Seeing Success in Hawaii: Duncan’s 50th State as Secretary

Ka Waihona o ka Na’auao

Students at the Ka Waihona o ka Na’auao Public Charter School perform the hula for U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan during his visit on March 31, 2014, in Nanakuli, Hawaii. Photo By Eugene Tanner.

Andrea, a senior at Hawaii’s Waipahu High School, came to the U.S. just four years ago after emigrating from the Philippines, but now she’s a proud Waipahu Marauder. From her first day in the classroom, she found the “opportunity to explore” and became interested in cancer research and science.

This fall, thanks to her dedication and the teachers she has at Waipahu, she’ll attend Columbia University on a full-ride scholarship.

Andrea was one of many students Secretary Duncan met during a visit to Oahu earlier this week, which also included stops at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam for a discussion with military families and a visit to Ka Waihona o ka Na’auao Public Charter School.  During Duncan’s visit to Waipahu, Andrea presented her AP Biology project – “Synthesizing a STAT3 Dimerization Inhibitor Molecule via Retrosynthetic Analysis” – and explained the partnership with the University of Hawaii’s Cancer Center that helped her to pursue her research. “What I’ve learned here is if you want to do something, you can find a way to do it,” she said.

Waipahu High School, located about 20 minutes outside of Honolulu, provides a number of educational programs, with each incoming student picking a “College and Career Theme” to explore. Students at Waipahu High School learn through pathways, which are smaller learning communities that encourage students to identify their career interests and take relevant courses while in high school. They have the opportunity to take classes in programs like creative media, culinary arts, engineering, finance, law and justice administration, and teacher education. Waipahu also offers tuition-free early college courses.

Michael, also a senior at Waipahu, has seen a growth in his abilities since he started as freshman. Despite starting on the school’s business track “not knowing anything,” Michael has been able to excel. “I was able to make connections with what I was learning … and I saw a change in my grades,” he said. A recent project allowed him to combine his budding business knowledge with his passion for woodwork by designing a business where he could sell the skateboards he creates using natural wood and varnish. The school has enabled him to able to explore art in other areas, too. Michael was able to help paint words like “courage,” “ambition,” “honor” and “integrity” – which he says are “words that encompass who we are” – onto the steps of Waipahu High School.

A focus on relevant, hands-on experiences is a theme among programs at Waipahu. During a tour of the school, students led Secretary Duncan through their research and studies of fish as part of an aquaponics system in the Natural Resources Academy Pathway. Teacher Jeff Garvey, who Secretary Duncan called the “mastermind” behind the aquaponics system, used his private-sector background to build the open-air center and create the chance for students to study aquaponics, which combines fish and plants in a symbiotic, sustainable environment.  The program is rapidly expanding as interest grows, including from nearby eighth graders who want enroll at Waipahu. And despite worries that the system would be hard to maintain, Garvey points to students’ leadership with the center. “Give them ownership, and they take care of it,” he said.

Waipahu serves mostly minority students, and most are from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. Despite those challenges, from 2011-2013, proficiency scores on state tests have risen, as have college-going rates. In that same time, the number of suspensions was nearly cut in half.

Waipahu’s growing success story is one of many throughout the state of Hawaii. The 2013 National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) results indicated that Hawaii was one of the top 5 fastest improving states in the country, with an 8-point increase in math for fourth and eighth grade, a 4-point increase in reading in fourth grade, and a 5-point increase in reading in eighth grade, when compared to 2009 NAEP results.

To accelerate its reform efforts and better support the state’s educators, Hawaii applied for and received a $75 million grant through Race to the Top in 2010. The grant has empowered the state’s leaders to collaborate in new ways and create plans tailored to their needs to prepare students to be ready for college and careers. Through these funds, the state has developed tools, like a classroom data dashboard and teacher-focused reports, to support teachers and school leaders to use timely and actionable data to improve instruction. Hawaii has also created tools to transition to higher standards and training to develop STEM expertise, and the state and community has supported schools that fall within the Zones of School Innovation to provide students with extended learning time, after-school and summer programs, and comprehensive wraparound services.

And the work is just beginning. State Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi credited the “catalytic nature of Race to the Top” in enabling the state to try new ideas and create new systems – “an opportunity we’ve taken with both hands” – and acknowledged this is just the start. Gov. Neil Abercrombie echoed that sentiment. “I ask anybody in the state, before you make a judgment about the public schools, see what’s been accomplished in the last three years. By any outside observation, Hawaii public schools are rising, and we’re going to keep on rising,” Abercrombie said.

