Back to school: How soon is too soon?
August 3rd, 2012
06:11 AM ET

Back to school: How soon is too soon?

by Donna Krache, CNN

(CNN) – When do your kids go back to school?  School start dates are about as varied as the styles and colors of backpacks you find at local retailers.

The federal government doesn’t mandate the number of days in a school year, but most states require about 180.  How those days work into the calendar is usually set by local school boards.

For example, in Cherokee County, Georgia, students went back to school on August 1 this year.  Yes, you read that right, the first day of August.

And while students in other districts around the U.S. return on various dates this month – August 13 and 27 seem to be popular – many, like Virginia Beach, Virginia students, return on September 4, the day after Labor Day.

New York City schools will be back in session on September 6.

Still others wait until the following Monday, September 10 to start the new school year.

Then there are the year-round schools like those in Durham, North Carolina that take long breaks throughout the year but no real “summer” as most kids know it.  Durham started the school year on July 16 and will end it on June 7, 2013.

Oklahoma City piloted a year-round program in seven schools and will shift to year round for all its city’s schools this year.

The debate rages on among supporters of three types of school calendars: the year-round calendar, the “balanced calendar” – a school year with an earlier start date and longer breaks – and the “traditional calendar” with a start date after Labor Day.

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Filed under: At Home • Issues • Parents • Policy
The last Weekly Reader?
Weekly Reader, now owned by Scholastic, will cease independent publication this school year.
July 25th, 2012
06:15 AM ET

The last Weekly Reader?

by Donna Krache, CNN

(CNN) The Weekly Reader title may hold fond memories for you, but it won’t be around the way you remember it for your kids.

The magazine that brought us all kinds of kid-appropriate stories, from presidential elections to fuzzy animals, is ceasing independent publication after more than a century in classrooms.

Scholastic, which started as a classroom magazine in 1920, purchased Weekly Reader this past February from Readers Digest Association, Inc.  In recent months, Scholastic says that its editors, along with those from Weekly Reader, met with teachers to determine which features of each publication would serve their audiences in different grades and subject areas.

Beginning this school year, Scholastic Classroom Magazines will offer what the company hopes is the best of both worlds in print and digital formats.  The magazines will be co-branded with titles such as Junior Scholastic/Current Events and Scholastic News/Weekly Reader.

Representatives from Scholastic would not comment on reported layoffs at Weekly Reader, saying only that some Weekly Reader staff are working for Scholastic, while others are “in consideration for jobs” or not interested in commuting to the Scholastic offices in New York City.

In an email statement to CNN, Cathy Lasiewicz, Senior Director at Scholastic Corporate Communications, said “We are confident that the combined Scholastic News/Weekly Reader team will now offer an even better news and information experience in print and digital formats for teachers and students.” 

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Filed under: Early childhood • Elementary school • Practice • Publications
Sandra Day O’Connor champions civics education
Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor meets with students at an iCivics event in Washington, D.C.
July 19th, 2012
06:18 AM ET

Sandra Day O’Connor champions civics education

by Donna Krache, CNN

(CNN) - The retired Supreme Court justice is all business as she walks into our meeting room.

But inside, she’s got the heart of an educator.

Of course, Sandra Day O’Connor will always be associated with her historic “first,” as the first woman justice to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court.  Prior to that appointment by President Ronald Reagan in 1981, she also served as a judge and a state senator.

Since her retirement from the high court in 2006, she has found a new passion – civics education.

How did she decide to become a champion of that cause?  O’Connor says that in her last year on the bench, she was “very much aware of the major issues and debates” being brought before the high court.  There were lots of complaints about the decisions, she says, and many were directed at the judicial branch – with some blaming the justices for certain outcomes.

“As you analyzed it, it appeared to show in many cases that the concerns were misdirected:  There was a tendency to blame the courts for things that were really not a judicial matter,” she told CNN.

The solution to that misunderstanding, she believes, is civics education – a subject she notes has changed through the years.  She remembers her own schooling in El Paso, Texas, and how she learned about Texas government.  Civics knowledge was helpful to her later in life, O’Connor says, and she’s disappointed that today, many schools have stopped teaching the subject.

But she believes young people do have a desire to learn civics because they want to participate in their government, to change things and better their lives. “There is an increasing appreciation that we do need to know how our government works:  national, state and local,” says O’Connor. “And that this is part and parcel of the things that every young person wants to know because they want to have an effect.”

