We’re All In This Together – Getting Rid of “Us vs. Them”

Ed. Note: This post is guest authored by Cynthia Stevenson, superintendent of Jefferson County Schools, Colo., and Kerrie Dallman, president of the Colorado Education Association.

“Once you get trust established and work together, that trust expands like fireworks. It goes in all directions.”

That’s compelling. We heard it from an elementary teacher in our district, Jefferson County, Colo.—the state’s largest school district with almost 86,000 students and 12,000 employees. The teacher is part of our strategic compensation pilot, a national research project funded by a Teacher Incentive Fund grant from the U.S. Department of Education testing new ways to support and pay teachers.

A hallmark of the pilot is teamwork. All educators in the 20 pilot schools—principals, teacher leaders, classroom and specials teachers, librarians, psychologists, and social workers—collaborate daily to improve instruction and student achievement.

They’re building trust and learning from each other.

And so is the school district and teachers’ association. It’s not easy. It doesn’t happen overnight. But it can be done.

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Educational Excellence in Action: the 2013 National Blue Ribbon Schools

Just before the government shutdown, I took part in a very special day. I had the honor of announcing the 2013 National Blue Ribbon Schools. I’ve often said that the best ideas in education will always come from the local level, and these schools exemplify that. The 286 schools—210 elementary schools, 22 middle schools, 53 high schools, and one K–12 school— represent promising ideas in many different settings, from remote rural areas to the hearts of our major cities, from prosperous neighborhoods, as well as neighborhoods combatting poverty. They demonstrate that with great teaching, great principals, hard work, and community support, every child can receive a world-class education.

Lake Forest Elementary, New Orleans

A student at Lake Forest Elementary, New Orleans. One of 286 2013 National Blue Ribbon Schools.

These 286 schools are powerful examples of vision and commitment in the service of America’s children. They are safe yet stimulating environments where all students are valued and held to high standards. Our challenge as a country is to take to scale what’s working, and the National Blue Ribbon Schools offer a golden opportunity to do that.

This year, we have captured some of their successes in a series of one-page profiles. I invite you to learn more about the great work being accomplished by these schools around the country. Here are a few brief samples of what you will find:

  • “Through embedding strategies for how to learn into the core content standards of what to learn, students who were once considered at risk demographically become scholars and college graduates.” Akron Early College High School, Akron, Ohio
  • “As the cornerstone of our ongoing success, we relentlessly follow the fundamental steps for improvement: analyze, evaluate, discuss, research, plan a course of action, apply, and begin again.” Okatie Elementary School, Okatie, SC
  • “Children explore and investigate using critical thinking skills. Special instructional days, Super Science, Mighty Math, Ecological Engineering, and Multicultural Field Days, involve the entire staff and community in our themes.” Walter Bracken STEAM Academy, Las Vegas, Nev.
  • “We are rural, we are suburban, and we are military. This makes for a great mix and a terrific educational experience…Making student academic achievement a priority, we use observation and assessment to sculpt instruction.” Scott Elementary School, Scott Air Force Base, Ill.

Arne Duncan is U.S. Secretary of Education

Celebrating Connected Educator Month 2013


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

In support of President Obama’s ConnectED initiative, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology is proud to announce that October is Connected Educator Month. Throughout the month, educators will have opportunities to participate in online events, build personal learning networks, and earn digital badges by demonstrating technology skills.

Online communities help educators share effective strategies, reduce isolation, and provide “just in time” access to knowledge and expertise. However, many educators are not yet taking advantage of all the benefits of connected learning. Schools, districts, and states can dramatically enhance their professional development by integrating digital learning opportunities into their formal professional development and teacher quality efforts.

“One of the most important things we can do to support teachers and students is to put modern tools in their hands, and give them access to the limitless knowledge and connections that the Internet makes possible,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “That’s why President Obama has made a priority of getting our schools connected to high-speed broadband, and it’s also why I’m so enthusiastic about Connected Educator Month.”

Nearly 200 educational organizations are participating in Connected Educator Month. These organizations will provide a variety of interactive activities, such as webinars, live chats, open houses, contests, projects, and badges for connected educators to earn.

Activities and events will range from a design challenge, in which educators will develop strategies for helping kids develop creative confidence, to a webinar in which five U.S. organizations will team up with UNESCO to share insights about mobile learning around the globe. State and locally focused activities will also engage communities of educators across the nation.

“Connected Educator Month provides an opportunity for all educators across the country to join a vibrant community of teachers and leaders using technology to reimagine learning,” said Richard Culatta, director of the Office of Educational Technology.

Connected Educator Month events can be found at www.ConnectedEducators.org/events. The site will be updated continually to reflect new activities, as they are added throughout the month. You can also follow the conversation on Twitter using the #CE13 hashtag.

For more information about Connected Educator Month, visit http://www.ConnectedEducators.org.

Get Ready for Constitution Day and Citizenship Day

nara-group-studying-docs

Students study historical documents in the Boeing Learning Center at the U.S. National Archives.

History Pop Quiz: Do you know who proposed holding the Constitutional Convention?

September 17 marks the anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution in 1787. Constitution Day and Citizenship Day present an opportunity to learn more about the Constitution and the importance of active citizenship. By law, all Federal agencies must provide educational and training materials about the U.S. Constitution to all of its employees, and educational institutions that receive Federal funds are required to hold an educational program about the U.S. Constitution on September 17 each year.

Visit our Constitution Day resource page for more information and ideas for how Constitution Day could be observed at your school or with your family. Included are examples of some educational resources and online copies of historical documents and primary source materials from the U.S. National Archives, Library of Congress and other agencies.

Pop Quiz Answer Key: James Madison and John Tyler proposed the idea of holding a convention to revise the Articles of Confederation. The convention became known as the Constitutional Convention. The convention’s participants or “framers” accepted the final draft of the Constitution by signing it on September 17, 1787.

Tony Fowler is the Director of Interagency Affairs in the Office of Communications and Outreach in the U.S. 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.

Back-to-School Tour Launches in the Land of Enchantment

Duncan speaks with child

Secretary Arne Duncan kicked off his annual back-to-school bus tour in New Mexico. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

Santa Fe, N.M., is a testament to our country’s diversity and beauty. That’s where Secretary of Education Arne Duncan launched his fourth annual back-to-school bus tour yesterday morning. This year’s tour, themed Strong Start, Bright Future, runs September 9-13 and includes visits to New Mexico, Texas, Arizona and California.

Each stop on the tour will highlight the importance of ensuring that all students benefit from high-quality educational opportunities.

See a collection of social media posts about day one of the tour.

Santa Fe

Duncan kicked things off at the Santa Fe Children’s Project Early Learning Center where he spoke with teachers and students during classroom visits and then held a town hall on the importance of quality early learning programs.

Many people come to Santa Fe to see its art, architecture or even a world-famous opera said Joel Boyd, superintendent of Santa Fe Public Schools, but “we believe you’re here to see our most precious resource: our children,” he said.

Duncan noted that high-quality early education is the ultimate bipartisan issue, and that the U.S. Department of Education is looking to partner and help states that are willing to do “the right thing.” Learn more about the Obama Administration’s Pre-K For All proposal.

Albuquerque

Following our Santa Fe visit, the back-to-school bus made its way to Emerson Elementary in Albuquerque for a roundtable discussion on the school’s recent turnaround efforts. The school, with just under 500 students, nearly half of whom are English language learners, has made a turnaround that dramatically improved student proficiency in math and reading.

During the discussion, Duncan listened to administrators, teachers and students on what is working to turn the school around. He also praised the district and the local teachers union for their collaboration and courage.

Polvadera

Day one closed out at Midway Elementary School in Polvadera, a small community just north of Socorro, N.M. Duncan highlighted the Obama Administration’s ConnectED proposal to connect 99 percent of America’s students to the Internet through high-speed broadband and high-speed wireless within five years. One of the teachers at the town hall expressed frustration she felt in the past because her class in previous years had only one computer for more than 20 students.

In the video below, Duncan also talks about one of the students at the town hall who challenged him, and said she wasn’t receiving enough support. Duncan said that we have to be doing more to support our students.

Today the tour takes Duncan to El Paso, Texas, and Columbus, N.M.

Watch Secretary Duncan wrap up his experiences from day one:


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.

Teacher Leaders Tell Tales of Working at ED

Teachers live at the intersection of policy and practice, and we need to be central to both conversations. Understanding this, the U.S. Department of Education has recently welcomed its sixth cohort of Teaching Ambassador Fellows— eight teachers from across the country on either full-time or part-time release to supply their expertise to the federal policy apparatus. The program has proven so valuable that inaugural cohort of Principal Ambassador Fellows is soon to arrive as well.

As one of the full-time Washington TAFs from 2012-2013, it was an honor to pass the torch to this year’s group. Before leaving, several other outgoing Fellows and I shared some reflections and anecdotes on what the Teaching Ambassador Fellowship is all about.


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

Look up the new Fellows’ stories here and keep an eye out in December when applications for the 2014-2015 TAFs go live.

Dan Brown, a 2012 TAF, is the Director of the Future Educators Association.

Q-and-A: Back to School with Arne Duncan

With back-to-school season in full swing, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently sat down to respond to some pressing education questions from SmartBlog on Education. Below is the full Q&A:

What is the biggest challenge that teachers face as they go back to school this fall? What guidance would you give them to help them meet the challenge?

Back to school stampThe large majority of states are now making the shift to the Common Core State Standards, a state-led effort to raise standards for which the U.S. Department of Education has provided some support. Educators across the country have embraced the enormous, urgent challenge that goes with this transition to more rigorous academic standards, new assessments, and updated teacher evaluation systems. Teachers are faced with a level of change and reform in schools and districts that is unprecedented.

Overwhelmingly, I’ve heard teachers say that it’s the professional challenge of a lifetime to raise standards so every American student can compete and succeed in the global economy. In discussions with more than 4,000 educators, my team at the U.S. Department of Education and I also have heard teachers say that it’s imperative that we, as a nation, get this right for our kids.

The  Common Core State Standards focus on college- and career readiness and have been adopted voluntarily by a majority of states. The new standards set the bar for student performance high. But they also give teachers the opportunity to go deep into content and innovate. In surveys, three out of four teachers say these standards will help them teach better.

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Cities Announced! 2013 Back-to-School Bus Tour

Bus Tour MapIt’s back-to-school time, which means that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and senior ED officials are hitting the road once again for the Department’s annual back-to-school bus tour. This year’s tour, themed Strong Start, Bright Future, will run September 9-13 and includes visits to states throughout the Southwest with stops in the following cities:

  • Santa, Fe, N.M.
  • Albuquerque, N.M.
  • Socorro, N.M.
  • El Paso, Texas
  • Columbus, N.M.
  • Tucson, Ariz.
  • Tempe, Ariz.
  • Phoenix
  • Scottsdale, Ariz.
  • Yuma, Ariz.
  • Chula Vista, Calif.

Each stop will highlight the importance of ensuring that all students benefit from high-quality educational opportunities, including Preschool for Allcollege affordabilityConnectEDfirst-term education efforts, and comprehensive immigration reform’s impact on education.

This is the fourth back-to-school bus tour for Secretary Duncan. Last year, the Department’s tour took us coast to coast, in 2011, the tour rolled through the Midwest, and in 2010, Duncan and his team visited the South and the Northeast.

Check back soon for additional information on the tour, or simply sign up to receive Strong Start, Bright Future tour updates in your email inbox.

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

Eight Teachers Selected for 2013-2014 Teacher Ambassador Fellowships

2013-14 Teaching Ambassador FellowSecretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the names of eight teachers selected to be Teaching Ambassador Fellows for the upcoming 2013-2014 school year. Three teachers will serve as full-time employees at Department of Education headquarters in Washington, D.C., while five will remain in their classrooms and participate on a part-time basis.

Now in the sixth year, the Teaching Ambassador Fellowships were created to give outstanding teachers an opportunity to learn about national policy issues in education and to contribute their expertise to those discussions. Fellows, in turn, share what they’ve learned with other teachers in their professional networks, contributing to a larger understanding of federal initiatives and encouraging broader input into policy and programs designed to improve education at all levels.

The 2013 U.S. Department of Education Teaching Ambassador Fellows will continue to work with and build on the efforts of the 80 previous Fellows from the past five classes.

The following three teachers have been selected as Washington Fellows who will be placed to work full-time at the Department of Education’s headquarters:

    • Lisa Clarke, a 2012 Washington Fellow and a social studies teacher from Kent-Meridian High School in Kent, Wash., will serve as the program’s inaugural Team Lead and work in the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education;
    • Joiselle Cunningham, a fifth grade reading teacher at KIPP Infinity Middle School in Harlem, will work on teacher quality issues in the Office of the Secretary; and
    • Emily Davis, a 7th and 8th grade Spanish teacher at Pacetti Bay Middle School, an International Baccalaureate school in St. Augustine, Fla., will work in the Office of Educational Technology

The following five teachers have been selected as Classroom Fellows:

    • Mauro Diaz, a life science teacher at Dean Morgan Middle School in Casper, Wyo.
    • Maddie Fennell, a literacy coach at Miller Park Elementary School in Omaha, Neb.
    • Tami Fitzgerald , a science teacher at West Muskingum High School in Zanesville, Ohio.
    • Jonathan McIntosh, the Special Education Coordinator and Director of Debate for KIPP AMP (Always Mentally Prepared), a middle school in Brooklyn, N.Y.
    • Tom McKenna, a fourth grade teacher at Harborview Elementary School in Juneau, AK.

Check out the Teaching Ambassador Fellowship page in the coming days for individual profiles of this year’s Fellows.

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

Free of Fear, Violence, and Bullying

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and staff from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) recently released an “It Gets Better” video to address the importance of fostering safe spaces for learning across the country. Part of the Department’s initiative is ensuring that students are protected from the harmful effects of bullying within their communities.

Home | StopBullying.govOne of the tools available to help is StopBullying.gov. The site offers a variety of resources for students, teachers, and parents to help with conflict resolution, provide support to those affected by bullying, and promote general acceptance within their local communities for the upcoming school year and beyond. Here are few tips from the site that you might find helpful:

    1. Assessing Bullying and Aiding in Conflict Resolution: It is important to confront bullying at its source and address conflicts between students as responsibly as possible. StopBullying.gov is a fantastic resource for understanding how parents, educators, teens and kids can all play a role in understanding bullying, stopping it at its source and keeping it from escalating further.
    2. Providing Support: It is critical to provide a strong support structure and network of allies for victims of bullying within local communities. Responding to bullying appropriately is critical for the well-being of all students involved.
      • Stop bullying on the spot by intervening and supporting those being bullied immediately if possible.
      • Find out what happened. Determining what actually occurred can help you best support victims of bullying.
      • Support the kids involved, whether this means simply communicating to victims of bullying that it is not their fault, or helping them gain access to counseling or mental health services to cope with the effects of bullying.
      • Be more than a bystander by being an ally to victims of bullying by reporting abuse, helping to resolve a situation, or by simply being a good friend.
    3. Promoting and Guaranteeing Acceptance in Your Community: While bullying in your community may be a local issue, there are many state and federal laws that protect victims of bullying.
      • There are a variety of laws that protect victims of bullying across the country against discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, disability, or religion. It is important for students and parents to know their rights and seek out the appropriate support if they feel that their or their child’s civil rights have been violated.
      • Students who identify as LGBT or youth with special needs are more likely to be targets of bullying and have a greater chance of feeling subjugated as an effect. It is important to support the individual needs of these students and there are resources available to help fight for the rights of these groups specifically.
      • Creating student-led organizations such as Gay-Straight Alliances (GSA) or Diversity organizations, something that Secretary Duncan underscored on National GSA Day, can help provide critical support for students who feel like they have nowhere else to go. The Equal Access Act of 1984 and many state and local laws guarantee the right to create these types of groups in schools if student need is demonstrated.

We hope that these resources can aid in stopping bullying at its source and give victims strategies to combat bullying, help individuals stand up to injustice in their communities, and ultimately improve the welfare of students.

Secretary Duncan recently noted that “all of us here at the Department of Education are committed to making sure that young people today can grow up free of fear, violence, and bullying and do everything we can to protect them.”

Adam Sperry is a student at New York University and a current intern in the Office of Communication & Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education.

Maine CTE: It’s Not Your Parents’ Vocational Education

Students at the Biddeford Regional Center of Technology in Biddeford, Maine are excited about learning — and they’re eager to tell you why.  They can also show you some pretty impressive proof that they’ve mastered the concepts they’ve studied.

Take, for example, the house they built as the capstone of one project.

Programs at Biddeford Regional Center of Technology

A selection of CTE programs offered at Biddeford Regional Center of Technology

“It’s not just about wiring a house, it’s about the theory and science [of] what is actually happening in the wires. In my other classes, you don’t really get hands-on, you just do what’s in the book,” a senior at the Center recently explained to visitors from the U.S. Department of Education.

Part of my role as a Teaching Ambassador Fellow (TAF) is to help teachers and other educators around the country learn about the Department’s efforts to support world-class teaching and learning. But, it’s just as important for us to bring teacher, principal, and student perspectives back to policymakers in Washington. For both those reasons, I traveled to Biddeford.

Right now, there’s an important shift taking place in schools and districts across the United States: a shift away from vocational education, and toward career and technical education, or CTE. The narrow vocational training of our parents’ and grandparents’ day was often separated from the college preparatory curriculum, and geared to the needs of the industrial age. Today’s CTE programs are designed to meet the needs and opportunities of the global economy and the digital age, and prepare students for equal success in college and careers.

When change is this ambitious, it can take a while for old perceptions to catch up to new realities. CTE teachers and students in CTE courses often find themselves having to correct the belief that CTE courses are less rigorous than traditional “college prep” classes. The experiences of the students and teachers at Biddeford certainly debunked this myth.

Biddeford offers professionally certified programs in career fields like legal studies, architecture, early childhood education, and health sciences. The students told us they feel good about learning a combination of academic, technical and employability skills that will equip them for success in college and in the 21st century’s technology-rich, team-based, results-oriented professions.

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