By Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Special to CNN
Wheaton, Illinois (CNN)– Combing through prayer requests in a Wheaton College chapel in 2010, then-junior Benjamin Matthews decided to do something “absurdly unsafe.”
He posted a letter on a public forum bulletin board near students' post office boxes. In the letter, he came out as gay and encouraged fellow gay Christian students – some of whom had anonymously expressed suicidal plans in a pile of the prayer requests – to contact him if they needed help.
In a student body of 2,400 undergraduates in the suburbs of Chicago, at what is sometimes called the Harvard of evangelical schools, Matthews said that 15 male students came out to him. Other students seemed somewhat ambivalent about his coming out, he said.
No one told him he was wrong or needed to change, Matthews said some students were obviously uncomfortable with someone who would come out as gay and remain a Christian.
“I don’t think most Wheaton students knew what to do because they've been given ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’ rhetoric, but they don't know how that plays out in real life,” said Matthews, who graduated in 2011. “They would mostly just listen, nod and say, ‘Yeah man, that’s hard.’”
Read the full post on CNN's Belief blog
Atlanta (CNN) - In what has been described as one of the largest cheating scandals to hit the nation's public education system, 35 Atlanta Public Schools educators and administrators were indicted Friday on charges of racketeering and corruption.
The indictment is the bookend to a story that was once touted as a model for the nation's school districts after the district's test scores dramatically improved in some of its toughest urban schools.
Among those indicted by a Fulton County, Georgia, grand jury was Beverly Hall, the former schools superintendent who gained national recognition in 2009 for turning around Atlanta's school system.
"She was a full participant in that conspiracy," Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard told reporters during a news conference announcing the charges.
"Without her, this conspiracy could not have taken place, particularly in the degree in which it took place."
The indictment follows a state investigation that was launched after a series of reports by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper found large, unexplained gains in test scores in some Atlanta schools.
A state review determined that some cheating had occurred in more than half of the district's elementary and middle schools. About 180 teachers were initially implicated in the scandal.
Read the full story
(CNN) - Camden, New Jersey, is not an easy place for a kid to grow up in.Just ask 15-year-old Destinee Williams."Camden has this reputation of being dangerous because you can walk outside at 3 in the afternoon and hear gunshots," Destinee said. "Gangs and drugs are a huge deal. Kids get into gangs to feel safe so they won't get killed."
Unfortunately, Destinee has had to deal with too many killings in her young life.
"My father was murdered in Camden last year, and my cousin was murdered (last month)," she said. "In the last month, I know of at least three people getting killed. In Camden, I expect it to happen. I'm not surprised anymore."
For many people, the violence in Camden can make it feel more like a war zone than an American city, but the battle doesn't end there.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 42% of Camden's population is living below the poverty line, making it one of the poorest cities in the United States. The New Jersey Department of Education reports that nearly 90% of Camden's schools are in the bottom 5% performance-wise in the state.
About 42% of Camden's population is living below the poverty line, making it one of the poorest cities in the United States.
"For too long, the public school system in Camden has failed its children," New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Monday, when he announced the state would be taking over the city's schools. "Each day that it gets worse, we're failing the children of Camden, we're denying them a future, we're not allowing them to reach their full potential."
Camden may seem like a city without hope, but one of its native daughters is on a mission to change its downtrodden reputation and empower its youngest residents.
Tawanda Jones started a dance team, the Camden Sophisticated Sisters Drill Team, to entice young girls to stay off the street and do something positive with their lives. Over the years, she has incorporated boys into the team and also started a drum line program.
"People perceive Camden and its kids as garbage," Jones said. "We have so many gifted kids. They want more out of life. There's just nothing in our city to do. Therefore, what happens when a child has idle time and no positive way to channel that energy? They have to find something else. And it just may turn into the dark side."
Through the drill team, Jones aims to teach kids about discipline, dedication and self-respect, things she believes are necessary to survive and thrive in this rough community and beyond.
"Whether you need it for work, you need it for school, you need discipline, period," said Jones, 40. "Drill team is good as far as structure, because you have to be precise. You have to be on point."
"If they get too many Cs, we put them on academic probation," Jones said. "We don't want to kick a child out because they're not doing well in school, so on my days off I go to the child's school just to correspond with the teacher. I'll just make sure that the child is doing well or (see) what we can do on our end to help that child get to where she needs to be."
