Duncan “Schools” on the Court

“Arne Duncan is takin’ everyone back to school,” the NBA tweeted during last Friday’s All-Star Celebrity game. (Click here to watch Arne make a great pass.) Duncan ended the game with 17 points, 8 rebounds and 5 steals, and while the Secretary helped lead the East to a win, Duncan noted on Twitter that while he felt good about the game, he didn’t feel good about the dropout rate, where every 26 seconds another student drops out of school.

The Celebrity All-Star game was just one stop in a busy schedule during a visit to Orlando last Friday. Duncan started the day at the NBA Technology Summit where he joined a panel to discuss the importance of STEM and the need for more successful minority tech entrepreneurs to be role models for young people. Arne then took part in NBA Cares’ All-Star Day of Service where he helped build a playground.

Duncan also joined Joshua DuBois, special assistant to the President and executive director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, at Memorial Middle School in Orlando to announce Together for Tomorrow, a new Obama Administration initiative to spotlight existing and spur new community engagement in turning around persistently low-performing schools. Read more here.

Following the town hall, Secretary Duncan joined the actor and hip hop artist Common to talk with 8th graders about the importance of working hard and graduating. Watch the video:

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

In Boston: Arne Says We Must Invest in Education

Duncan with Parents

Secretary Duncan stopped by Boston Public Schools’ Parent University during his trip to Boston. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

“Education is an investment,” Secretary Duncan told a town hall audience earlier this week at Emerson College in Boston. Duncan explained that other countries aren’t cutting their investment in education, and for America to compete in the global economy, investing in education is vital.

Duncan started a busy day at Boston University where he discussed Race to the Top with Mass., Commissioner of Education Mitchell Chester, superintendents, union presidents, and others. The Secretary then stopeed by J.F. Kennedy Elementary to visit Boston Public Schools’ Parent University. Following the visit, Duncan updated his Twitter account saying:

Later, Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) joined Arne for the Emerson town hall and a meeting with college presidents on keeping college affordable for America’s middle class. The meeting on college affordability follows on the heels of President Obama’s recently introduced Blueprint for College Affordability. “[W]e’ve got to have an economy in which every American has access to a world-class higher education,” President Obama explained when he unveiled the blueprint. “This country has always made a commitment to put a good education within the reach of all who are willing to work for it, and that’s part of what helped to create this economic miracle and build the largest middle class in history,” he said.

Following his visit to Emerson, Duncan gave a speech at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education’s Askwith Forum, entitled “Fighting the Wrong Education Battles.”  Duncan encouraged education advocates to “seek common ground—knowing that it will both take you outside of your comfort zone and require tough-minded collaboration.” He said that we need to “stop defending the status quo when it hurts children. Let’s wage the right education battles. Together, let’s work collectively to advance achievement and a love of learning in America.”

Read the entire speech here.

Duncan Tells Teachers To Lead the Transformation of Teaching

Arne Duncan speaks with teachers

Secretary Duncan speaks with the new Teach Plus Teaching Policy Fellows. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

“Teacher voice is needed in order for real reform to take place,” Secretary Arne Duncan told the leaders of Teach Plus on Tuesday.

Teach Plus is a national nonprofit teacher leader organization that was celebrating its expansion to the nation’s capital.  The event was the first formal activity for a group of 25 high-performing teachers from the D.C. area. As the inaugural class of Teaching Policy Fellows, they will participate in leadership opportunities designed to amplify the voice of effective classroom teachers.

Secretary Duncan at the Teach Plus event

Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

Before the launch event, Duncan met privately with the Fellows and encouraged them to get involved and drive the change happening in the profession. He called on the cohort to make the most of the experience and really be leaders in transforming the teaching profession in their school, district, and nation.

When Duncan spoke to the group of 150 teachers and education leaders, he encouraged them to rebuild the profession so that schools meet the needs of students and teachers.  He urged educators to take responsibility for the growth of all children, including those with special needs and those who come from challenging environments in urban cities and rural areas.  “Teachers need to stop saying these kids and start staying our kids,” he said.

Clearly, the teaching profession is at a crossroads.  At that moment in time, I was humbled to be in the presence of such a committed and accomplished group of Teach Plus educators. Teach Plus aims to improve outcomes for children by ensuring that a greater proportion of students have access to effective, experienced teachers.  Now more than ever, we need teacher leaders like the Teach Plus Fellows and others who are totally committed to the potential of all students and who are not afraid to lead radical transformation within our profession.

Shakera Walker

Shakera Walker is a 2011 Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow and Teach Plus Policy Fellow Alumni who teaches kindergarten in Boston, Mass.

Read the Teaching Ambassador Fellows’ recent article, Teachers Want to Lead the Transformation of their Profession.

