Updated Tool Helps Schools Track FAFSA Completion

In March 2012, ED’s Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) announced the release of an innovative FAFSA Completion Tool to help guidance professionals, school administrators and practitioners both track and subsequently increase FAFSA completions at high schools across the country. Prior to publishing this data, the only source of data on FAFSA completions that high schools had were from self-reported student surveys, which were highly unreliable.

Image promoting FAFSA websiteThrough the FAFSA Completion Tool, educators have real-time access to reliable data to track FAFSA submission and completion and gauge their progress in increasing FAFSA completion. Key studies have indicated that FAFSA completion correlates strongly with college enrollment, particularly among low-income populations.

Last month, FSA updated and enhanced the FAFSA Completion Tool by revealing FAFSA submission and completion totals for the current year, as well as FAFSA submission and completion totals for the same time last year. With this addition, the FAFSA Completion Tool—updated biweekly during the peak application period—now provides every high school in the country whose students have completed five or more FAFSAs with information about how many applications were submitted and completed for the 2013–14 application year as well as comparison data from the 2012–13 FAFSA application year.

Last year’s data provides a baseline by which school districts can gauge their efforts, set goals to improve on last year’s performance, and subsequently increase FAFSA completion within their school district.

Last year, the Tool provided FAFSA submission and completion data for the senior classes at over 24,000 high schools in all 50 states, Washington, DC, and all U.S. territories. More than 30,000 visitors accessed the data throughout the spring of 2012 to inform their local FAFSA completion strategies and overall college access initiatives. There are indications the Tool has contributed to raising FAFSA awareness across the country with more than 500,000 seniors having submitted a 2013–14 FAFSA through the end of January this year. This represents a nine percent increase compared to early submissions during January 2012.

For more information on the Tool and to search updated FAFSA Completion Data by High School for the senior class of 2013, visit StudentAid.gov/fafsa-hs-data.

Todd May
Federal Student Aid

Duncan to Congress: Giving States Flexibility is Working

Secretary Duncan testifies at Senate Hearing

Secretary Arne Duncan testified on Capitol Hill Thursday during a hearing on ESEA flexibility. Official Department of Education photo by Leslie Williams.

States and their schools are breaking free from the restrictions of No Child Left Behind and pursuing new and better ways to prepare and protect all students, Education Secretary Arne Duncan told a Senate committee Thursday.

In a hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Duncan promoted the value of providing flexibility to states under the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law, which the Department of Education began offering in 2011. Duncan said that granting states new flexibility through waivers was not his first choice—he would have preferred that Congress reauthorize, or amend the law instead. But in light of congressional gridlock over reauthorization, Duncan said that he was “not willing to stand by idly and do nothing while students and educators continue to suffer under NCLB.”

NCLB is the latest reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). And Duncan said that NCLB has become a well-intended, but overly-prescriptive law that created incentives to lower standards, encouraged teaching to the test, mislabeled many schools as failures, and prescribed a one-size-fits-all accountability system that failed to support local solutions and innovation. With ESEA years overdue for congressional reauthorization, the Obama Administration sent Congress a Blueprint for Reform of ESEA in 2010.

Nearly two years later, after Congress failed to authorize ESEA, the Administration offered states the chance to pursue waivers to NCLB in September 2011. Duncan told the committee that “providing waivers was always, always our plan B.”

In his testimony, and during questions from the Committee, Duncan outlined in detail the ways in which the waiver approach, or “ESEA Flexibility,” – has strengthened accountability for at-risk students, improved evaluation and professional development for teachers and principals, and unleashed a wave of  state-led innovation.

ESEA flexibility supports states and districts in replacing the “one-size-fits-all” interventions of NCLB and empowers states to tailor reforms that meet the needs of their students. Thirty-four states and the District of Columbia have been approved for ESEA flexibility, and nine states, plus Puerto Rico and the Bureau of Indian Education, have pending requests.

Map of ESEA Flexibility

Duncan noted that states receiving NCLB flexibility “must demonstrate a commitment and capacity to improve educational outcomes for all students, close achievement gaps, increase equity, and improve the quality of instruction.”

