Audio: Perspectives:

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00Story: Sarah Baker

A couple of months ago, a tearful social worker showed me a letter that her eight-year-old client had written. She had helped him to write it as a way for him to talk about his recent loss. His foster parents had made the decision to have him removed from their home. He had experienced years of neglect and abuse and his behaviors were becoming more aggressive. In dark pencil lead he had drawn a sad face with tear drops under each eye. Below it read, "Please let me come home. I'll be good, I promise."

I've been a social worker for almost 20 years, working at an agency that serves children and families. Most of the children are involved in the child welfare system and many are in foster care. The stories of these children's lives are heartbreaking. I remember in graduate school being told that I needed to remain objective for the sake of my clients and to protect myself.

When I first started working in the field, I vacillated between feeling completely overwhelmed and numb. I tried to suppress my feelings, fearing that I would become paralyzed. It was my mother who encouraged me to talk about my feelings. At the time I was working in an inner-city school. Many of the school staff disapproved of therapy, believing that we were indulging "bad" kids. I would sit in my car, on my phone, crying to my mother.

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Mind/Shift: Students Want More Alignment of Tech In and Out of School

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Story: Katrina Schwartz

Project Tomorrow’s 2013 Speak Up survey of more than 325,000 students and 75,000 parents, teachers and administrators digs into how students and teachers are using technology in school and for learning outside of school, and comes up with some interesting insights about the pervasiveness of tech use.

A quarter of students in grades 3-5 and a third of students in grades 6-12 report using a mobile device provided by their school in class. This trend is more pronounced in Title I schools. Still, as tech use proliferates, digital equity has risen to the top as a concern for district leaders. Forty-six percent of district technology leaders say student access to the internet outside of school is one of the most challenging issues they face.

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SF Gate: Tiny Marin County district clings to struggling school

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0Story: Jill Tucker

Photo: Paul Chinn

Despite the state's economic recovery, a Marin County school district is struggling to make ends meet and is planning to cut teachers, administrators and special programs in the coming months.

While unusual, that wouldn't normally be noteworthy save for one not-so-minor detail: The Sausalito Marin City School District, thanks to a property tax loophole, has almost $30,000 a year to spend on each of the 150 students at its single school.

That's triple or quadruple the amount spent by most public schools and several thousand more than elite private schools. It's also just shy of the cost for a year of college at UC Berkeley, including room and board.

And it's still not enough to pay the bills - or lure the area's middle- and upper-class families to send their kids there.

How then does a metropolitan school district with huge piles of cash, along with money woes, mediocre test scores and one under-enrolled school continue to exist?

The situation in Sausalito Marin City exemplifies the staying power of tiny and expensive school districts arguably clinging to community control and historical precedence rather than common sense.

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Mind/Shift: Giving Good Praise to Girls: What Messages Stick

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Story: Katrina Schwartz

Photo: Woodleywonderworks

ow to praise kids: It’s a hot topic for many parents and educators. A lot of the conversation around it has stemmed from studies by Carol Dweck, professor of psychology at Stanford who has been researching this specific topic for many years.

“My research shows that praise for intelligence or ability backfires,” said Dweck, who co-authored a seminal research paper on the effects of praise on motivation and performance. “What we’ve shown is that when you praise someone, say, ‘You’re smart at this,’ the next time they struggle, they think they’re not. It’s really about praising the process they engage in, not how smart they are or how good they are at it, but taking on difficulty, trying many different strategies, sticking to it and achieving over time.”

But what some might not know is that this paradox is strongest for girls.

Dweck’s research, which focuses on what makes people seek challenging tasks, persist through difficulty and do well over time, has shown that many girls believe their abilities are fixed, that individuals are born with gifts and can’t change. Her research finds that when girls think this way, they often give up, rather than persisting through difficulties. They don’t think they possess the ability to improve, and nowhere is the phenomenon stronger than in math.

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Mind/Shift: What Will Happen to ‘Big Data’ In Education?

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bigdataStory: Anya Kamenetz

Image: Getty

Yesterday, a $100 million startup lost its last customer. According to a Politico article, the state of New York, inBloom‘s last remaining client, will delete all student data on the repository due to privacy concerns.

InBloom’s company spokesperson told Politico the nonprofit was “pushing forward with our mission,” though at the moment there are no known state partners.

InBloom’s trajectory has shined a spotlight on the public’s sensitivity around what happens to student data. When it first began as a mammoth ed-tech project in 2011 by the Council of Chief State School Officers, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation called the Shared Learning Infrastructure, the purpose was to provide open-source software to safely organize, pool, and store student data from multiple states and multiple sources in the cloud. That included everything from demographics to attendance to discipline to grades to the detailed, moment-by-moment, data produced by learning analytics programs like Dreambox and Khan Academy. An API — application programming interface — would allow software developers to connect to that data, creating applications that could, at least in theory, be used by any school in the infrastructure.

