White House Office Hours with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan

Cross-posted from the White House Blog.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is joining us for special session of White House Office Hours on Wednesday, June 27th at 2:00 p.m. EDT. During a live Q&A on Twitter, Secretary Duncan will answer your questions about college affordability and the administration’s education policies and priorities.

Will you join us? Here’s how it works:

  • Ask your questions now and during the live event on Twitter with the hashtag #WHChat
  • Follow the Q&A live through the @WHLive Twitter account
  • If you miss the live Q&A, the full session will be posted on WhiteHouse.gov and Storify.com/WhiteHouse

Today, higher education isn’t a luxury – it’s a necessity that every American family should be able to afford. But it’s also getting more and more expensive.

For the first time ever, Americans owe more in student loans than in credit card debt. That’s why the President is calling on Congress to keep interest rates low so that every hardworking student gets a fair shot at the skills and training needed to get a good job in today’s economy.

If Congress doesn’t act, interest rates on federal student loans will double on July 1 and more than 7 million students around the country will rack up an average of $1,000 of extra debt each.

Kori Schulman is Deputy Director of Outreach for the White House Office of Digital Strategy

Celebrating Success: 40 Years of Pell Grants

Cross-posted from the White House Blog.

Chances are you know someone who wouldn’t have gone to college without the help of a Pell Grant. Since 1972, more than 60 million Americans have received financial assistance to earn their degree.  

As President Obama said in a message commemorating the 40th anniversary of the enactment of this program:

Forty years ago, our Nation codified a commitment to bringing higher education within reach for every American by creating the Basic Educational Opportunity Grant—later renamed the Federal Pell Grant after Senator Claiborne Pell, to honor his efforts in creating the program.  On this anniversary, we reflect on four decades of progress toward fulfilling that fundamental promise and rededicate ourselves to making college affordable for all.

Federal Pell Grants have helped millions of Americans achieve their fullest potential by not only opening the doors to college, but also providing students the financial support necessary to complete their studies and prosper in today’s economy.  That is why my Administration has prioritized Pell Grants as a source of funding they can count on each and every year.  We have provided resources to support a 50 percent increase in Pell Grant recipients, giving college access to millions of additional students across our country; aggressively raised the maximum Pell Grant award to keep pace with rising costs; and strengthened the Pell Grant Program by cutting banks out of Federal student lending and delivering financial aid directly to students.  By continuing to provide grants that extend educational opportunity to students, we make critical investments both in their personal success and in America’s success in the 21st century.

As we mark the 40th Anniversary of the Federal Pell Grant Program, we also celebrate the individuals and organizations who have worked to widen the circle of opportunity for countless Americans through higher education.  Today and tomorrow, let us recommit to empowering the next generation with the tools and resources they need to achieve their dreams.  I am confident that, through programs like Pell Grants, our Nation will reach our goal of once again leading the world in college completion by the year 2020.

Senator Claiborne Pell, the chief sponsor of the program, liked to say, ‘Any student with the talent, desire, and drive, should be able to pursue higher education.’ Because of his commitment and vision, millions of students from poor and working class backgrounds received the economic lifeline they need to earn a college degree. The Pell Grant program has literally transformed millions of lives.

In today’s global economy that’s more important than ever. High school graduation is no longer a path leading to a good paying job. College, or other postsecondary training, has never been more important to finding meaningful and substantial employment.

More students than ever are relying on Pell grants, and if we are to reach our goal of out-innovating, out-educating and out-building the rest of the world, we need to continue our investment in Pell.

Arne Duncan is the US Secretary of Education

Secretary’s Mom Inspires National Service at Chicago Conference

Secretary Duncan discusses his hero -- his mom -- with CNN's Soledad O'Brien (left) and Wendy Spencer, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service at the National Conference of Volunteering and Service in Chicago on June 19.

Secretary Duncan discusses his hero -- his mom -- with CNN's Soledad O'Brien (left) and Wendy Spencer, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service at the National Conference of Volunteering and Service in Chicago on June 19.

Who inspires you?

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s hero is his mother, Sue Duncan, who founded a tutoring center in one of Chicago’s toughest neighborhoods 51 years ago, and continues to lead it today.

The Secretary used his mom’s story to stir an audience of more than 3,000 members of volunteer organizations from throughout the U.S., as she listened from the front row at the plenary session on “Celebrating the Power of Service in Education” for the National Conference on Volunteering and Service in their hometown Chicago on June 19.  Wendy Spencer, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) and CNN’s Soledad O’Brien joined Secretary Duncan for the session.

