March 25th, 2013
11:35 AM ET

High school teacher brings history to life

(CNN) - There's something a bit different about Dan Johnson's classroom at  Cambridge-Isanti High School in Cambridge, Minnesota. Johnson remakes the room and his wardrobe to help students understand history. Recently, he replaced the fluorescent lights in his room with bare bulbs and lamps, posted Depression-era grocery ads on the wall and played music of the era for his students. Johnson will retire this year after 32 years of teaching history, according to CNN affiliate KARE, but watch the video to get a sense of how his students have learned about history over the years.

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Filed under: High school • History • Teachers
March 21st, 2013
10:05 PM ET

Chicago to shutter dozens of schools

By Dana Ford and Katherine Wojtecki, CNN

Chicago (CNN) - Chicago school officials said Thursday that they plan to close dozens of schools in a bid to improve education and tackle a $1 billion deficit.

The move would shutter 61 school buildings, including 53 underused schools and one program. The cut represents roughly 10% of all elementary school facilities in Chicago Public Schools, the country's third-largest school district.

"Every child in every neighborhood in Chicago deserves access to a high-quality education that prepares them to succeed in life, but for too long children in certain parts of Chicago have been cheated out of the resources they need to succeed because they are in underutilized, under-resourced schools," said Barbara Byrd-Bennett, chief executive officer of CPS.

"As a former teacher and a principal, I've lived through school closings, and I know that this will not be easy, but I also know that in the end this will benefit our children. Like school systems across the country where enrollment has dropped, Chicago must make tough choices, and by consolidating these schools, we can focus on safely getting every child into a better performing school close to their home," she said.

The Chicago Teachers Union opposes the closures, which it says would disproportionately affect African-American students. The union also warns the move would expose students to gang violence and turf wars, an apparent reference to neighborhood loyalties.

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My View: Everything I need to know, I learned in music class
Music education isn't just learning Mozart, Andrew Schwartz writes: "It’s about learning how to think, rather than what to think."
March 20th, 2013
05:00 AM ET

My View: Everything I need to know, I learned in music class

By Andrew Schwartz, Special to CNNAndrew Schwartz

Editor’s note: Tuba player Andrew Schwartz holds a bachelor’s of music from the University of Hartford. He did graduate work at The Manhattan School of Music and is working on an MBA at Georgia State University’s Robinson College of Business, where he is president-elect of the Graduate Business Association. He is an intern at Atlanta-based music startup Tunefruit. Schwartz's story first appeared on CNN iReport.

(CNN) - It’s no secret that education in America is broken. We can’t define a good school, let alone figure out a way to measure success. Yet when money is tight, as it is right now because of the forced budget cuts, the first thing to be cut is always the arts. And that’s a tragedy.

I spent six years in music school before making a switch to business school. I was convinced that I was going to be a musician. I loved music. I was good at it, and I was willing to do anything to get to the top. But then I realized that, even at the top of the music game, the job security isn’t there. So I dropped out of grad school and am now earning an MBA.

But through that transition, I’ve realized why music needs to be a cornerstone of education. Music is an art and a science, and it's one of the best ways kids can learn  creativity and those mythical critical thinking skills. The focus of the curriculum isn’t forcing everyone to learn about Bach or Mozart. It’s about learning how to think, rather than what to think.

READ: Forced spending cuts slash hope for teachers

That “how” is the holy grail of education. It’s exactly what makes a good scientist, a good entrepreneur or a productive member of society. I don’t play the tuba anymore, but I think the lessons I learned from it are actually more ingrained into me now that I have some distance from the actual medium I learned them in. Here is just a portion of the many life lessons I learned through music:

Work hard and it pays off
This one came early on in my short-lived musical career. I wasn’t a very good musician when I first started out. It was obvious why: I only practiced an hour a day. But Katie down the street practiced four hours a day. My solution was to kick it up to six hours a day until I was just as good as she was. I had to make up for lost time, and I soon overtook her.

Make it happen
An amazing musician once said to me: “Make it happen."

There will always be obstacles in your way. My junior year in college, my quartet was making a recording for an international tuba competition. (Seriously.) It seemed almost impossible for us to get together to record, but we found one time: 10:00 p.m. on a Thursday. We had all been in class since about 8 a.m., and I had a serious sinus infection. It might have been the coffee and more meds than a doctor would recommend, but I’m convinced that these simple words cleared my head and allowed me to power through the pain and exhaustion. We made the semifinals.

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Teen at school for first time since being shot by Taliban
Malala Yousafzai waves as she is discharged from the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in central England.
March 19th, 2013
03:11 PM ET

Teen at school for first time since being shot by Taliban

Editor's note: Share your story on iReport! We invite you to share your personal experience about a challenge you faced in getting an education, or to interview a daughter, sister, mother, grandmother – any girl or woman in your community – about her biggest challenge, and how she overcame it.

