Youth & Education

Stories about education focused on the Pacific Northwest, with many from KPLU's Youth & Education reporter, Kyle Stokes.

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.

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.

Tacoma Public Schools

 


The Tacoma School District says tests from last year reveal that three additional elementary schools and one other building that houses a Head Start program, have high lead levels. This follows the news from Monday that two other schools have lead in the water.

 

The three new elementary schools are: Whittier, DeLong and Manitou Park. Parents received phone calls and emails telling them that the water in these buildings is unsafe to drink or use for cooking due to elevated levels of lead.

Delaney Ruston

 

Several years ago Delaney Ruston, a doctor who specializes in internal medicine, started to notice that most of the kids coming into her office were glued to a screen.

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."

Rich Pedroncell / AP Photo

Drinking fountains are now off limits at two elementary schools in Tacoma after tests revealed high levels of lead in the water. District officials had this information available to them for almost a year, but only looked at it for the first time late last week.

The schools are Mann Elementary and Reed Elementary.The district sent out an email and a phone message to all affected families.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Imagine you're back in school, bored to death, with limited academic options. Because you're learning English, everybody assumes you're not ready for more challenging work. What they don't realize is that you're gifted.

Researchers say this happens to lots of gifted children who arrive at school speaking little or no English. These students go unnoticed, until someone taps into their remarkable talent and potential. Vanessa Minero Leon was lucky. She was one of those students who got noticed.

Merriam-Webster defines jargon as "the technical terminology or characteristic idiom of a special activity, group, profession, or field of study."

When Andrea Diaz was applying to colleges, she got good news and bad news. The good news was that American University, a private four-year university in Washington, D.C., wanted her. The bad news was that it required her to come to campus early to take two summer developmental-level courses in math and English.

"I was traumatized by it," Diaz says, "because I felt that they didn't see in me the potential to do well in college."

Chris Joseph Kalinko / Seattle University

Adults who are thinking about going back to college have more to ponder than whether the time and money they’ve already invested will count toward a degree today.  They also need to get ready for the 21st-century workplace.

One thing that holds people back from completing their degrees is wondering whether their liberal arts credits are relevant in today’s job market — where the higher paid positions are in high-tech.

Monica Spain / KPLU

It can be hard to know when to call 9-1-1. And once you're on the line, it can be even harder to stay calm, cool and collected. Eight-year-old Austin Holdt did just that -- and helped save his grandmother's life. 

More than half of public school students are members of minority groups, but 83 percent of their teachers are white. Half of students are boys, while three-quarters of teachers are women.

Students can benefit in many ways from having teachers who look like them, but in many schools around the country the math doesn't add up.

Set back from the main road, surrounded by trees along the Winooski River, is Vermont's only facility for youths in trouble. The building hardly looks like a jail, but young people come here from all over the state for offenses ranging from shoplifting or selling drugs to felony charges like sexual assault or murder.

When I first visited Woodside Juvenile Rehabilitation Center, I was given a tour by a young man named Tyler. To protect their privacy, we've agreed not to use the students' last names or tell you why they're here.

Kids Co.

 

Space is tight and you will probably have to find a new home. This is the message the Seattle School District is sending to the before- and after-school childcare programs that are housed in elementary school buildings.

Ken Yeh is the director of technology at Ontario Christian Schools, a private K-12 school near Los Angeles with about 100 children per grade. Three years ago, the school began buying Google Chromebook laptops for every student in middle and high school.

The students would be allowed to take them home. Yeh says parents "were concerned" about what they might be used for, especially outside of school.

Kelly Henderson loves her job, teaching at Newton South High School in a suburb west of Boston. But she's frustrated she can't afford to live in the community where she teaches: It's part of the 10th most expensive housing market in the nation.

"For people in the private sector, they're probably saying 'Oh poor you, you can't live in the community where you work, what's the big deal?' " says Henderson, 35. "And I guess part of the nature of public education and why it's a different kind of job, is that it's all-consuming — as it should be."

On any given weekend, the Washington, D.C., public library system offers nearly a dozen classes. You can try Matt McEntee's class, where he'll teach you how to fix anything from a clock to a broken heart. Maybe you're interested in creating a photo book, or you'd like to get better at Microsoft Word?

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