If There’s No Seat at the Table, Make Your Own Table

A year ago when Secretary Arne Duncan introduced an effort to promote teacher leadership called “Teach to Lead” to thousands of educators, none of us had any real idea of what it was going to become. The speech that introduced it was long on aspirations but short on plans and details. To be quite honest, there was a hefty bit of skepticism among many I spoke with that the US Department of Education wasn’t going to do anything more than rhetoric around teacher leadership. I wrote Arne to ask if I could remain as a Teaching Ambassador Fellow for a second year in a hybrid role working part-time for the Department to help structure Teach to Lead, while also teaching in Omaha. I offered to be one of the people who would lie awake nights, making sure this all came together! It was impossible to know then that Teach to Lead would come to involve thousands of educators from throughout the country, producing hundreds of meaningful ideas to improve education for young people while strengthening the teaching profession.

Was I crazy to sign on to such a vaguely defined project? Obviously. But I was also passionate in my belief that only teachers could bring about real system reform that put students first. I had experienced teacher leadership as the backbone to student success. Over the previous 5 years my school, Miller Park Elementary, had been transformed. Student achievement, and students’ belief in themselves, had soared. What made us successful – teachers leading transformation in collaboration with our principal, students and parents – had to happen everywhere. My mantra, “When teachers lead, kids succeed!” comes from experience.

The Teach to Lead team, comprised primarily of teachers from the Department of Education and National Board, knew that we had to have something that was “scalable” (capable of reaching teachers across the country). We developed a website that has over 2,000 members on the virtual community “Commit to Lead” where teachers can share their ideas and receive feedback from colleagues. The website is also a place to access the resources of our 70 support organizations and read the inspiring stories of teachers who are leading change.

Three national Teach to Lead Summits were held in Louisville, Denver and Boston during the winter. The Summits were run by teachers – we set the agenda and ran the show. We asked teachers to help us score the ideas to select participants. We placed teachers as prominent speakers and trainers. Teach to Lead was going to walk the talk.

Over 350 teachers from 38 states came alone or in teams, equipped with their ideas for change. The energy in the room at each Summit was palpable! Teachers were claiming their authority as change agents and the networking was compounding their drive towards success.

We provided training on logic models and our growing list of support organizations provided the critical friends who asked the hard questions and pushed participants to think deeper. We held workshops to learn more about working with administrators, resource development, talking with policy makers, mentoring and more. Our participants arrived with nascent ideas and left with over 100 fully formed action plans to implement at home – and new skills to get it done!

At the end of the Denver Summit, a teacher from Eagle County schools in Colorado told me, “I’ve been to many weekends for teacher leaders and sometimes I feel like I’m a part of somebody else’s agenda. This is the first time I feel like I was supported in moving forward with my own agenda which is the agenda of helping my students.” We were on the right track, but we continued to listen to feedback, reflect and adapt to make Teach to Lead stronger.

Secretary Duncan speaks at the 2015 Teaching and Learning Conference (Photo by Leslie Williams/U.S. Department of Education

Secretary Duncan speaks at the 2015 Teaching and Learning Conference (Photo by Leslie Williams/U.S. Department of Education

Today, our last year of work on Teach to Lead culminated on stage at the National Board’s Teaching & Learning conference with a panel of 4 exceptional teacher leaders and Secretary Duncan. In front of a crowd of thousands, Arne talked about Teach to Lead, stating, “I was hopeful [about teacher leadership] last year. I am convinced we are onto something really important and special now. Change has to come from teachers who own it and lead it.”

Chris Todd speaks at the 2015 Teaching and Learning Conference (Photo by Leslie Williams/U.S. Department of Education)

Chris Todd speaks at the 2015 Teaching and Learning Conference (Photo by Leslie Williams/U.S. Department of Education)

Another panelist, Chris Todd, a history teacher and a teacher leader in residence at the Connecticut State Department of Education said “Every teacher has the potential to be a teacher leader. The expertise that comes from experience makes for a better policy recommendation.”

The next step for Teach to Lead is to get even more “boots on the ground”; we are choosing 2-3 ideas out of each Summit to develop through Leadership Labs. The Labs are opportunities for local teams to receive hands-on targeted technical assistance from the Teach to Lead team and supporter organizations, convene stakeholders to discuss the status of plans and future actions, and develop approaches to integrate teacher leadership into systems and structures within local contexts. Our first Lab was in Marshall, Michigan and in just one day, our teacher leaders received tremendous community support including:

  • Expanding their project to neighboring middle schools through a joint effort
  • Partnering with 2 universities to assist with data collection and analyzing as well as providing pre-service teachers to help with after-school programs and other interventions
  • Highlighting their project as an exemplar by the Michigan State Department of Education
  • The assistance of two social workers from local organizations
  • Greater access to mental health care for their students

Working on Teach to Lead this past year has been a joy. It has given us the opportunity to offer a megaphone to the voices – and incredible ideas – of teachers around the country. We’ve begun to change the culture of what it means to be a teacher by proving that teacher leadership can transform both student learning and the education system.

From the beginning of this effort, I was a fierce advocate for doing this right. To me, that meant empowering teachers to design and implement this initiative. I’m so proud to say we’ve done that in Teach to Lead with Arne’s fervent support. As he said during this morning’s panel, “If there’s a seat at the table, grab it. If there’s no seat at the table, make your own table.”

What an honor it has been to work with the Teach to Lead team and my colleagues across the country! Margaret Mead said it best, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Thanks for letting us make our own table, Arne.

Sink Your Teeth into These Very Special Pi Day Activities

It’s that time of the year again … time to think about celebrating Pi Day!

March 14 – (3/14) – has become an unofficial holiday dedicated to the rather unique irrational number that can be calculated to over a trillion digits beyond its decimal point.

A lot can be said about Pi Day, but did you know this year’s Pi Day is especially exclusive?

On 3/14/15 at 9:26:53 a.m., the calendar date and time will match up numerically with the first 10 digits of Pi: 3.141592653.

pi_day

Hungry for more? Check out these resources and think about incorporating some STEM-themed activities for children in your classroom or at home.

Dorothy Amatucci is a digital engagement strategist at the U.S. Department of Education.

4 Reasons Why Community College Was Perfect For Me

As a senior in high school, I felt as if I was the only one not excited about graduation because I had been denied acceptance to the universities for which I had applied. I had given up on having a glamorous college experience and had no idea what the future had in store for me and enrolled at a community college.

During my two years in community college, I reflected on career choices and my future as a whole, all the while using that time to boost my GPA. Once I figured out what I wanted to do, I applied to four-year universities and was accepted to the perfect school for me.

As you are preparing to apply for college, keep community college in mind. It’s a great place to begin your higher education.

Here are four reasons why:

  1. Community college is affordable

The cost of attendance for two years at my community college cost less than one semester at a state college. This is huge advantage that most students don’t realize until they graduate and have to start repaying loans.

  1. Flexibility

Community colleges offer class times designed to accommodate a variety of schedules, making a part-time job manageable for full-time students. There is now a limit on the maximum period of time that you can receive Direct Subsidized Loans and the Pell Grant, so make sure to keep track of how you’re progressing in your degree program. You don’t want to lose eligibility for these types of financial aid!

  1. Better Transfer Opportunities

Community college is a perfect solution for those who don’t have the best grades coming out of high school. While obtaining my associate degree, I was able to boost my GPA and resume by working. After graduation I transferred to a university that I would have otherwise not been accepted to in high school. Community college can be seen as a second chance as long as you are willing to make the commitment and college admissions offices understand that some students need more time and experience to discover what they want out of life.

TIP: Many community colleges have “Guaranteed Admissions Programs” whereby students who successfully complete their associate degree at a community college are offered automatic admission to participating four-year colleges and universities.

  1. Attain multiple degrees

Unlike universities, community colleges provide the opportunity for an associate degree that feeds directly into a bachelor’s degree. The time a typical university student will have spent on one degree, a community college transfer will have received two degrees!