In February 2013, just a little over a year ago, SLI relaunched as an independent nonprofit named InBloom. The company had nine state partners, Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York and North Carolina, representing 11 million students. At SXSWEdu, they made a splashy public debut the following month, hosting parties and panel discussions as an official sponsor, a gathering focused just as much on business as on education.

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Mind/Shift: 7 Big Hurdles In Education and Ideas For Solving Them

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7Katrina Schwartz

An infographic can hardly contain enough space to tackle the big, hairy challenges of American education. But the non-profit, Digital Promise, has tried to identify some of the biggest challenges — and ideas for solutions — identified by the 46 schools in their League of Innovative Schools that are trying new techniques. They address issues like competency-based learning and personalized professional development, as well as students’ ownership of their learning.

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Mind/Shift: To Advance Education, We Must First Reimagine Society

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mindshiftStory by:

Why haven’t education reform efforts amounted to much? Because they start with the wrong problem, says John Abbott, director of the 21st Century Learning Initiative.

Because disaffection with the education system reflects a much deeper societal malaise, it’s imperative that we first figure out what kind of world we really want: a world populated by responsible adults who thrive on interdependence and community, or a world of “customers” who feel dependent on products, services, and authority figures, and don’t take full responsibility for their actions? The answer, he says, will point to the changes needed in all three pillars of education — schools, families, and communities.

This is one of Abbott’s primary takeaways from a career spanning more than two decades of teaching in England, followed by three decades at the helm of an international nonprofit (begun in the U.S. but now headquartered in England), whose mission is to promote fresh thinking based on the existing body of research about how children learn. Its findings have been synthesized into policy briefings, reports, and a book, “Overschooled but Undereducated: How the crisis in education is jeopardizing our adolescents.” It has also just published a distillation of its work, called “Battling for the Soul of Education.”

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Mind/Shift: Cursive, Print, or Type? The Point is To Keep Writing

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cursiveStory: Cory Turner

Across the country, many school districts dropped cursive from their curricula years ago. The new Common Core State Standards now being implemented in most states never mention the word “cursive.” Given longhand’s waning popularity, lawmakers in several states, including Tennessee, are now trying to legislate a cursive comeback.

The arguments in favor of cursive usually revolve around heritage or tradition. Some parents want their children to be able to read a letter from Grandma as well as our nation’s founding documents. Some cursive supporters also invoke science, arguing that learning cursive helps young brains grow more than learning basic printing does.

Professor Amy Bastian, a motor neuroscientist at the Kennedy Krieger Institute at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, has dedicated her career to studying how the brain talks to the body. “The more variety of things you do in the fine motor domain, the more variety of hand movements you make, will improve your dexterity,” Bastian says.

That may sound like a ringing endorsement for cursive handwriting, but when asked if cursive writing is better for a child’s development than printing, Bastian makes it clear: She doesn’t know. Cursive is good, she insists, but it’s not certain that it’s better or more important for a child’s development than printing.

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Audio: Perspectives: A Risk Worth Taking

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Story by: Luz Elena Herndandez

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LuzElanaHernandez

I needed a job after high school to help my family and to be able to pay for college. I opened my computer to fill out job applications and questionnaires from Safeway, Old Navy and Target. What's your name and address? Do you have a high school diploma? What would you do if a customer needs help? I breezed through the questions until I got to the one that read, "Please enter your social security number." I didn't have one.

Sitting in my room I remember feeling so frustrated because I was born in another country. A place I don't remember and haven't visited since I was two. Because I don't have legal status, I couldn't do even the simplest things that my friends could do. I had never been able to find a job that paid me at least minimum wage. Pell Grants were not an option. Plus, I had a never ending fear of getting my life taken away from me.


Mind Shift: What’s the ‘Sweet Spot’ of Difficulty For Learning?

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doing-homework360Story: Annie Murphy Paul

Photo: Marco Nedermeijer

In an NPR story earlier this week, Tovia Smith reported on the growing number of schools that are trying to instill “grit”— perseverance in the face of adversity — in their students. Smith focused on one such school:

“Tom Hoerr leads the New City School, a private elementary school in St. Louis, Mo., that has been working on grit. ‘One of the sayings that you hear around here a great deal is, “If our kids have graduated from here with nothing but success, then we have failed them, because they haven’t learned how to respond to frustration and failure,”‘ says Hoerr.

After years of focusing on the theory known as ‘multiple intelligences’ and trying to teach kids in their own style, Hoerr says he’s now pulling kids out of their comfort zones intentionally.

‘The message is that life isn’t always easy,’ Hoerr says. His goal is to make sure ‘that no matter how talented [students are], they hit the wall, so they can learn to pick themselves up, hit the wall again and pick themselves up again, and ultimately persevere and succeed.’

It is a major adjustment for everyone.”

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