Education Desk

It's after hours at Rafael Hernandez, an elementary school in the Bronx, and Room 421 is in an uproar.

It's what you would expect from a sixth-grade sex education class learning how to put a condom on.

Sex education: The very concept makes a lot of people cringe, conjuring images of teenage giggles and discomfort. It's also a subject a lot of teachers would rather avoid.

But Bronx-based teacher Lena Solow is more than happy to talk about the birds, the bees ... and beyond.

Part of our series of conversations with leading teachers, writers and activists on education issues.

If you had to pick the most promising — and possibly most overhyped — education trends of the last few years, right up there with the online college courses known as MOOCs would almost certainly rank this one: Game-based learning shall deliver us to the Promised Land!

Cortlon and Chloe Cofield
Cortlon Cofield

ILLINOIS ISSUES/EDUCATION DESK - Thursday nights were always special, Cortlon Cofield says, during his freshman year at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. That’s because Thursdays were “Food for the Soul” night in the Florida Avenue Residence Hall (known as FAR).

Native American youth living on reservations can often face an overwhelming array of challenges, including poverty, addiction and abuse. Partly because of hurdles, high school dropout rates and suicides are far higher on reservations than the national average.

When we talk about higher education for the poor, we often mean community colleges and getting a degree in order to make more money. But 20 years ago, a writer in New York City decided that the poorest members of society should have the same access as wealthier people to learning, just for the sake of learning.

I visited one of these programs — called a Clemente course — in Harlem on a Thursday night.

"Can you live in a good life in a society where people are doing different things?" asks the teacher. "Of course," replies a student.

It's commencement season — and commencement speech season.

University of Illinois

The chancellor at the University of Illinois' flagship campus says she expects the campus to be censured by the American Association of University Professors over the decision not to hire a professor following his anti-Israel Twitter messages. 

I started off wondering whether I might be able to spell a few of the words right. I ended up realizing that most of them I had never even heard of before.

Iridocyclitis. Cibarial. Pyrrhuloxia. And so on.

It was one of the many surprises of an evening spent watching the finals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee on Thursday night near Washington.

Another big surprise was how much I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I had expected to see a bunch of highly trained kids who've spent months and years memorizing the dictionary, essentially regurgitating that information.

Etymology? He don't need no stinkin' etymology.

Informed that the word list was running out, and a final correct spelling would result in a tie with Vanya Shivashankar, Gokul Venkatachalam was served his final word (nunatak) and volleyed it right back, n-u-n-a-t-a-k. Even the audience was denied a definition (it's an Inuit term for an exposed, rocky geographic element amid an ice field or glacier).

It created co-champions of the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee for the second consecutive year.

Reforming the education system in any country can be tricky. But in France, where learning is highly centralized and public school (l'ecole de la Republique) a symbol of French greatness, it's all but impossible.

Several French presidents have tried and failed. President Francois Hollande's second attempt has traditionalists up in arms and critics on the right and left screaming that French schools are being dumbed down.

Teachers, students and some parents took to the streets of cities across the country recently to denounce the government's project.

Dusty Rhodes / WUIS/Illinois Issues


A plan awaiting Governor Bruce Rauner's signature would overhaul the way schools handle discipline. We wanted to meet some of the young activists behind the legislation. 

More and more people in education agree on the importance of learning stuff other than academics.

But no one agrees on what to call that "stuff".

There are least seven major overlapping terms in play. New ones are being coined all the time. This bagginess bugs me, as a member of the education media. It bugs researchers and policymakers too.

Tripling a penalty that was announced this spring, Penn State has shut down the school's Kappa Delta Rho fraternity chapter for three years, after an inquiry over a Facebook group page that collected pictures of nude women also uncovered other transgressions.

It's one of the biggest challenges in higher education today: What do you do with the nearly one in five working-age adults who have some college experience, but no degree?

Sokeo Ros was one of them. "I just hated" community college, he says. "I wasn't being challenged."

Ros, 34, was born in a Cambodian refugee camp in Thailand. He dropped out of two colleges, switching majors several times.

Out Of The Classroom And Into The Woods

May 26, 2015

Kids in the U.S. are spending less time outside. Even in kindergarten, recess is being cut back. But in the small town of Quechee, Vt., a teacher is bucking that trend: One day a week, she takes her students outside — for the entire school day.

