The Hollywood We All Need to Know

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“This is remarkable leadership in action,” Secretary Arne Duncan told the press at the Hollywood FamilySource Center, following a roundtable with community stakeholders of the East Hollywood Promise Neighborhoods project. (Official Department of Education photo)

Cross-posted from the OII blog.

A small youth and family resource center is tucked away in the corner of a strip mall at the intersection of Western Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard in warm, sunny Los Angeles. It’s in “the other Hollywood,” where instead of calling for the lights, camera, and action of movie making, community leaders are in search of the solutions to poverty, mental health issues, and learned helplessness. Since 2013, with the help of a $30 million Promise Neighborhoods grant, the Hollywood FamilySource Center has become the “one-stop-shop” for local families in need of help.

On March 19, Secretary Arne Duncan, along with representatives from the U.S. Department of Housing Urban Development (HUD) Choice Neighborhoods team, visited the center, which is operated by the Youth Policy Institute (YPI). The goals of the center are to increase family income and students’ academic achievement. During its fourth year of operation in 2013-14, more than 3,140 clients benefited from the Center’s core services: adult education and computer literacy classes, tutoring and enrichment programs to improve children and youths’ academic skills, medical and dental health care, and a number of other services.

Our day began with an administrative meeting that involved ED, HUD, YPI staff, partner organizations, local residents, and youth. The meeting was comprised of about 20 people. Several principals shared stories, both of successes and challenges, within their individual schools. Some described ways that YPI is working with their schools to provide academic support through the use of tutors and a College Ambassador program. Others shared academic strides that students are making at their schools. For example, a few years ago, the charter for the Santa Monica Boulevard Community Charter School was not expected to be renewed; however, within one year, the school restructured its model and included resources of YPI. As a result of the restructuring and resources of YPI, scores on the school’s Academic Performance Index ( the annual measure of test score performance of schools and districts) increased by 66 points. It is now one of the highest scoring elementary schools in the City of Los Angeles.

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Secretary Duncan listens to youth, parents, local teachers and school administrators, and representatives of community-based organizations during the March 19 roundtable. (Official Department of Education photo)

After the initial morning meetings, Secretary Duncan participated in a roundtable discussion, followed by a press conference. He heard heart-felt stories from homeless youth, parents, community residents, teachers, school administrators, and representatives of community-based organizations such as the STEM Academy and the LA Youth Network. Among the changes brought about by the Promise Neighborhood, 700 families now have college savings accounts as a result of a partnership with Citibank that assists low-income families with understanding the need to save for postsecondary education. “The difference [is] they understand you,” one student said. And that seems to be the missing link in so many students’ lives. The need for caring, loving adults who genuinely understand and take interest in young people echoed throughout the Secretary’s visit.

Closing the “opportunity gap” for students in East Hollywood through the efforts of YPI and its partners, Secretary Duncan noted, is the critical first step in closing the achievement gap. What he saw at the FamilySource Center is “remarkable leadership in action,” he told the Los Angeles Times, which followed his day-long journey in this article.

Promise Neighborhoods acts as an umbrella, creating a comprehensive program that makes the participating organizations think about their work differently. Gone are silos of individual services being offered to families, and in their place is a network of organizations holding each other accountable, so that significant changes can be made in the lives of young people and their families. YPI is able to offer cradle-to-college and career services and supports to community residents. Now that YPI has a Choice Neighborhoods planning grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, it plans to expand its efforts to reach seniors and disabled members of the local community.

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The Promise Neighborhoods effort, combined with support from other federal agencies, is cause for optimism among the roundtable participants. (Official Department of Education photo)

YPI is the only Promise Neighborhoods grantee that was awarded both a planning and implementation grant from ED, as well as a Choice Neighborhoods planning grant and a Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation grant from the Department of Justice (DOJ). The ED, HUD, and DOJ programs are part of the White House Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative, an interagency collaborative supporting federal engagement in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty. YPI is also the only organization that was awarded two Full Service Community School grant awards.

Earlier this year, YPI was designated as a Promise Zone by the White House, where local communities and businesses will work together to create jobs, increase economic security, expand educational opportunities, increase access to quality, affordable housing, and improve public safety.

Secretary Duncan didn’t meet any celebrities in the East Hollywood community he visited last month, but thanks to the help of the Promise Neighborhoods support, he did meet a number of real-life heroes who are acting from a script that’s improving the life of children and families each day.

