Privacy & Transparency: New Resources for Schools and Districts

We all know how important it is for parents to have open lines of communication with their children’s school. Parents want to be champions for their children and to protect their interests and to do this they need information. When it comes to information that is stored digitally, parents often ask questions such as:

  • What information are you collecting about my child?
  • Why do you need that information, and what do you use it for?
  • How do you safeguard my child’s information?

I’m pleased to announce the release of new Privacy Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) guidance regarding transparency best practices for schools and districts. This document provides a number of recommendations for keeping parents and students informed about schools’ and districts’ collection and use of student data.

The recommendations can be divided into three main categories: what information schools and districts ought to communicate to parents; how to convey that information in an understandable way; and how to respond to parent inquiries about student data policies and practices.

Some of the best practices covered in the document include:

  • making information about student data policies and practices easy to find on districts’ and schools’ public webpages
  • publishing a data inventory that details what information schools and districts collect about students, and what they use it for
  • explaining to parents what, if any, personal information is shared with third parties and for what purposes
  • using communication strategies that reduce the complexity of the information, and telling parents where they can get more detailed information if they want it.

The document also encourages schools and districts to be proactive when it comes to communicating about how they use student data.

We’re also pleased to direct you to the new website for our FERPA compliance office, the Family Policy Compliance Office, or FPCO. The new website is more user-friendly and will help school officials, parents, and students find the information they are looking for. It’s still a work in progress and we have many new features that we hope to launch in the coming weeks. We will soon begin posting FPCO’s decision letters from prior complaints and we will be launching an online community of practice for school officials to share information, templates, and lessons learned.

Kathleen M. Styles is Chief Privacy Officer at the U.S. Department of Education.

What I’ve Learned in 50 States

US Photo Collage“The best ideas come from outside Washington, D.C.” I’ve used that phrase in a lot of speeches and conversations during the past five years, and I repeat it because it’s true. Earlier this month in Hawaii, I visited two schools and talked with military families at Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam about college and career ready standards. The stop in Hawaii marked my 50th state that I’ve visited since being Secretary, and the visit once again reinforced the importance of listening to what matters most at the local level.

During the past five years, whether my visit was to a conference, a community center, a business, an early childhood center, a university, or one of the more than 340 schools I’ve stopped by, I’ve come away with new insight and knowledge into the challenges local communities face, and the creative ways people are addressing them. I know that in order to do this job well, it’s vital to never stop listening, especially to those in the classroom each day.

Across the country I’ve witnessed courage in action. States and districts are raising standards and expectations for students, and teachers are thinking deeply about their practice and their profession. And thanks to the hard work of parents, community members, educators, and students themselves, the high school graduation rate is now the highest on record.

Many of the states I’ve visited have brought unexpected surprises. At YES College Prep in Houston, the spirit of the student body moved me as it gathered for its annual College Signing Day. In Columbus, N.M., I saw the conviction and dedication of educators as they grapple with providing a quality education to more than 400 students who cross the U.S.-Mexico border each morning. And in Joplin, Mo., I witnessed a community working together to ensure students continued their education after a tornado destroyed the high school and killed many of their family members.

As I travelled the country, I saw places that inspired me, and others that left me angry, or heartbroken. I’ve visited schools where education funding is too low, and the buildings are in need of desperate repair. I’ve been to neighborhoods where poverty and crime present unique challenges to educators and administrators. I’ve listened to students talk openly about not feeling challenged or inspired. And when I met with grieving parents from Newtown, Conn., I once again saw how devastating gun violence can be for our children and communities.

We must continue to invest at every level of our educational system, from preschool to higher ed. We must fight for our children’s right to grow up safe, free of fear, in schools and communities that cherish and nurture them.

After 50 states, and visits in urban centers, remote rural schools and tribal communities, I am more optimistic than ever. I’m optimistic because of the educators I’ve met, because of the parents and community leaders that rally for great education, and because students everywhere demonstrate their deep conviction that working hard and getting a great education will transform their life chances. They come to school every day because they feel safe, they feel engaged, and they feel loved and valued by their teachers.