Multiple Measures of Growth and Gain

One of the unintended effects of NCLB is that it provided incentives to lower academic standards—and 19 states actually lowered their standards after NCLB was enacted in 2001. The law’s narrow measures for school progress—annual reading and math test scores and high school graduation rates—also prompted teaching to the test and an overly simplistic model for assessing school progress. “Under No Child Left Behind there was far too much focus on a single test score,” Duncan said. “I’m more interested in outcomes,” Duncan added. “If you have the best third grade test score in the world but 50 percent of your students are dropping out of high school, you are not changing student’s lives. You can’t get a job with a third grade test score.”

Under ESEA flexibility, states are using multiple measures of growth and gain in student learning, rather than NCLB’s narrow measures. “This is a huge step in the right direction,” said Duncan. “All of the leadership, all of the creativity, is coming from the states.”

Multiple Measures of Growth and Gain Graphic

Better Serving At-Risk Students

At the hearing, Duncan said he was surprised to learn that under NCLB, low-income and minority students, English learners, and students with disabilities were  “invisible” because schools were not held accountable for the performance of subgroups of students if there were not enough students in their subgroup to “count” under state rules. Duncan explained during his testimony that under flexibility, these students are no longer invisible, which “is a significant step in the right direction,” he said.

At Risk Bar Chart

One example of how flexibility is helping at-risk students can be found in Arkansas. Under ESEA flexibility, Arkansas is now holding more than 1,000 schools accountable for subgroups that weren’t accountable under NCLB. Across all states receiving waivers to date, at least 9,000 additional schools are now accountable for subgroups for which they weren’t accountable before.

Duncan pointed out that states with waivers have set aggressive performance targets for all subgroups. They are using performance targets to tailor local interventions, rather than as a tool to label schools as failures. Waiver states are expecting progress for all subgroups–but much faster rates of progress for those that are furthest behind.

Recognizing and Rewarding Schools for Progress and Success

Under ESEA flexibility, states are recognizing a school’s student growth and success–and supporting interventions that work. Secretary Duncan cited the example of Columbus Park Preparatory Academy in Worcester, Mass. Under NCLB, the school was deemed to be among the bottom 20 percent of schools in the state, despite the fact that it was making significant progress in boosting achievement for traditionally low-performing students. “That school’s not a failure,” Duncan said. “That school’s a success … think of how demoralizing it is to teachers who are working so hard to be labeled a failure when you are seeing improvement each year.”

Supporting Teacher and Principal Effectiveness

“Talent matters tremendously in education,” Duncan said in talking about the new and far more robust evaluation systems that states are building under flexibility. States are developing evaluation systems that go far beyond NCLB’s minimum “highly qualified teacher” standards, and are using systems that measure and support effective teaching and leadership based on multiple measures, including student growth. “Great principals lead great schools. Great teachers do miraculous things with children,” he said.

Supporting Teacher and Principal Effectiveness Pie Chart

Duncan described how Tennessee has been at the forefront of improving teacher and principal evaluation systems with the input from 17,000 teachers and administrators. The state also continues to receive feedback so it can refine and improve its evaluation system. “I have yet to meet a teacher who is scared of accountability,” Duncan said. They just want it to be fair. They want it to be honest.

Providing States with Flexibility to Move Forward With Reform

The federal role in education is relatively narrow, Duncan told the committee. “What’s exciting about ESEA flexibility, is that states are leading the way in strengthening education for all children,” he said. In explaining the federal role, Duncan said:

The federal government does not serve as a national school board … We don’t dictate curriculum, levy school assessments, or open and close schools. We don’t specify the content of academic standards or negotiate teachers’ contracts. We do have a responsibility to set a high bar to protect the interests of students, especially at-risk students. But how to reach that bar, I believe, should be left to the states.

Duncan concluded his testimony by noting that in a time of partisan rancor, ESEA waivers had an unusual bipartisan appeal in statehouses across the country. He observed that “we approach this work with both a tremendous sense of excitement, coupled with a real sense of humility.”

In the end, Duncan said, he didn’t have “a moment’s doubt” that state flexibility “is a major improvement for children and for adults over NCLB.” But he stressed the need to learn from any mistakes in the waiver process, correct them quickly, and share that learning across the country. “We can never let the perfect become the enemy of the good,” he cautioned.” And that is what we have done for far too long in education.” Ensuring a world-class education for every child, Duncan added, “is both a demanding challenge and an urgent imperative for our nation, our communities, and our children.”

