Congressional Staffer Becomes Rural Teacher

Watch a video and interview with RaSheda Workman, a first-class rural science teacher.

Watch a video and interview with RaSheda Workman, a first-class rural science teacher.

In 2007, RaSheda Workman traded in a congressional staff position to become a high school science teacher at Sunshine High School in Newbern, Alabama. In 2008, she earned the Cable in the Classroom Leaders in Learning Award.

Becoming a teacher was not an easy decision. Many colleagues could not understand why she was “throwing away” such a promising future. But RaSheda had always advocated for underserved communities.

Many of her students were not interested in science and had not given much thought to life beyond high school. She quickly realized that if her students were to become the change agents she imagined them to be, she would have to allow them to teach her just as much as she had hoped to teach them.

Together, RaSheda and her students created curriculum studies that explored the effects of demographics and local health disparities on the human body. They organized the school’s first community service organization and mentoring program that teaches entrepreneurship to young men.

RaSheda’s school community is one example of systems across the nation in need of extra support. Will others become change agents to help our children succeed?

If ever asked, what will you do?

Read RaSheda’s entire blog post. Or visit to learn how you can shape the future by teaching.

“Does Your School Need a Fresh Start?”—A New Publication for Parents in English and Spanish

Cover of publication

A new publication that helps explain program for turning low-performing schools into examples of educational excellence.

The Department of Education has unveiled a new publication that helps explain its program for turning low-performing schools into examples of educational excellence. Written especially for parents, the full-color brochure is written in both English and Spanish and is titled “Does Your School Need a Fresh Start?” (“¿Necesita su escuela un nuevo comienzo?”).

The text describes in plain language the main features of the School Improvement Grant (SIG) program, its four intervention models, and much more, including what parents and community members can do to help ensure that their local school districts make the most of the available SIG funds. “Demand excellence,” the brochure encourages. “Your child deserves a great education. Set high standards for your child … and your school. ”

Read “Does Your School Need a Fresh Start?” online, or order hard copies at

For more on the SIG program, visit

2010 Superintendents of the Year Call on “Coach” Duncan to Promote Turnaround Successes

2010 Superintendents of the Year Call on “Coach” Duncan to Promote Turnaround SuccessesOn Friday, December 10th, Secretary Arne Duncan sat down for a candid conversation with the American Association of School Superintendents’ (AASA) 2010 Superintendents of the Year. This group of 29 leaders invited the Secretary to cap their three-day forum on what works and what doesn’t work in school turnaround implementation.

The superintendents, led by the 2010 Superintendent of the Year Betty Morgan of Washington County Schools, Md., and Superintendent Patricia Jo Phillips of North St. Paul, Minn., delivered impassioned pleas to the Secretary to improve public opinion of our nation’s public schools. Phillips asked Duncan to lead the charge by getting the word out on the “turnaround stories galore” that exist but aren’t reported in the media. The Secretary wholeheartedly agreed that there are a number of positive turnaround stories out there, but added that getting media attention on them has been tough.

Since President Obama took office, Congress has appropriated more than $4 billion to help turn around the nation’s lowest-performing schools. The Secretary has set a national goal to turn around 5,000 schools in five years. In the first year, 44 states so far have reported they are supporting turnarounds in 730 schools. Through the commitment of superintendents, principals, and teachers, the country is well on the way toward meeting that goal.

The conversation with leading superintendents touched on other key issues. The superintendents shared examples of what they feel is an uphill battle of continuing to do more with less, financially. Secretary Duncan agreed was only going to get tougher, as he said in a November speech at the American Enterprise Institute, “The New Normal“.

The superintendents discussed two key areas where they could be helpful to the Department. The first includes providing input to the ongoing conversation on the appropriate parameters for measuring growth as the Congress looks to reauthorize ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act) next year. Carmel Martin, assistant secretary for planning, evaluation and policy development, pointed out that their input into the dialogue could help set some real definitions for measuring growth, but that collaboration within their states is key, as further definition and delineation for growth, and improvement will likely filter down to the state level.

The second included the superintendents’ comments and experiences regarding tenure reform. Several superintendents emphasized their work with progressive local union leaders whose members are asking for these needed changes, though there has been little coverage in the media of local examples where real collaboration is happening.