America’s public schools embody our American values of creativity, industry and ingenuity, and from Hawaii to Maine, I am fortunate to have learned this firsthand.

Check out the interactive map below, which includes visits to all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Click here to see a larger version.

Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education

El Departamento de Educación publica el Proyecto para la Participación de los Padres y la Comunidad

El cuarto trimestre del año escolar es generalmente un tiempo de preparación en las escuelas y distritos, ya que se planifican los presupuestos, los horarios escolares, y el desarrollo profesional para el próximo año. En este período de preparación, es importante que las escuelas y distritos discutan cómo apoyar a los padres y a la comunidad para que puedan contribuir al éxito estudiantil.

Para ayudar en esta labor, el Departamento de Educación de EE.UU. se enorgullece en presentar su proyecto para que las escuelas y las comunidades puedan promover la participación de los padres y la comunidad. fce-frameworkEn nuestro país, menos del 25 por ciento de los residentes son menores de 18 años[1], y todos tenemos la responsabilidad de ayudar a que las escuelas tengan éxito. El proyecto de Capacidad Dual es un proceso que muestra a las escuelas y al personal de los distritos cómo promover de manera eficaz la participación de los padres en las escuelas para aumentar el rendimiento estudiantil, y también proporciona un modelo que las escuelas y los distritos pueden utilizar para fomentar la participación de la comunidad, y para que las escuelas sean el centro de nuestras comunidades.

En mi ciudad natal de Baltimore hay un buen ejemplo de cómo los elementos del proyecto pueden conducir a mejorar la participación. Las Escuelas Públicas de la Ciudad de Baltimore dio apoyo a 12,000 hogares con niños en kindergarten y preescolar para involucrar a las familias en las prácticas de alfabetización en el hogar. Cada semana los estudiantes recibieron una bolsa con diferentes libros infantiles galardonados. Así, los niños leyeron aproximadamente 100 libros durante el año. Además de la repartición de libros, también se dio información de capacitación a los padres y cómo compartir los libros para promover la alfabetización en la primera infancia y fomentar el amor por el aprendizaje. Con el programa, las familias también se conectan con las bibliotecas públicas y escolares. Al concluir el programa, los niños reciben su propia bolsa para guardar sus libros y continuar la práctica de préstamo de libros y el hábito de la lectura.

Para obtener más información sobre el Proyecto de Capacidad Dual, y un video presentado por el secretario de Educación, Arne Duncan, por favor revise detenidamente nuestro sitio web, http://www.ed.gov/family-and-community-engagement. En los próximos meses, proporcionaremos recursos e información adicional para que las escuelas, distritos, comunidades y padres puedan aprender más sobre cómo participar en la educación, y cómo compartir la maravillosa labor que desarrolla la capacidad de los padres, escuelas y la comunidad en el apoyo a todos los estudiantes.

Jonathan Brice, subsecretario, Oficina de Educación Primaria y Secundaria, Departamento de Educación de EE.UU.


[1] http://factfinder2.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?pid=PEP_2012_PEPAGESEX&prodType=table

Department of Education Releases New Parent and Community Engagement Framework

The fourth quarter of the school year is generally a time of preparation for schools and districts as they finalize next year’s budget, student and teacher schedules, and professional development for the upcoming school year. During this time of preparation, it is important that schools and districts discuss ways that they can support parents and the community in helping students to achieve success.

fce-framework graphicTo help in this work, the U.S. Department of Education is proud to release a framework for schools and the broader communities they serve to build parent and community engagement. Across the country, less than a quarter of residents are 18 years old or younger, and all of us have a responsibility for helping our schools succeed. The Dual Capacity framework, a process used to teach school and district staff to effectively engage parents and for parents to work successfully with the schools to increase student achievement, provides a model that schools and districts can use to build the type of effective community engagement that will make schools the center of our communities.

