The “Courage in the Classroom” tour pulled our big blue bus into Monroe, La., on Thursday afternoon. Here’s what we did in town:
Growing Good Habits
Just as there’s promise in a new school year, there’s promise in the sprouts that have popped up through the dirt of the garden at J.S. Clark Magnet School. In time there will be peppers, eggplant and herbs.
Teachers, students and families at J.S. Clark have been embarking on a schoolwide health, nutrition and exercise program. The cafeteria menu has been redesigned to include more whole grains and vegetables, and a registered dietitian teaches healthy habits to students—and adults.
“All of us need to be in better shape,” Principal Christie Taylor said during a roundtable with folks involved in this important initiative.
We got word that the Louisiana Federation of Teachers was having a back-to-school meeting at a Monroe community center, so we rolled on over for a drop-in before heading out of town. This was no ordinary meeting. For one thing, it had a soundtrack. We had a great time with these teachers. See for yourself.
Recovery Act funds paid for new lighting in the library's media center, along with other school improvements.
HAMBURG, Ark.—The people of this rural town in southeastern Arkansas will be the first to tell you there aren’t many jobs here, but thanks to the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) there have been more jobs lately. More than $1 million in federal stimulus funding has gone into the local schools, Superintendent Max Dyson told us this afternoon.
At Hamburg High School, that investment has meant better lighting in the library’s media center and hallways, new exterior doors and a camera system to improve campus security. To students, the best improvement has been the ARRA-funded upgrades to the school’s bathrooms.
“Kids take care of something that’s nice,” Dyson said. “If they know you took time to improve it, they’re going to be nice to it.”
Hamburg Supt. Max Dyson shows off the high school's improvements to Asst. Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education Thelma Melendez de Santa Ana.
Hamburg High was built in 1972, an era of flat roofs in school construction. With money from a local school bond, the roof is being raised and replaced, and new classrooms and science labs are being added so that 9th graders can move over from the middle school campus.
These improvement projects have meant work for local contractors in Ashley County, Dyson said, including some with family members in Hamburg’s schools.
“We’ve done a lot with the stimulus money, and we think we would not have been able to have done it if we had not had the money,” Superintendent Dyson said. “Did stimulus money work? Yes, yes, it did.”
After his remarks, Secretary Duncan took questions on a wide variety of education issues.
LITTLE ROCK—If America is to regain its pre-eminence in education compared to other nations, we owe it to our teachers to share with them useful data and other feedback so they can help children succeed and continually improve at their jobs, Secretary Duncan said tonight. And, he added, parents deserve to know how successful their children’s teachers are at helping students grow academically.
“Under the best of circumstances, this information would be openly discussed among teachers, parents and principals with the goal of identifying the strongest teachers so we can learn from them and better support those who are struggling,” he told nearly 1,000 educators, civic leaders and community members gathered at Little Rock’s Statehouse Convention Center for a lecture hosted by the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service.
In tonight’s audience were two of the “Little Rock Nine”—those courageous African American teenagers who helped desegregate Little Rock’s Central High School in 1957. Elizabeth Eckford and Minnijean Brown Trickey received a standing ovation as Arne praised their courage in entering Central’s classrooms a half-century ago. He will kick off the Back to School tour at Central High on Thursday morning.
Minnijean Brown Trickey (left), one of the "Little Rock Nine," attended the event.
The Secretary’s remarks on teacher quality tonight were in response to a recent report by the Los Angeles Times that used students’ performance on standardized tests to determine which teachers get the greatest gains out of their students. Arne stressed that testing data should be only one piece in determining teacher quality—and that we need better tests than we have now. He pointed to Finland, Canada, Singapore, China and South Korea as countries from which the United States could learn.
“Educators deserve more than statistics to do their jobs well,” he said. “They need constructive feedback from their principal and their peers against clear standards and other relevant measures.”
He continued, “This information should be rolled up into a meaningful, ongoing assessment of their work that both helps improve instruction and is tied to opportunities for advancement, bonuses, collaboration and professional development.”
To applause, Arne advocated using a variety of data to highlight what’s not working—and what is—in our PreK-20 education system, in addition to being more transparent about teacher effectiveness.
Before taking a wide range of questions from the audience, he framed the “Courage in the Classroom” tour with a simple message for America’s teachers:
“You are our national unsung heroes. Not only do we trust you but we hold you in the very highest esteem. We understand that you are doing society’s most important work. We will support you in your work and we will work together with you to elevate and strengthen the teaching profession, because nothing less than America’s future rests on your collective shoulders.”
At the Little Rock airport, the Secretary checks e-mail to get speech updates for tonight's address.