Click here to read Secretary Duncan’s prepared testimony, and click here to watch a video of Secretary Duncan’s opening statement and the entire hearing.

Read the Department’s recently released publications highlighting ESEA flexibility.

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

Teacher Cabinets: Bringing Teacher Voice to the Education Reform Conversation

As a U.S. Department of Education Teaching Ambassador Fellow, one of the many roles I am lucky enough to engage in is that of a conduit between America’s teachers and the Department of Education (ED). I get to sit down with teachers all across the country–sometimes virtually, but often in person–and hear how things are going in their classrooms, in their schools, and in their districts. Then I present that feedback to policy and program folks at ED, giving them critical information to process and, in many cases, act upon.

This formula is singularly responsible for a recent initiative coming out of ED called the RESPECT Project. RESPECT aims to transform the teaching profession so that teachers are as well prepared, developed, compensated and respected as other professionals. One result of this movement is a short vision document written by teachers that outlines ways the teaching profession must change if it hopes to be on par with other respected professions in this country.

Highly visible in this document–and certainly pushed to the front in many of the teacher roundtables in which I have been involved–is the importance of teacher voice in the ongoing conversation about reform. For too long the educators on the ground have lacked an effective way to directly inform and influence education policy and programs at the federal, state and district level. Many of those serving in education offices may not have seen the inside of a classroom from a teacher’s eye view, and it is important they understand our view as they develop and implement policies that affect us in the classroom.

The good news is that recently more and more states have begun to realize the importance of listening to teachers and have made plans to bring the wisdom and experience of teachers into the education reform movement by creating teacher cabinets.

Most recently, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, proposed the the formation of a Virginia Teacher Cabinet, and other states have similar efforts under development. Virginia’s Teacher Cabinet will be comprised of teachers from each superintendent region of the Commonwealth, will be led by the Virginia Teacher of the Year, and will provide an annual report to the governor on the “State of Teaching in Virginia.”

As a Virginia public school teacher, I am excited about the opportunity for fellow educators to be able to lend their invaluable experiences and insights to state-wide reform efforts. I believe this will serve as the crucial catalyst to move reform-talks into reform-action. And as more states follow suit with their own versions of these teacher-led panels–which will undoubtedly take place–I firmly expect a wave of teacher reform to roll over our country, transforming this beloved profession into what it deserves to be.

Mike Humphreys

Mike Humphreys is a 2012-2013 Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow who teaches physical education in Arlington, Va.

Applications for 2013-2014 Teaching Ambassador Fellowship Now Open

“It is critical that we work collaboratively with teachers to develop policies that will truly transform and elevate the profession. I am proud of the work our Teaching Ambassadors do every year to talk with and listen to other teachers across the country as well as the direct input they have given staff.” – Secretary Arne Duncan

We are happy to announce that applications for the U.S. Department of Education’s sixth cohort of Teaching Ambassador Fellows are now open. The application period will run from December 19, 2012, and is scheduled to close on January 29, 2013 at 11:59 pm Eastern Time. For more information about the application process, visit our program page at www.ed.gov/programs/teacherfellowship or go directly to the applications for the Washington and Classroom Fellowships on www.usajobs.gov.

TAFs meet with Duncan

Before their fellowship ended, 2011-12 Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellows gave Secretary Duncan one final briefing. Official Department of Education photo by Leslie Williams.

Since 2008, the Department has employed eighty outstanding teachers on a full or part time basis through the Teaching Ambassador Fellowship program. This highly selective program was created because we believe that teachers should have meaningful opportunities to both contribute to and understand the policies that impact their students and school communities. We know that when families, students, and other teachers want information about education, it is most often to teachers that they turn.

The Teaching Ambassador Fellowship supports the Department’s mission by employing a diverse cadre of teachers to gain significant knowledge about the Department information and resources, share this information with other educators across the country, and contribute their classroom expertise to the national dialogue.

Teaching Ambassador Fellows are outstanding teachers, with a record of leadership, strong communication skills, and insights into educational policy based in classroom expertise. They come with networks of support from their professional communities and have participated in training or development programs that have prepared them to write and speak frequently about teaching, educational leadership and/or policy.