An example of how the elements of the framework can lead to improved engagement is exhibited in my hometown of Baltimore. Baltimore City Public Schools worked to support 12,000 pre-kindergarten and kindergarten homes, and to engage families in home-based literacy practices. Each week students received a different bag filled with award-winning children’s books, exposing children, on average, to more than 100 books per year. The book rotation also includes parent training and information on how to share books effectively to promote children’s early literacy skills and nurture a love of learning. Through the program, families are also connected with their local public and school libraries. At the culmination of the program, children receive a permanent bag to keep and continue the practice of borrowing books and building a lifelong habit of reading.

For more information on the Dual Capacity Framework, as well as an introductory video from Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, please take some time and review our website at www.ed.gov/family-and-community-engagement. In the coming months, we will provided additional resources and information, so that schools, districts, communities, and parents can learn more about family and community engagement, as well as, share the wonderful work they are doing to build parent, school, and community capacity that supports all students.

Read a Spanish version of this post.

Jonathan Brice is deputy assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Elementary and Secondary Education

Five New Facts from the Civil Rights Data Collection

Equity – the push to ensure strong educational opportunity for every student – drives everything we do at the U.S. Department of Education, and particularly in the Office for Civil Rights. From preschool enrollment to college attendance and completion, our office’s work is grounded in the belief that all students, regardless of race, gender, disability, or age, need a high-quality education to be successful.

Yet despite the gains we’ve made as a country, too many students are not receiving the education they deserve, and it is our collective duty to change that. Data is crucial to this work and helps us understand the extent of educational inequity throughout the U.S. and make informed decisions for action.

Since 1968, the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), formerly the Elementary and Secondary School Survey, has collected data on key education and civil rights issues in our nation’s public schools. Our office uses this data to focus our equity efforts and monitor the effectiveness of our programs. Earlier today we released new data from the 2011-12 collection, and for the first time since 2000, we collected data from every public school in the nation. This newest collection also includes data on preschool suspensions and expulsions for the first time as well.

Below are five striking new facts from the 2011-12 CRDC collection:

  • Access to preschool is not a reality for much of the country. About 40 percent of public school districts do not offer preschool, and where it is available, it is mostly part-day only. Of the school districts that operate public preschool programs, barely half are available to all students within the district.
  • Suspension of preschool children. Black students represent 18 percent of preschool enrollment but 42 percent of preschool students suspended once, and 48 percent of the preschool students suspended more than once.
  • Access to courses necessary for college is inequitably distributed. Eighty-one percent of Asian-American high school students and 71 percent of white high school students attend high schools where the full range of math and science courses are offered (Algebra I, geometry, Algebra II, calculus, biology, chemistry, physics). However, fewer than half of American Indian and Native-Alaskan high school students have access to the full range of math and science courses in their high schools.  Black students (57 percent), Latino students (67 percent), students with disabilities (63 percent), and English learner students (65 percent) also have diminished access to the full range of courses.
  • Access to college counselors is uneven. Nationwide, one in five high schools lacks a school counselor.
  • Disparities in high school retention.  Twelve percent of black students are retained in grade nine – about double the rate that all students are retained (six percent).  Additionally, students with disabilities served by IDEA and English learners make up 12 percent and five percent of high school enrollment, respectively, but 19 percent and 11 percent of students held back or retained a year, respectively.

Learn more about the CRDC at ocrdata.ed.gov.

Catherine E. Lhamon is assistant secretary for the Office for Civil Rights.

2015 Education Budget: What You Need to Know

President Obama’s 2015 budget request reflects his belief not only that education is a top priority, but that America’s public schools offer the clearest path to the middle class. Investing in education now will make us more competitive in the global economy tomorrow, and will help ensure equity of opportunity for every child.