LITTLE ROCK—On the eve of his “Courage in the Classroom” tour, Secretary Duncan touched down this afternoon in Arkansas’s capital city and is preparing for a speech tonight on our national imperative to regain our global standing in education. Recognizing that great teachers are essential to achieving this goal, Arne will also discuss ways we can better support teachers in continually improving their skills, recognize and reward those who are most successful at this critical job, and arm parents with useful information on their children’s education.
Tonight’s lecture is part of a series put on by the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service and was to take place at the library and museum to the 42nd president. But when more than 1,000 people expressed interest in attending, it had to be moved to Little Rock’s convention center to accommodate the crowd.
Both as governor of Arkansas and as president, Bill Clinton was an early and active voice in the education reform movement. While in the White House, he pioneered a financial aid program that made the federal government, instead of private banks, the direct lender to college students. This year, Congress expanded the direct lending program, fully eliminating wasteful subsidies to banks and recouping billions of dollars in savings to send millions more needy students to college and invest in our nation’s community college system.
President Clinton also spurred states toward rigorous standards in elementary and secondary education and better assessments of student learning. And in the last year, under the leadership of governors and state education chiefs along with incentives from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA), the movement toward higher standards has advanced considerably, with 36 states and the District of Columbia—and counting—signing on to a common set of college- and career-ready standards that they developed together. ARRA is providing $350 million to develop a set of 21st century assessments that will better measure students’ readiness for college and careers, and the Department plans to award that money to groups of states in the coming weeks.
President Clinton also passed a school-to-work law, recognizing one of the ultimate goals of education—to prepare students for careers that are rewarding to themselves and to society. The Obama administration’s education agenda continues this emphasis on preparation for the workplace, and the Department of Education has proposed regulations to ensure that career-focused college programs are providing training that leads to gainful employment for their graduates.
So, in many aspects of its education agenda, the Obama administration is building on programs and policies for students that began in the Clinton administration nearly two decades ago. (And, coincidentally, President Clinton’s education secretary, Dick Riley, also marked the back-to-school season with a bus tour.) Secretary Duncan plans in his speech tonight to salute the former president for “for his life of service to his state and his nation, and his continuing work on behalf of disadvantaged people both here and abroad.”
The Department's Teaching Ambassador Fellows met the tour bus in Little Rock.
“He is an inspiration to people of every generation,” Arne plans to say. “He has made a difference in so many ways for so many people and yet—by all appearances—he shows no signs of slowing down. He is—in the fullest sense—a public servant whose extraordinary insights into the challenges facing our world are exceeded only by his tireless efforts to address them.”
Look for coverage of the Secretary’s remarks later this evening on the bus tour’s blog.
(Clockwise from bottom left) Niah Gamble, her grandmother Ellen Williams, teacher Mamie Vick and kindergarten classmates Amari and Chelsea.
Lincoln Park in Washington, DC’s Capitol Hill neighborhood comes alive every morning—children swing on the playground equipment, dogs chase balls, bicyclists take shortcuts to get to work, and cars, trucks and buses snake around the park’s four corners on their morning commute. There’s just enough chaos to make an elementary school student want a hand to hold and a friend to walk with.
That’s the idea of the Walking School Bus—there’s safety in numbers.
Every week at Maury Elementary School, families gather in the surrounding neighborhood to walk to school together. This morning the crowd was especially large—more than 100 students on foot, bikes and scooters joined their parents, grandparents and younger siblings in strollers for the stroll to campus. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan joined in with D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, Chancellor Michelle Rhee, and Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez of the U.S. Department of Transportation, which manages the federal Safe Routes to School program to encourage more of the nation’s students to walk or bike to school.
The group that had clustered in Lincoln Park quickly spread out as those on wheels sped to the front. Walking in the middle of the pack with Chancellor Rhee, Mayor Fenty yelled ahead to Arne, who, at 6 ft. 5 in., has an unusually long stride.
“Secretary, you’ve got to slow down with those long legs, man,” the mayor said. “You’re leaving us little-legged people behind.”
For Niah Gamble, 5, and her classmates at Maury, Tuesday was the second day of school. In her hair Niah had tied ribbons in the school’s colors—blue and white—which also matched her brand-new uniform. On her feet were sparkly purple shoes, complementing a pink backpack that seemed unusually stuffed for a kindergartener.
She held the hand of her grandmother, Ellen Williams. Even before her granddaughter enrolled, Ms. Williams was volunteering her time at Maury. “What I do for her, I do for all,” she said. After the first day of classes, when Niah’s grandmother asked her to draw a picture of what she had liked best about school, she drew her teacher, Mamie Vick.
Ms. Vick greeted Niah and her 18 other students on the playground as they lined up to go inside. “We had a great day yesterday,” she said. “I think everybody went home happy.”