The Washington Fellowship is a full-time appointment based at the Department’s Headquarters in Washington. The Classroom Fellowship enables teachers to participate on a part-time basis for the Department, in addition to their regular school responsibilities, working in collaboration with the Department’s Regional Offices.

All Teaching Ambassador Fellows spend one year learning about key federal programs and policies; sharing their expertise with federal staff members; and providing outreach and communication about federal initiatives to other educators on behalf of the Department in order to help teachers understand and implement these efforts at the federal, state and local levels, to improve the likelihood of their success. For the Fellows, the program adds greater knowledge of educational policy and leadership to their toolkits to contribute to solutions at all levels for long intractable challenges in education.

Teacher leaders — please consider applying and share this information with your colleagues!  Sign up for updates on the application process and call 1-800-USA-Learn or email us at TeacherFellowship@ed.gov with questions.

Click here to read Homeroom blog posts from current and former Teaching Ambassador Fellows.

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

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

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

Marciano Gutierrez

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walking in Their Shadows: ED Officials Team Up with Principals

EducationIn celebration of National Principals Month, dozens of senior ED leaders and staff members are visiting schools today, tomorrow and Thursday across the country as part of an organized effort in which federal education officials are shadowing school leaders.

These shadowing visits, in partnership with the National Association of Elementary School Principals, the National Association of Secondary School Principals and New Leaders, will offer Department staff a glimpse into the daily work of principals, while also providing principals with the opportunity to discuss how federal policy, programs, and resources impact their schools.

To complete the week-long partnership effort, principals and ED staff who participated in the job shadowing will join Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on Friday afternoon for a debrief discussion to reflect on their experiences and lessons learned. Earlier this year, ED officials shadowed fifty teachers across the country as part of Teacher Appreciation Week.

Stay tuned for stories from our participants and see a complete list of who is participating and at what location.

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

Duncan Tells Teachers: Change is Hard

Duncan speaks to hundreds of teachers in Baltimore County, Maryland

Secretary Duncan spoke to over 800 teachers in Baltimore County, Maryland. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

Teaching is really hard work, Secretary Duncan told a group of more than 800 teachers this morning in Baltimore County, and the job is becoming more challenging as education reforms take hold in classrooms.

The Secretary spoke frankly about the changes that teachers will face as states implement rigorous academic standards and introduce new evaluation systems. These changes are necessary, he noted, because nearly 25 percent of America’s youth don’t graduate from high school, and about half of all students who go to community college need remedial education.

“We won’t change those numbers without high standards and high expectations,” Duncan said.

The Secretary explained how the Obama Administration through No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waivers has given states flexibility in exchange for raising standards, setting performance targets that are ambitious and achievable, and designing local interventions that focus closely on the neediest children.

We also asked states to come up with a better way to support teachers and principals.  Look at annual student growth rather than proficiency — and use other measures of effectiveness – like classroom observation, peer review, and parent and student feedback.

We further encouraged states to develop new ways to support and evaluate teachers in all subjects –the arts, foreign languages, science, history, and physical education.

We didn’t eliminate testing because we believe it is important to measure progress.  We need to know who is ahead and who is behind – who is succeeding and who needs more support.  In an ideal world, that data should also drive instruction and drive useful professional development.

We fully understand that standardized tests don’t capture all of the subtle qualities of successful teaching.  That’s why we call for multiple measures in evaluating teachers.

Duncan also spoke about the ongoing conversation about teacher evaluation that now includes a full range of issues like teacher prep, professional development, career ladders, tenure, and compensation. He cited ED’s labor-management conference and RESPECT project as recent examples of the department seeking input from teachers, unions, administrators and school boards.

“You know what success looks like,” he said. “You know what it would take to transform the field.”

Watch the video and read the entire speech here.

Teachers@ED: Steven Hicks, Special Assistant for Early Learning

Steven Hicks speaking with children in a classroom.

Steven Hicks, special assistant for early learning, spent the day shadowing a kindergarten teacher at Oyster-Adams bilingual school in DC as part of "ED Goes Back to School" during Teacher Appreciation Week in May. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

Teaching is in Steven Hicks’ blood. Almost everyone in his immediate family – including his mother, father, and all of his seven younger sisters – has either taught or teaches today. And Hicks is no exception.