Budget Proposal GraphicThe administration’s request for about $69 billion in discretionary appropriations represents an increase of nearly 2 percent over the previous year and slightly more than the 2012 discretionary level for education before the sequester.

Three-quarters of that $69 billion goes to financial aid to students in college, special education, and high-poverty schools (Title I). The remaining 23 percent targets specific areas designed to leverage major changes in the educational opportunity and excellence for all students, including expansion of access to high-quality preschool, data-driven instruction based on college- and career-ready standards, making college more affordable, and mitigating the effects of poverty on educational outcomes.

Education priorities for Fiscal Year (FY) 2015:

Increasing Equity and Opportunity for All Students

Despite major progress for America’s students, deep gaps of opportunity and achievement endure. The Obama administration is committed to driving new energy to solving those problems. Nearly every element of the federal education budget aims to ensure equity of opportunity, and a new proposed fund, Race to the Top-Equity and Opportunity would complement existing efforts by further supporting strong state and local efforts to improve equity.

Learn more about Race to the Top-Equity and Opportunity.

Making Quality Preschool Available for All 4-Year-Olds

In one of the boldest efforts to expand educational opportunity in the last 50 years, President Obama has committed to a historic new investment in preschool education that supports universal access to high-quality preschool for all 4-year olds from low- and moderate-income families and creates an incentive for states to serve additional middle-class children.

Learn more about support for early learning.

Strengthening Support for Teachers and School Leaders

All educators should have the resources and support they need to provide effective instruction and to personalize learning to students’ needs. Technology can help teachers do this. Teachers and school leaders must know how to make the best use of technology. The new ConnectEDucators proposal would provide funding to help educators leverage technology and data to provide high-quality college- and career-ready instruction that meets the needs of all students.

Learn more about the new ConnectEDucators proposal.

Improving Affordability, Quality, and Success in Postsecondary Education

Improving college access and completion is an economic necessity and a moral imperative. Few good career options exist for those whose education ends with high school. College has long represented the surest route to the middle class—but the middle class is increasingly being priced out of college. America once ranked first in the college completion rate of its young people; we now rank twelfth. Reclaiming the top spot in college completion is essential for maximizing both individual opportunity and our economic prosperity, which is why the President has made increasing college affordability and improving college completion a major focus of his 2015 budget.

Learn more about improving college affordability.

Making Schools Safer and Creating Positive Learning Environments

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

Learn more about the fiscal year 2015 budget request.

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

Engaging Students to Improve Environmental and Outdoor Education

The Urban Waters Federal Partnership, a 13-agency initiative, aims to stimulate local economies, create jobs, improve quality of life, and protect health by revitalizing urban waterways and the communities around them, focusing on under-served urban communities.

Currently, the partnership has 18 locations across the nation. These locations have or will build partnerships among local, state and federal stakeholders – as well as schools. Here is just a sampling of how students are getting in on the Urban Waters action:

Anacostia StudentsAt Bladensburg Waterfront Park in Bladensburg, Md., the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Urban Waters team assists Neval Thomas Elementary school students, parents and teachers as they paddle along the Anacostia River during the Wilderness Inquiry Canoemobile on October 22, 2013.

During the visit, the students had an outdoor education experience learning about canoeing, stormwater pollution and nesting bird species. The Wilderness Inquiry Canoemobile spent the entire week in DC and explored the Anacostia River with approximately 500 of the area’s public school students.

To view upcoming Wilderness Inquiry opportunities and events across the country, view their website: http://www.wildernessinquiry.org/

In the New Orleans region, students and teachers have an opportunity to explore and learn about southeastern Louisiana’s coastal wetlands at the University of New Orleans Shea Penland Coastal Education and Research Facility (CERF).