The conversation ended on the high note provided by Betty Morgan, who noted that we are indeed getting somewhere in terms of reducing the dropout rate and making significant in-roads on dropout recovery. The Secretary responded with the good news that half of the country’s turnaround schools are in fact high schools, and that this not only bodes well for reducing the dropout rate, but also increasing graduation rates as well as the number of students leaving high school both college- and career-ready.

Around the beginning of the year, this group of accomplished superintendents will release a white paper on school turnarounds. As the Department again begins the push for reauthorization, their suggestions will indeed be something to look for.

Karen Stratman-Krusemark, Office of Communication and Outreach

Ms. Stratman-Krusemark taught high school English in Texas before joining the Department of Education.

‘No Excuses’ Defines Success at Springfield, Illinois, Schools

Assistant Secretary of Education Peter Cunningham greets Jason Curry, a 1st grade teacher at Iles Elementary School.

Assistant Secretary of Education Peter Cunningham greets Jason Curry, a 1st grade teacher at Iles Elementary School.
Photo by Dave Heinzel, Springfield Public Schools

“We don’t use poverty as an excuse for low achievement.”

That strong message from Springfield School District 186 Superintendent Walter Milton, Jr. resonated throughout a day-long visit that Peter Cunningham, ED’s assistant secretary for communications and outreach, made to the central Illinois district Nov. 29.

Like many urban areas throughout the nation, Springfield—the state capital—has a proud history and a diverse community with a strong will to prepare both their children and their city for successful futures. Springfield recognizes that a high-quality education is vital to achieving both goals. The school district serves more than 14,000 students, with nearly 66 percent of them eligible for free or reduced-rate lunches.

Cunningham learned firsthand about the district’s focus on readying students to meet 21st century challenges through a whirlwind itinerary of activities that ranged from a Blue Ribbon School celebration to a planning meeting for turning around a struggling high school. He spoke with district students, parents and educators about local progress and plans, and their ideas on national education reform.

“This isn’t easy. There are no ‘one size fits all’ answers,” Cunningham told a group of teachers, administrators and parents at Lanphier High School, identified by Illinois as eligible for a federal School Improvement Grant (SIG). “Solutions need to come from the local level.”

Assistant Secretary Peter Cunningham congratulates Lindsay School's teachers, students, and parents during a Blue Ribbon School celebration.

Assistant Secretary Peter Cunningham congratulates Lindsay School's teachers, students, and parents during a Blue Ribbon School celebration.
Photo by Dave Heinzel, Springfield Public Schools

While the dialogue at Lanphier was sobering, it was also hopeful. The group discussed strategies to improve, to include an extended school day, a new curriculum to make subject matter relevant to students and developing a system where kids at risk may be identified early and provided resources to succeed. According to Sara Vincent, the district’s director of communications, implementation of some of those elements has already begun, and has produced small but positive results, to include better attendance and a decline in suspensions.

The assistant secretary and other ED officials frequently visit schools around the nation, and often bring reports of promising best practices and insights, as well as concerns, back to Washington. The takeaways from the visit were invaluable, voluminous and varied.

At Vachel Lindsay School, a neighborhood elementary school serving a 45 percent low-income population, Principal Wendy Boatman cited the school’s dedicated outreach to the parents of disadvantaged children as key to its improvement in state assessment scores, which earned it recognition as one of 314 Blue Ribbon Schools throughout the United States for 2010. After discussions with Boatman and some of the award-winning school’s other administrators and teachers, Cunningham said he was impressed with the clear “culture of trust” among them.

Superintendent Walter Milton, Jr. hugs an Iles Elementary student.

Superintendent Walter Milton, Jr. hugs an Iles Elementary student.
Photo by Dave Heinzel, Springfield Public Schools

“From day one, the clear message to students is that they are going to college,” said Chris Colgren, principal of Capital College Preparatory Academy, a new school opened this fall that will ultimately serve students in grades 6-12. CCPA, open to all Springfield students through a lottery, uses best practices from schools throughout the U.S. that have generated strong achievement among high-poverty populations, including gender-specific classrooms and an extended day schedule, as well as the pervasive college-bound attitude.