Hawaii’s progress is thanks to leadership from state and administrative officials, teachers and principals, who have encouraged their students and provided new learning opportunities, even when there have been challenges and tough transitions. “These are profiles in courage,” Secretary Duncan said. “So much of what is going on here can be a model for the nation.”

Watch a short video about Waipahu High School.

Sara Gast is director of strategic communications at the U.S. Department of Education

Five Ways Race to the Top Supports Teachers and Students

In the four years since the Obama Administration announced its first Race to the Top grants, the President’s signature education initiative has helped spark a wave of reform across the country, according to a new report released today by the White House and Department of Education.

RTT States and AwardsSince the Obama administration announced the first Race to the Top grants to Tennessee and Delaware four years ago – many state and local leaders, educators, and communities are deep in the hard work of education improvement, and the nation is seeing progress.

Today, the innovations unleashed by Race to the Top are touching nearly half the nation’s students and 1.5 million teachers in schools across the country – for an investment that represents less than 1 percent of education spending.

Amid that climate of positive change, America’s educators, students and families have made major achievements. The high school graduation rate is now at its highest on record (80 percent). Student test scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) are the highest since the test was first given 20 years ago. And there have been double- digit gains on state tests at some of the lowest-performing schools – many of which had not seen any improvement for decades.

Today’s report highlights examples of the most innovative and effective reforms that are taking place in states across the country to prepare students for college and careers, support educators, and spur innovative educational strategies. Below are five ways Race to the Top is supporting teachers and students.

1. Race to the Top Has Provided More Students with Access to Challenging Classes

Under Race to the Top, states have spearheaded efforts to create plans tailored to their students’ needs. For example, Massachusetts provided more students with access to AP classes by training more than 1,100 middle and early high school teachers to prepare their students for new, high academic standards. Initial findings from the external evaluation of Massachusetts’ college- and career-readiness initiatives indicate patterns of increased AP course-taking, exam-taking, and exam performance.

RTTAP2. Race to the Top Has Supported Hard-working Educators in New Ways

Under Race to the Top, schools and districts are making sure we have excellent principals leading our schools and skilled teachers who inspire students. In Rhode Island, the state had more than 400 first-year and 40 second-year teachers engage with the state’s new teacher induction program, which includes weekly coaching and professional development.

Delaware launched the Delaware Talent Cooperative, which provides retention awards – between $2,500 and $10,000 over two years – to highly effective educators and leaders willing to work and stay in schools with the highest needs.

3. Race to the Top Has Provided More STEM Opportunities to Students

Maryland developed and translated five STEM curriculum modules for use in language programs statewide, and in Florida, Race to the Top funds have helped hundreds of students from rural communities get new STEM opportunities through the STEM Scholars initiative.

4. Race to the Top is Helping Educators Transition to New Standards

With the help of Race to the Top, Ohio expanded alternative certification pathways for teachers and principals; developed 800 curriculum resources aligned to higher standards; and trained 24,000 teachers to use those resources. And in an ambitious and comprehensive effort, Tennessee provided 30,000 teachers with intensive summer training as part of its transition to the Common Core State Standards—more rigorous academic standards in English language arts and mathematics.

5. Race to the Top is Supporting States in Turning Around Lowest-Performing Schools

Under Race to the Top, states have designed plans to turn around some of their lowest-performing schools using new ideas that engage students and transform school culture. In Georgia, the state created two non-traditional schools to accommodate high school students at risk of dropping out. And in Tennessee, the state awarded grants or provided Tennessee Academic Specialists to address performance gaps at the 167 schools identified as Focus Schools based on significant achievement gaps in school year 2011-2012. Based on 2012-2013 state assessment results, the state made progress closing achievement gaps in these 167 schools.

Read the entire report: Setting the Pace: Expanding Opportunity for America’s Students under Race to the Top.

Sara Gast is director of strategic communications at the U.S. Department of Education

Rural Students in Florida Get Chance to Become STEM Scholars

FloridaLearns STEM Scholars

FloridaLearns STEM Scholars program is giving students opportunities to work with peers to solve problems in a variety of technical fields under the guidance of professional scientists and engineers. Photo credit: FloridaLearns STEM Scholars

Phidell Lewis, a senior at a high school in a thinly populated area of the Florida Panhandle, had two big adventures this past summer.

