Teacher Leadership on the Global Stage

During the last weekend in March, union leaders, state education leaders, teacher leaders, one of ED’s Principal Ambassador Fellows and I joined delegations from 15 high-performing education systems across the globe for the 5thInternational Summit on the Teaching Profession in Banff, Canada. As countries around the world share a common desire to give every child a chance in life and to support teachers who devote their lives to that goal, the summit is a unique opportunity to learn from each other’s successes and challenges and to look for ways to replicate or adapt back home what other countries are doing well. We all appreciated the hospitality of Alberta Minister Gordon Dirks and his colleagues from across Canada for providing us the opportunity to grow and learn in such a beautiful setting.

Each year at the international summit each participating country commits to work in key areas over the course of the year and then report back on progress at the next summit. Together with the AFT, NEA, and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), we reported on the progress of our commitments from 2014 on teacher leadership, early learning and labor-management collaboration to increase learning for all students.

This year, the U.S. delegation introduced Teach to Lead, an initiative that seeks to advance student outcomes by expanding opportunities for teacher leadership both in and out of the classroom, to the global stage sparking international interest in this teacher-led and designed initiative to promote meaningful opportunities for teacher leadership that improve student outcomes. Teach to Lead has become an important vehicle through which so many teachers are fighting to make their leadership dreams a reality.

While at the summit our U.S. teachers, including six who have been active in Teach to Lead, convened a meeting with Canadian, Dutch, German and Estonian teachers and are now creating an international team of teachers exchanging ideas and working to advance teacher leadership and innovation across the globe. The teachers who attended are also getting the word out to educators across the U.S. and are beginning conversations about one of the commitments we made this year–a domestic summit modeled after the international summit to highlight and expand teacher leadership opportunities in the U.S.

During the summit, countries discussed their different approaches to leadership and the importance of collaboration. The Ontario Minister described their competitive Teacher Learning and Leadership Program to fund teacher projects; Singapore builds leadership development into each of its three career tracks; Finland starts leadership training in its initial teacher preparation; and New Zealand discussed its new Communities of Schools initiative and Teacher-led Innovation Fund.

I came away from the summit discussions with a renewed energy and commitment to teacher leadership and collaboration at all levels of education. With Jeff Charbonneau, 2013 National Teacher of the Year, presenting, the U.S. delegation committed publicly to:

  • Convene a summit in the U.S. to highlight teacher leadership and expand leadership opportunities.
  • Continue to work to increase the number of children with access to high-quality early learning and encourage teacher leadership in this regard.
  • Work to increase access for learners of all ages to high-quality career and technical education and encourage teacher leadership in this regard.

As Sharif El-Mekki, principal of Mastery Charter School-Shoemaker Campus in Philadelphia, said “I was proud that teachers and principals were a part of the decision making process for establishing the United States’ commitments for this coming year. A classroom teacher (and leader) presented our commitments to the world. The significance of this was profound, and lauded by the other international teachers in attendance. It was a proud moment for teacher leadership, nationally and internationally.”

With our teachers in the lead, we are already moving ahead on our commitments and will report back on our progress to the international community next year at the 6th summit in Berlin, Germany. As Mark Sass, high school teacher leader from Colorado, said “It is exciting to know that the work we are doing around teacher leadership is building nationally, as well as internationally. I left the Summit empowered and energized knowing there is a global collective focused on elevating the profession.”

When we hosted the first international summit in New York City in 2011, it wasn’t evident that it would create an ongoing international community of practice dedicated to enhancing the teaching profession, and dedicated to improving learning for all students. But it has and that reflects the global view that all teachers and principals need and deserve excellent preparation, support and opportunities for growth. Our educators and students deserve nothing less.

