Back to School During Teacher Appreciation Week

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Steven Hicks, a senior policy advisory for early learning visited DC Prep’s Benning Elementary Campus faculty and students, as part of “ED Goes Back to School Day.”

As part of our celebration of Teacher Appreciation Week (May 6-10), more than 65 ED officials from across the country went “Back to School,” shadowing teachers and experiencing firsthand the challenges and rewards of a day in the classroom. Our team had a unique opportunity to hear about ways the Department can provide greater support for teachers’ work and better understand the demands placed upon them.

Each ED official was assigned to shadow one teacher at various institutions in 13 states and the District of Columbia including; early childhood, K-12, special education, adult learning and English learning programs. Following the regular teaching day, officials and teachers met with Education Secretary Arne Duncan and other senior officials to discuss their experiences and share lessons learned. ED officials benefit greatly from this experience and it helps to inform their work throughout the Department.

Our team had high praise for the teachers they shadowed. Senior Advisor Jo Anderson, visiting second-grade teacher Nicole Lebedeff at Watkins Elementary School in Washington, D.C. compared her teaching style to that of a “symphony conductor” and called the way she managed her classroom a “work of art.” Special Assistant on Early Learning Steven Hicks was impressed with the social and emotional development of the young students at DC Prep, a charter school network with campuses in Northeast Washington D.C., and Teacher Liaison Laurie Calvert was surprised at the advanced level of the curriculum being taught in Riverside Elementary School classes in Alexandria, Va.

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Veteran English teacher Linda Golston makes writing lessons engaging for sophomores by harnessing students’ individual passions and 21st century technology at the New Tech Innovative Institute of Gary Community Schools Corporation. Photo courtesy of Anthony KaDarrell Thigpen

Outside of the D.C. area, Diana Huffman from ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach (OCO) in Denver, visited preschool teacher Cindy Maul at Red Hawk Elementary School in Erie, Colo., and said, “I wish every child in America had the opportunity to be with this woman.  Her interaction with the kids was so in tune with them.”

Julie Ewart of ED’s communications office in Chicago, praised the way veteran English teacher Linda Golston harnesses students’ individual passions to make writing lessons engaging at the New Tech Innovative Institute of Gary public schools in northwest Indiana. “I was not a good student last year, but now I’m an honors student,” said sophomore Charles Jones, who credits his improvement to Golston’s classwork that “relates to the real world.”

At the end-of-day wrap up discussion, Secretary Duncan asked the teachers what they would like him to know about what is working and what’s not. The teachers offered honest feedback, including:

  • One teacher thanked him for the recently released blueprint for the RESPECT plan (Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence and Collaborative Teaching) – the result of an unprecedented national dialogue for reforming and elevating the teaching profession.  She said that it accurately reflected the concerns and needs of teachers. The RESPECT blueprint calls for teacher salaries to be competitive with professions like architecture, medicine and law; more support for novice teachers; and more career opportunities for veteran teachers.
  • Several other teachers expressed support for President Obama’s commitment to investing in early learning because a lot of students are coming into kindergarten behind the mark. Building on the state investments in preschool programs, the President is proposing $75 billion over 10 years to create new partnerships with states to provide high-quality preschool for all 4-year olds.
  • Teachers from all grade levels also expressed concerns about the frequency and content of testing, state implementation of the new college and career ready standards, parental engagement and how to help parents become more involved in their children’s education.
  • One high school teacher said that we must help students and parents understand that education is the most important tool for social mobility and success in college and career in a global society.

As we wrap up Teacher Appreciation Week 2013, we should make a commitment to remember all year long that our teachers need and deserve our support in transforming America’s schools.

Read Secretary Duncan’s.“More Substantive and Lasting than a Bagel Breakfast,” on the need to support teachers year round.

 Elaine Quesinberry is a Public Affairs Specialist and Media Relations at the U.S. Department of Education.

Early Learning: A Helpful Head Start

As I listened to the group of students across the table, I wondered about how they did it? How did these students- from the south side of Chicago- overcome the obstacles that continually stand in the way for many of our kids who are all too often on the wrong side of the achievement gap? What happened that helped these kids academically achieve and change the trajectory of their lives? Wanting to hear more about their past, but not wanting to invade their privacy, I asked, “How many of you will be among the first in your family to go to college?” Five students raised their hands. I followed up, “How many of you went to preschool or Head Start?” All five hands remained in the air.

Reams of data point to the positive impact of early education on the lives of students who hail from tenuous circumstances, and the Chicago Longitudinal Study shows that every dollar invested in early education has a substantial return on investment. The data is important, but what is more important is the very real impact that early education has had on the lives of some of our most vulnerable students, including those kids from Chicago.

