Editor’s note: Ray Salazar is a National Board Certified English teacher in the Chicago Public Schools. He writes about education and Latino issues on the White Rhino blog. Follow him on Twitter @whiterhinoray.
By Ray Salazar, Special to CNN
(CNN) - During Tuesday’s State of the Union address, President Barack Obama spoke about gun violence, and he continues the discussion in Chicago today. He recognized in his speech, “our actions will not prevent every senseless act of violence in this country.”
As a high school teacher in Chicago, I want to hear more than an acknowledgment that shootings are happening, that young people are dying violently and unfairly. I want to hear his determination to push through Second Amendment politics and assure us his leadership will make our streets safer. We might not be able to prevent every senseless act, but we must decrease the desensitization that encourages only one-word reactions to shootings: “Again?”
My first teaching job in 1995 focused on troubled teens at an alternative high school on Chicago’s Southwest side. I grew up in this neighborhood, but only knew gun violence in Little Village as a distant reference - until one of my students got shot in the middle of the day, about one mile from the school, about one block from my house.
Sergio had returned to school in 1996 after dropping out. He slouched and wore a black, dusty hoodie. He struggled. His spelling was so bad that all I could do was rewrite his crooked sentences so he could then rewrite them correctly. He never complained. He sat, mostly silent, usually working. One day, his parole officer met with me and said his spelling was getting better. In 1997, he was shot and died.
He became the first person I knew killed by being shot. A couple of years later, someone shot a gang banger in front of my house while I dozed off to “Saturday Night Live.” A few years after that, my wife and I were shot at near our home as we returned from a wedding. Despite my anger, my disappointment, my fear, I felt all I could do was call 911.
In 2012, Chicago reached 500 homicides. So far this year, Chicago has at least 42 murder victims, one of them a high school student who performed at events around Obama's inauguration.
We've explored controversial issues in my classes, but we never took on gun violence, perhaps because it wasn’t controversial. There is only one side to it - it should not exist. I didn’t know how to push students into a deeper conversation or meaningful debate about this.
It was after the Sandy Hook shooting, however, I felt obligated to engage my students in conversations about guns. Gunshots, because of Colorado, Arizona and Connecticut, finally captured people's attention beyond Little Village. I knew my students would hear perspectives on the news, online, on Facebook. What would they say? What would they do? They needed to know the vocabulary, the history, the rhetoric to challenge closed minds and respond to open-ended questions in ways that represented their individual reality. We needed to join the national discussion.
These, after all, are the experiences that show students how the writing in their notebooks matters outside of our classroom.
By Rande Iaboni, CNN
(CNN) - A Northampton County, Pennsylvania, judge ruled Thursday against a former Lehigh University graduate student who sued to have her C-plus grade raised and for $1.3 million in damages.
Judge Emil Giordano said there was no breach of contract or discrimination against former student Megan Thode in assigning the grade. Thode, the daughter of Lehigh associate professor Stephen Thode, was attending the university tuition-free in 2009 when she received a C-plus in her master’s fieldwork class.
Lawsuit documents said Thode maintained a B-plus on all written documents, but her instructor, Amanda Carr, gave her a zero in class participation and consequently dropped her grade to a C-plus. The grade prevented her from advancing to the next course required for her degree, although she has since graduated from another program and has a job.
Thode's lawsuit said the professor deprived her of her dream of becoming a licensed professional counselor, and the potential earnings. The lawsuit said Carr retaliated against the student because Thode advocated for same-sex marriage.
The lawsuit also said Nicholas Ladany, the then-director of the degree program, was “personally annoyed and agitated that a female student" would complain about his handling of the grade.
(CNN) - For a second straight day, President Barack Obama touted proposals from his State of the Union address at a campaign-style event outside of Washington, this time visiting a Georgia preschool where youngsters still on winter break showed up to mimic a regular day.
Obama's visit to the College Heights Early Childhood Learning Center, in the city of Decatur just outside Atlanta, followed his call in Tuesday night's speech to Congress for investments in high-quality early childhood education programs.
The president spent time in a classroom where he hugged some students - who told him they saw him on television - and praised the teachers he said were giving their students a boost into the educational system.
"This isn't baby-sitting," he said. Children who take prekindergarten classes are more likely to read at their grade level, graduate from high school and hold a job down the road - but fewer than 30% of 4-year-olds are enrolled in prekindergarten programs like those at College Heights, he said.
"Hope is found in what works. This works. We know it works," he said. "If you are looking for a good bang for your educational buck, this is it right here. That's why, even in times of tight budgets, states like Georgia and Oklahoma have worked to make a preschool slot available for nearly every parent who is looking for one for their child."
(CNN) - The town of Waterbury, Connecticut, was buried beneath snow after the massive winter storm that blanketed the Northeast last weekend. By Monday, snow removal was underway, but the town's 32 schools still hadn't been touched.
That is, until hundreds of teens, parents and teachers showed up with shovels. The mayor said he'd pay $8.25 per hour to those who dug out the schools, and 500 came to help, including 300 teens, CNN affiliate WFSB reported - a turnout that surprised everyone.
By Jamie Gumbrecht, CNN
(CNN) - To guess the education plans in Barack Obama's State of the Union speech Tuesday night, look no further than the guests in first lady Michelle Obama's box.
Obama's action points often reflected their stories: an undocumented college student who took part in Obama's "deferred action" plan; a 16-year-old winner of the 2012 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair; a recent community college graduate who now works on wind turbines; a young machinist who laid the foundation for his manufacturing career at his Kentucky high school; a first-grade teacher from Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut; an early childhood educator from Norman, Oklahoma, and a NASA Mars Curiosity rover team member who volunteers to mentor students in FIRST robotics.
Yes, another rating system: the "College Scorecard"
There was talk of money-crunching "scorecard" last year, but Obama announced during his speech that it would be released Wednesday - it's up now at whitehouse.gov/scorecard. The "College Scorecard" will show which schools offer the best value, "where you can get the most bang for your educational buck," he said. That wasn't all: Obama also asked Congress to change the Higher Education Act to attach schools' federal aid to their "affordability and value."
Preschool for all kids
Obama said investing in high-quality early childhood education saves money later, boosts graduation rates and reduces teen pregnancy and violent crime. “I propose working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America," he said.
He gave a shout-out to Georgia and Oklahoma, states he said make early childhood education a priority. Obama will be visiting a pre-Kindergarten school in Georgia this week, and Susan Bumgarner, an early childhood educator from Oklahoma City, watched the speech with Michelle Obama.
Higher rewards for high-tech education
Some states and schools have discussed charging students less to pursue majors in science, technology, engineering and math fields, and more for majors like English or anthropology. Obama wasn't so specific, but he said he wants to "resdesign America's high schools" to gear-up grads for a high-tech economy.
“We’ll reward schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering, and math – the skills today’s employers are looking for to fill jobs," Obama said.
(CNN) - Ben Linnabary still has a few more months to go at Colerain High School near Cincinnati, Ohio. His mom, though, didn't have that long to wait.
Jennifer Linnabary had been fighting an aggressive form of cancer since 2009. A few weeks ago, as her condition worsened, her friends, family and representatives from the school held a one-person graduation ceremony for Ben in the University of Cincinnati Medical Center intensive care unit. There was a red cap and gown for Ben, the traditional graduation music, applause when he received his diploma and a gentle toss of his mortarboard.
Less than 24 hours later, Jennifer Linnabary died, CNN affiliate WLWT reported.
"It was very surreal, just the fact that they could get all of these people together," Ben told WLWT. "It was very hard at the same time, being there with my mom and knowing that, you know, these might be the last hours I would spend with her."
By Christopher Brown and Vincent DiCaro, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Christopher Brown is executive vice president of the National Fatherhood Initiative. Vincent DiCaro is vice president of development and communication of the National Fatherhood Initiative.
(CNN) - There is no shortage of answers about how to improve our nation’s schools, including more charter schools, school vouchers, standardized testing, lower teacher-student ratios and performance-based hiring, pay and promotion of teachers.
