National Charter Schools Week Proclaimed by President Obama

Charter schools play an important role in America meeting its obligation to “equip all our students with the education and skills that put them on the path to a bright future,” according to President Barack Obama, in proclaiming May 5 through 11 as National Charter Schools Week, 2013.

America’s approximately 6,000 charter schools are “learning laboratories [that] give educators the chance to try new models and methods that can encourage excellence in the classroom and prepare more of our children for college and careers,” according to President Obama.

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22 Charter, Magnet, and Private Schools Among 2013 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools Awardees

The second-annual U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools award honorees were announced on April 22nd by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan at the Mundo Verde Bilingual Public Charter School in Washington, D.C.  Mundo Verde is one of the 64 schools being recognized for their exemplary efforts to create healthier learning spaces and educate students on the importance of environmental protection. The secretary was joined by the Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality Nancy Sutley and Acting Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency Bob Persiacepe.

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i3-Funded Curriculum Transformation Documented and Shared

Today, released a new video featuring one of OII’s i3 grantees — Bellevue School District’s Sammamish High School in Washington state. The video documents the transformation from the school’s use of traditional curriculum to problem-based learning. The district was awarded an i3 Development grant in 2010 for the development and implementation of a scalable, sustainable, 21st-century, skills-based program. This type of learning allows teachers to facilitate conversations and provide more effective classroom instruction; it also allows students to take more ownership in the learning process — how they connect to and learn the material, and how they put new knowledge into practice.

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Leading in a Diverse Workplace: ED Staff Learn How From Award-Winning Teachers

“In an increasingly diverse world, it is important for teachers to have the skills to reach every student in the classroom and close the achievement gap,” said the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance Director Maureen Costello, at the Department of Education to help lead a conversation about diversity. The Department invited Costello, along with the 2012 Teaching Tolerance Excellence in Culturally Responsive Teaching Awardees, who were in D.C. to receive their awards. They engaged employees in an extended conversation on diversity, helping employees to understand their effective classroom practices and to translate their experiences and insights into lessons about leading, whether in classrooms, schools, or federal agencies.

The Southern Poverty Law Center is a storied “nonprofit civil rights organization dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry, and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of society.” For 20 years, Teaching Tolerance has worked to reduce prejudice, improve intergroup relations, and support equitable experiences for the nation’s children. “This awards program recognizes teachers who excel at teaching students from diverse backgrounds in a way that promotes student achievement,” said Costello. The five awardees are:

Lhisa R. Almashy
Park Vista High School
Lake Worth, Fla.

Anna E. Baldwin
Arlee High School
Arlee, Mont.

Darnell Fine
Atlanta Neighborhood Charter Middle School
Atlanta, Ga.

Robert P. Sautter
Leonard R. Flynn Elementary School
San Francisco, Calif.

Laurence Tan
122nd Street Elementary School
Los Angeles, Calif.

Putting terms like “tolerance” and “diversity” into action

Costello acknowledged that it is very difficult to say what “tolerance,” defined as culturally responsive teaching and curriculum by the Teaching Tolerance project, looks like. Out of this difficulty grew the teaching awards program. The four teachers who led the conversation gave the audience powerful examples of teachers who turn differences to an advantage for learning. One said teaching is beyond a job—it is not something you do but rather something you live. To be successful at it you have to know your constituents as individuals, build connections with their families, and come to know the neighborhoods where they live.

Describing the value of knowing students’ families, another of the teachers posited that, in addition to learning so much every day from his students about how to teach them well, this learning is multiplied 10-fold when he has a relationship with their parents. His effort to accomplish that is a model with a high bar: He calls every family before the start of the school year to invite them to school to talk about how they can work together; he tries to connect with them every day; he calls their homes; and he makes home visits to families who want him to come. His purpose is centered by this challenge: Be a road block to our students’ learning in our school, or help them get on board. He is now a trainer for “educators of equity” at his school, which means, for example, that he helps to raise awareness among the staff about what white privilege means.

Taking that goal as a cue, another of the teachers defined “diversity” as defining identities in relation to a dominant culture and giving integrity to difference in order to equalize it. As an example, he asked “What is ‘intelligence'”? and pointed out that standardized testing privileges certain populations over others. Under that parameter, someone who is intelligent could be defined as not so. This led to the question of what diversity contributes to integrity, probably the highest value in any workplace. The answer: Meet people where they are, recognize each person comes to the table with something different, and raise people’s consciousness about the different people at the table.