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

Teaching and Leading at the 5th International Summit on the Teaching Profession

Each March I look forward to joining colleagues from around the world at the International Summit on the Teaching Profession to learn from high-performing and rapidly improving education systems about ways to elevate and enhance the teaching profession in order to improve student learning. I never imagined when we started the International Summit in New York City in 2011 that it would become a vibrant and lasting international community of practice. But the thirst among countries to learn from each other is strong and on March 29 and 30, Canada is hosting the 5th Summit, Implementing Highly Effective Teacher Policy and Practice, in Banff, Alberta.

We’ve learned so much from past Summit discussions and can see a real connection to education policy and practice in the U.S. over the years, as well as significant progress on commitments made by the U.S. delegation at the end of each Summit. I am particularly excited about this year’s Summit because teacher leadership — one of our three Summit commitments last year — will be highlighted this year.

Last week Secretary Duncan reported back on the first year of Teach to Lead, an initiative in partnership with the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards that is designed to advance the national conversation around the future of the profession and promote meaningful opportunities for teacher leadership that improve outcomes for students. Teach to Lead is teacher-designed and teacher-led and has the support of more than 70 organizations, including the AFT and NEA which, along with Secretary Duncan, are part of the U.S. delegation to the International Summit. As Secretary Duncan said in front of a crowd of thousands, “I was hopeful [about teacher leadership] last year. I am convinced we are onto something really important and special now. Change has to come from teachers who own it and lead it.”

The progress and excitement in Teach to Lead over the past year has been phenomenal. Thousands of teachers have engaged in Teach to Lead through the online ‘Commit to Lead’ community, and more than 500 teachers, administrators, and representatives from supporting organizations have been at our regional summits and local leadership labs. Teach to Lead has truly been about elevating the teaching profession and supporting teachers by giving them opportunities to collaborate, plan and shape their own roles for their own contexts from the school to the state.

A real question for Teach to Lead is — what next? How does teacher leadership expand and grow? This year’s Summit agenda poses three questions that can help the U.S. to reflect on possible future paths.

  • How do high-performing countries promote deeper and more collaborative forms of leadership at all levels within education systems?
  • What strategies allow education systems to exercise consistent and widespread teacher leadership?
  • What should be the role of teachers and their unions and associations in creating conditions for teacher leadership?

Six amazing U.S. teachers who have been actively involved in Teach to Lead – from Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky and Massachusetts — are part of the U.S. delegation to this year’s Summit.   This is an opportunity for them to share their work, to hear what other countries are doing to support and encourage teacher leadership, and to reflect on next steps to elevate and advance teacher leadership back home.

I am eager to learn from our Canadian hosts and other international colleagues and excited to do so with creative, committed teacher leaders from around the United States.

Maureen McLaughlin is senior advisor to the Secretary and director of International Affairs at the U.S. Department of Education.

Now is the Time for Safe and Equal Access to Education for All Children All Over the World

On October 9th 2012, Malala Yousafzai was on a school bus returning to her home in Pakistan’s Swat Valley. A masked gunman boarded the bus and asked for her by name. When her classmates could not help but to glance at her, the gunman approached Malala and shot three times, hitting her in the head and neck. She was 15 years old and her only crime was advocating for equal access to education for all children.

On December 8th of this year, UNICEF declared that 2014 was a devastating year for children. Two years after the brutal attack on Malala, as many as 10,000 children have been recruited to fight by armed groups in the Central African Republic. In Syria, there have been more than 35 attacks on schools and 1.7 million children are now refugees. And a mere eight days after the UNICEF report was released, Taliban gunman launched an unimaginable attack on a Pakistani school, killing 132 students.

These are just some of the challenges that world leaders and non-governmental organizations face in their efforts to establish a new set of sustainable development goals. Technical experts and advocates from Save the Children and other groups are engaging in a series of global consultations on post-2015 education indicators. What has emerged is this: the only way to offer children a future free of violence and extreme poverty is to provide every child safe and equitable access to quality education. Simply counting the number of children in schools is not enough.

Of course, violence against children is not limited to countries outside our borders. Speaking to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute in October, Secretary Arne Duncan referenced the impact violence has had on his own experience. He said, “I saw children who happened to come from a very violent community; who happened to all be African-American; who happened to be very poor. Despite many real challenges, many went on to do extraordinary things.”

