Youth & Education

Stories and features about education in the Pacific Northwest. Including stories from Washington state and the United States. 

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Most everyone knows someone adversely affected by student debt: More than 40 million Americans are shouldering a crippling $1.3 trillion in loans.

That burden is obstructing careers, families, dreams, employment and even retirement.

Uncle Sam and Wall Street have made lots of money off the crisis.

I step up to the counter at Willy's Cafe at Willamette High School in Eugene, Ore., and order a latte.

There's a powerful scent of fresh coffee in the air, and a group of juniors and seniors hover over a large espresso machine.

Carrie Gilbert, 17, shows how it's done: "You're going to want to steam the milk first," she explains. "Then once you have the coffee, dump it in and use the rest of the milk to fill the cup."

She hands over my order. Not bad.

Four guys walk into a diner.

One, in a plaid shirt, sells golf equipment online. His name is Chris Regan. Two — Eric Schiffhauer and Jordan Wagner — are midway through their Ph.D.'s at Johns Hopkins University.

And the other, Jebree Christian, is a recent high school graduate from West Baltimore. His arms are covered in tattoos, most of them commemorating someone he has lost.

Each Sunday, they gather here at Jimmy's on Baltimore's harbor.

Summer break for many students is a time to kick back, play outside, and hang out with friends. For a significant portion of public school students in the United States, however, the end of school also brings a familiar question—what's for lunch?

When Lily Shum was little, she dreaded speaking up in class. It wasn't because she didn't have anything interesting to say, or because she wasn't paying attention or didn't know the answer. She was just quiet.

"Every single report card that I ever had says, 'Lily needs to talk more. She is too quiet,' " recalls Shum, now an assistant director at Trevor Day School in Manhattan.

She doesn't want her students to feel the pressure to speak up that she felt.

"Why are traffic lights red, yellow and green?"

When a child asks you a question like this, you have a few options. You can shut her down with a "Just because." You can explain: "Red is for stop and green is for go." Or, you can turn the question back to her and help her figure out the answer with plenty of encouragement.

Ariel Van Cleave / KPLU

Growing up and finding ways to fit in can be hard for any kid, but it gets tougher when your mom or dad, sometimes both, are behind bars. Children who have an incarcerated parent tend to keep it a secret, which is a big burden.

That’s where Kids United by Incarceration comes in. It’s a summer camp for kids with a parent in prison, located in the Tahuya State Forest on the Hood Canal.

Curtis Cronn / Flickr

When Washington state’s legislature voted to reduce college tuition last year, it presented some families with a dilemma because they had bought into the state’s prepaid tuition program, known as Guaranteed Education Tuition, on the assumption that tuition would keep increasing. So the state has been offering penalty-free refunds since last September. 

After some 10,000 online tutorials in 10 years, Sal Khan still starts most days at his office desk in Silicon Valley, recording himself solving math problems for his Khan Academy YouTube channel.

"OK, let F of X equal A times X to the N plus," he says cheerfully as he begins his latest.

Khan Academy has helped millions of people around the world — perhaps hundreds of millions — learn math, science and other subjects for free.

A new report, out today, provides 186 pages of answers to one of the toughest questions in education:

What does it take to get preschool right?

Parents and politicians alike want to know. States are spending roughly $7 billion this year on early childhood education, despite the fact that there are more cautionary tales — like this one from Tennessee — than success stories.

The major advocacy group for charter schools is meeting this week in Nashville, and there's lots to celebrate.

What began with a single state law in Minnesota has spread to a national movement of nearly 6,800 schools, serving just under 3 million students.

But at its annual meeting, the National National Alliance for Public Charter Schools is also using the moment to call for a fresh look at how these innovative public schools are managed and how they're held accountable.

"My goal for this special session is to keep the schools open," said Sam Brownback, Republican governor of Kansas, talking about a high-stakes gathering today in Topeka.

He called lawmakers back from their vacations for a special session after the state's Supreme Court doubled-down on its demand that they make school funding more equitable across districts or risk a calamitous funding freeze.

"We cannot allow our children to be caught in a constitutional struggle between branches of government," Brownback said. But that's exactly what's happened.

The Problem With Teaching Preschool Teachers

Jun 22, 2016

The U.S. spends a lot of money on preschool — billions of dollars each year. When invested wisely, research suggests the costs are justified by significant returns to society, including savings from crimes not committed, welfare dollars not distributed, and taxes on higher earnings.

But a new report suggests many preschool programs aren't as good as they could (or should) be — because their teachers arrived on the job poorly trained.

This summer, millions of excited 4-, 5- and 6-year-olds will be getting ready for their first real year of school. But some of them may be in for a wake-up call when that first bell rings.

If you have young kids in school, or talk with teachers of young children, you've likely heard the refrain — that something's changed in the early grades. Schools seem to be expecting more of their youngest students academically, while giving them less time to spend in self-directed and creative play.

Something's wrong in America's classrooms.

According to new data from the Education Department, black students — from kindergarten through high school — are 3.8 times more likely to be suspended than white students.

Now the really bad news.

This trend begins in preschool, where black children are already 3.6 times more likely to be suspended than white students.

A lot of what's going on today in Marna Wolak's fifth-grade math class is pretty familiar. She's got her students gathered on the rug for a number talk, something she does often, trying to get them thinking about fractions.

But a lot of it is unfamiliar, too. The topic is new — dividing whole numbers by fractions. Also, today there are five more adults in the room, including two other teachers from Sanchez Elementary School here in San Francisco.

Tacoma Public Schools

 

The man accused of neglecting to properly monitor lead levels in Tacoma Public Schools says he wants his job back and his name cleared.

 

Ken Wilson was Tacoma Public School’s safety and environmental health manager. He was fired last month after he brought to the district’s attention test results that showed high levels of lead at more than a dozen locations.

 

Lead levels at Reed Elementary were 150 times over federal limits. So far, the district has replaced more than 300 fixtures.

When Caitlin Cheney was living at a campground in Washington state with her mother and younger sister, she would do her homework by the light of the portable toilets, sitting on the concrete.

She maintained nearly straight A's even though she had to hitchhike to school, making it there an average of three days a week. "I really liked doing homework," says Cheney, 22, who is now an undergraduate zoology student at Washington State University. "It kept my mind off reality a little bit."

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.

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