Where Are They Now? Revisiting the “12 for Life” Program

12 for Life has provided technical, leadership and life skills for many students. (U.S. Department of Education)

12 for Life has provided technical, leadership and life skills for many students. (U.S. Department of Education)

Last fall, during the 2014 Partners in Progress Back-to-School Bus Tour, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan had the opportunity to meet with several inspiring students participating in 12 for Life, a program created by a private business called Southwire. While on a tour of the factory floor, the students shared inspiring and deeply personal testimonies about how 12 for Life has provided technical, leadership and life skills while enabling them to earn their high school diploma .

Brittany Beach’s story is one we will remember for many years to come. Brittany was pregnant when her high school counselor suggested she apply to 12 for Life. “Not one time did not graduating cross my mind,” she said, “Being here gave me the opportunity to attend school and not give up, because of the supports.” Now Brittany is enrolled at West Georgia Technical College and expects to be certified as a nursing assistant. There is a job waiting for her at the nearby veteran’s hospital, she said, and she wants to continue her training to become a registered nurse.

Many of her peers in 12 for Life have similar stories and are the first ones in their families ever to graduate from high school. The data confirms that Brittany is not alone. Over 5 million 14-to-24-year-olds in the U.S. are neither working nor in school.

Across the U.S., public-private partnerships are responding to address the urgency of this crisis, and 12 for Life is one example. This cooperative education program was developed in 2007 and targets many of the most vulnerable youth who are at the greatest risk of not completing high school in Georgia. Since the program’s launch, the district’s dropout rate has plunged from 35 percent to 22 percent. The program has been so successful, in fact, that it is expanding. In 2013, Carroll County School was awarded a four-year $3 million federal Investing in Innovation grant, which helped expand a version of the program in three counties and is helping start similar programs elsewhere in Georgia and other states.

Addressing the needs of the more than 5 million disconnected youth in our nation requires the support of schools and businesses in each community. 12 for Life is a unique approach that sits at the intersection of industry and education. Among the many high school reform and dropout prevention efforts, it is noteworthy not just for the notable gains and clear public benefit, but because Southwire has found the program helps make the company more competitive – providing results for its bottom line while helping develop the future workforce.

Secretary Duncan met with many students in the 12 for Life program during the 2014 Partners in Progress tour. (U.S. Department of Education)

Secretary Duncan met with students in the 12 for Life program during the 2014 Partners in Progress Back-to-School Bus Tour. (U.S. Department of Education)

More students, school districts, and employers can benefit from this approach. By using the 12 for Life model, schools and businesses can leverage the strengths they already have to create partnerships that benefit all involved.

Scaling an intervention that works is a good idea. That is why we call on leaders in business, industry, labor, education, and philanthropy to join and coordinate efforts to expand opportunities to millions of youth across the country that need a life changing opportunity like the one 12 for Life represents. This program delivers on the promise of creating real ladders of opportunity.

Johan E. Uvin is Acting Assistant Secretary of the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education at the U.S. Department of Education.

Huntsville Shows Off Impressive STEM Learning Resources

Reposted from the OII Blog

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Alabama A&M University leaders (l. to r.) Provost Daniel Wims; President Andrew Hugine, Jr.; senior-year computer science student Charlevester Wims; and College of Engineering, Technology, and Physical Sciences Dean Chance Glenn join OII’s STEM executive director, Russell Shilling (second from right), following Education Secretary Arne’s Duncan’s visit to NASA’s Space and Rocket Center. (Photo courtesy of Alabama A&M University)

As Education Secretary Duncan’s bus tour departed Huntsville, Ala., on September 9th, I remained to explore the STEM and technology education programs in the area. Huntsville, home to NASA’s Space and Rocket Center, has the advantage of being a small city with huge resources to support education. I wanted to see what they were doing that might be exported to a wide range of schools across the U.S.

