Secretary Duncan Wants to Hear from You

Cross-posted from the White House blog.

This morning, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan sent the following message to the White House email list.

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Last week, I met Brittany.

She’s a hardworking student at West Georgia Technical College who is now just months away from being certified as a nursing assistant, but there was a point when she didn’t think she’d be here. In high school, Brittany became pregnant and her future suddenly became uncertain. Her high school counselor suggested she apply for the 12 for Life program, a local program that offers students who have fallen behind in high school the opportunity to attend class, work and get back on their feet.

As I talked with Brittany and her fellow students — many of whom were the first in their family to graduate high school — they spoke powerfully and tearfully of the program’s success, and how it had given them hope for the future.

Brittany’s inspiring story is just one of many I heard last week during the Department of Education’s annual back-to-school bus tour. This year’s tour took us to Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee, and provided my team and me with the opportunity to see innovations in education and to discuss progress, promise, and results.

I wish I could see every innovative program — every initiative creating promise for our children — happening across the country, but even after visiting all 50 states and more than 350 schools during my time as Secretary, I can’t visit every school. So that’s where you come in.

What cutting-edge programs are your local schools undertaking? Or, if you don’t know of any, what would you like to see them do?

We’ll share some of your stories and suggestions on the White House blog.


Brittany tells Secretary Arne Duncan about her positive experience in the 12 for Life Program during a stop on his back-to-school bus tour in Carrolton, Ga. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Education by Joshua Hoover.

This was my fifth back-to-school bus tour, and with each tour, I become increasingly optimistic about our country’s ability to elevate and strengthen education. High school graduation rates are at an all-time high, college enrollment has hit record levels, dropout rates are dramatically down, and principals, teachers, parents, and students are taking the lead on improving education for all students.

But during the bus tour and around the country, I also hear a lot of people worried that our children won’t inherit a better America than we did. That’s why we have such an important shared mission: to make sure that every student, everywhere, gets an effective education. It’s a mission that we can all agree on, and it’s one that matters immensely.

The best ideas in education will never come from Washington, which is why the Obama Administration is working hard to help states and communities strengthen schools — in particular, through supports for great teaching, and higher standards. It’s inspiring to see states and local communities stepping up to expand access to high-quality early education, transition to college- and career-ready standards, and support innovation in education.

So I want to know what’s happening in your community. Share the innovative things the schools in your area are doing — or what you’d like to see happen.

We should celebrate the gains we’ve made these past couple years, but we can’t be fully satisfied. There’s still more to do to support all students so they may reach their full potential. So, in this new school year, let’s get to work.

Thanks for sharing,


Secretary Arne Duncan
Department of Education


Know It 2 Own It: Teaching and Learning About Disability Rights

In a recent blog post, we introduced you to “Know It 2 Own It,” a campaign to encourage Americans to learn more about the disability rights movement and history that led to the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in July of 1990.

This month, as students across the country settle into their daily academic routines, now is the perfect time to think about teaching and learning about disability rights.

American history is also the history of people with disabilities. Though her life spanned the 19th and 20th centuries, many 21st century students still find inspiration in the remarkable career of  Helen Keller – the American author, lecturer and activist and the first deaf and blind person to earn a college degree. The story of her early years is the subject of the powerful play, “The Miracle Worker.” President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, considered by many as one of the nation’s greatest elected leaders, helped guide the country and the world through some the 20th century’s greatest crises while using  a wheelchair. One of the most beloved singers alive today, singer-songwriter Stevie Wonder, was born blind. These are just some of examples of the contributions that people with disabilities have made to the richness and diversity of our shared American life through the years.

The disability rights movement is a part of American history, and understanding that history is valuable to all of us. The struggle for disability rights is part of the broader cause of civil rights and human rights.

This month’s guest video blogger, Rebecca Cokley, is Executive Director for the National Council on Disability (NCD). In the video, she describes how she got involved in the disability rights movement as a child, what she thinks are the most important messages for young people with disabilities, and why she is committed to mentoring others. Her motto is:  “Lift as you Climb.”

The Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) wants to hear from you. Have you found mentors in your local community that could teach students more about disability rights? Does a member of your school community have a family member with a disability who might be willing to share their experience?  Does someone have a family member who works in a disability-related non-profit, business, or government agency?

Please let us know how you are working to bring about positive change in your community by sharing your story on social media with the hashtag #know2own.

Click here to view past Know It 2 Own It blogs and join us here next month. October is Disability Employment Month!

Sue Swenson is Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services at the U.S. Department of Education.

South Florida’s Green Schools Forecast? Warm, Sunny, Healthy and Here to Stay!