All students are provided their own laptops at Lincoln Magnet School, a technology-focused school open to all Springfield middle-schoolers through a lottery. More than 96 percent of students met or exceeded state standards for 2010 at Lincoln, where the tech theme goes far beyond the equipment. Teachers use strategies aimed at best connecting with a generation that has grown up with computers, texting and video games as routine elements of daily life. For example, one student showed Cunningham how her English teacher asked her and classmates to create “Wordles “—computerized “word clouds” that can demonstrate understanding in a quick and fun way that capitalizes on pupils’ visual acuity and communications style.

During a small group discussion, teachers said they were gratified to learn from Cunningham about the focus on flexibility, innovation, growth-testing and “carrots, not sticks” in the Obama Administration’s blueprint to re-write the No Child Left Behind education law. In the coming year Congress may act to reauthorize the law, which is formally known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

“There’s got to be a way to get accountability that lets us breathe,” one educator said. “The message that we’d like to hear from the President and Secretary Duncan is ‘We’re going to support teachers, and not punish them for not meeting unrealistic expectations.'”

Julie Ewart
Office of Communications and Outreach

Julie Ewart is a senior public affairs specialist for Region V (including Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin) and a proud mom of three public school students.

Teacher Ambassador Blog Summary: Parent-Teacher Partnerships

The following is a summary of responses to the Teaching Fellows’ series of questions about parent-teacher partnerships posted on the blog from Oct. 22-Nov. 2. Summaries of the posts are available on the web and also published internally at the Department of Education to help those shaping policy and assistance to educators in the field. In addition, the information from the posts helps to inform the Teaching Ambassador Fellows work as we continue conversations with teachers, parents, school officials, and students.

Questions posed by the blog:
What do you think teachers want from parents? What do you think parents want from teachers? Where might their interests converge? What is your vision for an effective partnership between parents and teachers?

Respondents: 27

Highlighted statement:
“I find that teachers make or break the nature of this partnership, and teachers’ attitudes are shaped by the principal’s approach.” — Natalie, parent

Teachers and parents care about the quality of children’s education and want what is best for children. However, often because of pressures, past experiences, or lack of information, the adults sometimes turn their frustration toward each other. When they are able to work in partnership with one another to support the other’s distinct roles and engage in authentic partnership, then true collaboration can occur.

  1. Parents and teachers share many goals for children. Both want children to succeed, thrive, and to do well in school so that they create pathways for success in the future.

    • “Everyone wants… the child to be successful by being independent and a positive, contributing member of our society.” — Lisa
    • “Teachers and parents should both want the best for their children/students.” — Bev
    • “The convergence (of our goals) is our future.” — Wendy
  2. Though they have goals in common, parents and teachers often have different needs from one another. Both recognize that for education to work, each side must do their part.

    • “Teachers want support from parents… Parents want communication from teachers.” — Cheryl
    • “Teachers want parents to discipline—not punish—their children, teach them right from wrong… responsibility… how to speak respectfully… to accept consequences… Teachers want parents to support education… to believe that education is good and necessary… to love their children enough to set limits on their own and their children’s behavior.” — Bev
    • “Parents want teachers to communicate, understand that each child is different and value their child for being different.” — Adam
    • “Parents want teachers to unconditionally love their children while teaching them.” — Lisa
  3. Parents and teachers sometimes sabotage their relationship when they don’t understand each other or don’t feel heard. When a teacher’s or a parent’s needs are left unmet, or when a child’s needs are unmet, the adults might become defensive and blame one another.

    • “As the parents of a disabled child, we understand the struggles on both sides… to blame one or the other is not the answer.” — Chris
    • “In order to ‘build’ a partnership, each party has to first be honest and trustworthy. It is when the trust has been broken time and again that the partnership dissolves and barriers begin to build.” — Jewels
    • “[The parent/teacher] relationship is often sabotaged by defensiveness. Parents often suspect that teachers may be unfairly treating their child, while teachers often assume parents are going to be hostile or critical.” — Joe
    • “If teachers are not helpful to parents, i.e., spend more time complaining and lecturing parents about how to parent than coming up with ways to deal with the issue, then there is no way they can work as partners.” — Natalie
    • “[Teachers need] parents [who] support the most basic discipline their children require in school [instead of arguing], ‘My kid would never do THAT! You’re picking on my kid!’ ” — Nancy
    • “Right now what the [education] industry’s ‘parent involvement’ mantra really means is getting parents to say, “How, sir” when educators say, “Hold a bake sale.” — Dee
    • “With 180 students every semester… Even One minute on the phone or in e-mail for each student is 3 hours of work.” — Carol
  4. Parents and teachers best meet their common objectives for students when they form partnerships on behalf of the child. Two factors seem to be most important: authenticity and communication.

