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.
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?
The 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.
It’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:
Secretary 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.
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.
One 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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
President Obama named education as one of the cornerstones of middle-class security in a speech today at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois.
The President laid out a vision for what our country needs to do to rebuild that foundation – including in education. “The days when the wages for a worker with a high-school degree could keep pace with the earnings of someone who got some higher education are over,” he said.
President Obama said that our country needs to provide an education “that prepares our children and our workers for the global competition that they’re going to face.”
And if you think education is expensive, wait until you see how much ignorance costs in the 21st century. If we don’t make this investment, we’re going to put our kids, our workers, and our country at a competitive disadvantage for decades. So we have to begin in the earliest years.
I’m going to take action in the education area to spur innovation that doesn’t require Congress. Today, for example, as we speak, federal agencies are moving on my plan to connect 99 percent of America’s students to high-speed Internet over the next five years. We’re making that happen right now. We’ve already begun meeting with business leaders and tech entrepreneurs and innovative educators to identify the best ideas for redesigning our high schools so that they teach the skills required for a high-tech economy.
I recently sat down with Secretary Duncan to pick his brain on ConnectED and his ideas about digital learning. (Spoiler alert: He likes Mooresville’s plan for phasing out buying physical textbooks, and reallocating those resources for technology-related investments.)
Teacher prep needs to be better in this country. An overwhelming share of teachers don’t feel prepared to be an effective teacher on day one— and, as a member of the New York City Teaching Fellows in 2003, I was one of them.
However, a great teacher prep program also saved my career. Five years after my painful trial-by-fire initiation into teaching, I earned a degree in teaching through a traditional M.A. program at Teachers College, Columbia University, and that experience— anchored in rich, lengthy student-teaching experiences under the tutelage of great mentors— set me up for success in the classroom.
In the video interview embedded below, I asked Sec. Duncan about his views on teacher prep—a topic that has suddenly become a lot hotter with the recent release of an incendiary report from the National Council on Teacher Quality, a nonprofit organization.
Is teacher prep a major headline issue for Secretary Duncan? (Spoiler alert: Yes.) What does he see as exemplars in the traditional and alternative models? How can we attract, support, and retain people who will become excellent teachers? Check it out.
Throw out the word “mimeograph” to high school students today and you’re likely to receive a classroom full of puzzled looks. How educators and schools transmit information in and out of the classroom has rapidly evolved in a relatively short amount of time. Mimeographed assignments and fliers have now given way to interactive and engaging electronic and social communication.
Mimeograph machine. Photo courtesy of the Oregon State Library.
A recent questionnaire by the Reform Support Network shows that state and local education agencies are increasingly using social media as a tool to engage with and inform parents, students, teachers and the entire community.
According to the survey, local education agencies are adopting well-known tools like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, with 96 percent of respondents stating that parents were their key targeted audience.
The Stakeholder Communications and Engagement Community of Practice is developing and presenting a series of webinars to help state and local education agencies communicate with and engage stakeholders in education reform initiatives – see past webinars here, and register for the June 26th webinar here.
Cameron Brenchley is director of digital strategy at the U.S. Department of Education
Today, Secretary Duncan announced that ED is offering states flexibility around high stakes personnel decisions and double testing—a decision greatly influenced by educators’ voices.
His decision addresses two areas. First, states will be able to ask for an extra year beyond current plans for teacher evaluation systems before data from new assessments impacts personnel decisions for educators.
Second, during next school year (2013-2014), some schools will field test new assessments. ED will work with states to avoid double-testing students. Over-testing is a very real concern, and schools participating in the field test will receive the option to administer only one assessment in 2013-2014 to any given student— either the current statewide assessment or the field test.
Dan Brown, a Teaching Ambassador Fellow (TAF), interviewed Secretary Duncan on his decision.
Secretary Duncan’s decision doesn’t come out of the blue. In fact, it was significantly influenced by discussions with teachers around the country. As full-time TAFs, teachers on temporary release from our schools to bring teacher perspective to federal policy-makers, we were literally at the table— and consistently asked to provide educator voice to the high level discussions being held.
In the interest of hearing and elevating teachers’ voices, the 12 members of our TAF team (six full-time Fellows and six part-time Classroom Fellows) traveled to 34 states over the past year and held discussions with well over 4,000 teachers. Teachers, who are the actual implementers for these reforms, are uniquely positioned to offer candid, authentic advice about how to make these urgently needed reforms work best for students.
As Arne describes in the video, we heard from teachers over and over about the unprecedented level of change and reform going on throughout the country as states transition to new standards, new assessments, and new teacher evaluation systems.
Overwhelmingly, we heard support from teachers around the country for raising standards that will ensure students can compete in the global economy. At the same time however, we also heard widespread concern that teachers need time, models, and quality professional development to teach to the new standards effectively. In states where there is a strong commitment to collaboration, teachers feel more empowered, supported, and positive about the current state of reform efforts.
From our vantage point, we believe that the Department and Secretary Duncan are committed to learning from educators. This offer of flexibility reflects the Department’s responsiveness to teachers’ voices. Whether states request the flexibility or not, we hope that we all hear the needs expressed by teachers across the country to make this significant transition sustainably, with room and support for innovation and cycles of professional learning.
Cynthia Apalinski, Jennifer Bado-Aleman, Dan Brown, Kareen Borders, Lisa Clarke, and Marciano Gutierrez are the 2012-2013 Full-Time Teaching Ambassador Fellows at the U.S. Department of Education.
Over the last four years, states and school districts across America have embraced an enormous set of urgent challenges with real courage: raising standards to prepare young people to compete in the global economy, developing new assessments, rebuilding accountability systems to meet the needs of each state and better serve at-risk students, and adopting new systems of support and evaluation for teachers and principals. Meeting this historic set of challenges all at once asks more of everybody, and it’s a tribute to the quality of educators, leaders, and elected officials across this country that so many have stepped up.
One crucial change has been the state-led effort to voluntarily raise standards. That effort dates back to 2006, when a bipartisan core of leaders – governors, state superintendents, business people — came together because they recognized that America’s students needed to be prepared to compete in a global economy that demanded more than basic skills. They began a movement that has ended up with nearly every state adopting standards that reflect the knowledge and skills young people actually need to succeed in college and careers. Especially in communities where students historically have not been held to high standards, this state-led push is nothing less than a civil rights issue.
To put student learning squarely at the center of school decisions, states agreed to evaluate principals and teachers based in part on student growth, as measured by test scores, along with measures like principal observation, peer review, feedback from parents and students, and classroom work. These commitments became part of waiver agreements that have helped states dispense with the most broken parts of the federal No Child Left Behind law.
The US Department of Education also provided $350 million to two consortia of states to develop online assessments, benchmarked to the new standards, which will improve significantly on today’s “bubble tests.” All but a few states have agreed to implement these new evaluation systems by the 2015-16 school year.