Academic Mobility: Have Degree, Will Travel

Last month in Rome, I attended an international meeting focused on increasing academic mobility by making it easier for individuals to use their college degrees in other countries. The annual meeting of the European Network of Information Centers (ENIC) draws participants from 55 countries, as well as representatives from UNESCO and the Council of Europe.

You may not have heard about “academic mobility” before, but it’s actually nothing new. From the time of the first universities in medieval Europe, students and scholars have traveled great distances and crossed borders to engage in academic pursuits. But what makes academic mobility such a prominent issue today is its scale and rate of growth.

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Participants in the 21st ENIC-NARIC Conference, held in Rome, Italy, July 6-8, 2014.
(Photo credit: Italian Center for Academic Mobility and Equivalencies)

The demand for higher education in many countries has increased significantly, while the number of international students worldwide also continues to grow, rising from 2.5 million in 2004 to 3.6 million in 2010. And for all students earning academic credit or degrees abroad, ensuring that those credentials will be recognized when they return home is critical to their future prospects for employment or further study.

Years ago, just after graduating from college, I spent an additional year studying in Buenos Aires, Argentina. As is the case with most students who go abroad, immersion in another language and culture was a life-changing experience. I didn’t realize it at the time, but not only was I starting down a path toward a career in international education, I was also engaging in something called academic mobility.

Today, as the U.S. representative to the ENIC network, I provide information to counterparts in other countries to help in their evaluation of U.S. credentials, including those that are less well known outside of the United States—like associate degrees and industry-based certifications. I also respond to inquiries from U.S. graduates wishing to work or pursue graduate studies abroad and to questions from foreign-educated graduates planning to work or go to graduate school in the United States.

But the recognition of degrees is just one aspect of academic mobility. Academic mobility comprises all cross-border education activities that involve the movement of people, programs or institutions. And as globalization continues and higher education evolves along with it, academic mobility is becoming a topic of increasing relevance.

Today, I understand the benefits of academic mobility from professional as well as personal experience.  And now more than ever, events and challenges around the world affect all of us on a day-to-day basis. That’s why I’m passionate about working with my international colleagues to help students expand their horizons through study abroad and to facilitate the recognition of degrees and other credentials. Academic mobility helps create more globally competent citizens with the 21st century skills that every nation – and the world as a whole – needs.

Rafael Nevárez is an International Education Specialist in the International Affairs Office. He serves as U.S. representative to the European Network of Information Centers (ENIC) and as a vice president on its steering committee, the ENIC Bureau.

Why Educating Girls Matters

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Wadley and Secretary Duncan solve a math problem together. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

“Education is the only solution.” – Malala Yousafzai

On January 12, 2010, when Wadley – a girl growing up in Port-au-Prince, Haiti — was just seven years old, the world that she once knew was forever changed. An earthquake killed hundreds of thousands and left just as many injured.  Its aftermath was unimaginable. Thousands upon thousands were left homeless and found themselves scrounging for the most basic necessities. Like so many others, Wadley and her mother moved to a tent city. Despite all the hardships, Wadley held on tight to her dreams: she wanted more than anything to go back to school.

When she found out the school had reopened she was overjoyed. She dropped the bucket she used to gather water and dashed home to tell her mother. But Wadley’s mother told her that she would not be returning to school because there was no money to pay the fees. Undaunted, Wadley returned to the makeshift school.  The teacher sent her away. “You are not a student here,” the teacher said. “Your mother hasn’t paid.” Wadley didn’t really understand what money was, but it seemed to make a difference in life. Still, Wadley desperately wanted to be in school. So, she went back, again and again, until finally, her teacher gave in.

Wadley is one of the lucky ones. She is back in school and happiest in her favorite class — science. In November, 2013, she even had a chance to do math problems with Secretary Duncan during his visit to Haiti. According to the Global Monitoring Report, in 2012, 66 million girls were not in school. All the facts tell us that educating girls worldwide is not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do. Children are twice as likely to survive when their mother is literate. Women who are educated are more than twice as likely to send their children to school. Evidence shows that crop yields increase by ten percent when women own the same amount of land as men. And when a country sends ten percent more of its girls to school, GDP increases by three percent on average.

