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.

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.