Top 10 Highlights from the Back-to-School Tour

Official Department of Education Photo by Leslie Williams

America’s students weren’t the only ones getting back on buses last week. Secretary Duncan and senior Department of Education staff also hit the road, for a Midwest back-to-school tour focusing on  “Education and the Economy.”

With more than 75 events across seven states, Duncan and ED staff spoke with teachers, students, parents, administrators, and business and community leaders on the importance of investing in education to secure our country’s future. Here are the top 10 highlights from this year’s tour.

10An automotive teacher gets ED revved up. At the bus’s final stop at Carl Schurz High School in Chicago, Secretary Duncan visited the classroom of Clairene Terry, an automotive class teacher who has restored automotive mechanics’ stature as an exciting and promising career path for Carl Schurz students.

9Ready. Set. Educate. Before Secretary Duncan delivered his message about the need to educate our way to a better economy in Merrillville, Ind., students from the One Region, One Vision initiative sent a message to Duncan saying they accept the challenge.

8All hands on deck. Nine hundred and sixty new sailors were formally welcomed into the U.S. Navy by Under Secretary of Education Martha Kanter, when she delivered remarks at the basic training graduation for Navy recruits.

7A panel of Wolverines. Secretary Duncan joined a faculty and student panel at the University of Michigan’s School of Education, in Ann Arbor, Mich.. The panel discussed training a new generation of effective teachers, and Duncan highlighted the need for a diverse teaching force.

6. The red coats are coming. In Cleveland, City Year corps members—donning their signature red jackets—cheered for guests as they arrived at East Technical High School for a forum featuring Secretary Duncan. On any normal school day, you would find Corps members cheering for 9th graders in the city who are at risk of getting off track and dropping out of school.

5I’m with the band. Secretary Duncan joined Pittsburgh Superintendent Linda Lane and other officials to discuss labor-management collaboration in Pittsburgh. Secretary Duncan jokingly offered to write a note for the Perry Traditional Academy marching band so they could be excused from classes to join the tour.

4Robots! Secretary Duncan not only shook a robot’s hand in Cleveland, but at the School of Career and Technical Education in Milwaukee, students displayed a number of robotic and mechanical creations.

3One nerdy teacher and cows for college. Day two of the tour produced a number of interesting stories, including a visit with @TheNerdyTeacher on the bus, and a student raising a cow to help pay for college.

2Bet your bottom dollar you’ll lose the blues in Chicago. At the final event of the “Education and the Economy” Back-to-School Bus Tour, Secretary Arne Duncan returned to his hometown of Chicago with an urgent message: Our country needs to invest in education today.

1Six States. Three Days. Secretary Duncan takes a minute to summarize his back-to-school bus tour and describe his wish for the upcoming school year for America.

Check out ed.gov/bustour for all the stories from ED’s 2011 “Education and the Economy” Back-to-School Tour, and keep up to date with the Department of Education by subscribing to our email news alerts.

Latest “School Days” Video Features Secretary Duncan’s Tribal College Visit

The August 2011 edition of School Days, the U.S. Department of Education’s monthly video journal, is now online.   This month we feature the Obama Administration’s plans to give schools relief from some parts of the No Child Left Behind Act, Secretary Arne Duncan’s first Twitter Town Hall, ED employees talking about the recent earthquake, and a visit to a tribal college in South Dakota.

Watch the August 2011 School Days here.


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

American Jobs Act Will Create Jobs Today and in the Future

Secretary Duncan and White House advisor Melody Barnes visit a classroom in Milwaukee (Official Department of Education Photo by Leslie Williams)

President Obama’s American Jobs Act will make immediate investments that will help today’s students compete in tomorrow’s economy.

The Jobs Act will provide $30 billion to support teachers’ jobs and another $30 billion to modernize and renovate schools. Both are essential ingredients to the President’s plan to create and preserve jobs to move the economy forward. But they also will ensure children get the preparation needed to compete for jobs in the knowledge economy of the 21st Century.

