Engage and Connect

President Obama is committed to making this the most open and participatory administration in history. That begins with taking your questions and comments, inviting you to join online events with White House officials, and giving you a way to engage with your government on the issues that matter the most.

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Latest News

  • Teachers Learn from Technology Too

    Todd Nelsoney

    Todd Nesloney is being honored as a Connected Educator Champion of Change.

    When I first received the email saying I had been selected as a White House Champion of Change for being a connected educator, I sat in pure disbelief.  To this day, I still can’t believe that this is a reality.  I am a teacher in a tiny town in Texas, who never dreamed I would ever set foot in the White House, much less be recognized for my work.  If you would have asked me a year and a half ago what a “connected educator” was, I am sure I would have told you that it was a teacher who knew how to plug in a computer!

    Now my world is completely different.  Ever since getting “connected” a year and a half ago, my sphere of influence and my depth of learning have increased dramatically.  I can still remember the day that my former Assistant Superintendent walked into my classroom and convinced me to give Twitter a try.  At first, I was completely against Twitter, but I soon realized it would change my perspective more than I could have imagined. 

    When I became a connected educator, I  learned from others all over the world and began to form real meaningful relationships with other educators.  This recognition is a reflection, not just of me, but the connections I’ve made and the relationships I’ve built.  I’ve always said that I am only good at what I do because I surround myself with the most incredible, inspirational, boundary pushing, and thought provoking educators out there.  Educators whose hearts are in it for the betterment of the kids.  Educators who on a daily basis challenge my thinking, listen to my rants, provide me with encouragement, and most of all, supply an endless amount of innovative ideas.

    So in writing this, I have to give an enormous amount of credit to my PLN (Personal Learning Network).  Without them I would never have experienced any of the opportunities that have been placed before me and would not be the teacher, or person, I am today.  More importantly, it is my students who benefit the most from the monumental amount of learning that I undertake every day because I chose to become a connected educator.  I challenge YOU, to step outside your comfort zone, take the leap, and begin to connect today!

    Todd is a fifth grade teacher at Fields Store Elementary in Waller, Texas.  In addition to teaching Todd is one of the National School Board Association’s “20 to Watch”, one of the Center for Digital Education’s “Top 40 Innovators in Education”, a Classroom Champions Educator, a Flipped Classroom Certification Instructor for Sophia.org, part of the Remind101 Teacher Advisory Board, co-founder of “The 3 Tech Ninjas”, co-author of the book “Flipping 2.0”, and author of the children’s book “Spruce & Lucy”.

  • Using Technology to Reduce Recidivism of Prisoners

    Brian Walsh

    Brian Walsh is being honored as a Connected Educator Champion of Change.

    Washington State spends on average $32,000 per year to incarcerate one offender.  Reducing the recidivism rate- the number of offenders who return to prison after release- is a vital part of correctional public policy.

    Correctional education is one of the most effective tools to lower the recidivism rate.  A recent meta-analysis by RAND found that offenders who participated in education programs while incarcerated were 43% less likely to return to prison and 13% more likely to become employed.  The Washington State Institute for Public Policy has found that adult basic education, post-secondary education, and vocational education programs, have a net return to taxpayers and society of at least $13 per $1 spent.  Prison education programs help offenders prepare for reentry and are effective tools in reducing future crime.

    As director of correctional education programs at Peninsula College, I lead our community college’s efforts to prepare offender students to be successful workers and citizens when they are released.  For over 30 years our college has partnered with the Washington State Department of Corrections to create meaningful programs in high-demand occupations. Washington State community colleges have been innovative partners for change in corrections education by providing access to quality adult, post-secondary, and vocational education that is responsive to workplace demands. However, as society has become more interconnected through the Internet and as technology has changed education, corrections education has struggled to adapt.

    For reasons of public safety and institutional security, most states do not allow adult offenders to have access to the Internet’s readily available resources.  My faculty and I have worked to replicate those resources by collaborating with agencies that provide open educational materials to the public.  We have created our own disconnected Internet that includes Khan Academy Lite, an offline version of Khan Academy; courses from the National Repository of Open Resources; and the Correctional Offline Educational Platform, a webserver providing offline access to thousands of important websites.  Our faculty is able to recreate the hybrid classroom of the modern community college by combining both face to face and online instruction. Our ultimate goal is to offer a flipped classroom through low-cost tablets that would take advantage of the time that offenders have, while reducing costs through the use of open textbooks and open educational resources. By finding ways to use technology safely within the prison we believe we can more effectively prepare offenders for release at a lower cost to tax payers.

    I like to tell people that we have some of the best students imaginable.  They do all their homework, even the questions that aren’t assigned.  They don’t interrupt class with their cell phone. They come to class wanting to be there and knowing that it is the best opportunity they have in prison for a quiet, meaningful way to serve their sentence.  But our students have committed some of the worst crimes imaginable.  And unlike the teacher who looks forward to visits from their former students, we do not.  Our hope is that by changing how technology is used in prison classrooms, our students will never come back.

    Brian Walsh, Director of Corrections Education, leads the offender education program for Peninsula College at two state prisons in the northwest corner of Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula.

  • Bring Your Own Technology Advances Classrooms

    Heather Cox

    Heather Cox is being honored as a Connected Educator Champion of Change.

    As the daughter of two educators, I always understood the importance of education. Of course, as the daughter of two educators, I was also aware of the challenges in education. As a result, my path to teaching took a slightly curved route as I went to college and received my B.A. in Political Science from The Ohio State University. When my degree didn’t seem to “fit” my interests, I enrolled at John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio to pursue my Master’s degree in Early Childhood Education.

    Upon graduation, I faced a struggling job market and decided it was the perfect opportunity to take a chance move south to Alpharetta, Georgia.  I spent my first eight years teaching at Medlock Bridge Elementary School in Johns Creek, Georgia. Here I began my work with technology integration, piloting the first Promethean ActivBoard in our building and joining Fulton County’s inaugural Technology Leadership Forum.

    Though an incredible school, the hour-long drive to and from work began to take a toll.  To begin the 2012-2013 school year, I transferred closer to home and landed at Crabapple Crossing Elementary School in Milton, Georgia. 

    As I began the new school year, my desire for technology integration in the classroom continued to increase. I again joined the county Technology Leadership Forum and attended my first meeting in the fall, where I had a chance to listen to Dr. Scott Muri, Deputy Superintendent of Academics for FCS, speak about how we could make a difference with technology in the classroom.  It was then that I knew I needed to start making some noise. The county was looking to expand their pilot of Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) programs and schools would be selected based upon their interest and initiative. With that, I returned to my school and started asking questions. Before long, the BYOT journey began at our school. 

    Like many new endeavors, the BYOT program was met with resistance.  Whenever people are faced with change, especially in a school, questions erupt.  Once we could bring in new technology to the school, we had to find ways to incorporate this with the instruction already in the classroom.  With the help of a team-teacher, I developed an after-school technology club for students to learn more about the devices we would be using in the classroom. 

    In addition, I began providing instruction and training for my team members to introduce them to new and different ways they could personalize learning for their students and transform their instruction.  As the 2013-2014 school year began, the BYOT pilot expanded to include our fifth grade and Talented and Gifted teachers.  Now, as a member of Fulton County’s first Vanguard Technology Team, I provide training and instruction for teachers, model lessons for other educators, and I continue my work as a fourth grade-teacher and grade-level chair. 

    However, the key to success with technology integration isn’t held within one person.  This White House Champions of Change program is honoring Connected Educators with the key to success in the word CONNECTED.  In order to lead any technology integration in schools, it is important to draw upon the connections – the innumerable incredible minds of educators near you and around the world.  The greatest gift technology gives us is the ability to be connected and expand our classroom beyond the four walls that surround us.

    Heather Cox is a fourth grade teacher in Milton, GA who loves finding new ways to inspire students, find each child’s gift, and incorporate technology into teaching.

  • Helping Teachers and Students Learn from Each Other

    Bud Hunt

    Bud Hunt is being honored as a Connected Educator Champion of Change.

    My journey as a connected educator started roughly nine years ago when I began blogging about my teaching practice.  I wanted to learn how to be a better teacher and how to incorporate the Web’s global audience and voice for my classroom of underprivileged high school students.

    Through the open Web, I rediscovered my passion for democratic education,  exploration and wonder,  the love of a good poem, and the right people to share it with.  I regained the power of connection with others around shared activities and interests. I was able to sustain myself as a passionate learner and help foster connections between my students and others all over the country.  What was new to me then, but is habit now, was the idea that somewhere out there was someone who could teach me something I wanted to know.  The challenge was that I had to find them.  

    Later, I would learn that what I was discovering about the power of interest-driven and peer-supported learning would eventually be known by some as Connected Learning.  My friends and colleagues at the National Writing Project and their network of local school-university partnerships that have been so essential to my professional development would call it inquiry-driven learning.  Whatever words we use, my experiences are like so many others’ who have taken to the Web - we  meet individuals who are similar and different from us, who will then help us to become better people.  

    When I left my own high school classroom to work with teachers and students in their classrooms, I noticed two distinct types of learners.  There were folks who saw a problem and responded to it with, “I don’t know, but let’s figure it out,” and there were those who, when faced with a problem, just decided to quit.  I came to realize that an essential job of any educator is to help people build the ability to solve problems on their own, and to  tinker their way to better situations for themselves and others.  That’s why I find myself more and more drawn to Maker communities, and to other projects and organizations that are helping to build capacity in others.  That’s also why I’m curious about how to cross-pollinate school spaces with non-traditional spaces like makerspaces.  We have a lot to learn from one another, and there are plenty of important ways that educators and non-educators (but still learners) need to be in connection and conversation.

    Technology, is often seen as an addition to the learning experience.  In the 21st century, in a time of Common Core State Standards, that is no longer the case.  Change is hard.  Doing right by our students and each other is hard.  Playing with the newest toys is easy, and can feel like change.  But is good instructional practices, like all good habits, take time and effort to develop.   The work of connected educators then involves helping learners to make connections to good tools and habits, and to break connections to the bad ones.

    I am honored to be named a Champion of Change.  I stand on the shoulders of those who have come before me, namely my teachers, students, and colleagues who have helped me to better understand myself and be a better learner.  Here’s to all those who work daily to ensure that our schools help us remember to be the best of ourselves, and to instill the values of democracy and public discourse that have been so essential to our growth and continued improvement as a nation. 

    Bud Hunt is an instructional technologist for the St. Vrain Valley School District in northern Colorado, where he helps teachers and students to thoughtfully apply technology to their interactions with the world and each other. 

  • Supporting Puerto Rico’s Economic Development Progress

    This week, the White House announced that a team of experts from the Administration will begin partnering with Puerto Rico’s government officials to marshal existing federal resources and help Puerto Rico build its capacity for addressing economic issues.

    The interagency team is part of the ongoing efforts of the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico to strengthen Puerto Rico’s fiscal situation and economic outlook. Since 2009, the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico has consulted with the Island’s leadership on economic development, fiscal management, and federal funds management. The Task Force has supported efforts to lift Puerto Rico's economic growth trajectory under its mandate to identify and promote existing Federal initiatives that might benefit the Island. Moreover, the Task Force provides advice and recommendations to the President and Congress on policies and initiatives that would promote job creation, education, health care, clean energy, and economic development in Puerto Rico.

    As part of this work, the interagency team will offer strategic advice to assist Puerto Rico in promoting its economic development and maximizing the impact of existing federal funds flowing to the Island. These efforts are not a federal intervention. Rather, these policy experts will share their expertise with the Puerto Rican officials leading the Commonwealth’s economic efforts.

    The combined team will consist of members of Governor Garcia Padilla’s Administration and federal experts from the Department of Education, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Environmental Protection Agency, and will be supported by experts at the Office of Management and Budget, the National Economic Council, the Council of Economic Advisors and the Department of the Treasury. The officials will work in their separate federal offices in Puerto Rico.

    The Task Force, which will hold its regularly scheduled meeting this week, will continue the President’s mandate to support Puerto Rico’s economic development, education, health care, energy, and security.

    Puerto Rico’s challenges didn’t develop overnight, and they will not be solved overnight.  There is more work to be done. Through the work of the President's Task Force and this interagency team, we look forward to supporting the Puerto Rico government’s effort to strengthen and grow their economy.

    David Agnew is Co-Chair of the President’s Puerto Rico Task Force

  • Marking Transgender Day of Remembrance

    Today, November 20th, communities across the country and around the world will mark Transgender Day of Remembrance. This day is an opportunity to remember those who have lost their lives to violence and injustice because of their gender identity or gender expression.

    The Obama Administration remains committed to preventing violence against all people, including all members of the LGBT community. Four years ago, President Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crime Prevention Act, which greatly expanded the federal government’s ability to prosecute hate crimes. The law marked the first time that the words, “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” appeared in the U.S. Code, and enables the Justice Department to prosecute in certain circumstances hate crimes committed because of a person’s actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability .

    In addition, the Department of Justice has worked with transgender advocacy leaders and law enforcement leaders from around the country to create a cultural competency training module that will be delivered by the Department’s Community Relations Service (CRS). The training will provide important information to persons interacting with and protecting transgender persons, and will attempt to dispel myths and increase understanding so that communities can better work together to prevent and respond to hate crimes. Interested community groups and law enforcement agencies can reach out to the DOJ’s CRS at 202-305-2935 in order to learn more about receiving the training session.

    Earlier this year the President was proud to sign a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) that included critical protections for transgender people and for the broader LGBT community. The legislation removed barriers faced by LGBT victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, whose needs are often overlooked by law enforcement, prosecutors, courts, and victim service providers. It also included three provisions that would help LGBT victims of domestic violence and sexual assault access VAWA-funded services:

    • First, the law added a LGBT-focused purpose area to the STOP Violence Against Women Formula Grant program, the largest VAWA program and the one that supports law enforcement, prosecution, court and victim service activities in every State.
    • Second, the law amended the Act’s definition of “underserved population” to recognize that LGBT victims face barriers to service.
    • Third, the law protects LGBT victims from discrimination by prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in VAWA-funded programs or activities.