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Students from Chicago’s Hubbard High School meet with Education Secretary Arne Duncan after the students’ briefed Department staff on issues facing their community.

I am keenly aware of the difference that early education can make in a child’s life, because it made a world of difference in my own. As the son of a father who dropped out of the eighth grade in Oaxaca, Mexico, and of a mother who could only read at the 3rd grade level, I did not have the best odds at achieving academic success.

Other than an old family King James Bible, there were no books in my house. There were no puzzles, or activities to teach shapes, colors, or numbers. I, like many students in neighborhoods similar to my own, was at a disadvantaged starting place in the game of life. I, however, was fortunate in that I was enrolled in Head Start, an early education program that aims to improve education, health, nutrition and parent involvement for low-income children and their families. In Head Start, I was taught the foundations which better prepared me for the start of my educational journey. As opposed to entering kindergarten behind, I went in with knowledge and competencies that allowed me to participate in class and feel confident in my abilities. The Head Start program helped me have a fair shot at learning, and ultimately a fair shot at life.

As a teacher of high school students who have been removed from other institutions and who have been identified as potential dropouts, I often wonder about the educational journey of my kids. The vast majority of my students come to class with significant academic deficiencies. My school has been identified as a model for helping these students overcome barriers to academic success, but does so with a significant amount of resources to help these students with academic, physical, mental, and emotional issues. Being familiar with their backgrounds, I know that most of my kids started off far behind many of their peers at the traditional school sites. I cannot help but wonder what would have been if my students had been part of a quality, early education program that perhaps could have given them the head start they needed.

As we transition to more rigorous standards and assessments, we find ourselves at a crossroads. Achievement of these standards will help our kids compete in the flat world, but if we do not make a concerted effort to help all kids start out with the same basic competencies through high-caliber, early education programs, we may perpetuate the achievement gap we seek to eliminate. The five students that I met from Chicago transcended the achievement gap and overcame challenges, due to the support of family, teachers, strong-willed determination, and quite possibly, the impact of early education.

Marciano Gutierrez is a 2012 Teaching Ambassador Fellow, on loan from Alta Vista High School in Mountain View, Calif.

Universal Preschool is a Sure Path to the Middle Class

This op-ed appeared in the Apr. 19, edition of the Washington Post.

President Obama put forward a plan last week to make access to high-quality early learning a reality for every 4-year-old in America by making full-day preschool available to families with incomes at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty line.

Parents, teachers and principals nationwide agree that we need to do more to ensure that children from disadvantaged families begin kindergarten at the same educational starting line as do children from better-off families. The president’s plan includes a cost-sharing arrangement with states, with the entire federal investment of $75 billion covered by a new cigarette tax, and with incentives for states to make programs available for even more middle-class families.

Members of Congress have asked me: How do we know early learning works? What about its lasting impact?

Let’s examine the record.

At an elementary school I recently visited in Bladensburg, teachers told me how much better-prepared students are for the classroom if they’ve been to preschool. “It makes a huge difference,” said one 21-year teacher.

Research backs her up. Studies consistently demonstrate that high-quality early education gives children the foundation they need to succeed. No study is perfect, but the cumulative evidence that high-quality preschool works is overwhelming. Consider a study of 4-year-olds in Tulsa who attended Oklahoma’s high-quality universal preschool program, with small class sizes and well-trained teachers — features that are components of the president’s proposal. They started kindergarten seven months ahead in literacy skills and four months ahead in math skills. Likewise, children who attended Boston’s high-quality preschool program gained seven months in literacy and math. Studies of preschoolers in New Jersey showed substantial gains in literacy and math. These consistent gains are critical steps toward long-term success in school.

Skeptics of early learning say these programs “don’t work” because some studies have failed to find major effects in later grades — the so-called “fade out.” But that’s not quite right.

The most rigorous research that can be compared with what we are proposing — high-quality, full-day preschool — shows crucial benefits in high school graduation rates, employment and avoidance of criminal behavior. Although the best scientific evidence for the long-term effects of early education comes from studies of multiyear programs dating to the 1960s and 1970s, a recent study of New Jersey students who received one year of high-quality public preschool found that by fifth grade, they were less likely to be held back or placed in special education. The few more recent long-term assessments of public preschool consistently indicate similar benefits, including increased graduation rates and reduced arrest rates.

High-quality preschool appears to propel better outcomes by enhancing non-cognitive skills such as persistence, self-control and emotion regulation — skills that depend on early brain development and social experiences and contribute to long-term academic outcomes and career success.