When the Education and the Economy bus tour stopped in Milwaukee on Friday, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Director of the Domestic Policy Council Melody Barnes emphasized the critical role that the Jobs Act will play in creating jobs today and in the future.

In a town hall at the School of Career and Technical Education, Barnes pointed out that the average Milwaukee public school was built 70 years ago. The Jobs Act will provide $169 million for Milwaukee to modernize and renovate their buildings, ensuring they have the facilities to prepare students to compete for careers tomorrow.

“We can teach students about science and technology, but if they can’t put their hands on, it doesn’t make sense to them,” Barnes said.

Secretary Duncan watches the President's speech aboard the back-to-school tour bus.

The funding for teachers will support 280,000 jobs across the country and 7,400 in Wisconsin alone. Without it, schools will have to make tough choices to increase class sizes or cut programs in the arts and other subjects essential to a well-rounded curriculum.

“None of that is good for our children across the country,” Secretary Duncan said at the event.

The President outlined the American Jobs Act in a speech to Congress on Thursday night.

“There should be nothing controversial about this piece of legislation,” the President said.  “Everything in here is the kind of proposal that’s been supported by both Democrats and Republicans.  And everything in this bill will be paid for.”

Back-to-School Bus Heads to the Great Lakes

During last week’s #AskArne Twitter Town Hall, Sarah, a third grade teacher, asked if it is possible for Arne to “tour and sponsor real town halls with educators.” This week, ED announced that Secretary Duncan and his senior staff will be holding more than 50 such events next week.

Secretary Duncan stops in New York during last year's back-to-school bus tour.

Starting on Wednesday, September 7, Secretary Duncan and senior ED staff will head to the Great Lakes Region for a Back-to-School Bus Tour. Arne will be making stops in Pittsburgh, Erie, Cleveland, Toledo, Detroit, Merrillville, Ind., Milwaukee and Chicago, and senior ED officials will be hosting dozens of events throughout the Midwest. The theme of the tour is “Education and the Economy: Investing in Our Future.”

Arne will be meeting with educators and talking with students, parents, administrators, and community stakeholders. Among the topics that Secretary Duncan and senior staff will discuss include the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge, K-12 reform, transforming the teaching profession, civil rights enforcement, efforts to better serve students with disabilities and English Language Learners, Promise Neighborhoods, the Investing in Innovation (i3) fund, STEM education, increasing college access and attainment as well as vocational and adult education.

Click here for additional details on Secretary Duncan’s back-to-school bus tour stops.

You can follow the progress of this year’s Back-to-School tour right here at the ED Blog, by following #EDTour11 on Twitter, and by signing up for email updates from ED and Secretary Duncan.

Duncan Greets Students on First Day of School

(Official Department of Education Photo by Joshua Hoover)

For many high school students, the first day of school usually involves shuffling through the halls trying to find next period’s classroom and comparing class schedules with friends, but for students at Eastern High in Washington, DC, the first day also involved a warm welcome from Secretary Arne Duncan, DC Mayor Vincent Gray, and DC Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson.

After greeting the students and touring the school’s facilities, Secretary Duncan addressed Eastern’s student body with an inspiring address. In his remarks, the Secretary articulated how ED’s policies would affect schools in DC and nationwide.

(Official Department of Education Photo by Joshua Hoover)

As a Turnaround School, Eastern is eligible for additional funding from the federal government to raise expectations, improve the quality of teaching, and provide students with the help they need to graduate and be ready to go to college and enter the workforce. ED and the Obama Administration have made a significant investment – more than $4 billion – to help states turn around their lowest performing schools. Duncan outlined how more than 1,000 schools throughout the country are using Turnaround grant money to increase education outcomes.

Duncan emphasized that Mayor Gray, Chancellor Henderson and Principal Rachel Skerritt were committed to executing an effective turnaround plan for the school.

