What Inspires Young Teens?

What inspires young teens to do well in school?

The admission from President Obama that he wasn’t always a perfect student really struck a chord with 6th – 9th graders as they watched the President’s  3rd Annual Back-to-School speech on Sept. 28 in Chicago.

“I was really surprised when he said that he wasn’t the best student in middle school,” said Maurice, an 8th grader at Ryerson Elementary School, where he joined a small group of other students and educators from Ryerson and Gage Park High School to watch the address and participate in a follow-up discussion.

Students in Classroom

Dexter Chaney speaks with Ryerson students after watching President Obama's speech

“I always thought that to be President, you’d have to be the smartest student in your school. He wasn’t, but he became the hardest worker,” he said, sparking vigorous nods from students around him.

“My parents are always telling me that they want me to have more opportunities than they had. That inspires me,” said Dyanne, a 6th- grader.

While several teens echoed that positive response, a few others said that drug dealing and other negative influences in their neighborhoods are what drive them to succeed in school.

“I want more for myself. I want to graduate from high school and college. I think that if I put all of my efforts into school, I can be anything I want to be,” said DeAndre, a 6th grader.

The students also had plenty of suggestions for making class time more inspiring:

  • One said that there was no free time in his school day, making him often wish that he could “fast forward” through some classes.
  •  Others wished their teachers would try new ways of teaching material to make classes more interesting, and to better reach kids who don’t all learn at the same pace.
  • Several teens, concerned about plans for a longer school day in Chicago Public Schools, hoped that the extra time would include art and music classes.

Ryerson’s Dexter Chaney II — one of ED’s 2011-2012 Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellows (TAF) – urged his students to draw on inspiration from within themselves.

“You need to be committed to being successful,” said Chaney, who was joined by Gage Park teacher Xian Barrett, a 2009-2010 TAF.  “You need to take risks, and you need to be more involved with the world around you.  Most young people don’t believe that their thoughts and ideas can make a difference, but they can.”

Click here to read more about President Obama’s back-to-school speech.

A Teacher’s View of President Obama’s Back-to-School Speech

It’s always inspiring for me, just to walk into a school at the beginning of the academic year. I see hope in freshly washed, gleaming gym floors and newly hung posters and banners. There is an excitement that is palpable. But on Wednesday, the students and teachers at Benjamin Banneker High School in Washington, D.C. were waiting to see President Barack Obama deliver his back-to-school speech to the nation.

The students’ nervous whispers hushed when Anita Berger, the school principal, took the mike – her voice powerful and charged – “Listen to his words,” she told her kids, “He is speaking directly to you!”

I wanted to hear those words too. All around this nation, teachers are worried that the efforts they make on behalf of kids aren’t publically appreciated. They hear harsh rhetoric which deflates their enthusiasm and makes it harder to work. Still, we love what we do because we believe it matters for the students in our class and for the future of our planet.

I wondered what President Obama would have to say to set this school year on the right course.

President Obama delivers his back-to-school address

Maryann snapped a photo of President Obama with her blackberry during his annual back-to-school speech.

The President began to speak, flashing a wide smile. He urged the students to take challenging classes so that we could “race ahead as a nation.” He explained that it’s vital to wonder, question and “color outside of the lines.” The president then inspired us with stories about students who are doing research that may create new treatments for cancer, creating community service websites or raising money to offer loans to students from low-income schools. “The point is,” he said, “you don’t have to wait to make a difference.”

I watched the students’ faces light up as the President spoke. His words were really hitting home. He told them that even though it might all seem “a little intimidating,” they could count on “people all across this country — including myself and Arne [Duncan] and people at every level of government.”

But as a veteran teacher, with 32 years in the classroom, the President’s words mattered most when he said that it was the teachers, who “might be working harder than just about anybody these days” juggling home and school life, without the benefit of fancy perks or salaries. “They do it,” he said, “because nothing gives them more satisfaction than seeing you learn. They live for those moments when something clicks; when you amaze them with your intellect or your vocabulary, or they see what kind of person you’re becoming. And they’re proud of you.”

