New Policy for Transgender Admissions at Mills College

Transgender students that identify as female will now be considered for enrollment at Mills College, an all-female school in Oakland. Mills is the only single-sex college in the country to have a published policy for transgender applicants. We'll discuss the details of the new policy, and whether it would affect the core identity of the school as a women's college, especially in light of strong campus opposition to going co-ed in the past.

New President of CSU Fresno Shaped by Deep Central Valley Roots

The Central Valley isn't known for high college graduation rates. Many of its young people come from farmworker families where college has never really been an option. The new president of California State University, Fresno aims to change that. Joseph Castro grew up in the Central Valley. He's worked at several UC schools around the state, and now he's back -- and keen to expand opportunities for local kids to succeed.

PBS NewsHour

Judge rules Louisiana schools will use Common Core tests as public support for standards wanes

Video still by PBS NewsHour

A state judge in Louisiana has ruled against Governor Bobby Jindal’s executive order to suspend Common Core in the state. Video still by PBS NewsHour

A Louisiana state judge has ruled against Gov. Bobby Jindal’s efforts to suspend the state’s contract to use Common Core-aligned tests in public schools next spring.

By suspending the contract with an executive order earlier this summer, Jindal could have single-handedly removed Louisiana from the group of more than 40 states where schools will be using the Common Core State Standards for math and English this year.

But Judge Todd Hernandez ruled that Jindal’s order left teachers, students and parents not knowing what year-end tests to prepare for as the school year started.

“The evidence is clear that this state of the unknown has caused anxiety and other harm to the parents, teachers, administrators and students in Louisiana,” he wrote in his ruling Tuesday, according to The Advocate newspaper.

The governor’s office plans to appeal the ruling.

The standards set skill and learning goals for students at each grade level in those subjects and focus on developing critical thinking, problem solving and the ability to form arguments or make guesses based on evidence.

Proponents of the standards argue these are the skills that students need to be ready for college and career. They also say they were largely missing from the hodgepodge of state-specific standards that existed before the Common Core was introduced in 2010.

However, a growing chorus of detractors say while the standards were developed and adopted by states, federal support for the guidelines and funding for the tests that go along with them amount to an encroachment on states’ right to run their public schools.

While Jindal suffered a setback in court this week, Common Core opponents seem to be gaining ground with the general public. A Gallup poll out Wednesday found among the 80 percent of adults who have heard of the Common Core, just 33 percent support the standards.

But NPR points out that another Common Core poll released this week by an education journal, Education Next, worded their questions differently and got different results: about 53 percent of their respondents supported the standards. That, however, still signals a decline in support — the same journal found about 65 percent of adult supported the standards in 2013.

PBS NewsHour education coverage is part of American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen, a public media initiative made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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How schools’ delayed start in Ferguson is affecting kids

Caption:FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 14: People listen as residents and faith and community leaders discuss unrest in the town
         of Ferguson following the shooting death of Michael Brown during a forum held at Christ the King UCC Church on August 14,
         2014 in Florissant, Missouri. Seakers included Missouri Governor Jay Nixon and Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO). Brown was
         shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer on August 9. Ferguson, a St. Louis suburb, has experienced four days of violent
         protests since the killing. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

The start of school in Ferguson, Missouri has been delayed by three days. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

UDPATED at 10:30 a.m. EDT on Aug. 19: School was supposed to start last Thursday for the kids of Ferguson, Missouri.

But when rioting escalated Wednesday night, Ferguson-Florrisant School District officials made the decision to cancel classes for two days due to safety concerns. On Sunday night, when riots continued to ensue, officials made the decision to cancel classes once again with the hope of reopening on Tuesday. But due to “continued unrest,” school will remain closed for the remainder of the week.

The school district includes more than 11,000 students, from pre-school to high school. Under USDA’s community eligibility program, the district is able to provide free breakfast and lunch for all students. Over the summer, meal programs were set up to continue providing nourishment to students. But summer break has ended, and without school, those who rely on this meal plan must find another way to eat.

Jana Shortt, director of communications for the Ferguson-Florrisant School District, said that individual Ferguson residents and community organizers, like Reverend Willis Johnson and the Wellspring Church, have taken it upon themselves to provide students with lunch in the wake of the school closures.

Photo by Scott Olson
         and Getty Images

Photo by Scott Olson and Getty Images

Johnson said his church has offered “educational respite” for students around town, and has given residents a place to pray and talk. It is his hope to put a plan in motion that over time will help “rebuild our community.”

