This year’s State of the Union Address was unlike any I had ever experienced before. I had just sat down in a room full of educators when I heard the word “teacher” come out of the President’s mouth, and to be precise, it was the fifth word. We were astounded. Then when he talked about other education issues–high school redesign, high quality preschool, connecting students to the best technology, making college more affordable and accessible, and high school graduation rates—we cheered, gave each other high-fives and knew that the President was with us.
While each topic resonated on a personal level with at least one educator or another in the room, for me, something bigger stood out…a call for equity.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan today announced that nine states will receive more than $71 million to continue efforts to turn around their persistently lowest-achieving schools through awards from the Department’s School Improvement Grants (SIG) program. The states that will be using the funds to make new awards are: Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Iowa, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma and South Dakota. Wyoming will use the funds to make continuation awards.
“When schools fail, our children and neighborhoods suffer,” Duncan said. “Turning around our lowest-performing schools is hard work but it’s our responsibility, and represents a tremendous opportunity to improve the life chances of children. We owe it to our children, their families and the broader community. These School Improvement Grants are helping some of the lowest-achieving schools provide a better education for students who need it the most.”
Growing up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin and graduating high school with a class size of 40 makes it easy to assume that I didn’t have the opportunities or the quality education needed to succeed beyond the classroom. However, since joining the FFA (formerly known as the “Future Farmers of America”) as a seventh grader, a foundation was laid to open many possibilities for my future. The student organization helped me network with agricultural leaders, interact with students from across the country, and grow as an individual.
In nine years of FFA membership, my agriculture teacher pushed me outside my comfort zone by encouraging me to compete in speaking contests and attend leadership conferences to meet new people. I served in leadership capacities and have given back to my community through a variety of service projects. It did not take me long to realize the positive impact that FFA can make on students and I found myself developing a passion for the organization and agricultural education. After experiencing all of this and watching the enthusiasm of other agriculture teachers, it felt natural for me to pursue my own career in agricultural education.
February is Career and Technical Education (CTE) month, and what could be more fitting than to announce that the name of the Office of Vocational and Adult Education has been changed to the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE). Vocational education was recognized as a national priority with the Smith-Hughes Act of 1917. “Career and Technical Education” has now replaced “vocational education” as a more accurate term to describe what and how students are studying to be career ready.
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has said, “The president and I believe that high-quality CTE programs are a vital strategy for helping our diverse students complete their secondary and postsecondary studies.” He acknowledged that those on a CTE track are helping our nation meet our economic and workforce challenges. “In fact, by implementing dual enrollment and early college models, a growing number of CTE pathways are helping students to fast-track their college degrees.”
When I take the court tonight for the NBA Celebrity All-Star Game, I’ll be wearing a number that signifies some great news – thanks to the hard work of our nation’s students, parents, and educators.
The number I’ll wear – 80 – is rarely seen on a basketball jersey – but represents a record in education.
That number – 80 percent — is the newly announced high school graduation rate, the highest in American history. Never before have 4 out of 5 American students completed high school. We have further to go, but this is a moment to celebrate the hard work of our educators.
As her teacher taught a lesson on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the struggle to advance civil rights, Catherine E. Lhamon’s then-four-year-old daughter proudly informed her class, “My mom does that!”
Lhamon has dedicated her life’s work to equity and justice. Appointed by President Obama, she is doing that as Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education.
“My own parents were active in civil rights and I attended law school knowing I wanted to make a difference,” said Lhamon, who earned her law degree at Yale after graduating summa cum laude from Amherst College.
There’s a transformation occurring at an elementary school in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the nation’s capital and it begins, each day, with chants and song. “Stand up!” and “C-O-L-L-E-G-E! College is the place for me!” ring out of the cafeteria where students gather for a daily morning ritual of activities designed to build school culture and student confidence. Just a few years ago, DC Scholars Stanton Elementary struggled with chronic underperformance and was long known as a place ruled by chaos, where neither students nor educators felt it was possible to focus on learning. Today, the school is turning around. With the help of strong partnerships and engaged stakeholders, chaos is being replaced with joy, as educational outcomes improve for the school’s young “scholars.”
On Monday, Secretary Arne Duncan visited DC Scholars Stanton to observe the school’s progress and to participate in a roundtable discussion, highlighting the importance of partnerships in the effort to dramatically improve teaching and learning in persistently low-achieving schools.
While ED’s National Blue Ribbon Schools (NBRS) are all national stars of educational excellence, the challenges faced in their respective communities are not equal. High student achievement earned Merrillville, Indiana’s Salk Elementary School its official status as a 2013 NBRS. However, those accomplishments came about amidst striking demographic changes, making Salk a superstar, in my book.
Since 2005, Salk’s low-income student population has nearly doubled, to 61 percent. The percentage of minority students – both black and Hispanic – also spiked more than 20 percent over the past 8 years in the Merrillville community, 40 minutes southeast of Chicago. The sheer number of students at Salk swelled from 479 to 674 in the same timeframe. And yet, more than 92 percent of all Salk students met or exceeded reading and math standards in 2012, including subgroups of black and Hispanic children, and students eligible for free or reduced priced meals.
The White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (WHIHBCU) today announced its first class of HBCU All-Stars, recognizing 75 undergraduate, graduate and professional students for their accomplishments in academics, leadership and civic engagement. Currently enrolled at 62 HBCUs, the All-Stars were selected from 445 students who submitted completed applications that included a transcript, resume, essay and recommendation. The HBCU All-Stars will serve as ambassadors of the White House Initiative by providing outreach and communication with their fellow students about the value of education and the Initiative as a networking resource.
“Engaging with the next generation of leaders who will graduate from HBCUs and go on to make meaningful contributions to society is crucial to the success of our community, our country and our global competitiveness,” said George Cooper, executive director of the WHIHBCUs. “It is a privilege to announce these 75 students who have demonstrated a commitment to both their own academic achievement and making a difference in their communities, and we look forward to working with them as partners in advancing President Obama’s college completion goal.”
Imagine you have a painful toothache that has gone untreated. Or a headache after squinting at the book you’re reading. Now imagine yourself in a classroom, struggling to pay attention and be engaged in class, with this pain gnawing at you.
For students in every part of our country, this has become a day-to-day reality.
A student’s health is strongly linked with his or her academic performance. The lack of health coverage – and the corresponding likelihood of poorer health – therefore makes it harder for many children in low-income and minority communities, to reach their full potential.