Note: U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools recognizes schools, districts and postsecondary institutions that are 1) reducing environmental impact and costs; 2) improving health and wellness; and 3) teaching environmental education.  To share innovative practices in these three ‘Pillars,’ the Department conducts an annual Green Strides Best Practices Tour of honorees.

On Sept. 4, 2014, the School District of Palm Beach County was proud to welcome Andrea Falken, Director of U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS), and other federal, state, and local officials and stakeholders for this year’s “Healthy Schools, High-Achieving Students” Green Strides Best Practices Tour. Visitors were offered a unique view of how Palm Beach County is helping to grow Florida’s up-and-coming green generation, through local collaboration and district-wide programming.

Pine Jog Elementary in West Palm Beach, Fla. (Photo credit: School District of Palm Beach County)

Pine Jog Elementary, in West Palm Beach, Fla. (Photo credit: School District of Palm Beach County)

The tour began at a 2012 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School, Pine Jog Elementary, in West Palm Beach. Over 80 visitors were welcomed by the District’s Superintendent, E. Wayne Gent.He shared with the group our commitment to build and maintain green and healthy schools to foster high-achieving students.Visitors were treated to a choral presentation of “We’re Goin’ Green,” underscoring that all schools have an opportunity to conserve resources, improve efficiency, ensure health and wellness, and deliver inspiring environmental curriculum. Walking tours of the school highlighted all facets of this unique green school, from its pesticide-free gardens, outdoor creative learning centers, and overall sustainability curriculum, to its state-of-the-art LEED Gold certified building.

At the adjacent Pine Jog Environmental Education Center, part of Florida Atlantic University’s College of Education, visitors heard the inspiring story of their partnership. FAU President, Dr. John Kelly, emphasized his support for the District’s efforts to plant the seeds of sustainability in every Palm Beach County student. They also learned about a program central to furthering green schools efforts in Palm Beach County – the district’s Green Schools Recognition Program. The program recognizes and rewards schools for taking an innovative and holistic approach to going green and acts as a feeder program for state and national recognition.

The listening session brought together the district’s major division directors, as well as several principals, architects, and partners. For Palm Beach, green schools go far beyond buildings. They are creative centers of learning which promote sustainable practices, encourage health and wellness for their students and staff, and provide strong connections between the built and natural environments for all students, whatever their needs.

After a healthy lunch, visitors toured the newest green school in the district, Galaxy E3 Elementary, in Boynton Beach. Through dynamic leadership and strong community partnerships, Galaxy is not only the first school campus in Florida to target LEED Platinum status, but also offers its needy student population the most engaging STEM resources available, including a planetarium and aquarium, as well as other museum-quality displays, designed to hook kids on science.

To conclude the day’s event, I was honored to join the city’s mayor, Jeri Muoio, and the District’s Chief of Support Operations, Steve Bonino, in offering closing thoughts at the Lake Pavilion, another LEED construction. Here in Palm Beach County, we believe that all schools can make green strides through careful planning, maintenance, and operation, as well as through thoughtful integration of environmental principles into the curriculum. Whether they are in new or old buildings, all children deserve healthy schools to give them the best chance of being high-achieving students.

Christina Davis is the Sustainability Coordinator for the School District of Palm Beach County.

Broward Schools: Preserving the Planet for Posterity through Partnerships

Note: U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools recognizes schools, districts and postsecondary institutions that are 1) reducing environmental impact and costs; 2) improving health and wellness; and 3) teaching environmental education.  To share innovative practices in these three ‘Pillars,’ the Department conducts an annual Green Strides Best Practices Tour of honorees.

Shifting the culture of Broward schools through strong partnerships was the theme of the Broward portion of the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS) Green Strides Best Practices tour in south Florida on Sept. 5. Within the school system, our partners and priorities include transportation, facilities and construction, environmental conservation and utility management, information and technology, health and wellness, food and nutrition services and curriculum integration district offices. Our external partners, including our state, county and local municipalities and businesses, were also featured along the tour.


South Plantation High School’s environmental magnet programs were touted during the tour. (Photo credit: Broward County Public Schools)

In Broward, we’ve made recognizing and celebrating our shared successes a crucial part of our sustained green strides effort. Broward honors schools with district-wide “P3: Preserving our Planet for Posterity” recognition awards, and also this helps identify candidates for the state and national awards. The P3 awards are jointly managed and funded by Broward Schools, Broward County Division of Environmental Planning and Community Resilience, and a consortium of environmental educators, the Environmental Conservation Organization (ECO).

During our tour, we showcased strong Broward community teamwork, beginning as visitors boarded the eco-friendly, propane-fueled yellow school bus. Broward County Public Schools recently upgraded our bus fleet with the purchase of 98 Bluebird AutoGas buses. Each bus is cheaper to operate and emits 150,000 fewer pounds of carbon dioxide than a diesel-fueled bus over its lifetime.

