An Education Second to None

Photo of Secretary Duncan at Miramar
The 2nd Marine Division of the U.S. Marine Corps has a history of performing their best during tough fights.  The motto of the 2nd Division is “Second to None,” and just as the 2nd Division strives to be the best when called into action, President Obama has called the entire country to action in making our schools and students the best in the world once again.

Education and national security are closely related.  Only 25 percent of American youth qualify to enter the Armed Forces. Three out of four applicants are turned away because they lack a high school diploma, are obese, or have a criminal record. This sobering statistic means America’s ability to defend itself is put in jeopardy.

Yesterday at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar near San Diego, California, Secretary Duncan joined Congressman Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), Commanding General of Marine Corps Installations West, Major General Anthony L. Jackson, as well as several other military and civilian leaders in an event to bring attention to the link between education and national security. Secretary Duncan spoke of the need for a greater investment in education to ensure that more young people graduate from high school, obey the law, and get in shape. This is an issue that will determine our national and economic security for decades to come.

The Secretary also noted that fixing No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is the right step in improving education and will put more students on the path to graduating high school.  Congressman Duncan Hunter explained that “We want to fix NCLB this year. If it doesn’t get done this year, it doesn’t get done.”

Duncan Gains Feedback During California Visit

“You aren’t the future leaders, you’re leading today,” Secretary Duncan told a group of students last night at a community forum in Los Angeles that also included parents, teachers and community leaders.  The Secretary’s discussion at Fremont High School was just one of three stops he made in the LA area yesterday to discuss and get feedback on reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

Earlier in the day, Secretary Duncan spoke at a gathering of over 1,000 leaders from the business, civic, education, government and parent communities at the one-day Education Summit held by the United Way of Greater Los Angeles.  Following his visit to the Education Summit, the Secretary stopped at Tincher Preparatory, a K-8 public school in Long Beach California, for a roundtable discussion with teachers, administrators, parents and students.  The Long Beach Press-Telegram summed up the roundtable discussion:

The secretary listened intently as administrators and teachers talked about the programs that make Tincher a success. The East Long Beach K-8 school, where more than 50 percent of the students are designated as disadvantaged, has been lauded for its gains in test scores and was named a “School to Watch” by the California Middle Grades Alliance in 2009.

Duncan said the LBUSD sets an example for other school districts in the country.

“I’ve studied your school district for a long time, and I think you have so much to be proud of,” he told a crowd gathered in the school library.

Today, the Secretary is stopping in San Diego for another roundtable discussion, as well as a visit to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar to discuss education as a national security issue.

It’s Time to Fix No Child Left Behind

President Barack Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan talk with students and teachers at the Kenmore Middle School

President Barack Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan talk with students and teachers at the Kenmore Middle School auditorium in Arlington, Va. March 14, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

“I want every child in this country to head back to school in the fall knowing that their education is America’s priority. Let’s seize this education moment.  Let’s fix No Child Left Behind,” said President Obama earlier today at Kenmore Middle School in Arlington, Virginia.  President Obama was joined by Secretary Duncan, teachers, representatives from major education associations, and Kenmore students.

In introducing President Obama, Secretary Duncan explained that, “While No Child Left Behind helped expand the standards and accountability movement, there is much that needs to be fixed.”

Many teachers complain bitterly about NCLB’s emphasis on testing. Principals hate being labeled as failures. Superintendents say it wasn’t adequately funded. And many parents just view it as a toxic brand that isn’t helping children learn.  We need to fix NCLB now. And it can’t wait.

During the speech, President Obama spoke directly to America’s teachers:

Now, I want to speak to teachers in particular here.  I’m not talking about more tests.  I’m not talking about teaching to the test.  We don’t need to know whether a student can fill out a bubble.  We do need to know whether they’re making progress.  We do need to know whether they’re not only mastering reading, math, and science, but also developing the kinds of skills, like critical thinking and creativity and collaboration that I just saw on display with the students that I met here.  Those are skills they’re going to need for the rest of their lives, not just to be good workers, but to be good citizens.

