Video of Listening Tour in Vermont

We just added a video of Secretary Duncan’s visit to Vermont. Watch excerpts of the discussion with teachers at Muddy Waters Coffee Shop in Burlington, his commencement address at St. Michael’s College, and stops at Barnes Elementary School with Senator Patrick Leahy and Westford School, where Duncan talked with teachers.

For more about the Vermont trip, see…


Click here for an accessible version of the video.

Heard on the Tour: Vermont Coffee House

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Secretary Duncan stops at Muddy Waters cafe in Burlington, Vt., to talk with teachers on his listening tour about education reform.

Two weeks ago In West Virginia, our first listening tour stop , teachers told me they would have liked to have met Secretary Duncan after school for coffee.  They said the conversation he’d started at their school could have gone on for hours.  They’d have time for that after school, when they could relax and just let the conversation roll.

We took that advice to heart.  Before arriving in Vermont last week, we contacted a teacher at Colchester High School and asked where her teacher friends hang out.  She mentioned a café in nearby Burlington, a few blocks from the university.

That’s where 10 elementary and high school teachers stopped in right after school got out, grabbed a coffee, and sat down for an hour with Secretary Duncan for an open-ended conversation.  Teachers talked about everything from their personal reasons for becoming teachers, to experiences with their students, dealing with discipline, pressure to “teach to the test,” national standards, media perceptions of teachers, parents who are intimidated by teachers and schools, cooking for their families after working all day, class sizes, what to wear to school, music, support for teachers who want to be principals, “loan forgiveness” and more.  The conversation kept running for a couple hours, even after the Secretary had to leave for his next appointment.

Something that kept coming up again and again throughout the conversation was the realization that  teachers laugh and cry a lot.  We cry mostly in the first few years, then we learn to laugh more, and as we get older we cry with joy when our students succeed and graduate.  Maybe the teachers in Vermont are just highly emotional, but I don’t think so.  The teachers in West Virginia told us similar stories, with similar emotional reactions.  It seems that if you’re going to have a free-wheeling conversation with teachers, you better bring some Kleenex, or if you’re in a café, stock up on the napkins.  You’re going to laugh until you cry, and you’re not leaving until everybody hugs each other.  This “meeting” really set the tone for the next day’s school visits.

Tim Tuten
Director of Events, Office of Communications and Outreach

Secretary Arne Duncan Takes Listening Tour to Vermont, Invites Comments on Rural Education

Secretary Duncan talks with teachers at Westford Elementary School in Westford, Vt., as part of his listening tour on education reform.

Secretary Duncan talks with teachers at Westford Elementary School in Westford, Vt., as part of his listening tour on education reform.

Secretary Arne Duncan went to Vermont last week to give the commencement address at St. Michael’s College and continue his listening tour. (See photos.)

He visited Barnes Elementary School in Burlington with Senator Patrick Leahy, Burlington Mayor Bob Kiss, and Education Commissioner Armando Vilaseca. He learned about the school’s partnership with local farmers to provide healthy, locally grown lunches, and he listened to teachers, parents, and students talk about challenges they face.

He stopped at Muddy Waters cafe in Burlington to talk with teachers about education reform and then Westford Elementary School, where he met with teachers and families to hear their ideas and how the federal government can help provide incentives for good teachers to work in schools where they’re most needed.

He heard from the people of Vermont about some of the challenges of teaching and learning in rural America. He invites your ideas:

What are the particular challenges of improving schools in rural America?

ED Staff

More on Detroit Visit

We now have more from Secretary Arne Duncan’s Listening and Learning Tour stop in Detroit: photos (see below) and a piece by Assistant Secretary Russlynn Ali on what she heard in Detroit.

For details on the visit, see Wednesday’s press release. You can also participate in the online discussion about raising standards.

Secretary Arne Duncan meets with Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm in her Detroit office, along with several other community leaders.

Secretary Arne Duncan meets with Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm in her Detroit office, along with several other community leaders.

Secretary Duncan meets with two Cody High School students in the school's Robotics Club.

Secretary Duncan meets with two Cody High School students in the school's Robotics Club.

Cody High School Principal Johnathon Matthews (center) speaks to Student Forum attendees, who included Secretary Arne Duncan, Detroit Mayor David Bing, Gov. Granholm, and Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Russlynn Ali in addition to Cody students.

Cody High School Principal Johnathon Matthews (center) speaks to Student Forum attendees, who included Secretary Arne Duncan, Detroit Mayor David Bing, Gov. Granholm, and Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Russlynn Ali in addition to Cody students.

Students at Detroit's Cody High School, speaking to Secretary Duncan.

Students at Detroit's Cody High School, speaking to Secretary Duncan.

Secretary Duncan hears from students during his listening tour at Detroit's Cody High School.

Secretary Duncan hears from students during his listening tour at Detroit's Cody High School.

Secretary Duncan giving a keynote address at the United Way Leaders Conference in Detroit.

Secretary Duncan giving a keynote address at the United Way Leaders Conference in Detroit.

Heard on the Tour: Detroit

Cody High School Principal Johnathon Matthews (center) speaks to Student Forum attendees, who included Secretary Arne Duncan, Detroit Mayor David Bing, Gov. Granholm, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Russlyn Ali in addition to Cody students.

Cody High School Principal Johnathon Matthews (center) speaks to Student Forum attendees, who included Secretary Arne Duncan, Detroit Mayor David Bing, Gov. Granholm, and Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Russlynn Ali in addition to Cody students.

