WCBE

Education

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.

Both houses of Congress have now passed versions of the bill that would update the largest federal education law, known as No Child Left Behind, for the first time since 2001. They are big, meaty and complicated, and now they have to be reconciled into one messy Dagwood sandwich of a bill to go to the president.

If this isn't an honest-to-goodness crystal ball, it's close.

Neurobiologist Nina Kraus believes she and her team at Northwestern University have found a way — a half-hour test — to predict kids' literacy skill long before they're old enough to begin reading.

When I first read the study in the journal PLOS Biology, two words came to mind: science fiction.

Why do you do what you do? What is the engine that keeps you up late at night or gets you going in the morning? Where is your happy place? What stands between you and your ultimate dream?

Heavy questions. One researcher believes that writing down the answers can be decisive for students.

Editor's Note: We've reported on the crushing burden of student debt in the U.S., and the challenges of finding financial aid, but one area we haven't followed much is the growing number of students seeking alternatives outside the U.S.

For the past several years, the group Coexister has been going into secular French schools to break down religious stereotypes in the classroom.

Since January's attacks on satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket, the demand for their interventions has skyrocketed.

For decades, Arthur Levine, the former president of Teachers College, Columbia University, has tried to imagine a new kind of institution for training teachers. He envisions a combination West Point and Bell Labs, where researchers could study alongside future educators, learning what works and what's effective in the classroom. That idea is now set to become a reality.

On a rainy Saturday morning in June, 17-year-old Sarah Choudhury showed up bright and early at her SAT testing center in the town of Lagrangeville in upstate New York. This was her last chance to raise her score before applying for early admission to highly competitive premed programs in the fall.

As she was taking the test, she says, "chaos" struck. There was a discrepancy between the time allotted in the student test booklet for one of the sections, 25 minutes, and the proctor's instructions, just 20 minutes.

In his Tucson, Ariz., backyard, 10-year-old Linken Kay throws a ball for his dog, Harley.

The dog speaks only English. But Linken was raised speaking another language.

"Li ŝatas salti en la naĝejo por preni la pilkon," Linken says.

What's that, now?

One of the toughest jobs in education is the substitute teacher. The pay is low, schedules are unpredictable and respect can be hard to come by. But because the average teacher missed 11 days of school in 2012-2013, a sub like Josephine Brewington ends up playing a crucial role.

And this week — Brewington was rewarded for her efforts — winning the 2015 Substitute Teacher of the Year award.

It seems like a no-brainer: Offer kids a reward for showing up at school, and their attendance will shoot up. But a recent study of third-graders in a slum in India suggests that incentive schemes can do more harm than good.

Part of our ongoing series of conversations with thinkers and activists on education issues

In a year in which we're exploring great teaching, it's a good time to talk with Ken Bain. He's a longtime historian, scholar and academic who has studied and explored teaching for decades, most notably in his 2004 book, What the Best College Teachers Do.

Las Vegas is back, baby. After getting slammed by the Great Recession, the city today is seeing rising home sales, solid job growth and a record number of visitors in 2014.stru

One of our occasional conversations with thought leaders in education.

When it comes to kids and exercise, schools need to step up and focus more on quality as well as quantity. And, says Dr. Gregory D. Myer, they need to promote activities that develop motor skills, socialization and fun.

What happens when a teacher wants to assign an extra book for class, but the school can't afford a copy for every student?

For Dana Vanderford, an English teacher at L.W. Higgins High School in New Orleans, the book was Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation. Buying enough copies for her class would have cost more than $800. Not an option.

"I get $80 a year to buy resources for my classroom," Vanderford says. "And I have 90 students per semester. So that $80 doesn't go very far."

What makes a great teacher great? That's the question at the heart of 50 Great Teachers, from the NPR Ed Team.

Sarah Hagan has a passion for math, and the pi-shaped pendant to prove it.

The 25-year-old teaches at Drumright High School in Drumright, Okla. The faded oil town is easy to miss. Fewer than 3,000 people live there, and the highway humps right around it.

Meet Jenni Hofschulte, the 35-year-old mom who's one of the parents leading the charge against testing in Milwaukee.

"I have two children in Milwaukee Public Schools," Hofschulte says over coffee at a cafe near her home. "The oldest one is in eighth grade." She's interrupted by her fidgety 4-year-old son, Lachlan.

Hofschulte quiets him down, furrows her brow and begins again.

Hofschulte says that when she found out her son would have to take a diagnostic test next year that's required of all Wisconsin kindergartners, all kinds of red flags went up.

For this series, we've been thinking a lot about the iconic tools that some of us remember using — if only for a short time — in our early schooling. Things like the slide rule and protractor, Presidential Fitness Test and Bunsen burner.

It's Financial Aid Week here at the NPR Ed Team (not really, but it sure feels like it). And we're kicking things off with a nostalgia nugget for all you children of the '80s.

The old G.I. Joe animated series famously ended with the phrase, "Now I know! And knowing is half the battle."

It's a catchy line and, it turns out, eerily relevant when it comes to high school seniors debating their college options.

"Too good not to share," Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page wrote Feb. 20 on his Facebook page. "Have a rocking weekend!"

This week marked National Adjunct Walkout Day, a protest to gain better working conditions for part-time college instructors. Why are college professors from San Jose State University to the City University of New York taking to the streets like fast-food workers?

They say they have something in common.

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