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Filed under: Civics education • Practice • Sandra Day O'Connor • Technology
National Teacher of the Year: 'The revolution begins with us'
2012 National Teacher of the Year Rebecca Mieliwocki spoke at the NEA annual meeting on July 5.
July 5th, 2012
04:19 PM ET

National Teacher of the Year: 'The revolution begins with us'

By Donna Krache and Jamie Gumbrecht, CNN

(CNN) - The United States is obsessed with high-stakes testing that doesn't show whether teachers are masterful and students are knowledgeable, National Teacher of Year Rebecca Mieliwocki said to nearly 8,000 of her colleagues at the National Education Association annual meeting Thursday.

"When we help a child reach proficiency at any grade level, we have changed the quality of that child's life and that community forever," she said. "But aiming for proficiency means we aim to create generations of children who are average."

Instead, she said "people who haven't set foot in a classroom" should not be making decisions and policies about teaching, and teachers should be aiming to take all students - whether hungry, homeless, in the midst of their first crush or celebrating the big game - beyond the test.

"We have got to stop talking about testing and start talking more about developing, supporting and celebrating teachers," she said. "Teachers are the architects of the change we've been waiting for. We've forgotten what a teacher can do that a standardized test can't."


In ‘his’ blog, Jefferson lays out his visionary thoughts on education
A visitor to the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C. takes a photo of the statue of Thomas Jefferson.
July 3rd, 2012
06:10 AM ET

In ‘his’ blog, Jefferson lays out his visionary thoughts on education

By Donna Krache, CNN

(CNN) Scholar, inventor, statesman, author of the Declaration of Independence … blogger?

Only in recent years has the third president of the United States added that achievement to his many credits.

To mark the 250th anniversary of Thomas Jefferson’s completion of studies at the College of William and Mary, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation  decided it was time to take his views on education into the blogosphere.

“We have our own Thomas Jefferson, Bill Barker, who’s been interpreting Jefferson for more than 20 years,” said Robyn Eoff, director of the Internet for Colonial Williamsburg. Barker gives visitors a chance to hear from and see this multitalented Founding Father.


Bill Barker has been interpreting Thomas Jefferson for more than 20 years.

Eoff told CNN that Jefferson is “so popular with visitors that we decided to put up his quotes.”

The foundation launched its first Thomas Jefferson blog ahead of the 2008 presidential election. Back then, Jefferson “blogged” about all things political. This summer, the focus of Jefferson’s Blog is education.

Jefferson came from a very literate family of eight children, and his mother and older sister were the only women in their county who owned their own books at that time, says history professor and author Susan Kern. Jefferson’s father, she says, set aside money for his daughters’ education.

The man who would author the Declaration of Independence received the liberal arts education of his time - including Greek, Latin, religion, science, and philosophy, among other subjects. He had an appetite for learning that continued throughout his life, and he had a lot to say about how we should prepare future generations for their role in the republic he helped to establish.

“Jefferson considered education to be among the most important elements to contribute to a free society. He tied being a capable citizen to education,” said Kern, author of  “The Jeffersons at Shadwell.”

Kern told CNN that Jefferson believed education was so important to the young United States that he supported free public education for both boys and girls, especially for “the most talented minds,” whether or not their families could afford it.

As for taxing citizens to finance public education, Jefferson’s blog cites a letter he wrote to fellow Founding Father and Virginian George Wythe in 1786:

“I think by far the most important bill in our whole code is that for the diffusion of knowledge among the people. … Let our countrymen know that the people alone can protect us against these evils [tyranny, oppression, etc.] and that the tax which will be paid for this purpose is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests and nobles who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance,” Jefferson wrote.

It’s the Founding Father’s original version of the modern bumper sticker “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”

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Filed under: History • Voices
June 22nd, 2012
06:20 AM ET

Analysis: 40 years after Title IX, 904% more women play high school sports

By Donna Krache, CNN

(CNN) – The year was 1972.  “M*A*S*H,” “Sanfordand Son” and “Kung Fu” were reasons to stay home and watch TV.  Roberta Flack had the number one song on the radio with “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.”  Don McLean drove his Chevy to the levee and sang goodbye to Miss “American Pie.”

The women’s liberation movement was in full swing, but in schools there were huge educational discrepancies between the genders, both in the kinds of classes they took and in the kinds of extracurricular activities they took part in.

That year, there were only 30,000 girls in the U.S. participating in high school sports.

Today there are more than 3 million.

Listen to CNN's Edgar Treiguts' interview Ann Meyers Drysdale, a former UCLA basketball star and Olympian, and executive of men's and women's professional basketball teams in Phoenix.

Changes came about in large part because of a law known as Title IX.