Now, that doesn’t mean testing is going to go away; there will be testing.  But the point is, is that we need to refine how we’re assessing progress so that we can have accountability without rigidity — accountability that still encourages creativity inside the classroom, and empowers teachers and students and administrators.

Read the White House blog post, and you can also read President Obama’s speech and Secretary Duncan’s speech.  The White House also released a fact sheet that lays out the President’s priorities for fixing NCLB.

Duncan and Senators Call for Education Reform

Arne Duncan speaks to the media about the need for reform

Earlier this morning Secretary Arne Duncan joined a group of moderate Democratic Senators at Walker Jones Education Campus in Washington, DC to tour the K-8 school and call for education reform.

The group of Senators included Kay R. Hagan (D-N.C.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Thomas Carper (D-Del.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.).  The Senators and four of their colleagues—Senators Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Herb Kohl (D-Wisc.), and Mark Warner (D-Va.) have agreed on a set of principles for moving forward this year on a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

“We know the results of doing nothing, and they are catastrophic,” said Senator Bennet. “The time for bold action is now.”

Secretary Duncan explained that a major goal of reauthorization is to “raise the bar” for college and career ready standards, but also to empower great teachers, great principals and great local communities:

“They know their children much better than we [in Washington] do,” said Duncan. “We can’t begin to micromanage 95,000 schools from Washington, and we don’t want to.  Frankly, we want to reduce the federal footprint.”

He also noted that Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and House Committee on Education and the Workforce (E&W) Chairman John Kline (R-Minn.), as well as HELP Ranking Member Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) and E&W Ranking Member George Miller (D-Calif.), are working hard on an ESEA reauthorization bill and that he would continue to work with Congress in a bipartisan way to fix the law this year.

In discussing the principles that the Senators presented, Senator Lieberman noted that “these principles are not Democratic or Republican.  They are not Liberal or Conservative.  They’re just consistent with our natural American values.”

More information on ESEA reauthorization can be found at the Department of Education’s “A Blueprint for Reform” page.

Supporting Reform While Maintaining a Commitment to At-Risk Students

Cross-posted from the The Hill’s Congress blog.

President Obama firmly believes that all children deserve a world-class education. When he says all children, he means all – regardless of their race, ethnicity, disability, native language, income level or zip code.

The President’s proposal to fix NCLB focuses on schools and students at-risk, and on meaningful reforms that will help these students succeed. The plan will maintain the federal government’s formula programs serving disadvantaged students, English learners, migrant children, and students with disabilities. Many people are speculating that the President wants to make these programs competitive. They are wrong. The President is committed to keeping the historic federal role of providing funding for students who need it most. He does not want the programs dedicated to at-risk students to become competitive. And he does not want to reduce the funds distributed by formula.

The President does believe there’s a role for competitive funding in education reform – and that these programs will benefit at-risk students. For too long in education, we have failed to recognize and reward success at the state, local or school level.  The Race to the Top program changed that. It spurred innovation, rewarded stakeholders working together to implement reform, and gave states incentives to raise their academic standards, invest in the teaching profession, use data to improve schools, and focus on fixing their lowest-performing schools. Through Race to the Top, 46 states developed comprehensive plans to advance these reforms. Eleven states and the District of Columbia are leading the way on them. Race to the Top created incentives for 41 states to voluntarily adopt college and career ready standards. This will raise expectations for all students and end a practice of setting a low bar that was particularly harmful to poor and minority students.

With just 1 percent of the annual education spending, Race to the Top states are blazing a path for reforms for decades to come. They are creating innovative solutions and effective practices that will benefit all students.

This powerful combination of formula funding supporting at-risk students and competitive funding for reform will position America to win the global race in education. It will ensure that all students, including our most at-risk, receive the world-class education they deserve.

Arne Duncan is the Secretary of Education.

Secretary Duncan on Fixing NCLB and Elevating the Teaching Profession

“We’re absolutely committed to…[fixing No Child Left Behind] and doing it in a bipartisan way as we move forward this year,” Secretary Duncan said in this video response to questions.  “It’s too punitive, it’s too prescriptive, it’s led to a dummying down of standards, and it’s led to a narrowing of the curriculum.  We have to fix all of those things.”

“We’re also going to do everything we can to elevate the teaching profession,” he said.  “The President talked about in other countries like South Korea, teachers are seen as nation builders.  That’s exactly what they are here.  We need to recognize them as such.”

Duncan also talked about recruiting “the next generation of great talent” into the teaching profession and the TEACH.gov website.


Click here for an accessible version of the video.

See all the topics or all videos in the playlist.

Small Town School Beats the Odds with Effective Leadership

A quiet town of hard-working families, Tinicum is committed to educational excellence in the face of a declining tax base to fund its schools.

Motorists driving down Route 95 South past Philadelphia might never know that tucked away off exit 9 B, right before the Philadelphia International Airport, lies a community so dedicated to its schools that it has overcome immense odds in order to make dramatic changes in the way it educates its students.

Tinicum Township is a community hit hard by the economic downturn, where 44 percent of the students receive free or reduced meals. Still, the township has proven that by setting high expectations for all, great things can happen. As proof, this year the 4,400 residents of this blue-collar town are celebrating Tinicum Elementary School’s Blue Ribbon School award for 2010.

Five years ago, only 52 percent of the township’s eighth graders reached proficiency in math and reading. This past year, 83 percent reached proficiency in math and 85 percent in reading.

What made the difference?  Most residents attribute this success teachers who were inspired by a great leader. The school’s principal, David Criscuolo, is credited with creating significant changes on two major fronts, academic and behavioral. In both areas, he has directed the school to use data to gauge the progress of each student.

Assistant Superintendent Lawrence Hobdell explains Criscuolo’s strategy:  “Besides valuing teacher input, Mr. Criscuolo values student assessments to see what the data prove.”

In addition to district-wide assessments, Tinicum School monitors students over short periods of time and provides teachers and parents immediate feedback so that adjustments can be made. Frequently, Criscuolo brings together teachers by grade level to discuss instructional strategies, and he always includes the Response to Intervention specialists and special education teachers in these benchmark meetings.

The school leadership realizes that academic achievement cannot happen without socially and emotionally sound students, so, in addition to academic data, behavioral goals are posted throughout the building, and all families are made aware of these expectations. The information collected reflects individual student behavior, but also areas of the school and times where trouble is most likely to occur. Staff members are encouraged to report and reward positive behavior, and all members of the community work together to provide the best learning environment for the children.

Elizabeth Williamson, Communications Team Lead for the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states, based in the Philadelphia Regional Office

Elizabeth Williamson is a former public school English teacher and an adjunct instructor of rhetoric at Temple University.

Duncan Focuses on Fixing NCLB for Rural Schools

Secretary Duncan teamed up with John Hill, director of the National Rural Education Association, during a call to both journalists from rural communities and education writers who cover rural schools on Wednesday, January 26. The Secretary and Hill discussed the importance of fixing the federal mandates of No Child Left Behind that do not work for rural schools and answered questions from the media about the challenges and opportunities that rural schools have.

Listen to the call. Audio icon Read the transcript.

Education Funders Conference Call

On Monday, the day before the President’s State of the Union Address, the Department of Education hosted the first quarterly conference call of 2011 for education funders with Secretary Arne Duncan.

Secretary Duncan talked about the importance of reauthorizing ESEA, maintaining momentum for state and local education reform when education systems are facing huge budget cuts, the recent Aspen Innovation in Education Forum & Expo, the upcoming conference on Labor-Management Collaboration for Student Success, and the TEACH campaign.

Listen to the call. Audio icon Read the transcript.

Senators Join Duncan to Discuss Fixing No Child Left Behind

Secretary Duncan was joined by by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) in a national press call on January 26. The Senators, who currently serve on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, which Harkin chairs, called for fixing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, commonly known as No Child Left Behind.

Listen to the call. Audio icon Read the transcript.

School Reform: A Chance for Bipartisan Governing

Cross-posted from The Washington Post

With a new Congress set to begin, key members on both sides of the aisle are poised to rewrite the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), currently known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). In fact, the work has been underway for much of the past year, and few areas are more suited for bipartisan action than education reform.

On many issues, Democrats and Republicans agree, starting with the fact that no one likes how NCLB labels schools as failures, even when they are making broad gains. Parents, teachers, and lawmakers want a system that measures not just an arbitrary level of proficiency, but student growth and school progress in ways that better reflect the impact of a school and its teachers on student learning.

Most people dislike NCLB’s one-size-fits-all mandates, which apply even if a community has better local solutions than federally dictated tutoring or school-transfer options. Providing more flexibility to schools, districts and states – while also holding them accountable – is the goal of many people in both parties.

Both Republicans and Democrats embrace the transparency of NCLB and the requirement to disaggregate data to show achievement gaps by race, income, English proficiency and disability, but they are concerned that NCLB is driving some educators to teach to the test instead of providing a well-rounded education.

That is why many people across the political spectrum support the work of 44 states to replace multiple choice “bubble” tests with a new test that helps inform and improve instruction by accurately measuring what children know across the full range of college and career-ready standards, and measures other skills, such as critical-thinking abilities.

NCLB’s accountability provisions also prompted many states to lower standards, but governors and legislators from both parties in all but a handful of states have rectified the problem by voluntarily adopting higher college and career-ready standards set by state education officials.

Finally, almost no one believes the teacher quality provisions of NCLB are helping elevate the teaching profession, or ensuring that the most challenged students get their fair share of the best teachers. More and more, teachers, parents, and union and business leaders want a real definition of teacher effectiveness based on multiple measures, including student growth, principal observation and peer review.

These issues are at the heart of the Obama administration’s blueprint for reauthorizing ESEA: more flexibility and fairness in our accountability system, a bigger investment in teachers and principals, and a sharper focus on schools and students most at risk.

This common-sense agenda also reflects the quiet bipartisan revolution underway at the state and local level. With the incentive of the Race to the Top program, governors, states and districts across America are implementing comprehensive plans to reform education systems and boost student achievement.

School districts and their local partners in inner cities and rural communities are overcoming poverty and family breakdown to create high-performing schools, including charters and traditional public schools. They are taking bold steps to turn around low-performing schools by investing in teachers, rebuilding school staff, lengthening the school day and changing curricula.

In partnership with local teacher unions, districts are finding new ways to evaluate and compensate their teachers and staff their schools. Some districts have reshaped labor agreements around student success – and teachers have strongly supported these groundbreaking agreements. On Capitol Hill, numerous internal meetings with staff as well as external meetings with educational stakeholders have occurred, several hearings have also been held, and some legislative language has been drafted and shared at the staff level.

The urgency for reform has never been greater. Today, American students trail many other nations in reading, math and science, and a quarter of them do not graduate high school on time. Many college students do not finish, despite the clear national need for more college-educated workers who can successfully compete in the global economy.

President Obama in 2009 set a national goal that America will once again lead the world in college completion by 2020. With our economic and national security at risk, this is a goal Republicans, Democrats and all Americans can unite behind.

Since coming to Washington, I’ve been told that partisan politics inevitably trumps bipartisan governing. But if I have learned anything as education secretary, it is that conventional wisdom serves to prop up the status quo – and is often wrong.

In the past two years, I have spoken with hundreds of Republican and Democratic mayors, governors and members of Congress. While we don’t agree on everything, our core goals are shared – and we all want to fix NCLB to better support reform at the state and local level. So, let’s do something together for our children that will build America’s future, strengthen our economy and reflect well on us all.

Arne Duncan