Author Archives: wp_mu_admin

Charter Schools Program Seeking Reviewers for State-Level Grant Competition

The Office of Innovation and Improvement is seeking peer reviewers for the FY 2015 Charter Schools Program (CSP) State Educational Agency (SEA) grant competition. This is a competitive grant program that enables SEAs to provide financial assistance, through subgrants to eligible applicants, for the planning, program design, and initial implementation of charter schools and for the dissemination of information about successful charter schools.

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Engagement, Creativity and Inspiration Found in New Afterschool STEM Programs.

Engagement, Creativity and Inspiration Found in New Afterschool STEM Programs.

Team Cupcake, Team Imaginators, Team Spaced Out, and Thinkers of Tomorrow. These are some of the hard-working student teams that can say that they have tackled challenges similar to those faced by National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) scientists and engineers.

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STEM Programs at the Department of Education: Supporting Teachers and Students

This week, the President recognized some of the best and brightest science and engineering students from across the country during the 2015 White House Science Fair. At the Department of Education (the Department), we share the President’s commitment to supporting science education that is student-centered and grounded in real-world settings. We have made great strides in improving and broadening science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education for all students by including STEM priorities in dozens of competitive grant programs in recent years. Most recently, the Department announced that the 2015 Ready-to-Learn Television grant competition will, for the first time, include a priority to support the development of television and digital media focused on science.

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Teaching and Learning are Personal and Collaborative at Jones Elementary

At Jones Elementary School in Springdale, Ark., the number of students reading on grade level has almost tripled — from 26 to 73 percent — in eight years. “Our students succeed because we have teachers who expect them to succeed,” explains Principal Melissa Fink about this and other achievements of the schools’ nearly 600 students, 99 percent of whom live in poverty. In addition to believing in each student’s potential, she and the Jones Elementary faculty work to strategically remove obstacles to learning, make teacher teamwork a top priority, and effectively use data to improve teaching and learning.

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Continuing to Serve: The Path from Afghanistan to the Front of the Classroom

Cross-posted from the Department Homeroom.

“Mr. Thompson! What does this book have to do with you being in the Army?” asked a curious Suzanne.

I had prepared a special lesson for my tenth grade world history class around Veterans Day; students were assigned several artifacts to analyze from my years of service with the 82nd Airborne Division. Suzanne noticed other groups handling more enticing objects like my helmet, which had once protected me on parachute jumps and dismounted patrols.

“I want to see the helmet, not this book,” demanded Suzanne.

She was about to put the book down, initial curiosity having given way to clear disappointment, when I provided some needed redirection.

“Remember, Suzanne, that a historian is like a detective. There’s always more to investigate; don’t give up,” I urged.

Suzanne still visibly frustrated, opened the paperback edition of Frank McCourt’s Teacher Man, which details the author’s experiences as a high school teacher at several New York City schools. McCourt, who is known for his Pulitzer Prize winning Angela’s Ashes, would have understood my challenge with engaging Suzanne in the lesson.

Brian Thompson in Afghanistan.

Brian Thompson in Afghanistan. Over the next several years, the number of service members transitioning from military to civilian life is expected to increase significantly.

The book was among many items—AA batteries, beef jerky, headlamps, candy, magazines, powdered drinks, socks—my mom carefully packed up in hundreds of boxes. She would make weekly trips to her local post office in Tucson, Arizona, for 13 consecutive months, fill out a customs form, hand over the package to a supportive postal employee, and it would always find its way to my small outpost in the rugged mountains of Afghanistan.

Suzanne’s curiosity returned as she opened the book and looked at the inside cover. She read my mother’s inscription to me out loud, “You would make a terrific teacher — just like Mr. McCourt — especially with that sarcastic sense of humor.”

Suzanne smiled and looked up at me and without any hesitation asked question after question about my mom, the book, and my time in the military. Suzanne was now acting like a good detective, and with her interrogation nearing its end, asked one final question.

“Did you become a teacher because of this book?”

It was an excellent and timely question.

