We Have to Quit Playing Catch-Up

Only one in three four-year-olds attend a high-quality preschool program — and the number for three-year-olds is much lower. Across the country, children remain on long preschool waiting lists, and families who could benefit from support as they raise their children remain unserved.

Early LearningToday, six states learned that they will have vital new support to build systems that help to solve that problem. Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC) funding was awarded to Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Vermont. These states join 14 others that have received RTT-ELC grants and are building their capacity to serve preschool children with quality, accountability, and efficiency.

These new awards bring the Obama Administration’s education funding commitment in early learning systems building to more than $1 billion. With that investment and their own state funds, a bipartisan group of forward-looking governors have worked to increase support for high-quality early learning in their states.

President Obama has put forward a plan, called Preschool for All, that would make high-quality preschool available and affordable for all families, without adding a dime to the deficit. Last month, a bipartisan group in Congress introduced bills to support high-quality preschool services for low- and moderate-income families.

And, many states, and cities, are building new organizational structures, aligning systems, eliminating redundant programs, and raising the bar for teacher preparation. A recent report from the Education Commission of the States documents 38 bills from 25 states that establish state preschool programs; implement quality rating and improvement systems; pilot a school readiness assessment, and more.

In Michigan — one of the new RTT-ELC states — leaders realized that a robust investment in early learning is the best way to rebuild the state’s economy.  Led by Gov. Rick Snyder (R-Mich.), the state legislature voted to invest $60 million more next year on preschool programs. This funding increase of nearly 60 percent will add up to 16,000 more four-year-olds to state-funded preschool next year.

Ultimately, RTT-ELC is only a down payment on early learning – strong systems are not enough. High-quality early learning programs fail to reach the majority of America’s youngest learners – due to a state’s limited capacity, lack of resources, or both. Much more needs to be done.

We have to quit “playing catch-up, and level the playing field for our children before they start kindergarten,” as Secretary Duncan recently said at a global education summit. As business and military leaders, law enforcement officials and educators have repeatedly said, high-quality preschool is the right move to make sure our youngest children are ready for the world ahead of them.

Libby Doggett is the deputy assistant secretary for policy and early learning at the U.S. Department of Education. Linda Smith is the deputy assistant secretary and inter-departmental liaison for early childhood development at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Congress Announces Bipartisan Proposal to Expand Early Ed Access

Secretary Arne Duncan joined members of Congress, business and military leaders, law enforcement officials, educators and parents last week, to voice support for a landmark early learning bill. Introduced by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), and Rep. Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.), the Strong Start for America’s Children Act would improve and expand high-quality early learning opportunities for children from birth to age five.

Earlier this year, President Obama proposed a new partnership with states that would provide universal, high-quality, full-day preschool for 4-year olds from low- and moderate-income families. The new bill, if signed into law, will accelerate the progress that states already are making to implement high-quality preschool programs and ensure that these programs are accessible to children who need them the most.


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

Meredith Bajgier is a public affairs specialist at the U.S. Department of Education

Back-to-School Bus Tour Visits the Grand Canyon State

Military Town Hall

The last stop of day four was at Yuma Marine Corps Air Station where Duncan joined military leaders, service members and their families to discuss the importance of supporting military-connected students and their families.

It was a beautiful and hot morning in Phoenix last Thursday at the start of day four of Secretary Arne Duncan’s back-to-school Strong Start, Bright Future, bus tour across the Southwest. The heat didn’t deter a day full of excitement and inspiration with stops in Phoenix, Scottsdale and Yuma, Ariz.

See a collection of social media posts from day four of the tour.

Phoenix

Student in ClassroomDuncan got an early start at the Bret Tarver Education Complex where he visited classrooms—even receiving a daily weather forecast from an early learner—and then participated in a town hall to discuss the President’s Preschool for All proposals and the need for high-quality education.

The town hall focused on the proven benefits of high-quality early education. For every $1 invested in high-quality preschool, taxpayers save an average of $7 in future costs due to reductions in remedial education costs, increased labor productivity, and a reduction in crime. “Education is the best crime prevention tool,” Aaron Carreon-Ainsa, Phoenix’s city prosecutor, said during the panel discussion.

Scottsdale

The back-to-school bus kept on rolling and made a stop in Scottsdale for a meeting with tribal leaders to talk about the federal role in strengthening tribal education. Over the last four years, the Obama Administration has taken unprecedented steps to increase collaboration with tribal government and communities regarding Native students.

The Secretary addressed the negative impact sequestration is having on Native American communities. “They’re feeling it out here. DC let them down,” Duncan tweeted following the event.

Yuma

The day continued in Yuma, Ariz., with a visit to the Yuma Community Food Bank where Duncan joined more than 400 volunteers who had gathered to fill backpacks with food to be delivered to disadvantaged students for the weekend. Yuma is home to the highest unemployment rate in the nation and Yuma County has the highest food insecurity rate in the state. It was an important reminder that students who show up to school hungry have a difficult time learning.

Following the Food Bank visit, Duncan and team stopped at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma for a town hall and discussion on the importance of supporting military-connected students and their families.

Military-connected students face unique challenges such as parents who deploy often and multiple moves through during their K-12 years. Abagail, a Yuma High School senior who has two parents connected to the military, told the audience that she has moved 11 times during her school years.

Listen to Secretary Duncan wrap up day four of the back-to-school tour below.


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

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital strategy and blogged and tweeted his way from the bus during ED’s annual back-to-school bus tour.

Sunrise to Sunset, Bus Tour Stops in Arizona

sunrise-sunset-arizona

There is no lack of sunshine in Arizona, and Secretary Arne Duncan, joined by U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx discovered this first hand early Wednesday morning at the Tucson Unified School District Bus Depot. The early-morning visit kicked off day three of Secretary Duncan’s Strong Start, Bright Future, back-to-school bus tour.

See a collection of social media posts from day three of the tour.

Tucson

After thanking Tucson bus drivers and mechanics for their hard work, Foxx and Duncan boarded a school bus and rode a full route, picking up students along the way to Dodge Traditional Magnet School. Duncan sat by sixth-grader Simone Ufondu, who shared with the secretary her goals—to become the President of the United States—and what she likes and dislikes about school.

At Dodge, Foxx and Duncan joined students in a service project making “kindness coins.” Students hand out the coins when they see someone perform a random act of kindness. On the playground Duncan joined a pick-up game to shoot some hoops.

Classroom VisitThe next stop on the tour found Duncan greeted by cheerleaders and marching bands as he arrived at Sunnyside High School in Tucson. Sunnyside provides one-to-one computing for every student. The design allows each participating student access to a wireless laptop. Duncan walked through a student technology expo, speaking with students about their projects and how the technology they use is enhancing their educations.

Following the expo, Arne joined hundreds of high school students for an assembly to talk about education technology. Duncan told Sunnyside that “what you’re doing is not just impacting people here, but has national implications.”

Tempe

The cost of college is on so many families’ minds, and President Obama brought the affordability of higher education to the forefront in August when he outlined an ambitious plan to demand greater value from colleges and universities and encourage innovations that will help more students access, afford and complete college.

Arizona State University is a natural place to brainstorm ways to make college more affordable. President Michael Crow is a national leader who has led an institution committed to excellence and impact. Few institutions in the country have been more creative, and as a result, ASU is serving more low-income student, raising quality, raising graduation rates, and keeping the cost of college down.

“Our objective is to meet each student where they stand,” Crow said during the town hall in reference to helping students finance their education. “We have a mantra here,” he said, “We will be judged not by whom we exclude, but by whom we include.”

Not far from the ASU campus, Duncan joined local officials and first responders at the Tempe “Healing Field,” where more than 3,000 American flags were displayed representing those who lost their lives due to the tragic attacks on September 11, 2001.

Duncan led the audience in the pledge of allegiance and participated in a candlelight vigil—a fitting close to a day of remembrance across the country.

Day four of the tour took the bus to Phoenix, Scottsdale and Yuma. Check back for a recap.

Watch the video below to hear Secretary Duncan recap day three:


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

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital strategy and is blogging and tweeting his way from the bus during ED’s annual back-to-school bus tour.

Back-to-School Tour Launches in the Land of Enchantment

Duncan speaks with child

Secretary Arne Duncan kicked off his annual back-to-school bus tour in New Mexico. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

Santa Fe, N.M., is a testament to our country’s diversity and beauty. That’s where Secretary of Education Arne Duncan launched his fourth annual back-to-school bus tour yesterday morning. This year’s tour, themed Strong Start, Bright Future, runs September 9-13 and includes visits to New Mexico, Texas, Arizona and California.

Each stop on the tour will highlight the importance of ensuring that all students benefit from high-quality educational opportunities.

See a collection of social media posts about day one of the tour.

Santa Fe

Duncan kicked things off at the Santa Fe Children’s Project Early Learning Center where he spoke with teachers and students during classroom visits and then held a town hall on the importance of quality early learning programs.

