Reimagining Education through Summer Learning Partnerships

Group meeting in the South Bronx

NYC School Chancellor Dennis Walcott joined community partners, school leaders, and students for the kickoff of Summer Quest at P.S. 211 in the South Bronx

As our students head back to school, we are reflecting on initiatives we saw this summer that can invigorate student engagement and learning year round. As part of Together for Tomorrow –our effort to strengthen partnerships among schools, families, and communities — we visited summer learning initiatives in the South Bronx, Pittsburgh, and Chicago. Director of the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships Brenda Girton-Mitchell and I led discussions in these communities to share promising practices and to provide feedback to shape the U.S. Department of Education’s community and family engagement efforts.

These discussions also extended work the Department began earlier this year, along with the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, on Reimagining Education. Each place we visited is home to a Hive Learning Network – a collective of organizations, made possible through MacArthur Foundation support, where young people can pursue a diversity of learning experiences in their community. The summer initiatives we explored were anchored by strong collaboration among schools, families, and community-based organizations (CBOs).

In the South Bronx, we visited Summer Quest, which brought together New York City schools, and CBOs to provide learning and enrichment activities for nearly 1,800 elementary and middle school students from low-income families. In preparation for Summer Quest, teachers and CBO staff participated in joint professional development around project-based learning and co-facilitation. Program organizers observed from their experience in 2012 that the deeper level of collaboration between schools and CBOs required by Summer Quest resulted in better-aligned and impactful programming during the regular school year.

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Advancing Family and Community Engagement in San Antonio

san antonio mayor

“Families want the chance to achieve the American Dream and to pass the baton of opportunity to their children” – Mayor Julián Castro, who spoke about his Pre-K 4 SA early childhood initiative.

During our recent visit to San Antonio, we had the opportunity to learn how community organizations and schools are working together to engage families in education.

We heard from San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro how the community has rallied to support the expansion of pre-kindergarten education.  In November, San Antonio residents approved funding for Pre-K for San Antonio that will provide over 22,000 four year olds with high-quality pre-K.  President Obama has put forth a “Preschool for All” proposal in his Fiscal Year 2014 budget, which calls for a partnership with states in making access to high-quality early learning a reality for every four-year-old in America. Studies prove that children who have rich early learning experiences are better prepared to thrive in school.

We joined a family engagement convening hosted by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and we were able to see first-hand the work of two-generation approaches to education development at AVANCE and the Intercultural Development Research Association.

During our visit to the Eastside Promise Neighborhood we learned how family and community engagement efforts being led by the United Way of San Antonio and Bexar County are moving forward the three goals of Together for Tomorrow:

  • They are laying the groundwork by dedicating staff and volunteers to cultivate and sustain partnerships;
  • They are focusing on the ABCs, Attendance, Behavior, Course Performance, and College Access through things like parent volunteers doing visits to homes when students are repeatedly absent; and
  • They are celebrating and inspiring families and community members to get involved through events that are organized and executed by parents.

We also organized a community discussion to share about Together for Tomorrow, to learn more about local promising practices and examples of school-family partnerships, and to gather feedback to shape the Department’s family engagement efforts.  Hedy Chang from Attendance Works joined us to announce a new toolkit, Bringing Attendance Home: Engaging Parents in Preventing Chronic Absence

The event was live streamed and the video is available here. We were joined by our partners, the National Center for Family Literacy, and will be working with them over the coming months to deepen our family and community engagement efforts with Together for Tomorrow.

Brenda Girton-Mitchell is director of the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the U.S. Department of Education

A New Family Engagement Partnership with the National Center for Family Literacy

Brenda Girton-Mitchell, director of the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships

Brenda Girton-Mitchell, director of the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, announces the new partnership at the NCFL national conference

“Read to your child.”

“Help them with their homework.”

“Make sure they get a good night sleep.”

“And what else?…”

A parent is a child’s first and most important teacher, but our approaches to family engagement often fall short of recognizing the full potential of partnerships between schools and families. The challenges we face in education require that we go beyond these basic messages on family engagement – moving from communication to collaboration among schools and families.