At the first stop, Silver Ridge Elementary students shared how they connect with their local environment and its unique place in the history of Florida through their annual “Tan-a-kee-kee” festival. Students in every grade connect with the Earth as they learn about local Native American cultures and how their values and practices can help enrich and inform sustainability practices today.

The tour stopped next at Driftwood Middle School, a 2013 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School, where students exemplify the “Healthy Schools: High-Achieving Students” theme as an Academy of Health and Wellness. During gym classes, they monitor their own heart rates, study math in the garden, conduct energy audits and monitor their hydroponic system for a balance of nutrients. Students also experience a hands-on integrated curriculum that helps prepare them as environmental health and wellness stewards for the community.

South Plantation High School’s session highlighted the many levels of partnership that are required for success in a large district with diverse needs. Everyone in attendance learned at least one new best practice from the thirteen speakers representing each of the three pillars of ED-GRS, and nearly ever district division. Food and Nutrition’s healthy, fresh and local food program and Student Health Services’ asthma awareness education were featured, along with energy and water use reduction and the communication partnership with Information and Technology. The visit featured a student-led tour of the Everglades and Environmental Sciences magnet programs – including environmental research, horticulture, animal science, agricultural science and a spin around the bus loop by the award-winning Solar Knights’ solar car.


Students at New River Middle Marine Sciences Magnet Middle School spend their days conducting scientific research on the beach. (Photo credit: Broward County Public Schools)

We ended our day at Hugh Taylor Birch State Park, part of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) state park system, where New River Middle Marine Sciences Magnet Middle School students spend their days conducting scientific research to better understand their local environment with the assistance of the DEP program Project LIFE – Learning in Florida’s Environment and the NOAA-funded Project GLOBE (Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment). These students enthusiastically shared their work and correlated their measurements to the newly installed weather station. As Greg Ira, DEP Director, Office of Environmental Education and Sustainable Initiatives, says, “There is no better place to learn about environmental and sustainability education than Florida’s State Parks. We applaud the commitment of Broward County Schools for bringing students to these unique places for real-world learning experiences right in their own backyard.

Perhaps best of all, what these students learn in their own backyard, they can take with them wherever they go, and practice over the course of a lifetime.

Dr. Lisa Ventry Milenkovic is Science Curriculum Supervisor, Math, Science & Gifted Department, Instruction and Intervention Division, Broward County Public Schools.

Be Disaster Aware, Take Action During National Preparedness Month

Safety and effective learning go hand in hand.  So, although September is a very busy time of year for the education community, it’s also a good time for students, school staff, and families to make sure they are up-to-date in their knowledge of school emergency plans, policies and procedures.


Take action during National PrepareAthon! Day on Sept. 30!

In fact, September is National Preparedness Month – and this year’s theme is Be Disaster Aware, Take Action to Prepare.

In support of National Preparedness Month and National PrepareAthon! Day, parents might want to ask school officials for details about the school’s emergency operations plan (EOP).

Teachers and school officials might also want to take the time to go over emergency procedures with their students and with their EOP planning teams. EOP planning teams consist of a wide range of school personnel, student and parent representatives, and community partners such as first responders and local emergency management staff. The planning team should be small enough to permit close collaboration with first responders and other community partners, yet large enough to be representative of the school, its families, and its community.

Our Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools Technical Assistance Center has a great resource – the EOP Assess – an interactive tool geared toward helping EOP planners prepare a high-quality EOP. You can also visit the REMS TA Center website for additional information.

We also encourage everyone to take action during National PrepareAthon! Day on Sept. 30. You can download the digital media toolkit, follow @Readygov and @PrepareAthon on Twitter, and use the hashtag #NatlPrep if you want to share your participation and show your support.

Together we can celebrate National Preparedness Month and support a school year that’s safe, healthy and focused on learning!

More information can be found at and in Spanish at

Amy Banks is a management and program analyst at the Center for School Preparedness at the U.S. Department of Education.

AmeriCorps – An Incredible Gift to Our Schools

Today marks the 20th anniversary of AmeriCorps, the national service program that has helped 900,000 Americans give a year of their lives in service to this country. Hundreds of thousands have served in our schools as teachers, tutors, and classroom assistants. In fact, AmeriCorps volunteers are hard at work in 11,700 schools across the country right now. AmeriCorps volunteers have strengthened our nation in so many ways, believing that those who love their country can change it. They have helped communities rebuild after natural disasters, from the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy to the tornado in Joplin, Mo. They have made our parks cleaner and more accessible.  And they have increased access to healthy foods for people living in poverty. I’m heartened that much of AmeriCorps’s impact can be felt in our schools.