Talla Hashemi is a junior at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill majoring in Journalism and Public Relations. She is a virtual intern for the U.S. Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid.

Open Education Week 2015

Cross-posted from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy blog.

As we celebrate Open Education Week 2015, we look forward to implementing the new U.S. Open Government Partnership National Action Plan to promote Open Educational Resources and building momentum for Federal open education initiatives. The availability of high-quality, low-cost digital content in our schools is a priority for the President and a pillar of his ConnectED Initiative. Fostering the use of Open Educational Resources in our nation’s K-12 and post-secondary classrooms can help meet this goal.

Open Educational Resources are learning tools that reside in the public domain or that have been released with intellectual property licenses allowing their free use, continuous improvement, and modification by others. Open Educational Resources can deliver two great benefits for students: lower cost in obtaining the educational resources needed to succeed in school, so that students and schools can redirect funds for other instructional needs; and access to a universe of high-quality, updated content that can be tailored minute-by-minute by educators to reflect new developments and current events.

The Department of Labor has been at the forefront of advancing Open Educational Resources.  The Department recently developed new granting policies for its Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Training Grant Program (TAACCCT), which aims to expand post-secondary education and training capacity.  For the first time, the Department has incorporated requirements for grantees to openly license all educational content created with grant funds, promoting institutional collaboration and sharing of Open Educational Resources. Since the program’s inception, grantees at over 700 colleges have launched over 1,500 new programs of study, including degree and certificate programs that prepare students for careers in emerging and expanding industries. By requiring all content, curricula, and learning objects created using TAACCCT funds be licensed using a Creative Commons Attribution license, the Department of Labor is investing in the world’s largest collection of Open Educational Resources.

The Department of Education’s Learning Registry project is another example of Federal efforts to increase the discoverability of open educational content, particularly for use in K-12 contexts, by aggregating and sharing data about online educational content through an open source platform. Several states, including Illinois and California, have built portals that allow educators to search, save, and share Learning Registry resources from institutions including the Smithsonian, National Archives, and NASA.

In the coming year, we will continue to build on these successes at the Federal level as we look to promote the use of Open Educational Resources. Current plans include launching an Online Skills Academy to leverage free and openly-licensed learning resources and using technology to create high-quality, low-cost pathways to degrees, certificates, and other employer-recognized credentials. In addition, the Department of State will conduct three overseas pilots to examine new models for using Open Educational Resources to support learning in formal and informal contexts. The results of the pilots will be shared later this year at a workshop – co-hosted by the Department of State, the Department of Education, and the Office of Science and Technology Policy – on challenges and opportunities in open education.

We look forward to working together to advance these initiatives.

Sara Trettin is Digital Engagement Lead in the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education.

Dipayan Ghosh is a Policy Advisor in the Office of the Chief Technology Officer at the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

The Student Aid Bill of Rights: Enhancing Protections for Student Loan Borrowers

Cross-posted from the White House blog.

The single most important investment anyone can make in their future is to pursue higher education. But the one thing I often hear from families is that they are worried about the cost.

Too many students are graduating from college feeling burdened by their student loan debt. The Obama Administration has – and will continue to – make college more affordable through increased Pell Grants and education tax credits, while improving transparency so that students and families have the information they need to select schools that provide the best value. Today, we are building on the Administration’s success helping students manage their debt and stay on track.

My team at the U.S. Department of Education has been working with our federal partners to make sure that student loan borrowers are getting accurate information about how to avoid – or get out of – delinquency and default. And we’ve been doing more to improve student loan servicing and protect borrowers so they receive the treatment and respect they deserve, regardless of the type of loan they have.

But across the Administration, we want to do more.

That’s why today, President Obama has proposed a new Student Aid Bill of Rights that outlines a series of new actions that direct the Department of Education, Department of Treasury, Office of Management and Budget, Office of Science and Technology Policy and Domestic Policy Council, working with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Social Security Administration, to make paying for higher education an easier and fairer experience for millions of Americans.

studentbillofrights

Working together, the Obama administration will:

  • Develop a state-of-the-art – and simple – process for borrowers to file complaints involving their federal student aid, and working with a team across the federal government to figure out the best way to address those complaints.
  • Make sure the banks that service federal loans are held to high standards and provide better information to borrowers; and raising the bar for debt collection to make sure that fees charged to borrowers are reasonable and that collectors are fair, transparent, and help borrowers get back on track.
  • Use innovative strategies to improve borrowers’ experience and improve customer service. At the Department of Education, we are committed to finding new and better ways to communicate with student loan borrowers and to creating a centralized, easier process for repaying loans. And we will see what changes to regulations and legislation, including bankruptcy law, may be necessary to protect borrowers – regardless of the type of loan they have.
  • Work across the federal government to see what lessons can be learned from similar situations, like mortgage and credit card markets and other performance-based contracts, to help us make sure that ultimately, we are continually strengthening consumer protections for students.

It is our responsibility to make sure that the more than 40 million Americans with student loans are aware of resources to help them manage their debt, and that are doing everything we can to be responsive to their needs. The Student Aid Bill of Rights builds on the efforts our Administration has been taking over the last several years to make college more affordable and continues to chip away at the burden of student debt – so no one should feel overwhelmed by their student loans.

Agree with me? Take the pledge for a Student and Borrower Bill of Rights:www.whitehouse.gov/college-opportunity

Arne Duncan is Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education.

Beyond High School Diplomas: Educators Aim Towards College Completion

Nationally, just 18 percent of all 9th graders complete four year degrees within 10 years. There needs to be a real sense of urgency as we move forward in creating and sustaining greater college access and completion for all students, which is why it is so important that we address this issue at the federal, state and local levels.

As we prepare students to succeed as adults, we know that most will need advanced learning beyond their high school diplomas to get good jobs. For some, that may mean completing professional certificate programs. Others will go on to earn advanced degrees. Schools and community partners need to track and support students’ completion of advanced learning beyond high school as the new aspiring standard for public education.

This was the most important message that we took away from the “On Track to College Completion” forum hosted by the U.S .Department of Education’s regional office in Chicago on Feb. 25.  

As educators from Rockford Public Schools 205, we had the chance to connect with leaders of other school districts and partner organizations from 17 communities spanning Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin. Led by Greg Darnieder, senior advisor for college access to Secretary Duncan, we discussed current innovations and practices for college access and completion.

This forum began with an authentic example of how Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has progressed toward that new standard. The district’s efforts over the past nine years have led to a near-doubling of its percentage of 9th graders earning a four-year college degree within 10 years of starting high school, according to research from the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research (CCSR). Darnieder, Jenny Nagaoka, deputy director of CCSR, and Aarti Dhupelia, chief officer for college and career success for CPS, discussed how the district’s progress came about, and what it means for other schools and students throughout the country.

Since 2011, RPS 205 has worked with community partners to redesign our five high schools into college and career academies that are better preparing students for college and the workforce. This effort is beginning to reap great results: More 9th graders are on track to graduate in 4 years, attendance has improved and graduation rates have increased.

The session helped us make some much needed connections. For example, RPS 205 is working with Alignment Rockford, a community partner, to develop a site-based scholarship program modeled after the Kalamazoo Promise, which funds college for Kalamazoo Public Schools graduates. This forum gave us the opportunity to meet Janice Brown, founder of the Kalamazoo Promise and get her direct insights about starting a similar initiative.

The session was also a catalyst for sharing information about effective college access and completion resources. They included data sources like the National Student Clearinghouse and the Illinois Department of Employment Security, which may be used to collect and monitor college completion rates, as well as the federal GEAR UP program, which helps low-income middle and high school students to enter and success in post-secondary education.

This is very rewarding work, but it’s not easy. We’re all experiencing some of the same challenges to prepare our students for success in the 21st century economy. Exchanges like this one are vital to leverage best practices and to collaborate to develop new strategies.