When President Richard Nixon signed the bill into law on June 23, 1972, it was intended to level the playing field between girls and boys in the educational opportunities that were presented to them.  Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 states:

“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance."

The law set out to prevent sex discrimination and harassment in any education activity or program, whether public or private.  It covers a wide range of areas, including fairness in college admissions and financial aid, freedom to take any vocational courses (so boys can take what was once called “home ec” and girls can take wood shop) and providing education for pregnant students.

Yet Title IX is most associated with sports because of its impact on high school and college sports for young women.  Under the law, “The athletic interests and abilities of male and female students must be equally and effectively accommodated.”

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Filed under: Extracurricular • Issues • Policy • video • Women's issues
June 20th, 2012
02:20 PM ET

'Share my lesson' aims to connect educators

by Donna Krache, CNN

(CNN) On Tuesday, the American Federation of Teachers and TES Connect announced the launch of a free, resource sharing network for teachers.

Called “Share My Lesson,” the site aims to become the largest online community for teacher collaboration.

“Teachers are expected to do so much, often with very little support, and they are thirsty for the tools they need to improve instruction. The AFT decided to accept the challenge and make its biggest investment ever in a tool to improve the teaching profession,” AFT president Randi Weingarten said in a statement.

When asked about the $10 million price tag for the initiative, TSL Education CEO Louise Rogers told CNN’s Soledad O’Brien, “The money we’re putting in is about driving both the technology and insuring that the content is absolutely what the teachers need every single day to make their lessons the best they can be.” TSL Education is the parent company of TES Connect.

“We’ve teamed up to try to make this an American product for American teachers so they can share with each other online resources…and to make sure that they can be prepared for the Common Core, this new academic standard for the 21st century,” Weingarten told Soledad O’Brien on Starting Point.

The “Share My Lesson” platform has been likened to a “digital filing cabinet” where teachers can share lesson plans, save the ones they like, and peer-review each other’s content.

“It’s about teachers teaching each other to be very, very good at what they do, and they get that by interacting with each other,” Rogers told CNN. “The teachers themselves are teaching and learning from each other.”

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Filed under: Curriculum • Practice • Resources • Starting Point • Teachers • Technology • video
By the numbers: High school dropouts
June 20th, 2012
10:35 AM ET

By the numbers: High school dropouts

By Donna Krache, CNN

(CNN) The numbers, the costs, the effects are astounding.

According to the College Board, 857 students drop out of high school every hour of every school day.

But that’s only one statistic.  Here are some other numbers that drive home the impact of the high school dropout problem in the U.S.

Dropout rates

About 1 in 4 high school students does not graduate from high school with his or her class.

Nearly 4 in 10 minority students do not graduate with their class.


Among adults over 25 without a high school diploma in 2011: 14.1% unemployment rate

With a high school diploma: 9.4% unemployment rate


Median earnings for full time workers age 25 and older who did not have a high school diploma in 2008: $24,300

With a high school diploma: $33, 800


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Filed under: High school • Issues • Policy • Practice
June 13th, 2012
01:13 PM ET

White teen returns black scholarship

by Donna Krache, CNN

(CNN) - If a person wins a scholarship intended for someone of a different race, should he or she give it back?

When Jeffrey Warren, a senior at Martin Luther King High School in Riverside, California, was looking for financial help to pay for college, he applied for several scholarships.  When he applied for one of those scholarships, he had no idea it was intended for an African-American student.  He says the application only said that African-Americans were encouraged to apply.

The scholarship awarding committee didn’t know that he was white – until he got up to receive the award.

"It was kind of funny at first, everyone was laughing. They announced it for an African-American, they saw me walk up," Warren said.

Warren decided to return the scholarship.  He says he could have really used the money but decided it was best to return it.

“I know that they were trying to a good deed for the African-American community, and I saw that too so I had no trouble giving it back to them at all,” Warren told KABC-TV.

What would you do if you won a scholarship that was intended for someone else?

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Filed under: High school • Practice
Education groups weigh in on Wisconsin recall results
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker greets supporters at an election-night rally June 5, 2012 in Waukesha, Wisconsin.
June 6th, 2012
01:47 PM ET

Education groups weigh in on Wisconsin recall results

by Donna Krache, CNN

(CNN) - Educators have been front-and-center in the politics of Wisconsin as the battle between state workers unions’ collective bargaining and Gov. Scott Walker’s fiscal measures took shape last year.

The day after the recall election in which both the governor and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch retained their seats, education interests are weighing in.  Here’s a sampling of what two education organizations are saying:

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Filed under: 2012 Election • Policy • Politics • Voices
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