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From left: Jamira Burley, U.S. Representative to the UN Global Education First Initiative Youth Advocacy Group; Samantha Wright, Vice President of Impact Strategy, Girl Rising; Christie Vilsack, Senior Advisor for International Education, USAID; Maureen McLaughlin, Senior Advisor to the Secretary and Director of International Affairs, International Affairs Office; Rachel Vogelstein, Fellow for Women and Foreign Policy, Council on Foreign Relations (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

On July 17, the International Affairs Office hosted a panel discussion at the U.S. Department of Education on the importance of educating girls worldwide and a screening of excerpts of Girl Rising, a film which highlights Wadley’s story as well the stories of eight other girls. Senior Advisor to the Secretary Maureen McLaughlin served as moderator. The panelists reminded us that, though great strides have been made, much work is left to be done. They also challenged those in attendance to roll up our sleeves and get involved. On a large scale, USAID announced a new program to increase enrollment and improve early-grade reading for at least 500,000 children, including 250,000 girls in Northern Nigeria. Here at home, individually, we can teach our own children about the challenges  girls face around the world. We can increase their empathy and understanding. And we can encourage them to think globally and act locally.

Rebecca Miller is an international affairs specialist in the International Affairs Office at the U.S. Department of Education.

The Importance of Hearing from Teachers Around the World

A sweeping majority of secondary school teachers in the U.S. report that they are satisfied with their jobs — that is one of the main takeaways from a new survey, called the Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS). The survey provides a unique opportunity to hear from U.S. teachers and to compare the views of educators in this country with those from educators around the globe.

According to the report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), 89 percent of U.S. teachers are satisfied with their job – nearly the same as the international average of 91 percent. According to the survey, which reflects self-report by “lower secondary” teachers (grades 7, 8 and 9 in the United States), 84 percent of U.S. teachers surveyed stated that they’d choose teaching if they could decide on a career path again. This positive response is higher than the average (78 percent) for other TALIS countries.

In 2013, TALIS surveyed more than 100,000 lower secondary teachers and principals in 34 education systems around the world, asking them for their views on job satisfaction, working and classroom conditions, professional development, teacher appraisal, and more.

Unfortunately, while U.S. teachers and principals are positive about their jobs, their optimism doesn’t extend to believing that society values their work. Only one-third of U.S. lower secondary teachers believe the teaching profession is valued in U.S. society, which is slightly above the TALIS average, but well below other high-performing education systems. In Singapore, 68 percent of teachers believe their society values their profession; in Korea, 67 percent do; and in Finland, 59 percent feel that way.

TALIS shows highs and lows in the area of teacher training and professional development as well. Lower secondary teachers in the U.S. report higher-than-average levels of education and participation rates in professional development (PD), but they are less positive about the impact of PD. For example, nearly all U.S. lower secondary teachers have completed higher education. And, 84 percent of U.S. teachers report that they attend courses or workshops, compared with the TALIS average of 71 percent. But in every PD content category, U.S. lower secondary teachers are less likely to report a moderate or large impact on their teaching.

TALIS also shows that U.S. lower secondary teachers tend to work independently, with 42 percent of teachers reporting that they never engage in joint activities across classes and age groups. Half of U.S. teachers report that they never observe another teacher’s classes or provide feedback to peers.

TALIS presents an opportunity for teachers, principals, policymakers and others to delve more deeply into data that can be beneficial in the effort to support and elevate the teaching profession in this country.

Engaging with teachers in discussions on teacher leadership through new initiatives like Teach to Lead and the Department of Education’s RESPECT (Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence, and Collaborative Teaching) project are important parts of the effort to make teaching a valued and respected profession on par with medicine, law, and engineering in this country. It’s our hope that the next TALIS survey, which will be conducted in 2018, shows even further increases in teacher satisfaction, collaboration, and their perception about the value of their critical profession.

For more information, please see TALIS data tables at NCES, the OECD’s U.S. country report, and the OECD’s international report.

Maureen McLaughlin is senior advisor to the Secretary and director of international affairs and Curtis Valentine is a Council on Foreign Relations fellow working with the International Affairs Office.

Interning at ED’s International Affairs Office Provides Worldly Perspective

My belief that a failing education system is one of the biggest problems faced by many societies is what compelled me to pursue an internship at the Department of Education. Working in the international affairs office (IAO) has offered me the perfect opportunity to combine my two passions: international affairs and education policy.