Adrienne Hawkins is a management and program analyst for the Promise Neighborhoods Program in the Office of Parental Options and Information

Washington D.C. Charters, District Schools Collaborate Around College- and Career-Ready Standards

The rhythmic sound of poetry could be heard coming from the second-grade classroom at Ross Elementary School in Washington, D.C., though the students already had left for the day. Inside, teachers from several schools in the city were trying to find a poem that would captivate second graders, teach them about figurative language, and serve as the basis for a writing assignment.

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Ross Elementary School educator Kelly Worland Piantedosi leads a group of second-grade teachers in a discussion about literary analysis and poetry as part of the DC Common Core Collaborative. Photo credit: Nancy Zuckerbrod

The teachers are part of the DC Common Core Collaborative, which has about 200 participants from 22 District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) and public charter schools in the city. They get together regularly to discuss how to align their instruction with new college- and career-ready standards, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), which were voluntarily adopted by the District of Columbia and 45 States to prepare students for college and careers. The teachers work in small teams of about six educators, all of whom teach the same grade, but at different schools in the city.

Kelly Worland Piantedosi teaches at Ross Elementary School and serves as the coach for the group of second-grade teachers that met in her classroom that afternoon. She said the teachers get inspired by hearing about strategies other educators use. “The exchange of ideas is great—nine times out of 10 you hear, ‘Oh we hadn’t thought about that yet,’” she said. “I know for myself, collaboration makes me a better teacher.”

Now in its third year, the Collaborative is managed by E.L. Haynes Public Charter School. Haynes and the Cesar Chavez Public Charter Schools for Public Policy were both awarded Professional Learning Communities for Effectiveness sub-grants from D.C.’s Race to the Top program. One of the purposes of Race to the Top was to ensure that teachers and principals were receiving the support, coaching, and professional learning opportunities they needed to help their students succeed.

While all States that received Race to the Top grants are working to achieve that goal in various ways, the District of Columbia program stands out because it helped forge connections among teachers in charter and district schools. Julie Green, the chief marketing and development officer for E.L. Haynes called the Race to the Top grant “really profound for the city,” in that it brought together the traditional and charter sectors in common purpose. “It was tremendous to move toward a unified vision for the kids in the city,” Green said.

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Ross Elementary School educator Kelly Worland Piantedosi leads a collaboration of Washington DC second-grade teachers. Photo credit: Nancy Zuckerbrod

The idea for the Collaborative developed when teachers at E.L. Haynes started to shift to the CCSS a few years ago. They were eager to share what was working for them and gain insight into the experiences of other teachers, Green said.

The teachers meet a few times a month for sessions that tend to last about an hour-and-a-half to two hours. They discuss what they are teaching and how it relates to the standards, produce lessons to try out in their classrooms, and set goals for what they want to accomplish with those lessons. The teachers report back to the group at a subsequent meeting on how well the lessons worked. A web portal also allows teachers in the Collaborative to share their work, such as videos of them giving their lessons.

The Collaborative is definitely working from the perspective of Raquel Maya, one of several Powell Elementary School teachers in the program and part of the team that met at Ross Elementary School. Maya said the group, and her coach Kelly Worland Piantedosi, gave her useful strategies for helping students access nonfiction. Maya said even teachers who aren’t participating in the Collaborative are benefiting from it.

“Once you have an idea from someone in the Collaborative, naturally you go back to your school and share your ideas,” Maya said. “For sure, it’s impacted teaching broadly at our school.”

So the promising collaboration can continue, the Marriott Foundation has agreed to keep the program going after the Race to the Top grant expires.

Read the full story, including takeaways and resources on PROGRESS

Hope, Perseverance, Family, & Access to Education

On June 6, 2013, the U.S. Department of Education hosted an internal immigration reform briefing in which we shared how comprehensive immigration reform relates to the work we do at the Department of Education.  Immigration reform is not only about how the country deals with undocumented workers and the children they bring with them; it is also about how we help all immigrants assimilate and integrate into American society.

The briefing featured three student speakers who shared personal stories about their experiences with the immigration system.  These stories highlighted challenges faced by many immigrant students in financing their educations.

Claudia Rojas, a Northern Virginia Community College student hoping to one day pursue a Ph.D. in creative writing, shared her story of moving to Virginia twelve years ago under Temporary Protected Status (TPS) after an earthquake destroyed her town in El Salvador. Claudia explained that her single mother works tirelessly to make ends meet and help pay for Claudia’s education, and, in Claudia’s words: “Though I often feel guilty attending college, as a first generation student, I remind myself that my degree will not be mine alone; it will belong to my mother, who couldn’t finish elementary school.”