When the President left the gym, I felt like he had not only created a powerful message of aspiration and achievement for all America’s children, but he’d honored teachers everywhere. He let teachers know that he understands that they make sacrifices every day that go unnoticed.

Maryann Woods-Murphy

Maryann is a Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow on loan from Allendale, NJ.

President Obama on Back-to-School: “Set Your Sights High”

President Obama greets students after delivering his back-to-school speech.

President Barack Obama shakes hands with students after delivering his third annual Back-to-School speech at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School in Washington, D.C. Sept. 28, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Cross-posted from the White House Blog.

This afternoon, students from across the country tuned in as President Obama addressed them directly in his third annual Back-to-School speech. The President encouraged America’s students to use their time in school to try new things, discover new passions and hone their skills to prepare themselves for the kind of profession they want in the future:

It starts, obviously, with being the best student that you can be. Now, that doesn’t always mean that you have to have a perfect score on every assignment.  It doesn’t mean that you’ve got to get straight As all the time — although that’s not a bad goal to have.  It means that you have to stay at it.  You have to be determined and you have to persevere.  It means you’ve got to work as hard as you know how to work.  And it means that you’ve got to take some risks once in a while.  You can’t avoid the class that you think might be hard because you’re worried about getting the best grade if that’s a subject that you think you need to prepare you for your future…

And that’s why when you’re still a student you can explore a wide range of possibilities.  One hour you can be an artist; the next, an author; the next, a scientist, or a historian, or a carpenter.  This is the time where you can try out new interests and test new ideas.  And the more you do, the sooner you’ll figure out what makes you come alive, what stirs you, what makes you excited — the career that you want to pursue.

The President explained that being engaged in school is not just for the students themselves, but for the country as a whole. He acknowledged that young people today are growing up fast and students have a lot of responsibility to take on, “because you’re not just kids.  You’re this country’s future.  You’re young leaders.  And whether we fall behind or race ahead as a nation is going to depend in large part on you.”

That’s why President Obama called on America’s students to set a goal to continue their education after they graduate from High School. “The fact of the matter is, is that more than 60 percent of the jobs in the next decade will require more than a high school diploma — more than 60 percent.  That’s the world you’re walking into.”

The President also spoke about the tireless work America’s teachers do on behalf of our students:

Teachers are the men and women who might be working harder than just about anybody these days.  Whether you go to a big school or a small one, whether you attend a public or a private or charter school –- your teachers are giving up their weekends; they’re waking up at dawn; they’re cramming their days full of classes and extra-curricular activities.   And then they’re going home, eating some dinner, and then they’ve got to stay up sometimes past midnight, grading your papers and correcting your grammar, and making sure you got that algebra formula properly.

And they don’t do it for a fancy office.  They don’t — they sure don’t do it for the big salary.  They do it for you.  They do it because nothing gives them more satisfaction than seeing you learn.  They live for those moments when something clicks; when you amaze them with your intellect or your vocabulary, or they see what kind of person you’re becoming.  And they’re proud of you.  And they say, I had something to do with that, that wonderful young person who is going to succeed.  They have confidence in you that you will be citizens and leaders who take us into tomorrow.  They know you’re our future.  So your teachers are pouring everything they got into you, and they’re not alone.

Watch the video of the President’s Back-to-School address:

President Obama’s Back-to-School Speech

As students begin their school year, President Barack Obama will deliver his third annual Back-to-School Speech at 1:30 PM EDT on Wednesday, September 28, 2011 at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School in Washington, DC.

The President’s Back-to-School Speech is an opportunity to speak directly to students across the country. In past years, President Obama has encouraged students to study hard and take responsibility for their education, urging students to set goals, to believe in themselves, and to be the authors of their own destinies.

