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.

Read More

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.   

Read More

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

Early Learning in Your State

Early Learning ClassroomEvery parent wants their child to have opportunities for lifelong success – and that starts with getting kids off to a strong start. All of our nation’s students deserve a chance to compete on a level playing field, but too many children – especially those from disadvantaged communities – start kindergarten already behind.

We know expanding high-quality early learning opportunities is simply one of the best investments we can make as a country, and President Obama has proposed to dramatically increase access to high-quality preschool and expand early learning and support services for infants, toddlers and families.

Today, the White House released state-by-state fact sheets, outlining what states could expect to receive in federal funding to expand these early learning initiatives in their states.

The President’s proposal builds upon the strong work already done by states across the country.  Governors from states as diverse as Hawaii, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Vermont, and West Virginia all called for expanded access to preschool to more 4-year-olds.  These state leaders – regardless of party affiliation – recognize that early learning helps prepare young children for educational success, provides crucial support for families, and ultimately strengthens our nation’s economy.

The White House fact sheets explain how the President’s plan will:

  • provide high-quality preschool for all 4 year olds,
  • invest in high-quality infant and toddler early learning and development and
  • expand effective parent and family supports.

These investments – financed through a mixture of federal funding and a partnership with states – will help close America’s school readiness gap and ensure that children enter kindergarten ready to succeed.

The benefits of investing in early education are well-documented. Research has shown that high-quality early learning programs and services improve young children’s health, social-emotional, and cognitive outcomes; enhance school readiness; and help close the school readiness gaps that exist between children with high needs and their peers.

President Obama understands that the stubborn opportunity gap that confronts far too many American children and limits their life chances often begins before they even enter school kindergarten.

Together these investments can continue to close achievement gaps, provide life transforming opportunities for children, and strengthen and build a thriving middle class.

Read how the President’s plan would increase access to high-quality early childhood education in your state.

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

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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

Early Learning Chorus Grows with Over 300 Business Leaders in Support

Today, a group of over 300 business leaders representing 44 states signed a letter calling on President Obama and Congress to invest in early learning programs. These CEOs, chambers of commerce and business roundtables represent large companies like Delta Airlines and PNC Financial Services Group and smaller companies like Scope View Strategic Advantage in Charlotte, NC and C.H. Briggs Company in Reading, PA. Regardless of their location, size or scope of business, all agreed on one thing; investing in early childhood education is the right thing to do for our nation’s children.

“We rarely have the luxury,” their letter says, “of making business investment decisions with as much evidence as we have to support the economic value of investing in early care and education.”

Earlier this year, President Obama put forth a “Preschool for All” proposal in his Fiscal Year 2014 budget, and the Department is currently seeking input from stakeholders on the president’s plan for the federal government to partner with states in making access to high-quality early learning a reality for every four-year-old in America.

The President’s proposal is for a deficit-neutral investment of $75 billion over 10 years to create new partnerships with states to provide high-quality preschool for all 4-year olds. An additional $750 million will provide competitive grants to states to strengthen their early learning systems. Combined, the proposal will raise the quality of all early learning programs and will align current investments, including home visitation, creating a birth to age 5 pipeline of services and support that prepares children for kindergarten and beyond.

This plan is entirely consistent with the business leaders’ declaration that, “Early care and education is not a partisan issue. It is an American competitiveness issue that impacts all of us,” and with their support for the adoption of policies that “give all children the chance to fulfill their potential and create the best workforce and economy in the world.”

Studies prove that children who have rich early learning experiences are better prepared to thrive in school. And because behavioral skills highly valued by employers, such as self-discipline, persistence and cooperation, start in the youngest years and last a lifetime, President Obama and Secretary Duncan agree that quality early childhood programs have a significant and positive impact on the American workforce, customer base, economy and nation we need in a 21st century environment.

For more information and to read the full text of the letter, please visit: www.readynation.org/signatories-business-letter

Cameron French is the Deputy Press Secretary at the U.S. Department of Education

Young Children Learn Math Through the Arts

Amanda Whiteman

Wolf Trap Teaching Artist Amanda Layton Whiteman integrates the arts with math in preschool classrooms as part of the Early STEM/Arts Program. (Photo by Scott Suchman, courtesy of the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts.)

President Obama, in the 2013 State the Union address, challenged the country to move forward simultaneously on two key educational fronts — providing high-quality preschool for all four-year olds  and preparing a new generation of Americans in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) subjects.  Teaching artists from the Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning Through the Arts and preschool educators in the Fairfax County (Virginia) Public Schools, with support from the U.S. Department of Education, are developing an innovative approach to achieving both of these national goals.

The Early Childhood STEM Learning Through the Arts (Early STEM/Arts) is pioneering an innovative, research-based arts integration model for early childhood learning — one that supports math teaching and learning through active, arts-based experiences in pre-K and kindergarten classrooms.  Preschool teachers participating in the project receive professional development that enables them to apply arts-integrated lessons in their classrooms. Some report “a-ha!” moments as they work alongside Wolf Trap Teaching Artists such as Amanda Layton Whiteman (pictured above). “When I found out it was going to be math, I was saying, oh jeez, this is going to be hard,” said one teacher.  But after being involved with the artist and the arts-integrated approach, she “realized that math is everywhere.” And incorporating the arts into her everyday lessons “helps you reach every child.”

With the help of a $1.15 million Arts in Education Model Development and Dissemination grant from the Office of Innovation and Improvement (OII), the Early STEM/Arts program will disseminate evaluation results in early 2014. In the meantime, Wolf Trap Regional Programs in 16 locations nationally are gearing up to implement the new model in the 2013-14 school year.

Read OII’s “Wolf Trap Institute Unites the Arts and STEM in Early Childhood Learning” to hear more stories from those at the Wolf Trap Institute.