I have learned more about improving access to a quality education and that education can be an effective tool in eradicating poverty, advancing gender equality, ensuring healthy lives, supporting environmental sustainability, promoting good governance, and enhancing peace and security.

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Gaining valuable experiences as an intern. From left to right: Noel Schroeder of Women Thrive Worldwide; Allison Anderson of the Center for Universal Education; Meredy Talbot-Zorn of Save the Children; Rebecca Nasuti, Intern at ED’s IAO; Beckey Miller of ED’s IAO; and Laura Henderson of Women Thrive Worldwide (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Engaging with numerous organizations such as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Organization of American States (OAS), and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) has provided me with a substantial body of knowledge.

As an intern, I am exposed to the multifaceted ways ED engages with the international community to improve education.

During my first couple weeks, I was able to meet the Chinese Vice Minister of Education and his delegation during a meeting to discuss issues such as student exchanges, K-12 policy development, and higher education collaboration. I also met representatives from the Center for Universal Education, Save the Children, and Women Thrive Worldwide to discuss post-2015 education goals and targets to enhance equitable education for all.

I’ve seen the IAO’s involvement with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the State Department, and the Peace Corps, and I have worked on updating and developing new content for the APEC Education Wiki that spans decades of cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region. I believe education initiatives within APEC are particularly important and timely, as President Obama’s “Pivot to Asia” stresses the significance of enhanced partnerships and diplomatic ties in the region. I am so humbled by this experience and I feel as though I’ve already become a more globalized citizen — and this is only the beginning.

Even though I have grown up during a time where Facebook, Twitter, Skype, and smart phones are the norm, I’ve never questioned that we are more interconnected today than ever before.  But accepting how inextricably tied we are to each other can be daunting. I can confidently say that interning in the IAO has already strengthened my ties to the world outside of Peachtree Corners, Georgia.

After graduation, I plan to apply for a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Grant in the Asia-Pacific region so I can utilize the skills I am acquiring during my internship within the framework of a totally new education system.

In the long-term, I plan to be a lifelong international nomad in hopes that I can continue to learn about the people and cultures with whom we share this earth. In a society running toward innovation and advancement, there is no telling where we will be decades from now. To quote Secretary Duncan, “expanding educational attainment everywhere is the best way to grow the economic pie for all.”

Wherever we go from here, we’re going together as an interconnected network of nations. I’m excited to see what’s to come.

Rebecca Nasuti is an intern in the International Affairs Office at the U.S. Department of Education.

Education Diplomacy: Developing Deep and Lasting Personal Relationships

Flags representing students from around the world blew gracefully in the breeze last weekend as I joined thousands to celebrate the graduation of the class of 2014 at Brown University. The image was a beautiful reminder of how much we gain from getting to know people from different countries, cultures and perspectives, and how important it is that we build deep personal relationships and connections that can bridge these differences.

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Seminar participants (from left) Jake Sorrells, Student, Georgetown University; Fanta Aw, President, NAFSA: Association of International Educators and Assistant Vice President, American University; Maureen McLaughlin, senior advisor to the Secretary and director of international affairs; Rajika Bhandari, Deputy Vice President, Institute of International Education; Maya Garcia, Fulbright Distinguished Awardee for Teaching and DC STEM Specialist; Lenore Yaffee Garcia, acting senior director for international and foreign language education, ED’s Office of Postsecondary Education.

Also last week, the U.S. Department of Education’s International Affairs Office hosted a policy seminar on the importance of education diplomacy, with a particular focus on the role of study abroad. We heard from an undergraduate student, a STEM teacher, an academic mobility researcher, and a university vice president. They were all passionate about their overseas experiences and the importance of broadening the availability of study abroad, to make it the norm rather than the exception.

Currently, less than 10 percent of all U.S. undergraduates study abroad. The number would increase with a broader definition – adding, for example, internships, research projects, and volunteer opportunities – but even still the experience would not be the norm for most U.S. students. Rajika Bhandari, from the Institute of International Education (IIE) and one of the experts who joined us during our seminar, is exploring an expanded definition of study abroad and also supporting an effort to double the number of students studying abroad through IIE’s Generation Study Abroad. This is a simple but ambitious goal. Fanta Aw, from NAFSA and American University, also stressed during the seminar that bold action is required to increase study abroad opportunities for U.S. students from all backgrounds and to ensure the U.S. is a welcoming face to international students coming here.