We know that giving kids the education they deserve takes entire communities working together, and AmeriCorps has connected people looking to make a difference in public education in strategic and meaningful ways. During my time as CEO of the Chicago Public Schools and in my visits to schools across the country as Education Secretary, I have seen how AmeriCorps volunteers serving with Teach for America, City Year, Public Allies, and other organizations have helped to educate and support our nation’s children. And I have seen how they inspire even more individuals to take up the mantle of service – 4 million Americans volunteered alongside AmeriCorps members in 2013 alone.

We don’t just think national service programs can benefit kids. We know. I’ll share one example:  39 percent of the 6th – 9th graders working with City Year volunteers improved an entire grade level in their English and Language Arts courses during the 2012-2013 school year. Students with City Year volunteers spent an aggregate of 14,600 more hours in the classroom thanks to the volunteers’ attendance improvement efforts.

We know there is potential for national service to do even more for our kids. That’s why last year I announced a new partnership with the Corporation for National and Community Service – School Turnaround AmeriCorps. Through this innovative program, 650 young people have been given the opportunity to serve in the nation’s lowest-performing schools. I visited one of these schools in Washington D.C., Stanton Elementary. What I saw was inspiring: 18 young City Year corps members working alongside teachers to ensure that kids receive the education they deserve. Corps members motivate kids in the morning, tutor them throughout the day and afterschool, and act as great role models.

What’s perhaps even more heartening is that there are eight AmeriCorps alums on staff at Stanton Elementary today; their service experience inspired them to continue helping kids. Across the country, 60 percent of AmeriCorps volunteers go on to work in nonprofits and public service. Kids need talented, dedicated, and passionate educators in the classroom, and AmeriCorps is helping to recruit this next generation of education leaders.

While I missed out on AmeriCorps by a few years, I took a year off of college to work in my mother’s afterschool tutoring program in the south side of Chicago. That year transformed my life. It’s a big reason why I do the work I do today.

On the 20th anniversary of AmeriCorps, I want to thank the leaders in Washington who crossed party lines to launch this national service program, along with the tireless advocates who help the program continue to grow and thrive. But, most importantly, I appreciate the people who serve and volunteer. You demonstrate what is possible when we commit to furthering our nation’s highest ideals. You are solving our biggest challenges, strengthening communities, and increasing opportunity for our children. Our nation’s future is brighter because you serve. Thank you.

Arne Duncan is U.S. Secretary of Education.

Our Eight Favorite Photos from this Year’s Back-to-School Bus Tour

Secretary Arne Duncan’s fifth annual back-to-school bus tour ended on a high note on Wednesday with a pep rally in Memphis.

This year’s theme – “Partners in Progress” – focused on the partnerships between the Department of Education and state and local educators that help to ensure all of America’s students have access to a quality education.

Secretary Duncan and senior ED officials got to see and hear from teachers, principals, families, and students as the tour moved through Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee. Below you’ll find eight of our favorite images from the tour:


The tour began at Spelman College, America’s first historically black college for women, in Atlanta. Here Secretary Arne Duncan participated in a roundtable, where he discussed effective teacher recruitment strategies with students, educators and school officials.



Snapping a selfie! Students from Spelman and other HBCU’s got a chance to meet the Secretary during his visit on Sept. 8.


"If somebody tells you that you’re not college material ... prove them wrong." First Lady Michelle Obama spoke about her Reach Higher initiative during her speech at Booker T. Washington High School.

“If somebody tells you that you’re not college material … prove them wrong.” First Lady Michelle Obama spoke about her Reach Higher initiative during her speech at Booker T. Washington High School.



Day one of the bus tour wrapped up in Carrollton, a small Georgia community near the Alabama border, where Secretary Duncan took a tour of a Southwire manufacturing facility. He also heard from students involved in the 12 for Life program.



Secretary Duncan and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro visited the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute on the evening of Sept. 8. Earlier this year, Duncan paid tribute to the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” speech, which highlighted the importance of providing equal education opportunities to everyone in America.



After two days on a bus, it seemed that everyone on the tour needed a little “space”. On Sept. 9, Secretary Duncan toured the U.S. Space and Rocket Center — home of Space Camp — and joined more than 250 middle and high school students and educators for a discussion about the importance of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, or STEM.



Times have changed when it comes to learning! Secretary Duncan and Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke read to students from an e-book during their visit to the Chambliss Center for Children. Chambliss has run a 24/7/365 childcare program since 1969. The program serves parents who are either working or in school, and is designed to provide educational opportunities and increase school readiness for Chattanooga’s youngest learners.



