WCBE

Education

First in a three-part series. You can read Part 2 here.

When things heat up, they expand. And when that thing is the axle shaft to your drive train, you're going to have to make adjustments, or else.

Michael Guarraia kneels down next to a metal part that just popped off the rear axle. "OK guys, listen up," he tells his team. "The drive train broke again and we need to find a sustainable solution. This can't happen during the race."

Native American students make up only 1.1 percent of the nation's high school population. And in college, the number is even smaller. More than any other ethnic or racial group, they're the least likely to have access to college prep or advanced placement courses. Many get little or no college counseling at all. In 1998, College Horizons, a small nonprofit based in New Mexico, set out to change that through five-day summer workshops on admissions, financial aid and the unique challenges they'll face on campus.

When Lily Shum was little, she dreaded speaking up in class. It wasn't because she didn't have anything interesting to say, or because she wasn't paying attention or didn't know the answer. She was just quiet.

"Every single report card that I ever had says, 'Lily needs to talk more. She is too quiet,' " recalls Shum, now an assistant director at Trevor Day School in Manhattan.

She doesn't want her students to feel the pressure to speak up that she felt.

What is language? What is beauty? Who gets to decide?

Philosophers have grappled with these questions for centuries, and they've generated a pile of long (and often tortured) books in their efforts to answer them.

It's a rare and remarkable view into America's public schools and the challenges that continue some 60 years after Brown v. Board of Education:

The Civil Rights Data Collection survey.

Since 1968, the federal government has been sending it to the nation's schools to gauge educational access and enforce civil rights law.

Today, the U.S. Education Department released its 2013-2014 CRDC results, covering more than 95,000 schools and 50 million students.

The latest results of the test known as the Nation's Report Card are in. They cover high school seniors, who took the test in math and reading last year. The numbers are unlikely to give fodder either to educational cheerleaders or alarmists: The average score in both subjects was just one point lower in 2015 compared with the last time the test was given, in 2013. This tiny downtick was statistically significant in mathematics, but not for the reading test.

But even though the changes are small, chances are you're going to be hearing about them in a lot of places.

As laptops become smaller and more ubiquitous, and with the advent of tablets, the idea of taking notes by hand just seems old-fashioned to many students today. Typing your notes is faster — which comes in handy when there's a lot of information to take down. But it turns out there are still advantages to doing things the old-fashioned way.

When we think of colleges, we imagine sprawling campuses, big-time sports programs, hefty endowments, and massive libraries stuffed with thousands of books.

But the earliest universities were a little less grand.

They were formed before Gutenberg invented the printing press, and before paper was universally available. Books were copied out by hand onto expensive manuscripts made from animal skins.

It's one of the most basic things in education: seeing the board. Research has shown, over and over again, that if you can't see, you're going to have an awfully hard time in school. And yet too often this simple issue gets overlooked.

When we're reporting on special education, we inevitably run up against questions of how we should refer to students with disabilities and to the disabilities themselves.

It's a minefield, comparable to the tensions and complexity of writing about race and ethnicity.

It's important to get it right. As journalists, of course, we want to be accurate. And clear. And we want to avoid perpetuating stereotypes or giving offense.

In Alabama, Teachers School Lawmakers

Mar 15, 2016

Alabama lawmakers face a legislative calendar this year with about 50 — yes 50 — education-related bills.

And many of the people drafting those laws haven't been inside a classroom since they were students themselves.

"People tend to think that they're experts in education because they were educated," says Kira Aaron, an English teacher at Vestavia Hills High School, just outside Birmingham. "And so, since they've sat in a classroom, they know what's going on, and how to best tell us what to do."

K-12 education hasn't exactly been front and center in this presidential election, but Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders made some news on the topic this week. Here's how he responded to a question about charter schools at a CNN televised Town Hall meeting:

"I believe in public education and I believe in public charter schools. I do not believe in privately controlled charter schools."

Few public high schools in the country have attracted as much shine as Pathways in Technology Early College High School — P-TECH — in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

A large classroom at the school is hung with blown-up color posters of President Obama, smiling with students on a visit to the school in 2013. That year, just two years after its founding, Obama mentioned the school by name in his State of the Union Address:

Marietta College has earned a global reputation for its program in petroleum engineering, drawing students from as far away as Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and China to this liberal arts school in southeast Ohio.

In the past, nearly every one of the program's graduates has scored a good job in the surging energy field. But not this year. As the price of oil has plummeted, companies are cutting back on production and expansion, and cutting into Marietta's placement rate.

When I first read Originals I couldn't help but take notes. What I jotted down was essentially a to-do list for how I could be more creative, how I could think up and then communicate new ideas.

But the book — written by Adam Grant, a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania — is not just a guide for adults.

Its pages are littered with interesting advice on how teachers and parents can encourage and cultivate their kids to be original, too.