    This commitment to equality for all members of the LGBT community extends internationally, where the Obama Administration continues to promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons. For example, earlier this year, then-U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice released a video message to mark International Day Against Homophobia, in which she said:

    At the United Nations, the United States is standing up for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals and fighting to ensure that their voices are heard and protected. The United States was proud to co-sponsor and adopt an historic resolution at the UN Human Rights Council condemning human rights abuses and violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

    Today is an opportunity to reflect upon and share the tremendous progress we have made over the last few years. However, let us also recommit ourselves to continuing this critically important work so that we can ensure dignity, equality, and justice for all people.

    As President Obama said earlier this year in his LGBT Pride Month remarks at the White House:

    The genius of America is that America can change.  And people who love this country can change it.  That’s what we’re called to do.  And I hope that when we gather here next year, and the year after that, we’ll be able to say, with pride and confidence, that together we’ve made our fellow citizens a little more free.  We’ve made this country a little more equal.  We’ve made our world a little more full of love.

    Click here to learn more about the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crime Prevention Act.

    Gautam Raghavan is an Advisor in the White House Office of Public Engagement.

  • President Obama Supports High School Redesign to Ensure Educational Excellence

    President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan talk with students while visiting a classroom at the Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH)

    President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan talk with students while visiting a classroom at the Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) in Brooklyn, NY, Oct. 25, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

    To highlight his High School Redesign initiative, President Obama recently visited and spoke at Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) in Brooklyn, New York. P-TECH is one of several new transformative high school designs that incorporate innovative approaches to curriculum that help lead to higher academic outcomes, greater student engagement, and future student success. The proposed $300 million High School Redesign program would integrate challenging and relevant academic and career-related learning experiences that prepare students for post-secondary education and careers.

    P-TECH, a middle and high school, was established in 2011 as a partnership between IBM, the New York City Department of Education, and the City University of New York's College of Technology. In 2017, the school will graduate its first class of students who, over six years of STEM study and training, earn a joint high school diploma and associate's degree in computer information systems and electromechanical engineering technology. P-TECH's rigorous course of academic study was co-designed with IBM. The company has also invested $500,000 to provide software support, mentors, and internship opportunities for every P-TECH student.

  • Introducing the National Drought Resilience Partnership

    Today, the Obama Administration is excited to announce a new partnership between seven Federal agencies that will help communities better prepare for droughts and reduce the impact of drought events on families and businesses. The interagency National Drought Resilience Partnership is part of the President’s Climate Action Plan. Federal agencies are already working with communities, businesses and farmers and ranchers to build resilience to drought on the ground, and this Partnership will enhance those efforts.

    Droughts are not new to many communities.  Climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events like droughts, storms, floods, and wildfires nationwide.  About two-thirds of the continental United States was affected by drought in 2012, impacting water supplies, tourism, transportation, energy and fisheries, costing the agricultural sector alone $30 billion and causing $1 billion in losses from wildfires.  During this disaster, the Administration provided all available assistance to towns, communities and agricultural producers impacted by drought, and the 2012 drought also highlighted effective planning and preparedness is to helping communities recover and prevent the worst impacts. We heard directly from states, tribes, businesses, and local communities that there was a need for a more accessible “front door” to make it easier to access Federal assistance. That is why the National Drought Resilience Partnership is designed to provide communities with a single point of contact to help them navigate various Federal programs to find the right one for their needs.

    Spearheaded by the Department of Agriculture and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the immediate focus of the Partnership will be on creating a new, web-based portal to ease access to Federal agency drought resources, hosting more frequent regional drought outlook forums to continue to hear directly from communities, and supporting the coordination of a national soil moisture monitoring network to help improve monitoring and forecasting drought conditions. In collaboration with local, state and regional governments, the Partnership will also undertake a pilot project in a western area hard hit by drought to create a local-scale drought resilience plan that could be applied in other areas.  

    This Partnership reflects the work of the White House Rural Council, and it also follows the President’s November 2013 Executive Order on preparing our communities for the impacts of climate change.  That Executive Order created a Task Force of state, local and tribal leaders to advise the Administration on steps the Federal Government can take to help communities increase preparedness, and committed Federal agencies to examining their programs and policies to make it easier for states and communities to build resilience against storms, droughts and other weather extremes. 

    As we face increasing challenges from severe weather and climate impacts, it is more important than ever that Federal agencies work together effectively and efficiently to support the needs of local communities.  The interagency National Drought Resilience Partnership is another important step in our commitment to helping communities stay strong and resilient in the face of climate change. 

    Nancy Sutley is Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality