Progress in Action: Celebrating Hispanic Educational Achievement

Crossposted from the President Obama and the Hispanic Community blog.

The following article was published on You can read the original article in Spanish HERE.

Each year, in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month we recognize and celebrate the rich histories and significant contributions made by Hispanics throughout this great nation. With over 54 million people, Hispanics are the largest, youngest, and fastest-growing minority group, and will represent 70 percent of our nation’s population growth between 2015 and 2060. From preschool to postsecondary education, Hispanic representation is palpable. Hispanics now make up the majority of students in our public schools, with 1 out of every 4 students in K-12 grades. Similarly, college enrollment is up more for Hispanics than any other group.

Earlier this year the President said that 2014 would be a “year of action”. In this spirit, the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics (Initiative) officially launched our “Anniversary Year of Action” – a call to action to expand upon the progress and achievement made in Hispanic education.

As a community, we have made significant progress. According to the Census Bureau (2011), the Hispanic high school dropout rate has been cut in half from 28 percent in 2000 to 14 percent in 2011.The  Hispanic graduation rate has increased to 76 percent – an all-time high. College enrollment among Hispanics reached a record high and continues to increase. In 2012, the college enrollment rate among 18-to-24-year-old Hispanic high school graduates was over 49 percent, up from 31 percent in 2002.

We recognize there is more work to do and that it’s a shared responsibility—everyone will have a role to play in ensuring the continued success of our community. Over the coming year we will highlight “Bright Spots” that are providing a quality early childhood education, robust and rigorous K-12 education experiences, supporting increased participation in STEM courses, promoting promising practices, partnerships, and institutions of higher education that are graduating more Latinos ready and prepared to enter the competitive workforce, preparing more Hispanics into the teaching profession, while highlighting collaborative efforts supporting our young Hispanic girls and boys through the President’s initiative My Brother’s Keeper.

We will continue working towards the President’s 2020 goal of once again leading the world in college completion. Over the last 12 months, the Initiative has been deeply committed to amplifying the Administration’s education agenda, building partnerships and expanding commitments to support education for Hispanics, while also highlighting the Hispanic community’s progress. Through a number of activities – from national policy forums and back-to-school tours to webinars and twitter chats – we reached over 100,000 stakeholders around the United States and Puerto Rico. We heard from parents, students, non-profit, state and local government, business and philanthropy leaders, and educators about their work and challenges. Through strategic outreach and engagement, we learned that the Hispanic community is not only making great strides but eager to reframe the narrative.

We look forward to building on previous successes and producing more helpful tools like our “¡Gradúate! A Financial Aid Guide to Success”, published this May. The bilingual guide – designed to help students and families navigate the college enrollment and financial aid process includes key information about federal financial aid resources available and on scholarships supporting all Hispanic students, including those granted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and non-U.S. citizens. We will continue to work towards increasing the number of Hispanic teachers through innovative strategies, such as our #LatinosTeach social media campaign launched this month.

And just this Monday, the White House, as part of Hispanic Heritage Month celebrations, honored Latino Educators “Champions of Change” who are doing extraordinary work to educate the next generation of Americans. These Champions have distinguished themselves by devoting their time and energy to creating opportunities for young people to succeed, particularly in low-income communities. The event showcased these leaders and the exceptional contributions to this country. Because, we know that by highlighting progress in action, we will ensure a bright future for the Hispanic community.

Alejandra Ceja is the Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics

Arts in Education Week: A Time to Validate the Importance of Hope

Cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Education Office of Improvement and Innovation blog.

What’s hope got to do with it? When the “it” is the persistent achievement gaps for African American and Hispanic students, the answer is a lot.

I don’t know if Bill Strickland, a 1996 MacArthur Fellow and visionary arts education entrepreneur, and Richard Carranza, superintendent of the San Francisco public schools, have met (my guess is they have not), but they must be channeling one another.

The two have a lot in common, and at the top of the list is an absolute conviction to the role of the arts in creating the needed learning environment for minority students in high-poverty schools to achieve academically, thrive in and outside of school, and graduate career and college-ready. Coincidentally, Strickland and Carranza keynoted national forums on arts education — for the Arts Education Partnership (AEP) and the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics (WHIEEH), respectively, within the past month. The forums provided a propitious run-up to National Arts in Education Week, Sept. 14-20, so designated by the U.S. Congress in House Resolution 275. Click here for the full agenda of the AEP forum and a link to the video of Bill Strickland’s keynote address.