Multiple perspectives, cultural empathy, and intercultural fluency are part of what one learns from international experiences. Jake Sorrells, an undergraduate at Georgetown University, came away from his high school experience in Paraguay with a new understanding of human relationships and the value of studying other languages. As an example, he described how much his host father, a large, gruff man, cared for him and tried to express it across linguistic differences. Jake also talked about the highly diverse high school he attended in suburban Maryland and how he wished that he had engaged in more genuine conversations across groups of students. Fanta Aw talked about her experiences growing up in Mali, France and the U.S. and how being a “global nomad” shaped her worldview. “You find yourself among people from all different walks of life, who speak different languages and come from different cultural backgrounds,” Fanta explained. “But you also realize what you have in common and what you have in common is deep fundamental human values.”

The Department of Education’s international strategy defines global competencies as “21st century skills applied to the world.” Overseas experiences help students to gain these competencies: to see things from different perspectives, to apply what they’ve learned to new challenges, and to think outside the box. Maya Garcia, a recipient of the Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching and a STEM specialist in DC public schools, found that her overseas experiences dramatically changed the face of what she is doing in DC, including blending global competencies into the curricula, taking students overseas and designing professional development programs for her colleagues.

Michele Obama confirmed the importance of connecting across the globe in her talk with students during her recent trip to China, reminding them that “in the years ahead, much like you and I are doing today, you will be creating bonds of friendship across the globe that will last for decades to come.” You can watch excerpts of the First Lady’s talk here.

Maureen McLaughlin is senior advisor to the Secretary and director of international affairs.

Modeling 21st Century Skills at Model U.N.

On April 29th, the Department of State hosted 21 middle and high schools from the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area for the Global Classrooms DC Model United Nations (MUN) conference.  Global Classrooms is an educational program that targets traditionally underserved public schools and aims to foster the skills required for global citizenship. On this day, approximately 700 students participated in debates as country delegates to various U.N. committees. These student delegates researched and developed positions for their assigned countries before coming to the event, where they demonstrated their critical thinking, public speaking, collaborative problem-solving, and leadership skills, and applied them to global issues in a realistic environment.

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At this year’s conference, students tackled four major issues: access to primary education, human trafficking, access to clean water, and the crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Department of Education staff members from the International Affairs Office and the Office of Postsecondary Education served as Policy Advisors to the roughly 150 students debating how best to tackle the issue of access to primary education.  The topic is particularly timely: despite concerted international efforts to achieve universal primary education by the end of 2015, 57 million children worldwide are still not in school.

When preparing for the conference, students were asked to consider why access to primary education is so important, what the main obstacles are, and what progress has been made thus far. In their research, students learned that some countries do not deem access to education a high priority and that sometimes the cost of simply travelling to and from school is prohibitive to families. Additionally, safe passage is not always guaranteed – especially for children in war-torn countries. They also considered gender discrimination and the needs of girls and young women, particularly with regard to safety and security, early marriage, and pregnancy.

These dedicated young people took their involvement in MUN extremely seriously. In playing the role of their assigned country with all its development challenges and opportunities, they broached issues that their professional counterparts also face. Topics included measures to combat child labor, use of cell phone technology in classroom instruction, building infrastructure and how to pay for it all. The young delegates worked diligently to bring other members to consensus on a range of working papers.  Their astute questions and on-the-spot responses were impressive.

In the end, though, youthful exuberance won out as participants rushed the stage to accept their awards and have their team’s picture taken in the State Department’s Dean Acheson Auditorium. Prizes were awarded for best position paper and best delegation, as well as the Secretary-General’s Award for best team overall. The young delegates tackled tough issues and displayed flexibility, creativity and open-mindedness along the way, all skills necessary for success in the 21st century. The long hours of preparation and hard work they put in have put them squarely on the path to becoming first-class global citizens.

Adriana de Kanter is a senior International Affairs specialist and Rebecca Miller is an International Affairs specialist in the International Affairs Office at the U.S. Department of Education.