Over the next several years, the number of service members transitioning from military to civilian life is expected to increase significantly. A growing number of these veterans will be enrolling at colleges and universities as they seek to become career-ready and improve their future prospects for employment.

I know firsthand about this transition. While deployed, I often thought about my life after the Army, and I wanted to do something where I could still continue to serve my country. After reading Teacher Man, I realized the best way to do just that was to go back to school, so I could one day stand in front of a classroom as a teacher.

I encourage my fellow veterans to consider teaching as your next career step; you will realize soon after leaving the military that the passion to serve others does not subside when you take off that uniform. You will not only discover that teaching provides a sense of challenge and purpose that you once thought could only be found with a career in the military, but you will also be surprised just how good you are at doing it.

The skills you learned in the military—whether the leadership you experienced conducting patrols or the teamwork you developed fixing helicopters—will translate to success in the classroom. It was my own experience in the military that contributed in my development as a teacher and led to my 2012 Excellence in Teaching Award. There are many stories of other veterans succeeding in the classroom such as Air Force veteran Daniel Lejia who was the 2011 Texas Teacher of the Year. The anecdotal evidence and academic research proves that veterans make great teachers.

Brian Thompson at school. (Photo courtesy of Standing Ovation for DC Teachers)

Brian Thompson at school. (Photo courtesy of Standing Ovation for DC Teachers)

The good news for veterans interested in pursuing a teaching career is they can turn to programs that are designed to help them get in front of a classroom. ED is a proud supporter of the U.S. Department of Defense’s Troops to Teachers (TTT) program. TTT provides counseling and referral services for interested veterans to help them meet the education and licensing requirements necessary to secure a teaching position. Since 1994, TTT has helped over 17,000 veterans become teachers. Even non-profit organizations have launched initiatives designed to bring more veterans into the teaching profession such as Teach for America’s “You Served America, Now Teach for America.”

Sid Ellington, who made the transition from Navy SEAL to teacher and now directs the initiative, has said, “Students will greatly benefit from a veteran’s depth of experience, strength in leadership, and desire to serve their country.”

Suzanne was one of these students. After the school bell ended the day’s lesson, she approached me with an interesting idea.

“I like your mom, Mr. Thompson. I’m glad she sent you that book because you make history interesting. I think more veterans should teach.”

I encourage my fellow veterans to consider teaching as a way to continue serving this great country and making an impact on the lives of students like Suzanne.

Brian Thompson is a Presidential Management Fellow with the Military Affairs Team in the Office of Innovation and Improvement at the U.S. Department of Education. He served as a Sergeant in the U.S. Army.

Secretary Duncan Hears From Veterans on Challenges to College Success

Cross-posted from the Department Homeroom.

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Secretary Duncan recently met with student veterans. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

How do we as a country provide supports on college campuses for veterans and ensure they have access to high-quality education at an affordable price? This question helped focus a Student Voices Session that recently took place with Secretary Duncan in Washington, D.C. The goal of the conversation was to understand the issues student veterans face, identify institutions of higher education that are providing comprehensive supports, and take action at the local, state, and federal levels.

The Obama administration is encouraging institutions to sign on to the 8 Keys to Veterans’ Success, a voluntary initiative through the Departments of Education and Veterans Affairs by which colleges and universities can support veterans as they pursue their education and employment goals. Already, over 1,000 schools have signed on to support service members in transitioning to higher education, completing their college programs, obtaining career-ready skills, and building toward long-term success.

Abby Kinch, a current Florida State University (FSU) student and former Air Force Cryptologic Linguist, spoke about FSU’s Veterans Center, which provides veterans with a one-stop shop for on-campus support and a place to enhance their development as student leaders. Many of the students in attendance were impressed by the resources available for veterans at FSU and said they would like to see them replicated in their colleges and universities.

Franchesca Rivera, a former Marine and current Art Institute of Washington student and certifying official, passionately spoke about the need for transparency with regard to the cost of college, what the GI Bill will actually cover, and what student veterans should expect to pay. Rivera mentioned that, while most schools serving veterans have a dedicated VA certifying official, the people in this position have a high level of turnover and therefore it is hard to get accurate information.

