Betsey De Vos’s confirmation as Secretary of Education comes with the expectation that she will be a strong ally for charter schools. Charter schools are publicly funded but are run like small businesses – it’s the state’s responsibility to regulate which are succeeding and which are falling short. But judging the efficacy of charters isn’t always easy.
In Louisiana, where the number of charters has grown significantly since Hurricane Katrina, the state is still figuring out how to manage the system. Roberto Ferdman visited to explore how the original promise of charters – creating the opportunity for more diverse and specialized schools – hasn’t come to be.
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Gabriel Rosa poses for a portrait before his graduation ceremony from P-TECH, a six-year program that confers a high school diploma and associate’s degree, June 2015. Andrew White for WIRED
WHEN THREE FEMALE African-American mathematicians—Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson—became unsung heroes at NASA during the 1960s space race, the US was engaged in a fierce competition to become the world leader in science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM. As told in the recently released movie Hidden Figures, the trio’s groundbreaking calculations for rocket trajectories required programming a complex, first-of-a-kind IBM computer that helped put astronaut John Glenn in orbit. Skip ahead 54 years, and the US is a world leader in scientific innovation and advanced technologies.
But in order for the US to remain at the forefront of innovation and not lag behind, we must address the disconnect between the skills required for 21st century jobs and young people’s ability to acquire those skills. Fixing this will require us to evolve our approach to public education and training. The latest results of the PISA exam, which assesses science, math, and reading performance among 15-year-olds around the globe, show American students noticeably behind in math scores (below the international average), with science and reading scores remaining flat. This is not a small problem.
dave van patten/for NPR
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.
That’s why she’s joined more than 60 educators in New York City recently at the Quiet Summer Institute. The professional development workshop was based on Susan Cain’s bestseller Quiet: The Power of Introverts In A World That Can’t Stop Talking.
The book has been a national phenomenon, and it’s the inspiration behind a curriculum developed by Heidi Kasevich for teachers.
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’s obsessed with wrong answers like these.
“Students are not empty vessels,” he says. “Students are full of all kinds of knowledge, and they have explanations for everything.” From birth, human beings are working hard to figure out the world around us.
But we go about it more like the early Greek philosophers than modern scientists: reasoning from our limited experience. And like those early philosophers — Ptolemy comes to mind — we’re often dead wrong.
Sadler says that cognitive science tells us that if you don’t understand the flaws in students’ reasoning, you’re not going to be able to dislodge their misconceptions and replace them with the correct concepts.
The Surprising Link Between Education and Jihad
The two main images of jihadists in the Western media are nearly diametrically opposed. One depicts the terrorist as socially marginal. For example, Chérif Kouachi, the younger of the two brothers whose January 2015 attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris claimed 12 lives, was a would-be rapper and pizza delivery boy with a record of petty crime. Amedy Coulibaly, an accomplice who killed a policewoman and four hostages in a kosher supermarket in Paris during the manhunt for the Kouachis, had been convicted five times for armed robbery. Neither had any higher education.
The other image is of the terrorist as a highly educated expert: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, mastermind of 9/11, holds a degree in mechanical engineering from a U.S. university. Similarly, al Qaeda head Ayman al-Zawahiri is a medical doctor. And there have also been highly educated front-line operatives: Seifiddine Rezgui, who killed 38 people on the b`each of Sousse in Tunisia in summer 2005, was an electrical engineering student at a local university. In fact, of the 25 individuals directly involved in the 9/11 attacks, eight were engineers.
Dr. Tiffany Anderson is credited with turning around the school system in Jennings, Mo.
Dr. Bill MacDonald/Courtesy of Tiffany Anderson
We often hear about school districts who struggle with high poverty, low test scores and budget problems. But one district has faced all of these and achieved remarkable results.
In just over three years, Superintendent Tiffany Anderson, who oversees the Jennings School District in Jennings, a small city just outside St. Louis, has led a dramatic turnaround in one of the worst-performing systems in Missouri.
Anderson has embraced a holistic approach to solving the problems of low-performing students by focusing on poverty above all else, and using the tools of the school district to alleviate the barriers poverty creates.
“We serve the whole child,” Anderson tells NPR’s Michel Martin. “The leverage point for me is the school system.”
The school district of 3,000 students has taken unprecedented steps, like opening a food pantry to give away food, a shelter for homeless students and a health clinic, among other efforts.
“My purpose is to remove the challenges that poverty creates,” she says. “You can not expect children to learn at a high level if they come in hungry and tired.”
That unconventional approach has had big results. When Anderson took over in 2012, the school district was close to losing accreditation. Jennings had a score of 57 percent on state educational standards. A district loses accreditation if that score goes below 50 percent.