in literacy, learning, and life skills among high-need students.
Speaking Thursday at the Aspen Institute’s Education Innovation Forum, Secretary Duncan continued to argue that the current global environment “compels us to challenge the status quo” with innovative thinking. “The education sector has been slow to transform how we do education,” he said. He encouraged innovators at the forum to bring forward products and services that help students to learn better and faster, indicating that there will be a market for products that help schools to achieve dramatically better results. “There are lots of folks who can do well by doing good,” he said. “We’re changing the rules of the paradigm.” (See photos from the Aspen Institute’s Education Innovation Forum and Expo.)
To learn more about other winning i3 applicants, check here (PDF, 285K).
Thirteen years ago I made a huge leap, from running a small and moderately successful software development company to teaching high school physics. My family and friends thought I’d lost my mind. Maybe I had, because I’m still crazy about my job! Despite the longer hours and lower pay, I have never regretted my decision to become a high school teacher. I know that I make a larger contribution to society than I ever did in my business. The software product I designed that was once considered cutting edge is now obsolete, but the love of science I help instill in my students, and the skills I help them acquire, will never be obsolete. As a teacher, I truly touch the future.
I am glad I entered my new career as an educator with more than a little fear and trepidation, because that made me a willing and humble learner. Second career teachers have much to gain from experienced teachers when we step into that first classroom. In the courses I took at the University of Tennessee during the certification process, I learned about Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, which heavily influences me today. I learned about motivation, constructivism, and inquiry. During my year-long internship, I watched my highly skilled mentoring teachers inspire their students, and me. During my first years as a teacher, I learned more than I ever thought possible about teenagers: their goals, dreams, problems, and promise. More experienced teachers guided my growth, and became my fast friends. I felt I was an integral part of an important community of learners, and I was totally hooked. And to make it even better, I was having fun, fun, fun.
I hope that, as a former scientist and business owner, I have something unique to offer to my teaching colleagues and my students. I know from experience what qualities I want to see in any employee I consider hiring. I understand more than a little about the application of academic know-how in the workplace. I know that broadly applicable problem solving skill is more important than specific content knowledge. I understand that energy, creativity, open-mindedness, social skill, and other measures of personal effectiveness are often more important than acquired knowledge. In business, it was critical that I plan effectively and prioritize my goals, and I can speak convincingly to my students about the importance of never procrastinating. I understand that the ability to perform as a professional cannot be predicted very well by an exam. I know that learning does not end when one exits formal education, but continues throughout one’s professional career. My experience in prior careers heavily informs and influences my teaching.
Winning the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching has inspired me to consider additional ways I can contribute to this most important calling, the teaching of young people. It is apparent that the teacher’s voice needs to be heard outside of the classroom. I was actually told by a well-meaning colleague that I was “selling myself short” when I decided to become a high school teacher. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Teaching requires more from me than any other previous professional endeavor has. I intend to communicate more with the business world about the challenges faced by the classroom teacher. Because I’ve been in both worlds, I feel I could be a credible voice in the business community. I want to make those in the larger world understand the meaningful ways they could contribute to education. I would also love to work with those considering teaching as a second career, to inspire them to pursue this most important goal. I want to encourage those that have what it takes to take this leap and touch the future.
Peggy Bertrand, one of the winners of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, is a physics teacher in Tennessee.
In advance of today’s White House Tribal Nation’s Conference, the U.S. Department of Education hosted a town hall event with more than one hundred tribal leaders and representatives from across the country. Among the participants were tribal council representatives, presidents of tribal colleges and universities, and officials from the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) and the National Indian Education Association (NIEA).
In the town hall format, Secretary Duncan and members of his senior staff engaged directly with tribal officials on a range of educational issues important to Indian Country.
After brief introductions and an opening prayer, a short video was played in which senior staff talked about the lessons they learned at tribal consultations during the past year – in places like Shawnee, Oklahoma; Pine Ridge, South Dakota; and Window Rock, Arizona. You can watch the video at the bottom of this page.
Secretary Duncan started a dialogue by discussing the Department’s ongoing efforts to improve educational opportunities and outcomes in Indian Country.
Seated in a circle with tribal officials and Department leaders, he spoke candidly about the educational challenges Native American communities face – high dropout rates, low matriculation rates, teacher turnover – and about the Department’s commitment to addressing them in the coming months and years.