Veterans Affairs Undersecretary Allison Hickey responded that the VA partially covers the school’s reporting costs and that her office will look into how these positions are trained to ensure certifying officials have the knowledge needed to assist veterans pursuing higher education. Additionally, she notes that the VA has just released a more robust GI Bill Comparison Tool, which will help students find the best programs that fit their needs.

As the secretary was discussing follow-up opportunities, Samuel Innocent, a senior at the City College of New York, suggested that the Student Veterans of America and other student-led veterans’ chapters could create a nationwide student survey to provide tangible feedback on schools’ services for veterans, and on state and federal assistance programs. The goal of the survey would be to strengthen what works and re-tool programs that are not having desired outcomes for meeting veterans’ needs.

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

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

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.

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Success in Arizona: A Focus on Increasing Quality Schools in Phoenix’s Urban Core

Vista Prep founder Julia Meyerson (left) observes a small-group lesson to provide coaching and support for the teacher. Vista Prep is a New Schools For Phoenix pilot school that achieved impressive results in its inaugural year. (Photo courtesy of New Schools For Phoenix)

Vista College Prep founder Julia Meyerson (left) observes a small-group lesson to provide coaching and support for the teacher. Vista Prep is a New Schools For Phoenix pilot school that achieved impressive results in its inaugural year. (Photo courtesy of New Schools For Phoenix)

Phoenix charter school leaders Jenna Leahy and Tacey Clayton believe that something has to change for students in the nation’s sixth-largest city. The majority of the 215 public schools in the Phoenix urban core serve low-income, minority students, and of those schools, only 8 percent received an “A” — the highest academic performance label — in 2014.

After two years of leadership and school development, Jenna and Tacey are poised to help change the life paths of Phoenix students, as CASA Academy opened its doors to 149 students in kindergarten through second grade this August.

CASA and six other schools are part of a new initiative, New Schools For Phoenix, that grew out of a three-year, $1,179,855 National Leadership Activities grant from OII’s Charter Schools Program (CSP) to the Arizona Charter Schools Association in 2010.

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Ready To Learn Series Gets the Red Carpet Treatment

Billy Aronson (second from left) and Jennifer Oxley, co-creators of “Peg + Cat,” a production of the Fred Rogers Company, share their Emmy Awards for “Outstanding Pre-School Children’s Animated Series” and “Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation for Production Design” with Ready to Learn (RTL) program manager Brian Lekander (left) and RTL program officer Adam Bookman. (Department of Education photo by Paul Woods)

Billy Aronson (second from left) and Jennifer Oxley, co-creators of “Peg + Cat,” a production of the Fred Rogers Company, share their Emmy Awards for “Outstanding Pre-School Children’s Animated Series” and “Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation for Production Design” with Ready to Learn (RTL) Program Manager Brian Lekander (left) and RTL Program Officer Adam Bookman. (Department of Education photo by Paul Wood)

Peg + Cat, the animated PBS KIDS math series launched last fall, won three Daytime Creative Arts Emmy Awards last month, including Outstanding Pre-School Children’s Animated Series. Funded in part by ED’s Ready To Learn (RTL) program, the series follows the spirited Peg and her loyal sidekick Cat, as they embark on hilarious musical adventures, learning math concepts along the way. The series provides young viewers with a new way to experience math and highlights its importance in a variety of everyday situations. Music is used as a teaching tool throughout the series and each episode features an original song.

Series co-creator and executive producer Jennifer Oxley also received the Emmy for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation for Production Design. Oxley made her first film at the age of 7 and has devoted much of her professional career to educational television and film, including direction of 15 short films for Sesame Street, as well as the award-winning adaptation of Spike Lee and Tanya Lewis Lee’s children’s book, Please, Baby, Please. Eleven-year-old Hayley Faith Negrin, the voice of Peg and the youngest nominee at this year’s Daytime Emmy Awards, received the award for Outstanding Performer in a Children’s Program.

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