By Jason Hanna and Saskya Vandoorne, CNN

(CNN) - For the first time since the Taliban shot her five months ago, Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai has done what made her a target of the would-be assassins: She's gone to school.

The 15-year-old on Tuesday attended Edgbaston High School in Birmingham, England, the city in which doctors treated her after she received initial care in Pakistan, a public relations agency working with her announced.

It was her first day at school since the Taliban shot her in the head in October for campaigning for girls' education.

"I am excited that today I have achieved my dream of going back to school," Malala said, according to a release from her representatives. "I want all girls in the world to have this basic opportunity.

"I miss my classmates from Pakistan very much, but I am looking forward to meeting my teachers and making new friends here in Birmingham."

On October 9, the teenager was riding home in a school van in the Swat Valley, a Taliban stronghold in Pakistan, when masked men stopped the vehicle. They demanded that the other girls identify Malala, and when they did, the men shot Malala in the head and neck. The gunmen also shot another girl, wounding her.

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Forced spending cuts slash hope for teachers
Kindergarten teacher Christine Milders worries that forced spending cuts could increase her class size and affect her students.
March 19th, 2013
11:40 AM ET

Forced spending cuts slash hope for teachers

By Jareen Imam, CNN

(CNN) - Inside her Oxford, Ohio, kindergarten classroom, Christine Milders has 24 cubbies, 24 tables and 24 seats. It's a perfect fit for her 24 little students, no more.

But come next fall, she expects that number will grow to 30. That's when forced federal spending cuts, also known as the sequester, will kick in and start chipping away at education funding.

"Where will I put six more students?" Milders asked. "My young learners come to my classroom with little or no school experience. I not only need to meet their academic needs, but their social and emotional needs as well."

The government is set to cut $85 billion through the end of the fiscal year, September 30. Of that money, $2.5 billion will be coming out of the Department of Education's $70 billion budget.

Uncertainties surround how these large cuts will affect schools, because the decisions will be made on the state and local levels. But with budget cuts looming, many teachers like Milders are wondering what's left to cut.

Milders, who has taught kindergarten for 17 years, worries that more cuts to education will not only affect her students' ability to learn and grow, but also fears she will eventually be replaced by a younger and cheaper teacher, as she put it. "It happens often," she said.

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Filed under: Elementary school • Politics • School budgets • Students • Teachers
March 19th, 2013
05:00 AM ET

Teacher to give student a kidney

(CNN) - One of Wendy Killian's young students was ill.  Eight-year-old Nicole Miller was born with a genetic disorder and in need of a kidney transplant. The girl was exhausted and often missed class, although her parents did their best to keep her up to speed.

During a parent-teacher conference, Killian asked Nicole's mom, what does your daughter need in a donor?

As she listed off the requirements for a match, "I just kept thinking, 'Huh. That's me,'" said Killian, a teacher at Mansfield Christian School in Ohio.

Now, she's preparing her students to work with a substitute teacher, and preparing her own sons to face her recuperation.

When the hospital calls, Killian will be giving Nicole a kidney.

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College savings hits all-time high
The average balance among 529 plans grew to a record $17,174 in 2012 -- up 12% from $15,349 in 2011.
March 18th, 2013
05:00 AM ET

College savings hits all-time high

By Melanie Hicken, CNNMoney

New York (CNNMoney) - As tuition soars, parents and grandparents are putting more money than ever into 529 college savings plans.

Average balances for 529 college savings and prepaid tuition plans grew to a record $17,174 in 2012 - up 12% from an average of $15,349 in 2011, according to a report from the College Savings Plans Network, a nonprofit and affiliate of the National Association of State Treasurers.

Also known as "qualified tuition programs," 529 college savings plans are typically offered by the states and allow holders to save money and withdraw it tax-free, as long as the proceeds are used towards approved college costs - typically tuition, fees, room, board and other required supplies. Another kind of 529, prepaid tuition plans, let savers prepay for future tuition and lock in current prices, but they typically do not cover other expenses.

In December 2012, the number of existing 529 accounts increased by about 4% to 11.1 million, up from 10.7 million in December 2011. Total 529 investments reached a record $190.7 billion, up from $165 billion in 2011.

Those numbers were also helped by a strong stock market last year. In 2012, the S&P 500 soared 13%.

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Filed under: College • Economy • Financial aid
My View: The hard lesson that saving the world isn't easy
As a doctoral student, Amity Doolittle researched land rights in Malaysia. "Change takes a long time," she writes.
March 15th, 2013
05:00 AM ET

My View: The hard lesson that saving the world isn't easy

Courtesy Amity DoolittleBy Amity Doolittle, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Amity Doolittle is a lecturer and research scientist at Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and the director of undergraduate studies in the environmental studies program at Yale College.