Tomorrow’s great teachers are in today’s classrooms

The conversation turned to the key issues of teacher education and attracting potentially great teachers to the profession. All of the teachers agreed with Costello’s summary of the discussion: To create the next generation of great teachers requires that the current generation of students have great experiences in school now—exactly like these award-winning teachers ensure their students will have every day in their classrooms.

ED staff who participated in the discussion took with them valuable lessons for paying attention to both the gifts and needs their colleagues bring every day to the workplace.

To read more about the individual awardees and see videos of them in their classrooms, click here.

All 2012 Investing in Innovation Top Applicants Secure Private Donors’ Support

(December 18, 2012) Today the U.S. Department of Education announced all 20 of the highest-rated applicants in the 2012 Investing in Innovation (i3) competition have secured their required private-sector matching funds and have become official i3 grantees. Together, they will share more than $140 million in federal funds to expand innovative practices designed to accelerate achievement and help prepare every student to succeed in college and in their careers.

“We know private partners play a huge role in driving local education reform efforts when they can invest in promising ideas, and these grantees have proposed a variety of innovative approaches to close achievement gaps and ultimately prepare every student for lifelong success,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “Partnerships like these are vital to supporting teachers and students as they tackle some of the toughest issues in education.”

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Department Announces Highest-rated Applications for Investing in Innovation 2012 Competition

(November 8, 2012) The U.S. Department of Education today announced results for the third round of the Investing in Innovation (i3) competition, which will award the 20 highest-rated applications more than $140 million to expand innovative practices designed to improve student achievement. These 20 potential grantees, selected from 727 applications, must secure matching funds by Dec. 7, 2012, in order to receive federal funding.

“These potential grantees have innovative ideas to accelerate student achievement and address some of our biggest challenges in education,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “Identifying these applicants and having them foster partnerships with private donors will support promising approaches to tackle these issues, such as engaging parents as essential partners in their children’s learning and improving student academic growth in math and science.”

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Nonpublic School Leaders Attend Annual Forum

On September 27th, the Office of Non-Public Education (ONPE) hosted the 8th Annual Private School Leadership Conference at the U.S. Department of Education’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. Each year, the invitation-only event brings together 100 of the nation’s top private and home school educational leaders from across the country. We also welcomed representatives from state education agencies who are responsible for administering federal education programs on behalf of private school students. The conference provides a forum to address Department of Education programs and initiatives, listen to the concerns of the nonpublic school community, highlight innovative practices, and facilitate discourse between the Department and nonpublic school leaders.

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i3 Program is a Public Sector Bright Idea

OII’s Investing in Innovation program—better known as i3—is among 111 Bright Ideas recognized by the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Now in its third year, Bright Ideas recognizes efforts from all government levels, including school districts, county, city, state, and federal agencies as well as public-private partnerships, that demonstrate “a creative range of solutions to issues such as urban and rural degradation, environmental problems, and the academic achievement of students.”

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Department Awards $6.6 Million Grant to Support Arts Education

(September 19, 2012) The U.S. Department of Education today awarded a grant of $6,640,000 to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts to implement and expand its efforts in arts education and arts integration at the national level. Beginning with the first year of a three-year program, this grant will allow all children access to the life-changing benefits of an arts education.

“The study of the arts can significantly boost student achievement, reduce discipline problems, and increase the odds that students will go on to graduate from college,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “Arts education is essential to stimulating the creativity and innovation that will prove critical to young Americans competing in a knowledge-based, global economy.”

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i3 Project Directors Gather to Learn, Share, and Begin a New Project Year

Solving pressing education problems at scale, managing challenges posed by geography, engaging the community in school improvement, and sustaining reform efforts beyond federal project funding —these topics and more were tackled by i3 (Investing in Innovation) project directors and other key leaders who gathered in Washington, D.C., this past July. The i3 team held this second annual Project Directors Meeting on July 19-20, bringing together Department staff, i3 project directors and project personnel from the 2010 and 2011 grantee cohorts. Project evaluators and education leaders were also important contributors to this event. The event provided the grantees a range of experiences designed to assist them in their work as OII grantees and to help them build relationships with other i3 projects and personnel.

For those who received i3 support in FY 2011, the opportunity to get advice and guidance from their FY 2010 peers was invaluable. “It was especially great to hear that others were facing some of the same challenges I face,” said first-year project director Toria Williams of the Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools.

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