Interest, environment, and values make a difference
“If you capture their interest,” Carranza told more than 150 attendees of the WHIEEH forum at the Pixar studios in Emeryville, Calif., “their intellect, commitment, and minds will follow.” He knows about that power of the arts firsthand, as both a student who began school not speaking English and found his voice through music, and later as a music teacher in Tucson, Ariz., who gave his students their voice through a nationally recognized Mariachi program that saw 90 percent of the students graduate from high school.
Bill Strickland, keynote speaker at the Arts Education Partnership’s national forum, Preparing Students for the Next America in and through the Arts, is joined by Sarah Tambucci, executive director of Pittsburgh’s Arts Education Collaborative, regional host for the forum. (Photo courtesy of the Arts Education Partnership

Bill Strickland, keynote speaker at the Arts Education Partnership’s national forum, Preparing Students for the Next America in and through the Arts, is joined by Sarah Tambucci, executive director of Pittsburgh’s Arts Education Collaborative, regional host for the forum. (Photo courtesy of the Arts Education Partnership

In the 1960s, Frank Ross, a visual arts teacher in the blighted north Pittsburgh community of Manchester, took an inquisitive high school student who was otherwise headed for a pretty rough life under his wing. Bill Stickland found his identity and a reason to come to school in Frank Ross’s art room, where he learned ceramic making and much more. That art room provided the essential ingredients for a poor kid who lacked purpose and hope — “clay, sunlight, and somebody to believe in him.” They are the very same ingredients of the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild’s School Day Arts Education program today, where more than 500 Pittsburgh high school students attend ceramics and photography classes weekly and have a near perfect high school graduation rate.

“It’s environment,” Strickland told the more than 250 AEP forum attendees, “and it’s values” that include an aesthetically pleasing setting and an engaging curriculum. Couple these with a presumption that students can perform when given the right opportunities, and it results in students’ engagement and success, according to Strickland. For him, it’s as simple as “beautiful environments create beautiful kids; prisons create prisoners.”The arts opportunity gap

Both keynote speakers offer hope in the face of sobering realities for African American and Hispanic students, for whom the achievement gaps are persistent despite recent significant upward trends in high school graduation rates for students of color. For students in high-poverty schools, there also are profound opportunity gaps.

In his recent remarks marking the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act at Howard University, Education Secretary Arne Duncan pointed to the lack of Advanced Placement courses and gateway-to-college classes in advanced math and sciences for African American and Hispanic students, opportunities too often unavailable to students of color in high-poverty schools. In his videotaped remarks to the WHIEEH forum audience, the secretary cited benefits of arts education, particularly for Hispanic students, and acknowledged an “arts opportunity gap” for many students in high-poverty schools. In the most recent national survey of access to arts education in public schools, the National Center for Education Statistics reported a 15-percent gap in music and visual arts offerings between the lowest and highest poverty schools.

The arts can provide needed hope

Arts education, as the National Arts in Education Week congressional resolution notes, offers a wide range of benefits for all students, from developing 21st century skills like critical thinking and cross-cultural understanding to the “creativity and determination necessary for success in the global information age.” But for students in high-poverty schools, hope — like Bill Strickland and Richard Carranza experienced as young students and are paying forward for students in Pittsburgh and San Francisco today — deserves our attention.

The work of Gallup Education senior scientist Shane Lopez on the role of hope in schools was featured in a 2014 New York Times Next New World Forum broadcast. A recent survey in elementary schools revealed that students whose ideas and energy for their future pathways are valued are 30 times more engaged in their learning. That happens, according to Gallup Education CEO Brandon Busteed, when schools are committed to building on the strengths of each student and have teachers who make students excited about the future. “Hope as a strategy is really crucial” for all students, he observed, but especially those for whom the possible pathways to college and careers are impossible to see in high-poverty schools.

“If you believe you’re going to die at 16, 17, 18, you live a very different life than if you believe you’re going to live to be 65, 70, 80, or 90,” Secretary Duncan told the Howard University audience. Holding his right hand as if to finger the valves of a Mariachi trumpet, Superintendent Carranza observed that “when [students] have this in their hand, they won’t hold this,” letting his fingers rotate 90 degrees downward to mimic a handgun grip. A Pittsburgh art teacher knew about hope and passed it along, accompanied by the knowledge and skills that gave a young Bill Strickland the vision for a brighter future, one that led him to the University of Pittsburgh, for which he now serves as a trustee.