This is why the U.S. Department of Education is working to develop better frameworks for family engagement, and why teacher-family collaboration is a component of RESPECT , our blueprint for elevating and transforming the teaching profession. We are also renewing our Together for Tomorrow initiative with an expanded emphasis on family partnerships to propel school improvement and produce better outcomes for students.

In support of these efforts, we are pleased to announce a new partnership with the National Center for Family Literacy (NCFL) to advance family engagement in education across the country.  NCFL brings to this work more than 20 years of experience providing tools and resources for educators and parents to create lifelong learning opportunities for the entire family.

Through the partnership, the Department and NCFL will jointly develop and implement strategies to raise the awareness and understanding of effective family and community engagement in education.  This will emphasize how teachers and families can better collaborate to improve student engagement and learning. We will work together to:

  • Convene community discussions on family engagement with educators, families and community leaders across the country.
  • Identify and compile promising practices and program examples for effective family engagement in education, so schools can employ leading practices that work.
  • Gather feedback on family engagement frameworks from educators, parents, advocates, and others in the education community.
  • Develop and disseminate resource materials to support family and community engagement in education. An example includes NCFL’s Wonderopolis, an online learning community that engages classrooms and families in the wonder of discovery.

We are eager to move this essential work forward, beginning with Together for Tomorrow community conversations in locations across the country.  These will spotlight promising practices and examples of school-family partnerships, and gather feedback to shape the Department’s family engagement efforts.

We also want to hear how your family-school partnerships are boosting student engagement and academic achievement.  Please email us your promising practices and program examples to edpartners@ed.gov

Michael Robbins is senior advisor for nonprofit partnerships at the U.S. Department of Education

Community Partnerships for the Digital Learning Revolution

I wasn’t surprised to learn that my hometown of Huntsville, Alabama –The Rocket City – has launched one of the largest school district transitions to digital learning in the nation. I recently visited Huntsville to learn from their experience, and my conversations there reinforced for me that community and family partnerships are essential for the success of digital learning. We have unprecedented investment in education technology, but we don’t yet have the corresponding developments in partnerships to help transitions to digital learning succeed.

Boy with tablet deviceCommunity partnerships are key to realizing a digital learning revolution that is more than trading textbooks for tablets. This is an inflection point in education – a critical opportunity to transform how schools, parents, and community-based organizations collaborate to ignite student curiosity and engagement in learning.

Community and family partnerships can also reduce the possibility that digital learning transitions will exacerbate achievement gaps. Students that face the greatest challenges in and outside school need comprehensive supports to evolve so that digital learning doesn’t further disadvantage them.

Our community organizations, including faith-based organizations, have tremendous opportunities to support and shape the digital learning transition through four key areas of collaboration:

    • Expanding access and digital literacy;
    • Bridging between schools, families, and communities;
    • Service and volunteering in education; and
    • Creating new avenues for anytime-anywhere learning.

Expanding access and digital literacy.

Many students don’t have access outside school to computers, broadband connections, and basic technical support. The Obama Administration is working with a public-private partnership called Connect2Compete to expand low-cost internet, computers, and digital literacy instruction to low-income families.  Connect2Compete is building a network of local community partners, and community organizations can go here to learn more and link up with their efforts.

Bridging between schools, families, and communities.

Community and faith organizations can bridge the gap between home and school with their strong connections to families. Internet-based student data and learning management systems can improve collaboration between teachers, families, and community partners. Community-based organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri, a Together for Tomorrow challenge winner, are using joint data systems with schools to focus student support services where they have the greatest impact.

A new report from the Department on Expanding Evidence Approaches for Learning in a Digital World, highlights the need for more efforts that connect community partners with school data systems. The report emphasizes that “young people learn and develop in a wide range of settings,” and we need to better use data “to support the full range of student needs and interests—both inside and outside schools and classrooms—to improve learning outcomes.”

Service and volunteering in education.

Digital learning systems are making it possible for partners to assist students using lessons developed by educators that are aligned with the school curriculum. This is expanding the range of volunteers that are confident and effective at assisting students inside and outside the classroom. Service and volunteer partners can also advance student learning through digital tools such as remote connections into classrooms, Open Education Resources, and internet-connected real-world experiences.

Digital partnerships aren’t limited to academic assistance, and can boost other key student outcomes.  iMentor is using digital learning to improve student behavior and increase college access. Their internet-based systems help train and support adult volunteers, who mentor students both virtually and in-person.

Creating new avenues for anytime-anywhere learning

Digital learning partnerships can help community-based organizations transform American education by expanding learning beyond the classroom. “Anytime-anywhere learning” is a key goal in our education technology plan and schools can’t accomplish this goal alone. Schools can partner with community-based initiatives like the HIVE Learning Networks that use new technologies and media to better connect students to their interests, aspirations, communities, and careers.

Community partners are using digital badges to change how and where students earn academic credit. For example, the Providence After School Alliance is developing digital badges as a central component of their credit-bearing afterschool and internship programs.

Getting started with digital learning partnerships.

The Department is participating in Digital Learning Day on February 6. Community organizations can learn more and jumpstart their digital learning partnerships at digitallearningday.org.

There are valuable information resources at our Office of Education Technology web page and Epic-ed, our initiative to support digital learning transitions. If you are already part of a digital learning partnership, share your examples on our Facebook page at facebook.com/edpartners.

The guidebooks on community partnerships and digital learning are yet to be written, so it is vital that community partners, families, schools, and education technology initiatives work together to develop their pathways to digital learning partnerships. Together we can ensure that digital learning boosts engagement and learning for all of our students. Education technology can help us create a community culture of education success, where everyone sees education as his or her responsibility, and there are clear and compelling pathways to assist.

Michael Robbins is senior advisor for nonprofit partnerships at the U.S. Department of Education

Community Partners Share Responsibility to Support K-12 Schools

When it comes to increasing student achievement in K-12 schools, Secretary Duncan believes everyone has a role to play – teachers, parents, higher education leaders, business executives, community partners and the students themselves.

In April, the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, the Department of Education, and the Corporation for National and Community Service launched “Together for Tomorrow.” This initiative is working to engage local communities to meet the challenge to turn around persistently low-performing schools. The goal is to promote a community culture where everyone takes and shares responsibility for improving these low-performing schools.

In communities across the country, nonprofits and business leaders are working together to improve education.

Under Secretary Martha Kanter and Brenda Girton-Mitchell, the director of the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, recently travelled to Minneapolis where they met with civic leaders and educators to discuss their work to close the achievement gap. You can read Under Secretary Kanter’s reflections on the trip here.

Secretary’s Mom Inspires National Service at Chicago Conference

Secretary Duncan discusses his hero -- his mom -- with CNN's Soledad O'Brien (left) and Wendy Spencer, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service at the National Conference of Volunteering and Service in Chicago on June 19.

Secretary Duncan discusses his hero -- his mom -- with CNN's Soledad O'Brien (left) and Wendy Spencer, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service at the National Conference of Volunteering and Service in Chicago on June 19.

Who inspires you?

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s hero is his mother, Sue Duncan, who founded a tutoring center in one of Chicago’s toughest neighborhoods 51 years ago, and continues to lead it today.

The Secretary used his mom’s story to stir an audience of more than 3,000 members of volunteer organizations from throughout the U.S., as she listened from the front row at the plenary session on “Celebrating the Power of Service in Education” for the National Conference on Volunteering and Service in their hometown Chicago on June 19.  Wendy Spencer, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) and CNN’s Soledad O’Brien joined Secretary Duncan for the session.

“It’s been an amazing journey,” said Duncan of his mom’s work, which began not far from the conference’s site with “just 9 girls in the downstairs of a church” and has grown to help thousands.

“You had kids — who started off very low, academically — start to do extraordinarily well,” he said. “There were no excuses. If kids weren’t fed, she’d feed them. If kids didn’t have clean clothes, we’d take their clothes home to wash them and bring them back the next day. Whatever it took to help kids fulfill their potential, that’s what her focus was.”