NOLA studentsThese K-12 grade students engage in hands-on experience in the basic estuarine processes, coastal environmental science, and coastal restoration with a focus on the values of the wetlands and the issues that face them through field trips and workshops. In addition, the students meet and learn from the professionals at Louisiana’s State and Federal agencies and local partner organizations that protect coastal wetlands. For more information on CERF, visit their website at http://pies.uno.edu/education/cerf_coastal_education_and_research_facility_louisiana.htm

Resources are also available to teachers, parents and others, including data on water quality and health aspects of the wetlands through another partner; the Coastal Wetlands, Planning, Protection, and Restoration Act program. View curricula and other activities, including an interactive educational and entertaining CD on Louisiana wetlands here. To learn more about how these partners and CERF engage local public schools and their students, view this YouTube video.

Denver StudentsAlong the South Platte River in Denver, Colo., the Greenway Foundation motivates young public school students to engage the outdoors through environmental education programs. The Greenway River Ranger Internship Program introduces high school students to natural resource careers through environmental education training, hands-on teaching experiences with elementary students, job-readiness workshops and outdoor learning such as water quality sampling at Denver public parks along the South Platte River and its tributaries. The program aims to inspire the next generation of environmental leaders equipped with the knowledge, skills and motivation to become stewards and informed decision makers.

The Greenway Foundation has been connecting tens of thousands of Denver youth and their families to urban waterways through school based field trips, summer camps and community events through its education arm, South Platte River Environmental Education (SPREE). For more information and videos, visit their website.

Through the Urban Waters Federal Partnership and the 18 local partnerships, federal agencies are engaging America’s students in order to improve environmental and outdoor education in urban communities, allowing students to reconnect to our nation’s treasured rivers and lakes.

New Site Highlights State and Local Innovative Ideas from Educators’ Perspectives

Maryland Teacher Mandy Tang

Mandy Tang teaches first graders a math lesson in Chinese. Photo credit: Nancy Zuckerbrod

The U.S. Department of Education has launched a new online resource, PROGRESS, to highlight state and local innovative ideas, promising practices, lessons learned, and resources informed by the implementation of K-12 education reforms.

These stories will showcase the exciting transformations taking place in classrooms, schools, and systems across the country through the leadership of teachers, school, district and state leaders and their partners.

The Department launched PROGRESS to emphasize the voices and perspectives of educators, students, and administrators to better understand how policy changes are spurring education improvement and to draw out what can be learned from areas of progress occurring at the state and local levels.

Read about:

  • Delaware and Hawaii teachers and coaches using data to identify student needs and inform instructional improvement strategies;
  • Maryland elementary school students learning science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) through new foreign language courses;
  • Hundreds of students from rural communities in Florida gaining access to incredible STEM learning opportunities through a state Race to the Top initiative to expand STEM education in rural schools;
  • Tennessee’s 700 teacher-coaches providing 30,000 of their colleagues with intensive summer training on new college- and career-ready standards through an ambitious and comprehensive statewide program;
  • Kentucky’s 100-percent increase in total Advanced Placement (AP) qualifying scores over the last five years, largely driven by the success of the AdvanceKentucky program in expanding access to AP classes for low-income students.

The PROGRESS blog will spotlight partnerships among the U.S. Department of Education, states, districts, educators, and families that are helping to build a better education for children.  Of particular focus is:

  • How students are being prepared to succeed in college and careers;
  • How educators are receiving higher quality support and opportunities; and
  • How innovative leaders and educators are transforming school systems to meet new, higher expectations.

PROGRESS does not recommend or endorse any particular approach. It is intended to share information that can be of use to educators, parents, learners, leaders, and other stakeholders in their efforts to ensure that every student is provided with the highest quality education and expanded opportunities to succeed.

We’re always looking to learn from the field. Have an idea for content? Please let us know via email at progress@ed.gov.

Preventing Drug Abuse to Prevent Dropouts

Even though National Substance Abuse Prevention Month has ended, it doesn’t mean our dedication to reducing the number of Americans hurt by alcohol and drug abuse has ended as well. At the Department of Education (ED), encouraging safe and healthy environments for students is a year-round effort.

