Education Desk

A few years ago, a good friend and I were walking near downtown Philadelphia, not far from my old elementary school, Thomas C. Durham, on 16th and Lombard. The school was built on the edge of a black neighborhood in South Philly in the early 1900s, and its design earned it a spot on the National Register of Historic Places when I was in the third grade. I nudged my friend to take a quick detour with me.

It's not just baby talk. Any kind of talk with young children — especially if they're too young to talk back — will do.

Because talk is vital to a child's brain development, says Dana Suskind, who found her passion for literacy in an unlikely place: the operating room.

Last week was supposed to be the first week of school for students in Seattle, Washington. Instead it was the beginning of a teachers' strike. Negotiators are at a standoff over wages and performance evaluations.

In 2012, Chicago's public school teachers went on strike, leaving the city's 350,000 kids out of school for eight days.

All over the country, high school graduates are making the jump to college. They're getting to know their roommates, buying supplies, and saying tearful goodbyes to parents.

It's a stressful time for any family, but consider this: For the growing number of students dealing with mental health issues, it can be a terrifying transition. Sometimes, it raises the question: Is college really an option?

That's the case with Luis, a bright young man from Virginia with a brain injury and bipolar disorder.

President Obama has been talking about creating a Consumer Reports-style college ratings system for more than a year. But the effort seemed to get bogged down in politics and a debate over what metrics to include.

Well, in a Saturday surprise, Obama unveiled his new College Scorecard this morning.

"You'll be able to see how much each school's graduates earn, how much debt they graduate with, and what percentage of a school's students can pay back their loans," the president said in his weekly address.

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In a classroom in the Bronx borough of New York City on a recent school day, a little boy in a green shirt got very frustrated. He was sitting on the floor with his fellow second-graders as they were going over a math problem with their teacher, when he suddenly turned away from the group and stamped his feet. It seemed like he was mad that she had called on another student. But instead of reprimanding him, the teacher asked him to chime in.

"You agree?" she asked him. "Do you want to take a look at it?"

The boy said yes and continued taking part in the lesson.

NPRreads is a weekly feature on Twitter and on The Two-Way. The premise is simple: Correspondents, editors and producers from our newsroom share the pieces that have kept them reading, using the #NPRreads hashtag. On Fridays, we highlight some of the best stories.

This week, we bring you four items.

From NPR Washington Desk correspondent Brian Naylor:

The US News & World Report Best Colleges rankings, the leaderboard of competitive college admissions, are out this week. And all this week on All Things Considered, we've been talking with students who graduated from high school in Montgomery County, Md., four or five years ago.

Imagine you had the option of going to a top state university on a full ride or a prestigious Ivy League for about $20,000 a year. Would it be a hard decision? What would you choose?

Four years ago, Becca Arbacher had to make that decision. She chose Columbia in New York City over the University of Michigan.

And she's glad she did.

"Being at Columbia has offered me some really incredible opportunities that I wouldn't have otherwise," says Arbacher. "It's kind of impossible for me to guess what my experience would have been like at Michigan."

In Texas, fewer high school boys are playing football. And while there may be some concern about head injuries, one young athlete says the trend has more to do with demands on his time and the push for players to specialize in one sport.

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Time for a pop quiz: When it comes to health care, what's the difference between cost, charge and payment?

"Does anyone want to take a stab at it?" Sara-Megumi Naylor asks a group of first-year residents at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

Naylor answers her own question with a car metaphor. "Producing the car might be $10,000, but the price on the window might be $20,000, and then you might end up giving them [a deal for] $18,000, so that's cost versus charge versus payment," she explains.

Tourists come from all over the world to visit Harvard Yard, the famous quad at the center of one of the world's most renowned universities. But as The Boston Globe reports, the number and enthusiasm of these visitors has prompted Harvard officials to implement a new rule banning tourists from taking photos of students through building windows.

"You get really used to [the tourists]," Brent Westbrook, 22, said of life at Harvard.