Diego Sanchez, who is a recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and is now pursuing a Master’s Degree in International Affairs and Public Policy, shared his story of how he did not fully comprehend his undocumented status until his academic advisor, at the age of 15, told him that he could not go to college. Diego explained that he felt his world was going to end, but instead of giving up, he applied and was accepted into a private college and thanks to his high standardized test scores, was given a scholarship that covered half his tuition. In order to pay the rest of his tuition, he joined the school choir, ran cross-country and joined the student government to obtain institutional funds.

Another student speaker, Angelo Mathay, is also a DACA recipient and currently serves as a law fellow at the National Immigration Law Center.   Angelo shared his experience that “the vast majority of immigrants I have worked with have fled poverty, violence and discrimination; they bring little except an unrelenting desire to work hard, contribute to society, and educate their children to become the next generation’s doctors, lawyers, and teachers.”  Angelo explained that he plans to practice immigration law to “help ensure social justice and equality for all.”

It is inspiring to learn what these students have all accomplished despite their challenges. Like other students across America, they are driven by a purpose to improve the world, a commitment to public service, and a belief that their education is the key to their success. Immigration reform is important not only for students like Angelo, Diego, and Claudia but for America’s future.

Gabriella Gomez, Assistant Secretary for The Office of Legislation and Congressional Affairs. 

Migrant Life and the Inspiration of a Mother

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Left to Right: Merylee’s husband Reymundo Juarez, daughter Lizelena Marie, son Angel Manuel, father Mario Alcala, daughter Alexandra Ines and Merylee Juarez on the day of her GED graduation.

“Termine la escuela. No queremos que sea como nosotros, a trabajar en los campos en el frío y la lluvia.” [Finish school. We don’t want you to be like us and work in the fields in the cold and the rain.] My mom has always encouraged me to get an education and now that I am a mother myself, I truly understand the significance of her words. Even though agricultural work is honorable, migrant life is difficult and as a student, this is especially true. Time becomes a precious commodity when balancing work, school and family responsibilities.

At 10 years of age I started blueberry picking with my family in Michigan for eight months out of the year and then would live in Texas for the rest of the year. Since then I’ve held several migrant jobs including price tagging and shipping field plants. My parents, trying to give us a better tomorrow, would work long hours every day and as one of seven children, I would help to watch my siblings while my parents were gone.

I dropped out of high school in the 10th grade, but watching my mother learn English to apply for a better job while still caring for her family, inspired me to go back to school. I passionately love to help people, just like my mother, but I realized that in order to help others, I had to help myself first. After several hurdles, I enrolled in the U.S. Department of Education’s High School Equivalent Program (HEP).  The HEP assists migrant and seasonal farmworkers and their children to obtain a GED and serves more than 5,000 students every year. It has made a tremendous impact in my life by not only helping me educationally but by also providing job placement assistance.

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Merylee’s mother, Maria De La Luz Alcala

The HEP really helped me get on the path to achieving my dreams. I may have a long way to go in becoming an elementary teacher and then ultimately a Migrant Student Counselor, but I want my children to look at me like I have looked at my mother since I was a child – as a role model. Her drive and encouragement has been a huge force in my life. This Mother’s Day, I hope she reads this blog and understands how grateful I am for her never ending support and for providing for her children the best way she knew how.

Gracias mama. I will continue to make you proud and prove that all your hard work was not in vain. ¡Porque cuando se quiere, se puede! [Because when you want it, you can achieve it!]

Merylee Jaurez is now a proud college student at South Texas College and President of the Migrant Parent Advisory Council (PAC) and Secretary of the Title I PAC in Monte Alto, Texas.

Interested in learning more about ED’s migrant programs?

Migrant Education Program (MEP): Ensures that children of migrant workers have access to and benefit from the same free, appropriate public education, including public preschool education, provided to other children. The MEP funds help state and local educational agencies remove barriers to the school enrollment, attendance, and achievement of migrant children.

College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP): Assist migrant and seasonal farmworkers and their children to successfully complete the first undergraduate year of study in a college or university, and provides follow-up services to help students continue in postseco

Youth Succeed with Great Educators, Help from ED

Think back to that moment when you decided to pursue your dream. Who influenced your decision? A mentor? A parent? Or maybe a friend? For many people, their moment was sparked by an educator.

