The entrance halls and ground floor public spaces of the U.S. Department of Education are filled year-round with color, creativity, and powerful ideas, thanks to the talents of young artists from the United States and around the world. In November, ED conducted a host of special activities celebrating the 15th anniversary of International Education Week, including an opening reception and ribbon cutting for the 2014 VSA international children’s art exhibit Yo soy…Je Suis…I am…My Neighborhood, presented by the Office of Very Special Arts (VSA) & Accessibility and the Department’s Student Art Exhibit Program. Each year VSA, a Jean Kennedy Smith Arts and Disability Program of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, receives over 700 international and national entries from students with disabilities, ages 3–22, and competition winners display their artwork at ED.
Each September brings a special day at the U.S. Department of Education: a day when the marble halls and foyers of the agency’s headquarters fill with excited crowds of students, teachers, families, local and visiting officials, and passionate supporters of the arts.
This year was no exception: on Friday, Sept. 19, winners of the 2014 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards were honored for their accomplishments. The Department sponsored the opening of two exhibits, one of awardees from around the country and one of Portland, Ore., awardees, with a total of 80 works of art. Among the honorees were the five newly chosen National Student Poets.
The day began with two workshops — one in the visual arts for the teachers of student winners, and one in poetry for the student winners.
What’s the first thing you think about when you hear about magnet schools?
If you had asked me before this summer, I probably wouldn’t have been able to answer the question. I knew a lot of people who attended magnet schools as kids, but that was about it.
After this summer, however, I know a great deal more about magnet schools and the role they play in American education. As an intern for the Magnet Schools Assistance Program (MSAP), I spent my summer researching Office of Innovation and Improvement funding to magnet schools and the impact of that money in 12 states nationwide. Magnet schools are free public schools that offer a specialized curriculum — like performing arts, International Baccalaureate (IB), or science — to students interested in a particular theme or focus.
The MSAP provides federal grants to local education agencies (LEAs) or consortia of LEAs to implement magnet school programs to achieve the primary purposes of promoting racial/ethnic diversity in schools and improving academic achievement.
During the past three years, the Illinois Network of Charter Schools (INCS) has dramatically expanded its work to educate Illinois residents about the charter school model, and to support charter school “design teams”— made up of teachers, former educators, and community organizations, for example — that seek to launch new, high-quality public schools in their respective communities. With support from the Office of Innovation and Improvement, INCS has grown its Charter Starter Consulting program to deliver consistent content and counsel to design teams while maintaining a strong focus on customized services. As a result, INCS has planted the seeds for additional charter schools to thrive, especially outside of Chicago, Illinois’ largest city, and to raise student achievement for increasing numbers of Illinois students.
On July 23, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) was proud to host the grand opening of the student art exhibit Museums: pARTners in Learning at its headquarters in Washington. In their second collaboration, ED and the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) worked for more than a year to present the visual artwork and creative writing from the arts education programs at 16 academic museums. Students, family members, teachers, and art museum directors from across the country celebrated the opening of the exhibit of magnificent work by students ages 5–17.
Deputy Under Secretary Jamie Studley welcomed guests to the Department and thanked AAMD for its partnership, adding that “we [at ED] are all about partnerships because we recognize that it is only in working together that we can achieve our goals.” Studley not only emphasized the critical partnership for learning between art and other classroom subjects, such as chemistry, history and math, she also noted the importance of art “as a source of inspiration and a way to practice discipline, build skills, and get better at doing something.”
Serving more than 21,000 students, Iredell-Statesville Schools (I-SS) in North Carolina ranks among the 20 largest school districts in the Tar Heel State. The district serves 36 schools in Iredell County — a diverse blend of urban, suburban, and rural neighborhoods — 40 miles north of Charlotte. Four years ago, the district faced a dilemma: While it ranked in the top 10 percent of North Carolina districts in academic performance, it needed to increase teacher effectiveness and boost the academic achievement of its high-needs students, English learners, and students with disabilities. And while district leaders had a plan to achieve this ambitious goal, the annual I-SS budget resided in the basement of the state’s 212 districts, in the bottom five percent.
The plan to achieve their North Star goal of equity in student achievement was aptly called COMPASS — Collaborative Organizational Model to Promote Aligned Support Structures — with the route to success predicated on targeted professional development that focuses on use of data, curricular improvements, and instructional approaches to identify where students are struggling and address their individual academic needs. I-SS teachers would be equipped with the tools to ensure that all of their students are on track to achieve their learning goals. Integral to this approach is the alignment of the school’s support structures for teachers and deepening existing professional learning communities where educators collaborate, analyze student performance data, and share best practices.