 “I didn’t decide I wanted to be a teacher until I actually went and substitute taught,” says Hicks of his decision to pursue a career in early childhood education. According to Hicks, he realized he has a gift for teaching during the 6th grade when a teacher let him lead the entire class in a theater activity. That moment of trust in his ability to convey learning to his peers was “one of those pivotal moments where I thought I was probably going to be a teacher,” he explains.

Teachers@ED LogoHicks grew up in Fresno, California as the oldest child of a large family. After graduating from UC Santa Cruz and working a few other jobs, Hicks took a substitute teaching position with a third grade class in South Central Los Angeles. The principal of the school was so thrilled to see Hicks return for a second day – something the other substitutes had failed to do – that she rushed to the district office to help expedite Hick’s credentials so he could remain in the classroom.

Hicks went on to earn a Masters degree in Early Childhood from California State University in LA. In 1999, he completed the arduous process to become certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. The effort was well worth it. “The most rewarding part of teaching is being able to see that moment when a child discovers that she learned something new and that satisfaction and confidence that you see on her face and in her eyes,” explains Hicks.

In 2008, and with 20 years of classroom experience, Hicks joined the Department of Education as a Teaching Ambassador Fellow during the program’s inaugural year, which spanned over two Administrations: Bush and Obama.  He worked first in the Charter School Office and later, when the Obama Administration came in, under Barbara Bowman, Secretary Duncan’s Consultant on Early Learning. At the end of his fellowship, Hicks joined ED’s full-time staff as a Special Assistant and now works in the Office of Early Learning under Deputy Assistant Secretary Jacqueline Jones.

“Every day I work to promote early learning – and that’s birth to third grade – as a priority in the department,” Hicks explains as what he does for ED on a daily basis. As for his lengthy teaching experience, he says it gives him a strong foundation for the work he’s doing. “I use my experience as a teacher and as a member of an educational community to put in the right evidence, to suggest the right elements, to know how what we were doing at the federal level was going to affect students and the families and the teachers that are affected by the policies that we make here,” he says.

And although Hicks’ day job can be time-consuming, he isn’t done with the classroom just yet. Once a week during lunchtime, Hicks visits DC’s Amidon Elementary through the Everybody Wins program, where he mentors Tremar, a fourth grade student he’s been reading to for two years. “It’s nice to be able to get into the school once a week and work directly with the students we’re trying to help here at ED,” says Hicks.

Hicks has come a long way since he took that first teaching job back in 1988 in South Central LA, and although he’s had to learn from his mistakes over the years, he still believes teaching has been one of the most fulfilling and joyful aspects of his life. “It’s so cliché to say ‘Oh, it’s so rewarding,’ but it really is,” says Hicks. “I think there are few jobs where you get to see that and affect so many lives directly.”

Alexandra Strott is a student at Middlebury College and an intern in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach

Great Teachers Harness the Energy of Students

Editorial Note: During this year’s Teacher Appreciation Week, 50 of ED’s senior officials and career staff went “Back to School.”  Each staff member was matched with a classroom teacher and spent a full or half day experiencing the life of a teacher. ED’s Dennis Bega shadowed 10th and 11th grade teacher Lisa Clarke in Kent, Wash. Last week, Clarke was named as a 2012/13 Teacher Ambassador Fellow at the Department of Education.

If the country ran on the energy of high school students, we would never run out.

The goal of every teacher is to harness and channel this energy into an enjoyment of learning—but learning in a way that engages students almost before they know it’s happened.  Like all great teachers, Lisa Clarke knows how to do this.  In her 10th and 11th grade history and social studies classes at Kent-Meridian High School, students thrive.  They plug in and contribute to their learning and achievement.  This is not magic; it’s motivation – working with kids where they are. Clarke’s students say she “…just gets us.  Ms. Clarke relates to us without giving in to us. She makes learning cool and we want to do our best.” Said another, “Ms. Clarke is focused but flexible.”

Clarke’s classrooms are electric with student participation, small group discussions – a constant learning commotion that brings students into the center of the subject and lets them own the material.  Students come to the class early and stay until the last possible second when they race off to the next class before the bell—actually the music—stops. Then they come back again. The room is ALWAYS busy with students.

Kent-Meridian is multicultural, multi-lingual, and multi-racial. Each class has a cross section of students from all around the world, bringing with them their accents, biases, learning styles and issues—plenty of issues. One teacher called the school “…a mini UN, with all the possibilities and problems.”