He spent four days with top scientists as part of a group analyzing nanomaterials, and he attended a forum of engineers representing various industries, where he learned about STEM career paths. Both opportunities came about because Phidell is one of hundreds of students from rural communities in Florida who are STEM Scholars—part of a new State initiative to expose students to opportunities in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) through its Race to the Top grant.

“The STEM program allows our students to make better sense of what they’re learning on a day-to-day basis, and it helps them become better-prepared employees for our local industries,” said Ralph Yoder, superintendent of Calhoun County.

In other efforts to boost the skills of Florida’s labor force, the State is investing in training college graduates in STEM fields to become teachers, and encourages them to share that knowledge by becoming an educator.

“Funds from Florida’s Race to the Top award have expedited efforts already underway to better prepare students for college and careers,” said Brenda Crouch, Program Manager for the FloridaLearns STEM Scholars Program.”  It is a win for Florida’s economic future.

Students chosen to participate in the program are paired with mentors and receive intensive hands-on experiences with STEM professionals, rigorous courses during the school year, and opportunities to collaborate with other advanced students. Pam Stewart, Florida’s Commissioner of Education, said that the State had seen a 49 percent enrollment increase in accelerated STEM courses and STEM career academies since 2009. In some rural counties, students received industry certifications for the first time in 2013. More than 1,000 high school students have participated in the STEM Scholars program since 2012. Roderick Robinson, who mentors students in the program in Franklin County, said watching his students’ interest in STEM grow has been a “phenomenal experience.” Prior to the STEM program, many of his students were unfamiliar with STEM careers. After participating in the program, however, Robinson estimates that 95 percent of his students are now interested in STEM majors.

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Collaboration and Hope Curb Violence in Aurora, Illinois

Sixth Graders

Inspired by a presentation they heard from Aurora-based Cabot Microelectronics, a “Pathways to Prosperity” partner, a group of sixth-graders designed the “Best Illinois Middle School App” in the Verizon Innovative App Challenge. Photo courtesy of West Aurora School District 129.

As we strive nationally to make communities safer, Aurora, Ill. has made some headway, and education is a key component. Over the past decade, the population of the nearly-200,000-strong city surged almost 40 percent while its violent crime rate significantly fell, with no murders in 2012. Mayor Tom Weisner credited his city’s safety progress to strong collaboration among law enforcement agencies, education, public works, and other public and private entities at the recent launch of Aurora’s Pathways to Prosperity initiative.

“We’ve been implementing, enhancing and growing programs that give our young people productive alternatives to gang activity,” said Weisner, who noted that Aurora’s anti-violence efforts were sparked by a brutal trend that reached its height in 2002, with 26 primarily gang-related murders in the city.

The mayor said it’s crucial for “kids to be able to see themselves as being successful” to give them hope. Recognizing that “the goal of getting a 4-year degree isn’t for everyone,” Aurora participates in Harvard University’s “Pathways to Prosperity” initiative, which develops career pathways for students to jobs in high-growth fields through collaborations between businesses and education. Pathways to Prosperity’s Illinois initiative will utilize resources of Illinois Pathways, a closely-aligned program that received ED Race to the Top funding awarded to the state in December 2011.

Columbia College Student Alex Perez

Columbia College student Alex Perez teaches elementary students how to tie neckties during a monthly Boys II Men “Juniorversity” session. Photo courtesy of Boys II Men.

Pathways to Prosperity aims to increase and enhance programs like Aurora West High School’s Health Sciences Career Academy, created 15 years ago to prepare students for careers in the high-growth healthcare industry. Aurora health occupations teacher April Sonnefeldt said the program has helped prepare many students to get certification for jobs like entry-level nursing positions, and has given “others the confidence to go all the way through med school.”

The mayor also praised non-profit Boys II Men for “teaching young men to respect themselves.”  Inspired by grief and frustration from the 2002 murders, the Aurora-based mentoring organization has been replicated internationally. While Jared Marchiando — a founding Boys II Men member and its first president — is now a college graduate working in finance, he’d previously been “going down that road towards gangs.”