“Eastern’s turnaround is built around four key values: Excellence, Scholarship, Honor, and Service,” Duncan said, following Mayor Gray’s remarks about the vital contributions that Eastern alumni had made to Washington and to the world.

Duncan also discussed how excellence in Eastern’s curriculum was emerging through more rigorous academic offerings. The school is adding an International Baccalaureate program and is preparing to offer Advanced Placement programs when the Class of 2015 reaches the upper grades.

Additionally, Duncan praised the more than 60 students who joined the Health and Medical Sciences Academy, a program that will help prepare them to work in one of the fastest growing fields in America’s future economy.

The Secretary finished his remarks by encouraging the students to pursue a college education and to work hard in all of their future endeavors.

Duncan Takes to Twitter to Answer Your Questions

(Official Department of Education Photo by Paul Wood)

During the past week, thousands of Twitter users submitted questions to Secretary Duncan for his first-ever #AskArne Twitter Town Hall, and the difficult task of choosing the questions for Arne fell to the event’s moderator, journalist John Merrow. Merrow monitored #AskArne tweets throughout the week and even gave one last look through the steady stream of questions just moments before the camera went live.

Merrow asked Secretary Duncan tough questions covering a broad range of topics, including: standardized testing, cheating, performance pay for educators, and whether Arne truly listens to teachers.

Many Twitter users asked Arne about testing, and whether students are taking too many tests at school.

@pureparents: #AskArne: What specifically will you do to decrease the amount of and emphasis on standardized testing in the US?

Secretary Duncan answered:

@usedgov: Where you have too many tests, or are spending too much time on test prep, that doesn’t lead to good results. #AskArne

@usedgov: Fill-in-the-bubble tests should be a tiny % of what we’re doing. I’m a big fan of formative assessments–more helpful to teachers. #AskArne

A few Twitter users such as Richard wondered if Arne listens to teachers.

@Thanks2Teachers: #AskArne Do you truly LISTEN to the voices & concerns of teachers and parents? Hope this isn’t a hollow public relations exercise.

Duncan explained to Merrow:

@usedgov: I listen to teachers daily, in visits to schools, in mtgs @ ED and through our teaching ambassadors. Visited hundreds of schools. #askarne

Several Twitter users inquired about the Secretary’s stand on school vouchers:

@thefooshshow: #AskArne Heritage Fndn sz vouchers most viable way to *dismantle* pub #education. Will u unequivcbly take v off table?

Duncan responds:

@usedgov: Duncan: I will never support school vouchers. They take $ away from public system. I want great PUBLIC schools in this country. #AskArne

(Official Department of Education Photo by Paul Wood)

During the town hall, Secretary Duncan noted that he’s still a Twitter “novice” and he looks forward to future chats and to engaging with teachers online. If you missed the town hall, you can watch the archived video here, and you can see a more comprehensive list of questions and answers through ED’s Twitter page.

To keep up-to-date on all things ED, follow @ArneDuncan, @usedgov, @ED_Outreach, @EDPressSec on Twitter, or click here to see all of ED’s social media accounts.

Want to #AskArne a Question? Tweet Today

The response to ED’s first-ever #AskArne Twitter Town Hall has been overwhelming. The questions and comments on Twitter are rolling in, and Arne looks forward to addressing the important issues you’ve raised.

If you still have a question for Arne, it isn’t too late to ask. The Twitter Town Hall begins at 1:30 p.m. EDT, and you can watch it live on ED’s official ustream channel. Veteran education journalist John Merrow will moderate the discussion based on your #AskArne questions from Twitter.

If you can’t watch the Twitter Town Hall live, don’t worry, your voice can still be heard by sending in your questions via Twitter using the hashtag #AskArne any time before the event. The Town Hall video will also be archived on our website, and check back to this blog for a summary of the #AskArne Twitter Town Hall.