“It’s been an amazing journey,” said Duncan of his mom’s work, which began not far from the conference’s site with “just 9 girls in the downstairs of a church” and has grown to help thousands.

“You had kids — who started off very low, academically — start to do extraordinarily well,” he said. “There were no excuses. If kids weren’t fed, she’d feed them. If kids didn’t have clean clothes, we’d take their clothes home to wash them and bring them back the next day. Whatever it took to help kids fulfill their potential, that’s what her focus was.”

Sue Duncan also demonstrated courage, said her son.

“The church (where the tutoring center was located) was fire bombed,” he explained. “One of my earliest memories is of carrying boxes of books to a new church, to start over again.  We went from this situation with lots of potential violence early on to the community really embracing, supporting and actually protecting us.”

Community support is the vital ingredient of the Together for Tomorrow (TFT) initiative kicked-off earlier this year by ED, CNCS and the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships at a town hall meeting in Iowa.  This has been followed-up with additional forums throughout the nation. With about 25% of young Americans dropping-out of high school each year with no good job opportunities awaiting them, TFT “rallies entire communities to bring together resources in a very targeted and strategic way, to change children’s lives,” said Duncan.

“We need to wrap our hands our arms, our love around these children and support teachers, faculty members, administrators in any way we can. We can do this with service,” Spencer said.

Spencer said that she and Secretary Duncan will soon be announcing the first one-hundred communities across America that will participate in the TFT School Improvement Challenge for the 2012-2013 school year. The Challenge is an opportunity for schools and districts, institutions of higher education, and nonprofit organizations to join with other partners to improve their neediest schools by raising key measurable student outcomes. It is not a new grant program, but rather an approach to better coordinate resources and efforts. Applicants have until June 29, 2012, to submit their plans. More details about the Challenge are at tft.challenge.gov.

While funding is a consistent issue in education, Duncan has learned through his own experiences – beginning with his mother’s efforts — that money is not the ultimate solution.

“Some people think that the only way to fix education is to fix poverty first,” he said. “I think the only way to fix poverty is to fix education.”

Watch a video of the session.

–Julie Ewart is the Director of Communications and Outreach in ED’s Chicago Regional Office.

Endless Possibility

Secretary Duncan greets graduates at NTC

Secretary Duncan talks with students before commencement at Navajo Technical College. Official Department of Education photo by Paul Wood.

Endless possibility. That’s the motto of the Navajo Technical College in Crownpoint. N.M., and it’s more than just a catchy slogan: The students there are proving that with education, possibilities are endless.

Secretary Duncan visited NTC last Saturday to give the commencement address at graduation and to see the great work of NTC students. Duncan left the visit inspired to learn that NTC graduates are working in digital manufacturing, supercomputing and DNA research and are employed on contracts for NASA, Boeing and others.

While many other higher ed institutions that serve mostly minority populations often fail to graduate even half of their students, NTC graduates more than 85 percent. Prior to the graduation ceremony, Duncan visited NTC classrooms and even danced during a reception later in the day.

Visiting Native American reservations “are easily among the most rewarding and uplifting things that I have done over the past 3½ years,” Arne said at commencement. “I have walked in beauty with the Navajo people in this land, and it is an opportunity I will never forget.”

Click here to watch Secretary Duncan’s commencement speech, and watch a short summary below:

Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

Arne Makes Surprise Visit to Local High School to Thank Teachers

Secretary Arne Duncan made a surprise visit earlier today to Luke C. Moore High School in Washington, to thank teachers and school staff during their Teacher Appreciation Week breakfast celebration.

“I was so excited I almost tripped over the table,” said veteran math teacher Evelyn Merrick. “Secretary Duncan just walked in as a regular person.”

Luke C. Moore High School is a local School Improvement Grant recipient and has adopted an accelerated academic program with a focus on building critical thinking skills and project-based learning. Read more about Luke C. Moore.

Arne isn’t the only Department official talking with teachers at local schools today. Dozens of ED staff are visiting schools throughout the D.C. area and across the country as part of “ED Goes Back to School,” an organized effort of federal staff shadowing teachers.

The shadowing visits will offer ED officials an inside look at teachers’ day-to-day work while also giving teachers the opportunity to discuss how federal policy, programs, and resources play a role in their classrooms. On Wednesday evening, teachers and Department staff participating in “ED Goes Back to School” will join Duncan for a discussion to reflect on the experience.

Liz Utrup is the Assistant Press Secretary at the U.S. Department of Education

Ask the Teachers

Cross-posted from the Huffington Post.

When I ask teachers why they teach, they almost always say that it is because they want to make a difference in the lives of children. They talk about the joys of teaching and the singular rewards of watching children learn. Often they mention former students who get in touch years after they graduate to thank them for their success.