The study often cited by skeptics — the Head Start Impact Study — isn’t a great comparison to the president’s proposal. It examined the effect of offering access to Head Start, not the effect of participation (nearly 20 percent of the 4-year-olds in the Head Start group never attended). The president’s proposal would require higher qualifications for staff than was the case in this study, and this administration has begun putting in place needed quality-control improvements to Head Start.

Preschool works. But is it worth the cost?

Studies of the savings from high-quality early learning demonstrate that the answer is yes. Graduates of such programs are less likely to commit crimes or rely on food stamps and cash assistance; they have greater lifetime earnings, creating increased tax revenue. Although the range of savings varies across studies, the studies consistently find robust returns to taxpayers.

Can we replicate what works? We can, and we must. If the United States is to remain a global economic leader, high-quality preschool must become the norm. The moral case is compelling, too. As President Obama has said, every child should have the opportunity, through hard work, to join the middle class. Children shouldn’t be denied equal educational opportunity at the starting line.

The countries we compete with economically are well ahead of us in preschool opportunity. We rank 28th in the proportion of 4-year-olds enrolled in early learning in surveys by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and 25th in public funding for early learning. Fortunately, we have great examples to learn from: Oklahoma, Georgia, New Jersey and Boston all have excellent preschool programs.

Making quality early-learning opportunities a norm for every 4-year-old will take more than money. It will take a new commitment to recruiting and keeping excellent staff, and tackling many of the other challenges in our K-12 system. That’s why we propose to invest an additional $750 million to support innovation and preschool capacity-building in states. To make a critical difference for all children, high-quality early learning must be followed by rich educational opportunities and robust learning experiences at every stage of the journey to college and careers.

The evidence is clear. We need to stop asking whether early learning works — and start asking whether we have the national will to make it a reality for the children who need it most.

Source information about studies mentioned in this column has been posted at www.ed.gov/early-learning/research.

Arne Duncan is U.S. Secretary of Education.

Obama Administration Budget Makes Major Investment in Early Learning

Early Learning Spending GraphicStudies prove that children who have rich early learning experiences are better prepared to thrive in school. Yet the United States ranks 28th in the world for the enrollment of 4-year-olds in early learning, and 25th in public investment in preschool. Only 3 in 10 children attend a quality preschool program. Doing better is more than just a moral and educational imperative; it’s smart government: a public dollar spent on high-quality preschool returns $7 through increased productivity and savings on public assistance and criminal justice. From a growing number of voices, including from the recently concluded work of the Equity and Excellence Commission, the call has been clear to expand quality early learning in the United States.

To help all children begin school on a level playing field, the President has put forward in his 2014 budget request an historic new investment in early learning that would make preschool available to all 4-year olds from low-income families. The core elements of this proposal are:

  • Preschool for All ($75 billion over 10 years). This investment would support grants to States for the implementation of high-quality preschool programs that are aligned with elementary and secondary education systems. The Department would share costs with States to provide universal access to high-quality preschool for children from low- and moderate-income families and provide incentives for States to serve additional middle-class families.
  • Preschool Development Grants ($750 million). This program would provide grants to States to carry out activities that would build state capacity for implementing high-quality preschool programs, and expand model programs at the local level. The Department would provide competitive grants to States with preschool systems at various stages of development that are planning to provide universal access to high-quality preschool for four-year-old children from low-and moderate-income families to carry out the activities needed to successfully serve four-year-old children in high-quality programs.

The administration also requests funding to increase or maintain key investments in a number of programs that seek to improve outcomes for young children, especially for those with high needs:

  • Early Intervention Programs for Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities ($463 million, $20 million more than the fiscal year 2013 amount). These formula grants help States implement statewide systems of early intervention services for all eligible children with disabilities and developmental delays from birth through age two and their families.
  • Preschool Grants for Children with Disabilities ($373 million). These formula grants help States make a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment available to all children with disabilities ages three through five to help ensure that young children with disabilities succeed in school.

The Department of Health and Human Services is also investing in young children by requesting significant increases in funding for programs that include Head Start, Early Head Start and the Child Care and Development fund.

Secretary Duncan talks with teacher and Teaching Ambassador Fellow Dan Brown about the importance of high quality preschool for all children. Watch:


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

To read more details on the Obama Administration’s budget request for investing in early learning, visit www.ed.gov/early-learning.

Read more about the 2014 Education Budget and the bottom line.

2014 Education Budget: What’s the Bottom Line?

Budget LogoAs Education Secretary Arne Duncan often says, budgets aren’t just numbers in a ledger – they are a reflection of our values. President Obama’s 2014 budget proposal, released today, demonstrates his belief in education as the engine that will keep America competitive in a global innovation economy and grow a thriving middle class.