    • “An Effective Parent Partnership always invites parents to the table to make decisions about school curriculum and programs for students. This practice must be done with integrity and not as a superficial gesture to appease the community.” — Nicole
    • “Effective partnership includes role definition and clarification. Let parents parent. If you’re a teacher, do not [impose] your parenting style on others.” — Lorrie
    • “An effective partnership is one in which each side trusts the motives of the other, where the teacher exhibits caring for the child and the parent exhibits support for the teacher.” — Joe
    • “We might as well come up with partnerships, not sole proprietorships…” — Cecelia
    • “Communication is key.” — Monique
    • “Children learn both at home and school… Parents, teachers, community leaders, and school administration will achieve more if the goals are met with a team approach.”

Post Script from the Teaching Fellows: The President’s proposal for reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) doubles the funding to foster meaningful conversations such as these between parents and teachers—dialogs that support teachers and equip parents to be advocates for their children’s education.

Secretary Duncan on Supporting Teachers

“As a country we have to dramatically improve respect and admiration for teachers,” Secretary Duncan said in response to a question about teachers being undervalued in the U.S.

He goes on in this November 22 video to describe efforts to support teachers, strengthen the teaching profession, and improve parent involvement.

Click here for an accessible version of the video.

See all the topics or all videos in the playlist.

Doing More with Less: A Teacher’s Perspective

Camsie Matis received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics Teaching in 2009.

Camsie Matis received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics Teaching in 2009.

Guest Blog by Camsie Matis, Albert Einstein Educator Fellow at the National Science Foundation

Yesterday, I attended the American Enterprise Institute’s Conference: “Bang for the Buck in Schooling,” where Secretary Duncan gave a speech entitled “The New Normal: Doing More with Less.” Listening to the opening remarks, I wondered how he would reconcile calls I had recently heard him make to pay teachers more with the current need for school districts to make difficult budget cuts.

I care about this issue deeply because when I started my career as a highly qualified math teacher in the San Francisco Bay Area, I earned under $30,000. I have long felt that being able to earn a decent living is part of the equation that would help attract more talent into America’s classrooms, and it certainly would help keep extraordinary teachers working with children and helping reform the education system.

In the speech, Duncan explained, “Doing more with less will likely require reshaping teacher compensation to do more to develop, support and reward excellence and effectiveness, and less to pay people based on credentials.”

Then Secretary Duncan went on to make remarks centered on being strategic and smart about what to cut and what to invest in—ideas that resonate with my own philosophy on teaching and learning. As he spoke, I found myself nodding about the need to systematically reward and recognize excellence, not just so that teachers feel valued, but so that we as a nation can take effective best practices, replicate them, and ultimately help reassert ourselves as a leader in K-12 education.

We recognize our students with Student of the Month, with competitions like the Intel Science Fair, or FIRST. Why not recognize teachers in a similar fashion? There are some great programs that do recognize and reward excellence, like the Einstein Fellowship, or the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, but these reach only a small percentage of the amazing teachers out there. The District of Columbia Public Schools has begun an interesting evaluation system, IMPACT, where teachers are compensated based on evaluations of effectiveness. Recently Arne Duncan celebrated their successes at a Standing Ovation event where he spoke to the strengths of their program and the importance of their effort. Maybe other districts can learn from this system?

While I agree that teachers need to be paid more and need to be recognized in many ways, it doesn’t take a $100,000 salary to feature effective and excellent teaching in a local paper or on the evening news. Districts should make strategic decisions to make sure that the cuts stay out of the classroom as much as possible (a sentiment echoed by Secretary Duncan and Superintendent Shawn McCullough [Nogales, AZ] during today’s event). Rewarding and recognizing excellence shouldn’t be the “New” normal—it should be normal, period.

Camsie Matis is a public school math teacher currently serving as an Albert Einstein Fellow at the National Science Foundation.

Secretary Duncan Affirms Call for Tougher Teacher Prep Programs

Secretary of Education Secretary Arne Duncan yesterday called for universities and colleges to hold teacher preparation programs more accountable for the impact of their graduates on student learning.

“It is time for states, university-based preparation programs, and NCATE itself to do a better job of self-policing quality and poorly performing programs,” he said today in a speech to the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education Blue Ribbon Panel at the National Press Club.

Specifically, Secretary Duncan called on those responsible for licensing teachers to make accreditation much more rigorous, “outcome-based and propelled by clinical practice.” To illustrate his point, Duncan cited a survey of more than 700 education school professors released last month by the Fordham Institute, which found that only seven percent of teacher educators currently believe that an NCATE accreditation means a program is top-notch. Instead, nearly 90 percent said that accreditation assured only that a program was in procedural compliance or met a minimum baseline of acceptable quality.

Secretary Duncan made his remarks at the release of NCATE’s Blue Ribbon Panel report on teacher education. The report calls for schools of education to raise their standards for applicants and provide teachers-in-training with relevant classroom experience.

The secretary said that he is “enormously encouraged” by the Blue Ribbon panel’s report calling for an overhaul of the system used to license teachers and urging states to continue linking student outcomes to accreditation of teacher prep programs.

“It challenges this failed status quo, instead of propping it up. It calls for shifting to a clinical-based program for accreditation. It calls for linking student outcomes back to the teacher preparation programs where their teachers trained.” Furthermore, Secretary Duncan said that he is “doubly” encouraged that eight states, including California, New York, and Ohio, have signed letters of intent to implement NCATE’s recommendations.

The secretary also praised all 12 of the Race to the Top Winners, who “put forward a strong plan for linking teacher preparation programs to the student outcomes of their graduates.” As evidence, he lauded Georgia for developing a set of program effectiveness measures for their teacher and leader preparation programs that will consider not only K-12 student growth data, but measure the transition from initial certification to full certification, three-year retention rates, and demonstration of content knowledge. He praised educational leaders in Delaware for linking preparation programs to their graduates’ evaluation ratings under new evaluation systems.

Duncan stressed that as we raise the bar for teachers, we must ask more of our teacher preparation programs, who we entrust with girding new teachers in the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in classrooms today.

Laurie Calvert
Washington Teacher Ambassador Fellow

A New Partnership to Promote Financial Education and Savings Programs

Secretary Duncan visited T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, VA, to announce a new partnership to promote financial education and savings.  Participants in the partnership include the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the National Credit Union Administration.

Secretary Duncan visited T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, VA, to announce a new partnership to promote financial education and savings.

Yesterday Secretary Duncan visited historic T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, VA, to announce a major new partnership with two other federal agencies: the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), which regulates banks and protects deposits in bank accounts, and the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA), which regulates credit unions and protects deposits in share accounts. The three agencies will work together—and with schools, financial institutions, federal grantees, and other stakeholders—to increase access to safe, affordable, and appropriate deposit accounts at federally-insured banks and credit unions; increase savings; and provide effective financial education.

The day started when Secretary Duncan met with José Cisneros, San Francisco’s Treasurer, who recently launched the “Kindergarten to College” savings program that will provide a college savings account to all students in the public school system. Some years back, Cisneros developed “Bank on San Francisco.” The model has spread to cities across the country and was picked up with the Obama Administration, which recently proposed to create “Bank On USA” with the same goal of providing low-cost deposit accounts and basic financial services to the 25% of American families who don’t currently have regular access to banks or credit unions.

Secretary Duncan then joined FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair and NCUA Chairman Debbie Matz to sign the official interagency agreement that outlines how the agencies will work together before visiting the student-run credit union branch just off the cafeteria. Students from the Academy of Finance who manage the credit union were proud to talk about the work they do and the value of the program in their school. They even gave Secretary Duncan their business cards and encouraged him to open an account!

Upstairs, the press event started with remarks by Alexandria mayor Bill Euille and Jennifer Murphy, a parent participating in the Parent Leadership Training Institute who partners with a local credit union and uses an FDIC financial education program to help the school teach students about managing their money. Later, Euille, Murphy, and the school principal signed a commitment to continue working together on this issue.

Bair, Matz, and Duncan all addressed the audience, which included students from T.C. Williams High School; leaders of banks and credit unions and associations that represent them; education leaders from DC, Maryland, and VA; foundations; and experts in asset development.