It's called Forest Monday.

Eliza Minnucci got the idea after watching a documentary about a forest school in Switzerland where kids spend all day, every day, out in the woods.

Students applying for college supply all sorts of information — financial records, letters of recommendation, the personal essay — to name just a few.

One big question they face: Do you have a criminal record?

The question appears on the Common Application — the website that prospective students use to apply to more than 500 schools across the U.S. and abroad.

Most students don't even think about it. But for some applicants, it's a reason not to apply.

Like lots of little kids, Jeremiah Nebula — the main character of a children's book called Large Fears — has big dreams. He wants to go to Mars.

But Jeremiah is also pretty different from the characters that Myles Johnson, the author of the Kickstarter-backed book, met in the stories he read when he was growing up. Jeremiah is black, and he really, really likes the color pink.

Timothy Killeen
Bill Wheelhouse / WUIS / Illinois Issues

Timothy Killeen, the new president of the University of Illinois, met with reporters on the Springfield campus last week. Flanked by the chancellors of the university’s three campuses, Killeen said they were touring the state as part of a strategic planning process that would culminate next spring in a “statement of shared vision.”

It's early evening in Friendship Cemetery, the local graveyard in Columbus, Miss. The white tombstones are coated with that yellow glow you only see right before dusk.

Students from the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science are spread out among the gravestones. They're dressed up in costumes: A tall brunette is wearing a dark maroon dress her grandmother made. A young man wears a top hat and leans on a walking cane.

The goat barn at the Putnam County fairgrounds in Greencastle, Ind., will soon be full of, well, goats. But right now it's full of folding tables stacked with clothes, books and housewares — including an anatomically correct coffee mug in the shape of a woman.

At the tables are families, lots of them. Some waited in line for more than an hour to get first dibs on the larger items, like furniture and appliances. Carrie Ardito was first in that line and ran to the back to claim a clothes dryer.

Updated at 12:01 p.m. ET

John Forbes Nash Jr., the Nobel laureate known for his groundbreaking work on game theory and differential equations, was killed along with his wife in a taxi crash on the New Jersey Turnpike, police say. He was 86.

His death was first reported by NJ.com citing a police official. NPR has confirmed the report through longtime colleague Louis Nirenberg. The couple were killed on Saturday.

A group of Asian-American organizations — more than 60 in all — recently accused Harvard of holding Asian-American applicants to an unfairly high standard, requiring them to score better than their African-American, Hispanic or white counterparts. The complaint was filed with the Department of Education and the Justice Department earlier this month.

Whether they're in a posh London school or in the slums of Kenya, in the midst of war or in a battle against bullies, kids take playtime very seriously.

That's what photographer James Mollison learned after spending five years photographing school playgrounds around the world. The project began in 2009, and took him to more than 50 schools in 17 countries.

Each photo tells a different story.

On a gusty Friday evening in Manhattan's Union Square Park, Francisco Ramirez is setting up his chairs and a big sign that yells, "FREE ADVICE."

The park is packed with street musicians, chain-smoking chess players and preachers yelling predictions

Ramirez just wants to talk.

One of the toughest jobs in education is the substitute teacher. The pay is low, schedules are unpredictable and respect can be hard to come by. But because the average teacher missed 11 days of school in 2012-2013, a sub like Josephine Brewington ends up playing a crucial role.

And this week — Brewington was rewarded for her efforts — winning the 2015 Substitute Teacher of the Year award.

It seems like a no-brainer: Offer kids a reward for showing up at school, and their attendance will shoot up. But a recent study of third-graders in a slum in India suggests that incentive schemes can do more harm than good.

PARCC Chop

May 21, 2015
Milo Skalicky / for WUIS

  

School administrators are typically too polite to say “Told ya so!” but they have every right to when it comes to the PARCC test -- the new standardized test associated with the Common Core curriculum. The chief complaint about the test, implemented this year, was that it took 10 hours. Schools had to suspend their normal schedules for up to a month at a time, as they shuttled classes into and out of computer labs. One section was given in March, and another in May, making a double dose of disruption.

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Students at statehouse.
Joanna Klonsky / VOYCE

A measure that would limit the way schools hand out discipline has made its way through the Illinois legislature and is awaiting Governor Bruce Rauner's signature.

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