The proposal builds on momentum for reform and protects the most vulnerable.  Nowhere is this more true than in the president’s historic proposal to make high-quality preschool available to all four-year-olds.

The administration’s request for $71 billion in discretionary appropriations for education represents an increase of more than 4 percent over the previous year. Nearly three-quarters of that funding goes to financial aid for students in college, special education, and aid to schools with high numbers of children in poverty (Title I).

The remaining 28 percent of the budget invests in specific areas that can move major change – particularly through making preschool accessible for all students; funding a set of strategic reforms at the K-12 level; ensuring that college is affordable; and coordinating services that help students living in poverty.

What’s the bottom line?:

Early learning: Making quality preschool available for all 4-year-olds

President Obama has committed to a historic new investment in preschool education that supports universal access to high-quality preschool for all 4-year olds from low- and moderate-income families and creates an incentive for states to serve additional middle-class children.

The President’s budget request includes $1.3 billion in 2014 and $75 billion over 10 years in mandatory funding, along with $750 million for competitively awarded Preschool Development Grants and other funds.

Learn more about Preschool for All.

K-12: Deepening reform in key strategic areas

President Obama’s fiscal year 2014 budget proposes significant new investments in areas where states and school districts face key implementation challenges from earlier investments such as Race to the Top and the Race to the Top-District competition, as well as continuing substantial investments in critical formula programs that support state and local reform efforts.

Learn more about the K-12 reforms.

The 2014 budget proposal also includes:

High School Redesign and Career Readiness

President Obama has called on all Americans to commit to at least one year of postsecondary education. Yet, for too many American students, high school is a time of disengagement that fails to put them on a path to college and career success. That’s why the Obama administration has laid out plans to redesign high schools and career and technical education (CTE).

Learn more about high school redesign and career readiness.

Strengthening Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Education

Economists project strong growth in careers related to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), but far too few American students are proficient in mathematics and interested in a STEM career. The Obama administration proposes an aggressive STEM push that will improve the delivery and impact of STEM education.

Learn more about STEM.

Teachers and Leaders

The Obama administration has laid out a plan to strengthen teaching and school leadership, building on significant investments in the first term.

Learn more about the teachers and leaders plan.

School Safety

The President’s plan to increase school safety and to decrease gun violence includes investments not only to prepare schools for emergencies, but also to create nurturing school climates and help children recover from the effects of living in communities plagued by persistent violence.

Learn more about school safety.

Making College Affordability

The Obama administration has taken major steps to help students afford college, and proposes to build on that momentum with programs that will drive major reforms to reduce the escalating costs of higher education.

Learn more about making college affordable.

Ladders of Opportunity

Through “Ladders of Opportunity,” the Obama administration will establish comprehensive, coordinated approaches to improving support for America’s most vulnerable students.

Learn more about ladders of opportunity.

Additional Budget Resources:

Early Learning: A Prerequisite for Success in the Hispanic Community

Hispanic Students Attending College Graph

The biggest jump we’ve seen among students attending college is for Hispanic students – 32% now attend college, compared to 24% in 2003.

It is no surprise to see a room full of business leaders, but what made the meeting on March 19, different was that the leaders in the room were focused on a different kind of investment: education. Secretary Arne Duncan set the stage for the America’s Greatest Investment: Educating the Future plenary session during the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Legislative Summit in Washington, D.C., by delivering remarks celebrating the educational successes in the Hispanic community and highlighting key components of President Obama’s call for universal high-quality early education.

The good news is that Hispanic high school graduation and college enrollment rates have increased over the last four years. About three in four Latino high school students graduate with their class, and there are now more than half a million additional Hispanic students enrolled in college compared to 2008. But there is still a great deal of work to be done, because while college enrollment is soaring, college completion rates have not kept pace.

Duncan speaks at Hispanic Summit

Secretary Duncan at the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Legislative Summit in Washington, D.C.

The shortage of Hispanic students on graduation day in college has its roots at the beginning of the education pipeline. One of the best, most strategic ways to continue and build on the educational progress in the Hispanic community is to expand access to affordable, high-quality preschool while also boosting college completion rates

High-quality early education offers the highest rate of return with some studies projecting a return of $7 for every $1 spent. During his State of the Union address, President Obama introduced a new universal preschool plan that would launch a new Early Head Start-Child Care Partnership program and expand the Administration’s evidence-based home visiting initiative. It would create a groundbreaking federal-state partnership that will enable states to provide universal, high-quality preschool for four-year olds from low- and moderate-income families, up to 200 percent of the poverty line.