By Ashley Vaughan, CNN
(CNN) - Maria D'Angelo is a former private school teacher who has made the shelters of Los Angeles her classroom.
Her goal: to transform the lives of homeless children through academic and social opportunities. Through her nonprofit, the Children's Lifesaving Foundation, D'Angelo believes she can spread hope to a community often overlooked.
"I believe everyone is fundamentally good," she explained. "I don't like to give up on people."
For D'Angelo, the reality of growing up poor is personal. When she was 13, D'Angelo and her siblings immigrated to Staten Island, New York, from Naples, Italy. Her father, an artist and chef, had moved three years earlier to establish a life for his children.
"We moved into a $30-a-month walkup apartment," she said. "None of us spoke English."
Who needs help, how to help: Impact Your World
To help her parents make ends meet, D'Angelo and her siblings went to work. Her first job was in a bakery after school, which foreshadowed her love of service.
"Each Saturday night, (my boss) would give me all the baked goods and cakes that were left over," she said. "So, I would bring them to the entire neighborhood. ... I was so thrilled."
Despite growing up in poverty, D'Angelo never saw herself as poor. "Being poor is a real state of mind," she said. "We never felt poor; we just lived in a poor environment."
D'Angelo went on to college and became a high school Spanish and Italian teacher. She also served as a tour guide for New York's Rockefeller Center. But it was on a trip to a homeless shelter that D'Angelo was "accidentally" introduced to a future life of nonprofit work.
After moving to Los Angeles in 1990, D'Angelo worked as a volunteer in a shelter and met an 8-year-old boy who couldn't read. She learned that the boy never attended school because his mother never took him for the required physical exam. Without hesitation, she got the mother's permission and took him for the exam. Soon, D'Angelo was taking other kids to the doctor and eventually on field trips.
(CNN) - The letter is signed "cordially" but students who received the instruction to stop handing out condoms on campus say they were taken aback by demands they feel could go as far as threatening their rights.
Various dorm rooms at Boston College in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, have a "Safe Site" symbol on their door. That signifies that inside are male and female condoms, personal lubricant and safer sex information, according to BC Students for Sexual Health. "If you are in need of condoms, you may knock (on) one of these doors and just ask!" the group's website says.
Lizzie Jekanowski, chair of BCSSH, told CNN that the college has always been aware of the group's activities. "We've had a positive and open relationship with the administration up to this point," she said.
But earlier this month, college administrators sent letters to students whose dorm room doors have the logo saying that distributing condoms on campus "is not in concert with the mission of Boston College as a Catholic and Jesuit university."
"Should we receive any reports that you are, in fact, distributing condoms on campus, the matter would be referred to the student conduct office for disciplinary action by the University," concluded the letter sent by dean of students Paul J. Chebator and director of residence life George Arey.
(CNN) - In a ruling that could reverberate nationwide, the Indiana Supreme Court upheld the state's voucher program, which gives poor and middle class families public funds to help pay for private school tuition, including religious schools.
Indiana has the broadest school voucher program available to a range of incomes, critics say, and could set a precedent as other states seek ways to expand such programs.
Supporters say it gives families without financial means more options on where to educate their children.
However, opponents of the Indiana program had sued to block it, describing it as unconstitutional and saying it takes money from public schools.
Teresa Meredith, the vice president of the Indiana State Teachers Association and one of the plaintiffs, said she was "very disappointed in the ruling."
As many as 9,000 students statewide are part of the voucher program and more than 80% use the funds to go to religious schools, according to Meredith.
But in its unanimous 5-0 ruling, the Supreme Court said that was not an issue.
It said it did not matter that funds had been directed to religious schools as long as the state was not directly funding the education. The tuition, the court said, was being funded by the parents who chose to pay it with their vouchers.
"Whether the Indiana program is wise educational or public policy is not a consideration," Chief Justice Brent Dickson wrote. The public funds "do not directly benefit religious schools but rather directly benefit lower-income families with school children."
By Richard Galant, CNN
(CNN) - What if everything you thought you knew about education was wrong?What if students learn more quickly on their own, working in teams, than in a classroom with a teacher?
What if tests and discipline get in the way of the learning process rather than accelerate it?
Those are the questions Sugata Mitra has been asking since the late 1990s, and for which he was awarded the $1 million TED Prize in February at the TED2013 conference.