Earlier this month, the Department of Education (ED) welcomed four individuals to participate in an ‘ED Youth Voices’ panel discussion that introduced students, teachers, and communities to the policies and programs that the four youth credit with helping them succeed.

Let us introduce you to these inspiring individuals:

Student speaking

Linda Moktoi, senior at Trinity Washington University

Meet Linda Moktoi. As a current senior at Trinity Washington University, Moktoi is proud to say she’ll be achieving her dream of graduating college in just a few short weeks.  “I chose to pursue knowledge over ignorance,” she said. Moktoi did so with the financial support provided by Pell Grants from ED’s Office of Federal Student Aid. Moktoi’s grace, confidence, and determination shined through and will no doubt lead her to succeeding her next dream of becoming a news broadcaster.

 

 

Student speaking about GEAR UP program

Nicholas Robinson, junior at Potomac High School

Meet Nicholas Robinson. An enthusiastic junior at Potomac High School (Oxon Hill, Md.), spoke of how the early awareness college prep program GEAR UP, changed his “mind & heart” in 8th grade about whether to go to college. “Before I got involved in GEAR UP, I didn’t think I was going to college, but they were always asking me what I wanted to do, where I wanted to go and who I wanted to be.” That extra support and guidance has helped Nicholas stay on track to graduate and focus on his future goals.

 

Educator speaking about IDEA Act

Scott Wilburn, teacher at Pulley Career Center

Meet Scott Wilbur. As a current teacher and former student that struggled with learning disabilities, Wilbur shed light on how programs funded by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) helped him as a student and continues to help him serve others with disabilities as a teacher at the Pulley Career Center in Alexandria, Va. “IDEA provided me with access to support, helped me graduate college,” Wilbur said. Each year the IDEA Act helps thousands of students with disabilities receive support to assure success in the classroom and that they have the tools needed for employment and independent living in the future.

Student speaking about School Improvement Grants

Carl Mitchell, senior at Frederick Douglass High School

Meet Carl Mitchell. Carl is just one of the many students that have benefited from the recent changes at Frederick Douglass High School spurred in part by an ED School Improvement Grant (SIG) which has helped turnaround their school and provide a better learning environment for students. Mitchell, a bright college bound senior who also doubles as the school mascot (Go Mighty Ducks!), attested to the sense of community that is fostered at Frederick Douglass. When asked what motivates him, he responded by saying “It’s not just about getting the degree for me, it’s for all the people that helped me. I owe them and don’t want to let them down.” An aspiring graphic designer, Mitchell will be the first in his family to attend college. His support team, including his principal, teachers, and peers joined him at ED as he proudly represented the Douglass community.

Linda, Nicholas, Scott, and Carl are just four of the millions of students and educators that are able to achieve their dreams with the help of great educators and federal programs from the Department of Education. Little do these individuals know though, that by sharing their story they are following in the footsteps of those who inspired them, and are inspiring us.

Kelsey Donohue is a senior at Marist College (N.Y.), and an intern in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach

Our next ED Youth Voices Policy Briefing Session will include students reforming education at the local level: teacher evaluations, DREAM act, school safety and more. Watch the session live on June 27th from 10-11:30am at edstream.ed.gov. 

Schools That Can

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Assistant Deputy Secretary Jim Shelton talks with students during a stop at Berea College in Berea, Kentucky as part of the Department's back-to-school bus tour.

For each of the last three years, Secretary Duncan has started the school year with a bus tour visiting schools and communities across the country to find what’s working in education and to hear the concerns, insights, and lessons learned from students, teachers, principals, parents, and the communities supporting them. It’s always a welcome grounding in “real education” — the kind that children and families experience everyday — versus the “education system” policymakers and pundits love to caricature and debate.

This year, I participated more fully than I have in years past — visiting schools, grantees, education reformers, and advocates in California, Missouri, and Kentucky.

In California, I watched a Sequoia High School (Redwood City) student, who entered the school as an English Learner, introduce the music video he produced with his classmates on the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus to an audience of more than 500 attendees. Sal Khan, founder of Khan Academy, then shared anecdotes of individual students, whole classes, and entire schools achieving dramatic gains and fundamentally changing learning and teaching practices.

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Assistant Deputy Secretary Jim Shelton discussed eMINTS during a "Education Drives America" bus tour stop at the University of Missouri.

In Missouri, I visited the New Franklin School to see Investing in Innovation (i3) Validation grantee eMINTS at work. Teachers and students were using relevant and engaging project-based and personalized learning powered by technology to improve student engagement, effort, and outcomes. A class of self-directed 5th-grade teams pursued Web quests on American Indian civilizations. High school juniors and seniors completed self-paced accounting courses. Teachers spoke of being renewed by the approach and the new tools. Everyone used words like “ownership,” “empowered,” and “independence” to describe the shift in the school’s learning culture. All of this was especially exciting after hearing from school and system leaders working hard to implement the program despite the challenges of decreased funding, lack of technology infrastructure, and burdensome regulation.

In Kentucky, I visited Sayre School, a high-performing and well-resourced independent school focused on building great character as well as providing rigorous learning opportunities. The students showed extraordinary poise and confidence as we discussed the relative strengths of their program and the infusion of technology as a new, but increasingly ubiquitous, tool. This visit served as an excellent benchmark as I traveled to rural Kentucky to visit the i3 Development and Promise Neighborhoods (PN) Implementation grantee, Berea College, to see their work at Clay County High School (CCHS).

Clay County suffers from all of the ills often associated with Appalachia; but CCHS has leveraged the PN and i3 grants to substantially increase the number of AP classes offered and multiply the number of students taking AP classes and, most importantly, passing AP exams with a score of 3 or better. They’ve used the PN grant to create more comprehensive and coherent student supports that have begun to reverse the dropout trend and increase college going.  Teachers and students spoke eloquently about the impact these efforts have had, not only on their practices, but also on their belief systems.

One student in particular helped me synthesize everything that I had seen in the past two weeks. As I was ending my visit at CCHS with a student roundtable, I asked the students what impacts the programs had on the school and them. They spoke about the access to more AP courses, the heroic efforts of the new academic specialists to keep kids in school, the impact of grant-funded college visits, and the difference tiny amounts of resources made to teachers who cared but had nothing to work with. Then one standout student I had met earlier in the day, Rex, said:

I know I talked about the AP classes; but that’s not the most important thing.  And, I know I talked about the resources—ROTC students finally having real equipment after having used brooms for years—but that’s not the most important thing. CCHS used to be an I-can’t-school… Now, we are an I-can-school… I can take AP courses. I can go to college. I can do better than my parents.

Evidenced-based programs, technology, professional development, funding — I firmly believe all these are important; but in the end, nothing is more powerful than schools, teachers, and students that believe they can.

The question that motivates me is, what combinations of tools, resources, and know-how can make every school an I-can-school?

Jim Shelton is assistant deputy secretary for innovation and improvement at the U.S. Department of Education

Click here to keep up with news and other developments of the Office of Innovation and Improvement (OII) by receiving email alerts about new posts on the OII news page

Great American Schools: 2012 National Blue Ribbon Winners

Secretary Duncan thanks Arlington Traditional 5th grade student Paul Velasco for his gracious introduction. Official Department of Education photo by Paul Wood.

“Great schools don’t happen by chance. Great schools happen by design,” Secretary Arne Duncan said earlier today as he recognized the 2012 National Blue Ribbon Schools from the campus of Arlington Traditional Elementary School in Arlington, Va. Arlington Traditional is one of 269 schools selected this year—out of the more than 100,000 schools in the U.S.—to receive this accolade from the U.S. Department of Education. Secretary Duncan was joined at the announcement by U.S. Congressman Jim Moran (D-Va.) and Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Patrick Murphy.

Secretary Duncan visits students

Secretary Duncan stayed after the announcement visit classrooms and talk with students. Official Department of Education photo by Paul Wood.

“The National Blue Ribbon Schools are the best of what our country has to offer,” Secretary Duncan told the assembled students, parents, teachers, and dignitaries. “They are models for schools across the country.”

Arlington Traditional Principal Holly Hawthorne noted that the school’s focus on academics, behavior, and character is the foundation of its success. “Behavior and dress standards help create a safe and inviting learning environment, and strong partnerships with families and the community foster each child’s whole development,” Hawthorne said. “Our students leave Arlington Traditional School as lifelong learners and future caring and contributing citizens.”

The 269 schools recognized this year represent 40 states, the District of Colombia and the Department of Defense Education Activity. National Blue Ribbon Schools are the “best in their class,” public and private elementary and secondary schools that produce outstanding results for all students. While all National Blue Ribbon schools have one thing in common–high or improving academic achievement –each great school has an inspiring story to tell about excellence in teaching and learning.

Read the list of this year’s winners.

Aba Kumi is director of the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program

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.

The Hard Work of School Turnarounds—When a Struggling School Becomes a Place Where Students Want to Be

Hammond High School junior Katherine Lopez has seen a big change in teachers’ attitudes since her freshman year at the northwest Indiana school in 2009/10.

“Teachers seem much more involved with students and with what they’re teaching,” she said. “If they love what they’re doing, then we care too.”

When Lopez first arrived at Hammond High, she and other students felt that too many students and teachers were apathetic about education. That apathy contributed to chronically low student achievement and graduation rates at their school, located in the small “Rust Belt” city of Hammond, just east of Chicago.

Deputy Assistant Secretary Jason Snyder joins a freshman English class to hear student presentations during his March 23 visit to Hammond High School in Hammond, Ind.

Deputy Assistant Secretary Jason Snyder joins a freshman English class to hear student presentations during his March 23 visit to Hammond High School in Hammond, Ind.

Those indicators of poor performance are now beginning to reverse—thanks in part to a double dose of help from the U.S. Department of Education in the form of School Improvement Grant and Teacher Incentive Fund  grants, both awarded in 2010.  I had the opportunity to join Jason Snyder, deputy assistant secretary for policy in the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education to learn firsthand about the school’s progress during a March 23 visit to the school. The day included chats with state and district administrators, Hammond High teachers and students, as well as classroom visits.

“Our goal here is to learn what’s working and to share those lessons across the country,” said Snyder. “Turnaround is really hard work–and it can’t be done alone.”

What’s changed at Hammond High? It has a dynamic new principal, Leslie Yanders, who was given autonomy to replace more than half of the teachers. The school has new social workers and family liaisons to help support both students and parents in their efforts to overcome social, emotional, and health barriers to academic success. More than 80 percent of students come from low-income families at Hammond High, and families frequently move in and out of the community, adding to the academic challenges of the classroom.

Hammond High instituted another pivotal change, extending the school day by a full hour, enabling students to accelerate learning and get additional instructional support. With the support of the SIG and TIF grants, and under the leadership of Principal Yanders and veteran teachers at the school, teachers now get additional time for collaboration and training, and they have new opportunities for professional growth and performance-based pay.

As part of the more than $70 million that the Indiana Department of Education received from ED in 2010 and 2011 for SIG, Hammond was awarded nearly $6 million with the agreement to make dramatic changes over the course of three years. The school chose to implement the turnaround model, one of four intervention models for SIG grantees. To date, ED has awarded more than $4 billion through the SIG program to help accelerate academic achievement in over 1,200 of the nation’s lowest-performing schools.

Hammond High is also one of 44 Indiana schools participating in the $47 million TIF grant awarded by ED to the state in 2010.  The Teacher Incentive Fund, a five-year federal grant program, supports the development and implementation of performance-based pay systems.

Even though the SIG and TIF grants require teachers to invest more time in their jobs, Hammond teachers see it as a worthwhile effort. “At first, we didn’t want to give up our Saturdays [for professional development], but we all went into it with a common goal of improving attendance and graduation rates,” said Conja Halliburton, chair of Hammond’s special education department.

The early results of that hard work are encouraging.   The school’s graduation rate—just 62.5 percent in 2010—climbed to 74 percent last year.   Attendance has grown to nearly 95 percent—a two percent increase from the previous year.   The percentage of students passing Indiana’s end-of-course assessments in English and Algebra has more than doubled in one year, to nearly 40 percent.  Discipline problems have been reduced by nearly a third.

Hammond administrators recognize that there is still much work to be done to ensure that the short-term improvement under the grants will be sustained for the long haul. Yanders and district administrators are already thinking about how to further propel the school’s progress after the SIG and TIF grants’ funding ends.

“In the end, our teachers will still know what effective instruction is all about,” said Jana Abshire, district turnaround officer.

Snyder agreed that the progress occurring at Hammond High and other SIG schools across the U.S. is not about funding alone. “It’s about transforming schools into places that students and teachers want to be,” he said. Changing school culture is hard work—but the principal, teachers, and students of Hammond High are showing it can be done, working together. Just ask Katherine Lopez.

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

School Turnarounds Are Succeeding

Secretary Duncan at the Grad Nation Summit

Portland, Ore., Public Schools Superintendent, Carole Smith, DC Public School teacher Mrs. Rose Smith, and DC Public Schools student Daquan Burley join Arne for a panel at the Grad Nation Summit. Official Department of Education photo by Leslie Williams.