After Secretary Duncan’s visit to the Space and Rocket Center and its Space Camp, I was greeted by the president of Alabama A&M University (AAMU), Dr. Andrew Hugine, Jr., along with staff and students. Once on their beautiful campus, Dr. Chance Glenn, dean of the College of Engineering, Technology, and Physical Sciences, discussed the various programs AAMU has developed to help students pursue and excel in STEM fields.

As of 2012, the college, according to the American Society for Engineering Education, ranked No. 4 of 352 in the production of African American engineers and No. 11 for female engineers. This success is credited to multiple programs that support students at various points in their academic careers. AAMU, for example, provides full, four-year scholarships to 12 STEM Star Scholars, covering their tuitions and fees. The Summer Bridge program, which brings students to the campus for two weeks prior to starting their freshman year, focuses on mathematics, social development, and study skills, as well as a providing a campus orientation.

A roundtable discussion with faculty, staff, and current and past students from engineering, computer science, and the basic sciences concluded a very motivating visit to the AAMU campus.

The following day, I met with the Huntsville City Schools superintendent, Dr. Casey Wardynski, and his staff to discuss their STEM and technology strategies and tour a few of the local schools. At Blossomwood Elementary, I chatted with teachers and students about their work in robotics, information technology, and math. The Huntsville strategy has been to provide iPads for classroom use up to second grade and laptops for the rest of the student population to use at home and in school. Technology use was particularly well integrated in mathematics instruction, but also evident across the curriculum.

At Huntsville Middle School, laptops were again being well utilized in classroom instruction, especially in mathematics. Students were also actively learning to develop computer games in classrooms that have been well adapted for group work. I was particularly impressed by the school’s collaboration with the Elizabeth Forward school system in Pennsylvania. A particularly innovative application developed at Elizabeth Forward was being used to demonstrate linear progressions. In the application, students physically interact with a room-sized screen projected on the floor combined with sensors to track their movements. It’s a very good example of how hubs of innovation in local areas can propagate leading practices and why we need to continue to build opportunities to bring these innovators together.

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Russell Shilling (center) joins faculty and students at the Huntsville Center for Technology to learn about Greenpower Team USA. The Huntsville City Schools, which was the only U.S. competitor in last year’s international Greenpower competition, is expanding participation in the unique STEM learning initiative. (Photo courtesy of the Huntsville City Schools)

One of the most interesting aspects of the schools tour was the visit to the Huntsville Center for Technology, where I was introduced to Greenpower Team USA. Last October, Huntsville students competed in an international competition held in the U.K. to design, build, and test electric cars. The cars are built from scratch, including the aerodynamic composite bodies.

The Huntsville team won the Best Newcomer Award and the Siemens Innovator Award their first time out, placing 10th out of 32 competitors in the 90-minute race and 32nd out of 74 competitors in the four-hour race. Speeds average around 30 mph, but duration and durability are the primary goals. They were the only team outside of the U.K. in the finals. Team Huntsville has brought the concept home to the U.S., building test tracks around several Huntsville high schools to increase student participation citywide. And with the U.K. competitions including a category for 9- to 11-year-olds, which uses “Goblin Car” kits that average top speeds of 15 mph, Greenpower is an engaging way for STEM learning to reach a wide age range of students.

Clearly, Huntsville benefits from some unique local assets not available to all school systems, but many others could learn from the city’s leadership in developing technology integration strategies and their hands-on approach to STEM education.

Russell Shilling is Executive Director of STEM in the Office of Innovation and Improvement.

One District’s Quest to Transform Learning through Technology

What does it mean to be a “Future Ready” school district?

More than 160 teachers, parents, students, and business and district leaders from across Tennessee recently gathered at the Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools’ Martin Center to discuss the answer to this question and talk about the upcoming Future Ready District Pledge.

The Pledge establishes a framework for districts to achieve the goals laid out by the White House ConnectED Initiative. Some of these goals include: upgrading high-speed Internet connectivity, providing access to educational devices and digital content, and preparing teachers to use technology effectively to improve student learning and their own professional development.

The event – part of the U.S. Department of Education’s fifth annual back-to-school bus tour – was hosted by Kecia Ray, Executive Director of Learning Technology for the Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) and Richard Culatta, Director of the Department’s Office of Educational Technology.