Duncan emphasized that this partnership, with its focus on financial literacy and savings for low and moderate income students and families, will help us reach President Obama’s 2020 college completion goal to once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.

Secretary Duncan talked about the lack of financial literacy in this country as a barrier to college access and success, told the audience about research that shows that even low- and moderate-income families can and do save if given access to appropriate accounts and the right incentives, and highlighted work done by Washington University in St. Louis that demonstrates students with a savings account are up to seven times more likely to enter college.

The three agencies have already gotten a jumpstart on implementing the agreement. NCUA has committed funding over the next five years to support partnerships between credit unions and schools; FDIC will soon send a letter to all the banks they regulate encouraging them to develop partnerships; and at the Department of Education, we’ll include a new priority in the 2011 GEAR UP competition to encourage school savings programs in connection with financial education activities. There will be more to come from us, but we’re really hoping that banks, credit unions, schools, federal grantees, local governments, foundations, parent organizations, and others will take the initiative to come together in their states, cities, and towns to develop partnerships that increase access to deposit accounts, savings, and financial literacy, especially among low- and moderate-income students and families.

In the coming weeks, look for more detail on what the agencies will be doing to implement this agreement, including a toolkit for stakeholders who are interested in working together on this important topic. If you have suggestions for youth financial education and savings programs as we’re developing guidance—promising program models, strategies for getting the right people around the table, etc.—feel free to contact me at

Phil Martin
Office of the Secretary

Boom Bag Strategy Is a Blast in US History

Karishma Merchant is a master at motiviating students like 11th grader Markus Philson to become involved in American History.

Karishma Merchant is a master at motiviating students like 11th grader Markus Philson to become involved in American History.

Washington, DC — Last month while visiting Karishma Merchant’s AP US History class at Collegiate Academy, I saw a master teacher using a strategy that ignited her class.

The technique is called “Boom Bag.” I saw an entire class of students working in pairs to compete for points as they reviewed material for an upcoming exam. I was struck by how enthusiastic students were and how engaged they seemed in the learning.

Here’s how Ms. Merchant describes the technique, which is easy for teachers to make and is “loved” by her students.

“What I do is on slips of paper write down open ended questions, content specific questions, and skill/strategy-based questions along with an answer [on the other side of the paper]. For open-ended questions, I write down ‘answers will vary’, and I put them in a paper lunch bag. [The bag also includes] slips of paper that say ‘Boom!’ (about a 1/3 of the number of questions).

“In pairs students then face off in a competition. Student A will close her eyes, reach into the paper bag that Student B is holding, pull out a slip with a question, and hand it to Student B. Student B will read aloud the question for Student A to answer.

“If Student A answers correctly, then she gets to keep the slip of paper and count it as a point; if she gets it wrong, it goes back in the bag. If Student A had drawn out a slip that said ‘Boom!’ then she would be required to put all of the slips she had collected from previous rounds back into the bag and start from 0.”

This process goes back and forth, alternating between the two students for a limited time, usually about 15 minutes at the end of class. The points can be used in a variety of ways, like for extra credit or as part of a whole-class contest.

Ms. Merchant’s students said that she chooses the activity selectively, usually using it for several days in a row prior to an important assessment because the students love it and the activity really increases their retention.

When I visited, as soon as Ms. Merchant picked up the boom bags, the eleventh graders began squealing, “Boom Bag! Boom Bag!” and high-fiving one another.

Laurie Calvert is Teacher Ambassador Fellow at the US Department of Education from North Carolina

Karishma Merchant has been teaching history at Collegiate Academy, in Washington, DC, for four years.

Guest Blogger – John Legend: Why I Believe in Teachers

Cross-posted from the blog.

John Legend speaking at TEACH Town Hall

John Legend is a six time Grammy Award-winner. In 2007, he received the special Starlight award from the Songwriters Hall of Fame. After reading Professor Jeffrey Sachs’ book,The End of Poverty, Legend was inspired to visit Ghana to learn more about making life better for the people who live under the poverty line. Legend also spends his time advocating for schools, and appeared this Wednesday with Secretary Duncan at Howard University, where he encouraged students to become teachers.

I am fortunate to do something I love, which is largely due to the great teachers who encouraged, supported and guided me along the way. Every child deserves such teachers. They cannot achieve their potential without them. I believe, as does Secretary Duncan, that education is the civil rights issue of our time—no child in this great country should be shuffled through a system that fails them year after year.