Championing International Education Priorities

This past January, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon designated the U.S. as a Champion Country of the Global Education First Initiative (GEFI). The initiative aims to focus the world’s attention on three specific priorities: to put every child in school, improve the quality of learning and foster global citizenship. This is a tremendous opportunity for the U.S. to lead by example, to spur on strategic global investments in education, technology and innovation and to help implement programs that provide youths and adults with the necessary skills to be global citizens.

Fifty seven million children worldwide do not have access to primary education. This is the staggering news delivered by the Global Monitoring Report (GMR). While adult illiteracy rates fell to 16 percent in 2011, 774 million adults worldwide still cannot read or write. Even in wealthier countries, young people showed poor problem-solving skills due to low secondary school completion rates. In 80 percent of low-income countries, girls are less likely than boys to get even a primary education. Girls and boys who do go to school are often in classes with 40 classmates or more and only one teacher. Most of those students will have untrained teachers. And the U.S. is not immune. Despite big pushes for early childhood education, U.S. enrollment hovers around 65 percent, putting it in the company of countries like Albania and Bolivia.

Why does this matter? It matters because almost half of those fifty seven million children will probably never see the inside of a classroom. Yet the infant mortality rate would fall dramatically if all women completed even a primary education. In places like Tanzania, workers are 60 percent less likely to live under the poverty line with a secondary education. And people with higher levels of education are more likely to ask questions, seek out answers, sign petitions and vote. In other words, the more education a person has, the more likely he or she is to participate in civil society.

Education leads us all away from poverty and disease, away from ignorance and strife, and towards open minds, sustainable change, mutual understanding and prosperity. The task ahead may seem daunting, but the goals are achievable. According to the GMR, improved teacher quality is key: attracting the best teachers, improving their training and encouraging them to teach where they are most needed. Accepting the challenge of being a GEFI Champion Country is an important first step towards reaching these goals.

Check out the video below from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in support of the United Nations Global Education First Initiative (GEFI).

Rebecca Miller is an international affairs specialist at the U.S. Department of Education

Listening and Learning at the International Summit on the Teaching Profession

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Delegations from high-performing education systems across the globe gathered for the 4th International Summit on the Teaching Profession in New Zealand.

At the end of March, National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, Chris Minnich, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, and I joined delegations from high-performing and rapidly improving education systems across the globe for the 4th International Summit on the Teaching Profession. Whether large or small, highly decentralized or not, countries share a common desire to create a high-quality education system that prepares all children for success in their personal and professional lives. The summits provide a unique opportunity for education ministers and teacher leaders to come together to learn from each other, share best practices, and look for ways to replicate or adapt back home what other countries are doing well.

New Zealand welcomed us with a powhiri, the traditional Maori ceremony, which is something most of the international guests and I had never seen. It was a beautiful and moving welcome and I was honored, as the host of the first summit in 2011, to accept the New Zealand challenge for a successful 4th summit on behalf of the international community. Many thanks to New Zealand Minister of Education Hekia Parata and her team for being gracious hosts during the summit.

This year’s summit focused on Excellence, Equity and Inclusiveness. There was complete agreement that where you live or what your parents do for a living should not determine your access to a quality education. We need to invest in education to close opportunity gaps that exist for too many children and create learning environments that allow all children to thrive. Using PISA 2012 data, OECD showed that there’s a false choice between equity and excellence: education systems as diverse as Korea and Canada can, and do, achieve both.

Maori Welcome

The International delegations began the summit in New Zealand with an official Maori welcome ceremony.

The countries represented at the summit stressed strong support for early interventions to help children start school healthy and ready to learn—one minister even suggested early learning as the focus of the next summit. Many of the countries around the table, including our New Zealand hosts, have a stronger commitment to early childhood education than we do in the U.S. Young children in New Zealand can receive 20 hours of free early learning opportunities each week. Data show that 95 percent of New Zealand children have had some early childhood education when they start school. The U.S. rate of 65 percent pales in comparison.  

During the summit, we also talked a lot about teacher leadership and collaboration. For example, Canada involves teachers in making and implementing policy. Representatives from Singapore talked about the importance of consultation and feedback, as well as the country’s three career tracks, which provide different options for teachers’ career progression. New Zealand discussed its proposed program to create new roles and pathways, while Hong Kong mentioned a new school leadership program. These interventions and many others confirmed to me that our new Teach to Lead (T2L) initiative and our ongoing labor-management collaboration mirror what high-performing systems are doing.

I came away from the summit discussions with a renewed energy and commitment to early learning teacher leadership and collaboration, and to continuing the challenging work of education improvement. The U.S. delegation committed publicly to:

  • Continue to work to increase access to high-quality early learning opportunities,
  • Increase opportunities for teacher leadership,
  • And, support labor-management collaboration to increase learning for all students.

Dennis, Randi, Chris and I are already moving ahead on our commitments and will report back on our progress to the international community next year at the 5th summit in Alberta, Canada.  Little did we know three years ago, when we hosted the first international summit, that it would become an international community of practice dedicated to enhancing the teaching profession to improve learning for all students. Now, let’s get to work.

Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education

Looking Back at 5 Memorable School Visits of 2013

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Secretary Arne Duncan received a daily weather forecast from students during his visit to Bret Tarver Education Complex in Phoenix.

I visit a lot of schools each year, and it is probably the greatest highlight of my job. Getting out of Washington and into classrooms provides me with the opportunity to talk with students, teachers, parents, and college leaders on what is working and what we still need to accomplish. Their voices are the driving force behind improving education in our country.

In 2013, I visited my 49th state as Secretary of Education, and with each classroom and school visit I walk away with meaningful and memorable lessons. As 2014 gets underway, now is a good time to reflect on 2013, and particularly on five schools that left a lasting impression.

  1. Columbus Elementary, Columbus, N.M.
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Secretary Duncan speaks with a Columbus Elementary School student on a bus ride to the U.S.-Mexico border.

Columbus Elementary, situated just a few miles from the Mexico border is unlike any school I have visited before. Of the approximately 700 students, from Pre-K to 5th Grade, roughly 400 students wake up before the sun rises to cross the border for school each day. All the students are U.S. citizens and during the afternoon bus ride back to the border, listening to their stories inspired me.

The experience shed new light on educational challenges and youthful grit—not to mention a need to fix our broken immigration system that affects even our youngest learners. Read more about my visit to Columbus during our annual back-to-school bus tour.

  1. Macomb Community College, Warren, Mich.

Community colleges have never been more important. They are the cornerstones that will help us build the best-educated, most competitive workforces in the world. Macomb Community College in Warren, Mich., is a shining example of a community college that is providing students with an affordable high-quality education that meets the needs of local employers.

Macomb inspired me and my hope is that more community colleges will follow suit and become regional economic engines. Read more about my December visit to Macomb.

  1. Northwest Middle School, Salt Lake City, Utah

After years of struggling, Northwest Middle School is now ranked number one in its district and is making exciting progress with the help of a School Improvement Grant (SIG) from the Department of Education.

During my recent visit I received candid feedback from the students, parents, and teachers about the challenges the school has overcome and the work that lies ahead. Like all turnaround successes, I am hopeful members of this school community will continue to share their successes with school leaders across the country. Read more about my December visit to Northwest.

  1. Ecole St. Jean de Dieu, Port-au-Prince, Haiti

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    Secretary Duncan speaks with community members outside of Ecole St. Jean de Dieu in Haiti.

The first school we visited during a recent trip to Haiti was Ecole St. Jean de Dieu. The school is part of the Haitian Minister of Education’s initiative to promote access for vulnerable school-aged children who are outside of the education system.  Most of the students at this school are homeless and live on the streets during the day but attend classes in the afternoons.  

Set in one of the country’s poorest neighborhoods, the school’s bare walls and dusty classrooms were filled with bright-eyed students and commanding teachers. The students that attended this school, many lost parents or guardians in the earthquake and are trying to get a basic education to hopefully live a productive life on their own. I was inspired to see their commitment to receiving an education and working towards a better life. Read more about my trip to Haiti.

  1. Bret Tarver Early Education Complex, Phoenix, Ariz.

The Bret Tarver Education Complex in Phoenix was a vivid reminder of not just the importance of high-quality pre-k but the need to expand it. The staff at this preschool facility is doing a tremendous job of serving over 300 kids in the community, yet another 200+ remain on a waitlist.

It is encouraging to see Arizona make such a crucial investment in our children, but more than a few lucky children deserve a high-quality pre-k experience like the one offered at Bret Tarver. If we plan to meet the long-term educational challenges, we must place greater emphasis on what happens to children during their most formative years from birth to the early grades, and make high-quality early learning available to all students. Read more about my September visit to Bret Tarver.

Arne Duncan is Secretary of Education

Duncan Calls for Higher Standards and Expectations Following PISA Results

Duncan and Students at PISA Release

Secretary Arne Duncan talks with students during today’s event announcing the 2012 PISA results.

Do schools in the United States ask enough of students?

Based on the results of a major new international report, and conversations surrounding its release today, the answer is no.

Every three years, hundreds of thousands of 15-year-olds in more than 65 global economies take the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). The results provide a snapshot of how students in the U.S. compare to students around the globe. Earlier today, the 2012 PISA results were announced and Secretary Arne Duncan was on hand with Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Secretary-General Angel Gurria to discuss the results and what it means for education in America.

Duncan explained that results for the U.S. are “straightforward and stark: It is a picture of educational stagnation.” However, this is not to say that the U.S. hasn’t made any progress since the 2009 PISA. In the last three years, 700,000 fewer students are in high school dropout factories, college enrollment is up—especially among Hispanics—and the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress showed us that reading and math scores for 4th and 8th graders are up nationally to new highs.

Duncan also talked with a group of foreign exchange students from several countries, in a conversation moderated by author Amanda Ripley. The students said that schools in the United States did not expect as much of students as those in their home countries.

In his remarks, Duncan reminded those at today’s release that the America’s stagnation evident in the PISA results “must serve as a wake-up call against educational complacency and low expectations.”

The PISA results give evidence of America’s troubling achievement gaps, and Duncan acknowledged that we must do better on closing what he calls the “opportunity gap.” “The only way to increase social mobility and strengthen the middle class is through high-quality education,” he said.

But today’s results also show that while white 15-year-olds in the U.S. do better on average than students of color, our white students are still lagging behind the world’s top performers.

So the real educational challenge in America is not just about poor kids in poor neighborhoods. It’s about many kids in many neighborhoods. The PISA results underscore that educational shortcomings in the U.S. are not just the problems of other people’s children.

To correct this, Duncan said that we must invest in early learning, redesign high schools, raise standards and support great teachers.

Read the full version of Secretary Duncan’s remarks, learn more about the PISA results, and watch the video below.


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

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital strategy at the U.S. Department of Education

Mapping the Nation: Making the Case for Global Competency

To kick off International Education Week 2013, the U.S. Department of Education cohosted the release of Mapping the Nation, an innovative online resource developed by Asia Society, Longview Foundation and SAS. Using an interactive map and infographics, Mapping the Nation shows how connected each state and county is to the rest of the world. With nearly one million data points related to economics, demographics and education, we can see how prepared our states and local communities are to operate effectively in an increasingly interconnected world.

Panelists

Panelists at the release (from left to right) Audrey Singer, senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, Donna Wiseman, dean of the College of Education at University of Maryland, Terry Holliday, commissioner of education, Kentucky, and Caroline McCullen, director of education initiatives at the SAS Institute.

I decided to look at the data for Virginia, where I live. As a state, we are highly global: an increasing percentage of the state’s population is foreign born and we have substantial engagement in international trade. The map shows, however, that there is quite a bit of variation within the state. This new interactive online map and the infographics are powerful because they bring the data together in one place and highlight facts in a visual and compelling way, providing the spark for analysis, discussion and action.

In Secretary Arne Duncan’s introductory remarks during the release, he said that “tools like this will help us to better understand the current and growing demand for globally-competent workers. … This type of information can help inform bold education reform and workforce development strategies in our states and communities, in ways that will grow the available talent and better meet our employer needs.”

During the event we heard from an esteemed panel about how the map can inform and help advance efforts at the national, state and local levels. We heard how important it is for a state to prepare a globally competent talent pool in order to attract international business and investment. For example, we learned how businesses like SAS are looking for technical skills, but in conjunction with second languages and cultural awareness, since many staff will work with teams in other countries. We also heard that Kentucky is working to develop a global competency diploma that would recognize students who have studied world languages and other coursework with strong global implications.