Ms. Vick is going back to school herself, attending a weekend program at a local university to get her master’s degree in education. Even with 22 years of experience, she’s still seeking to improve her teaching.
Secretary Duncan joined Principal Carolyne Albert-Garvey and the families of Maury Elementary School on this morning's "walking school bus."
Maury Elementary’s spirit of family and community involvement wasn’t lost on Secretary Duncan. “If every school had this kind of camaraderie, this kind of energy, we’d be a much better education system,” he said during a news conference on the playground.
Walking to school is not only a way to be safe, Arne said; it’s a way to get exercise. “It may be a little bit old school, but I think it’s absolutely what our children need,” he said.
The school year is off to a smooth start, Chancellor Rhee reported. That hasn’t always been the case. There was a time not long ago, Arne said, when “DC had a school system that the city could not be proud of.” Now, he said, its public schools are on the right track.
“DC is fast becoming a model for the country, and I could not be prouder” of the district’s progress, he said. (Update @ 12:15 PM: Later today the Department further acknowledged the District of Columbia’s progress by awarding it up to $75 million from the Race to the Top program to pursue a bold education reform plan. DC and 9 states all won Round 2 grants in this unprecedented competition.)
Today’s visit to Maury Elementary was a prelude to the Secretary’s Back to School bus tour, which rolls out Thursday in Little Rock, Ark. You can follow the “Courage in the Classroom” tour online at www.ED.gov/bustour and via Twitter and Facebook.
Office of Communications and Outreach
In his remarks to about 75 leading members of the American Association of School Librarians on Monday, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan identified libraries as often being “at the heart” of school success stories.
“Libraries are integral to helping kids figure out what that big world looks like. You (librarians) help people find their passions,” Arne said, jokingly bringing up the seemingly endless supply of books about snakes that his son brings home from school, much to his wife’s chagrin.
Secretary Duncan spoke to school librarians June 28. At right is Cassandra Barnett, a high school librarian from Arkansas who is the outgoing president of the American Association of School Librarians. (Photos by Leslie Williams/U.S. Department of Education)
The Secretary pointed to the Obama administration’s support for libraries and librarians through a proposed $450 million fund for literacy under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. States and school districts could apply that money toward library services and other uses that improve student literacy. This larger, broader fund would replace an existing $19 million fund expressly for school libraries.
The proposed literacy fund, along with the Department’s Race to the Top and Investing in Innovation (i3) programs, intentionally allow for greater spending flexibility at the state and local level, but AASL’s incoming president expressed concern that school libraries were not explicitly named components of these grant programs.
“If we’re not on the roster, we can’t get into the game,” Nancy Everhart said, employing a sports metaphor with the basketball-playing secretary.
With the Department’s shift toward more flexible, and less narrowly defined, funding, Duncan encouraged librarians to advocate for a seat at the table when states and school districts apportion their budgets, including the money they receive from the federal government.
“We want our money to follow your successes,” Duncan said, assuring the crowd that, “we don’t want to fund things that might just feel nice or look good.” He acknowledged the role that school libraries can have in transforming “pockets of excellence” into “systems of excellence.”
Leaders of the American Association of School Librarians were among 20,000 librarians gathered in Washington, D.C., for the American Library Association's annual conference.
Responding to a question about the best way to identify and convey exemplary library programs to the public, Duncan encouraged the school librarians to keep lines of communication open with both the Department and their association’s parent organization, the American Library Association (ALA), which convened about 20,000 librarians in Washington, D.C., this week. Confident that the best ideas in education will come from the local level, Arne assured the audience that the Department will continue to take its cues from successful schools, and will work with librarians to shine a spotlight on what works.
In addition to Arne’s appearance, members of the Department’s outreach staff and librarians from the National Library of Education were on hand in the ALA conference’s exhibit hall to answer questions about the federal education agenda and distribute Department publications.
Office of Communications & Outreach
AFT President Randi Weingarten greets Secretary Duncan at the AFT Town Hall Meeting in Washington, DC.
The nation’s second-largest teachers union told Secretary Duncan on Monday that they’re “with” President Obama’s education agenda and eager to collaborate as long as education reform isn’t “done to” teachers. It was an encouraging message from the 1.4-million-member American Federation of Teachers (AFT), because reforming education in partnership with teachers has been this administration’s approach from the beginning.
Arne demonstrated his belief in that collaborative approach by sporting the same button that 2,000 teachers at a Washington, D.C., hotel were also wearing. “Do it WITH us, not TO us,” the button said.
“I think we have a chance to do something very, very special—together,” the Secretary told AFT President Randi Weingarten at the start of a Q and A with members in Washington for a series of workshops. “Great teachers are performing miracles every single day.”