Recently, ED brought together researchers, policy experts, as well as White House officials to discuss new research on the role drug use plays in America’s dropout crisis.

The new report found that researchers and educators who study adolescent substance abuse often recognize the link between substance use and academic failure, but that the link is rarely acknowledged among state and federal policy makers. The briefing at ED’s headquarters was a step to correct this problem.

The briefing also touched upon the White House’s national strategy to combat illicit drug use, and the important role schools play in local drug-free community coalitions.

David Esquith, director of ED’s Office of Safe and Healthy Students noted that parents, teachers and school counselors “are a first line of defense in prevention,” and that ED has created resources to assist in prevention. He explained that the Department also provides technical assistance for colleges and schools in helping them engage with students in preventing drug use.

You can watch the entire event here, and check out the resources below.

Norris Dickard is Healthy Students Group Leader in ED’s Office of Safe and Healthy Students

Family and Community Engagement: The Ultimate Back-to-School Supply

In the last few months, all across the country, millions of students headed back to school. For many, this was a season of memorable experiences: having their fathers accompany them to their classrooms on the first day, pick them up from their first afterschool activity, and help them study for their first test. Activities like these highlight an important pillar of this Administration’s education agenda: encouraging caring adults – especially parents, and dads in particular – to take an interest in the academic performance of every child.

Family and parent engagement is a leading driver in students’ academic success. Research has linked meaningful family engagement to results like improved grades, higher achievement test scores, lower drop-out rates, increased confidence and ability to learn, and a stronger sense of the value of education.  For these and many other reasons, the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans supports opportunities for fathers, families and communities to engage with students throughout the school year.

Last December, the Department released a draft framework emphasizing the importance of building effective school, family and community partnerships to support learning and development for children. Created at the Department’s request by Dr. Karen Mapp, from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, this framework encourages schools and districts to include parents and families as partners in the learning process. The framework suggests strategies like professional development, effective communication, and engagement strategies directly tied to student learning, as ways to work meaningfully with families. And, this is a two-way partnership. It’s vital to equip districts, school leaders, teachers and school staff to work with families.  It’s equally important for families to feel comfortable and welcome in their children’s schools, and to play an active role in supporting their academic success.

Read More

Going Green in the Golden State

Students in gardenCalifornia 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 the start of the West Coast leg of this summer’s inspired Education Built to Last Facilities Best Practices Tour.

A long-time supporter of green school facilities, California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said, “I’m thrilled to see these outstanding schools showcased as part of the national tour on best practices. The students, teachers, parents, and communities have made countless efforts to improve the environmental sustainability of their campuses, increase school health as well as boost academic achievement.”

At the California Department of Education, ED-GRS is administered in School Facilities and Transportation Services, and we adhere to the time-tested architectural adage, form follows function. Our office envisions school facilities that enhance the achievement of all students and are learner-centered, safe, sustainable, and centers of the community.

Last month, several ED-Green Ribbon Schools showcased these attributes, reminding us just how much can be accomplished in the three pillars of ED-GRS, even in older and portable buildings. These schools are leading the way by ensuring students are vested partners in their education and conscious, civic-minded citizens. From composting, gardening, and recycling to xeriscaping, daylighting, and rainwater harvesting—these students get it.

Students in busTour participants visited five California ED-GRS honorees in two days. At Journey School, a Waldorf-style charter school, an eco-literacy curriculum and partnerships with Earthroots Field School and Master Gardeners of Orange County grow the whole child green—despite the school being housed on a campus comprised entirely of portable buildings.

At Environmental Charter High School, students are leaders in their community, operating a bicycle repair shop to reduce vehicle miles traveled to and from school.

At Grand View Elementary School, parents and Grades of Green founders champion Trash Free Tuesdays and Walk to School Wednesdays, things any school can do to start the cultural shift toward greener, more sustainable schools and communities.