Duncan also pointed out that students of color in the U.S. are more likely to be assigned inexperienced teachers; that they have less access to advanced classes; and that they are more likely to go to schools with lower-quality facilities, such as temporary structures. These are circumstances we can and must change.

In October, ED’s Office of Civil Rights issued guidance to states, school districts, and schools to help ensure students in the U.S. have equal access to educational resources. Initiatives such as My Brother’s Keeper and Excellent Educators for All are designed to help level the playing field for U.S. students who face an uphill battle in attaining an education. The goal is to ensure that our children – no matter their circumstances – have every opportunity to reach their full potential.

In the wake of the brutal attack in Peshawar and the seemingly never-ending violence against children in our own country, there is a tremendous amount of work left to be done. It’s in our nation’s best interest to prepare all of our children, not just a privileged few, for the challenges of the global economy. With the world’s focus turned to safe and equitable access to quality education, now is the time for us to make good on our promises.

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

Ensuring a Global Education for All Students

Our world has never been more interconnected or interdependent. We’re all global “neighbors,” and each of us can make a commitment to understanding each other and working together.

Each November, the U.S. Departments of Education (ED) and State invite educational institutions and cultural programs to celebrate how they prepare people to become effective global citizens and attract students from abroad to study, learn, and share ideas with their peers in this country.

This year, International Education Week runs from Nov. 17 through 21.

Here at ED, I work in the International and Foreign Language Education office researching our grantees’ practices and successes, particularly related to outreach to minority serving institutions and community colleges, local teachers, and colleges of education.

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Katrina Dillon is a former teacher who is helping educators to foster global understanding in their students. (Photo credit: University of New Mexico)

To learn more about how our university partners work to foster global understanding on the local level, I recently interviewed Katrina Dillon—a former teacher—who is helping educators to foster global understanding in their students.

During her time as an elementary and middle school teacher in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Dillon used to struggle to find content that reflected the diversity in her classroom, which includes a large number of Latino students.

“Students need to see themselves in the curriculum, and as their teacher, you feel responsible for filling in those gaps in content,” Dillon explained.

Today, Dillon works at the Latin American and Iberian Institute (LAII) at the University of New Mexico, where she develops resources that teachers around the country can use to infuse their K-12 curriculum with rich, culturally appropriate content. The LAII is one of 100 National Resource Centers supported by grant funding from ED under Title VI of the Higher Education Act. As part of the outreach at the LAII, Dillon said, “We’re trying to create materials with content we feel is relevant across the board for students.”

The Institute’s offerings include the Vamos a Leer blog and a monthly book club that highlight Latino and indigenous literature, as well as resources such as ¡Viva la Revolución! An Educator’s Guide to the Mexican Revolution. These works contain lesson plans, background information, activities, and novel and film guides to help educators incorporate Latin American history and culture into the classroom. The Institute also hosts workshops with topics like, “How to Teach About El Día de los Muertos,” to train teachers to bring Latin American content into the classroom.

Dillion working with teachers during the “How to Teach About El Día de los Muertos” workshop. (Photo credit: University of New Mexico)

Dillion working with teachers during the “How to Teach About El Día de los Muertos” workshop. (Photo credit: University of New Mexico)

In addition to her work at LAII, Dillon is a doctoral candidate in Language, Literacy, and Sociocultural Studies at the University of New Mexico. After graduation, she hopes to continue working with students in teacher education programs to advance the mission of ensuring a global education for all students.

Through my studies, my internship at the Department, and in talking with educators like Katrina Dillon, one thing has become increasingly clear—rich, international education is necessary. In a country as diverse as ours, students can benefit from learning to interact comfortably and confidently with people from all backgrounds and points of view. Our students also can benefit from understanding their own cultures and backgrounds, and how their histories and values contribute to the richness of the American experience.