Some of those who attended the event demonstrated what #FutureReady meant to them. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Some of those who attended the event demonstrated what #FutureReady meant to them. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

During the discussion, teachers, students, administrators, and community leaders talked about their roles in shaping the way technology can transform learning.

One teacher from the MNPS Virtual School said his staff was already “rockin’ Future Ready but could certainly use the infrastructure attention, as well as community involvement.” Other educators emphasized the importance of professional development and training. One MNPS teacher said teachers needed professional development on how to use devices for specific instructional purposes, while another teacher suggested, “Our perception needs to change from technology being ‘another thing’ we need to learn, to being ‘the way’ we teach and learn.”

The educators expressed the importance of building the right infrastructure, imagining the classrooms of the future, ensuring teachers are ready to utilize and benefit from technology, and bringing into the work parents, community members, school board members, and others . District leaders also recognized the value of mentoring other districts, noting, “The only way to be successful is to collaborate, just like we expect our teachers to do.”

Parents talked about blended learning, which combines classroom and online instruction, noting that without consistency across the country, individual districts would need to clearly define this learning approach for their teachers and students. Some parents also emphasized the importance of understanding what was going on at school, suggesting that “if parents knew what was happening in the classroom, they would know the right questions to ask their students.”

Students also gave their points of view.

Tenth-grade Big Picture High School student Jarred Enyart facilitated a conversation with nearly 30 middle and high school students. The teens expressed excitement about incorporating Future Ready into their learning experiences.

One student wondered, “If students had 45 minutes of rich learning online, would they have more motivation to succeed and learn?” Another offered an example of the personalized learning available in Future Ready schools, noting, “I had maxed out on AP classes and was interested in medicine. I was able to access a variety of opportunities because of the internet.”

As the event concluded, one student offered some excellent advice, urging the participants to use technology “as a tool, not a crutch.”

We will continue to bring you details about the Future Ready pledge. Follow the hashtag #FutureReady on Facebook and Twitter for updates.

James Liou is a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education.

Our Eight Favorite Photos from this Year’s Back-to-School Bus Tour

Secretary Arne Duncan’s fifth annual back-to-school bus tour ended on a high note on Wednesday with a pep rally in Memphis.

This year’s theme – “Partners in Progress” – focused on the partnerships between the Department of Education and state and local educators that help to ensure all of America’s students have access to a quality education.

Secretary Duncan and senior ED officials got to see and hear from teachers, principals, families, and students as the tour moved through Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee. Below you’ll find eight of our favorite images from the tour:

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The tour began at Spelman College, America’s first historically black college for women, in Atlanta. Here Secretary Arne Duncan participated in a roundtable, where he discussed effective teacher recruitment strategies with students, educators and school officials.

 

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Snapping a selfie! Students from Spelman and other HBCU’s got a chance to meet the Secretary during his visit on Sept. 8.

 

"If somebody tells you that you’re not college material ... prove them wrong." First Lady Michelle Obama spoke about her Reach Higher initiative during her speech at Booker T. Washington High School.

“If somebody tells you that you’re not college material … prove them wrong.” First Lady Michelle Obama spoke about her Reach Higher initiative during her speech at Booker T. Washington High School.

 

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Day one of the bus tour wrapped up in Carrollton, a small Georgia community near the Alabama border, where Secretary Duncan took a tour of a Southwire manufacturing facility. He also heard from students involved in the 12 for Life program.

 

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Secretary Duncan and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro visited the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute on the evening of Sept. 8. Earlier this year, Duncan paid tribute to the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” speech, which highlighted the importance of providing equal education opportunities to everyone in America.

 

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After two days on a bus, it seemed that everyone on the tour needed a little “space”. On Sept. 9, Secretary Duncan toured the U.S. Space and Rocket Center — home of Space Camp — and joined more than 250 middle and high school students and educators for a discussion about the importance of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, or STEM.

 

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Times have changed when it comes to learning! Secretary Duncan and Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke read to students from an e-book during their visit to the Chambliss Center for Children. Chambliss has run a 24/7/365 childcare program since 1969. The program serves parents who are either working or in school, and is designed to provide educational opportunities and increase school readiness for Chattanooga’s youngest learners.

 

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Hundreds of students at Cornerstone Preparatory School in Memphis, Tenn., welcomed Secretary Duncan during the final day of this year’s “Partners in Progress” back-to-school bus tour. Once a school where only two percent of students were proficient in math, scores in that subject have increased by 23.1 points over the past three years and scores in reading and language arts have increased by 13.2 percentage points, with support from Race to the Top and other federal programs.

 

Proving the Possible

Hundreds of Memphis students with red pom-poms welcomed Secretary Duncan to town on Wednesday, the final day of this year’s “Partners in Progress” back-to-school bus tour. Tennessee — in its fourth year of a federally funded Race to the Top grant — was one of the first grantees tapped to implement a comprehensive statewide plan for improving education, with broad community support.

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Students from Cornerstone Preparatory School in Memphis, Tenn., cheered when the bus tour arrived. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Race to the Top — an investment that represents less than one percent of total education spending in America — has combined with other federally supported reform programs to fuel significant education improvements in states across the country. But, as Arne pointed out, the credit for encouraging early results goes to state and local partners—educators, families, faith-based, business and civic leaders — who’ve been determined to make things better for children, even though change can be hard.

“What’s going to sustain this is the hard work, the heart, the commitment of folks doing this,” Arne told more than 100 supporters of district and charter schools in Memphis. “The cumulative impact of all that hard work has been extraordinary.”

That impact is evident at Cornerstone Prep, which serves children in one of Memphis’s poorest neighborhoods. Once a school where only 2 percent of students were proficient in math, scores in that subject have increased by 23.1 points over the past three years and scores in reading and language arts have increased by 13.2 percentage points. T-shirts worn by the faculty and staff at Wednesday’s rally also attest that Cornerstone is “Proving the Possible.”

College banners are everywhere on campus, to keep everyone focused on the end goal. To the students cheering in the hot schoolyard out front, Arne delivered a back-to-school pep talk.

“A lot of people will tell you what you can’t do,” Arne said. “Don’t listen to them. Use that as fuel to keep you going.”

Changes, Challenges and Champions in Nashville

Earlier in the day, Arne joined National PTA President Otha Thornton and parents and teachers from Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools to discuss the impact in classrooms of some of the largest changes America’s schools have seen in decades.

Tennessee, like nearly every other state in the country, is in the early stages of implementing new and higher standards, better assessments and ways to use data and technology to boost student learning, as well as new efforts to support teachers and principals — all aimed at ensuring that all students are truly ready for college and careers. These changes are starting to show results, but challenges remain.

America’s high school graduation rate is at an all-time high and dropout rates are down, but one-third of high school graduates report having to take remedial classes in college. “What that tells you is they weren’t ready,” Arne said, citing the statistic. “They weren’t prepared…And that simply isn’t good enough.”

In a town hall at Nashville’s William Henry Oliver Middle School, Arne applauded PTA members for their strong stand for student and teacher success during this transition.

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Secretary Duncan at a town hall at Nashville’s William Henry Oliver Middle School. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

“This is new for everyone,” said panelist Kayleigh Wettstein, who teaches third grade in Nashville. “As teachers, we have to get on board and be really great role models for our students.”

Parents need support to understand these changes, too. Many nodded knowingly when ED Principal Ambassador Fellow Jill Levine, who leads a magnet school in Chattanooga, Tennessee, talked about the new ways that educators are teaching math and how those methods can be unfamiliar to parents who learned a different way to work with numbers.

For Wettstein, whose students tend to come from homes where English isn’t the first language, “not all parents are the same. We have to differentiate for our kids and we have to differentiate for our families as well.”

Parent Anita Ryan marveled at a recent project at her daughter’s school, involving All of the Above, a novel about four students and their quest to build the world’s largest tetrahedron and prove their urban school isn’t a “dead end.” Ryan’s daughter and her class read the book. They studied the math behind pyramidal shapes and the engineering involved in building giant ones. They wrote persuasive essays about winning approaches to break the record. And they worked in teams to test their theories.

The Common Core State Standards that Tennessee developed with more than 40 states encourage that kind of multi-faceted, project-based learning, Ryan said. As a result, students like her daughter “get it.” “They know it. They retain it,” she said.

One risk of this big transition in education is the potential for over-testing of students, Nashville Superintendent Jesse Register said. In his district, they have identified redundancies — “we were doing too much,” Register said — and are looking for ways to scale back testing without sacrificing important data and accountability.

“Where there’s too much testing, let’s have an honest conversation about that.” Arne said, reflecting on how he views testing in his own children’s public schools. Measuring what students know and where they need more help is a way to “make sure great teaching is leading to good results, not just teaching to the test.”

Talking about another form of accountability, Arne encouraged parents and educators to look behind politicians’ rhetoric and press them to genuinely value education and invest in public schools. For too long, politicians let standards slip to make themselves look good while students were being handed worthless diplomas. Elections, he said, are the ultimate form of accountability for officials who control education budgets and policy, but campaigns rarely focus on education, especially at the national level.

Arne threw out an idea for the next race for the White House. “In 2016, could we have a presidential debate about education, where the entire nation focuses on it? Could PTA host that debate?”

Reflecting on the tour, the Secretary noted the extraordinary ways that communities in all three states we visited—Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia—have seized the opportunity to bring about bold change in education.

“I don’t learn much sitting behind my desk in Washington. I need to get out.” (Arne has visited all 50 states and more than 350 schools in his five-and-a-half years as Secretary.) “This is a time to get better … and to do it together,” he said.

From the tour’s kickoff with First Lady Michelle Obama in Atlanta, where counselors, mentors and other role models are inspiring students to set their sights on higher education, to Space Camp at NASA’s Rocket Center in Huntsville, where kids explore the wonders of STEM, to an early learning center in Chattanooga, where parents are determined to give their babies a great start in life — partners across America are coming together to build a better future for all students.

And that’s real progress.

Melissa Apostolides is a member of the Communications Development team in the Office of Communications and Outreach.

After Two Days on a Bus, We Needed a Little Space

A day that included a super-fun stop at space camp and a bedtime story with preschoolers at a 24-hour child care center started first in Birmingham, Ala. There, on Tuesday, Secretary Duncan joined Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro, Mayor William Bell and 10 young men and women for a roundtable discussion on President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative.

Participants and the audience of more than 100 that watched came from youth-serving organizations from around the Birmingham area. Brenda Girton-Mitchell, director of the Department of Education’s Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, moderated the conversation.

“Education is a shared responsibility,” Rev. Girton-Mitchell said as she opened the discussion, “and whichever organization you represent today, you are already a part of improving outcomes for young people.”

Sitting in a circle in the wood-paneled library of John Herbert Phillips Academy, the young men and women credited their organizations with providing them with mentors and with teaching them test-taking and public speaking skills, as well as exposing them to work opportunities in finance, auto mechanics, computer science and physical therapy.

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Secretary Duncan joined Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro, Mayor William Bell and 10 young men and women for a roundtable discussion on President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Secretary Castro, who recently came to Washington after serving as mayor of San Antonio, Texas, pointed to the opportunities that can be created for young people when all levels and sectors of government work together, including housing, education, public safety, economic development and transportation. That’s the theory of Promise Zones, a cross-administration initiative to support high-poverty urban, rural and tribal communities.

“We want to hear from you — what do you need from us?” Castro said to the students in the circle.

Their responses echoed what we often hear from students — more extracurricular activities and access to better technology. One young man wished for professional development for teachers to help them work with students’ different learning styles. Another asked for more funding for scientific research, pointing out that American society seems to place more value on professional sports and entertainment.

President Obama established My Brother’s Keeper to ensure that all Americans — including young boys and men of color—can reach their full potential. The President recognizes that partnership is essential to improve the lives of youth, and that all members of the community need to have a role.

“Whether it’s Birmingham, Ferguson, Mo., or my hometown of Chicago,” Arne said, “we have young men — black, Latino — who have extraordinary talents, extraordinary gifts, and somehow we as a society have not let those gifts flourish.”

Huntsville’s Amazing Backyard

From Birmingham, the big blue bus rolled to Huntsville, Ala., where Arne toured the U.S. Space and Rocket Center — where Space Camp happens — and joined more than 250 middle and high school students and educators for a discussion about the importance of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, or STEM.

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The “Partners in Progress” bus tour touched down at Space Camp. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Joining Arne and two STEM-focused students on the panel was astronaut Ricky Arnold, who taught middle and high school science before joining NASA. Managing a classroom was great training for Arnold’s 2009 space shuttle flight to the International Space Station, he recalled, because as a teacher, “you’ve got to be able to do a lot of things. At once. Well.”

Along with three local school districts from Madison County, Madison City, and Huntsville City, NASA and the U.S. Space and Rocket Center show students that the STEM fields offer the opportunity to invent, and reinvent, their career goals and aspirations.

“So many of the good jobs of the future…are going to require not just an understanding but a real passion” for STEM, Arne said in a hangar-like hall full of NASA memorabilia, spacecraft from past missions and simulators.

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Marshall Center Director Patrick Scheuermann spoke with Secretary Duncan during the tour. (Photo credit: Marshall Space Flight Center)

In Chattanooga, Child Care That Never Closes

We finished the tour’s second day with an evening event in Chattanooga, Tenn., where educators, community leaders and parents gathered for conversation and dinner at the Chambliss Center for Children. Chambliss has run a 24/7/365 child care program since 1969. The program serves parents who are either working or in school, and is designed to provide educational opportunities and increase school readiness for Chattanooga’s youngest learners.

After reading an e-book to kids seated on the rug of a cheery preschool classroom, Secretary Duncan and Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke joined parents and teachers for a town hall. There, speakers talked personally about the benefits of high-quality early learning. Years ago, Candice Corneliussen put her children in Chambliss’ program while she — a single mom — studied to become a teacher. Now she brings her high school students to volunteer there.

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Times have changed when it comes to learning! Secretary Duncan and Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke read to students from an e-book. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Quality child care and preschool “doesn’t just help the children,” Corneliussen said. “It helps the families. We need these places all across the country.”

Indeed, the Obama administration is providing greater access to high-quality infant and toddler care through Early Head Start-child care partnership grants and has invested more than $1 billion in new federal funding for preschool. Preschool Development Grants, a new $250 million program, will help expand preschool in states and reduce waiting lists. To be awarded in December, they are a down payment on President Obama’s vision to provide quality preschool to every 4-year-old in states that want to partner on this important investment.

“I haven’t been to a state yet that doesn’t have waiting lists, sometimes in the thousands,” Secretary Duncan said at the town hall in Chattanooga. Chambliss serves 300 children and has 250 more on its waitlist, longtime director Phil Acord said.

Melanie Morris, a teacher in Hamilton County Schools, testified to the value of preschool — it gets children ready for kindergarten and, research shows, sets them up for success much later in life.

“Our kindergarten teachers fight over the students that have been in our prekindergarten programs, [because those students] are ready. They’re excited about school,” Morris said.

The key question for policymakers to ask, Arne said, is: “Do we think of education as an investment or do we think of education as an expense?” For community partners making progress in Chattanooga, as well as the working families they’re helping, the answer to that question is clear. Investing in early childhood education is the smartest investment we can make.

On Wednesday — the third and final day of the Partners in Progress tour — Secretary Duncan will visit Nashville and Memphis, Tenn. Stay tuned for details from the Volunteer State and follow #edtour14 on Twitter.

Meredith Bajgier is a member of the Communications Development Team in the Office of Communications and Outreach. 

On Tour’s First Day, a First Lady

The state of Georgia is home to many notable “firsts.” It was the first state to lower the voting age to 18; the first Coca-Cola was poured in Atlanta; and in 1922, 87-year-old Rebecca Felton, of Georgia, became the first woman to serve in the U.S. Senate. So it’s fitting that the U.S. Department of Education’s “Partners in Progress” back-to-school bus tour had its first stopping point in the state.

In keeping with the “first” theme, the tour began at Spelman College, America’s first historically black college for women, in Atlanta. There, Secretary Arne Duncan met with 15 students from Spelman and two other HBCUs in the area, Morehouse College and Clark Atlanta University, for a roundtable discussion on preparing teachers from a variety of backgrounds to work in America’s increasingly diverse public schools.

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Students at Spelman welcomed Secretary Duncan during the first stop on this year’s “Partners In Progress” Bus Tour. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Whether through traditional preparation programs at schools of education like Spelman’s or through alternative routes like Teach For America, our country’s schools need to recruit the next generation of talent from many different backgrounds, Secretary Duncan said. Schools — and the people who work in them — need to be connected to the communities they serve.

“Where schools are isolated from their communities,” he said at the roundtable, “that makes the work of that teacher that much harder.”

The next stop was at nearby Booker T. Washington High School, where Secretary Duncan was joined by First Lady Michelle Obama. The two were greeted by hundreds of cheering Bulldogs in royal blue shirts, fired up by the marching band and cheerleaders.

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The Booker T. Washington High School Bulldogs cheered as the First Lady took the stage to talk about her Reach Higher initiative. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Booker T. Washington, where Martin Luther King, Jr. attended high school, was the latest high school to hear from Mrs. Obama about her own journey to college, from the South Side of Chicago to Princeton University — and how some adults along the way doubted she could do it.

The First Lady’s main objective was to talk about her Reach Higher initiative, which seeks to inspire all students in America to take charge of their future by completing their education past high school. That can come in the form of a four-year college degree, a two-year degree or a certificate that helps them get a job.

“You have to understand that completing high school is not the end but the beginning of your life’s journey,” Mrs. Obama said. “It’s just the beginning. In today’s world, in order to compete in an ever-globalizing economy, you’ve got to continue your education after you graduate from high school.”

Day one of the bus tour wrapped up in Carrollton, a small Georgia community near the Alabama border. Duncan met with school officials and representatives from the Southwire Company to hear more about the “12 for Life” program, which offers students who have fallen behind in high school the opportunity to attend class and make money by working in a Southwire manufacturing facility.

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Tour time! Secretary Duncan joined students enrolled in the “12 for Life” program on a tour of a Southwire manufacturing facility. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Similar partnerships between Georgia school districts and business have resulted in 34 locations throughout the state, at Southwire but also in the grocery industry, furniture manufacturing and local government. A four-year $3 million Investing in Innovation (i3) grant from the U.S. Department of Education is helping to expand the number of students participating in 12 for Life from 160 to 320.

Students from the program led Arne on a tour of the factory floor — Southwire is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of telecommunications and home wiring — and they shared inspiring and deeply personal testimonies about the technical, leadership and life skills that they’ve acquired while earning their high school diploma.

Brittany Beachum was pregnant when her high school counselor suggested she apply to 12 for Life. “Not one time did not graduating cross my mind,” she said, “Being here gave me the opportunity to attend school and not give up, because of the supports.” Now Brittany is enrolled at West Georgia Technical College and expects to be certified as a nursing assistant by December. There’s a job waiting for her at the nearby veterans hospital, she said, and she wants to continue her training to become a registered  nurse.

This year marks the fifth back-to-school bus tour for Secretary Duncan and the Department of Education. Traveling through Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama will provide an opportunity to see innovations in education and to discuss progress, promise, and results.

Throughout the tour, we are focusing on the changes in education and the challenges that accompany them, all while highlighting the champions of reform — teachers, parents, community members, and others — who are leading the effort to improve education for all students. Traveling through places that represent the cradle of this country’s civil rights effort, the tour also focuses on important work that is closing opportunity gaps that many young Americans face.

Today, our tour bus will roll through Birmingham and Huntsville, Ala., and Chattanooga, Tenn. Check back for a recap of those events. And for more information about the tour and to follow along virtually, visit here.

Patrick Kerr is a member of the Communications Development team in the Office of Communications and Outreach. 

Day in the Life: On the Back-to-School Bus Tour with Secretary Duncan

It’s time for our children to head back to school, and as classrooms and notebooks begin to fill up again, I’m increasingly optimistic about our country’s ability to elevate and strengthen education. With high school graduation rates at an all-time high, and big jumps in the number of students going to college over the last few years, it’s a good time to celebrate the teachers, principals, families, and students who have driven that success. And, it’s a good time to talk about the work ahead in ensuring that strong educational opportunities are a reality for every child in America.

For the fifth year in a row, I’m hitting the road for our Department’s back-to-school bus tour. This year’s tour is themed “Partners in Progress,” and I’ll be traveling through Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee to see innovation in education at work, and to discuss progress, promise, and results.

Today, I’m taking over the White House’s Instagram account to give you a behind-the-scenes look as I meet teachers, parents, students, and education leaders who have been partners in making progress for our nation’s children. Keep checking back throughout the day for more photos, and remember that the tour won’t end today, so stay up-to-date with our tour by following me on Twitter, by checking out the hashtag #EDTour14, and by visiting ed.gov/progress.

Stay Digitally Connected with this Year’s Partners in Progress Bus Tour!

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Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has repeatedly said that the best ideas come from schools, districts and states – not from Washington – which is why, starting on Monday, the Secretary will hit the road for his fifth-annual back-to-school bus tour to engage with students, teachers, parents and other members of local communities.

During this year’s tour, entitled Partners in Progress, the Secretary will discuss progress in education and the challenges and work ahead, all while highlighting the champions of change — teachers, parents, community members, and others — who are leading the effort to improve education for all students.

The three-day tour will take us to Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee, and if you can’t make it to one of the events, here are four ways to stay digitally connected to the tour:

1. Twitter 

Follow hashtag #edtour14 for the latest and keep up to date by following @usedgov and @arneduncan.

2. Email Updates

Sign up here to get the latest from the road in your inbox.

3. Storify

Subscribe to our Storify page and read our collection of stories and photos from the road.

4. Blog

We’ll be blogging throughout the tour. Visit www.ed.gov/blog or subscribe to email updates from our Homeroom Blog.

Dorothy Amatucci is a digital engagement strategist at the U.S. Department of Education.

2014 Back-to-School Bus Tour Cities Announced!

Students across the country are heading back to school, which means it’s also time for our annual Back-to-School Bus Tour!

Secretary Arne Duncan and senior ED officials will visit Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee. This year’s tour, themed Partners in Progress, will run from September 8-10 and includes visits in the following cities:

  • Atlanta, Ga.
  • Carrollton, Ga.
  • Birmingham, Ala.
  • Huntsville, Ala.
  • Chattanooga, Tenn.
  • Nashville, Tenn.
  • Memphis, Tenn.

Throughout the tour, the Secretary will discuss the changes in education and the challenges that accompany them, all while highlighting the champions of reform — teachers, parents, community members, and others — who are leading the effort to improve education for all students.

Secretary Duncan will also showcase the investments the Department has made in each state and discuss initiatives such as Investing in Innovation (i3), Race to the Top state grants, Preschool for All, College Access and My Brother’s Keeper that are aimed at improving outcomes for students.

This is the fifth back-to-school bus tour for Secretary Duncan. Last year, the tour traveled throughout the Southwest. In 2012, the Department’s tour went coast to coast; in 2011, the tour rolled through the Midwest; and in 2010, Duncan and his team visited the South and the Northeast.

Check back soon for additional information on the tour, or simply sign up to receive Partners in Progress updates in your email inbox.

Dorothy Amatucci is a digital engagement strategist at the U.S. Department of Education.