And, at adjacent Long Beach schools Longfellow Elementary School and Hughes Middle School, recycling rules! The schools have also made huge strides to reduce their resource use and environmental impact. Although the main school buildings date to the 1940s, both earned perfect ENERGY STAR scores.

Although state bond funds have contributed $35.4 billion dollars to school construction and modernization since 1998, California is still faced with a huge need for capital investment—particularly for building renovation and replacement. The California Department of Education is working with lawmakers and other stakeholders to ensure that the next round of investment is guided by policy that links funding to educational programming, like high performance and career technical education.

Across California, schools are using the resources they have to improve efficiency, ensure health and wellness, and deliver effective and inspiring environmental curriculum. With the passage of 2012’s Proposition 39, that pool of resources is about to get bigger. Schools will have access to new funding to plan and execute energy efficiency projects. “Your capital expenditures can immediately help your General Fund,” reminded tour participant Eric Bakke of the Los Angeles Unified School District.

With Prop. 39 money coming down the pipeline and the prospect of a new statewide bond on the horizon, California is sure to see more exemplary facilities and ED-GRS honorees in the coming years.  California’s application for ED-GRS 2014 is available now on the California Department of Education Web page.

Kathleen Moore is Director of the School Facilities and Transportation Services Division, and Lesley Taylor is the program lead for ED-GRS at the California Department of Education.

Back-to-School Bus Tour Heads to the Border

Secretary Arne Duncan makes time for an unscheduled bus ride in Columbus, NM. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

Secretary Arne Duncan makes time for an unscheduled bus ride in Columbus, NM. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

With four bus tours under his belt and hundreds of school visits, one thing Secretary Arne Duncan is sure of, is that there is no lack of inspiration in America’s schools. Yesterday’s stops on Duncan’s Strong Start, Bright Future Back-to-School Bus Tour through the Southwest took the Secretary right to the border.

See a collection of social media posts from day two of the tour.

El Paso

The day got a bright start just miles from the U.S./Mexico border at the El Paso Transmountain Early College High School (TECHS), in El Paso, Texas. There isn’t a lack of inspiration at this school that participates in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), and has teamed up with El Paso Community College to allow students to take courses and receive an Associate degree before they graduate high school.

Following a classroom visit where Duncan got a hands-on science lesson from students, Duncan participated in a STEM town hall to talk about the school’s successes. Duncan sought answers from the group on how to make STEM more hands-on and listened to emotional stories of hope from the school’s students who are now on their way to college and careers, armed with the power of a quality education.

Dr. Diana Natalicio, president of the University of Texas-El Paso said during the town hall that it takes an entire community to prevent barriers to student progress, and we saw that in action at TECHS.

Columbus

With our stop in Texas complete, the back-to-school bus headed west with a stop at Columbus Elementary in Columbus, N.M. This rural school not far from the U.S./Mexico border, has a very unique student body. Seventy-five percent of its students live in Mexico and cross the border each day for school. All are U.S. citizens and many rise as early as 4:30a.m. in order to make it to the border in time to present their laminated birth certificate before boarding a bus for Columbus.

Secretary Duncan participated in a discussion with the principal and teachers, listening to the challenges faced by the faculty. Teachers told stories of students who had never read a book or used indoor plumbing, and explained how difficult it is to coordinate with parents who are unable to visit their child’s school for parent-teacher conferences.

Following the discussion, Duncan altered his agenda and boarded one of the final buses to leave Columbus for the border. During the short drive, Duncan sat with two students, talking about their schoolwork and taking at look at one student’s recent poster project. Day two of the tour ended as we watched the students walk back across the border into Mexico. Columbus Principal Armando Chavez said that each day they send them back hoping that a parent is there to greet them on the other side.

Day three of the tour takes the bus to Tucson and Tempe, AZ.

Watch the video below to hear Secretary Duncan recap day two:


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

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital strategy and is blogging and tweeting his way from the bus during ED’s annual back-to-school bus tour.