Education

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There are many qualities of a great teacher. Two big ones? Kindness and a willingess to make learning fun. At least that's what Marlem Diaz-Brown's fourth-graders say.

For our 50 Great Teachers project, we've searched all over for teachers like her. Which brought us to Sunset Elementary School in Miami ... and "Mrs. D-B."

So we're about halfway through our 50 Great Teachers project, and we've been looking for ways of shaking it up. We've done photo essays, web comics and videos.

These endeavors brought us to our latest idea: Instead of us reporting the story, let's let the kids do it.

Once we found a great teacher — Mrs. Marlem Diaz-Brown in Miami — we had to be sure she was willing to let us take over her fourth-grade class. And she was.

Grant Blankenship / GPB

A string of small arsons and racist graffiti at Mercer University in Macon are distracting students at the end of the semester when they would otherwise be worried about finals.

The graffiti was both written and removed Wednesday night on doors in Sherwood Hall, a co-ed freshman dormitory.  Freshman finance and accounting major Kenny Olaganju didn’t see the graffiti before it was removed, but he heard about it.

“All that I heard is that someone went through on the first floor and wrote the N-word with a hard R on peoples’ doors,” he said

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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This winter, high school junior Jameria Miller would run to Spanish class. But not to get a good seat.

"The cold is definitely a distraction," Jameria says. "We race to class to get the best blankets."

Because the classroom has uninsulated metal walls, Jameria's teacher would hand out blankets. First come, first served. Such is life in the William Penn School District — an impoverished, predominantly African-American school system situated among Philadelphia's inner-ring suburbs.

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.

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The way Daphne Patton remembers it, it was more money than she'd ever seen.

It was 1990, and the Kentucky Supreme Court had declared the state's school funding system unconstitutional. Within a year, a lot more money started flowing to the poorest school districts, a 50 to 60 percent increase in their budgets.

Patton, an elementary school teacher from Wolfe County in eastern Kentucky, says schools had an abundance of resources, "everything we needed."

It was 1993 when Massachusetts Gov. William Weld declared: "A good education in a safe environment is the magic wand that brings opportunity." The Republican was signing into law a landmark overhaul of the state's school funding system. "It's up to us to make sure that wand is waved over every cradle," he added.

With that, Massachusetts poured state money into districts that educated lots of low-income kids, many of which also struggled to raise funds through local property taxes.

This winter, Jameria Miller would often run to her high school Spanish class, though not to get a good seat.

She wanted a good blanket.

"The cold is definitely a distraction," Jameria says of her classroom's uninsulated, metal walls.

Her teacher provided the blankets. First come, first served. Such is life in the William Penn School District in an inner-ring suburb of Philadelphia.

The hardest part for Jameria, though, isn't the cold. It's knowing that other schools aren't like this.

Unlike some other states, Alabama does not send extra money to districts that serve low-income kids or those that have limited income from local property tax dollars.

That's why, says principal Tramene Maye, at Livingston Junior High School in Sumter County, one former classroom leaks when it rains. Garbage cans catch some of the water, but the moldy smell and buckled floor prove they miss plenty. Around the school, it's a similar story: broken windows, peeling paint, cracked floor tiles. Maye insists there just isn't enough money to fix it all.

A few "short" years ago, during my sophomore year at The City College of New York, some fellow Caribbean classmates told me that the education department was offering a "free" course, called Thinking Chess, for three credits.

Some college lectures aren't just dull, they're ineffective. Discuss, people.

You did. Our recent stories on the Nobel Prize winning Stanford physicist who's pushing for big changes in how large universities teach science to undergraduates generated lots of interest, comments, questions, shares and listens — online and on NPR One.

Grant Blankenship / GPB

 

High-stakes tests are by now a familiar part of  our educational system. Their aim is usually clear: making sure students are learning what they need to know to compete with their peers around the country, or even the world. But what isn't so clear is what these tests cost once they are done.

You could see a little of what Georgia's high-stakes test has cost teachers on a Wednesday morning  at Heritage Elementary School in Macon. 

In Detroit, 12 public school principals are accused of taking kickbacks on supplies that were never delivered. The charges, announced late last month, pose another blow to the long-troubled Detroit Public Schools, which needs hundreds of millions of dollars in long-term state aid.

Here's how the alleged kickback scheme worked: 12 principals, all working separately, gave contracts for school supplies to a vendor, who then kicked back some profits to them.

Detroit U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade says the alleged fraud totals $2.5 million. She calls it a "punch in the gut."

This story is part of an occasional Code Switch series we're calling "The Obama Effect." The series explores how conversations about race and identity have evolved over the course of the Obama presidency. You can read more about the series here.

In public radio's mythical Lake Wobegon, "all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average."

The first two conditions are merely unlikely. The third one is a mathematical absurdity. However, a new survey suggests that almost all parents believe it to be true.

In a recent survey of public school parents, 90 percent stated that their children were performing on or above grade level in both math and reading. Parents held fast to this sunny belief no matter their own income, education level, race or ethnicity.

Trevor Young / GPB

The Atlanta Board of Education votes tonight on the 2017 Fiscal Year budget, which also operates as the budget for the 2016-2017 school year.

Before we can even be seated in the Midtown cafe where we meet, Lily Eskelsen Garcia has begun her barrage of plainspoken, provocative opinions. A Democratic superdelegate, she's just come from a spot on a morning news show, where, she declared, "Hillary is winning no matter how you look at it."

Tiffany Anderson heads the Jennings School District close to Ferguson on the outskirts of St. Louis, Missouri. She's a budget hawk, and she has to be to save money in her low-income district.

She stretches money in the most creative ways, including serving as one of the district's morning crossing guards.

For more about Tiffany Anderson's story and Missouri school funding, click here.

In 1973, in a 5-4 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that there was no federal right to equal school funding in the Constitution.

That was more than 40 years ago, and today Patty Rodriguez, a teacher in the same school district in San Antonio where that fight started, says nothing has changed.

Her father, Demetrio Rodriguez, filed the suit. It became a landmark case, a turning point when the focus around school funding shifted from the federal government to the states.

Third-grader Victor Reza was watching CNN in the living room in Houston with his family when Donald Trump was announced as the winner of the Florida Republican primary. Victor teared up, his older sister, Maria, said in a telephone interview.

Let's begin with a choice.

Say there's a check in the mail. It's meant to help you run your household. You can use it to keep the lights on, the water running and food on the table. Would you rather that check be for $9,794 or $28,639?

It's not a trick question. It's the story of America's schools in two numbers.

Three million school children in the U.S. are identified as gifted. That's roughly the top 10 percent of the nation's highest achieving students.

But Rene Islas, head of the National Association for Gifted Children, says tens of thousands of gifted English language learners are never identified. We sat down with Islas and asked him why.

Attention, Students: Put Your Laptops Away

Apr 17, 2016

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.

Think about our planet for a second. Earth has an elliptical — oval-shaped — orbit. That means we're closer to the sun for one part of the year and farther away another part of the year.

Does that fact explain why it's hotter in the summer and colder in the winter?

Lots of kids think it does. Lots of adults think so too. And they're wrong.*

Philip Sadler is both a professor of astronomy and the director of the science education department at Harvard University, and he is obsessed with wrong answers like these.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Bloodletting to keep the "humors" in balance was a leading medical treatment from ancient Greece to the late 19th century. That's hard to believe now, in the age of robot-assisted surgery, but "doctors" trusted lancets and leeches for centuries.

To Nobel laureate Carl Wieman, the college lecture is the educational equivalent of bloodletting, one long overdue for revision.

"How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean, by providence impoverished, in squalor, grow up to be a hero and a scholar?"

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