Oprah Winfrey
May 30th, 2013
05:09 PM ET

When Oprah speaks, Harvard listens

By Ann Hoevel, CNN

(CNN) - Harvard University's 362nd commencement ceremony was held this afternoon, as onlookers fanned themselves on a warm Massachusetts day.

Centenarians, accomplished alumni and graduates were recognized during the celebrations. The school's band and choir performed a rousing rendition of the "Harvardiana" march.  But the star of the show was commencement speaker Oprah Winfrey, who also received an honorary Harvard degree earlier in the day.

Wearing an appropriate shade of crimson, Winfrey took the podium to a standing ovation.

"Oh my goodness, IIIIII'M AT HAAAAAARRRRRVAAAARD!" she boasted in traditional Oprah style. "Not too many little girls from rural Mississippi have made it all the way here to Cambridge," she said, addressing her remarks to anyone who has "felt inferior or disadvantaged or screwed by life."

She started her speech by addressing the struggles and criticism she has endured in launching the OWN television network. The invitation to speak at the commencement, Winfrey said, came the day she read a particularly unkind headline about her network in USA Today. "And they're the nice paper!" she exclaimed.

She decided to turn her network around by the time she spoke to the Harvard class of 2013.

"Failure is just life trying to move us in a different direction," she told them. "This last year I had to spoon feed those words to myself."  Winfrey advised the graduates learn from their mistakes, "because every experience and encounter and particularly your mistakes are there to teach you who you are."

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NYC principals fight back against state tests
A group of New York City principals said they'll no longer consider the state's standardized tests for admissions.
May 30th, 2013
10:13 AM ET

NYC principals fight back against state tests

By Marina Carver, CNN

(CNN) A group of 15 New York City principals announced last week that starting with the 2014-2015 school year, they will no longer use state test scores as part of their middle  and high school admissions criteria.

In a letter sent to parents, teachers, principals and education officials, the principals said the tests were “inauthentic” and take away time “for quality instruction and authentic learning and testing.”

This year’s New York state standardized test was introduced as being aligned for the first time with Common Core Standards - the new national standards that have been adopted in 45 states.  The tests were administered to students in third grade through eighth grade in April and are used by some selective New York middle and high schools when considering admission.

Common Core encouraged many teachers and administrators at first, including Stacy Goldstein, a principal who signed the letter and the director of School of Future's middle school in Manhattan.

“We like it because it focuses on critical thinking and reading across a lot of texts,” she said of the education standards. “We were hoping the test itself would reflect more meaningful work, but it didn’t.”

The principals’ letter expressed that disappointment:  “The length, structure and timing caused many students to rush through the tests in an attempt to finish, get stuck on confusing questions, and not complete the test or even get to more authentic parts like the writing assessment,” they wrote.

“We’re not just worried about the kids’ scores going down, we’re concerned about the validity of the test itself,” Goldstein added. “We didn’t want this letter interpreted as principals just concerned about the test scores, so we wanted to get it out before the scores are released.”

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Filed under: Common Core • Elementary school • High school • Middle school • Testing
May 30th, 2013
05:00 AM ET

Life in a cracked house in Haiti

CNN Films' "Girl Rising" documents extraordinary girls and the power of education to change the world. Watch June 16 on CNN.

By Julie Hays, CNN

(CNN) - Thirteen-year-old Rose Matrie lives in a cracked house.

The light that streams through the narrow slit in the concrete wall is an ever-present reminder of the earthquake that struck her home in Haiti in 2010 and devastated the already impoverished country. Still, Rose Matrie has big dreams for her future.

"I want to go to a big school in order to develop my talents," she says.

Her mother fastened a large chalkboard on the outside of their home to cover up the crack, and every day Rose Matrie does her homework there. Her teacher says she is very bright and excels in literature.

"When I let my imagination go, I think of extraordinary things," Rose Matrie says.

Her father lost his job after the earthquake, and though her mother works as a seamstress, there is little demand for her skills. Like many families in Haiti, her parents are struggling to pay the school fees to keep her and her five siblings enrolled.

In Haiti, public schools only meet about 20% of the demand for basic education in rural areas, and education costs, particularly for private schools, remain very high in relation to family income, according to the nonprofit Plan International USA.

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