Yet stories of lasting and life-changing teacher-student relationships contrast starkly with what teachers say when asked about their profession. In short order, they lament inadequate training, top-down reforms, teaching to the test, budget cuts and a lack of time to collaborate.

Teachers talk about the pernicious effects of poverty and family breakdown on their students and the long hours that teachers put in nights and weekends that go unrecognized and uncompensated. Most teachers still say they love teaching though they wouldn’t mind a little more respect for their challenging work and a little less blame for America’s educational shortcomings.

With half of new teachers quitting within five years, and with half of current teachers set to retire in the next ten, the need for dramatic change in the field of education is both urgent and timely. There’s much underway and much more to be done, but whatever we do to strengthen and elevate the teaching profession, we should bear in mind that reforms that fail to heed the voice of teachers are doomed.

That’s why, for the last six months, 16 active classroom teachers working temporarily for the U.S. Department of Education as Teacher Ambassador Fellows have been doing a lot of listening. They have held over 200 meetings with their colleagues across the country to help shape a proposed $5 billion competitive program of the Obama administration to strengthen and elevate the teaching profession. It is called the RESPECT Project, which stands for Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence and Collaborative Teaching.

When we ask teachers how the profession should change, their ideas are grounded in everyday experience. Teachers say their schools of education did not adequately prepare them for the classroom. They would have welcomed more mentoring and feedback in their early years. They say that effective principals and engaged parents are essential to creating the right conditions for learning.

Teachers embrace accountability, but say the current generation of tests is stifling teacher creativity and student engagement. Most of the ones we have spoken with are not against testing per se, but, they hope that new tests, now in development, will better measure critical thinking and student learning.

Teachers support evaluations based on multiple measures: student growth, classroom observation, and feedback from peers and parents. They neither want evaluations that are overly reliant on basic fill-in-the bubble tests, nor do they want evaluations that ignore the impact of teachers on student learning.

Compensation is rarely the first thing teachers complain about but, with starting pay averaging around $39,000 and top pay averaging around $67,000, teachers are underpaid compared to other professions. Many top college students do not consider teaching because the pay is too low. Others leave because they can’t support a family.

On performance pay, many teachers reject outright the idea of competing with their colleagues for bonuses, yet many also believe that great teaching-especially in low-income schools–should be financially rewarded. In Chicago, where I served as school CEO, a group of star teachers designed a performance pay program that rewarded all adults in the school, not just the teachers, for student gains.

Many teachers we have spoken with are open to changing rules around tenure. They think the bar for tenure should be higher. Many say it shouldn’t be guaranteed for life. But they are equally adamant that without due process, teachers are at risk of being fired for reasons unrelated to performance.

Teachers are most excited by the idea of career pathways with differentiated roles that offer the opportunity to earn more money without having to leave the classroom and the job they love. For example, student teachers and recent graduates could apprentice with mentor teachers. As they prove their effectiveness, they could advance to new roles–professional teachers, master teachers, and teacher leaders with increasing responsibility for running their schools and shaping curriculum.

What teachers say they want more than anything is time–time to collaborate, plan lessons, improve their practice, and work one-on-one or in small groups with their students. Unfortunately, we shoehorn schooling into a too-short school day and year.

Nothing is more important than preparing our children to compete and succeed in the global economy. That means we need to make teaching not only one of America’s most important professions but also one of America’s most valued profession.

America’s teachers are hungry for comprehensive reform to their profession and they are ready to lead the change. Indeed, they are the only ones who can.

Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education

Duncan and Posny Join CEC Convention for Twitter Town Hall

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, Alexa Posny, will join the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) during their 2012 Convention and Expo, for a Twitter Town Hall on Wednesday, April 11, at 3:00 pm ET.
Duncan and Posny will discuss and answer questions via Twitter on the importance of early learning, great teachers and leaders, high student achievement, and college and career readiness as we strive to improve results and outcomes for all infants, toddlers, children and youth with disabilities.
CEC’s Annual Conference and Expo in Denver will bring together experts and stakeholders in the field of special education to share and discuss current topics, research and practices related to children and youth with disabilities.
How to get involved:

    • Ask your questions before and during the event using the hashtag #CECTownHall.
    • Follow the conversation on April 11, at 3:00 pm ET, with the #CECTownHall hashtag and by following @usedgov, @arneduncan and @CECMembership

If you miss the Twitter Town Hall, a summary of the event will be posted on the Department’s Homeroom Blog following the town hall.

