Youth & Education

Stories about education focused on the Pacific Northwest and the nation. 

It's one of the oldest issues in school improvement: Getting kids to show up. If students miss 10 percent of the school year — that's just two days a month --research shows they are way more likely to fall behind — even drop out.

Today, the U.S. Education Department is releasing a report on the first national data set on chronic absence — defined as missing 15 or more days of school a year. The numbers come from the 2013-2014 Civil Rights Data Collection survey — an on-the-ground look from 95,000 schools.

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.

When students get suspended from school for a few days, they may not be the only ones who miss out.

A report released today by UCLA's Civil Rights Project tries for the first time to quantify the full social cost of so-called "exclusionary discipline."

Kenneth Starr, known for leading an investigation of President Bill Clinton, says he has resigned as Baylor University's chancellor.

The private Texas university has been rocked by an independent report that found the university mishandled allegations of sexual harassment and assault. Last week, the university stripped Starr of the presidency and suspended head football coach Art Briles.

What made Mozart great? Or Bobby Fischer? Or Serena Williams?

The answer sits somewhere on the scales of human achievement. On one side: natural talent. On the other: hard work. Many would argue that success hangs in some delicate balance between them. But not Anders Ericsson.

Just across the train tracks from U.S. Route 321, in the town of North, S.C., nestled among mobile homes covered with red roses, sits the one-story brick campus of North Middle/High School.

Robert Gordon strides forward in the school's entryway to shake my hand. He's slim, dressed neatly in khakis, loafers and a striped polo shirt, with a pleather portfolio under one arm.

"It's been a stressful morning," he says, explaining that one middle school boy stabbed another with a pencil.

On San Jose State University's lush inner-city campus, students in their graduation gowns pose with their families in front of ivy-covered buildings.

They're the lucky ones.

Just 10 percent of students graduate from this public university in four years. After six years, it's only a bit more than half.

Think about that — of 100 students who enrolled four years ago, only 10 will walk across the stage this year.

That sounds low, but you can find these kind of numbers at lots of universities in the U.S.

Take a look at your hand, right or left, it doesn't matter. Now imagine every finger represents a word. How many sentences can you come up with?

I think therefore I am.

Don't sweat the small stuff.

All you need is love.

Ximena Martinez, from Texas, thought this one was good: "Las naranjas son muy ricas." Translation: The oranges are very delicious.

She's a native Spanish-speaker and preschooler at Kramer Elementary School in Dallas. Her teacher, Jorge Ruiz, always asks his young students to speak in complete sentences.

Grit has been on NPR several times recently, not to mention front and center on the national education agenda.

"I'm giving you these comments because I have very high expectations and I know that you can reach them."

In one of the many experiments cited in Paul Tough's new book, Helping Children Succeed, a group of middle school students received this message on a Post-it note, attached to a paper their teachers were handing back.

The message of support and high expectations had a small positive effect on white students.

Ashley Gross / KPLU

Faculty members at Green River College, which has campuses in Auburn, Kent and Enumclaw, are on strike through Wednesday protesting proposed cuts to 11 programs, including criminal justice, French and occupational therapy.

In response, the college’s board of trustees said it will file a request for an injunction to halt the walkout. 

Anita Hofschneider / AP

Here’s something you might not know: President Barack Obama’s mother graduated from Mercer Island High School. Obama’s sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, is in town this weekend to present a scholarship established in their mother’s memory. 

Soetoro-Ng told KPLU that she's not apolitical, necessarily, but she says when it comes to her relationship with her brother, President Obama, she prefers to focus on the family side of the equation.

A single question asked at an annual checkup — whether parents have trouble making ends meet — could help pediatricians identify children at risk for serious health problems associated with poverty and the chronic levels of stress that often accompany it.

The American Academy of Pediatrics urges members to ask if their patients' families are struggling financially and then commit to helping them get the resources they need to thrive. And some communities are trying to make that happen.

The U.S. Education Department said this week it will make Pell Grants available to 10,000 high school students who are enrolled in courses at 44 colleges.

It's an ambitious experiment aimed at closing the attainment gap between rich and poor students in higher education. The Obama administration wants to give students a head start on college.

The new program will allow high school students in 23 states to access up to $20 million in federal money to pay for a semester of college credit.

Career and technical education in high schools has gotten lots of attention and lip service in recent years. Business and industry see it as a long overdue focus on preparing students for the world of work. Educators say CTE — once called vocational education — is an alternative path for high school graduates who don't plan to go to college, at least not right away.

It has also come under scrutiny from researchers who say it's just not working as well as it should. It's poorly funded and often viewed as a "second rate" education.