Hundreds of students at Cornerstone Preparatory School in Memphis, Tenn., welcomed Secretary Duncan during the final day of this year’s “Partners in Progress” back-to-school bus tour. Once a school where only two percent of students were proficient in math, scores in that subject have increased by 23.1 points over the past three years and scores in reading and language arts have increased by 13.2 percentage points, with support from Race to the Top and other federal programs.


Proving the Possible

Hundreds of Memphis students with red pom-poms welcomed Secretary Duncan to town on Wednesday, the final day of this year’s “Partners in Progress” back-to-school bus tour. Tennessee — in its fourth year of a federally funded Race to the Top grant — was one of the first grantees tapped to implement a comprehensive statewide plan for improving education, with broad community support.


Students from Cornerstone Preparatory School in Memphis, Tenn., cheered when the bus tour arrived. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Race to the Top — an investment that represents less than one percent of total education spending in America — has combined with other federally supported reform programs to fuel significant education improvements in states across the country. But, as Arne pointed out, the credit for encouraging early results goes to state and local partners—educators, families, faith-based, business and civic leaders — who’ve been determined to make things better for children, even though change can be hard.

“What’s going to sustain this is the hard work, the heart, the commitment of folks doing this,” Arne told more than 100 supporters of district and charter schools in Memphis. “The cumulative impact of all that hard work has been extraordinary.”

That impact is evident at Cornerstone Prep, which serves children in one of Memphis’s poorest neighborhoods. Once a school where only 2 percent of students were proficient in math, scores in that subject have increased by 23.1 points over the past three years and scores in reading and language arts have increased by 13.2 percentage points. T-shirts worn by the faculty and staff at Wednesday’s rally also attest that Cornerstone is “Proving the Possible.”

College banners are everywhere on campus, to keep everyone focused on the end goal. To the students cheering in the hot schoolyard out front, Arne delivered a back-to-school pep talk.

“A lot of people will tell you what you can’t do,” Arne said. “Don’t listen to them. Use that as fuel to keep you going.”

Changes, Challenges and Champions in Nashville

Earlier in the day, Arne joined National PTA President Otha Thornton and parents and teachers from Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools to discuss the impact in classrooms of some of the largest changes America’s schools have seen in decades.

Tennessee, like nearly every other state in the country, is in the early stages of implementing new and higher standards, better assessments and ways to use data and technology to boost student learning, as well as new efforts to support teachers and principals — all aimed at ensuring that all students are truly ready for college and careers. These changes are starting to show results, but challenges remain.

America’s high school graduation rate is at an all-time high and dropout rates are down, but one-third of high school graduates report having to take remedial classes in college. “What that tells you is they weren’t ready,” Arne said, citing the statistic. “They weren’t prepared…And that simply isn’t good enough.”

In a town hall at Nashville’s William Henry Oliver Middle School, Arne applauded PTA members for their strong stand for student and teacher success during this transition.


Secretary Duncan at a town hall at Nashville’s William Henry Oliver Middle School. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

“This is new for everyone,” said panelist Kayleigh Wettstein, who teaches third grade in Nashville. “As teachers, we have to get on board and be really great role models for our students.”

Parents need support to understand these changes, too. Many nodded knowingly when ED Principal Ambassador Fellow Jill Levine, who leads a magnet school in Chattanooga, Tennessee, talked about the new ways that educators are teaching math and how those methods can be unfamiliar to parents who learned a different way to work with numbers.

For Wettstein, whose students tend to come from homes where English isn’t the first language, “not all parents are the same. We have to differentiate for our kids and we have to differentiate for our families as well.”

Parent Anita Ryan marveled at a recent project at her daughter’s school, involving All of the Above, a novel about four students and their quest to build the world’s largest tetrahedron and prove their urban school isn’t a “dead end.” Ryan’s daughter and her class read the book. They studied the math behind pyramidal shapes and the engineering involved in building giant ones. They wrote persuasive essays about winning approaches to break the record. And they worked in teams to test their theories.

The Common Core State Standards that Tennessee developed with more than 40 states encourage that kind of multi-faceted, project-based learning, Ryan said. As a result, students like her daughter “get it.” “They know it. They retain it,” she said.

One risk of this big transition in education is the potential for over-testing of students, Nashville Superintendent Jesse Register said. In his district, they have identified redundancies — “we were doing too much,” Register said — and are looking for ways to scale back testing without sacrificing important data and accountability.

“Where there’s too much testing, let’s have an honest conversation about that.” Arne said, reflecting on how he views testing in his own children’s public schools. Measuring what students know and where they need more help is a way to “make sure great teaching is leading to good results, not just teaching to the test.”

Talking about another form of accountability, Arne encouraged parents and educators to look behind politicians’ rhetoric and press them to genuinely value education and invest in public schools. For too long, politicians let standards slip to make themselves look good while students were being handed worthless diplomas. Elections, he said, are the ultimate form of accountability for officials who control education budgets and policy, but campaigns rarely focus on education, especially at the national level.

Arne threw out an idea for the next race for the White House. “In 2016, could we have a presidential debate about education, where the entire nation focuses on it? Could PTA host that debate?”

Reflecting on the tour, the Secretary noted the extraordinary ways that communities in all three states we visited—Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia—have seized the opportunity to bring about bold change in education.

“I don’t learn much sitting behind my desk in Washington. I need to get out.” (Arne has visited all 50 states and more than 350 schools in his five-and-a-half years as Secretary.) “This is a time to get better … and to do it together,” he said.

From the tour’s kickoff with First Lady Michelle Obama in Atlanta, where counselors, mentors and other role models are inspiring students to set their sights on higher education, to Space Camp at NASA’s Rocket Center in Huntsville, where kids explore the wonders of STEM, to an early learning center in Chattanooga, where parents are determined to give their babies a great start in life — partners across America are coming together to build a better future for all students.

And that’s real progress.

Melissa Apostolides is a member of the Communications Development team in the Office of Communications and Outreach.

After Two Days on a Bus, We Needed a Little Space

A day that included a super-fun stop at space camp and a bedtime story with preschoolers at a 24-hour child care center started first in Birmingham, Ala. There, on Tuesday, Secretary Duncan joined Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro, Mayor William Bell and 10 young men and women for a roundtable discussion on President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative.

Participants and the audience of more than 100 that watched came from youth-serving organizations from around the Birmingham area. Brenda Girton-Mitchell, director of the Department of Education’s Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, moderated the conversation.

“Education is a shared responsibility,” Rev. Girton-Mitchell said as she opened the discussion, “and whichever organization you represent today, you are already a part of improving outcomes for young people.”

Sitting in a circle in the wood-paneled library of John Herbert Phillips Academy, the young men and women credited their organizations with providing them with mentors and with teaching them test-taking and public speaking skills, as well as exposing them to work opportunities in finance, auto mechanics, computer science and physical therapy.


Secretary Duncan joined Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro, Mayor William Bell and 10 young men and women for a roundtable discussion on President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Secretary Castro, who recently came to Washington after serving as mayor of San Antonio, Texas, pointed to the opportunities that can be created for young people when all levels and sectors of government work together, including housing, education, public safety, economic development and transportation. That’s the theory of Promise Zones, a cross-administration initiative to support high-poverty urban, rural and tribal communities.

“We want to hear from you — what do you need from us?” Castro said to the students in the circle.

Their responses echoed what we often hear from students — more extracurricular activities and access to better technology. One young man wished for professional development for teachers to help them work with students’ different learning styles. Another asked for more funding for scientific research, pointing out that American society seems to place more value on professional sports and entertainment.

President Obama established My Brother’s Keeper to ensure that all Americans — including young boys and men of color—can reach their full potential. The President recognizes that partnership is essential to improve the lives of youth, and that all members of the community need to have a role.

“Whether it’s Birmingham, Ferguson, Mo., or my hometown of Chicago,” Arne said, “we have young men — black, Latino — who have extraordinary talents, extraordinary gifts, and somehow we as a society have not let those gifts flourish.”

Huntsville’s Amazing Backyard

From Birmingham, the big blue bus rolled to Huntsville, Ala., where Arne toured the U.S. Space and Rocket Center — where Space Camp happens — and joined more than 250 middle and high school students and educators for a discussion about the importance of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, or STEM.


The “Partners in Progress” bus tour touched down at Space Camp. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Joining Arne and two STEM-focused students on the panel was astronaut Ricky Arnold, who taught middle and high school science before joining NASA. Managing a classroom was great training for Arnold’s 2009 space shuttle flight to the International Space Station, he recalled, because as a teacher, “you’ve got to be able to do a lot of things. At once. Well.”

Along with three local school districts from Madison County, Madison City, and Huntsville City, NASA and the U.S. Space and Rocket Center show students that the STEM fields offer the opportunity to invent, and reinvent, their career goals and aspirations.

“So many of the good jobs of the future…are going to require not just an understanding but a real passion” for STEM, Arne said in a hangar-like hall full of NASA memorabilia, spacecraft from past missions and simulators.


Marshall Center Director Patrick Scheuermann spoke with Secretary Duncan during the tour. (Photo credit: Marshall Space Flight Center)

In Chattanooga, Child Care That Never Closes

We finished the tour’s second day with an evening event in Chattanooga, Tenn., where educators, community leaders and parents gathered for conversation and dinner at the Chambliss Center for Children. Chambliss has run a 24/7/365 child care program since 1969. The program serves parents who are either working or in school, and is designed to provide educational opportunities and increase school readiness for Chattanooga’s youngest learners.

