How Would You Improve Federal Websites?

How would you like to see federal websites improved?

Share your ideas. Vote on others. Join the National Dialogue on Improving Federal Websites.

The discussion is Sept 19-30. It grows out of President Obama’s Campaign to Cut Waste and is part of his administration’s commitment to improving customer service.

During the first week, more than 250 ideas, 850 comments, and 4,000 votes came in from people across the country. Among the topics: improve content, readability, design, search, accessibility, online services, and social media.

Your ideas can make a difference. They’ll be considered by a task force developing recommendations for managing federal websites more efficiently, strengthening federal web policy, and improving the online customer experience.

Join the discussion. Help change the way our government does business online.

Winning the Future: Advanced Research Projects Agency for Education

President Obama will talk about “Winning the Future Through Education” this afternoon at 3:15 pm ET. Watch the speech live.

One topic will be the proposal in his 2012 budget to create an Advanced Research Projects Agency for Education (ARPA-ED).

ARPA-ED will fund projects run by industry, universities, or other innovative organizations. Projects will be selected based on their potential to transform teaching and learning in ways that the Internet, GPS, and robotics have transformed commerce, travel, warfare, and the way we live our daily lives.

Read more about ARPA-ED.

Teaching Fellows Ask: What’s the Best Professional Development?

During our teaching careers, most of us have experienced worthwhile, meaningful professional development. But we’ve also wasted our time sitting in a workshop that has no relevance to our practice and that robs us of precious time to plan, grade papers, and have a life.

Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow Pam Smith offers two examples of the former: “meaningful, productive professional development opportunities” that have enriched her teaching and learning.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC has quality, timely teacher workshops each summer, as well as enriching fellowship experiences. The viewing time in the Museum as well as the interaction with Holocaust survivors are both priceless components of the multi-day professional development. Due to my participation in both Belfer summer conferences as well as the Museum Teacher Fellow program, my life changed and I grew as a Holocaust educator and world citizen. The USHMM workshops are conducted throughout the country. Check the website for spring and summer workshops in DC as well as Pennsylvania (March 10), Indiana (April 15, 2011), and Iowa (June 15, 2011).

Another excellent annual teacher conference and summer program is offered at the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum, in Independence, Missouri. Mark Adams, the Education Director and webmaster, and Tom Heuertz, the Associate Education Coordinator, plan a week-long event featuring topics related to the Truman era as well as world issues. I have attended conferences related to the Cold War, Presidential decision making, 1948, and World War I. This year’s conference will be held July 11-July 15 with the topic “Kansas, Missouri and the Civil War: 1854-1865.” The conference agenda can be found at . Application information is located at

Having read Pam’s suggestions, we would like to invite other teachers to share examples of specific professional development experiences that have refreshed, empowered, and motivated them. Please send your recommendations!
2010-2011 Teaching Ambassador Fellows

Duncan Testifies on 2012 Budget Proposal (Mar 1 webcast)

Secretary Arne Duncan will testify before the Senate Budget Committee about the Department of Education’s fiscal year 2012 request tomorrow, March 1, at 10 a.m.

Duncan’s testimony will highlight the critical importance of continued investment in education as well as the tough choices the Department has made to be fiscally responsible.

The testimony will be webcast live at

For more information about the Education Department’s FY 2012 budget, please visit

Community College Summit in Philadelphia

ED is holding a regional community college summit in Philadelphia on February 28.

Secretary Duncan and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis will participate in the summit, which is the first of four regional meetings being held as follow-up events to the White House Summit on Community Colleges in October 2010.

The Philadelphia summit — “Challenges, Solutions, and Commitments” — will bring together 150 participants from 15 surrounding states, representing community colleges, business, industry, philanthropy, labor, state and local governments, as well as students. The summit focus is “Transitioning Adult Learners to Community Colleges and the Workforce.”

The morning session will be streamed live (from 9:00 am – 12:15 pm ET).

The remaining three regional meetings will be held around the country during the spring. The purpose of the meetings is to identify promising practices for increasing completion at community colleges.

Duncan has described community colleges as the linchpin for meeting the President’s national goal of once again leading the world in college completion by 2020.