Join Arne for a Twitter Town Hall on Hispanic Education

To follow up on the President’s State of the Union Address—in which critical topics like college affordability, dropout rates, teachers, and job training were addressed—Secretary Duncan will engage with the Hispanic community through a Twitter town hall at 3:00 p.m. ET on February 8.  The conversation on Twitter will be conducted in both English and Spanish and will be moderated by José Rico, executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.

Twitter users can ask questions in advance and during the town hall by using the hashtag #HispanicED.  The town hall will be streamed live on Arne’s Facebook Page and ED’s Ustream page.

David Terry is Deputy Director of ED’s Information Resource Center

National PTA and Arne Open Student Art Exhibit at ED

Students perform at the opening of the student art exhibit. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

“A well-rounded curriculum that embraces the arts and humanities is not a luxury but a necessity in the information age,” Secretary Duncan recently wrote. At the Department of Education we know the importance of drama, dance, music, the visual arts, and creative writing, and one way we celebrate student achievement in the arts is by highlighting student art from around the country, including hosting art exhibits at our headquarters.

Last week, Arne joined National PTA President-Elect Otha Thorton to open the National PTA’s Reflections Program student art exhibit at ED. The ceremony included student dance, chorus and string performances. The National PTA’s Reflections Program encourages students to explore their artistic talents, and the exhibit will be on display at ED until March 7.

Keeping College Within Reach

VP Biden and Arne Duncan in Ohio

Vice President Biden speaks to students about college affordability at Lincoln High in Gahanna, Ohio. (Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover)

“What college you go to may be one of the least important decisions in your life,” said Vice President Joe Biden yesterday in Ohio. “It’s deciding to go that is the most,” he said.

Secretary Duncan joined Biden at Lincoln High School in Gahanna, Ohio yesterday to speak to students and parents about the importance of college and college affordability, and to answer questions from the audience. “The jobs of the future are going to require some type of higher education,” Duncan said, explaining that it could be college, community college, trade school, or technical or vocational training.

The Vice President and Secretary Duncan described the steps that the Obama Administration is taking to ensure that college stays within reach of the middle class, including:

  • Increasing the maximum size of Pell Grants by $800 to $5,550.
  • Increasing the number of students who receive Pell Grants from 6.1 million in 2008 to over 9 million today.
  • Enacting a tuition tax credit worth up to $10,000 over 4 years.
  • Ensuring that future graduates won’t have to spend more than 10% of their discretionary income on student loan payments.

Duncan also explained that ED has simplified the FAFSA form, making it easier for students to apply for aid in the first place.

While Vice President Biden encouraged the students in attendance to commit to higher education, Secretary Duncan said that the next step is finishing. “Whatever it takes to get you across the finish line,” he said.

After 10 Years, It’s Time for a New NCLB

The following op-ed appeared in the January 8, 2012 edition of the Washington Post.

Ten years ago today, President Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act. The law has improved American education in some ways, but it also still has flaws that need to be fixed.

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) for the first time exposed achievement gaps and created a conversation about how to close them. The law has held schools accountable for the performance of all students no matter their race, income level, English-proficiency or disability. Schools can no longer point to average scores while hiding an achievement gap that is morally unacceptable and economically unsustainable.

But NCLB has significant flaws. It created an artificial goal of proficiency that encouraged states to set low standards to make it easier for students to meet the goal. The act’s emphasis on test scores as the primary measure of school performance has narrowed the curriculum, and the one-size-fits-all accountability system has mislabeled schools as failures even if their students are demonstrating real academic growth. The law is overly prescriptive and doesn’t allow districts to create improvement plans based on their unique needs. It also has not supported states as they create teacher evaluation systems that use multiple measures to identify highly effective teachers and support the instructional improvement of all teachers.

The question today is how to build on NCLB’s success and fix its problems. Fortunately, states are leading the way. In Washington, we need to do everything we can to support their work.

Over the past two years, 45 states and the District of Columbia have shown tremendous courage by raising their academic standards to measure whether students are truly prepared for success in college and careers. To measure students’ progress toward those standards, 44 states and the District are working together to create assessments based on the common set of standards developed by educators, governors and state education chiefs. What’s more, states and school districts have adopted bold and comprehensive reforms to support academic achievement for all students. These reforms are improving teacher and principal evaluation and support, as well as turning around low-performing schools and expanding access to high-quality schools.