We all know that American college education isn't cheap. But it turns out that it's even less cheap if you look at the numbers more closely.

That's what the Wisconsin HOPE Lab did. The lab, part of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, conducted four studies to figure out the true price of college.

To get a sense of student realities, researchers interviewed students on college campuses across the state of Wisconsin. But they also examined 6,604 colleges nationally and compared their costs with regional cost-of-living data from the government.

A new study confirms what many Americans already knew deep in their hearts: We're not good at math.

Not only that, but when it comes to technology skills, we're dead last compared with other developed countries.

The PIAAC study — the Program for International Assessment of Adult Competencies — looks at the skills adults need to do everyday tasks, whether it's at work or in their social lives.

Yes, You Can Still Teach Kids To Love Books

Mar 8, 2016

The Internet has not killed the book.

For film critic David Denby, this wasn't immediately obvious. He would watch young people hunched over their phones — on the subway, in coffee shops, walking down the street — and wonder: Are kids still learning to read books?

Denby, who is best known for his work in The New Yorker, went back to high school to find out. He describes his experience in Lit Up: One Reporter. Three Schools. Twenty-Four Books That Can Change Lives.

Has American education research mostly languished in an echo chamber for much of the last half century?

Harvard's Thomas Kane thinks so.

Why have the medical and pharmaceutical industries and Silicon Valley all created clear paths to turn top research into game-changing innovations, he asks, while education research mostly remains trapped in glossy journals?

More Color In Kids' Lit: Your Best Picks

Mar 5, 2016

Last week, Morning Edition's David Greene asked 11-year-old Marley Dias about her quest to find more children's books about black girls.

Her campaign to collect #1000blackgirlbooks has been a big success: Marley now has more than 4,000 books in her library.

Our readers suggested many more titles to add to her list.

The billing office is one of the friendliest places on campus, says Aja Beckham, a junior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. What wasn't friendly: her bill, and the big number on it.

Ever since her freshman year, she says, her biggest struggle in college has been figuring out how to pay for it.

Earlier this week, I visited a fourth-grade class at the public school where I live. I try to go every year to different classes, from grade school to high school, to tell students about the universe.

The class had been studying the solar system, in particular the planets and their properties. The teacher gave me carte blanche to do whatever I wanted. I felt that contextualizing planets would be a good idea, telling their story from birth to death, their relation to their parent star, in our case, to the sun.

In just a few short weeks, students in California will be taking high-stakes tests. But the tests won't just cover math, reading and science. Students will also be responding to survey statements like "I usually finish what I start," or "I can do anything if I try."

A group of big-city districts there is among the first to try to measure students' self-control, empathy and other social and emotional skills — and to hold schools accountable for the answers.

Marley Dias is like a lot of 11-year-olds: She loves getting lost in a book.

But the books she was reading at school were starting to get on her nerves. She enjoyed Where The Red Fern Grows and the Shiloh series, but those classics, found in so many elementary school classrooms, were all about white boys or dogs ... or white boys and their dogs, Marley says.

Black girls, like Marley, were almost never the main character.

Todd Rose dropped out of high school with D- grades. At 21, he was trying to support a wife and two sons on welfare and minimum wage jobs.

Today he teaches educational neuroscience at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He's also the co-founder of The Center for Individual Opportunity, a new organization devoted to "the science of the individual and its implications for education, the workforce, and society."

In other words, Todd Rose is not your average guy. But neither are you.

President Obama wants kids to learn to code. So much so, he's pledged billions of dollars to teach them.

"Now we have to make sure all our kids are equipped for the jobs of the future – which means not just being able to work with computers, but developing the analytical and coding skills to power our innovation economy," he said in his radio address on Jan. 30.

A group of 10- and 11-year-olds giggle as professional cellist Frederic Rosselet flexes his wrist as if he's made of rubber. "Really flexible in your wrist," he tells the students. "It's your arm basically that does the work."

The cello students at Downer Elementary School in San Pablo, Calif., drag their bows across their cello's strings, following Rosselet's wrist-shaking lead.

Screeeech. It needs work.

"Guys, wanna try that again? 'Forte' means?"

"Loud!" the students reply.

In September of last year, a Flint pediatrician released stark findings about her city: The percentage of children age 5 and under with elevated levels of lead in their blood had nearly doubled since the city switched its water source a year and a half earlier.

The superintendent of Flint Community Schools, Bilal Tawwab, was listening. Even small amounts of lead can affect children's behavior and intelligence over time. With that in mind, he decided to keep the city's water out of his schools.

Before he arrived in Omaha as a doctoral student in computer science, Jason Jie Xiong says, "I didn't even know there was a state called Nebraska."

Jie Xiong, 29, who hails from a small city outside Shanghai, had landed a full scholarship at the University of Nebraska to teach and do research. He says he only knew "more famous states like California and New York."

He admits he found the program initially "by randomly checking information," but he's quick to add that he's happy there.

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