Going to college today is a very different experience than it once was. The cost has soared, and the great recession cut into many of the assets that were supposed to pay for it. This week All Things Considered is talking with young people — and in some cases their parents — about the value of school and about their choice of what kind of college to attend.

Researchers have been tracking Jose Arriaga since he was 4 years old, waiting for the day he would start ninth grade. This fall, Jose is a freshman at Booker T. Washington High School, a selective public school in north Tulsa, Okla. And no one is more proud of him than his mother, Veronica Arriaga.

"He's been a straight-A student throughout middle school," Mrs. Arriaga says in Spanish. "That's why he's here."

America, by far, has the highest incarceration rate among developed nations. The rate of imprisonment in the U.S. has more than quadrupled in the last 40 years, fueled by "three strikes" and mandatory-minimum sentencing laws.

It's an increasingly popular move in higher education. Hundreds of schools no longer require student applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores.

In July, George Washington University became the latest school to throw its considerable weight behind the test-optional movement. Its explanation:

So if you add up all the college costs that students and parents probably didn't plan for — the stuff that isn't tuition and room and board — how big is that number? The National Retail Federation estimates that, this year, it will total $43 billion. That's a hard number to grasp, so let's break it down to one family — mine.

With our daughter now beginning her fourth and hopefully final year in college, here's one thing I've learned: No matter how much you plan to spend, it won't cover everything. Not even close.

Will Grover's promotion to HBO be good for kids?

Elmo, Snuffy, Grover and Big Bird could soon hit the HBO after-parties alongside Tyrion Lannister and the ethically challenged cops from True Detective.

Promising a win-win for kids and quality children's programming, HBO, the nonprofit Sesame Workshop and PBS have announced that new Sesame Street episodes will move to HBO and its streaming service HBO GO this fall.

There are few household names in education research. Maybe that in itself constitutes a problem. But if there was an Education Researcher Hall Of Fame, one member would be a silver-haired, plainspoken Kiwi named John Hattie.

Hattie directs the Melbourne Education Research Institute at the University of Melbourne, Australia. He also directs something called the Science of Learning Research Centre, which works with over 7,000 schools worldwide.

Kindergarten is a huge moment in a child's life. So imagine if your parents sent you to a school where they teach most of the day in a language you don't speak, like Spanish or German or Japanese. In California, a growing number of families are choosing schools like this. It's called dual-language immersion. Reporter Deepa Fernandes followed the Gomez family this past year as their daughter, Gemma, attended a public school that teaches in Mandarin.

It's blazingly hot outside and five summer fellows from the Tulane City Center are standing in a playground at a youth center in New Orleans. The architecture students diplomatically describe the playground's design as "unintentional": There's no grass, trees or even much shade, and it's surrounded by a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire. The students, both graduate and undergraduate, are there to make the playground a little nicer.

"Right now, it feels like a prison," says Maggie Hansen, the center's interim director.

The Confederate flag. The Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage. Policing minority communities. Nuclear weapons and Iran. Summer often brings a lull in the news, but not this year. And, come September, students are going to want to talk about these headlines.

But how should teachers navigate our nation's thorny politics?

The College Board has just released the latest curriculum framework for its Advanced Placement U.S. history course, and it appears to have satisfied many of the old framework's critics.

The rewrite comes after anger over its 2014 framework sent the College Board, which administers the AP exam, back to the drawing board.

It's the summer session at the Al Salam School in Reyhanli, a town in southern Turkey, just across the border from Syria. Girls are practicing their shots on the outdoor basketball court. A class of 8-year-olds is busy with English language drills. The computer lab is open.

Many of these Syrian refugees live in desperate conditions, but for a few hours a day there is the familiar world of school.

Braden Swenson wanders into a semi-rickety wooden shed on his search for gold, treasure and riches.

"Is there any treasure in here?" he asks in the endearing dialect of a 4-year-old. "I've been looking everywhere for them. I can't find any." The proto-pirate toddler conducts a quick search, then wanders away to continue his quest elsewhere.

Not far away, Ethan Lipsie, age 9, clutches a framing hammer and a nine-penny nail. He's ready to hang his freshly painted sign on a wooden "fort" he's been hammering away on. It says, "Ethan, Hudson and William were here."

On the second floor of Morgan State University's engineering building, Jacob Walker, 12, is putting the finishing touches on a ruler he's just created.

Not yet an actual ruler. One he's designing on the computer. He just needs to add his initials — then it's time to produce it on a 3-D printer.

Jacob starts seventh grade in the fall and has big dreams. Building this ruler is all part of the plan.

"When I was a child," he says, "I loved to play with Legos, and it inspired me to be an engineer when I get older."

The Obama administration Friday is taking a small step toward expanding adult prisoners' access to federal Pell grants. The money would help pay for college-level classes behind bars.

Virginia Savage lives in a part of north St. Louis, Mo., that's filled with vacant buildings, including Marshall Elementary. It has been closed for years now, and vines crawl into the building's smashed-out windows. The playground is littered with empty liquor bottles.

Savage went to school at Marshall as a young girl, and now she sees bigger problems beyond all those blemishes: "Drug dealers, drug users, eyesore. That's what I see."

In St. Louis, the student enrollment is one-fourth the size it was in the 1960s. That drop has led the district to close 30 or so schools.

If you looked at the children at the edge of Conrad Cooper's pool, you'd think you were watching an ad for something. Jell-O, maybe. Or a breakfast cereal kids like. They're that cute.

They're lined up on the steps in the shallow end, 10 little ones, ranging from age 2 to 5. The boys are in board trunks, many wearing rash-guard shirts like the weekend surfers they might become years from now. The girls wear bright one-piece suits and two-pieces that show their childish potbellies.

It's been a theory of mine that the assistant principal has the toughest job in education.

I got that idea a long time ago, when I was a student teacher at a middle school.

It seemed the assistant principal's job goes something like this:

I can remember the weeks before starting school at Skidmore College, furiously trying to finish Gregory Howard Williams' memoir, Life on the Color Line. The book had been assigned as our freshman reading assignment — part of the First-Year Experience at the liberal arts school in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

Four years later, Williams spoke at our graduation.