David Carson is Executive Director of College and Career Readiness for Rockford Public Schools 205 and Janice Hawkins is Principal of Guilford High School in Rockford Public Schools 205.

My Brother’s Keeper: A Year of Progress

This post originally appeared on The White House Blog.

When President Obama launched the My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) initiative one year ago, he did so with a powerful call to action to help more of our young people stay on the right track and achieve their full potential. Too many young people, including boys and young men of color, face daunting opportunity gaps and, like all of us, the President knows that America will be most successful when its young people are successful.

At the launch of MBK, the President called for government, businesses, nonprofits, schools, districts, and individuals, to commit to making a difference in the lives of our nation’s young people. Since then, nearly 200 cities, counties, and tribal nations from 43 states have accepted the MBK Community Challenge, a call to build and execute locally driven plans with a focus on achieving excellence and equity from birth through adolescence and the transition to early adulthood.

Last May, I joined young men in Denver, an MBK Community, for an open and honest discussion about their lives – their challenges, support systems, and visions for the future. So many of their stories – both heart-wrenching and inspiring – stick with me, but what perhaps struck me most were the words of Elias, who was once told he was “an exception to his race.” The words weighed heavily on him, as they did on me.

Elias told me that he doesn’t want to be an exception to his race. Rather, he envisions a system where schools partner with nonprofits and higher education to create a pipeline to success that will work for everybody.

The good news is that Elias’s vision is starting to take shape. Partners from across the country are recognizing the important work of MBK, with more than $300 million independently pledged by foundations and corporations. And, in July, AT&T, the NBA, and the NBA Players Association announced efforts that will expand opportunities for learning, mentorship, volunteerism, and jobs for all youth, including boys and young men of color. From nonprofits and foundations to businesses, private sector efforts are accelerating the work of MBK to promote academic and career success, and mentoring and public engagement.

The Department of Education is doing its part, too, by improving existing programs to better serve our youth, and by creating new and better public-private partnerships that best serve the needs of our young people. And, the Council of the Great City Schools is coordinating the leaders of 63 of the largest urban school systems in the country in an unprecedented joint pledge to change life outcomes by better serving students at every stage of their education.

In December, the Department of Education convened the White House Summit on Early Education, where we announced $750 million in new federal grant awards from the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services, to support early learning for over 63,000 additional children across the country.

And, I was pleased to join US Attorney General Holder in releasing a Correctional Education Guidance Package, which builds upon the recommendations in the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force report. The guidance will help states and agencies strengthen the quality of education services provided to the approximately 57,000 young people in confinement every day.

Earlier this year, the Department of Education and the Department of Justice released joint guidance reminding states, school districts and schools of their obligations under federal law to ensure that English learner students have equal access to a high-quality education and the opportunity to achieve their full academic potential. The Departments also released additional tools and resources to help schools in serving English learner students and parents with limited English proficiency, including a toolkit to help school districts identify English learner students.

Great efforts are underway in communities across the country – but our young people still face great challenges. To truly change the face of opportunity in this country – to truly make the bounty of America available to the many, and not just the few – we must replicate and expand what’s working.

Our work is far from over. Let’s move forward, together, to do right by all our nation’s young people.

Read the My Brother Keeper’s Task Force one-year progress report to the President.

Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education.

#AskDrBiden About Community Colleges at SXSWedu 2015

Cross-posted from the White House blog.

Dr. Biden meets with students during her Community College to Career bus tour in 2012. (Gary Fabiano/U.S. Department of Labor)

Dr. Biden meets with students during her Community College to Career bus tour in 2012. (Gary Fabiano/U.S. Department of Labor)

Community colleges have entered a new day in America. They lead the way in preparing graduates in the fields of green technology, health care, teaching, and information technology — some of the fastest-growing fields in America and the rest of the world. Community colleges are able to meet the needs of their community and provide students and workers with the education and skills they need to succeed and to get good-paying jobs to support their families.

That’s why I am excited to attend SXSWedu 2015 to discuss the importance of community colleges to America’s future. I have been an educator for more than 30 years, and I have spent the last 20 years teaching at community colleges. And, as Second Lady, I have traveled across the country to see firsthand the critical role community colleges play in creating the best, most-educated workforce in the world.

Before I get to SXSWedu 2015, I want to hear from you. Starting today, you can tweet your questions about community colleges to me @DrBiden using the hashtag #AskDrBiden. Then, watch here on Tuesday, March 10 at 9 a.m. CST/10 a.m. EST as I respond to some of your questions during a live event moderated by a community college student.

Dr. Jill Biden is a full-time community college English professor and Second Lady of the United States.

Overcoming Challenges through Perseverance and the Arts

Ledbetter creates inspirational artwork in his Studio and Media Art class to encourage students to consider the effects of bullying and to inspire hope. (Courtesy Thomas Ledbetter)

Thomas Ledbetter creates inspirational artwork in his Studio and Media Art class to encourage students to consider the effects of bullying and to inspire hope. (Courtesy Thomas Ledbetter)

At age two, Thomas Ledbetter was diagnosed with Autism and was not expected to be able to speak; however, thanks to a great support system and an incredible amount of work on his part, he managed to overcome many of the obstacles in his life. Thomas experienced bullying throughout elementary and middle school and decided to channel these negative experiences and feelings into positive graphic design.

Thomas had this to say about his piece, “Everyone in this world is like a flower: biologically similar, but personally distinct and beautiful in [their] own way… However these flowers will sometimes go through experiences that will take away their personal happiness, joy.” Using this metaphor, Thomas hoped to create something that, “shed light on the complex and often emotionally ambiguous nature of bullying,” and something that would, “give people hope and help them embrace who they are despite the obstacles standing in their way.”

“I created my poster for my Studio in Media Art class. Many people have seen the printed copies of the poster I made in the hallways of the school and have told me how amazing they thought it was and asked me about what the art means. After explaining the message I wanted to convey, they said that they really liked the poster’s meaning and loved how inspiring and poignant it was. I’m glad to see that people understand the message I wanted to send and that they’re being inspired by my poster little by little.”

Thomas’ father, Tom Ledbetter, is a member of the local Board of Education and has been working to increase the surrounding community’s awareness of bullying and how it impacts students. He constantly advocates for, “more comprehensive policies that include educating students and staff about bullying prevention; that create effective counter measures to prevent bullying; and that include consequences that are appropriate, educational and effective deterrents to bullying.”

Thomas’ plans for the future include, “teaching others that people who have a disability [or a difference] are worth just as much as anyone else and that all people have value.” Most of all, he wants to help others overcome adversity and find joy and happiness in their lives.

“My dream job is to become a psychologist, more specifically a neuropsychologist, and even though I want to specialize in helping people with neurological disabilities, I want to be able to help anyone and everyone as a psychologist and give people the ability to see their own value and worth one small step at a time.”

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) is strongly committed to preventing bullying of all students, including the 6.75 million public school students with disabilities. ED’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) investigates and resolves complaints of disability discrimination at public schools. OCR recently issued guidance to public schools to help school officials understand their federal responsibilities to respond to bullying of students with disabilities. This guidance builds on anti-bullying guidance the U.S. Department of Education has issued in recent years concerning schools’ legal obligations to address bullying, including ensuring that students with disabilities who are bullied continue to receive a free appropriate public education. OCR issued a fact sheet for parents (available in Spanish) that addresses key points of the recent guidance and provides information on where to go for help. To learn more about federal civil rights laws or how to file a complaint, contact OCR at 800-421-3481 (TDD: 800-877-8339), or ocr@ed.gov.

Sarah Sisaye is with the Office of Safe and Healthy Students at the U.S. Department of Education.

The Importance of Early Education for All

It’s time for reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. There’s no doubt change is necessary to ensure our children’s civil rights to a high quality education. While the media has focused on the annual assessments mandated by NCLB as being key, I want to highlight another critical improvement needed: high-quality preschool.