Learning International Lessons in Principal and Teacher Preparation

International Summit on the Teaching Profession

International Summit on the Teaching Profession. Photo by Andy Kropa for the Department of Education.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan joined education leaders from twenty-three high-performing, rapidly-improving countries in New York City last week. Over the course of two days, each country shared ideas and successful, innovative practices for teacher preparation and school leader development during the second-ever International Summit on the Teaching Profession.

Just last year, the Department held the first Summit, bringing together not just national education ministers, but also union leaders in partnership with teachers, and education experts to help to shape the conversation. Through a public discourse, participants identified common challenges in education across different countries and cultures while also laying out the need for systematic reform.

The lessons learned from the practices of high-performing systems during last year’s Summit, had a big impact in the United States. It helped lay the groundwork for a new Obama Administration project called RESPECT, which stands for Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence, and Collaborative Teaching.

Last month, President Obama proposed this new competitive grant program to empower states and districts that commit to pursuing bold reforms at every stage of the teaching profession. Throughout the planning, teachers themselves had—and will continue to have—a major voice in shaping RESPECT. The Department’s team of Teaching Ambassador Fellows—active classroom teachers who spend a year working at the U.S. Department of Education—have already held more than 100 roundtable meetings with teachers across the country and will hold several more in the coming months. The development of RESPECT also benefitted enormously from the input of American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten, and from National Education Association (NEA) President Dennis Van Roekel’s and his leadership in the NEA’s Commission on Effective Teachers and Teaching.

Translators at the International Summit on the Teaching Profession

Translators at the International Summit on the Teaching Profession. Photo by Andy Kropa for the Department of Education.

This year’s Summit reaffirmed the central role that school leaders and teachers play in successfully implementing reform to improve student learning and why the RESPECT project is so important to the United States. We heard, for example, from the head of Singapore’s National Institute of Education who talked about the knowledge, skills and values teachers need to be able to engage 21st century learners. Teachers in Singapore open their classrooms to colleagues to watch and listen so they can all work together to improve teaching and learning rather than closing their doors and working in isolation. This is truly a collaborative way to promote educational success and excellence and one the U.S. can work to emulate.

Certain practices and policies were repeated throughout the Summit like the need to attract talent to education through competitive pay scales and career-ladders; the benefits of providing support through school-to-school, principal-to-principal, and teacher-to-teacher networks; and the large-scale value of identifying high-level, common standards that are consistent from pre-K through high school in order to prepare students for college and careers.

With these great challenges come great opportunities. Engaging with international education leaders has contributed valuable insight and input that will help the U.S. continue our work to elevate our nation’s education system. Accomplishing this broad, imperative goal will depend on our ability to attract and retain great talent over the short term so the U.S. can effectively shape public education for generations to come.

We look forward to continuing the conversation at the next Summit, which will be convened by the Netherlands in Amsterdam in 2013.

Click here for more information on the International Summit on the Teaching Profession, and click here to read Secretary Duncan’s opening remarks.

Liz Utrup is the Assistant Press Secretary at the U.S. Department of Education

San Antonio Community Joins National Conversation about Education

Duncan at Cafe College

Secretary Duncan at Cafe College in San Antonio. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

“America’s economic success is inextricably linked with the success of the Hispanic community,” Secretary Duncan said last week in San Antonio. Duncan joined the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics for two events, including a town hall with San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro at Café College, San Antonio’s college access and resource center that encourages and helps students of all ages obtain a higher education.

During the town hall, community leaders and educators discussed the importance of expanding opportunities for Hispanic students to meet President Obama’s education goals for the nation. Nearly 140 audience members, and over 500 online viewers participated as Secretary Duncan and Mayor Castro answered questions about local, regional and national efforts to improve college access, affordability, and persistence for all students.

Café College is part of San Antonio 2020, an effort created under Mayor Castro’s leadership, which seeks to improve early learning and higher education opportunities for all San Antonio residents by 2020.

Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

Secretary Duncan also joined more than 400 community leaders and 28 senior Obama administration officials at the White House Hispanic Community Action Summit at Fox Tech High School. The summit brought together the community to identify issues of concern for Hispanics and develop solutions that would improve access to and quality of education.

Speaking at the Summit, Duncan noted that “the success of the Hispanic community, as with other communities, is largely dependent on educational attainment and on ensuring that barriers in the way of this objective are tackled head-on.”

The event was the 14th summit held by the White House office of Public Engagement and the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics. The summit series has engaged almost 5,000 leaders throughout the nation.

The event is part of a series of summits throughout the nation developed by the White House office of Public Engagement and the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.

Watch the archived webcast of the town hall at: http://bit.ly/EdSAT.

