A Preliminary Progress Report on Turning Around the Lowest-Performing Schools

As Secretary Duncan highlighted earlier this month at the Grad Nation Summit, we are now starting to get preliminary achievement data on the first year of state and local efforts to turn around the nation’s lowest-performing schools. The results, while preliminary, are encouraging: A significant share of persistently low-performing schools are seeing substantial gains in student learning in just the first year of the “SIG” program, the shorthand label for the groundbreaking School Improvement Grants initiative.

SIG seeks to accelerate achievement in our nation’s lowest-performing schools through rigorous, comprehensive interventions. Each school gets a three-year grant of up to two million dollars per year. The grants support school leaders, teachers, parents, and community partners to undertake the difficult, demanding, and rewarding work of turning around a chronically low-performing school.

For the first time, the Administration has put serious resources into supporting state and local school turnaround efforts—more than four billion dollars to date. For the first time, federal grants require states and districts to undertake rigorous interventions in chronically low-performing schools. And for the first time, so-called high school “dropout factories”—high schools where graduation is not the norm—are a major target of school turnaround efforts.

Nationwide, about 830 schools were in the first SIG cohort, and roughly 45 percent were high schools. We now have preliminary achievement data from 43 states, covering about 700 of the 830 schools.

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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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Cleveland-area Superintendents Talk Back to Washington

Rep. Marcia Fudge, Cleveland-area school superintendents, and ED's Michael Yudin

Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) convened Tuesday's conversation with Cleveland-area school superintendents and ED's Michael Yudin.

CLEVELAND—After a morning spent with students promoting school nutrition and physical education, Acting Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education Michael Yudin sat down Tuesday afternoon with superintendents from more than a dozen school districts in the Cleveland metropolitan area, including Cleveland Metropolitan School District CEO Eric Gordon, who joined Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) as co-host for the lunchtime meeting in the district’s board room.

“We can’t just talk about education. We have to do something,” Congresswoman Fudge said in opening up the conversation. “If we really want to be a country that competes, we need to prepare our young people to do it.”

Yudin, who was joined by ED Special Counsel Julie Miceli, gave an overview of the Obama administration’s cradle-to-career education strategy and talked about the importance of addressing problems with the current No Child Left Behind Law. Secretary Arne Duncan has warned that the nation’s K-12 education system is on course for a “slow-moving train wreck” unless the law is fixed and a more realistic, meaningful and effective accountability system is put in place for America’s schools.

“I agree with the Secretary… It’s a slow-moving train wreck,” said Mark Freeman, the superintendent of the Shaker Heights district. Freeman added that, “I mentioned that to some colleagues on the way down, and they said, ‘No, it’s already a wreck.’ “

Yudin agreed. The current law over-labels schools as failures, does not reward growth and does not give states and local districts flexibility to focus on their biggest problems. “It just isn’t making sense. It isn’t working for too many school districts across the country,” Yudin said. In particular, “The ability to measure growth—and real, meaningful growth—is where we need to go.”

Yudin’s office will soon be announcing a package that will allow states and school districts flexibility within the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (No Child Left Behind’s formal name) in exchange for commitments to college-and-career-ready standards, effective teaching and school leadership, and improving their lowest-performing schools.

Tuesday’s wide-ranging dialogue with local superintendents touched on special education and its financial costs, the Department’s program to turn around low-performing schools, high school graduation rates and how best to measure them, charter schools, and how to identify and nurture effective teaching.

As the superintendents thanked Yudin for visiting and taking their feedback back to Washington, he expressed his gratitude for their work in Cleveland’s communities. “Thank you all,” he said, “for your commitment to improving outcomes for kids.”

-MASSIE RITSCH
Office of Communications & Outreach

Back-to-School Bus Heads to the Great Lakes

During last week’s #AskArne Twitter Town Hall, Sarah, a third grade teacher, asked if it is possible for Arne to “tour and sponsor real town halls with educators.” This week, ED announced that Secretary Duncan and his senior staff will be holding more than 50 such events next week.

Secretary Duncan stops in New York during last year's back-to-school bus tour.

Starting on Wednesday, September 7, Secretary Duncan and senior ED staff will head to the Great Lakes Region for a Back-to-School Bus Tour. Arne will be making stops in Pittsburgh, Erie, Cleveland, Toledo, Detroit, Merrillville, Ind., Milwaukee and Chicago, and senior ED officials will be hosting dozens of events throughout the Midwest. The theme of the tour is “Education and the Economy: Investing in Our Future.”

Arne will be meeting with educators and talking with students, parents, administrators, and community stakeholders. Among the topics that Secretary Duncan and senior staff will discuss include the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge, K-12 reform, transforming the teaching profession, civil rights enforcement, efforts to better serve students with disabilities and English Language Learners, Promise Neighborhoods, the Investing in Innovation (i3) fund, STEM education, increasing college access and attainment as well as vocational and adult education.

Click here for additional details on Secretary Duncan’s back-to-school bus tour stops.

You can follow the progress of this year’s Back-to-School tour right here at the ED Blog, by following #EDTour11 on Twitter, and by signing up for email updates from ED and Secretary Duncan.

Duncan Greets Students on First Day of School

(Official Department of Education Photo by Joshua Hoover)

For many high school students, the first day of school usually involves shuffling through the halls trying to find next period’s classroom and comparing class schedules with friends, but for students at Eastern High in Washington, DC, the first day also involved a warm welcome from Secretary Arne Duncan, DC Mayor Vincent Gray, and DC Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson.

After greeting the students and touring the school’s facilities, Secretary Duncan addressed Eastern’s student body with an inspiring address. In his remarks, the Secretary articulated how ED’s policies would affect schools in DC and nationwide.

(Official Department of Education Photo by Joshua Hoover)

As a Turnaround School, Eastern is eligible for additional funding from the federal government to raise expectations, improve the quality of teaching, and provide students with the help they need to graduate and be ready to go to college and enter the workforce. ED and the Obama Administration have made a significant investment – more than $4 billion – to help states turn around their lowest performing schools. Duncan outlined how more than 1,000 schools throughout the country are using Turnaround grant money to increase education outcomes.

Duncan emphasized that Mayor Gray, Chancellor Henderson and Principal Rachel Skerritt were committed to executing an effective turnaround plan for the school.

“Eastern’s turnaround is built around four key values: Excellence, Scholarship, Honor, and Service,” Duncan said, following Mayor Gray’s remarks about the vital contributions that Eastern alumni had made to Washington and to the world.

Duncan also discussed how excellence in Eastern’s curriculum was emerging through more rigorous academic offerings. The school is adding an International Baccalaureate program and is preparing to offer Advanced Placement programs when the Class of 2015 reaches the upper grades.

Additionally, Duncan praised the more than 60 students who joined the Health and Medical Sciences Academy, a program that will help prepare them to work in one of the fastest growing fields in America’s future economy.

The Secretary finished his remarks by encouraging the students to pursue a college education and to work hard in all of their future endeavors.

Staying Competitive Through Education: The President and American Business Leaders Announce New Commitments

Cross-posted from the White House Blog.

President Barack Obama hosts an education roundtable in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building with business leaders and America’s Promise Alliance Chair Alma Powell, center, and Founding Chair General Colin Powell, left, to discuss what the business community can do to ensure we have a skilled, educated and competitive US workforce, July 18, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama hosts an education roundtable in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building with business leaders and America’s Promise Alliance Chair Alma Powell, center, and Founding Chair General Colin Powell, left, to discuss what the business community can do to ensure we have a skilled, educated and competitive US workforce, July 18, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

On July 18th, the President hosted an education roundtable with key leaders in both the private and public sectors to discuss ways we can ensure a competitive American workforce. The attendees, including business leaders, Secretary Duncan, Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett, Domestic Policy Council Director Melody Barnes, and General Colin and Mrs. Alma Powell of the America’s Promise Alliance, talked about expanding strong industry-led partnerships that are working to transform the American education system.

The President’s meeting with America’s CEOs builds on his continued focus on addressing the pressing needs of educating our children:

“A world-class education is the single most important factor in determining not just whether our kids can compete for the best jobs but whether America can outcompete countries around the world. America’s business leaders understand that when it comes to education, we need to up our game. That’s why were working together to put an outstanding education within reach for every child.”

The private sector is responding to the President’s challenge with more than financial support: Corporations have made commitments that take advantage of their areas of expertise and the skills of their employees. These undertakings include programs like Change the Equation, which focuses on corporate investment in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education, Skills for America’s Future with its support of business partnerships with community colleges, and the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.

President Barack Obama hosts an education roundtable in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building with business leaders, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, and America’s Promise Alliance Chair Alma Powell and Founding Chair General Colin Powell to discuss what the business community can do to ensure we have a skilled, educated and competitive US workforce, July 18, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama hosts an education roundtable in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building with business leaders, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, and America’s Promise Alliance Chair Alma Powell and Founding Chair General Colin Powell to discuss what the business community can do to ensure we have a skilled, educated and competitive US workforce, July 18, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Four major commitments are being announced today:

1) Community Engagement and Investment to Transform the Nation’s Lowest-Performing Schools: America’s Promise Alliance Grad Nation Community Impact Fund will raise $50 million to support the goal of ending the dropout crisis and prepare young people for college and career. The first planning grants from this social venture fund will be awarded in the fall to communities that demonstrate a commitment to local action aligned with the goals of the Grad Nation Campaign, including student supports for our most vulnerable young people.  Applicants will be communities with a low-performing school and a willingness and capacity to build a multi-sector, collaborative approach that includes partnerships with the business community and local school system, and the capacity to raise matching funds to promote local investment to sustain this work.

2) Expanding Opportunities for Students to Prepare for Livable Wage Jobs: Bank of America will announce a $50 million pledge to education over the next 3 years, launching this goal through $4.5 million in grants. The investment will support programs that bridge the achievement gap to post-secondary education completion and connect the underserved and unemployed, as well as returning veterans, and individuals with disabilities, to workforce success in high-growth sectors, in particular through community colleges.  Recognizing the need for knowledgeable and skilled workers to compete in the global economy, Bank of America is investing in education as part of its comprehensive lending, investing and volunteer activities aimed at strengthening the economic and social health of communities.

3) Research and Development for Next Generation Learning Models and Resources for Students and Teachers: Building on its history of commitment to education and recent $25 million STEM Scholarship grant program in Washington State, Microsoft Education is announcing a new $15M investment in research and development for immersive learning technologies including game based instruction and the creation of a lifelong learning digital archive. Through the creation of these innovative solutions, the disengaged can become passionate problem solvers and the struggling student can be offered other pathways to success.  Rooted in this investment is the understanding that technical innovation alone will not help. Therefore, over the next 3 years, Microsoft is committing to train over 150 thousand educators and leaders and provide access to professional learning communities and training to every teacher in the United States through the new Partners in Learning Network.

4) Supporting a Statewide Focus on Education System Redesign: In the past four years, the Nike School Innovation Fund(NSIF) has provided $7 million in innovation grants and thousands of volunteer hours by senior Nike leaders and other employees to support students, teachers and principals in three Oregon public school districts. The Fund is announcing a new commitment as a primary partner of Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber and his initiative to help make the state’s entire education system more nimble, innovative and supportive of the key grades of 9 to 12. With this news, Nike’s commitment to strengthening education in Oregon totals $10 million. The NSIF will now provide a year of funding, expertise and policy guidance that is expected to serve as a model for the Governor’s larger statewide education transformation plan.

The President is dedicated to keeping America’s workforce competitive, an achievement that can only be reached through addressing the pressing needs of American education. This week’s education roundtable is a clear example of the President’s dedication, and these new commitments are evidence that America’s business leaders share his concern and his belief that change is possible.

SIG Grant Invested in Teachers, Technology at Rural Turnaround High School

Teachers and administrators in the rural village of DePue, Ill—more than 100 miles southwest of Chicago—are connecting with their colleagues and students in new and exciting ways as they lead the difficult work of turning around academic achievement in their local high school.

Like many who traveled to the this month’s federal 2011 Midwest Regional School Improvement Grant Capacity-Building Conference in Chicago, the DePue School District team is investing heavily in teacher and administrator training to improve instruction. With help from the Department of Education’s School Improvement Grants, they are also deploying the latest technologies to provide students and adults with a new world of learning opportunities.

A teacher at DePue High School uses technology in the classroom

Robert Libka, who leads a transformation team of 10 educators at DePue High School, used Skype to connect with a teacher in Indonesia during a recent professional development workshop. “It was 1 a.m. her time and she was interested enough in our work to log-in,” said Libka, adding that he wants DePue teachers to know their work is important and can have global impact. Technologies such as Skype can improve collaboration for rural educators, and reduce their sense of isolation.

English teacher Mary Flor uses an interactive white board to guide her class of seniors to research on poetry classics. Her students use their laptops to dive deeper into the material than would be possible with only a text book. These new tools are being used to enrich classroom discussions through wireless Internet at school, which is the only online access available to some DePue students.

DePue is also using technology to give its students a head start for college. Many of them are the first in their families to attend college.  It offers college-level coursework to its students online through a partnership with nearby Illinois Valley Community College.

Teacher Tim Stevens uses computer software to help students prepare for the ACT college entrance exam, which is mandatory for all 11th graders in Illinois as a part of its state assessment.  The individually paced instruction has helped some students boost both their scores and their confidence in going on to college.

A transformation is underway at DePue High School – one that is designed to prepare every student for success in college and the career of their choice.

John White is Deputy Assistant Secretary for Rural Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education

Supporting Rural Schools

Cross-posted from the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE) Blog

As I’ve mentioned in this blog before, we in OESE are taking a new approach to working and helping districts build capacity, especially those who serve diverse groups of learners. So, one of our priorities is working specifically with rural schools and communities to ensure they have the appropriate resources and support to address the unique challenges they face.

Photo Credit: Reza Marvashti/The Freelance Star

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit a rural school in Colonial Beach, Virginia – specifically, a rural SIG school.  Colonial Beach High School is one of two schools in the Colonial Beach district, and it serves a population of 3,000 citizens. The school received SIG funds last year and they’ve adopted the transformation model to turn around the school, with a lot of support from the district and its superintendent, Dr. Carol Power.

During my visit, I met teachers, saw some classrooms, and spoke with the dedicated School Board and the Lead Turnaround Partners team, which is made up of six educational experts that are working with Colonial Beach to implement the school turnaround process. The school has made some encouraging progress, but what was really interesting for me to see was how Colonial Beach was dealing with some of its challenges as a rural school. For example, the school has only one algebra teacher – that certainly makes it difficult to form a professional learning community at the school! The solution for Colonial Beach has been to use technology to connect teachers to colleagues in other areas.

The Department recognizes that many of our nation’s rural schools face particular challenges like this one, and we are working to provide technical assistance and other forms of support, including our upcoming SIG Conference focused on rural and Native American students, to be held on May 24-25 in Denver. We want to offer a forum for rural educators to build a professional network, to learn from one another, and to celebrate the unique strengths offered by rural communities. I’m interested in learning even more about strategies and successes in rural schools across the country, so I encourage you to share your experiences directly with me at AskDrT@ed.gov.

Thelma Meléndez de Santa Ana is Assistant Secretary of Elementary and Secondary Education for the U.S. Department of Education

Building Capacity for School Turnaround: The 2011 School Improvement Grant Regional Conferences

Thelma Meléndez de Santa Ana, Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education

This morning, I’m excited to help kick off the 2011 School Improvement Grant Eastern Regional Conference in Washington, DC – an intensive, two-day event for school, district, and state leaders who are working to turn around their lowest-performing schools. The conference, hosted by ED’s Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE) in partnership with our Comprehensive Centers, is the second of four regional capacity-building sessions that will take place over the next two months. The conferences are a key part of OESE’s efforts to provide our grantees with support and technical assistance as they implement the School Improvement Grant (SIG).

From the beginning of his administration, President Obama has made the commitment to turn around America’s lowest-performing schools a centerpiece of his cradle-to-career education agenda. Through our newly redesigned SIG program, we have provided an unprecedented amount of funds to help turnaround this country’s 5,000 lowest-performing schools over the next five years.

In addition to providing unprecedented resources for school turnarounds, ED is working in partnership with schools to ensure student success. Having been a Superintendent, I know how much support is needed on the ground to implement reforms, and how difficult it is to actually turn around failing schools. But, I also know that school turnaround can be done, with the right supports.

This is why these conferences are especially important. In the next two days, grantees at the Eastern SIG Conference will have opportunities to learn from their colleagues and other education leaders on what’s working, and what looks promising, in school turnaround efforts across the country. The conference will address not only structural and organization reforms for turnaround, but also instructional best practices to meet the needs of students in schools. And perhaps more importantly, school, district, and state leaders will build new relationships, strengthen existing ones, and begin building communities of practice that will allow them to continue to share promising practices and successes they see with SIG in their schools and districts.

I’m confident that this conference – like the Western conference, held just last week, and the Central and Midwest Conferences coming up in May – will be just the beginning of continued conversations and learning among grantees and all stakeholders invested in the success of school turnarounds. And, it’s my hope that all participants will return to their states and districts re-energized and equipped with new information, resources and networks that will help transform our struggling schools into world-class centers of teaching and learning.

Thelma Meléndez de Santa Ana is Assistant Secretary of Elementary and Secondary Education for the U.S. Department of Education

4-H and Extensions Offer Partners for School Turnarounds

“I couldn’t be more hopeful, more optimistic about your generation” Secretary Duncan told a group of nearly 500 4-H youth delegates earlier today at the National 4-H Youth Conference in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack joined Secretary Duncan at the conference where both Secretaries answered questions from the audience and talked to students about the challenge of educating our way to a better economy. In his State of the Union address this year, President Obama emphasized that “to win the future, we have to out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world, tapping the creativity and imagination of our people.”

Secretary Duncan said that one of our greatest challenges is turning around the bottom 5% of our nation’s schools.  To address this challenge, the Obama Administration dedicated more than $4 billion in school improvement grants to states through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the budgets for fiscal years 2009 and 2010.

States have identified their lowest achieving schools and we are challenging them to compete for this funding by putting forth their best turnaround plans. However, schools and districts cannot do this work alone. They need to engage and work with public and private partners such as the 4-H and land grant university extension programs. “Forming these kinds of partnerships provides the best chance for rural areas to turn around their lowest performing schools and keep children from dropping out,” said Secretary Duncan.

4-H is the nation’s largest youth development organization and a program of our nation’s cooperative extension system. Each U.S. state and territory has a state cooperative extension office at its land grant university and a network of local and regional offices that can work with schools. The 4-H and extension programs can provide community-based partnerships that help schools create sustainable community changes in a number of ways.

The National 4-H and Extensions can work with schools to create programs that are specific to the school community’s needs, including financial literacy, parenting, healthy living, food and nutrition, science literacy, robotics, and civic engagement to bridge formal and non-formal learning experiences.

Check out the USDA’s Youth Development and 4-H page for more information.

- Sherry Schweitzer

Duncan Hears the Success Story of “Fantabulous” Sousa Middle

Duncan Hears the Success Story of “Fantabulous” Sousa Middle

Arne Duncan, incoming union president Nathan Saunders, Mayor Vincent Gray, Interim Chancellor Kaya Henderson, recently-nominated State Superintendent Hosanna Mahaley, and Sousa Principal Dwan Jordon.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan met for the first time with a coalition of District of Columbia education leaders and held a panel discussion including parents, teachers, and students at a D.C. middle school that is producing dramatic gains in student achievement. The event also was the first time Secretary Duncan met with the city’s new mayor, its education leaders, and the new leader of the city’s teachers’ union.

Though the event was organized to kick off the new semester, most of the discussion served as a celebration of incredible accomplishments at Sousa Middle School. In the last two years, Sousa has grown reading scores by around 30 percentage points and math close to 18 points, while creating a safe and orderly academic culture.  “There is no reason why D.C. can’t be the best urban school system in the country,” Arne Duncan said.


Click here for an accessible version of the video.

During the question and answer period, parents, students and teachers lauded Sousa and asked panelists to what they attribute Sousa’s success and specifically what other schools can learn from their story.  “Parents used to not want to send children to Sousa, but now it’s a school of choice.  How do you replicate that?” parent Mark Tillman asked.

Duncan Hears the Success Story of “Fantabulous” Sousa Middle

Board of Education member Laura Slover pledges that her group will be partners in reform “so that all students are prepared for the global economy.”

One consistent answer resounded from all parties:   Sousa has accomplished its incredible work by setting the bar high for faculty and students.  The school has created “a community that pulls together and sets incredibly high expectations,” D.C. Public Schools interim Chancellor Kaya Henderson explained.

In conversations afterward, teachers described how the faculty work extremely long hours and offer Saturday school sessions for all students, regardless of achievement level.  The teachers are willing to work hours because they are absolutely committed to their students and to their principal, Dwan Jordon.  The effect on students is tremendous.   “These kids run down the hill to go to Saturday school,” 6th grade science teacher Erin Fisher said.  “It’s really incredible.”

Mayor Vincent Gray affirmed the group’s commitment to education reform in D.C. explaining that by meeting together today they are “creating a team committed to academic excellence” that began at Sousa and must spread throughout the district.  “If it can happen at Sousa, it can happen to any public school in D.C.,” Henderson agreed.  “We have just gotten started.”

Laurie Calvert

Laurie Calvert is a Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow on loan from Buncombe County, North Carolina.