The needs of the city’s youngest residents have struck a chord with people, even outside of Ferguson. Julianna Mendelsohn, an elementary school teacher at Mangum Elementary School in Durham, North Carolina, started a money-raising campaign on to collect monetary donations for the St. Louis Food Bank to buy food for Ferguson students. It began as something she thought only her friends and family would contribute to, with the intention of raising a couple thousand dollars at most.

“Then Twitter happened,” said Mendelsohn in a phone interview.

The campaign has raised nearly $80,000.

Aside from students’ most basic needs, Shortt says the school district is concerned about addressing potential emotional and social problems that may arise from the events in Ferguson.

All Ferguson-Florrisant public schools have counselors on staff. But to ensure that all students will get necessary mental help following the riots in Ferguson, Shortt said they’ve “reached out to outside groups that are providing therapists” from St. Louis’s Great Circle Community Agency.

RELATED: “With School Canceled, Parents Give Children A Life Lesson” via St. Louis Public Radio

The post How schools’ delayed start in Ferguson is affecting kids appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

Would greater independence for teachers result in higher student performance?


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JUDY WOODRUFF: Next: addressing the high turnover rate among public school teachers.

John Tulenko of Learning Matters Television, which produces reports for the NewsHour, looks at a Boston school where the teachers have taken charge.

JOHN TULENKO: For more than 20 years, Susan Sluyter loved being a public schoolteacher. But starting around 2001 with passage of the education law known as No Child Left Behind, her feelings began to change.

SUSAN SLUYTER: I started to feel deadened. I felt like I had lost inspiration. I wasn’t able to teach in the way that I had learned how to teach.

JOHN TULENKO: Her child-centered approach fell out of favor as testing and accountability became the new buzzwords.

SUSAN SLUYTER: Almost like a tsunami of data collection frenzy. Such a shift. You have to do this because we want this number and we want this result on the test.

JOHN TULENKO: Gradually, her frustrations grew, and last march, Sluyter quit.

SUSAN SLUYTER: I felt — I got to a point where I was feeling like I was contributing to — to pain for children. And I didn’t want to do that anymore. I couldn’t keep teaching and hold on to any integrity.

TONY WAGNER, Harvard University: This is an incredibly hard time to be a teacher. I really feel very, very badly for those who are in the classroom every single day. I don’t think their work is respected or appreciated. And I think too often they feel dictated to.

JOHN TULENKO: To education professor Tony Wagner of Harvard University, the top-down climate in many public schools is contributing to an exodus of teachers. Some 8 percent, more than 200,000 quit each year. And a national survey found dissatisfaction with the job has increased from 40 percent four years ago to nearly 60 percent today.

But, rather than quit, some teachers are taking back their classrooms in what are called teacher-led schools, like Mission Hill School in Boston, Massachusetts.

Kathy D’Andrea teaches kindergarten.

KATHY D’ANDREA, Mission Hill School: We’re democratic not just in theory, but in practice. Anything that comes down the pike is a conversation, right? I can say, this is how I’m feeling. This is what is happening.

JOHN TULENKO: Mission Hill is one of about 70 teacher-led schools that have emerged around the country in recent years. Some of them choose to operate without a school principal. Here, they have one, but the job’s different.

When you have a decision to make in the school, do you get the final word?

AYLA GAVINS, Mission Hill School: I don’t get the final word.

JOHN TULENKO: Principal Ayla Gavins, who prefers to be called lead teacher, doesn’t even get the traditional private office.

AYLA GAVINS: It’s really a joint effort. I don’t have all the skills, all the background, all the talents that this group has.

JOHN TULENKO: Two, three, four heads are better than one.


JOHN TULENKO: In line with that thinking, all decisions, curriculum, budget, hiring, are voted on by the entire staff. Nothing goes forward until everyone agrees.

WOMAN: When we make decisions, we have a raise of hands. So, five, you strongly agree, four, you agree, you have some reservations, but you can live with it. But if you put a one, you disagree and we stop. We don’t go on until everyone can say they have a five or a four.

With this authority, teachers decide the look and feel of their classrooms. There’s lots of low lighting and soothing music. Arts and crafts are everywhere, all part of Mission Hill’s personality.

Teacher Jenerra Williams:

JENERRA WILLIAMS, Mission Hill School: We’re not going to use a packaged curriculum. We’re going to use students’ voices to shape our curriculum, that we’re going to shape our curriculum around their interests. I think, at most other schools, it’s a lot of, you will follow this. You must follow this, and there’s never any room to breathe.