Eighty percent of the school’s 1,937 student body receives free and reduced lunch. It is a challenging environment for teaching and learning to high standards and expectations.  Yet here is where Clarke has chosen to be. Described by her colleagues as “the definition of a world class teacher,” Clarke arrives at school by 7:15 am and stays until after all the kids have gone home. And she didn’t start out to be a teacher. Her first love was human rights advocacy. But, in her words “I found myself drawn to teaching when I discovered I wanted to spend more time talking education with the interns than I did doing the policy work.” This second career has led her to teaching posts from one end of the country to the other.

Part of Clarke’s success is that she’s surrounded by caring and committed teaching colleagues all of whom have formed various Content Learning Teams and a robust Professional Learning Community that supports good instruction and the exchange of innovative approaches to teaching and learning.

Shadowing Clarke during Teacher Appreciation Week was a powerful experience.  Being a witness to an outstanding example of teaching and seeing those intangibles of instructional excellence reaffirms why this work matters. But students may have said it best when, in a small group, they offered, “It might be Teacher Appreciation Week, but we appreciate Ms. Clarke every day of the year.”

–Dennis Bega is Deputy Director of Regional Communications and Outreach based in ED’s Atlanta Regional Office. 

Teachers and Principals Get Engaged

Teachers at the Teacher Leader Convening

Official Department of Education photo by Leslie Williams

About 180 teachers, school principals and education advocates convened at the U.S. Department of Education’s headquarters last Friday to make connections and engage in important conversations about how educators will lead the transformation of their profession.

With representatives from their leadership organizations, educators drilled down on a number of topics and made recommendations to the Department and the White House about ED’s next steps in the RESPECT Project. Justin Lamb, a New York City teacher with Educators 4 Excellence, suggested that the federal government help districts and unions to work together to carve out more roles for teacher leaders in schools. Glenn Morehouse Olson of the VIVA Project recommended that ED become more involved in raising the bar for what teachers coming into the field should know and be able to do, including adding more writing criteria and setting standards for alternative certification. Wendy Uptain of Hope Street Group described the power of convening accomplished teachers to “shine a spotlight” on areas of excellent practice and share successes, and she called for more such meetings.

Teachers discussing at the teacher leader convening

Teachers discussed how educators can lead the transformation of their profession. Official Department of Education photo by Leslie Williams.

A recurring theme of the day was the power of educators to drive their own profession.  “Teachers as leaders needs to be a linchpin of our efforts,” said Ann Byrd of the Center for Teaching Quality, “not a bullet point.” Several groups even argued that teachers should be allowed to apply directly for federal grants to implement innovative practices in their schools. (Federal education funds typically flow through states and school districts before reaching individual schools and classrooms.) Arthur Linder of the National Association of Secondary School Principals advocated for more distributed leadership in schools with strong instructional leaders.

Another common thread in the conversations was the public’s poor perception of the value of teaching and school leadership. Aaron Bredenkamp, an Omaha, Neb., math teacher on loan to ED as a Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow, recommended that the Department work on “rebranding the profession” so that parents and taxpayers will support reform.  Washington Fellow Jen Bado-Aleman agreed and called for an advertising campaign that that would show the complex demands of great teaching and school leadership.

While commuting home at the end of the day, I got a text from a former ED teaching fellow who could not attend the event but who had just experienced a teachable moment that affirmed the importance of transforming teaching and the public perception of it. A high school junior had told him that she was having trouble deciding on a career. “The only two things I can see myself doing are nursing and teaching,” she told this teacher, “but I only have the grades to teach.”

I found myself very thankful that the educators in the room at ED were envisioning a future when students will say, “I need to get my grades up so that I can teach.”

Laurie Calvert

Laurie Calvert is the Teacher Liaison at the U.S. Department of Education, a 2010 Teaching Ambassador Fellow, and a 14-year English teacher from Asheville, N.C.  

Leaders from NEA Student Program Talk Teacher Prep with Secretary Duncan

Earlier this month, future teachers from the National Education Association (NEA) Student Program met with Secretary Duncan to discuss ways to reinvigorate teacher preparation and enhance communications with the Department of Education.