Follow @ArneDuncan on Twitter, and click here to see all of ED’s social media accounts.

Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge Application Released

“Successful early learning programs are not just about education but about the whole child – including their physical and emotional health,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on a conference call this afternoon with U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to announce the Obama Administration’s release of the final application for the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC).

The two Departments have worked together over the last four months in an unprecedented effort.  Nearly 350 organizations and individuals provided comments to the draft criteria put out in early July.

RTT-ELC will provide $500 million in state-level competitive grants to improve early learning and development programs with States getting about $50 to $100 million. The goal of the Challenge is to ensure more children with high-needs from birth to age five—including those from low-income families—enter kindergarten ready to succeed.

“Brain scientists tell us that the early years are when critical cognitive development takes place. Social scientists tell us that the investments we make in early childhood programs can have a huge payoff down the road,” said Secretary Sebelius.

States chosen for the RTT-ELC will need to demonstrate a commitment to improving their early learning and development programs as well as adopt common standards within the State that will help determine what young children should know and be able to do, as well as define program quality.

States awarded funds under RTT-ELC will also implement appropriate assessments to help monitor students’ progress to inform practice and improve program quality. Secretary Duncan explained that “we are not asking three year olds to take bubble tests.” Just as good early childhood educators are doing now, we are asking that early childhood educators have the observation and documentation skills they need to evaluate a child’s progress along a set of appropriate early learning and development standards.

Read the press release of today’s announcement, and click here to learn more about the RTT-ELC and to view the application.

Duncan Praises All-American Volunteers

(Official Department of Education Photo By Leslie Williams)

Excelling in sports is no longer the only way to become an All-American. On August 9th, Parade Magazine announced the “starting line-up” of its second annual High School Service All-America Team, which it created in conjunction with the GenerationOn initiative of the Points of Light Institute. Secretary Duncan, who was a member for the blue-ribbon panel that selected the winners, addressed the 15 Service All-Americans and commended them for bringing hope and inspiration to their communities.

“I think we all know that when young people are actively engaged in the community doing great service, they’re also engaged in the classroom,” Secretary Duncan said in his remarks.

“Young people who are doing real service—they’re not dropping out of high school,” Duncan added. “They’re successful in the classroom. When our young people see the ties between their academic work and the real world, when they’re engaged, great things happen.”

Citing the inspiring work of the volunteers, as well as his own experiences working on community service programs in Chicago’s South Side, Duncan took the opportunity to call for America’s school districts to increase their support for youth community service opportunities.

“The more we can provide these concrete opportunities for all of our young people—rich, poor, black, white, Latino, urban, rural, suburban—the more young people have these kinds of opportunities, the better people they’re going to be, and the better our country will be,” Duncan said.

Three of the All-American Service Team members were commended for exceptional service in the field of education. Grace Li, 16, co-founded the We Care Act nonprofit, which has organized disaster relief efforts with students and faculty at 80 schools across the country. Dylan Mahalingham, 16, used social media to help the Under the Acadia foundation build a school in rural Kenya. And Mary-Grace Reeves, 16, created the American Girl Book Club in the wake of Hurricane Ivan, which has provided over 900 students in Pensacola, Florida, with lessons in reading and history. Accepting her award, Reeves told a story that exemplified the innovative spirit Secretary Duncan deemed “inspirational” in his remarks.

Said Reeves, “When the manager of the children’s department [of the local library] said ‘We can’t do it,’ I said four words that would change my life forever: ‘I will do it.’”

More information on the 15 Parade Service All-America Team can be found in last Sunday’s edition of Parade magazine.

Secretary Duncan to Hold #AskArne Twitter Town Hall

The Department of Education announced today that Secretary Arne Duncan will participate in the first-ever #AskArne Twitter Town Hall on August 24, 2011 at 1:30 p.m. EDT. Veteran education journalist John Merrow will moderate the town hall that will also be broadcast live on ED’s ustream channel.