Sue Duncan also demonstrated courage, said her son.

“The church (where the tutoring center was located) was fire bombed,” he explained. “One of my earliest memories is of carrying boxes of books to a new church, to start over again.  We went from this situation with lots of potential violence early on to the community really embracing, supporting and actually protecting us.”

Community support is the vital ingredient of the Together for Tomorrow (TFT) initiative kicked-off earlier this year by ED, CNCS and the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships at a town hall meeting in Iowa.  This has been followed-up with additional forums throughout the nation. With about 25% of young Americans dropping-out of high school each year with no good job opportunities awaiting them, TFT “rallies entire communities to bring together resources in a very targeted and strategic way, to change children’s lives,” said Duncan.

“We need to wrap our hands our arms, our love around these children and support teachers, faculty members, administrators in any way we can. We can do this with service,” Spencer said.

Spencer said that she and Secretary Duncan will soon be announcing the first one-hundred communities across America that will participate in the TFT School Improvement Challenge for the 2012-2013 school year. The Challenge is an opportunity for schools and districts, institutions of higher education, and nonprofit organizations to join with other partners to improve their neediest schools by raising key measurable student outcomes. It is not a new grant program, but rather an approach to better coordinate resources and efforts. Applicants have until June 29, 2012, to submit their plans. More details about the Challenge are at tft.challenge.gov.

While funding is a consistent issue in education, Duncan has learned through his own experiences – beginning with his mother’s efforts — that money is not the ultimate solution.

“Some people think that the only way to fix education is to fix poverty first,” he said. “I think the only way to fix poverty is to fix education.”

Watch a video of the session.

–Julie Ewart is the Director of Communications and Outreach in ED’s Chicago Regional Office.

Duncan Talks College Affordability and Rural Ed in WI and IA

Secretaries Duncan and Vilsack at a town hall in Wisconsin

Secretaries Duncan and Vilsack held a town hall in Wisconsin to discuss rural education and the teaching profession. Official Department of Education photo by Paul Wood.

Waterloo, Iowa – It’s not often that town hall meetings are interrupted by the gentle moo of a calf, but that’s exactly the interjection that two Cabinet secretaries and an audience interested in rural education experienced Wednesday at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville’s Pioneer Farm.

The mooing didn’t seem to bother the hundreds of educators, FFA members and other students who had gathered to discuss the teaching profession and rural education with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. Students and teachers posed thoughtful and challenging questions to the secretaries on stage.

“Our country’s economy can’t be strong if our rural economy isn’t strong,” Duncan said at the event. Both he and Vilsack talked about the importance of public-private partnerships and the fact that communities need to come together in order for America’s economy to continue to grow. Secretary Vilsack noted how important farming is to America, even for those who are far removed from America’s pastures. The U.S. “has an amazing ag story,” he said, explaining that we need to “talk differently in this country about agriculture.”

Duncan and Vilsack also announced a new interagency agreement that will advance agricultural education and promote postsecondary and career pathways, including teaching. Click here for more information and watch a video of the town hall.

College Affordability

The town hall at UW-Platteville was just one stop in a busy day for Secretary Duncan, who started the day discussing college affordability with seniors at East High School in Madison, Wis. Madison Metropolitan School District superintendent Dan Nerad started off the town hall by reminding us that in “the American dream of ensuring that these great young people accomplish more than our generation, postsecondary education must be affordable.”

Click here to read President Obama’s Blueprint for College Affordability.

Together for Tomorrow School Improvement Challenge

Later in the day, Duncan stopped in Dubuque, Iowa, and joined the Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell, ED’s director for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, to hold a “Together for Tomorrow” town hall on the value of community partnerships in helping to propel school improvement.

During the event, Duncan announced the Together for Tomorrow School Improvement Challenge, which challenges schools, national service programs, higher education institutions, and community and faith-based organizations to work together to turn around low-performing schools. Click here for more information.

Click here for a our Storify Story of day one, and check back for updates on day two of Secretary Duncan’s trip.