JOHN TULENKO: But even those who favor giving teachers more say have reservations.

Tony Wagner:

TONY WAGNER: Too often, I think the teaching profession is kind of heads down, get the job done, you know, focus on the kids in front of you, do what’s required, without having the time to sort of look around and reflect, how is the world changing, how is what I’m teaching today different from what I taught 10 or 20 years ago, how does it need to be different?

JOHN TULENKO: Teachers here like this model so much, there’s very little turnover. But it has its drawbacks when it comes to making hard decisions, with everyone voting and consensus required.

What happens if you can’t agree in the end?

WOMAN: We get someone to help us. We talk and talk and talk, and it could take months to decide.

JOHN TULENKO: OK, fine. So that leads perfectly to my next question. Raise your hand if you agree with this statement. In this school, we spend too much time talking and too little time deciding. OK.

WOMAN: In this school, we don’t talk and talk and talk and things don’t happen. We talk and talk and talk so things happen.

JOHN TULENKO: Some people might find that a very frustrating way to work.

AYLA GAVINS: I think it’s an essential thing. Every time there is a situation when we’re in disagreement and we talk and talk and talk until we are in agreement, it uncovers so many things, often many misconceptions or lack of trust or whatever, things — poisonous things that can grow in a community. Doesn’t happen here.

JOHN TULENKO: Does putting teachers in charge result in students doing better? Here, 40 percent of the students are proficient in English, in math 26 percent. That’s on par with the rest of the district, but still low.

The public looks at your test scores and says, it’s not working. How do you respond?

JENERRA WILLIAMS: I think no school, no child and no teacher should be evaluated on one slice of the puzzle.

JOHN TULENKO: So what else do you look at?

JENERRA WILLIAMS: Come see it. See the work, right? Ask teachers in schools to put together portfolios of students’ work so that you can see their progress. But what we don’t do is change what we do so that we can only do better on this test.

KATHY D’ANDREA: You have to trust that the people who are closest to the child are working in a capacity of excellence. You have to trust that they know children well, and are taking children where they need to go.

JOHN TULENKO: But the conundrum is this. Must student performance improved before teachers can be trusted, or can we trust that greater independence for teachers will result in higher performance?

Tony Wagner favors the hands-off approach, but not until we follow the lead of higher-performing countries like Finland, that do far more to prepare teachers for the job.

TONY WAGNER: Finland said, we have got to better prepare our teachers starting 35 years ago. They closed down 80 percent of the teacher preparation programs. So the motto in Finland today is trust through professionalism, not blind trust, not trust no matter what. It is that we have prepared you to be extraordinary professionals. Now we trust you to be the professionals we have trained you to be.

JOHN TULENKO: Here in this country, where many students fall behind, it’s likely districts will simply hand teachers the keys to school. Wagner’s train-and-trust approach may be the best way to improve their satisfaction.

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Why is math easier for some kids than for others?

The sooner kids stop counting on their fingers, the better they are at math later in life.

Researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine found that when kids begin processing mental math, the brain reorganizes itself to use its short-term memory center, the hippocampus.

The results, which were published Sunday in Nature Neuroscience, suggested that switching from procedure-based strategies like use of counting to memory-based retrieval methods offers a more stable improvement in problem-solving skills in the long run.

Vinod Menon, senior author and Stanford Psychiatrist, equates the change to “providing a scaffold for learning and consolidating facts into long term memory in children.”

Mann Koepke of the NIH, who funded the study, said that if the child’s brain does not have to labor over simple math, there is more short-term memory space to learn new concepts, so they catch on earlier and faster. It appears they have a competitive advantage because of the cognitive structure, and are more likely to outperform their peers.

Researchers studied the brain activity in 28 children between ages 7 and 9 while they were solving arithmetic questions under an MRI, focusing on which parts of the brain would light up. They also tested the kids in person, looking to see if they moved their lips or counted on fingers. When the experiment was repeated a year and a half later, it showed that children who had switched to memory-based retrieval methods were solving the problems faster and more accurately.

Overall, activity in regions associated with counting, the prefrontal and parietal, was reduced, but the number of connections made by the hippocampus had greatly increased. With more information being sent to long term storage sooner, a child will have built a better “schema for mathematical knowledge,” says Menon. She concludes the study is a key launching point for future understanding of math-based learning disabilities.

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