Schools across the country can watch the speech live on MSNBC as a special feature of NBC News’ “Education Nation” – part of NBC’s weeklong series of education reports and programming across the network’s shows and platforms beginning September 25. The back-to-school speech will also be streamed live at www.whitehouse.gov/live.

For more information, and to view the President’s 2009 and 2010 back-to-school speeches, visit www.whitehouse.gov/back-to-school.

Weekly Address: Strengthening the American Education System

Cross-posted from the White House blog.

President Obama explains that states will have greater flexibility to find innovative ways of improving the education system, so that we can raise standards in our classrooms and prepare the next generation to succeed in the global economy.


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

The Results Are In

Cross-posted from the White House Blog.

Drum roll please…

The results of the public rating period are in, and today we’re excited to announce the top three schools in the 2011 Race to the Top Commencement Challenge!

Watch this video from Domestic Policy Director Melody Barnes to find out which schools made the top three:


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

Later this week, President Obama will select the winning school from one of the top three. Over the past week, nearly 100,000 people from across the country submitted almost 300,000 ratings.

We want to thank all of the schools who participated in this year’s Commencement Challenge, especially our six finalists.  These schools represent the very best American public education has to offer. We are so proud of the all the teachers, students, administrators, parents and communities who are working together to help meet President Obama’s goal of having the highest proportion of college graduates by 2020.

Presidential “Latinos and Education” Town Hall—A Key to Winning the Future

President Barack Obama, with moderator Jorge Ramos, left, addresses a town hall meeting hosted by Univision at Bell Multicultural High School in Washington, D.C., March 28. 2011. Ramos is a news anchor and Univision. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Cross-posted from the White House Blog.

En español.

President Obama participated in an historical town hall event focused on education and the Latino community this morning at Bell Multicultural High School, a dual-language school situated in the heart of the Hispanic community in Columbia Heights in the nation’s capitol.  It’s a school 66 percent Hispanic, 37 percent English language learners and where 90 percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced lunch. Hosted by Univision, this community conversation gave the President a chance to talk directly to Hispanic students, parents and their teachers about the importance of education in the rapidly growing Latino community and the country as a whole.

In his State of the Union address the President laid out his vision for how America can win the future—we need to out-educate, out-innovate, and out-build the rest of the world.  He has also challenged us to have the best-educated workforce in the world by having the highest proportion of college graduates of any country by 2020.  The U.S. used to be number one, as recently as 2000.  We’re now ninth in the world.

The only way we can achieve these goals is to clearly understand that the future of America is inextricably linked to the future of the Latino community.  At more than 54 million strong – including nearly 4 million in Puerto Rico — Hispanics are both the largest and fastest-growing minority group, yet they have the lowest education attainment levels of any group in the country.   In the 21st century global economy, the fact that Latinos will form a larger growing portion of the American workforce makes this challenge even more central to the nation: as more Americans retire, this will be the population that retirees and the rest of America depends upon. Latinos number more than 12 million students in America’s public schools and make up more than 1 in 5 (22 percent) of all pre-K-12 public school students.  Yet, less than half of Latino children are enrolled in any early learning program.  Only about half of Latino children earn their high school diploma on time; those who do finish high school are only half as likely as their peers to be prepared for college.  Only 13 percent of Latinos hold a bachelor’s degree, and just four percent have completed graduate or professional degree programs.  For the Hispanic community, there is a lot work to be done across the entire education spectrum.

The only way we can make change happen in the Latino community is to make sure everyone brings their self-interests and talents to the table—students, parents, and families working hand-in-hand with teachers and principals; superintendents collaborating more closely with community college and four-year university education leaders; governors, mayors, and other elected officials partnering with the business, philanthropic, nonprofit, and grassroots sectors; everyone sharing the responsibility for helping us win the future.