“I needed positive male role models, and some discipline, and I got that through Boys II Men,” said Marchiando, who remains actively involved with the organization. He encourages students and parents to celebrate positive academic outcomes, like “most improved student” as much as sports achievements. He also emphasizes the importance of reaching out to students before their teens, noting that, “if you don’t reach kids by 3rd or 4th grade, it’s often too late.”

An early learning initiative, SPARK (Strong, Prepared And Ready for Kindergarten), was launched in 2012 and aims to build positive education environments for Aurora’s youngest children in both structured settings and in homes. Supported by four school districts, Fox Valley United Way, the city of Aurora and the Dunham Fund, SPARK also will benefit from Illinois’ Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge grant received in December.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done, and we need to remain vigilant,” said Weisner, sadly noting that a 14-month period of no murders in Aurora ended with the recent killing of a teen. “Most kids turn to crime and to gangs when they don’t have hope.”

–Julie Ewart is the Director of Communications and Outreach in ED’s Chicago Regional Office.

How Are Race to the Top States Doing in Year Two?

In only two years, the 12 states with Race to the Top grants continue to show improvements in teaching and learning in their schools. Last week, the U.S. Department of Education released state-specific reports for the 12 Race to the Top states, providing detailed, transparent summaries of each state’s accomplishments and challenges in year two, which covered the 2011-12 school year.

Race to the Top logoThe 12 states—Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island and Tennessee—reached a number of benchmarks in year two, as they implemented unique plans built around Race to the Top’s four assurance areas:

    • Implementing college- and career-ready standards and assessments,
    • Building robust data systems to improve instruction,
    • Supporting great teachers and school leaders, and
    • Turning around persistently low-performing schools.

Some of the exciting new investments states are making include development of new science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) schools or programs, new pipelines for teachers and leaders, and building robust data systems to improve instruction.

“Race to the Top has sparked dramatic changes, and in only the second year of the program we’re seeing those results reach the classroom,” Secretary Arne Duncan said about the reports. “Comprehensive education reform isn’t easy, and a few states have faced major challenges in implementing their plans. As we reach the halfway point, we need to see every state show results.”

Learn more about Race to the Top, and read the reports.

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

What is ED’s Stance on Using Testing Data in Teacher Evaluation?

A recent letter to the Department of Education from a teacher in Cincinnati contained a quote that really struck me: “It is not at all that I am afraid of what my test scores might reveal.  I am more concerned about what my student’s test scores will not reveal.”

The quote rings true of so many classrooms across the country, including my own. I teach students who have been removed from other institutions due to behavior, chronic absences or other issues that have prevented them from being successful in the traditional school setting. Each of my students has been identified as a potential dropout and each has a profound set of challenges that manifest in the classroom.

Marciano Gutierrez

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

As a U.S. Department of Education Teaching Ambassador Fellow I have been able to engage with Secretary Duncan’s senior staff and have learned more about the Department’s stance on teacher evaluation. Like most teachers in the United States, Secretary Duncan strongly believes that a single test result does not adequately reflect the quality or complexity of excellent teaching.

At a speech to the National Council for Social Studies, Mr. Duncan stated, “Just to be 100 percent clear—evaluation should never be based only on test scores. That would be ridiculous. It should also include factors like principal observation or peer review, student work, parent feedback. It should be designed locally—and teachers should be at the table to help design it.” The Department’s work on educator evaluations has thus been to promote multiple measures to elicit a well-rounded perspective on one’s craft and to encourage districts and schools to primarily use these tools as a means for quality professional development. This thinking was also captured in a speech that the Secretary made to Baltimore County teachers this past fall.

As a teacher of students who historically struggle on standardized tests, I understand the concern about tying testing data- which is often influenced by factors outside of my control- to my performance. I am also sometimes frustrated by the quality of the multiple-choice assessments used to assess my students’ learning which are ultimately a reflection upon my practice. Despite these challenges, I do believe that there does need to be some measurement of student performance and growth. This information should be collected and analyzed so that we can continuously improve the learning experience for all students and to ensure that we hold ourselves to high standards and continuous improvement.

While the Department’s policy has been that measures of student growth and gain should be a ‘significant’ factor in teacher evaluations, the Secretary has said that, “we intentionally leave that undefined—because different states will have different approaches—and different confidence levels in their assessments.”