After reading an e-book to kids seated on the rug of a cheery preschool classroom, Secretary Duncan and Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke joined parents and teachers for a town hall. There, speakers talked personally about the benefits of high-quality early learning. Years ago, Candice Corneliussen put her children in Chambliss’ program while she — a single mom — studied to become a teacher. Now she brings her high school students to volunteer there.


Times have changed when it comes to learning! Secretary Duncan and Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke read to students from an e-book. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Quality child care and preschool “doesn’t just help the children,” Corneliussen said. “It helps the families. We need these places all across the country.”

Indeed, the Obama administration is providing greater access to high-quality infant and toddler care through Early Head Start-child care partnership grants and has invested more than $1 billion in new federal funding for preschool. Preschool Development Grants, a new $250 million program, will help expand preschool in states and reduce waiting lists. To be awarded in December, they are a down payment on President Obama’s vision to provide quality preschool to every 4-year-old in states that want to partner on this important investment.

“I haven’t been to a state yet that doesn’t have waiting lists, sometimes in the thousands,” Secretary Duncan said at the town hall in Chattanooga. Chambliss serves 300 children and has 250 more on its waitlist, longtime director Phil Acord said.

Melanie Morris, a teacher in Hamilton County Schools, testified to the value of preschool — it gets children ready for kindergarten and, research shows, sets them up for success much later in life.

“Our kindergarten teachers fight over the students that have been in our prekindergarten programs, [because those students] are ready. They’re excited about school,” Morris said.

The key question for policymakers to ask, Arne said, is: “Do we think of education as an investment or do we think of education as an expense?” For community partners making progress in Chattanooga, as well as the working families they’re helping, the answer to that question is clear. Investing in early childhood education is the smartest investment we can make.

On Wednesday — the third and final day of the Partners in Progress tour — Secretary Duncan will visit Nashville and Memphis, Tenn. Stay tuned for details from the Volunteer State and follow #edtour14 on Twitter.

Meredith Bajgier is a member of the Communications Development Team in the Office of Communications and Outreach. 

On Tour’s First Day, a First Lady

The state of Georgia is home to many notable “firsts.” It was the first state to lower the voting age to 18; the first Coca-Cola was poured in Atlanta; and in 1922, 87-year-old Rebecca Felton, of Georgia, became the first woman to serve in the U.S. Senate. So it’s fitting that the U.S. Department of Education’s “Partners in Progress” back-to-school bus tour had its first stopping point in the state.

In keeping with the “first” theme, the tour began at Spelman College, America’s first historically black college for women, in Atlanta. There, Secretary Arne Duncan met with 15 students from Spelman and two other HBCUs in the area, Morehouse College and Clark Atlanta University, for a roundtable discussion on preparing teachers from a variety of backgrounds to work in America’s increasingly diverse public schools.


Students at Spelman welcomed Secretary Duncan during the first stop on this year’s “Partners In Progress” Bus Tour. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Whether through traditional preparation programs at schools of education like Spelman’s or through alternative routes like Teach For America, our country’s schools need to recruit the next generation of talent from many different backgrounds, Secretary Duncan said. Schools — and the people who work in them — need to be connected to the communities they serve.

“Where schools are isolated from their communities,” he said at the roundtable, “that makes the work of that teacher that much harder.”

The next stop was at nearby Booker T. Washington High School, where Secretary Duncan was joined by First Lady Michelle Obama. The two were greeted by hundreds of cheering Bulldogs in royal blue shirts, fired up by the marching band and cheerleaders.


The Booker T. Washington High School Bulldogs cheered as the First Lady took the stage to talk about her Reach Higher initiative. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Booker T. Washington, where Martin Luther King, Jr. attended high school, was the latest high school to hear from Mrs. Obama about her own journey to college, from the South Side of Chicago to Princeton University — and how some adults along the way doubted she could do it.

The First Lady’s main objective was to talk about her Reach Higher initiative, which seeks to inspire all students in America to take charge of their future by completing their education past high school. That can come in the form of a four-year college degree, a two-year degree or a certificate that helps them get a job.

“You have to understand that completing high school is not the end but the beginning of your life’s journey,” Mrs. Obama said. “It’s just the beginning. In today’s world, in order to compete in an ever-globalizing economy, you’ve got to continue your education after you graduate from high school.”

Day one of the bus tour wrapped up in Carrollton, a small Georgia community near the Alabama border. Duncan met with school officials and representatives from the Southwire Company to hear more about the “12 for Life” program, which offers students who have fallen behind in high school the opportunity to attend class and make money by working in a Southwire manufacturing facility.