However, what we find lacking in almost every debate about education reform is the role of families - especially fathers - and the support they can and should provide to ensure children’s educational success.
If parents, educators and reformers are to make a difference in improving children’s educational success, we must expand our definition of education reform. We must move beyond the myopic focus on education systems and implement tactics that include a more prominent place for parent involvement in schools.
The omission of “the father factor” is especially troubling in light of research released last month that examined family trends in 45 countries and how children’s educational success is affected by their parents. The “World Family Map” report by Child Trends, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, found that even when controlling for income, children in middle- and high-income countries who live with two parents have better educational outcomes than children living with one or no parents.
Specifically, children in two-parent homes were more likely to stay on track in school and have higher literacy, both of which are critical to overall educational success.
(CNN) - In a stunning story of survival and recovery, the Pakistani teenager whom Taliban gunman shot in the head in October has been released from a hospital.
Malala Yousufzai left Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, England, on Friday. In the past two weeks, the girl famous for advocating that girls in Pakistan be educated - which stoked the ire of her attackers - proved her incredible strength by enduring two operations to repair her skull and restore her hearing.
The gunfire caused swelling in Malala's skull and a break in the delicate bones that help turn sound into sensory impulses to her brain.
"God has given me this new life," she recently said, speaking for the first time on camera since the shooting. "I want to serve the people. I want every girl, every child, to be educated."Though the gunshots to her neck and head made many doubt that she would walk again, Malala continued to improve over the past several months.
"I can walk a little bit and I'm feeling better," the 15-year-old said on February 6.
At that time, she said she hoped to be fully recovered in a month.
Her medical team decided she was well enough to be discharged Thursday. The teen will continue her rehabilitation at her family's temporary home in Birmingham and will visit the hospital occasionally for outpatient appointments.
Malala has credited her survival to "the prayers of the people."
Her story captured worldwide attention, moving Pakistan to vow that it would more vigorously fight for girls' rights and against the Taliban. It also prompted global leaders to put pressure on the country to make good on those promises.
"Because of these prayers, God has given me this new life and I want to serve and I want every girl, every child to be educated," she said.
By Jamie Gumbrecht, CNN
(CNN) - The drama began last week when a gunman boarded a Dale County, Alabama, school bus, shot and killed the driver and grabbed a 5-year-old boy. It ended days later with the boy, Ethan, rescued from a bunker where he was held hostage, and his 65-year-old abductor dead.
Now that Ethan is safe, even celebrating his 6th birthday this week, officials are poring over the details of how the case unfolded, starting on the school bus.
It played out over 4½ minutes, a scene captured by a camera mounted at the front of the bus. It's a security measure common on buses now.
Witnesses and officials who reviewed the recording said Jimmy Lee Dykes boarded the bus with a gun and handed a note to the driver demanding to take several children. The driver, Charles Poland, refused. He stood, placing himself between the gunman and the students.
Meanwhile, older students opened an emergency exit on the back of the bus and ran away from the bus. They knew what to do: Twice-per-year emergency drills reminded them how to evacuate.
Follow CNN's Schools of Thought blog on Twitter, @CNNschools.
By Jamie Gumbrecht, CNN
(CNN) - A potentially historic winter storm closing in on the Northeast is causing some ACT achievement test cancellations - a move that could delay about 12,000 students scheduled to start the test at 8 a.m. ET Saturday.
There are about 190 ACT test sites in the path of the storm, and 103 had canceled by Friday afternoon, ACT spokesman Ed Colby said. Tests were canceled in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont.
The test dates will be rescheduled, usually at the same testing site or another one nearby, as soon as possible, Colby said. If students aren't available on the retake date, they'll be able to take the ACT on the next national testing date, April 13.
Local test officials make the decision on whether to cancel. Test takers can check with their testing sites at ACTstudent.org or by calling 319-337-1270 or 319-337-1510.
"We will be updating our website continually and getting those cancellations up there as soon as we get them, probably into the night and perhaps into the morning," Colby said.