Many people come to Santa Fe to see its art, architecture or even a world-famous opera said Joel Boyd, superintendent of Santa Fe Public Schools, but “we believe you’re here to see our most precious resource: our children,” he said.

Duncan noted that high-quality early education is the ultimate bipartisan issue, and that the U.S. Department of Education is looking to partner and help states that are willing to do “the right thing.” Learn more about the Obama Administration’s Pre-K For All proposal.

Albuquerque

Following our Santa Fe visit, the back-to-school bus made its way to Emerson Elementary in Albuquerque for a roundtable discussion on the school’s recent turnaround efforts. The school, with just under 500 students, nearly half of whom are English language learners, has made a turnaround that dramatically improved student proficiency in math and reading.

During the discussion, Duncan listened to administrators, teachers and students on what is working to turn the school around. He also praised the district and the local teachers union for their collaboration and courage.

Polvadera

Day one closed out at Midway Elementary School in Polvadera, a small community just north of Socorro, N.M. Duncan highlighted the Obama Administration’s ConnectED proposal to connect 99 percent of America’s students to the Internet through high-speed broadband and high-speed wireless within five years. One of the teachers at the town hall expressed frustration she felt in the past because her class in previous years had only one computer for more than 20 students.

In the video below, Duncan also talks about one of the students at the town hall who challenged him, and said she wasn’t receiving enough support. Duncan said that we have to be doing more to support our students.

Today the tour takes Duncan to El Paso, Texas, and Columbus, N.M.

Watch Secretary Duncan wrap up his experiences from day one:


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

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital strategy and is blogging and tweeting his way from the bus during ED’s annual back-to-school bus tour.

Getting a Strong Start in New Mexico

Last month we announced the Strong Start, Bright Future annual back-to-school bus tour and today we’re happy to announce the details of the tour’s first two days. Drum roll please!

Santa Fe

Strong Start LogoOn Monday, September 9, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will kick things off at the Santa Fe Children’s Project Early Learning Center with classroom visits and a town hall on the importance of quality early learning programs.

Albuquerque

Following the town hall, the bus will roll south through the “Land of Enchantment” for classroom visits and a roundtable discussion with district and labor leaders, teachers, parents and students at Emerson Elementary in Albuquerque. The focus at Emerson will be their turnaround efforts and Duncan will discuss the Department’s School Improvement Program.

Polvadera

The back-to-school bus will continue to the Rio Grande Valley Monday afternoon for a classroom discussion with teachers at Midway Elementary School in Polvadera, N.M., north of Socorro. Duncan will discuss digital learning and hold a community meeting on rural education at the school.

Day Two

El Paso

Day two of the Strong Start, Bright Future tour will get its start at the El Paso Transmountain Early College High School (Home of the Mavericks!) in El Paso, Texas, where Secretary Duncan will join a town hall on STEM education (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). The high school is located adjacent to El Paso Community College and by the time students graduate from high school, they’re already earning college credits. This is the type of great collaboration the Department of Education is calling for in its high school redesign initiative.

Columbus

On Tuesday afternoon, the bus will cruise back into New Mexico and make a stop at Columbus Elementary School where Duncan and Department officials will listen to teachers talk about the challenges of teaching a diverse student population.

Following Columbus the bus keeps moving, and in the coming days we’ll provide details of our stops in Arizona and California.

For now, stay up to date by following the Strong Start, Bright Future tour on Twitter using the hashtag #edtour13, visit our bus tour page at ed.gov/bustour and subscribe to Strong Start, Bright Future email updates.

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

Q-and-A: Back to School with Arne Duncan

With back-to-school season in full swing, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently sat down to respond to some pressing education questions from SmartBlog on Education. Below is the full Q&A:

What is the biggest challenge that teachers face as they go back to school this fall? What guidance would you give them to help them meet the challenge?

Back to school stampThe large majority of states are now making the shift to the Common Core State Standards, a state-led effort to raise standards for which the U.S. Department of Education has provided some support. Educators across the country have embraced the enormous, urgent challenge that goes with this transition to more rigorous academic standards, new assessments, and updated teacher evaluation systems. Teachers are faced with a level of change and reform in schools and districts that is unprecedented.

Overwhelmingly, I’ve heard teachers say that it’s the professional challenge of a lifetime to raise standards so every American student can compete and succeed in the global economy. In discussions with more than 4,000 educators, my team at the U.S. Department of Education and I also have heard teachers say that it’s imperative that we, as a nation, get this right for our kids.

The  Common Core State Standards focus on college- and career readiness and have been adopted voluntarily by a majority of states. The new standards set the bar for student performance high. But they also give teachers the opportunity to go deep into content and innovate. In surveys, three out of four teachers say these standards will help them teach better.