That’s where good teachers come in. Studies show that good teaching is the single biggest predictor of student success—more important than class size, dollars spent per student, or the quality of textbooks and materials. What an incredible opportunity to change someone’s life.

This week I had the chance to meet with students at Howard University, and I asked them directly to become teachers. Howard is one of our country’s top HBCUs and, since we know that we need a new generation of teachers who reflect the diversity of the students in our classrooms, it was a great place to discuss the Department of Education’s TEACH campaign. The students asked thoughtful questions about the teaching profession and challenged the education administrators to do better for our classroom teachers.

Being a teacher means you get to serve your country through a job that is fulfilling, interesting and very cool. Local, award-winning high school teacher Angela Benjamin joined us on stage. You could sense her passion and dedication immediately. She pointed out that even when you first start out as a teacher, you have the opportunity to lead, “While your friends are working their way into leadership positions,” she said, “you will be a leader the second you step into the classroom.”

We need a new generation of teachers to join those already in the classroom—I urge you to invest in the future. Teach.

More photos from the event at Howard University.

National Policy Forum for Family, School, and Community Engagement: Event Recap

On Tuesday, more than 150 people representing families, communities, state and local governments, philanthropy, federal agencies, practitioners, and support organizations joined the U.S. Department of Education at the National Policy Forum for Family, School, and Community Engagement. At the heart of the forum was discussion around systemic family and community engagement strategies that serve to promote student success.

While schools are striving to prepare our students for the 21st century, many are doing so without aligned parent and community engagement practices. To tackle this challenge, Tuesday’s forum asked four key questions:

  1. What does the future of family and community engagement look like?
  2. How can federal, state, and local policies work together to create systemic family engagement?
  3. How can student performance data be used to connect families and schools in a significant way?
  4. What roles can families play in transforming low-performing schools?

Each question was explored by a panel that addressed relevant research, shared knowledge of effective practices, and discussed opportunities to integrate and sustain engagement across education reform priorities and the various levels of government.

Discussed at length were the policy levers that can be tapped to encourage and sustain meaningful partnerships with parents and communities to support student learning. These levers included: training and professional development for school staff; capacity building to help entities develop, implement, and evaluate initiatives; encouraging the blending of resources in creative ways; sharing best practices via learning communities; scaling effective practices; and using the federal government’s leadership role to develop a common family engagement framework and accountability system to ensure that state and local family engagement goals are being met.

Under President Obama’s Blueprint for Reform, funding for parent engagement under the Title I program will double to a total of $270 million. At the same time, states will be allowed to use another $145 million to expand district-level, evidence-based parental involvement practices. The program will allow districts to use best practices that raise student achievement.

In a working paper distributed to Forum attendees, six best practices were shared including:

  • The Poway School District, CA: helps parents set “family goals” to reinforce learning goals developed by students and their teachers.
  • The New Visions for Public Schools, NY: makes parents key partners in helping their ninth graders meet four core college readiness benchmarks through parent workshops, publications, and the College Readiness Tracker.
  • The University of Kansas Medical Center’s Project EAGLE Community Programs, KS: provides families with children four years old or younger with routine child screenings and guidance on how to meet their child’s developmental needs using a Response to Intervention approach to early identification and support of children with learning and behavioral needs.
  • The Boston Unified School District, MA: includes in its curriculum development a tool to help parents understand the content areas their children need to master and practice tips for the home, and has a blueprint for professional development and assessment of school progress in family engagement.
  • The Creighton Elementary School District, AZ: implements parent-teacher teams to review student performance data, learn how to set parent-student academic goals, interpret benchmark assessment data and quarterly assessments, and understand a student’s standing in relation to the entire class.
  • The Washoe County School District, NV: works with the state’s Parent Information and Resource Center and Parent Involvement Facilitators to teach parents about graduation requirements and train them to use the online student data system to help keep their children on track in terms of attendance, grades, and credit accumulation.

The Forum’s rich discussions will influence the Department’s family, school, and community engagement work. In the near future, we will be releasing a publication outlining the Forum’s highlights and resulting next steps; and the pre-meeting working paper will also be finalized and released.

Are you engaging parents in a systemic and meaningful way? Share your best practices by posting a comment (below) or sending an email to

Anna Hinton