This week we went to “ground zero” for our second stop on the listening and learning tour. We listened to a community hobbled by the decline of an industry that was once the engine of the city’s economy, a housing market bust as bad as it gets, recent political strife the likes of which one couldn’t make up in a Hollywood screenplay, and a school system suffering beyond compare. Today we listened to Detroit.

We heard heart wrenching stories about unfulfilled dreams from policy-makers, community leaders, educators, parents, and student themselves. We heard from teachers struggling to teach with few needed supports. Teaching, for example, rigorous high school science using a laboratory that is devoid of even the basics, like running water. We listened as high schools seniors told us that more than half of their peers starting with them in the 9th grade were either dead or in jail by the 12th grade. We heard from community activists and elected officials begging for national attention and support in their moment of urgent crisis.

But today, we also witnessed hope, responsibility and courage. Hope that finally the forces were aligning for positive change and sustainable reform. Hope in a new Mayor with the will to do whatever it takes to fix an utterly broken school system. Hope in a Governor with the passion and commitment to help an ailing people. We witnessed courage by everyone to confront the challenges head on; steely determination by students to thrive, no matter what; parents taking ultimate responsibility for their children’s future; and teachers finding creative ways to restructure their schools to meet their students’ needs. More than anything, we saw an entire community united with the spirit of survival.

Today we listened to a city ready to transform its schools from a national disgrace to a national model. And, albeit with a heavy heart, we were inspired.

Russlynn Ali

Assistant Secretary, Office for Civil Rights

Secretary Arne Duncan Takes Listening Tour to Detroit

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is in Detroit today for his next stop on his listening tour on education reform.

The secretary will be meeting with Michigan Governor Jennifer M. Granholm, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, union leaders and district leaders. He also will visit Cody High School, where he’ll talk with students.

The Detroit trip is the secretary’s second stop that will eventually take him to 15 states. What he learns on the tour will inform his ideas on his proposal to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act.

If you aren’t in Detroit today—or any of the other places the secretary will visit—you can make your voice heard through our blog. Click through this item from Monday to participate in an online dialogue about raising standards to ensure that students are prepared to enter college and succeed there. And then return later for chances to comment later on other topics.

For more information, see the press release.

ED Staff

Heard on the Tour

One of the most important things we can do as policymakers is stay connected with the people who will be affected by the decisions we make.  Our first listening tour stop was a powerful reminder of the value of listening to teachers, parents, and students.

The elementary school teachers and parents reminded us of three things:

  • Leadership matters. In both schools, teachers told us that they stayed because their principals allowed them to perfect their craft, removed barriers, effectively brokered resources, and supported them. Parents felt welcomed by the principals and recognized that great principals attract and retain great teachers.
  • The use of formative assessments – and the resulting data – can be transformative. In both schools, teachers used formative assessments frequently to gauge student progress, shuffle student groupings, determine who needed extra support (including Response to Intervention) and extra challenge, and to otherwise drive their instruction. They painted an incredibly clear before picture (“we told parents that their children couldn’t read, but that was all”) and after picture (“we can tell parents that their child can’t read because he has a specific challenge decoding a short ‘a’ sound”) and spoke passionately about how their use of data made them better at their jobs. Parents commented on how this specific information was much more helpful to them.
  • Preparation matters. Teachers generally agreed that their education had not prepared them to be highly effective in the classroom. Many teachers commented that they felt like they got an education that taught them how to teach 25 years ago, and not one that prepared them for teaching in the 21st century.

We heard an equally important set of themes at the community college event:

  • Cost – even at community colleges – makes it difficult for people to go back to school for retraining. It is hard to raise a family and find enough money to take courses.
  • We need to continue to work on quality articulation agreements between community college and four-year institutions, so that the courses taken at community colleges can be transferred when students pursue a four-year degree at a college or university.
  • People are grateful for community colleges and their ability to serve such diverse constituencies. In many instances cited by people who spoke, the community college was the critical part of the path to enabling them to fulfill their higher education dreams.

As we leverage big opportunities – and work through inevitable challenges – in the coming months and years, I’ll be reminded constantly of the impact of decisions on people in the classroom, both K-12 and higher education.  I am grateful to the people of West Virginia for their openness in sharing with us what makes a difference in their lives every day.

Margot Rogers

Secretary Arne Duncan Takes Listening Tour Online, Invites Comments on Raising Standards

Secretary Arne Duncan listens to faculty and staff at a roundtable discussion at Eagle School Intermediate in Martinsburg, WV.

Secretary Arne Duncan listens to faculty and staff at a roundtable discussion at Eagle School Intermediate in Martinsburg, WV.

Last week I went to  Berkeley County, West Virginia, to begin an open, honest conversation about education reform.

I wanted to hear ideas about how we can accomplish President Obama’s goal of providing every child in America a complete and competitive education, from cradle through career.

As we prepare for the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, I want to hear from classroom teachers and other educators, parents and students, business people and citizens.  What’s working, and what’s not?  What do we need to do that we’re not doing, and what do we need to stop doing – or do differently?

I will be going to 15 other places across the country to continue this conversation.

There is one more place I will be going to listen and learn.  Here.

In the coming weeks, I will ask questions here.  Topics will include raising standards, strengthening teacher quality, using data to improve learning, and turning around low-performing schools. I will be reading what you say.  So will others here at the U.S. Department of Education.

Today, I want to start with a simple set of questions:

Many states in America are independently considering adopting internationally-benchmarked, college and career-ready standards.  Is raising standards a good idea?  How should we go about it?

Let the conversation begin!

Arne Duncan