We are a family that can speak to the benefits of high-quality preschool for every child. We have lived in the north, south, east, and west. Our whole lives have been about education and overcoming struggle and “the odds.”

LaToyaSmithFamily

(Photo courtesy LaToya Smith.)

I am an African American born to teenage parents thirty years ago in Michigan. Yet, now that I have my own children, I understand how fortunate I was to attend a Montessori program at age three and then preschool at my public elementary school at age four. Since then, excelling in school has been second nature to me. I was high school valedictorian and magna cum laude at a top major university.

I was nearly finished with college in Los Angeles when I got married and my husband and I started our family. I wanted my children to have high-quality preschool like I did, but it came at a steep price. We found the same to be true from California to Mississippi — North Carolina and Michigan.

Three years ago we moved to Washington, D.C., where our three-year-old son could go to school with our five-year-old daughter each day. We were so relieved. He was excelling in many ways — cognitively, socially, and emotionally.

I could see the results of his early learning at home. He was more conversational. He spoke to us about his friends at school. He has learned the alphabet, to count, the names of basic shapes and colors, and so much more. He talked about the stars and the galaxy, and D.C. as the nation’s capital. He knew of President Obama, the names of the First family, including their pets, and even their address — “1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW!” He asked about visiting the White House.

He was excited about learning!

Having my son enrolled in high quality preschool definitely prepared him for kindergarten. I believe he will have a strong start like I did, a life-long thirst for learning, and achieve anything he wants. Regardless of what type of money a child’s parents make, their cultural background, their native language, where they live, as Americans, they should have access to the same high quality education early in life. Why? Because we know it’s what’s best for them, their future, their family’s future, and thus the future of our country. It would be a disservice not to include preschool in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Latoya Smith is the Founder and President of Pros4Kids and Chair of the DCPS Early Childhood Education Policy Council.

What Teachers Read in February

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Here are the top 10 stories teachers read this month, based on clicks from one of our most popular newsletters, The Teachers Edition.

Not signed up for the Teachers Edition? Here’s how to stay connected!

Dorothy Amatucci is a digital engagement strategist at the U.S. Department of Education.

Visit to Virginia Elementary School Underscores Commitment to Early Ed

Secretary Duncan walks and talks to a student at Patrick Henry Elementary School in Alexandria, VA. (Paul Wood/U.S. Department of Education)

Secretary Duncan walks and talks to a student at Patrick Henry Elementary School in Alexandria, VA. (Paul Wood/U.S. Department of Education)

Secretary Arne Duncan and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Early Learning Libby Doggett stopped at Patrick Henry Elementary School in Alexandria, VA., Wednesday to talk about the importance of early education with a group of parents, teachers, local administrators and community leaders. The school runs a PreK-5 program and has eight preschool classes.  Teachers at the event didn’t hide their enthusiasm for the benefits that preschool brings to their classroom.

“The majority of my students this year have attended preschool. And I have not had a classroom like this. Ever,” said Lori Shabazz,  Agnes Meyer Outstanding Teaching Award winner in 2014 and kindergarten teacher at the school. “I’ve been teaching kindergarten for 19 years.”

In years past, she had to devote most of her time to remediating students who weren’t ready for kindergarten. Students came to her class unprepared both academically and socially—up to 86% of them failed assessments. But this school year has been different. For the first time ever, she has been able to dedicate most of her class time to a kindergarten appropriate curriculum. And the results have been remarkable.

“Each kindergarten teacher should get this experience. That has a class that’s ready for kindergarten,” she said.

Duncan used the opportunity to not only learn more about how the early learning program has transformed the school culture, but also to talk about the administration’s vision for changing the education landscape in the country through ESEA reauthorization. A critical component of the plan includes expanding early learning opportunities for children nationwide—especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“We as a nation can take the next step… And work together to make sure every child enters kindergarten ready to be successful. And our kindergarten teachers around the nation will tell us when that happens, amazing things happen in classrooms,” he said.

Patrick Kerr is a member of the Communications Development division in the Office of Communications and Outreach