Another suggestion was to share the map with teachers so they can understand what is happening in their communities and see how it links to what is happening in schools. If teachers are convinced of the importance of global competency and are globally competent themselves, they will more easily impart that to their students.

The data highlight different patterns across communities—some have high concentrations of international students and scholars; some have diverse immigrant populations who are spread across the wider area; some have highly concentrated immigrant populations; and some have little diversity.  These different patterns have quite different implications for business and education.

I’m optimistic that Mapping the Nation will spark conversations across the country–with teachers, students, parents, business leaders, policy makers and others—and challenge all of us to work more effectively to build a stronger pipeline of globally competent young people.

Maureen McLaughlin is senior advisor to the Secretary and director of International Affairs 

Inspiration and Heartbreak – My Two Days in Haiti

Secretary Duncan in Haitian ClassroomSeveral months ago, Vanneur Pierre, Haitian Minister of National Education and Vocational Training, invited me to visit his country and see firsthand a glimpse into the Haitian education system.  Since the devastating earthquake hit in 2010 the U.S. Government has pledged its support as Haiti seeks to rebuild its economy and infrastructure, including its education system.  The two days I spent in Haiti were inspiring and heartbreaking.  From a school that is educating kids that live on the streets during the day to a hundred children crammed into a 7th grade classroom, the thirst and hunger for learning was incredible.

Along with visiting three schools, I had the opportunity to join USAID Associate Administrator Mark Feierstein and Senior Advisor for International Education Christie Vilsack to announce a multi-million dollar program in Haiti for USAID’s Room to Learn. This program will help to support equitable access for vulnerable children.

Each school we visited, while lacking modern amenities was full of an entrepreneurial spirit and will to learn. The school buildings were unlike anything we could imagine in this country.  Most were semi-outdoor structures with little or no electricity and stark dusty walls with paint generations old. No fancy gyms, libraries or cafeterias to see, only brick, mortar and gravel to make up the landscape. Each student sat at a desk or on a bench attentively looking towards the front of the room.  Classroom after classroom, student after student, each was focused on the lesson plan of the day.  When the teacher spoke, you could hear a pin drop.

Duncan Playing BasketballThe first school we visited was Ecole St. Jean de Dieu, which is part of the Minister’s initiative to promote access for vulnerable school-aged children who are outside of the education system.  Most of the students at this school are homeless and live on the streets during the day but attend classes in the afternoons.  I met 16 year olds who were in the second grade, far behind where they should be but trying to get an education to build a better life.

While traveling through Haiti I also had the opportunity to visit the Haitian Education and Leadership Program (HELP) program which provides university scholarships in Haiti for straight-A students from disadvantaged backgrounds. One student, overcome by her past, cried as she told me about her life’s journey.   I sat and listened to the passionate and personal stories of students in this program discussed how their world was changed as a result of the opportunity to continue their education.

I visited another school, Ecole Nationale de Tabarre, an outdoor set of buildings, where I witnessed students reading books in their native tongue of creole donated by USAID’s read to learn program to make education more accessible for all children.  From there we went to Lycee de Petionville, one of Haiti’s model high schools.  I saw a classroom of over 100 7th graders packed into a room built for 30-40.  After visiting some classrooms, I joined the basketball team for a brief scrimmage in the school’s cement courtyard and basketball court.  It was a remarkable sight to see, two and three stories up an entire school looking down on the court.

The future of Haiti was looking down on me.  I saw hundreds of eyes, full of optimism and hope for a better tomorrow recognizing that having a strong education can put you on a path to a better life.  These children, like other Haitian children across the country, want an education and are willing to try despite the odds against them.

It’s inspiring to see so many children, teachers, and national leaders committed to making much needed investments in Haiti’s next generation.  Parents and leaders in the U.S. and Haiti share a common desire to create a high quality education system for all that adequately prepares our children for success in their personal and professional lives. A strong Haiti can be built by a strong education system and a strong ministry of education.  I want to continue being a good partner with President Michel Martelly, Minister Pierre and the entire Haitian government to strengthen the nation, one child at a time.

Arne Duncan is U.S. Secretary of Education