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Cities Announced! 2013 Back-to-School Bus Tour

Bus Tour MapIt’s back-to-school time, which means that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and senior ED officials are hitting the road once again for the Department’s annual back-to-school bus tour. This year’s tour, themed Strong Start, Bright Future, will run September 9-13 and includes visits to states throughout the Southwest with stops in the following cities:

  • Santa, Fe, N.M.
  • Albuquerque, N.M.
  • Socorro, N.M.
  • El Paso, Texas
  • Columbus, N.M.
  • Tucson, Ariz.
  • Tempe, Ariz.
  • Phoenix
  • Scottsdale, Ariz.
  • Yuma, Ariz.
  • Chula Vista, Calif.

Each stop will highlight the importance of ensuring that all students benefit from high-quality educational opportunities, including Preschool for Allcollege affordabilityConnectEDfirst-term education efforts, and comprehensive immigration reform’s impact on education.

This is the fourth back-to-school bus tour for Secretary Duncan. Last year, the Department’s tour took us 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 Strong Start, Bright Future tour updates in your email inbox.

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

A Better Bargain: Education

President Obama named education as one of the cornerstones of middle-class security in a speech today at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois.

The President laid out a vision for what our country needs to do to rebuild that foundation – including in education. “The days when the wages for a worker with a high-school degree could keep pace with the earnings of someone who got some higher education are over,” he said.

President Obama said that our country needs to provide an education “that prepares our children and our workers for the global competition that they’re going to face.”

And if you think education is expensive, wait until you see how much ignorance costs in the 21st century.  If we don’t make this investment, we’re going to put our kids, our workers, and our country at a competitive disadvantage for decades. So we have to begin in the earliest years. 

Preschool For All

I’m going to keep pushing to make high-quality preschool available for every 4-year-old in America.  Not just because we know it works for our kids, but because it provides a vital support system for working parents.

ConnectED

I’m going to take action in the education area to spur innovation that doesn’t require Congress.  Today, for example, as we speak, federal agencies are moving on my plan to connect 99 percent of America’s students to high-speed Internet over the next five years.  We’re making that happen right now. We’ve already begun meeting with business leaders and tech entrepreneurs and innovative educators to identify the best ideas for redesigning our high schools so that they teach the skills required for a high-tech economy.   

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Early Learning in the Rockies

Early Learning Event

Secretary Duncan participates in story time with children from Mr. Burks’ pre-k class at the Clayton Educare School in Denver, CO.

We have an opportunity to give every child in America an equal chance to succeed, regardless of your background or where you live. For the past several weeks, Secretary Duncan has been traveling the country talking to educators, parents, business and faith leaders and other community members about the importance of investing in early learning.

Last week Duncan stopped in Denver, where he visited Clayton Educare School and dropped into Mr. Burks’ pre-k class of 3-5 year olds. Secretary Duncan walked into a warm and welcoming classroom of students and teachers, and after giving a round of high fives to the students, he found his way to a special reserved seat next to Mr. Burks.

After taking attendance, the students and Secretary Duncan participated in a play and story time. Duncan was handed an orange hand puppet while behind him a scary looking monster was projected onto the screen. After the brief story ended, the students ended the visit with a brief song and dance.

From the classroom, attention moved to the 200 plus attendees gathered across the campus for an early learning town hall. Joined by Joe Garcia, Lieutenant Governor of Colorado, military, business and faith leaders, Duncan and the other panelists made the case for early learning investments.

“We have to close the opportunity gap,” said Duncan while remarking that studies show children at risk for school failure have less access to high-quality early education to prepare them for success in school. That opens an educational opportunity gap that can stand between them and success for the rest of their lives.

Under the President’s Preschool for All proposal, Colorado is estimated to receive $41.8 million in the first year alone. This funding, combined with an initial estimated state match of $4.2 million, would serve over 5,000 children from low- and moderate-income families in the first year of the program across the state.

As the kids in Mr. Burks’ class showed, investing in early learning is an investment in the future. They deserve the best shot possible to succeed. In that classroom today, could be the next great leader or thinker of tomorrow. Together these investments can continue to close achievement gaps, provide life-transforming opportunities for children, and strengthen and build a thriving middle class.

Cameron French is deputy press secretary at the U.S. Department of Education

Minnesota: Providing Students A Strong Start

Secretary Duncan and students

Secretary Duncan, right, joined Jody Bohrer’s Kindersprouts circle time during his Minnesota visit along with students Brody Mallunger, left, and Rubi Torres, at Pond Early Childhood Center, .July 16, 2013 in Minneapolis. Photo Credit: Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

This originally appeared in the July 20th edition of the Minnesota Star Tribune. 