While they’re in Philadelphia, Duncan and Solis will tour the 1199C Training and Upgrading Fund’s Learning Center, a joint labor-management partnership that provides job skills training in the health fields to over 2,000 adult students every year.

ED Staff

Where Engineering Is the Most Popular Discipline

Last week President Obama visited a school in Baltimore County, MD, where engineering is the most popular discipline.

At Parkville Middle School, teacher Susan Yoder explains…

“Our students don’t just learn about STEM concepts; they apply them by designing their own roller coasters to demonstrate the laws of physics and taking water samples from nearby Chesapeake Bay tributaries to practice environmental science.”

Read Yoder’s blog post about the President’s visit to her class.

Empowering Youth, Meeting the Challenge

Cross-posted from the Treasury Notes Blog.

As an English teacher in an inner-city Los Angeles community for seven years, I have seen the importance of empowering young people with the skills they need to build a foundation for long-term financial security.

Knowledge is power.  And in the case of the National Financial Capability Challenge, knowledge about money is a powerful tool to help equip students to take control of their financial futures.

The Challenge, which is administered by the U.S. Department of the Treasury and U.S. Department of Education, includes a voluntary online exam with awards for top-scoring students. It is designed to help teach young Americans to make smart decisions about earning, spending, saving, borrowing, and other critical financial skills. To help prepare students for this exam, teachers will have access to a new “educator toolkit” – released today and available here – that includes a wealth of powerful lesson plans.

These lesson plans will help students build a variety of financial skills, such as:

  • Identifying positive and negative spending behaviors
  • Developing a personal budget, including a savings plan and a spending log
  • Opening, monitoring and balancing checking and savings accounts
  • Identifying the costs and benefits of purchasing insurance and investing in higher education
  • Weighing the advantages and disadvantages of using credit
  • Identifying the impact of interest rates and fees on the price of a credit card purchase
  • Identifying methods to minimize the risk of identity theft

Teachers can select lessons from a menu of options and adapt them to fit the unique needs and learning styles of their students, such as adding culturally relevant connections to lessons and creating class projects. Additionally, for the first time, this year’s toolkit will include interactive online lessons and Spanish-language materials.

Last year, more than 76,000 students participated in the National Financial Capability Challenge. And, hopefully, even more will take part this year. Teachers can go to and join the Challenge this spring to help empower their students through financial awareness and education.

Linda Yaron is Teacher Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education

Leaders from 40 States Expected at Conference on Labor-Management Collaboration

Leaders from 40 states representing more than 1 million African American students are expected to participate in the conference on labor-management collaboration Feb. 15-16 in Denver.

On Feb. 16, Secretary Duncan and national education leaders will discuss the future of labor-management collaboration in a call with reporters.

For more information, including an updated list of the 150 school districts expected to participate in the conference, please see the Feb. 14 press release.

ED Staff

The Promise of Communities of Practice

A great part of the answer to how we dramatically improve education in our country lies not only in the types of strategies we pursue, but also in how education researchers and practitioners share information with each other.

Recognizing the value of building systems for peer-to-peer professional learning among teachers and other education leaders, a new blog from the Office of Innovation and Improvement explores two approaches to building “communities of practice.” Larkin Tackett, Deputy Director of Promise Neighborhoods, and Karen Cator, Director of the Office of Educational Technology, discuss strategies for increasing spaces to collaborate, share knowledge, and problem solve about best practices to close the achievement gap.

President Discusses Budget

At 12:30 pm ET today, Secretary Duncan and other ED officials will brief stakeholders on the President’s 2012 budget for the Department of Education. Watch it live.

This morning President Obama visited a school in Baltimore County, Maryland, where he discussed his 2012 budget priorities, including the need to invest responsibly in education.

Secretary Duncan and OMB Director Jack Lew accompanied the President on the trip to Parkville Middle and Center of Technology. Links to the video and transcript will be added here when they become available.

The President’s 2012 budget for the U.S. Department of Education will be available here this afternoon.