America cannot keep the promise a quality education to every child without ending the cycle of failure in our chronically low-performing schools.

From the early days of the Obama Administration, the President and Secretary Duncan explained that the country could not continue the status quo, with the idea that some schools are merely destined to fail.

“We could not continue to tinker,” Duncan explained earlier today at the Building a Grad Nation Summit in Washington. “[The President] and I believe that dramatic change is needed in low-performing schools.”

The President and Duncan worked with Congress in 2009 to make an unprecedented investment in turning around low-performing schools.

Through ED’s School Improvement Grants (SIG), the Administration dedicated more than $4 billion dollars, that has reached over 1,200 schools. The goal of SIG is to accelerate achievement in our nation’s lowest-performing five percent of schools. The federal grants from ED are just one element in addressing a challenge that requires input and support from school leaders, teachers, unions, and local partners in the community.

Secretary Duncan announced this morning that the preliminary SIG data shows that the program is producing impressive gains in learning.

In year one under the new SIG:

    • Nearly one in four schools saw double digit increases in math proficiency.
    • Roughly one in five schools had double-digit increases in reading proficiency.
    • In nearly 60 percent of SIG schools, the percent of students who were proficient in math or reading went up in the first year.

Duncan noted that the positive results are from the first year of data, and that it will take several years of data to confirm that SIG is making a lasting improvement in academic achievement.

“At the heart of all these successes,” Duncan explained, “are teachers and school leaders who are excited about the prospect of change.” Before joining a panel at the Summit, Duncan closed by reminded those in attendance that, “Children only get one chance at an education,” and that there isn’t time to wait for reform to happen.

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Nevada District Finds Success in Turning Around

Last Thursday, I had the pleasure of vising Dilworth STEM Academy for 7th and 8th graders in Sparks, Nevada to meet with Washoe County School District (WCSD) leadership and school staff. This district serves 63,000 and has had amazing success in turning around what just two years ago was an underperforming district. My congratulations go out to 2011 Nevada Superintendent of the Year, Dr. Heath Morrison; Deputy Superintendent Jane Woodburn; and President of the 2011 Nevada School Board of the Year, Ken Grein, and their dedicated partners and staffs. And a special thanks to Principal Tom Wortman of Smithridge Elementary School, Principal Wanda Shakeenab of Sparks High School, and Principal Laura Petersen of Dilworth Middle School who took the time to spend their morning with me.

In Nevada, where the dropout rate is 24 percent above the national average, WCSD’s high school graduation rates in 2009 were below the state average, and the district was in desperate need of help. Dr. Morrison put in place a strategic plan with the goal of getting every child to graduation, supported, in part, by a U.S. Department of Education School Improvement Grant (SIG) and a $9 million Teacher Incentive Fund grant. Despite cuts in funding from the state, Dr. Morrison and his committed team set ambitious goals and began instituting innovative solutions to drive dramatic change.

The district expanded early learning programs, focused on developing a workforce-ready curriculum, and stressed the importance of professional learning communities grounded in student learning data to inform and improve instruction. District leadership also enhanced its teacher evaluation system to better recognize key drivers of student learning.

Partnerships were formed with local colleges and universities to help inform curriculum development and ensure that students graduated ready for college without the need for remedial courses. With the estimated cost of remedial education being $5.6 billion nationwide, these are the kind of efforts we need to ensure that our students are fully prepared to not only get to college but to graduate from college.

Equally as impressive was the work that was done to educate and collaborate with the community. Working with business leaders, parents, and advocacy groups, the district created “Parent University,” with twenty-two organizations to offer over 200 classes to help families help their children succeed.

And the results are staggering. After four years of stagnating graduation rates, the graduation rate in WCSD has increased 14 percent to 70 percent in just two years! Every single school in the district has improved, and the district overall has seen the most growth in graduation rates among black and Hispanic students, as well and English learners.

While we sometimes hear that a focus on outcomes can limit innovative thinking and student engagement, WCSD students are more engaged than ever. The district’s High School Signature Academies serve as hubs for learning, and focus on areas such as health sciences, digital technologies, and sustainable resources. In Nevada, where the unemployment rate is 13 percent, the highest in the country, these academies are providing the skills necessary for the 21st Century workforce. Any 8th grade student can apply to attend these academies, providing students the choice and motivation to challenge themselves and actively engage in learning.