Kaley Palanjian is a junior at Georgetown University studying linguistics, with a minor in education, inquiry, and justice. She is interning in the Office of Postsecondary Education for the International and Foreign Language Education office.

Why Education Is a Global Matter

This year marks the 15th anniversary of International Education Week (IEW), a time to recognize, reflect, and celebrate the important role education plays worldwide.

Educators, families and students are working hard to implement a comprehensive vision for cradle-to-career improvements here in the U.S. so every child can receive a world-class education, and to ensure that our nation remains globally competitive. But U.S. education leaders are also committed to an international education agenda that’s deeper and more collaborative than ever.

In November 2013, at the invitation of Haiti’s education minister, Secretary Duncan visited Haiti and met with students, teachers, government officials, and other stakeholders.  National leaders in Haiti are committed to expanding educational opportunity and raising educational quality. We saw clearly that children in Haiti want an education and are willing to try despite the odds against them.   Read more about the Secretary’s visit here. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

In November 2013, Secretary Duncan visited Haiti and met with students, teachers, government officials, and other stakeholders. Read more about the Secretary’s visit here. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

That is why, during IEW 2012, Department of Education released its first fully-integrated international strategy, Succeeding Globally Through International Education and Engagement, linking our domestic and international priorities. Increasing the global competencies of all U.S. students, learning from other countries to improve our education policies and practices, and engaging in active education diplomacy will help to strengthen U.S. education and advance our nation’s international priorities.

Just last month, Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani teenager shot in the head by Taliban gunmen for advocating for girls’ education, became the youngest ever recipient of the Nobel Peace prize. As she said, “We realized the importance of pens and books, when we saw the guns.” What a courageous and amazing young person. All of us – educators, parents, policymakers, and world leaders – desire a bright and happy future for our children and our nations. Education must help to ensure that future: a better educated world is a more prosperous world, a healthier world, and a safer world. When we became a Global Education First Initiative (GEFI) Champion Country  earlier this year, we committed to be leaders in this effort.

I’ve seen the difference education makes in my experience growing up in Chicago and later as head of the Chicago Public Schools; during my time in Australia when I worked with wards of the court; and in the communities and schools I’ve visited as Secretary. Two visits from the past year are particularly vivid for me: Columbus Elementary, situated just a few miles from the Mexico border, where students wake up before sunrise to cross the border for school each day and my trip to Haiti where I saw in the eyes of so many children the desire and commitment to get a basic education despite the odds against them.

I also place a high priority on benchmarking ourselves against other education systems and learning from them to see how we can improve. OECD’s Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), the international assessment of reading, math and science, has been an important yardstick for me because it is taken by 15-year-old high school students around the globe. The most recent PISA results show a picture of educational stagnation for the U.S., a wake-up call against complacency and low expectations. PISA also helps to show that there’s a false choice between equity and excellence: education systems as diverse as Canada and Korea can, and do, achieve both.

We know that a key component of educational success is starting early yet the U.S. is 25th in the world in our enrollment of four-year-olds in preschool. This gap highlights the urgency of our efforts to increase enrollment in high quality preschool. Young children in New Zealand, for example, can receive 20 hours of free early learning opportunities each week.  Data show that 95 percent of New Zealand’s children have had some early childhood education when they start school. The U.S. rate of 65 percent pales in comparison.

We hosted – with international and domestic partners – the first-ever International Summit on the Teaching Profession in 2011, bringing together ministers and union leaders with high-performing and rapidly improving education systems from around the world to discuss how to enhance and elevate the teaching profession worldwide. The summit proved such a success that it is now hosted annually by countries around the world.  What we heard at the summits have had an important impact on U.S. teacher policy, including RESPECT and Teach to Lead.

I hope, this week and every week, you’ll find ways to encourage and support the shared vision of International Education Week – that every child, in every country, grows up globally competent and appreciates cultural diversity.

Watch Secretary Duncan’s IEW 2014 message:

Arne Duncan is U.S. Secretary of Education.

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.

Model-UN

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