“We cannot promote a brighter future for our students and our country,” Secretary Duncan told the WHIEEH forum attendees, “without advocating for the arts as a critical subject in education. The President and I agree — the arts are so important when it comes to student learning, achievement, and success.”

Doug Herbert is a special assistant in the Office of Innovation and Improvement and editor of the OII home page.

Keeping our Boys in School: Why investing in all of America’s young people is a social and economic imperative

Every year, thousands of children are suspended or expelled from preschool in the United States.[1] Yes, three- and four-year olds are removed from the classroom at this early age. The findings from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights’ recent Civil Rights Data Collection highlight the outcomes of school discipline policies and practices throughout the country. It is considerably difficult to ignore the implications of these facts on access and attainment of a quality education. In particular, exclusionary discipline policies in schools across the United States disproportionately affect boys and young men of color. Policy makers and educators are now coming together at all levels to address the school-to-prison pipeline. This calls for a collaborative and comprehensive solution. It is a shared responsibility to shine the spotlight on parts of our population that have long been underserved – for America’s future and our global competitiveness depend on it.


President Obama in a classroom

Let’s talk about facts. Our young men of color, including Hispanic, African American, Asian American and Pacific Islanders, and American Indian and Alaskan Native males, are an at-risk population. Collectively, they are among the fastest-growing segments of our country’s population, representing nearly half of all males under age 18 throughout the country.[2] Studies show that this particular subgroup of the general population is, on average, a year to a year–and-a-half behind girls in reading and writing abilities, and most boys in grades 4-8 are twice more likely than girls to be held back a grade.[3] Data also show that boys are suspended or expelled at higher rates than girls (see figure below). The gender gap is even more prevalent in special education: boys are seven times more likely to be diagnosed with attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder; in some school districts, they are up to ten times more likely to be diagnosed with serious emotional and behavioral disorders.[4] Further, there are added challenges, because more boys and young men of color live in high-poverty neighborhoods, and/or with only one parent than their white counterparts[5] [6] . It is important that all youth in these circumstances, including boys and young men of color, receive the academic, emotional, and social support they critically need. President Barack Obama may be the first person of color to become president in our nation’s history – but the disparities facing these young men remain alive and well.


Students Expulsion and Suspensions by genderIn light of demographic projections, it is important to recognize that our nation’s future is inextricably linked to ensuring the success of all groups of young people, including these young men. For example, it is expected that Latino males ages 10-24 will grow by 3.7 million between 2013 and 2040 while the white male population in that age category will actually decline by 2.6 million.[7] Recognizing America’s changing landscape has never been more necessary. Policies that strengthen communities are critical to ensuring that we keep all young people in school rather than charting a path to the juvenile justice system by suspending them or expelling them for minor offenses. An educated workforce is key to America’s global competitiveness, and as a nation, we cannot stand idle while other countries out-educate and out-compete us. Addressing the school to prison pipeline also benefits our economy. Studies show that exclusionary discipline policies have direct financial implications for a school district. In California, the Fresno Unified School District saw 32,180 school days missed due to suspensions, resulting in more than a million dollars lost in funding based on students’ average daily attendance.[8] Just like in this district, there are millions of dollars being lost due to student suspensions all across the nation.

Of course, we cannot begin to address the issue if we aren’t aware of it.


This past summer, I worked as a policy intern at the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics (Initiative) at the U.S. Department of Education. The Initiative works with stakeholders in the private and public sectors to advance a strategic policy and outreach agenda to help tackle critical education challenges facing the Hispanic community, including discipline policies that disproportionately impact young men of color, including Hispanics. The Obama Administration has made equity and opportunity for all Americans a priority. In particular, the inequities that continue to exist in many pockets across the nation for many, including our young boys and men of color, have galvanized action and a movement.


Earlier this year, President Obama launched the My Brother’s Keeper Initiative (MBK) which aims to address opportunity gaps faced by boys and young men of color and ensure that all young people can reach their full potential. Through MBK, the private and philanthropic sectors have also come together to invest in the best practices addressing key issues that help all young people, including young boys and men of color, succeed. As part of this effort, the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice, along with organizations across the country are working to reduce counterproductive policies like zero-tolerance that can lead to disproportionate school suspensions and expulsions. Most recently, the President highlighted the Council of Great City Schools’ commitment wherein sixty of the nation’s largest urban school districts have created an eleven-point plan that stretches from early childhood to graduation, including programs to reduce suspensions and expulsions. In that same vein, the private sector has announced multi-million dollar investments to create mentoring programs and additional programs to address disparities in school climate. [9]


In that same spirit, it is up to all of us – educators, students, parents, non-profits, business, community leaders, government and faith-based leaders – to work together and invest in America’s education. How can one invest? Invest your time by becoming a mentor in your community. Research shows that the presence of a mentor helps significantly improve the lives of a young person. There are various opportunities to become a mentor. You can join the President’s call for mentors here. In the words of my school’s founder Benjamin Franklin, keep in mind that “an investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”

Jesus Perez is an International Relations major and the junior class president at the University of Pennsylvania. As an intern for the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics during the Summer of 2014, he worked to enhance and advance the President’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative.










Hispanic Heritage Month Teacher Profile, Juan Govea

Juan Govea

Juan Govea

Biology Teacher in Salinas, CA

Juan Govea has deep ties to his community: he teaches biology at the high school he attended, in the city where he was born and raised. As a young adult, Juan searched for a career that would meld his passion for science with his family’s long-standing commitment to social activism. While earning his degree in Environmental Sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz, Juan began to consider teaching.  After college, a year of teaching special education students inspired Juan to enter the profession. He gained a M.Ed from Stanford University and returned to his home town to teach biology at Salinas High School. He is guided by his core belief that education is key to leveling a social and economic playing field that is too often stacked against large segments of our society. While at Salinas High School, Juan helped found the systematic intervention committee, a program that identifies and assists students in danger of failing. He has served as science department chair and the school’s coordinator for AVID – a program designed to guide first generation college-bound students. He also sits on the board of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, where he works to bridge the divide between the world-renowned institution and local children.

Why do you teach? I teach because I believe equal education for all is the social justice issue of our generation.

What do you love about teaching? Schools and students are amazing beacons of hope. Students hope to ace a test, to play well in the big game, to achieve a better life for their children. Being around all that youthful hope is invigorating and inspiring.

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you? I was blessed with many great teachers. In kindergarten, Mrs. Helgren taught me how fun exploration could be. In Mrs. Gerstl’s geography class in third grade, I learned what a large world we lived in. In seventh grade, Mrs. Kendall taught me to express myself in words. As my U.S. History teacher (and later as my colleague), Mrs. Thure showed me how to be a good teacher, every day of every year.

Hispanic Heritage Month Teacher Profile, Silvia R. Macdonald

Silvia R. Macdonald

Silvia Rodriguez Macdonald

Elementary ESOL Teacher in Clarksburg, MD

Silvia Macdonald is an accomplished teacher and leader driven by her own experiences as a minority student to teach current youths. Of Cuban and Spanish descent, Silvia has relied on her personal experiences to provide opportunities for the success and advocacy of Hispanic children and English Language Learners.  Her daily goal is to make a difference in the lives of the children she teaches and the community by affecting a positive change. Silvia transitioned into the educational field in 2005 after working as a real estate agent. It was in this career that Silvia noticed the difficulty of educating first-time homebuyers who were Hispanic and had difficulty with English. Deciding she could better serve the community as an English instructor, Silvia has served as the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) teacher at Lois P. Rockwell Elementary School since 2005. Silvia has also served as a member of Rockwell Elementary School’s Instructional Leadership Team, co-chair of the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Professional Learning Community (PLC), co-chair of the Reading and Writing PLC, and leads the ESOL and Academic Support teams. She has also chaired the Montgomery County Education Association’s ESOL Labor Management Collaborative Committee.  Silvia is an active member of the Elementary Council for Teaching and Learning and serves on the Council’s Cultural Competency and Equity sub-committee.  In 2012, Silvia was selected as a White House Champion of Change by the White House and the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.

Why do you teach? My passion for teaching is driven by my amazement of how children grow, develop, and learn.  Over time, children’s experiences impact their learning and their future.  My desire is to help bring equity to their learning experience and impress upon each child that they can be and do anything they want as long as they make the effort to be successful in their achievements.  Every child’s first teachers are their parents.  For some, they may face many challenges.  I hope that I can be a teacher of inspiration to all of my students and my children, just as my mother was to me.  As a divorced mother, she was my first teacher.  Although we faced many challenges, she always instilled in me that my education was important and that it was my education and my efforts that were going to help me achieve great success.

Hispanic Heritage Month Teacher Profile, Bobbi Ciriza Houtchens

Bobbi Houtchens

Bobbi Ciriza Houtchens

San Bernardino, CA

Bobbi has had a long and storied career as an educator and finally retired after 40 years of teaching English and English language development.  She currently lives in Los Angeles works as a consultant to support teachers who have English learners in their classrooms. Before her retirement, Bobbi worked in a variety of classrooms, from traditional to migrant labor camps. She also worked with educators in Oaxaca, Mexico. Bobbi’s formal academic training consisted of earning a B.A. and Licenciado from Elbert Covell College at the University of the Pacific, completing the requirements for three majors: Latin American Politics, Teaching English as a Second Language, and Spanish. Bobbi also earned a M.A. in Bilingual/Bicultural Literacy from California State University San Bernardino. Her inspiration comes from the stories of her immigrant mother, who often suffered great cruelties such as being sprayed by school nurses with insecticide for simply being an immigrant unable to speak English. Bobbi has also worked as a U.S. Department of Education Teaching Ambassador Fellow in the Office of English Language Acquisition.

Why do you teach? I have always felt compelled to teach in order to make the world a better place, even if it is just for one student at a time.  I started when I was very young, bribing  neighborhood kids with candy to come to “school” in my backyard, and I haven’t stopped since!  A large part of my motivation was to make sure that the horrible things that happened to my mother in school never happened to other students.

What do you love about teaching? It’s difficult to list all that I love about teaching.  I love the sound of “aaaahhh” when students finally get something they have been struggling with.  I love the connection I get with students and their families, the satisfaction on their faces when they accomplish what they believed was impossible and knowing that I had a part in that satisfaction.  I especially love hearing from students years after they have been in my classes and having them tell me that my words still ring in their ears, especially when life is tough.  I still continue to inspire them somehow.  That is priceless and gives my life meaning!!

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you?  I had two teachers who inspired me:  Mrs. Bose in second and third grades, who turned me into a reader and writer.  She loved me and believed I was going to be a great writer.  Mr. Winsor, my high school Spanish teacher, who also loved me and believed that I was going to do something great some day and that I could do it better if I was fluent in Spanish.  They were both tough, demanding, dedicated teachers.

New Commitments to Improve College Opportunity

Cross-posted from The White House Blog

Last January, I listened to the President ask hundreds of college presidents to increase college opportunity for all Americans. He asked them to help because a college degree remains one of the surest pathways into the middle class in America, and is an especially powerful engine of social and economic mobility.

Over this decade, nearly 8 in 10 new jobs will require some postsecondary education or training beyond high school. And of the 30 fastest growing occupations, half require a college degree. At the same time, college graduates earn an average of 77 percent more per hour than a high school graduate. President Obama set forth a goal early in his first term to guide our work in education – to lead the world with the highest proportion of college graduates by 2020.

And yesterday, I had the privilege of joining Secretary Duncan in meeting with community college leaders who have made new commitments to ensure student success, because, in order to make progress on our goal to be first in the world, we need to embrace some of the foundational challenges to college enrollment, persistence, and completion.

Our nation’s community colleges are the engines of our higher education system. As the largest part of America’s higher education system, these institutions provide the education and training to prepare our 21st century workforce and are an ideal place to raise the knowledge and skills of our workforce – and to meet the academic needs of a diverse population of learners, from recent high school graduates to adults seeking new skills.

Following yesterday’s meeting, today we are announcing several developments in our efforts to expand college opportunity for all:

  • The White House announces second College Opportunity Summit: The Administration is announcing that the White House will host another College Opportunity Summit on December 4, 2014. The goal of this conference will build on the work launched in the first College Opportunity Summit last January, while launching initiatives in new areas. This year’s summit will focus on building sustainable collaborations in communities with strong K-12 and higher education partnerships to encourage college going, and supporting colleges to work together to dramatically improve persistence and increase college completion, especially for first-generation, low-income, and underrepresented students.
  • New community college partners working to expand college opportunity: The Administration is announcing 14 new commitments by community colleges to expand college opportunity by strengthening college readiness for academically underprepared students, building on the more than 100 colleges and universities and 40 nonprofit organizations who made commitments in January.
  • New commitments from the field to strengthen college readiness: The Department of Education’s Institute for Education Studies (IES) is launching a new Center for the Analysis of Postsecondary Readiness (CAPR) led by the Community College Research Center (CCRC) at Teachers College, Columbia University and the social policy research organization MDRC that will work to strengthen the research, evaluation, and support of college-readiness efforts across the nation. In addition, Khan Academy is announcing new commitments that will focus on technology-based solutions customized to improve student success in developmental math. Lastly, the Great Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corporation will commit $5 million, partnering with MDRC, the Ohio Board of Regents, and City University of New York (CUNY) to replicate CUNY’s successful Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) to support as many as 2,000 community college students in Ohio to help more students graduate sooner.
  • Continued progress on ongoing college opportunity commitments: In addition to new commitments, we continue to make progress on our previously announced efforts to expand access to college for all students, including efforts to improve the effectiveness of college advising and enhance support for school counselors, and increasing efforts to boost student achievement in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and to broaden participation in STEM fields to women, underrepresented groups, and students from low-income or underserved communities.

These efforts have inspired engagement and supported the progress of education leaders who are taking collective action in their schools, on college campuses, and in their communities to do all they can to help more low-income students prepare to enter and succeed in college.

For more information, read our fact sheet here.

Cecilia Muñoz is an Assistant to the President and Director of the Domestic Policy Council.

Students Who Have Beaten the Odds Share Their Stories with the Secretary

Cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Education’s blog, Homeroom

Secretary Duncan with students

Secretary Duncan and members of the most recent Student Voices session. From left to right: Darius Wesley, Jordan Roberts, Juan Montano, Rachel Scott, Michella Raymond, Deja Chapman, Tenzin Choenyi, Julia Jent, Kristen Fraenig, Anthony Mendez, and Dr. Freeman Hrabowski (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

The move from middle school to high school is exciting for some students, but can be incredibly difficult for others. Some students require intensive support to stay on the path to graduation, and that support can take many different forms.

That was the sentiment expressed by Secretary Arne Duncan during a recent session of Student Voices, where young people from across the country gather and chat with senior ED staff about what it’s like to be a student in America today.

Darius was one of the 10 students who attended and, for him, this transition was almost insurmountable. His mother suffered a severe stroke and went into a deep coma during his freshman year of high school, forcing him and his siblings to move to the far south side of Chicago. On top of coping with the emotional and physical strain of his mother’s condition, because he was forced to move, he had to wake up at 4 a.m. to get to school every day, and he often stayed late for basketball practice, which took a toll on his academics. He explained, “tiredness grew over me and teachers berated me for not paying attention in class. I didn’t want to let my mother down, and as I felt alone in this situation, basketball was my stress reliever.” His coach noticed that Darius needed more support, so he offered to give him rides to school and eventually invited him to live with him. After a few months with his coach he moved in with a friend and this experience altered the course of his life.

Darius will be attending Southern Vermont College in the fall, where he has received a Mountaineer Scholarship. Darius has become empowered to take control of his future knowing that he can overcome any obstacles he may encounter in college. Darius still continues to struggle to keep his family together but feels his success is what’s needed to keep them all together.

Rachel, a student from Washington State, told Secretary Duncan that as one of five children growing up on a farm, she also faced seemingly insurmountable challenges.

After losing her mother, she moved into the foster care system. Rachel told Duncan that “constant moving created gaps in my learning. I can do advanced math, but because of the lapses in primary education, some of the basic middle school stuff troubles me.” Luckily, she explained, she was able to eventually stay with her aunt, who became her main source of support. Once she settled into life with her aunt, things changed. During her high school career, she took advanced placement math and sciences and worked twenty hours a week at her family’s restaurant. This fall, she will attend the University of Washington to study Marine Biology and Ocean Sciences.

After hearing from several other students, Secretary Duncan then asked all of the attendees to think about who or what helped them to beat the odds and graduate high school. The students agreed that strong mentors and role models, high expectations, and relevant college information made the strongest impacts.

Do you have a unique story to tell? We would like to hear made a difference in your life and education or for the youth in your community. Please send your story to

This session was a part of the ongoing “Student Voices” series at the Department, in which students engage with senior staff members to help develop recommendations on current and future education programs and policies

Samuel Ryan is a special assistant and youth liaison in the Office of Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education

My Brother’s Keeper Data Jam: Old World Values with New World Strategies and Tools

Cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Education blog, Homeroom

Students at the Data Jam

Nearly 20 teams worked through the day on crafting compelling ways to show data and creative solutions to chronic challenges. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)


When President Obama launched the My Brother’s Keeper Initiative, he called on Americans to make sure that every American — including our boys and young men of color — can reach their full potential. On August 2, over 150 people showed up early on a Saturday morning for a “Data Jam” hosted by the U.S. Department of Education, in partnership with Georgetown University and the Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation. The Jam took place at Georgetown Downtown in Washington, D.C.

The My Brother’s Keeper Data Jam brought together a diverse group of high school students, teachers, data scientists, data visualization experts, developers and community and non-profit leaders. The aim was to find new and better ways to use data to highlight opportunities and create solutions that can improve life outcomes for all students, including boys and young men of color. It was a powerful day.

A group of young men started us off with compelling spoken word performances that reminded all in attendance of the incredible challenges they face and enormous potential they hold. While acknowledging the role they had to play in changing the narrative of their own lives, they made plain the real danger and risks they face each day and expressed frustration in having to overcome the negative stereotypes that are applied to them and their peers.

The attendees then broke into teams focused on the six universal goals outlined in the My Brother’s Keeper 90 Day Task Force Report– entering school ready to learn; reading at grade level by third grade; graduating from high school ready for college and career; completing post-secondary education or training; successfully entering the workforce; and reducing violence and providing a second chance. The teams were designed to capitalize on the range of perspectives and expertise among the participants. The student and teacher team members almost uniformly commented that they had never before been engaged in developing or even asked about tools and resources that impact their daily lives.

Nearly 20 teams worked through the day on crafting compelling ways to show data and creative solutions to chronic challenges – ranging from strategies to reduce preschool suspensions and expulsions to websites that enable students to find career paths and the required education or training to access them. At the end of the day, seven teams were voted by other participants as having the most promising ideas, and those teams committed to moving these and other ideas forward.

We are excited about the ideas that emerged and anxiously await seeing these ideas in action. We are even more excited about the lessons learned from the day and how they will improve future Data Jams that I am sure other colleges and universities will be clamoring to host. But we are most excited by the demonstration of commitment and unbelievable energy of the individuals and teams that participated. With no cash prizes or press coverage, these people leaned in and showed a big part of what My Brother’s Keeper is all about – people coming together to help our young people and the country. The Data Jam simply applied a little technology and innovation to that simple but profound concept and left many of us feeling inspired.

Yet, nothing was as inspiring to me as the time I had during lunch with the youth in attendance. They asked how I got where I am; how I avoided and dealt with the violence in my neighborhood; how best to survive and excel on campuses where they, for the first time, might come across few people with similar backgrounds and experiences; and many other questions about life as they know it and imagine it. They shared their stories of struggle and triumph as well as their plans for the future and the impact they plan to have on the world. Their questions and their stories reminded me, as one young man said in the morning session, they are “overcoming every day.” So if we create ladders of opportunity, they are more than willing to climb. And, that, too, is a big part of what My Brother’s Keeper is all about.

Jim Shelton is Deputy Secretary at the U.S. Department of Education and Executive Director of the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force.

The My Brother’s Keeper initiative is a collaborative, multi-disciplinary approach led by an interagency federal task force to build ladders of opportunity and unlock the full potential of our young people, including boys and young men of color. Learn more about My Brother’s Keeper.

The Beeck Center for Social Impact & Innovation at Georgetown University exists to inspire and prepare students, faculty and global leaders with the necessary skills to generate and innovate solution-based social change both locally and internationally. It will promote collaborative spaces for fostering innovation and provide experiential opportunities to pragmatically impact the social sector. Learn more about the Beeck Center.

Drawing the Right Lessons from Vergara

Cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Education blog, Homeroom

Sometimes conflict is the starting point on the path to progress.

That’s one of two possible ways events could play out in the wake of Vergara v. California,a court case that is driving enormous debate throughout the education world.

Brought on behalf of nine public school students, the Vergara case argued that California’s laws on teacher tenure and placement violate the right to an education in the state constitution. The lawsuit claimed that minority and low-income students are deprived of effective teachers by state laws that, in essence, award lifetime employment to teachers after as little as 18 months, and that require layoffs on the basis of seniority.

Last week, a judge agreed, saying these laws deprive students of their civil rights. The decision affirmed the fundamental duty to ensure that all students, regardless of zip code, family income or skin color, receive a quality education – starting with an effective teacher.

The question is, what happens now?

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