Mitra, professor of educational technology at Newcastle University, won the prize for his concept of "self organized learning environments," an alternative to traditional schooling that relies on empowering students to work together on computers with broadband access to solve their own problems, with adults intervening to provide encouragement and admiration, rather than top-down instruction.
Watch Sugata Mitra's TED Prize talk
Mitra's work with students in India has gained wide attention and was the focus of a 2010 TED Talk on his "hole in the wall" experiment, showing the potential of computers to jump-start learning without any adult intervention.
Coming to education trained as a physicist, Mitra said he was encouraged by his boss to start teaching people how to write computer programs. When he bought his first personal computer, he was surprised to find that his 6-year-old son was able to tell him how to fix problems he had operating the machine. He thought his son was a genius, but then heard his friends saying the same thing about their children.
By David J. Skorton, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: David J. Skorton is president of Cornell University and professor in the Departments of Medicine and Pediatrics at Weill Cornell Medical College and in Biomedical Engineering at Cornell’s College of Engineering. A former president of the University of Iowa, he is a board-certified cardiologist, past chair of the Business-Higher Education Forum and life member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
(CNN) - As college admissions notifications go out over the next several weeks, there is no doubt that the cost of college is a growing concern. Students and families are trying to figure out how to get the most out of the college experience and the best value for their investment.
The interactive College Scorecard that President Barack Obama announced in his 2013 State of the Union Address provides the average “net price” of attendance - that is, tuition minus the average amount of financial aid. (As the scorecard notes, it is important to get more specific cost information by using the financial aid calculator on each college’s website.)
Promised, but not yet available in the scorecard, is a summary of the kinds of jobs that students find once they graduate and how much they earn. This information may be of limited utility, however, because, as Harvard President Drew Faust has pointed out, the value of a college degree should not be judged solely on the first job acquired, but it should be “a passport to a lifetime of citizenship, opportunity, growth and change.”
How can students and families navigate these confusing and ever-changing waters? As a university president whose institution received nearly 40,000 applications for admission this year, as someone who is responsible to see the big picture - and as someone who has been through the college selection process with members of my own family - I know that a substantial part of college choice must belong to the student. It must encompass facts, but also the “feel” of the college and the fit with the student’s background, personality and interests.
READ: College Scorecard tries to reality check school 'sticker price'
So, students, here are some things, beyond the College Scorecard, to consider in deciding which colleges provide value for you.
Washington (CNN) - The Supreme Court agreed Monday to confront another high-profile challenge to affirmative action in college admissions.
The justices will decide the constitutionality of a voter referendum in Michigan banning race- and sex-based discrimination or preferential treatment in public university admission decisions.
The high court is currently deciding a separate challenge to admissions policies at the University of Texas, which did not involve a voter referendum.
A federal appeals court last year concluded the affirmative action ban, which Michigan voters passed in a 2006 referendum, violated the U.S. Constitution's equal protection laws.
It was the latest step in a legal and political battle over whether the state's colleges can use race and gender as a factor in choosing which students to admit. The ban's opponents say classroom diversity remains a necessary government role.
(CNN) - The state of New Jersey is taking over administration of the troubled public schools in the city of Camden, Gov. Chris Christie announced Monday.
A recent Department of Education investigation found Camden city schools are among the lowest-performing in the state, Christie said at a news conference at Woodrow Wilson High School in the city.
"We're taking the lead because for too long, the public school system in Camden has failed its children," he said. "Each day that it gets worse, we're failing the children of Camden, we're denying them a future, we're not allowing them to reach their full potential."
The poor student performance, a lack of a districtwide curricula, inconsistent and haphazard school staffing, lack of central leadership, and a failure to provide student support services has resulted in "full state intervention," the governor's office said in a news release.
Christie said the decision to partner with Camden school officials was not one made easily or quickly.
"I waited three years because I really felt like I wanted to give the folks in the city of Camden the chance without having to enter into a partnership with the state," Christie said.
The issues with student achievement and institutional administration do not stem from a lack of financial support. Camden is receiving more than $279.5 million in state funding, an increase of $3.6 million from last year. During the 2011-12 school year, Camden spent $23,709 per student, compared with the statewide average of $18,045, the governor's office said.
CNN’s Schools of Thought blog is a place for parents, educators and students to learn about and discuss what's happening in education. We're curious about what's happening before kindergarten, through college and beyond. Have a story to tell? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org