Secretary Duncan and his senior staff also highlighted key steps the Department is taking to accelerate educational gains among Indian students – including the launch of a new pilot program that will strengthen the role of tribal education agencies, and the appointment next year of a senior level advisor within the Department who will focus on improving education in Indian Country.
Following the Secretary’s remarks, tribal leaders and several senior staff talked in depth about how the Department can more effectively partner with tribal officials to ensure that all Native American children get the high quality education they deserve.
Secretary Duncan calls on a "remarkable group" to help him take advantage of the "huge opportunities" that exist in this country to take education to the next level. "Education may be the one thing—for all the craziness we see in Washington—where we may be able to see great gains in the coming year," he told the 2009 PAEMST award winners.
Today the 2009 Presidential Awardees for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching Education offered Education Secretary Arne Duncan advice about how to leverage the “huge opportunities” that exist in our country to move forward with education reform.
Soliciting their input on a range of issues, Duncan called on teachers whom he described as “the best of the best” to share their ideas to improve the quality of education that students get in our country. Citing recent PISA scores released by the OECD this month that rank the United States as 17th in science and 25th in math, Duncan said, “This is about more than just math and science. It’s about our country’s strength and long term stability.”
Recommendations from the teachers focused on improving teacher preparation and professional development and on holding parents and students accountable for their part of a child’s education. When Becky Jones, of West Virginia, called for more rigorous training of elementary math and science teachers, affirmations of “Yes!” reverberated through the audience of PAEMST winners. Awardee Camsie Matis, a science teacher and Einstein Fellow from New York, offered to work with other PAEMST winners to mentor other math and science teachers. Other winners offered to write up their teaching ideas, which the Department will post soon on the blog.
Laurie Calvert, Teaching Ambassador Fellow
Laurie Calvert is an English Teacher in North Carolina and a Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow.
There’s been a great conversation happening online today on the National Day of Blogging for Real Education Reform. I appreciate how many educators have taken time to share their ideas thoughtfully with the rest of us. (See good lists of today’s posts here and here.) At the U.S. Department of Education, we’ve been listening in. I am convinced that the best ideas come from classrooms and communities across the nation. I am committed to supporting the great work that is happening in states and districts.
Today’s conversation has focused on many issues that I think we can all agree on:
We need to raise expectations for America’s students and challenge them with standards that will prepare them for success in colleges and careers.
We need to elevate the teaching profession so teachers get the respect they deserve and the tools and time to do their jobs well and continually improve.
For education reform to be “real,” we need to focus on what works. We need consensus on the right way to measure students’ progress. And then we all need to hold ourselves accountable—and recognize those educators who are especially effective.
We need to involve parents as active partners in their children’s education so they can support the hard work that teachers do in the classroom.
(If you’re curious about how the Obama administration’s Blueprint for Reform of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) proposes to empower educators, check out our “Built for Teachers” brochure at ED.gov. It was written by teachers, for teachers.)
Throughout my tenure as secretary of education, I’ve met with outstanding teachers who are positively transforming the lives of children every day, often in unbelievably difficult situations. For them, a child’s background—which can include poverty, a language barrier, a disability, a dysfunctional home—presents a challenge but isn’t used as an excuse.
One of the many places where I have seen real education reform at work is George C. Hall Elementary School in Mobile, Ala., which has transformed from being one of the lowest-performing schools in Alabama into a national model for achieving success in challenging circumstances. I visited George C. Hall at the start of the school year on my Courage in the Classroom bus tour.
Also on that tour I saw great examples of students learning about the civil rights movement from members of their community in Portland, Me., and had a candid conversation with teachers about how to improve testing and teacher compensation in Hattiesburg, Miss. I’ve also seen tremendous leadership from union leaders and district leaders in Hillsborough County, Fla., Prince George’s County, Md., and other districts. These leaders are moving beyond the battles of the past and finding new ways to work together.
I am more optimistic than ever about our nation’s education system, because I see the courage and commitment of teachers, parents, and educational leaders to making real reform happen every day. But I believe we are at an important crossroads. We’ve reached consensus on many important issues, but we in education spend too much of our time and energy focused on issues that divide us. We forget how important it is to move forward on what we agree on.
On this National Day of Blogging for Real Education Reform, I hope we can agree on one thing: Let’s move forward on solutions– and not get sidetracked by debates that will slow what is real progress.