“These future teachers were frank,” Mary Ellen Flannery of the NEA wrote about the discussion. “They want to be respected for their choice to serve students, schools, and communities, they said. And they want to be better supported as they make the transition from student to teacher.”

Over the past year, ED has launched the RESPECT project to elevate the status of teaching profession. The Department’s top officials and Teaching Ambassador Fellows have held 250 roundtables with more than 3500 teachers to discuss and gain feedback on transforming the teaching profession so that teachers are as well prepared, developed, compensated and respected as other professions.

Click here to read more Student Voices Sessions, which are designed to engage young Americans with policy issues so that ED can learn from their perspectives to connect policies with student needs.

Samuel Ryan, OCO Regional and Youth Outreach Associate 

Arne Duncan Gave Me Homework!

Last Wednesday, I found myself invited to a meeting at the White House with Secretary Arne Duncan and some of President Obama’s advisors.  I didn’t know I would walk away with homework!

Eleven colleagues and I were invited to discuss the Obama administration’s proposed STEM Master Teacher Corps. Previously Steve Robinson (a former science teacher and Special Assistant in the White House Domestic Policy Council) and I had shared a conversation about how my work as a teacher leader at North High School was being transformed after receiving a School Improvement Grant (SIG).  As Robinson described the Master Teacher Corps, I noticed parallels to the work I’ve been doing for the last two years.  Needless to say, I was enthusiastic about the proposal.

Jessica Gogerty, sandwiched between Arne Duncan and Presidential advisor Roberto Rodriguez, attended a White House conversation to discuss the STEM Master Teacher Corps. Photo courtesy of White House intern Bobby Dresser.

Jessica Gogerty, sandwiched between Arne Duncan and Presidential advisor Roberto Rodriguez, attended a White House conversation to discuss the STEM Master Teacher Corps. Photo courtesy of White House intern Bobby Dresser.

Empowering teachers and building their leadership capacity is critical to improving science and mathematics education in our schools. Government policy and programs can inspire and incentivize, but the people in the school must do the real work of school reform. For example, without the additional manpower and resources that North received from the SIG grant, reform would have happened much more slowly or not at all. It is easy to let tradition carry us—to allow our unchallenged belief in our capacity to determine what we will achieve—for good or ill.   SIG gave us the impetus for the necessary introspection required to improve our school.   The Master Teacher Corps has that same potential because it invests in the people, not in new or particular programs.

So, when I found myself seated between Secretary Duncan and Roberto Rodriguez, special assistant to the President for Education, I told the story of my school, and how the most important cultural change I see is a shift to genuine teacher collaboration around instructional practices.  In 2010, when teachers went into their own classrooms and did their own thing, we were the lowest achieving high school in the state of Iowa.  Ours is a very diverse high school with 25% of the students learning English, 29% special education students, and nearly 80% on Free and Reduced Lunch.  One year into the SIG grant, our students had gained 19 points in Reading, 19 points in Science and 11 points in Mathematics on the Iowa Test for Educational Development.  The school had the same demographics and largely the same teaching staff.  But now we had “One Vision, One Mission, One Destiny” as the instructional leadership harnessed the collaborative power of the adults in the school. We changed the master schedule twice in the first year, creating new classes, bell times and embedded times for staff collaboration and support.  We changed the attendance policy, discipline policy and the grading policy.  Teacher Leaders taught the staff how to collect and analyze data on student performance and led discussions about strategies to address deficiencies.  Teachers became empowered to help the students rise to their destiny instead of falling to their fate.

After the meeting, Secretary Duncan asked me to write up our story and send it to him. I had plenty of time to think about it at the airport since storms delayed travel.

This is what I want him to know:  The themes emerging from our national focus on school reform are reverberating at the state and district level.  The idea of teacher leadership and collaboration around instructional practice is changing the way we educate our children.  We’ve got to continue to develop an educational system that allows teachers to collaborate across the hall, across the building, across the district, across the state and across the nation.  We’re in this together and that’s the only way we will become the best educational system in the world.

Secretary Duncan, I’ve turned in my homework. I see it as extra credit though. My real assignment is to make sure all of my students get the education they deserve.

Jessica Gogerty

Jessica Gogerty is a National Board Certified Teacher, a Presidential Awardee for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching, and a School Improvement Leader now serving at Roosevelt High School in Des Moines, Iowa.