Alabama's Science Standards Get A Makeover

Sep 10, 2015

Alabama schools are getting new science standards for the first time in a decade. The state Board of Education voted unanimously today to replace old standards that some teachers say were behind the times the moment they were approved.

As evidence, they point to their students' biology textbooks, many of which currently come with warning stickers that call evolution "a controversial theory." The state's old science standards say students should "wrestle with the unresolved problems still faced" by evolution.

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Seattle Public School teachers walked off the job today. It was supposed to be the first day of school.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: What do we want?


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: When do we want it?

Going to college today is a very different experience than it once was. The cost has soared, and the great recession cut into many of the assets that were supposed to pay for it. This week, All Things Considered is talking with young people — and in some cases their parents — about the value of school and about their choice of what kind of college to attend.

The giant semiconductor manufacturer Intel will be severing ties with a long- running science and mathematics competition that has awarded millions of dollars in prize money to America's top high school students.

Intel has been a corporate sponsor of the Science Talent Search since 1998, according to the Society For Science, the group that administers the contest.

Instead of welcoming some 53,000 students to the start of the school year, teachers in Seattle are marching in picket lines Wednesday, going on strike over issues that range from pay to testing.

From member station KUOW, Ann Dornfeld reports for our Newscast unit:

"The district said it was offering the teachers a generous pay raise, but teachers said they deserve more, after waiting through the great recession for higher pay.

There's a lot of evidence that the meals school cafeterias are serving have gotten healthier since new federal nutrition standards were rolled out.

It's show time.

"Please try to limit all other background noise, like your cellphone should be muted."

This is a virtual classroom, and that's the stage manager giving last-minute instructions to students. This is unlike any virtual classroom you've probably ever imagined. Behind the scenes, in a control room upstairs, a producer calls the camera shots.

"Stay with him. I'm going to four. Take six."

The Harvard Business School has rented this television studio from WGBH in Boston, and transformed it into a sleek online classroom.

Teachers in Seattle, Wash., the state's largest school district, will go on strike Wednesday. Seattle teachers haven't gone on strike since 1985.

The primary issue is pay, but as KPLU's Kyle Stokes told NPR's Newscast unit, it's "pay with a twist."

"The school district wants to increase the length of the instructional day for students," he adds, "and the way that they propose to do this is to take away some of the time that teachers get currently to prepare for school before or after classes and use that to help lengthen the school day."

In New York City, some 65,000 children have enrolled in Mayor Bill de Blasio's new, universal preschool program. To put that number in context, that's more than all the public school students — in all grades — in either Washington, D.C., or Boston. Free pre-K for all 4-year-olds was a key de Blasio campaign promise.

Going to college today is a very different experience than it once was. The cost has soared, and the great recession cut into many of the assets that were supposed to pay for it. This week All Things Considered is talking with young people — and in some cases their parents — about the value of school and about their choice of what kind of college to attend.

Andrew Conneen


There's good news for high school students taking advanced placement courses: Thanks to a new law, they'll get more credit for passing AP tests than before.

University of Illinois-Springfield fall enrollment numbers have been released.

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Researchers have been tracking Jose Arriaga since he was 4 years old, waiting for the day he would start ninth grade. This fall, Jose is a freshman at Booker T. Washington High School, a selective public school in north Tulsa, Okla. And no one is more proud of him than his mother, Veronica Arriaga.

"He's been a straight-A student throughout middle school," Mrs. Arriaga says in Spanish. "That's why he's here."

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America, by far, has the highest incarceration rate among developed nations. The rate of imprisonment in the U.S. has more than quadrupled in the last 40 years, fueled by "three strikes" and mandatory-minimum sentencing laws.

Hello pencils, hello books, hello teacher's dirty looks.

Yes, school is back in session. And students are no doubt grumbling about the end of the carefree summer.

But in some parts of the world, there are kids who don't get a chance to complain about what a drag it is to go back to school. Because they really want to go to school ... only they're not able.