As students head back to school this fall, I travelled over the last two weeks on an eight-state bus tour to highlight “Courage in the Classroom.” The mission of the tour was simple: to honor our nation’s unsung heroes—our teachers.
We started in Little Rock, Ark., where I visited historic Central High School and talked to a group of teachers there about the Obama administration’s proposal to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), commonly known as No Child Left Behind. Our big blue bus then continued on to Hamburg, Arkansas, where I saw the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) at work on a rural high school campus that’s being upgraded and visited a pre-kindergarten center that is helping young learners start school on the right foot.
We then rolled into Louisiana. I joined students at a Monroe magnet school for a tour of their school’s garden and a conversation with the faculty about the importance of creating a healthy school environment. As both Secretary of Education and a parent, I’m a huge believer in the First Lady’s Let’s Move initiative. I also stopped by a lively gathering of the state teachers union and emphasized the important role their organization plays in shaping our nation’s future. In Tallulah, Louisiana, I got a workout when I played basketball with the Madison High School Jaguars.
The next day, we woke up in Jackson, Mississippi, and visited the Kids Kollege Children’s Defense Fund Freedom School at Jackson State University to talk with teacher interns about what we can do to recruit a new generation of effective teachers. We stopped for lunch in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, where I got teachers’ ideas for improving assessments of students’ learning and better compensating and evaluating teachers. In the last event of the southern leg of the tour, I visited George C. Hall Elementary School in Mobile, Alabama, to learn how the school and surrounding community have successfully turned around that school.
The trip through the South was a busy two days, but our tour didn’t end there. After a weekend back in Washington, the bus set out again, this time in the Northeast. We started in Albany, New York, where I joined Gov. Paterson to praise the state for its courage in reforming education, which the Department of Education recently recognized with a Race to the Top award.
In Massachusetts, another Race to the Top winner, I visited a high school in Springfield for a conversation about ways we can better engage students in their educations. Next, we went to Keene, New Hampshire, to meet some college students who are preparing to become teachers. We talked about how we can improve training to help them address the challenges they’ll face in the classroom. In Manchester, New Hampshire I dropped by Bakersville Elementary and toured the neighborhood, which is home to students from 18 different countries.
In Portsmouth, New Hampshire I talked with military families at the Naval Shipyard about the difficulties they face in providing their children with a consistently top-notch education as they move around our country and the world in our nation’s service.
Our last stop was Maine, one of several states on this tour that I hadn’t visited before as Secretary. In Portland I enjoyed the presentations of three rising 8th graders about the impact of the civil rights movement in their lives today.
Throughout the “Courage in the Classroom” tour, I was encouraged by teachers who are working hard to make a difference in the lives of students, often in difficult circumstances. From a teacher-in-training in Arkansas, who started his education as a 4 year old in the pre-kindergarten program I visited, to a teacher in Maine who has been in the classroom 35 years, the people I met along the way were truly inspiring. Through their tireless work, I am confident our nation will be able to achieve the President’s 2020 goal of having the highest college graduation rate in the world.
Although the tour is over, I remain interested in hearing from you about how Americans can educate our way to a better economy and once again lead the world in education. We can continue this conversation on ED.gov’s blog, on my Facebook page and on Twitter (@ED_Outreach).
Have a great school year, everyone.
Arne Duncan is the Secretary of Education