This work is not easy, but it is vital. The district made courageous decisions and formed crucial partnerships to ensure success and their work deserves to be commended. In a state where currently only 1 in 10 high school freshmen go on to graduate from college, WCSD has demonstrated that in the words of Superintendent Morrison, “demography need not be destiny” when it comes to providing a world-class education for all students.

Tony Miller is Deputy Secretary of Education

Springfield, Ohio: ‘We Don’t Let Barriers Get in the Way’

Lincoln Elementary kindergartners enjoy story time with teacher David Wells. Photo courtesy of Springfield City Schools

While Springfield, Ohio schools cope with a growing number of poor families, an achievement gap and a declining population — similar to many other districts nationwide — the community is tackling those challenges head-on.

“We don’t let barriers get in the way of progress,” said Springfield City Schools Superintendent David Estrop.

Deputy Assistant Secretary for External Affairs and Outreach Massie Ritsch and I visited Springfield several weeks ago to learn firsthand how Springfield City Schools are working in innovative ways with the community to meet its challenges and to see how federal funding is supporting its progress.

Deputy Assistant Secretary Massie Ritsch reads the promise board at Lincoln Elementary.

Deputy Assistant Secretary for External Affairs and Outreach Massie Ritsch reads 5th grade math students’ promises to strive towards high goals at Lincoln Elementary, following the school’s motto to “Be the Promise.” Photo courtesy of Springfield City Schools

Like many cities throughout the Midwest, Springfield has lost manufacturing jobs over the past few decades.  Although NCLB data show a significant achievement gap between Springfield’s children from low-income families—76 percent of its students—educators, parents, elected officials, and students, as well as members of the business and higher education communities, have devoted time and resources to identify problems and build solutions. It’s that arduous effort that seems to have generated real improvement in students’ year-to-year achievement growth, despite the district’s designation under NCLB as not meeting adequate yearly progress.

ED funding plays an important role in several ways:

Keifer Academy is an alternative school for K-12th- graders that was once among the lowest-achieving in the state. The school — which serves Springfield students who are not progressing in traditional environments — has undergone a transformation with help from a $1.65 million federal School Improvement Grant. The grant has enabled Keifer to bring in a new principal, add new staff for more customized support, develop new programs through community partnerships, and increase teacher training.  Early results are promising: the percentage of Keifer 10th graders who are proficient in reading jumped from 23 percent in 2010 to more than 41 percent in 2011.

Awarded a special $718,000 Innovation grant from Ohio’s Race to the Top (RTTT) grant, Springfield is developing a Family Academy that will provide learning opportunities for students and parents, as well as meals, childcare and transportation on weekday evenings. For children, activities will include enrichment projects, tutoring and college readiness courses. Adults will have learning options like GED programs and Clark State Community College classes, as well as social activities such as line-dancing.

Through the district-wide Race to the Top Transformation Team — funded with $160,000 of Springfield’s RTTT allocation from Ohio – a committee of district teachers and administrators work together to analyze student performance issues and make changes to improve.  We had the opportunity to join the team’s discussion of the best practices of the district’s most successful teachers.  Subcommittees reported on the schools they’d visited and identified common threads like “teacher collaboration” to develop improvement strategies throughout the district.

Even though the district applied for, but did not receive, a Promise Neighborhood grant from ED, the district has gone ahead on its own to develop the Lincoln Promise Neighborhood initiative. The effort aims to improve Lincoln Elementary, which serves the district’s poorest students and has posted low achievement scores, while simultaneously addressing the needs of its neighborhood. Through this endeavor — supported by private foundations and some RTTT funds — the school has established new mentoring and tutoring partnerships, after school programs and a summer camp.

Most striking, though, is the philosophy to “Be the Promise” that’s reflected in Lincoln’s staff and students.  Fifth-grade teacher Steven Holliday embodies this emerging culture.

Recently hired from a district where 98 percent of his students were proficient in math, Holliday tackled his new charges’ proficiency levels – just 22 percent last year – with determination.  He inspired his students to ask themselves: “Who are you? 22 percent or 90 percent?” The walls of his classroom are lined with student-written promises to achieve the higher goal, and “77 percent posted proficient scores on a recent assessment,” he told us.

Over the past two years, the seeds for many of the district’s innovative programs – such as the Family Academy – were planted through the collaborative community engagement initiative. The consensus-building process can be painstakingly slow, but Estrop believes community-developed plans will have more long-term value than any quick “magical solution.”

“It’s hard work,” he said, “but we’re building community through the investment in our kids.”

Julie Ewart, Office of Communications and Outreach, Great Lakes Region