Tour time! Secretary Duncan joined students enrolled in the “12 for Life” program on a tour of a Southwire manufacturing facility. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Similar partnerships between Georgia school districts and business have resulted in 34 locations throughout the state, at Southwire but also in the grocery industry, furniture manufacturing and local government. A four-year $3 million Investing in Innovation (i3) grant from the U.S. Department of Education is helping to expand the number of students participating in 12 for Life from 160 to 320.

Students from the program led Arne on a tour of the factory floor — Southwire is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of telecommunications and home wiring — and they shared inspiring and deeply personal testimonies about the technical, leadership and life skills that they’ve acquired while earning their high school diploma.

Brittany Beachum was pregnant when her high school counselor suggested she apply to 12 for Life. “Not one time did not graduating cross my mind,” she said, “Being here gave me the opportunity to attend school and not give up, because of the supports.” Now Brittany is enrolled at West Georgia Technical College and expects to be certified as a nursing assistant by December. There’s a job waiting for her at the nearby veterans hospital, she said, and she wants to continue her training to become a registered  nurse.

This year marks the fifth back-to-school bus tour for Secretary Duncan and the Department of Education. Traveling through Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama will provide an opportunity to see innovations in education and to discuss progress, promise, and results.

Throughout the tour, we are focusing on the changes in education and the challenges that accompany them, all while highlighting the champions of reform — teachers, parents, community members, and others — who are leading the effort to improve education for all students. Traveling through places that represent the cradle of this country’s civil rights effort, the tour also focuses on important work that is closing opportunity gaps that many young Americans face.

Today, our tour bus will roll through Birmingham and Huntsville, Ala., and Chattanooga, Tenn. Check back for a recap of those events. And for more information about the tour and to follow along virtually, visit here.

Patrick Kerr is a member of the Communications Development team in the Office of Communications and Outreach. 

Day in the Life: On the Back-to-School Bus Tour with Secretary Duncan

It’s time for our children to head back to school, and as classrooms and notebooks begin to fill up again, I’m increasingly optimistic about our country’s ability to elevate and strengthen education. With high school graduation rates at an all-time high, and big jumps in the number of students going to college over the last few years, it’s a good time to celebrate the teachers, principals, families, and students who have driven that success. And, it’s a good time to talk about the work ahead in ensuring that strong educational opportunities are a reality for every child in America.

For the fifth year in a row, I’m hitting the road for our Department’s back-to-school bus tour. This year’s tour is themed “Partners in Progress,” and I’ll be traveling through Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee to see innovation in education at work, and to discuss progress, promise, and results.

Today, I’m taking over the White House’s Instagram account to give you a behind-the-scenes look as I meet teachers, parents, students, and education leaders who have been partners in making progress for our nation’s children. Keep checking back throughout the day for more photos, and remember that the tour won’t end today, so stay up-to-date with our tour by following me on Twitter, by checking out the hashtag #EDTour14, and by visiting

ED Seeks Winter/Spring Interns


Become a part of the team! ED’s 2014 summer interns participated in a brown bag lunch with Secretary Duncan during their time with the department. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Have you ever wondered about pursuing a federal career? Are you interested in public service? Would you like to gain valuable work experience and help move the needle on education issues in this country?

The Department of Education may have opportunities that match your interests – and we’re currently accepting applications for interns!

Our Department is a place where you can explore fields like education policy, research and analysis, intergovernmental relations and public affairs, or traditional and digital communications, all while learning about the role federal government plays in education.

Our interns also participate in professional development sessions and events outside of the office, such as lunches with ED and other government officials, movie nights, and local tours.

One of the many advantages of interning at ED is our proximity to some of the most historic and celebrated sites in our nation’s capital, all accessible by walking or taking the Metro.

ED is accepting applications for Winter/Spring 2015 internships through October 1, 2014.

If you are interested in interning during the upcoming term, there are three things you must send in order to be considered for an interview:

  1. A cover letter summarizing why you wish to work at ED and stating your previous experiences in the field of education, if any. Include which particular offices interest you.  (But, keep in mind that – due to the volume of applications we receive – if we accept you as an intern we may not be able to place you in your first-choice office.)
  2. An updated resumé.
  3. A completed copy of the Intern Application.

Prospective interns should send these three documents in one email to with the subject line formatted as follows: Last Name, First Name: Winter/Spring Intern Application.

(Note: For candidates also interested in applying specifically to the Office of General Counsel, please see application requirements here.)

An internship at ED is one of the best ways students can learn about education policy and working in the civil service. It’s also a fantastic opportunity to develop crucial workplace skills that will help you in whatever career path you choose. And, it’s an opportunity to meet fellow students who share your passion for education, learning, and engagement.

Click here for more information or to get started on your application today.

De’Rell Bonner is a special assistant and youth liaison in the Office of Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education.