Our office has been fortunate to connect with the Latino community in over 100 different cities in nearly 40 states, D.C. and Puerto Rico over the past year and a half.  In each city, one message has been crystal clear: education is the path to the American Dream for the Hispanic community.  On Monday, you’ll get the chance to hear the President talk about his vision for how we help Latino kids and all students succeed—from cradle to career.

Watch the entire town hall in English and Spanish at www.EsElMomento.com.

To keep up with the activities of the White House Initiative, follow them at Ed.gov or on Facebook.

Juan Sepúlveda is Executive Director, White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics

President Obama to Participate in Televised Town Hall on Education

Cross-posted from the White House Blog.

As part of his ongoing effort to improve education for all Americans, President Obama will participate in a Univision-hosted town hall with students, parents and teachers on March 28 to discuss education and Hispanic educational attainment. The town hall is part of Univision’s “Es el Momento” (The Moment is Now) initiative focused on creating a college-bound culture in the Hispanic community.

Do you have questions about better preparing students for college and 21st century careers? Or thoughts on how to increase parental engagement in education? Now’s your chance. In advance of the town hall, you’re invited to submit education-related questions here. Questions must be submitted by Sunday, March 27.

Then tune in to watch a live video stream from the event in either English or Spanish at EsElMomento.com, starting at 7:00 PM EDT on Monday, March 28.

It’s Time to Fix No Child Left Behind

President Barack Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan talk with students and teachers at the Kenmore Middle School

President Barack Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan talk with students and teachers at the Kenmore Middle School auditorium in Arlington, Va. March 14, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

“I want every child in this country to head back to school in the fall knowing that their education is America’s priority. Let’s seize this education moment.  Let’s fix No Child Left Behind,” said President Obama earlier today at Kenmore Middle School in Arlington, Virginia.  President Obama was joined by Secretary Duncan, teachers, representatives from major education associations, and Kenmore students.

In introducing President Obama, Secretary Duncan explained that, “While No Child Left Behind helped expand the standards and accountability movement, there is much that needs to be fixed.”

Many teachers complain bitterly about NCLB’s emphasis on testing. Principals hate being labeled as failures. Superintendents say it wasn’t adequately funded. And many parents just view it as a toxic brand that isn’t helping children learn.  We need to fix NCLB now. And it can’t wait.

During the speech, President Obama spoke directly to America’s teachers:

Now, I want to speak to teachers in particular here.  I’m not talking about more tests.  I’m not talking about teaching to the test.  We don’t need to know whether a student can fill out a bubble.  We do need to know whether they’re making progress.  We do need to know whether they’re not only mastering reading, math, and science, but also developing the kinds of skills, like critical thinking and creativity and collaboration that I just saw on display with the students that I met here.  Those are skills they’re going to need for the rest of their lives, not just to be good workers, but to be good citizens.

Now, that doesn’t mean testing is going to go away; there will be testing.  But the point is, is that we need to refine how we’re assessing progress so that we can have accountability without rigidity — accountability that still encourages creativity inside the classroom, and empowers teachers and students and administrators.

Read the White House blog post, and you can also read President Obama’s speech and Secretary Duncan’s speech.  The White House also released a fact sheet that lays out the President’s priorities for fixing NCLB.

The President in Miami: Winning the Future Through Investments in Education

Cross-posted from the White House blog.

This afternoon, President Obama will visit Miami Central Senior High School in Miami, Florida, along with former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. The President will lay out his vision for improving American education through investments that are focused on responsibility, reform, and results.

Secretary Duncan previewed today’s visit with an op-ed for the Miami Herald:

Turning around a struggling school is some of the toughest work in education. Experience shows that effective turnarounds require strong leadership and the flexibility to recruit staff with special skills and commitment. Not every teacher or principal wants or should be in this demanding environment. But extraordinary principals and teachers who choose to work in turnaround schools deserve our full support and commitment.
The administration is supporting an array of bold options to help the children trapped in America’s lowest-performing schools. “More of the same” is not one of them.