Economic Prosperity and National Security Through the DREAM Act

Cross-posted from The Hill

Even in tough times, Americans have used their freedom, common sense and respect for one another to do the right thing for the nation. Today, we face one of those times. There are thousands of hard-working, patriotic, young people who are leaders in their communities and who are looking for an opportunity to attend college or serve our country in the military, but they cannot, through no fault of their own. Congress has the opportunity to offer them and our country a brighter future by coming together in a bipartisan way to pass the DREAM Act.

The DREAM Act will open the doors of higher education and military service to young people who were brought to America without documentation by their parents when they were children. If they are able to meet several requirements, they will have the chance to earn a legal status. Specifically, they will have to prove that they came to the United States before the age of 16, have lived here for at least five years, don’t have a criminal record, are not removable or inadmissible from the country, are of good moral character and graduated from a U.S. high school, obtained a GED, or have been admitted to an institution of higher education. Today, these students are living in fear of the next step of their lives, and attending college or other postsecondary education is difficult, while serving our country in the military is near impossible.

Passing the DREAM Act will unleash the full potential of young people who live out values that all Americans cherish — a strong work ethic; service to others; and a deep loyalty to our country. It will also strengthen our military, bolster our global economic competitiveness and increase our educational standing in the world.

By opening the American Dream of college for these bright, talented youth, we will unleash an academic force into the U.S. higher-education system. The result will be a new generation of college graduates who will help strengthen our economic security. This new generation will be a new set of future taxpayers who will contribute much more as college graduates than they ever would as struggling workers moving from one under-the-table job to another. They will help build the economy of the 21st century.

From a national security perspective, the DREAM Act will give the military the opportunity to recruit students who are eager to serve at a time when there’s a growing shortage of potential soldiers. The Defense Department’s strategic plan names the passage of the DREAM Act as one of its goals to help maintain a mission-ready all-volunteer force. Military leaders understand that at this critical time in our history, when we face countless threats to our way of life and the supply of soldiers does not match the demands being placed on our armed forces, a new pool of highly qualified candidates willing to put their lives on the line for America is a major plus for the country.

The students who will benefit from the DREAM Act are some of our country’s best and brightest. They were raised and educated in America. They include community leaders and volunteers who are committed to service in their neighborhoods. They are valedictorians and star athletes. They text and go to the mall. They are Americans in every sense of the word. They have deep roots here and are loyal to the country that has been the only home they’ve ever known. They want to serve our country and hope to become pediatricians, teachers and engineers. They are exactly the type of young people America should be embracing.

But, unlike their classmates, DREAM Act students are in a bind. It goes against the basic American sense of fairness to punish children for the choices of their parents. But thousands of young people find themselves in that position. We can’t let them continue to live unfulfilled lives of fear and squandered hopes. We must rise above the heated political rhetoric and embrace this common-sense approach. And we need to do it now before we lose this generation. It’s who we are as Americans, at our best.

Secretary Arne Duncan

Teacher to Teacher: Teacher Effectiveness and ESEA

Throughout the spring, the Department of Education’s Teaching Ambassador Fellows have been having conversations with teachers about a new Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Our job is to listen and contribute our collective teacher voices to policy at the Department.

In our first blog, we asked about assessments. We heard from many teachers that you appreciate the focus on measuring growth over time. We also heard the desire to have authentic assessments that get at multiple points of view on student’s work, knowledge and even emotional development and provide more useful information for instruction. The Department hopes that work coming out of the Race to the Top Assessment Competition will help get us more useful assessments like this.

This blog entry is inspired by joining in the celebrations honoring this year’s State Teachers of the Year from all fifty states and territories and the National Teacher of the Year in Washington, DC this week. We enjoyed hosting these representatives of great teachers across the country for a discussion of the blueprint for ESEA reauthorization.

One teacher raised concerns about the definition of an “effective teacher.” The blueprint would require that states create definitions of effectiveness developed in collaboration with teachers, principals, and other stakeholders. In Race to the Top, the Department says that student growth must be a significant factor, but that measurements of effectiveness must include other measures, such as multiple observation-based assessments on teacher performance or evidence of leadership roles that increase the effectiveness of other teachers.

What are your thoughts on defining teacher effectiveness? Should it be based in significant part on student growth? What other measures should be taken into account?

Teacher Ambassador Fellows