Beginning today, Twitter users can submit questions to the Secretary using the hashtag #AskArne.

The Department of Education uses several Twitter accounts to share information and converse with the education community and the American people. For general news and information about ED, follow @usedgov. To keep up-to-date with Secretary Duncan, follow @ArneDuncan. Justin Hamilton, ED’s Press Secretary, can can be found at @EDPressSec, and Massie Ritsch, Deputy Assistant Secretary for External Affairs and Outreach, shares information and converses with stakeholders, teachers and parents at @ED_Outreach.

Click here for a complete list of ED’s Twitter accounts.

White House Rural Roundtable Meeting in Tennessee

A healthy American economy depends on a prosperous rural America. Which is why President Obama created the White House Rural Council to build upon the administration’s robust economic strategy for rural America, and to ensure that rural communities drive innovation and capitalize on emerging opportunities. On Wednesday, I joined Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, state schools chief Kevin Huffman, Tennessee Teacher of the Year Cheryl Deaton, school superintendents, principals and business leaders in Nashville for a White House Rural Council roundtable. The roundtable focused on education reform efforts being made in Tennessee and in rural areas across the country, and how these reforms can lead to a highly skilled workforce and a stronger economy.

(Official Department of Education Photo By Leslie Williams)

This week’s White House Rural Council roundtable meeting provided a valuable opportunity to discuss the issues and solutions related to preparing rural students for college and jobs that currently exist in their communities.

These conversations guide the work of the Council and help government foster investment, support communities, and spur rural job creation by partnering with leaders in rural America. Established by President Obama in June 2011, the Council is composed of the leaders of every federal agency, who work together to improve coordination of existing federal resources and facilitate public-private partnerships that can strengthen rural communities.

During the roundtable meeting, I was struck by the comments of Tony Cates, a human resource manager for Gestamp Corp., a local Volkswagen supplier. Cates estimated that half of the recent high school graduates who apply for jobs with Gestamp lack the literacy and math skills needed for employment with his company. He said many recent grads also need greater competencies in the “soft skills” related to one’s attitude, motivation, and sense of responsibility for workplace norms.

Several superintendents questioned the goal of preparing all students for college, which they perceived to be the “university track,” and expressed the need for greater emphasis on career and technical education. As Commissioner Huffman correctly observed, we have the same goal but we were speaking a different language. College should mean more than a four-year university degree.

Community colleges for example, are the closest access to college for many rural students, who are less likely than their peers nationally to pursue postsecondary education. Community colleges and secondary schools can partner to create modern technical training programs and career pathways that lead to an Associate Degree or an industry certification. Both of which can provide local businesses with skilled employees.

With $1 billion for career and technical education (CTE) in the President’s Fiscal Year 2012 budget request, this administration remains committed to supporting higher standards for CTE and ensuring that today’s CTE programs teach skills that are needed for today’s jobs instead of the outdated vocational models that no longer meet the needs of their local economies.  

I left Tennessee encouraged by the willingness of rural school leaders to work together to maximize resources, including the use of technology to increase access to high-level science courses. They are acting quickly to support teachers in preparing students to meet higher standards, and recognize the need to expose students to the world of work. 

I am proud to support them as a member of the White House Rural Council and look forward to working with my federal partners to increase opportunity in rural communities now and in the future.

Duncan on the Importance of Play

Secretary Duncan recently responded to a couple of comments from his Facebook page regarding the importance of play for young children.

Arne emphasized the need for innovative and reasonable assessments of children’s cognitive and social skills as they transition from early learning programs into kindergarten. However, the Secretary made clear these assessments need not interfere with schoolchildren’s play.

“It can be done very, very thoughtfully, unobtrusively,” Duncan said. “It doesn’t in any way compromise the importance of play and having students simply learn through those experiences.”

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

Continue the conversation on Secretary Duncan’s Facebook page, on Twitter and in the comments below.