In 2010, I-SS entered their COMPASS plan in OII’s Investing in Innovation (i3) competition and received a $4.99 million Development grant, setting them on a multi-year journey that would begin with bolstered professional development, followed by piloting the new approach in several schools, and eventually result in district-wide implementation.
On May 2, six months after the government shutdown forced a stop to their art exhibit opening at the ED headquarters, a delegation of nearly 100 student artists, teachers, school administrators, and parents from the Iredell-Statesville Schools (I-SS) in North Carolina arrived at ED to celebrate the artistic accomplishments of students in the visual arts, music, theatre, and dance.
In recognition of their excellent work, Associate Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement Ursula Wright opened the program by applauding the district’s improved academic outcomes and decreased dropout rate as a result of its focus on arts integration. “Your collective investment in arts education is a testament to your communities’ commitment to uplifting the entire child,” she said, “… to ensuring that the youth in the Iredell-Statesville school system will receive a well-rounded education that will help to develop their creativity, increase engagement, and enrich their academic curriculum.”
Brady Johnson, the I-SS superintendent, expressed his gratitude for the students’ talents and his optimism for the great impact that their generation will have on the nation in the future. One saying in particular influenced his decision to make arts integration a central aspect of his district’s curriculum: “Kids can make beautiful art, but art can make beautiful kids.”
Across Colorado, students who don’t normally attend Advanced Placement (A.P.)* classes are not only attending, but also are earning passing scores in those classes. This is thanks to the Colorado Legacy Schools Initiative (CLSI) and its outreach to 23 high schools throughout the state. The Initiative’s purpose is to dramatically increase the number and diversity of students succeeding in math, science, and English A.P. courses.
A 2013 report by the Education Trust, Finding America’s Missing AP and IB Students, notes that while 91 percent of American public school students in 2010 attended high schools that offered A.P courses, only about 12 percent of those students participated in the courses. Moreover, that participation disproportionally favored middle- and high-income students, who were three times more likely to enroll in A.P. courses as low-income students. Similar advanced course participation disparities were found between racial and ethnic student groups. White students participated at the 12-percent national average for A.P. enrollment and Asian students at more than twice that rate. By contrast, the A.P. participation rates for black, American Indian, and Hispanic students ranged from six to nine percent. The “real advanced-course opportunity gap lies … not between schools, but within them,” the report noted, estimating that “if all groups of students attending AP schools were served equally, more than 640,000 additional low-income students and students of color would benefit.”
Other research supports CLSI’s commitment to seeing that students not just take A.P. courses but pass their rigorous exams, increasing the students’ competitiveness for college admissions and advance course credits, as well as their eligibility for scholarships, potential to double major or study abroad, and the likelihood of graduating in four years.
In November 2012, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) launched the One Million Lives Campaign with the goal of creating better school options for at least a million children in the nation’s charter schools. The campaign focuses on closing the poorest-performing schools, those charters that are failing our children, while opening even more great schools — schools that will succeed in living up to the promise of the charter school sector.
At the heart of this campaign is a set of activities funded by an OII Charter Schools Program (CSP) National Leadership Activities grant to NACSA. In the fall of 2010, NACSA initiated the Creating Quality Charter Schools through Performance Management, Replication, and Closure (PMRC) project to better address the unacceptable number of poor-performing schools that are charter schools. While the charter school sector has often led the way on accountability for performance, the systems for defining, measuring, and acting upon school quality, as well as for replicating good schools and for closing failing schools, are often lacking. The PMRC project was designed to leverage the current effective practices of authorizers successful in these areas and develop core policies and practices that can be disseminated and implemented across the nation.
What happens when you invite students to a project directors’ conference on school leadership? They infuse the atmosphere with energy and enthusiasm, push the envelope in thoughtful ways, inspire with their creativity, and remind the adults why our work is critical.
OII’s School Leadership Program office recently hosted a convening for 45 of its grantees currently implementing projects that prepare and develop principals to serve in high-need schools and districts. The conference provided an opportunity for districts, universities, partner organizations, Principal Ambassador Fellows, and federal policymakers to learn from each other and other experts in the field about how to improve and promote school leadership. Throughout the two-day conference, student performers graced the stage to intermittently bring our work back in focus while also challenging us all with provocative questions, such as “At what point does patience give way to urgency in our reforms?”