Unfortunately, the law is unintentionally creating barriers for these reforms. States that have chosen to raise standards will soon need to explain why student scores are dropping. Instead, they should be able to highlight students’ academic growth. School districts are stuck using NCLB’s definition of a highly qualified teacher based solely on paper credentials, without taking into account the teacher’s ability to improve student learning. And the law continues to encourage schools to narrow curriculum at the expense of important subjects such as history, civics, science, the arts and physical education. After 10 years of these flawed policies, our nation’s teachers and students deserve better.

President Obama is offering states flexibility from NCLB in exchange for comprehensive plans to raise standards; to create fair, flexible and focused accountability systems; and to improve systems for teacher and principal evaluation and support. This flexibility will not give states a pass on accountability. It will demand real reform.

So far, 39 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have expressed interest in this flexibility. The Education Department is working with the first group of applicants.

Although Congress has begun the process of reauthorizing NCLB, we can’t wait for the extended legislative process to be completed. States and school districts need relief from NCLB right now.

Congress has yet to act even though No Child Left Behind is four years overdue for renewal. Education reform requires elected officials from both sides of the aisle to come together. We can’t let partisan politics stand in the way.

One way or another, NCLB needs significant changes. Our states and schools deserve flexibility from its teach-to-the-test culture and one-size-fits-all accountability system.

Even as we work with states to offer flexibility from existing law, the Obama administration will support a bipartisan effort by Congress to create a law that supports a well-rounded education while holding schools, districts and states accountable for results.

We all need to work together so that 10 years from now, America’s children will have the sort of federal education law they so richly deserve — one that challenges them to achieve to high standards, and provides them with the highly effective teachers and principals who can prepare them for success in college and the workforce.

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

Secretaries Duncan and Solis Meet with DREAMers

Secretaries Hilda Solis and Arne Duncan meet with students during one of Duncan's regular "Student Voices" sessions. Official Department of Education photo by Leslie Williams.


A powerful concept packed into a single word.

This was the word one young person chose to describe what education means to him when asked by Secretary Duncan and Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis as part of a reoccurring Student Voices meeting at ED headquarters. The frank conversation between the Secretaries and the group of young advocates largely revolved around the obstacles undocumented youth face while living in the United States, particularly limited access to higher education.

Several of the students discussed how difficult it was to be a “DREAMer”—a label derived from the “DREAM Act” that the students use to describe undocumented young people who have lived in the U.S. from a very young age.  The students explained their frustration and disappointment that they cannot fulfill their dreams of a college degree once they graduate high school, good grades and hard work are rendered invalid the day they learn they can’t apply to colleges or scholarships without having a social security number.

With estimates of approximately 65,000 undocumented immigrants graduating from American high schools annually and no viable pathway to legal status, this is not an isolated problem.

DREAMers’ obstacles to higher education are myriad. Even if accepted, most colleges and universities require undocumented students to pay non-resident or out-of-state tuition – a prohibitive cost. They get no access to federal financial aid (this includes Work Study and Pell Grants) and their chances for scholarships are narrow at best.

“I got in to a top school,” said one now non-student with tears welling up in his eyes. “But I deferred because I don’t have a way of paying for it. I can’t apply for financial aid, so Work Study is out.”

Victor George Sánchez Jr., President of the United States Student Association, speaks with the Secretaries during the "Student Voices" session. Official Department of Education Photo by Leslie Williams.

There is irony in the fact that the U.S. has an abudance of undocumented students who are extremely motivated, informed, who earn excellent grades, and who have developed marketable skills.

And yet, we are turning away promising nation-builders in droves.

As teachers, we work tirelessly to prepare our students for their next steps in life – documented or undocumented. It’s as if these fearless young people are on a starting block and we rally them to bound forward enthusiastically with all the promises of a college education and the hopes of a solid career.

“Ready!…Set!…” But instead of yelling “Go!” we ask them to take one step back because, while they did every single thing we asked of them over their school career (and they did it well), it’s still not enough.

I ask myself why we spend so much energy on creating more hoops for talented young DREAMers to jump through. Why not spend it finding ways for them to connect with opportunities they worked so hard to glean?

Claire Jellinek is a 9th-12th grade social studies teacher at South Valley Academy in Albuquerque, NM and a 2011-2012 Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow.

An Open Letter to College Leaders

Ed. Note: The following open letter was posted earlier today on usatoday.com

To college presidents, athletic directors, and coaches:

The deeply disturbing Penn State and Syracuse child sex abuse allegations are more than a cautionary note for college athletics–they are an urgent wake-up call. As President Obama has said, these allegations are cause for “soul-searching” in higher education.

As a starting point for that soul-searching, campus leaders should rigorously take stock of all their programs to ensure they first serve their core mission to foster a college education and meet the elemental obligation to protect students and children from abuse. The guiding principle here ought to be simple: No double standards. Players, coaches, and college administrators should be held to the same fundamental standards of sexual conduct as other students and faculty members.