Duncan Praises NCAA for Raising Academic Bar for Athletes

The NCAA is making significant progress on raising the academic bar for student athletes, according to Secretary Duncan earlier today on a call with reporters.  “I am a big believer in the value of college sports, not a critic,” Duncan said. “When athletic programs have their priorities in order, there is no better way to teach invaluable life lessons than on the playing field or court.”

Duncan praised NCAA President Mark Emmert and courageous college presidents for proving skeptics wrong and raising the bar for post-season eligibility. The new standards will require that requires teams to be on track to graduating half of their players.

A fifty percent on-track graduation rate translates into an Academic Progress Rate (APR), of 930 out of 1,000.

In this year’s NCAA men’s tournament, 13 teams have an APR below 930, which, in a few short years, will disqualify them from post-season play.

Just three years ago, 21 men’s teams in the NCAA tournament had APRs below 925. This year, only eight teams are under the 925 mark, and in the women’s tournaments, only three teams have an APR below 930.

The new requirements for post-season eligibility will have “a tremendous impact” on academic success Duncan noted, particularly for Division I men’s basketball and football.

Read the transcript, or listen to the call Audio icon.

It’s March. Do You know How Strong Your Schools’ Arts Programs Are?

The arts are an important part of a well-rounded education for all students. All of the arts – dance, music, theatre, and the visual arts – are essential to preparing our nation’s young people for a global economy fueled by innovation and creativity and for a social discourse that demands communication in images and sound as well as in text.

Secretary Duncan views student art

Secretary Duncan talks with students at one of the ED's frequent Student Art Exhibit Openings at the Department's headquarters.

The importance of arts education is celebrated each year during March through Dance in the Schools Month, Music in Our Schools Month, Theatre in Our Schools Month, and Youth Art Month. Throughout the country, student presentations in local communities will showcase how the arts infuse creativity and innovation into learning. The month also presents an opportunity to acknowledge the arts specialists who help students reach high standards in the arts, while also serving their school communities as “chief creative officers” who collaborate with classroom teachers to integrate the arts with other core subjects.

Research shows that arts-rich schools – ones that provide opportunities for students to experience the arts in deep and meaningful ways and to make curricular connections with math, science, and the humanities – are more engaging for students. As we strive to increase high school graduation rates and ensure that all students are college and career-ready, we know that students who attend arts-rich schools are more likely to stay in school and go on to graduate from college.

Let’s use this month to not only celebrate arts learning, but to also determine the health of our K-12 arts education programs. Where they need strengthening – and especially where they don’t currently exist – now is the time to make the arts a vital part of a complete education for all students.

Arne Duncan is U.S. Secretary of Education

A Coming of Age Moment

Secretary Arne Duncan visited the Green Schools National Conference in Denver yesterday, where he praised the 1,500 educators in attendance for their commitment to greening our schools, developing environmental literacy, and nurturing stewardship and an ethic of sustainability in our students.

Duncan Speaks at the Green Ribbon EventArne called the gathering “a coming of age moment for the green movement in our schools,” declaring that the movement had matured to the point that environmental concerns were no longer viewed as anything less than essential.

“In the past, skeptics of green schools and the value of environmental literacy have claimed that reducing our ecological footprint and increasing understanding of the environment was a kind of zero-sum game,” Arne said.  “Green schools and environmental literacy in fact complement the goals of providing a well-rounded education for the 21st century, of modernizing schools at reduced costs, and of accelerating learning.”

Arne pointed out how green schools nurture unique skills and knowledge that matter more than ever in today’s global economy.

Reducing disease, developing renewable sources of energy, curbing pollution, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions are no longer challenges that stop at our borders.  America simply cannot meet any of these challenges without collaborating with other countries. And those partnerships will require U.S. students to develop better critical thinking, a deeper understanding of science and sustainability, and a greater awareness of ecosystems and energy efficiency.

The conference attendees included principals and teachers, school board members, facility and energy managers, school nutrition professionals, students, and others, as well as representatives of environmentally-focused national organizations.  Arne thanked them for their advocacy and support for the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools program, which he noted has inspired a variety of federal and state agencies to work together in innovative ways to help schools reduce their environmental impact, save energy, promote better health, and develop environmental literacy.

“Your movement is helping not only to change the culture of our schools for the better, but the culture of the Department of Education,” he said.

Read Secretary Duncan’s speech and sign up here for email updates from ED’s Green Ribbon Schools.

Find resources to green your school and learn about ED-GRS.
See U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools blogs.
Connect with U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools on Facebook.

Please note: U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools is a federal recognition award and should not be confused with any green schools program conducted by non-governmental entities.