To garner support for universal high-quality early education programs, Secretary Duncan called on business leaders “to make the case for the significant return-on-investment and greater equity that high-quality early learning will produce for America’s future workforce.” He continued that “business leaders [need] to encourage employees, customers, and neighbors to push for and to participate in high-quality preschool in greater numbers.”

Now is the time for every child in America to have an opportunity for high-quality early education so that all students arrive at kindergarten ready to learn. As he concluded his remarks, Secretary Duncan stated, “With bipartisan backing, with your commitment and leadership, I believe our nation will soon take its next step to transform preschool education. I believe state and local leaders, CEOs, teachers, and moms and dads and grandparents will stand up and say: It is time.”

Read Secretary Duncan’s speech and learn more about President Obama’s plan for early education for all Americans.

Marco Davis is Acting Executive Director for the White House Initiatives on Educational Excellence for Hispanics

America’s Middle Class Promise Starts Early

By Arne Duncan and Kathleen Sebelius. Reposted from the Huffington Post.

In his State of the Union address, President Obama spoke forcefully 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.

But for millions of young children in this country, the first rung on that ladder is missing because they are cut off from the kind of early learning that would set them up for success in school — with consequences that could last the rest of their lives. Our Administration is committed to closing that costly, unfair opportunity gap through a new plan that will deliver high-quality preschool for every American child, and enhance early learning services for children from birth through age three.

Study after study confirms 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. Indeed, both of us have watched our own children expand their worlds and their minds in the years before they entered school, whether at home or in quality early learning settings. Unfortunately, many American children don’t receive these opportunities.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius read to children at Rolling Terrace Elementary School in Takoma Park, Md., on March 1. Duncan and Sebelius visited preschool and Head Start classrooms, talked with children and teachers and visited the Student Health Clinic.

Fewer than three in 10 American 4-year-olds attend a high-quality preschool program filled with well-organized learning experiences, guided exploration, art, and storytelling, and led by a skilled teacher. The availability of high-quality care and educational services for infants and toddlers is even lower. And the gap is especially pronounced in low-income communities.

Our failure to ensure access to strong preschool is morally indefensible and economically counterproductive. Strong early learning can translate into school success, which can lead to college and good jobs, and ultimately a robust economy. Research shows that every public dollar spent on high-quality early childhood education returns $7 through increased productivity and savings on public assistance and criminal justice programs.

That’s why President Obama has announced a comprehensive plan to help every child develop a strong foundation for future success. Recognizing that this is a time for fiscal caution, the President has been clear that, when combined with his plan for balanced deficit reduction, none of these proposals will add a dime to the deficit. But ultimately, this is an investment that we can’t afford not to make. Under his plan, we will work together to:

  • Make universal, high-quality preschool available to four-year olds from low- and moderate-income families through a partnership with states, while also expanding these preschool programs to reach additional children from middle class families and providing incentives for full-day kindergarten. This new partnership would provide incentives for states to cover all families who want to send their children to preschool and offer high-quality preschool, with low class sizes, qualified teachers, and stimulating learning experiences.
  • Launch a new Early Head Start-Child Care partnership to significantly expand the availability of high-quality early learning opportunities for infants and toddlers.
  • Expand highly effective, voluntary home visiting programs where nurses, family educators and social workers connect low-income families to health, social, and educational supports.

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

These actions build on steps the Administration has already taken to boost early learning for our most vulnerable children, from improving accountability and quality of Head Start services to encouraging more systemic policies and investments that will improve the quality and effectiveness of early education through the Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge, which rewards states that raise the bar on quality and provide links with health, nutrition, mental health, and family supports.

As we move forward with this economically vital effort, we can look to states that have shown the way. In Michigan and Massachusetts, for example, Governors Rick Snyder and Deval Patrick have made expanding access to preschool programs a priority. In Alabama, Governor Robert Bentley has proposed new resources to rapidly expand early education. These leaders represent a bipartisan consensus that America can’t win the race for the future by holding back children at the starting line.

Unfortunately, the blunt, arbitrary cuts that Congress allowed to go into effect through sequestration will do exactly that. President Obama has put forward a balanced plan to replace those cuts and reduce the deficit, which includes spending cuts along entitlement and tax reform. If Congress fails to compromise, up to 70,000 students could be dropped from Head Start and up to 30,000 low-income children would be left without child care subsidies. These cuts jeopardize our children’s futures. America, which now ranks 28th globally in early childhood enrollment, risks falling even further behind the rest of the world in preparing our children for school.

Early childhood education is one of the best investments can make in America’s future. Now is the time to redouble our efforts, not cut back. Doing right by our youngest children is essential to America’s middle-class promise. We look forward to working together to make it happen.

— Arne Duncan is the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education
— Kathleen Sebelius is the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Making High-Quality Early Learning a National Priority

Secretary Duncan with preschool students at Edgewood Prep Today, a class of preschool children at the College Heights Early Childhood Learning Center in Decatur, Georgia, engaged in an interactive lesson on sizes and shapes with a special guest – President Barack Obama. The President toured the center, which serves children from infancy through four years of age, before discussing the importance of quality learning from the early years with a crowd of local educators.

The President elaborated on a new plan for early education, which aims to dramatically expand preschool – a priority for the U.S. Department of Education in the Administration’s second term and a topic that the President emphasized in his State of the Union address on Tuesday night.

“In states that make it a priority to educate our youngest children … studies show students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, [and] form more stable families of their own,” the President stated. “[L]et’s do what works and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind.”

Despite the benefits of early learning, state funding per child for preschool programs has declined over the last decade, according to data from the most recent State Preschool Yearbook, published by the National Institute for Early Education Research.

Studies also show that children from low-income families are less likely to have access to high-quality early education opportunities and to enter kindergarten prepared for success – a situation that U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has described as “education malpractice, economically foolish and morally indefensible.” The high costs of private preschool and a lack of public programs also narrows options for middle-class families.

To fulfill a commitment to our nation’s youngest learners at a time when fewer than three in 10 four-year-olds are enrolled in a quality preschool program, the Administration is proposing a series of new investments that will establish a continuum of learning for children from birth through age five. Major elements of the plan include:

  • Providing High-Quality Preschool for Every Child: A new cost-sharing partnership with all 50 states, managed by the Department of Education, will extend federal funds and expand high-quality public preschool to reach all low- and moderate-income four-year-olds from families whose incomes are at or below 200 percent of the poverty line.
  • Growing the Supply of Effective Early Learning Opportunities for Young Children: A new Early Head Start-Child Care partnership will support communities that extend the availability of Early Head Start as well as child care providers that can meet high standards of quality for infants and toddlers.
  • Expanding Evidence-Based, Voluntary Home Visiting: Voluntary home visiting programs enable nurses, social workers, and other professionals to connect families to services and educational support that can improve a child’s health, development, and ability to learn. The President’s plan extends these important programs to reach additional families in need.

The proposal also encourages states to provide additional opportunities for children to attend full-day kindergarten and extends important investments in the federal Head Start program – managed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) – which annually serves more than one million children across the country.

The President’s commitment to provide every child with access to quality early education builds upon the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge Fund, a competitive grant program jointly administered by the Department of Education and HHS, which supports state efforts to raise the bar across early learning programs and to close the school readiness gap. Through the President’s proposal, the Department and HHS will continue to strengthen the quality of early education programs and assist states and districts in improving the alignment of preschool with K-12 education.

Building and expanding opportunities for learning in the early years is key to fostering a cradle-to-career education system. As Secretary Duncan has noted, “High-quality early learning is what we want for our own children – which means that it must be what we want for all children.”

In State of the Union, Obama Outlines Bold Education Proposals to Grow the Middle Class

President Obama Delivers the State of the Union

Education was one of the main themes in President Obama's State of the Union address. Official White House photo by Pete Souza.

In a State of the Union address focused on growing a strong middle class, President Obama outlined a series of bold proposals that will increase access to high-quality education. Among them were initiatives to make quality early education accessible to every child, to tame the spiraling cost of college, and redesign the country’s high schools to meet the needs of the real world. The President called for a new College Scorecard to show parents and students “where you can get the most bang for your educational buck.”

These proposals complemented other efforts to strengthen the middle class, including calls to raise the minimum wage and reform immigration. Education was one of the major themes of the President’s annual speech delivered to Congress and the country.

Educators and students were also well represented as guests to First Lady Michelle Obama. Here are the education excerpts from the speech:

Early Learning

Study after study shows that the sooner a child begins learning, the better he or she does down the road.  But today, fewer than 3 in 10 four year-olds are enrolled in a high-quality preschool program.  Most middle-class parents can’t afford a few hundred bucks a week for private preschool.  And for poor kids who need help the most, this lack of access to preschool education can shadow them for the rest of their lives.

Tonight, I propose working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America. Every dollar we invest in high-quality early education can save more than seven dollars later on – by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime.

In states that make it a priority to educate our youngest children, like Georgia or Oklahoma, studies show students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, and form more stable families of their own.  So let’s do what works, and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind. Let’s give our kids that chance.

Building the Skills that Lead to High-Quality, High-Wage Jobs

Let’s also make sure that a high school diploma puts our kids on a path to a good job.  Right now, countries like Germany focus on graduating their high school students with the equivalent of a technical degree from one of our community colleges, so that they’re ready for a job.  At schools like P-Tech in Brooklyn, a collaboration between New York Public Schools, the City University of New York, and IBM, students will graduate with a high school diploma and an associate degree in computers or engineering.

In the President’s Plan for a Strong Middle Class & A Strong America, released in conjunction with the address, the President is calling on Congress to commit new resources to create a STEM Master Teacher Corps, enlisting 10,000 of America’s best science and math teachers to improve STEM education. The President continued by saying,

Four years ago, we started Race to the Top – a competition that convinced almost every state to develop smarter curricula and higher standards, for about 1 percent of what we spend on education each year.  Tonight, I’m announcing a new challenge to redesign America’s high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy.

We’ll reward schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering, and math – the skills today’s employers are looking for to fill jobs right now and in the future.

Holding Colleges Accountable for Cost, Value and Quality

Now, even with better high schools, most young people will need some higher education. It’s a simple fact: the more education you have, the more likely you are to have a job and work your way into the middle class.  But today, skyrocketing costs price way too many young people out of a higher education, or saddle them with unsustainable debt.

Through tax credits, grants, and better loans, we have made college more affordable for millions of students and families over the last few years.  But taxpayers cannot continue to subsidize the soaring cost of higher education.  Colleges must do their part to keep costs down, and it’s our job to make sure they do.

Tonight, I ask Congress to change the Higher Education Act, so that affordability and value are included in determining which colleges receive certain types of federal aid.  And tomorrow, my Administration will release a new “College Scorecard” that parents and students can use to compare schools based on a simple criteria: where you can get the most bang for your educational buck.

Rebuilding our Schools

The President also proposed a “Fix-It-First” program that would focus on urgent infrastructure repairs, which included schools.

And to make sure taxpayers don’t shoulder the whole burden, I’m also proposing a Partnership to Rebuild America that attracts private capital to upgrade what our businesses need most: modern ports to move our goods; modern pipelines to withstand a storm; modern schools worthy of our children.

Read, watch and share your “Citizen Response” to the State of the Union address, and read the President’s Plan for a Strong Middle Class & a Strong America.

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

Teachers@ED: Steven Hicks, Special Assistant for Early Learning

Steven Hicks speaking with children in a classroom.

Steven Hicks, special assistant for early learning, spent the day shadowing a kindergarten teacher at Oyster-Adams bilingual school in DC as part of "ED Goes Back to School" during Teacher Appreciation Week in May. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

Teaching is in Steven Hicks’ blood. Almost everyone in his immediate family – including his mother, father, and all of his seven younger sisters – has either taught or teaches today. And Hicks is no exception.

 “I didn’t decide I wanted to be a teacher until I actually went and substitute taught,” says Hicks of his decision to pursue a career in early childhood education. According to Hicks, he realized he has a gift for teaching during the 6th grade when a teacher let him lead the entire class in a theater activity. That moment of trust in his ability to convey learning to his peers was “one of those pivotal moments where I thought I was probably going to be a teacher,” he explains.

Teachers@ED LogoHicks grew up in Fresno, California as the oldest child of a large family. After graduating from UC Santa Cruz and working a few other jobs, Hicks took a substitute teaching position with a third grade class in South Central Los Angeles. The principal of the school was so thrilled to see Hicks return for a second day – something the other substitutes had failed to do – that she rushed to the district office to help expedite Hick’s credentials so he could remain in the classroom.

Hicks went on to earn a Masters degree in Early Childhood from California State University in LA. In 1999, he completed the arduous process to become certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. The effort was well worth it. “The most rewarding part of teaching is being able to see that moment when a child discovers that she learned something new and that satisfaction and confidence that you see on her face and in her eyes,” explains Hicks.

In 2008, and with 20 years of classroom experience, Hicks joined the Department of Education as a Teaching Ambassador Fellow during the program’s inaugural year, which spanned over two Administrations: Bush and Obama.  He worked first in the Charter School Office and later, when the Obama Administration came in, under Barbara Bowman, Secretary Duncan’s Consultant on Early Learning. At the end of his fellowship, Hicks joined ED’s full-time staff as a Special Assistant and now works in the Office of Early Learning under Deputy Assistant Secretary Jacqueline Jones.

“Every day I work to promote early learning – and that’s birth to third grade – as a priority in the department,” Hicks explains as what he does for ED on a daily basis. As for his lengthy teaching experience, he says it gives him a strong foundation for the work he’s doing. “I use my experience as a teacher and as a member of an educational community to put in the right evidence, to suggest the right elements, to know how what we were doing at the federal level was going to affect students and the families and the teachers that are affected by the policies that we make here,” he says.

And although Hicks’ day job can be time-consuming, he isn’t done with the classroom just yet. Once a week during lunchtime, Hicks visits DC’s Amidon Elementary through the Everybody Wins program, where he mentors Tremar, a fourth grade student he’s been reading to for two years. “It’s nice to be able to get into the school once a week and work directly with the students we’re trying to help here at ED,” says Hicks.

Hicks has come a long way since he took that first teaching job back in 1988 in South Central LA, and although he’s had to learn from his mistakes over the years, he still believes teaching has been one of the most fulfilling and joyful aspects of his life. “It’s so cliché to say ‘Oh, it’s so rewarding,’ but it really is,” says Hicks. “I think there are few jobs where you get to see that and affect so many lives directly.”

Alexandra Strott is a student at Middlebury College and an intern in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach

Top 5 Ways to Prevent Rusty Summer Readers

With summer vacation started or on its way, as parents or guardians, it’s important to ensure that reading remains on your child’s schedule even while school is out. Reading over the summer is important not only because it improves literacy and language skills, but also because it prevents what has become known as the “summer slide”—a regression in reading ability.

A student reads a bookStudies show that children who don’t read or who read rarely over the summer encounter a stagnation or decline in their reading skills.

With that in mind, here are five of the best ways to keep your child reading this summer:

  1. Let your child choose what they want to read – or be read to – for 30 minutes each day. Children are much more likely to engage in material that interests them rather than materials that are forced on them.
  2. Use language and reading opportunities throughout the day.  Talk often with your child and point out reading materials wherever possible:  on menus, magazines and newspapers, signs, brochures, maps, guidebooks, smartphones, ipads, etc.
  3. Make daily reading a social event. Get the whole family to join in with their own books or take turns reading the same book aloud. Include telling stories as well.
  4. Connect reading to other summer events. If you take your child to the zoo, think about reading a book about animals before and afterward. This will place your child’s reading within a larger context.
  5. Make reading a lifestyle choice. Keep books all around the house to cultivate an atmosphere of reading, and set an example by reading yourself. Children need good models of reading books, magazines, or newspapers.

Madison Killen is a student at the University of California Berkeley and an intern in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach

Duncan Talks Obama Education Record at Mom Congress

Secretary Duncan speaks to Mom Congress

Secretary Duncan speaks to the 2012 Mom Congress delegates. Official Department of Education photo by Leslie Williams.

What is the proper role of the federal government in education? Secretary Arne Duncan answered this question Monday at Parenting‘s annual Mom Congress in Washington. “Under President Obama’s leadership, our role here in Washington is to support you,” Duncan said. There’s a transformation underway in public education at the state and local level, he said, that is raising expectations for students and educators.

At the Department of Education, our first three years were really about building a foundation for this transformation. We have challenged the status quo wherever it is needed and championed bold reform wherever it is happening along the educational pipeline from cradle to career.

Secretary Duncan explained how the Obama Administration has supported reforms by:

Strengthening K-12 Education

The Administration is investing in courageous leadership at the state and local level, taking to scale practices that close achievement gaps and raise the bar for all students. Investments include:

Investing in Early Learning

The Obama Administration has made an unprecedented investment in high-quality early childhood education with the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge.

Keeping Teachers on the Job

Under the Recovery Act and emergency jobs funding, more than 325,000 teachers were kept in classrooms during the height of the recession.

Investing in Higher Education

The Obama Administration has made the largest investment in higher education since the G.I. Bill.

    • Three million more students are going to college with Pell Grants, thanks to an increase in Pell funding by $40 billion. Rather than adding to the deficit, the Administration paid for the increase by cutting overly generous federal subsidies to big banks that make student loans.
    • Invested $2.5 billion to support adults attending community colleges.
    • Simplifying the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) has resulted in 50 percent more applications since President Obama took office.

“The bottom line today is: We can’t stop,” Secretary Duncan said. “The costs of educational stagnation and mediocrity are too high. President Obama has put us on a path to reach our goal of being the best-educated country in the world by 2020, and we have to keep going.”

Arne encouraged the education advocates in the audience—moms from all 50 states and D.C.—to continue working in their communities on behalf of their own children and all children. Parents need to be good partners with their children’s teachers, he told them, but “also need to be partners in bigger, systemic issues.”

Read the entire speech here.