(CNN) - Each year, a new class of students arrives at Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, where I teach courses on social and environmental justice. You can see the energy radiating from them. As young environmentalists, their determination to make a difference is palpable. Their ambition and idealism are so important - it draws bright and forward-thinking students to a profession not known for exorbitant salaries and luxurious lifestyles. And for a few weeks each fall, as the air turns brisk, you can feel the school pulsing with optimism.

Inevitably, as the fall turns to winter, reality sets in, and the atmosphere at the school begins to change. Students confess that they are more confused than when they arrived. They begin to question themselves. One of the hardest lessons they learn is that we, the supposed experts, do not have the answers; we cannot pretend to assume that we know the “right” way to fix intractable global problems.

This lesson is hard for students to accept. They have been primed to believe that they are our future leaders, and in truth, many of them will be. But what they are not told is that becoming a leader will take much more than an advanced degree. Even after graduating, many may have at least a decade of work and life experiences to accumulate before they can be begin to be leaders, begin to make a difference.

I learned this lesson myself over decades. As a doctoral student, I researched native land rights in Sabah, Malaysia. I published the requisite academic book and thought, “What good have I done?” Following academic conventions, my work drew heavily on social theories of power, state building and property rights. I felt that it was dry, held together with jargon. I imagined my book would sit in a dusty library.

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March 14th, 2013
10:48 AM ET

'I'm not your enemy': 10 things parents and teachers want each other to know

By Nicole Saidi, CNN

(CNN) - Teachers and parents share a common purpose: educating children.

But differing beliefs, expectations and methods can make collaboration more challenging.

A 2011 story published on CNN.com by author and teacher Ron Clark, entitled "What teachers really want to tell parents," looked at reasons why educators give up on their field.

He asserted that negativity from parents places undue pressure on teachers and advised greater cooperation.

"We are educators, not nannies," Clark wrote. "We are educated professionals who work with kids every day and often see your child in a different light than you do. If we give you advice, don't fight it."

His opinion consistently resonated with readers over the next couple of years, which made it one of CNN's most-shared stories on Facebook. The story has been recommended more than 898,000 times.

Clark founded the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta and was named "American Teacher of the Year" by Disney and a "Phenomenal Man" by Oprah Winfrey.

But even Clark's status as a leader in his field didn't fully explain why this story captivated people, so CNN revisited the idea with Facebook users last week by asking them to finish this sentence: "The one thing parents/teachers really need to know is _____."

Read the full story

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How to get the most out of your college campus visit
Oh, sure, students (models?) are all smiles in the brochure. But what will you really see on the college tour?
March 13th, 2013
05:00 AM ET

How to get the most out of your college campus visit

By Donna Krache, CNN

(CNN) – This spring, high school students and their parents will descend on college campuses, maps in hand, to see the sights and get a “feel” for the educational experience.

It’s exciting but overwhelming. What can you really know about a college after a walk through campus or an overnight stay?

CNN spoke with Peggy Hock, the director of college counseling at the Pinewood School in Los Altos Hills, California. Hock works with high school students and parents who are delving into the all-important college-decision process.

Hock says that she typically starts the college conversation with students by asking students to develop a vision for what they want in their college experience. She asks students to write down five things a college has to have to be a good place for them.

Then, she tells them to do some research into what colleges meet their criteria and plan to visit a short list of small and large schools that fit their vision. She recommends the College Board’s new “Big Future” site, especially for students who don’t have access to college counselors. The site’s “Find Colleges” section lets students indicate whether an aspect of the college is a “must have” or a “desirable” and matches those preferences to colleges that fit. Then, decide what colleges you’ll visit.

“It’s important to have some idea of why you are visiting that college,” Hock says.

If you have a counselor, she has something to say: Listen. She once had a student who narrowed down his college list to a few large universities in his home state of California. Based on what she knew about him, she suggested he check out another college - in Pennsylvania. He visited, and during a walk across campus, was stopped by a faculty member who asked whether he had any questions.

“These are my people!” the student told Hock. One year later, he’s a happy freshman at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh.

Here are some tips from Hock for getting the most out of your college visit:

Plan accordingly
Work geographically, scheduling no more than two visits per day to different schools in the same area. Register for the campus tour in advance.

Take the official tour and attend the information session
Sure, you’ll get the canned speech, but you will also get some important facts about the college and its physical layout. And many times, some of your questions will be answered in these presentations.

Ask questions that can’t be answered by canned responses
You want to get as true a picture as possible of the academic and social culture of the place. Hock says that some of her students ask questions such as “How much do you study?” and “Have you ever gone to a professor for help?” A question such as “Do you find study groups helpful?” will give you some insight into whether a campus is competitive or cooperative. Ask your guide, “What did you do last weekend?” and “What surprised you most when you got here?” to get some authentic, first-person insights about living at and attending this university.

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