When it comes to punishing students for campus sexual assault, some say kicking offenders out of school isn't enough. They want schools to put a permanent note on offenders' transcripts explaining that they've been punished for sexual misconduct, so other schools — or employers — can be warned.

Survivor Carmen McNeill says it's common sense. She was a college junior nearly two years ago when, she says, she passed out on someone's bed after a party, from a mix of drinks — including one she suspects was spiked.

The federal government is getting into hip-hop — well, sort of.

A case over school finance in New York has been dragging on now for more than 20 years.

Shahd Al-Swerki still lives in the place she was born: that crowded rectangle of land along the Mediterranean called the Gaza Strip. Swerki knew she wanted to raise her children differently than she had been raised in the conservative Palestinian society. Especially her first child, a girl.

"My father made me lose a chance to travel to Italy when I was 14," says Swerki, now 26. "Although my father allowed my two brothers to travel, to Turkey and Germany to continue their studies."

In the early 1990s, voters in Oregon were feeling some tax anxiety.

Property values were rising, and many worried that also meant a rise in property taxes. And so, with something called Measure 5, they capped them.

Since schools depend heavily on property taxes, Oregon did something unique. The state decided to use income tax revenue to help offset the effect of this new property-tax cap.

There's just one problem: In tough economic times, income is more volatile than property values. And so began a roller coaster for Oregon's schools.

When you enter Marissa McGee's classroom, the first thing you notice is her connection with her students. They're delighted by her enthusiasm, they pick up on her sarcasm, and they often double over with giggles when she makes a joke.

And this is kindergarten. So McGee's students — her audience — are 5-year-olds.

"They're easy to please," she says, laughing. "I'm not that funny. I wouldn't even consider myself funny at all."

This rapport is how Marissa McGee works to shape these kindergartners into thoughtful, educated adults.

Kyle Stokes / KPLU



A program credited with lifting the graduation rate and boosting student enrollment at Seattle’s Rainier Beach High School was going to be cut because of a lack of money.  But now, it’s being saved, thanks to a Seattle non-profit.

Thousands of children in Flint, Mich., have been exposed to high levels of lead in their drinking water, creating problems that could last a lifetime.

A new effort is trying to help those most at risk.

For weeks, teachers and other volunteers from the Genesee Intermediate School District have been knocking on doors in Flint, trying to recruit kids for early childhood education programs that are critical for the youngest victims of Flint's lead-tainted tap water.

Detroit's public school teachers say they will return to their classrooms on Wednesday. Detroit schools were closed for two days, after many teachers called in sick to protest a budget shortfall that could mean no pay for hours they've already worked.

The announcement from the Detroit Federation of Teachers came hours after Michigan lawmakers advanced a $500 million plan to restructure Detroit public schools by creating a new district, The Associated Press reports.

Jennifer Wing / KPLU


Japanese, Mandarin and Spanish: These are the languages hundreds of students are learning in the Seattle School District.

But funding is tight, which means the district is taking a hard look at its foreign language immersion programs. The district is wondering if these programs should be scaled back, expanded, or left as they are.

There are five elementary immersion schools in Seattle. Students can choose to continue their language studies in middle and high school.

Sleep has a big impact on learning. And not just when you do it in class. Sleep deprivation affects memory, cognition and motivation, and the effects are compounded when it's long-term.

In 13 states, parents and school districts are suing, saying schools aren't getting enough money to serve the needs of students.

In no other state are the courts more baked in to school funding than in Kansas, though.

There, the state Supreme Court will hear arguments on the latest funding case within the next week. If justices don't approve of the legislators' fix to the system, the court could shut down public schools on June 30.

The Kansas Supreme Court gave state lawmakers an ultimatum:

Make school funding more equitable by June 30, or it will consider shutting down the state's public schools.

Since then, things have gotten ugly.

Lawmakers followed up with a plan — to make it easier to impeach Supreme Court judges who attempt to "usurp the power" of the Legislature or governor.

There's a long-held debate in education. " 'Do you fix education to cure poverty or do you cure poverty to cure education?' And I think that's a false dichotomy," says the superintendent of Camden schools in New Jersey, Paymon Rouhanifard. "You have to address both."

That can be expensive.

In 1997, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that the state's school funding formula was leaving behind poor students. It ordered millions of dollars in additional funding to 31 of the then-poorest districts.

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading causes of death for teenagers in the United States, and alcohol is involved in 1 out of 4 of those crashes. The stronger a state's restrictions on alcohol overall, the lower the teen death toll, a study finds.

Policies aimed at the general population were more effective than those targeting teens, the study found. They included regulations that limit the hours alcohol can be sold and the density of alcohol outlets in a particular area, as well as taxes on alcohol sales.