As a previous Teacher Fellow with the Hope Street Group, and in my current work with Race to the Top states, I have seen a variety of state-developed approaches and strategies that aim to meet this vision. I have come to realize that the strongest evaluation systems have been developed with robust teacher input at every stage of the process.  These evaluation systems, which are designed and improved with the practical insight of teachers, use test scores as only one of multiple measures of effectiveness, therefore allowing teachers of students like mine, to demonstrate quality teaching in ways that transcend test scores alone.

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

The State of Education

Arne_Press_Club

Secretary Duncan spoke on the state of education at the National Press Club. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

“States and districts, schools and communities are driving more change than ever before,” Secretary Arne Duncan told reporters during a speech at the National Press Club yesterday. “Educators at every level are being more and more creative — pairing good schools with struggling schools, creating smaller, more manageable districts, and building partnerships between both high schools and colleges – and between colleges and industries,” he said.

During his speech and follow-up question and answer, Duncan reflected on the Department’s recent Education Drives America cross-country back-to-school bus tour, as well as explained how far we’ve come in last three years, and how far the country still needs to go.

On Flexibility Under No Child Left Behind

Above all there is enormous enthusiasm at the state level to build more effective accountability systems through the waiver process we began last fall – and now affecting more than 60 percent of the schoolchildren in the country in 33 states – with about 10 more in the pipeline.

Waivers are not a pass on accountability – but a smarter, more focused and fair way to hold ourselves accountable. In exchange for adopting high standards and meaningful systems of teacher support and evaluation:

  • States set ambitious but achievable targets for every subgroup.
  • More children at risk – who were invisible under NCLB – are now included in state-designed accountability systems — including low-income students, English-language learners and students with disabilities.
  • Finally, local districts decide the most effective way to intervene in underperforming schools, instead of applying rigid, top-down mandates from Washington.

On Race to the Top

Our job — for the last three and a half years – has been to support that work – to support bold and courageous reform at the state and local level. That’s what Race to the Top was all about.

We offered the biggest competitive grants in our department’s history – and 45 states raised standards and 33 states changed laws – in order to compete and accelerate student achievement. In a fascinating lesson on the power of incentives, we have seen as much reform in states that didn’t receive a nickel as in states that received tens of millions of dollars.

The fact that 45 states have now adopted internationally benchmarked, college and career-ready standards is an absolute game-changer. Virtually the entire country has voluntarily raised expectations for our children.

On Strengthening Teaching

I also know that some educators feel overwhelmed by the speed and pace of change. Teachers I speak with always support accountability and a fair system of evaluation. They want the feedback so they can get better and hone their craft.

But some of them say it’s happening too quickly and not always in a way that is respectful and fair. They want an evaluation system that recognizes out-of-school factors and distinguishes among students with special needs, gifts and backgrounds.

They certainly don’t want to be evaluated based on one test score – and I absolutely agree with them. Evaluation must be based on multiple measures.

On Investing in Education

And the choice facing the country is pretty stark – we are at a fork in the road. Some people see education as an expense government can cut in tough economic times. President Obama sees education as an investment in our future – the best investment we can make, especially in tough economic times.

Duncan ended by calling for the country to unite behind the cause of public education and realize that the solutions won’t come from one party or ideology, but that all of us need to challenge and hold ourselves accountable.

Read the entire speech here, and watch the video from C-SPAN here.

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

Education + Industry + Race to the Top = Pathways to Good Jobs in Illinois

Just a few years ago, Alegandro Barrera thought he’d continue working at a local grocery store after graduating from high school in Wheeling, Ill.  It wasn’t a bad option, but he felt like he had no other choices.  But then, Wheeling High School’s advanced manufacturing program showed him that he “could do more and be more,” through its innovative partnership with local industries and career certification opportunities. Now Barerra says he has a great-paying full-time job as a machinist, studies computer science part-time at Harper College, and feels in control over his future.

“It’s good to be me,” Barrera exclaimed to more than 300 business, government and education leaders and Gov. Pat Quinn at the launch of lllinois Pathways earlier this year in Bloomington, Ill.  Illinois Pathways is a Race to the Top (RTTT)-funded initiative that pulls together the state’s public K-12 schools and colleges with businesses, to develop career paths in the Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) fields.