The best ideas to put children on a path to school success rarely come from Washington, D.C.

President Obama has put forward a plan to make high-quality preschool affordable for all children — a vital step in putting young people on a path to a thriving middle class. As I saw firsthand in a pair of visits in the Minneapolis area on Tuesday, that effort builds on the work of states like Minnesota.

The day began at Pond Early Childhood Family Center in Bloomington, where I sat with students who sang a song, recited the alphabet and discussed some of their favorite words. The visit was an inspiring example of great educators helping kids get ready for kindergarten in a setting of joy and support.

Later Tuesday, Gov. Mark Dayton, Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius, and other leaders from business, the military, government and the clergy, joined a town-hall discussion at Kennedy Senior High School. At that town hall, parents, teachers, education leaders and others from throughout the state made clear that they have seen the power of early learning — and that they know we must reach many more children.

That understanding did not emerge from Washington. Forward-looking states have led the way — including Minnesota, where Dayton this year signed a bill that invests nearly $200 million in early learning, helping tens of thousands more children attend high-quality child care, preschool and all-day kindergarten.

Minnesota has made a priority of preschool through an Office of Early Learning, a Children’s Cabinet and an Early Learning Council, which together ensure that the cradle-to-career continuum begins with a strong start. In addition, as a winner of a Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge grant, Minnesota is creating systems and infrastructure that offer new ideas to other states.

Minnesota’s work represents real progress for families and children in the face of great need. The state’s new investments will reach about 8,000 children over two years, but that leaves many 3- and 4-year-olds — some 35,000 of them — without access to high-quality early learning opportunities. And that’s why we need to work hard, in Minnesota and across the country, to reach so many more students.

Why? Because of the pivotal role that quality preschool education can play in a child’s life. Studies confirm what every teacher knows: Young children who experience secure, stimulating environments with rich learning opportunities from an early age are better prepared to thrive in school. They reap benefits in high school graduation rates and employment, and are less likely to commit crimes.

Experts — including Art Rolnick, a former senior vice president at the Federal Reserve office here, who joined the town-hall discussion — have made a strong case that public investments in preschool return many times more in savings and benefits. As Rolnick — a tireless advocate for early learning — has said: “The best economic development strategy is investment in early childhood.” Acting on that knowledge will help to position young people to do well in an increasingly competitive and globalized workforce.

Yet today, millions of young children in this country lack that opportunity. Among 4-year-olds in the United States, fewer than three in 10 attend a high-quality preschool program. The availability of high-quality learning and development programs for infants and toddlers likewise presents challenges for families. And the gap is especially pronounced in low-income communities.

That’s why the president has put forward a plan to make high-quality, full-day preschool available to all 4-year-olds from families whose incomes are at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty line — a major help to families working to balance work and family responsibilities and the costs of child care. All federal costs of this proposed state-federal partnership would be covered by a new tobacco tax — meaning it won’t add a dime to the deficit. States would receive incentives to provide voluntary high-quality preschool with low class sizes, qualified teachers and stimulating learning experiences.

The plan also would launch a new Early Head Start-Child Care partnership to expand high-quality early learning opportunities for infants and toddlers, along with voluntary home-visiting programs in which nurses, family educators and social workers connect low-income families to health, social and educational supports.

President Obama has spoken about America’s basic bargain: that people who work hard and shoulder their responsibilities should be able to climb into a thriving middle class. Restoring that bargain, he said, is the unfinished work of our generation.

Minnesota is doing that work in earnest. Your children are better for it.

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

Educator Voice on Early Learning Day of Action

The consensus is in: High-quality preschool provides our country’s children with the social, emotional and academic skills needed for school and for life. This is also the message that individuals and organizations across the country are highlighting today as part of the national Early Learning Day of Action. Bringing attention to high-quality early learning in important because not only do these programs help close the school readiness gap, but they place our children in the best position possible to succeed.

In this new video below, educators provide personal testimony on how high-quality early learning positively affected their students. The teachers speak passionately about how students who had access to pre-K were ahead of their peers socially and academically. (You’ll also hear some early learners talk about why they like preschool.) Watch and listen for yourself:


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

Read about President Obama’s proposal to dramatically increase access to high-quality preschool and expand early learning and support services for infants, toddlers and families. You can also see how the proposal would affect your state by checking out these state-by-state fact sheets.

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