I write not as a critic of college sports but as a great believer in their value. Few postsecondary pursuits likely do more to cultivate leadership and the character skills important to succeeding in the 21st century, including the ability to persist, defer gratification, take responsibility, and work in teams. Few activities do more to build a sense of community on campus. And when athletic programs have their priorities in order, there are few better vehicles for teaching invaluable life lessons than the playing field or court. Great coaches, just like great teachers, transform the lives of their students.

I recognize, too, that most college sports programs have their priorities in order, and that the scourge of child sex abuse is in no way unique to college sports. Yet the recent sex abuse allegations cannot be dismissed as lonely exceptions without a larger meaning.

Colleges and universities should systematically ensure that all student athletes—indeed, all students—are educated about the dangers and warning signs of sex abuse. Student-athletes, coaches, college administrators, and law enforcement officials should be familiar with procedures for reporting abuse. And the university should have clear standards in place for thoroughly investigating allegations of sex abuse, including the reporting of any sexual assault allegation to law enforcement authorities. Some precautionary measures, like restricting travel for under-aged ball boys, seem like little more than common sense.

Most importantly, all athletic programs and coaches—no matter how renowned—should be held to the same standards as other parts of the university. Every institution should commit to shaping an environment that deters abuse and leads to swift action when it is reported.

Counseling and support should be available to victims–not a gauntlet of interrogation and impugning of their motives. No university should make a student or child feel stigmatized or ashamed, nor should it impede the reporting of sex abuse. It’s time to end the code of silence that so often can hover over instances of child abuse.

The Clery Act, a federal law, requires all colleges and universities that receive federal aid to keep a public log of all crimes on and around campus, specifying the nature of the crime, the date, place, and time. Postsecondary institutions must also post their procedures for investigating and prosecuting sexual crimes.

The U.S. Department of Education has opened an investigation into Penn State’s compliance with the Clery Act. I do not know what that investigation will conclude. But I do know that complying with federal law should be the bare minimum for which universities and college sports programs should strive. In the aftermath of these tragic allegations, university presidents, athletic directors, coaches, and other campus leaders should first return to their roots–to educate and protect.

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

In America, Education Is Still the Great Equalizer

“In America, education is still the great equalizer,” Secretary Duncan told a group of graduates at Fayetteville State University’s Winter Commencement on Saturday. Duncan described the importance of education in today’s economy, and that education is, in the long run, one of the best investments one can make for the future.

On average, Americans who have earned a bachelor degree will earn roughly one million dollars more over their lifetime than students with only a high school diploma, Duncan explained.

Secretary Duncan noted that the Obama Administration is taking big steps to keep student debt manageable through the recently introduced Pay As You Earn proposal. For those who qualify, the proposal would cap monthly student loan payments to what people can afford. “In practical terms,” Duncan explained, “1.6 million Americans could literally see their loan payments go down by hundreds of dollars a month.”

“We want people to be able to follow their heart and passion—and not just chase a big paycheck because they have to pay back loans. America can’t afford to lose that talent,” Duncan said.

Click here to read more about the Pay As You Earn proposal.

Additional Resources:

  • Find the right college for you with the National Center for Education Statistics’ College Navigator.
  • Click here to visit ED’s College Affordability and Transparency Center for information about tuition and net prices at postsecondary institutions.

Arne on Thanking Teachers and College Debt

Arne sat down last week to answer a couple of questions and comments he received on his Facebook page. Ginger and Adriana wrote about thanking great teachers, and Arne encouraged others to take time and thank their teachers. “Whether you graduated last year, whether you are still in school, or whether you are 50 years out of high school,” he said, “it is never too late to go back and say thank you.”

Jamie left a comment for Arne that described the stress associated with having significant college debt. Duncan noted that on the front end the Obama administration has taken big steps in increasing Pell Grants, including doubling funding for Pell Grants within the last couple of years. For those in repayment, the Administration recently announced a pay-as-you-earn program, which could reduce loan payments by hundreds per month for those who qualify. Duncan explained that college can’t be for the wealthy only, and that while the Obama administration has made tremendous progress, “there is a lot of hard work ahead of us.”

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

New “School Days” Video Highlights First Group of States Seeking Waivers from NCLB

The latest edition of ED’s “School Days” video journal looks back at the month of November, and the lead story features the first states to seek waivers from the No Child Left Behind Act in exchange for broad reforms.  Other news includes Secretary Arne Duncan’s visits to Ohio, Kentucky, and Rhode Island; new grants for innovations in education; a just-published report showing that schools with low-income students aren’t getting their fair share of state and local funds; and much more.

Watch the November 2011 School Days:

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