Similar partnerships through Illinois Pathways will partner K-12 schools, businesses and higher education to provide students with hands-on training and early college opportunities for nine STEM career clusters.  Funded with $3.2 million of the $42.8 million RTTT funding awarded to Illinois, the initiative works to boost enrollment in STEM programs through public-private statewide networks called Learning Exchanges in each career cluster.

Wheeling High School junior Aline Bardak discusses how her school’s Career Pathways program enabled her to become a certified nursing assistant.

With Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn looking on, Wheeling High School junior Aline Bardak discusses how her school’s Career Pathways program enabled her to become a certified nursing assistant.

The idea was hatched in 2009 when Illinois applied for the first round of the RTTT competition. While Illinois was not awarded funding in the first two phases of RTTT, the state’s high performance earned it a share of the $200 million granted in the program’s 3rd phase, along with six other states.

“We were actually done a favor, not having won in the first two rounds of RTTT,” said Rick Stephens, a senior vice president for Chicago-based Boeing Co. and chairman of the Illinois Business Roundtable, which helped to develop the initiative. “It allowed all the constituents of the state to come together in a proposal that truly made sense.”

Other Pathways partners include the Governor’s P-20 Council and Advance Illinois, an education advocacy organization.  Six state agencies were also vital to establishing the initiative and make up its Interagency Committee:  Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, Illinois State Board of Education, Illinois Community College Board, Illinois Board of Higher Education, Illinois Student Assistance Commission, and the Illinois Department of Employment Security.

Stephens says that employers have a lot to gain from RTTT-funded initiatives that aim to better prepare students to succeed in college and careers.  He notes that “we don’t have a labor shortage, but we do have a skills shortage” with about 125,000 jobs that today are going unanswered in Illinois. He adds that the Pathways effort is important to industry to ensure that new employees “not only have tech knowledge but soft-skills knowledge,” like relating to others in the workplace and critical thinking. “This is what happens when you have real, hands-on training: When you graduate from school you can go get a job, or go on to college.”

Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia have received RTTT grants.  Initially developed with American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds in 2009 to implement transformational reforms and provide examples for States and local school districts throughout the country, Congress has approved RTTT funds each successive year. On May 22, ED announced a new Race to the Top District competition that is aimed squarely at the classroom level with a focus on the relationship between teachers and students.

Julie Ewart is the director of communications and outreach in ED’s Chicago Regional Office

Former Geometry Teacher Supports States as Their Reforms Take Shape

Editors Note: Teachers@ED profiles some of the hundreds of current and former educators who work at the U.S. Department of Education, and how their experiences in schools inform their work for the agency.

One of Tate Gould’s favorite memories as a teacher was his lesson on geometric proofs. He would set up a “courtroom environment” where students played the role of lawyer, trying to develop a method for solving various geometric proofs.  Each team had the opportunity to present their approach defending their method against “objections” from other teams while engaging in a healthy defense and debate about their method for solving the problem..

Teachers@ED LogoWhat made these lessons interesting for students was the fact that there was no single way to solve the geometric proof. And Gould, who now works on the U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top team as the deputy director of Implementation and Support Unit for Technical Assistance, would say the same is true with education reform. As states are coming up with different and innovative plans to better educate their students, there is more than one way to achieve the end result of reforming the classroom experience.

Gould has ample education experience, both on the ground in schools and in the policy arena. He attended the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill for his undergraduate degree and was National Board Certified as a secondary education math teacher. He taught 9th through 12th grade for over five years in a high-needs school. He earned a masters degree at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a doctorate from UNC, both in education policy.

Tate Gould helping a student solve a problem

Tate Gould was a secondary education math teacher before coming to the Department of Education.

While teaching, Gould tried to connect with individual students while being mindful of teaching an entire class. He recalled that one of the challenges of teaching is building trust of the individuals in order to manage the class.

“I always wanted to be a teacher. I just didn’t know it,” he said. “I always kind of gravitated to the type of work. I like managing people, and teaching allows you to do that constantly. I liked treating the classroom like a team and trying to get that team to accomplish similar goals.”

Gould has experienced a similar challenge in his work at ED. While the Race to the Top initiative awards states that are leading the way in ambitious plans for implementing innovative, coherent and comprehensive education reform, Gould has similar challenges with navigating the relationship between the states and the federal government.  The challenge: how to foster a level of trust with each state while demonstrating to them that they are collectively working on the same goals.

“A good teacher manages the individual, but also the group,” Gould said. “That’s what our challenge here is. These plans are really what the states came up with. How can we get them to teach and learn from each other? How do we create a supportive environment for them with experts, other federal grant programs, and external organizations to create a network of resources to help these states achieve ambitious goals?”

Natalie Torentinos is a graduate student at The George Washington University and a recent intern in the Office of Communications and Outreach.

Announcing the Race to the Top District Competition

Secretary Duncan and the Department of Education announced a new Race to the Top District competition today, one that is aimed squarely at the classroom level with a focus on the relationship between teachers and students.

The proposed competition offers nearly $400 million in grants and invites school districts to create plans for individualized classroom instruction aimed at closing achievement gaps and preparing each student for college and career.

“Race to the Top supports states that raise standards, build better data systems, evaluate and support principals and teachers, and dramatically transform their lowest-performing schools,” Duncan said during today’s announcement.  “It also supports the development of new and better assessments aligned with high standards.”

The new competition asks districts “to show us how they can personalize and individualize education for a set of students in their schools,” Duncan noted. “We need to take classroom learning beyond a one-size-fits-all model and bring it into the 21st century.”

The proposal offers competitive preference to applicants that form partnerships with public and private organizations to sustain their work and offer services that help meet students academic, social, and emotional needs, and enhance their ability to succeed.

The 2012 competition proposal will be available for public comment until June 8, and the Department plans to release the application in July with an October submission deadline. Awards will be announced by the end of the year.

More info:

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.

2013 Education Budget: What it Means For You

Continuing its commitment to education and an America built to last, the Obama Administration released its 2013 budget proposal to Congress today. It includes new education investments that will give U.S. students and workers the education and training they need for the jobs of today and tomorrow.

Budget ImageThe Department of Education is requesting $69.8 billion in discretionary funding for Fiscal Year 2013, an increase of $1.7 billion, or 2.5 percent, from 2012. The critical investments in education are part of an overall federal budget that abides by very tight spending caps that reduce discretionary spending by $1 trillion over 10 years and, including that amount, has more than $4 trillion of balanced deficit reduction.

But what, exactly, does this mean for you?

Job Training to Meet the Demands of the Workforce
Helping students, employers and communities.

Two million jobs are waiting to be filled in the United States, yet many Americans seeking work don’t have the necessary skills to fill those jobs. To close that skills gap and deliver employers the kinds of workers they want to hire, the Administration is proposing $8 billion for a new Community College to Career Fund.

These funds would help community colleges become community career centers where individuals can learn the skills that local businesses need. Additionally, employers would offer paid internships for low-income students to help them learn skills on the job and gain experience.

ED is also proposing to invest $1.1 billion to support the reauthorization and reform of the Career and Technical Education program to ensure that the training and education our students receive are in line with the demands of the workforce.

Boosting the Teaching Profession
Giving teachers the respect and support they deserve.

ED is proposing $5 billion in competitive funding to support states and districts as they pursue bold reforms that can help better prepare, support and compensate America’s teachers.

The Department would also invest $190 million for a new Presidential Teaching Fellows program that would provide scholarships to talented students who attend top-tier teacher prep programs and commit to working in high-need schools.

The budget also creates $620 million in new grants for states that would reward and support highly effective teacher preparation programs, help decrease STEM teacher shortages, and invest in efforts to enhance the teaching profession.

Making College Affordable
Ensuring that everyone gets a shot at higher education.

The 2013 budget seeks to make college more affordable and to help achieve President Obama’s goal of the U.S. leading the world in college graduates by 2020.  The budget proposes to sustain the maximum Pell Grant and increase the maximum award amount to $5,635, supporting nearly 10 million students across the country.

The Department is proposing to freeze the interest rate on subsidized student loans at 3.4 percent. Currently the rate is scheduled to double to 6.8 percent this summer if Congress doesn’t act.

The budget seeks to tackle college costs and quality by encouraging shared responsibility among states, colleges, families and the federal government. ED would invest $1 billion for a new Race to the Top focusing on college affordability and completion to drive reform at the state level and help students finish faster. This new Race to the Top would provide incentives for colleges to keep costs under control, it would double the number of work-study jobs, and it would increase by nearly $7.5 billion the amount available for Perkins loans.

Additional Budget Information: