Education – PBS NewsHourAuthor: PBS NewsHour
26 May 2019

Education – PBS NewsHour

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    Why education reform keeps failing students

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally, a conversation about education reform and some of its shortfalls.

    It is the subject of a new book by a familiar face, who joins Jeffrey Brown for tonight’s Making the Grade.

    JEFFREY BROWN: For close to two decades now, or even longer, depending on your perspective, education reform has been on the agenda of Democrats and Republicans alike, school leaders around the country and major philanthropists who have influenced the debate.

    It’s all led to big changes, new laws and programs, tougher requirements and additional funding, lots more testing, and occasional school closings and teacher layoffs. But what has it all brought?

    Our former education correspondent John Merrow chronicled these efforts for our program for many years. He now looks back and into the future with a critique and with prescriptions in his new book, “Addicted to Reform: A 12-Step Program to Rescue Public Education.”

    And, first, hello again, John.

    JOHN MERROW, Author, “Addicted to Reform: A 12-Step Program to Rescue Public Education”: Nice to see you, Jeff.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Nice to see you.

    Addicted to reform means what?

    JOHN MERROW: Well, reform are attempts at changing that really don’t change things.

    What I’m saying is, for many, many years now, we have been tackling small problems which are really symptoms, not the real issues.

    I can give you a quick example.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Go ahead.

    JOHN MERROW: The Obama administration focus was on raising graduation rates, to get it from 70 percent way up.

    Four things happened. One was good. People came in and tutored. They identified failing kids. They gave them help. And those kids did well.

    Three other things happened, all of which were bad.

    One was credit recovery, which is basically a computer scam. You sit in front of a computer for a week and you get a semester’s credit. And almost every school district in the country relied heavily on computer — on credit recovery to get kids to graduate.

    The second thing that happened, schools, officials would say, Jeff, I think you could do well if you got a GED. Why don’t — you don’t have to — just go get a GED.

    And so you or I, not doing well, would be helped out the door. We wouldn’t be dropouts. But the graduation rate would go up, because I’m gone, but the school wouldn’t see that I did the GED.

    The third bad thing, adults cheated. They gave kids answers. They had erasure parties, all to get kids over the bar.


    JOHN MERROW: That’s a superficial reform, because the problem wasn’t graduation rate. The problem was much deeper.

    JEFFREY BROWN: I mentioned Republicans, Democrats alike, so many different players involved in this.

    And I was wondering, as I was looking at the book, is it even agreed upon what we’re after anymore? Do people kind of go back to first principles like that?

    Do we know what we’re trying to do?

    JOHN MERROW: No, we don’t have that conversation. We needed that conversation.

    And I thought Barack Obama would lead us down that road, but it didn’t happen. I mean, look, the fundamental purpose of school is to help grow adults.

    And if you look at the three words, help is — it’s a team effort. And grow, it’s a process. You can’t just take a test score and say we’re done.

    And then adults, that’s the key issue. What do we want adults to be — what do we want our kids to be capable of doing as adults? Fill in bubbles or engage in debate and so on and so forth?

    JEFFREY BROWN: So, take one big issue that you have covered a lot, testing, right?

    It does look as though there’s been some — even some of the people who have been pushing that over the years, the Gates Foundation, Arne Duncan, the former secretary, they’re perhaps stepping back a little bit, or feeling like perhaps it was overemphasized?


    JEFFREY BROWN: What do you see there?

    JOHN MERROW: I think they have pulled back little bit, but nowhere near enough.

    We’re still basically the only country in the world that says let’s use test scores to judge teachers. Most countries test kids to see how the kids are doing.

    So, we have a kind of test and punish. What we should do is assess to improve.

    JEFFREY BROWN: You have got 12 prescriptions, which we can’t go through all of them.

    But what is the main idea?

    JOHN MERROW: It’s a paradigm shift.

    Right now, schools — we think of school, where the teacher is the worker and the kid, the student, is the product.

    I’m saying, no, no, no, students are the workers, and knowledge is the product, which means they will work on real projects, they will work — they will create knowledge. They will learn, figure out stuff that they don’t know, that the teacher may not even know the answer to.

    The second goes back to Aristotle. And I’m not an original thinker. I have stolen a lot from Maria Montessori and Aristotle and so on.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, stealing from Aristotle is allowed, right?


    JOHN MERROW: But we are what we repeatedly do.

    Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. So, what do our kids repeated do in school? Well, in an awful lot of poor schools, kids do test prep. But if kids are actually the workers, creating knowledge, that’s what they — and they repeatedly do that, they will be ready for life in a democracy.

    They will be ready to be workers, to participate, be good citizens.

    JEFFREY BROWN: But how practical is that? That sounds great, but how do you do it economically strapped schools?

    JOHN MERROW: I don’t think this will cost more money.

    I think a judicious use of technology will help. I think there are 100 schools doing this. We have 10,000 schools — 100,000 schools. So, we have a long way to go.

    But it’s not going to be easy. But there are 12 steps. You have to acknowledge that these reform efforts have been superficial. You have to say — look at each kid and say, how is this child smart? What can we do to bring out that kid’s strengths?

    We have to measure what matters.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Let me just ask you finally a more personal question, because you covered these things for so long. Right?

    So when you went back to look, are these things that — these are things you were feeling at the time? Did you — did it kind of bubble up for you to look at, you know, I want to now take a big-picture look at all the problems I have seen?

    JOHN MERROW: I think it bubbled up toward the end of, you know, the 41 years, most of which were with you guys.


    JOHN MERROW: I don’t think I — I was committed to hearing everybody, and giving everybody — even if I had had strong feelings, the “NewsHour” would never have let me put them on the air.

    But I don’t think I really had them until I started toward the end thinking about all the marvelous people who have worked so hard to try to change things, and then seeing things had not really hadn’t changed.

    Why was that? And then I started analyzing, well, maybe we’re just going at superficial problems, you know, raising test scores. That shouldn’t be the end of schooling.


    JOHN MERROW: You know, people talk about the achievement gap.

    Well, first, we should say, wait a minute, there’s an expectations gap. There is also an opportunity gap. If you close those two gaps, the outcomes will take care of themselves.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, the new book is “Addicted to Reform.”

    John Merrow, thanks very much.

    JOHN MERROW: Thank you very much, Jeff.

    The post Why education reform keeps failing students appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

  • Posted on 18 Oct 2017

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    More older Americans than ever are struggling with student debt

    graduation cap

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    Chasing the Dream CtD-Logo21This is part of an ongoing series of reports called ‘Chasing the Dream,’ which reports on poverty and opportunity in America.

    By Megan Thompson and Mori Rothman

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Nancy Kukay works at a community college in Maryland, coordinating technical education programs. She’s worked in education most of her career and loves her job. But at 65-years-old, she had imagined retiring by now.

    NANCY KUKAY: I can’t afford to retire. I could never make the payments.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Payments for student loans she took out for her son Andrew about a decade ago. She pays around $500 a month on the nearly $75,000 she owes on loans she took out, and others she co-signed with her son. By her math, she’ll probably be paying on her loans alone for another 11 years.

    NANCY KUKAY: Even if I started drawing on my retirement and Social Security together, I still wouldn’t have enough monthly to make those payments.

    It’s certainly not where I hoped to be at this stage in life.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: The number of Americans age 60 and older with student loan debt quadrupled between 2005 and 2015 to nearly 3 million. And the average amount they owe has nearly doubled from 12-thousand dollars to almost 24-thousand.

    PERSIS YU: There’s a number of factors that contribute to why the number of older borrowers is increasing.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Attorney Persis Yu directs the Student Loan Borrower Assistance Project at the National Consumer Law Center in Boston.

    PERSIS YU: Student loans are structured to be paid over a very long period of time. They have no statute of limitations, which means that they follow you. They can follow you till you die, literally. And so there are a lot of borrowers who are out there who still have their own student loan debts from the ’70s, from the ’80s.

    ANNETTE PELAEZ: I think originally it was, like, 27,000 dollars…

    MEGAN THOMPSON: 64-year-old Annette Pelaez of Boston is still paying about 300 dollars a month for the loan she took out 20 years ago to pursue graduate degrees in American Studies, a loan she expects to be paying for another 10 years. She worked for nonprofits serving children and the elderly, but her income never reached the level she had hoped.

    ANNETTE PELAEZ: I’m making now what I made in the ’80s. I’m making about $42,000 a year.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: So when you went back to grad school, you assumed you’d be making a lot more money than that?

    ANNETTE PELAEZ: Oh, yes. Absolutely. I mean if I was making that money with a bachelor’s degree in the ’80s, I assumed that, you know, with a Master’s I’d do a little bit better.

    PERSIS YU: Folks with student loan debt typically save less than folks without student loan debt. And then, once they’re in retirement, if they are repaying loans, certainly that is a liability that they wouldn’t otherwise have to pay for when they’re on a fixed and limited income.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Because of her debt and the high cost of living in Boston, Pelaez says, she has little retirement savings. She recently retired but can’t afford to keep living in Boston – so she moved New Mexico, where it’s cheaper to live. But even still, her expected 1,000 dollar a month social security check won’t cover her expenses.

    ANNETTE PELAEZ: Rent will be $620 plus utilities, and then there is the school loan, and there goes the $1,000. So I will be doing some part-time work.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: How do you feel about that? I mean, is this what you pictured retirement being?

    ANNETTE PELAEZ: Well, you know, at this point, I’m not so terribly concerned, because I’m still young enough to do so. What concerns me is that when I’m in my 70s or 80s, hopefully, if I get there, I may not be able to do that.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Like Pelaez, 27 percent of older Americans with student loans borrowed for their own education. But most, more than 70 percent, borrowed for their children’s or grandchildren’s education. People like Nancy Kukay. Kukay, who’s divorced, took out about $46,000 in her name and co-signed for around $34,000 more with her son Andrew, who graduated from the University of South Carolina in 2008.

    NANCY KUKAY: I entered into that, now as I, in hindsight, without nearly enough information. And didn’t know what I didn’t know about– financial aid. It’s vastly different from when I went to school. I didn’t have to borrow to go to school.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Kukay obtained about half of the 46-thousand dollars she borrowed for her son’s education through a federal loan program called “Parent Plus.” The number of Parent Plus borrowers has grown by 60 percent since 2005 to three-and-half million Americans.

    The National Consumer Law Center says some families can borrow more than they can afford under parent plus because the program lets them borrow as much as a college says they need without verifying their income.

    PERSIS YU: At no point is the school or the federal government seeing if the family can afford to repay this loan.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Is anyone along the way saying, ‘Hey, if you take out this amount of money, this is what it’s gonna mean for you.’ Is anybody kind of giving a warning to families?

    PERSIS YU: So, you know, there is some very minimal counseling that is required– when folks take out federal loans. The other component is a lot of these families don’t have a lot of other options. Because education is expensive. So a lot of families feel trapped, and they feel like they have to take out this, because they want to provide for their kids. And they want their kids to have a better future.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: And that’s exactly what Nancy Kukay wanted for her son. Kukay says she wasn’t too worried about his ability to pay off his loans once he graduated.

    NANCY KUKAY: I kept telling him, and I thought this would be true, is, “This degree will give you a career that you can pay that off. Turns out not to be the case. He graduated in 2008 in the depths of the Great Recession. And jobs were hard to come by.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: After graduating with a degree in sports management, Andrew has worked steadily — even taking on second jobs at night and on the weekends. But his earnings haven’t been enough to keep up with the 4-and 5 hundred dollar payments on the roughly 45-thousand dollars he took out, so Nancy’s been paying the loans she co-signed. I spoke to Andrew over Google Hangout.

    ANDREW KUKAY: I did not think that you would be this hard to pay student loans. I definitely went in to school thinking I’ll get a decent paying job.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Andrew recently landed a higher-paying job and wants to help pay the loans his mom co-signed.

    ANDREW KUKAY: I don’t want her to be suffering for any longer than she has to just for doing the nice thing and cosigning on a loan. Would I do it all over again? No. I would not do it again. I would stick around and stay home for a couple of years. And go to a community college. Near my house.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: In the meantime, Nancy says, the loan payments are weighing her down.

    NANCY KUKAY: It governs everything I do, every decision I make. It all revolves around making sure that I have that money to make that payment every single month.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Nancy has consolidated, and has gotten slightly lower interest rates, on some of the loans. But she expects she’ll need to work part-time after she retires. And she’s also considering moving to Montana, where the cost of living is cheaper.

    NANCY KUKAY: My life isn’t going to be the way that I’d hoped that it would be. It just simply isn’t going to be.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: There’s also this catch with federal loans, and older borrowers who can’t pay them off. The U.S. treasury can garnish their Social Security benefits.

    In fact, between 2002 and 2015, the number of Americans having social security disability and retirements garnished because of unpaid loans increased almost 500 percent to 173-thousand.

    MANUEL ROBERTS: Who do I go and get this money back from?

    MEGAN THOMPSON: It happened to 55-year-old Manuel Roberts of Brooklyn, New York.
    He paid off most all of the 13,000 dollars he borrowed to attend the University of Southern California in the 1980’s. But after losing a job, he defaulted on the last three thousand dollars and then sustained a severe head injury in 2002.

    MANUEL ROBERTS: Then I was injured- street violence. I was a victim of a violent crime. I was in a coma for two weeks or so.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Roberts received Social Security disability checks for 1,300 dollars every month. But the government began deducting 200 dollars from every check for the defaulted loan.

    MANUEL ROBERTS: I was already in a bad situation. It’s plain to see they just made it worse.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: The Social Security deductions pushed Roberts to the verge of the federal poverty line. It turns out, there’s a program for people disabled like Roberts to get their loans eliminated. But many people don’t know about it.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: So no one ever said, ‘Hey, we notice you’re getting disability income. You might be also eligible for a disability discharge. This could stop.’

    MANUEL ROBERTS: No, that never- that was never brought to me by anybody.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Roberts’ attorney helped him get the disability discharge…and is also helping him and six people with similar stories sue the heads of the federal Department of Education, Treasury, and the Social Security Administration- alleging that they don’t do enough to let people know about the Disability Discharge program.

    The federal Department of Education declined an on-camera interview with PBS NewsHour Weekend and did not respond to written questions. The Social Security administration and Treasury Department also did not comment.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: US senators Ron Wyden of Oregon and Sherrod Brown of Ohio are sponsoring legislation to eliminate the practice of garnishing social security benefits for unpaid loans… but the bill’s gone nowhere so far.

    Nancy Kukay’s Social Security checks are not at risk, because she keeps kept up with her monthly student loan payments. For other parents trying to figure out how to pay for college now, she has this advice.

    NANCY KUKAY: I would strongly encourage them to become educated in the– in every aspect of financial aid. Talk to the college financial aid people. I didn’t do that. That’s a huge mistake. I made assumptions that turned out not to be true. And mine is a cautionary tale.

    Chasing the Dream: Poverty and Opportunity in America is a multi-platform public media initiative that provides a deeper understanding of the impact of poverty on American society. Major funding for this initiative is provided by The JPB Foundation. Additional funding is provided by Ford Foundation.

    The post More older Americans than ever are struggling with student debt appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

  • Posted on 14 Oct 2017

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    At an innovative high school, students get support battling their addictions while they learn

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    Link to our complete series, America Addicted.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And now to our America Addicted series.

    Drug use has been down among teenagers, but mortality is rising. And that is leading many to seek out new options for their children.

    The “NewsHour”‘s Pamela Kirkland went to look at how one so-called recovery school in Indianapolis is giving new hope to students battling addiction.

    It’s part of our weekly Making the Grade look at education.

    FRANCIE WILCOX, Student, Hope Academy: I went from using downers, mixing alcohol and Xanax.

    NICK SHIRKEY, Student, Hope Academy: Oxys. Percs.

    FRANCIE WILCOX: Then I would use uppers like cocaine.

    NICK SHIRKEY: Some meth and some heroin.

    FRANCIE WILCOX: I would just use anything I could possibly use.

    NICK SHIRKEY: Life just went on that downhill spiral, and I let it take me there.

    PAMELA KIRKLAND: Francie Wilcox and Nick Shirkey are two of about 30 students who attend Hope Academy in Indianapolis. All of them have struggled with substance abuse.

    WOMAN: Thank you for taking part in today’s circle and your willingness to support the community.

    PAMELA KIRKLAND: Twice a week, their day starts here, in a circle modeled after the teachings of Alcoholics Anonymous. Students lay out their goals.

    STUDENT: What can life be like when I’m clean?

    PAMELA KIRKLAND: Their regrets

    STUDENT: Felt bad for all the things that I have done to people.

    PAMELA KIRKLAND: And their sobriety dates.

    STUDENT: My clean date is July 17.

    PAMELA KIRKLAND: Hope Academy is one of nearly 40 recovery schools in the U.S.

    When it comes to kicking a drug habit, experts say simply being young is a major hurdle. Only half of U.S. treatment centers even accept teenagers. That’s why recovery schools like these are becoming increasingly popular.

    RACHELLE GARDNER, Chief Operating Officer, Hope Academy: I get a call probably once a week from somebody saying, hey, I saw your school, we really want to start a school, how did you start that, can you help us?

    PAMELA KIRKLAND: In 2006, Rachelle Gardner started Hope Academy to help students who have fallen behind because of addiction.

    RACHELLE GARDNER: Our young are pretty normal kids. They got the same issues. They just so happen to have this disease along with it. And we look at it as a disease, instead of just a behavioral problem.

    PAMELA KIRKLAND: Hope is a public charter school, meaning it’s tuition-free, and must take any student who qualifies.

    The school is attached to an inpatient treatment facility, and traditional subjects like math, English, and history are offered in small classroom settings, alongside a constant emphasis on recovery.

    WOMAN: Think about how drugs really did start affecting your life.

    PAMELA KIRKLAND: Students are randomly drug-tested, and attend 12-step meetings. They also meet one a week with Brad Trolson.

    BRAD TROLSON, Recovery Coach, Hope Academy: It’s an easy thing to forget that we have control.

    PAMELA KIRKLAND: He’s the school’s recovery coach and also in recovery himself. We first met Trolson in June while he was meeting with 17 year-old Francie, who had just relapsed days before at a weekend party.

    FRANCIE WILCOX: You just start to get into recovery, and you like literally just sit there and think, like, who am I? What do I even like? If I am not getting high or I’m not with people that I hang out and get high with, like, you just don’t know what to with yourself.

    BRAD TROLSON: Our society, our culture is really — it teaches our kids that drug use and alcohol use is really a deeply ingrained part of being a kid. And a lot of our students have fallen prey to that idea, and to such an extent that they really don’t know what the teenage is if it doesn’t include drugs and alcohol.

    PAMELA KIRKLAND: Francie says she’s struggled with self-harm and an eating disorder for years. She began drinking in sixth grade because she wanted to feel grown up.

    FRANCIE WILCOX: It didn’t progress super fast. It just kind of — I would drink on the weekend, but, eventually, it did start to go into smoking, and pills, and other kind of things.

    PAMELA KIRKLAND: Before coming to Hope, Francie entered three separate residential treatment programs.

    FRANCIE WILCOX: Addiction literally starts to control your entire life.

    MARY ANNE WILCOX, Francie Mother: It was at the point where we would say, I think we’re going to have to get used to the idea that we might be burying our daughter.

    PAMELA KIRKLAND: Francie’s mom, Mary Anne Wilcox, says she and her husband felt scared and helpless. From their home in Savannah, Georgia, they made a difficult decision.

    MARY ANN WILCOX: My husband suggested maybe we look into this school in Indianapolis, and we could live here for a couple of years, until she gets through high school, and then go back to Georgia, because there was nothing anywhere in the southeastern corner really for us to do to get her services.

    PAMELA KIRKLAND: That’s all too common, says Andy Finch of Vanderbilt University. He’s one of the nation’s leading experts on recovery schools.

    ANDY FINCH, Vanderbilt University: Many places just don’t have many adolescent options available, and a lot of times, the options that exist might be too costly for a family to afford.

    PAMELA KIRKLAND: Finch recently authored a report on the effectiveness of recovery schools vs. traditional high schools for teenagers who have struggled with drug addiction.

    He found that nearly 60 percent of students in recovery high schools reported not having relapsed in the sixth months that followed treatment. That compares to just 30 percent of students in regular high schools.

    ANDY FINCH: Teenagers who are struggling with addiction are having to face a lot of peer pressure. They struggle sometimes if they’re trying to stop using to find friends who aren’t using, to find adults that know how to handle that and what to do with it.

    And, often, the place where they’re either finding drugs or finding friends who are using drugs is in their school.

    PAMELA KIRKLAND: Finch also says that many adults in treatment admit to first using drugs while in high school, meaning this age is crucial to combating lifelong addiction.

    NICK SHIRKEY: High school is hard in general, but it’s even harder when you have like this extra weight or extra pressure on your shoulders.

    PAMELA KIRKLAND: Nick Shirkey spent much of his early childhood in the foster care system, where he says he was abused and neglected. His drug use started at age 12.

    NICK SHIRKEY: At birth, I weighed 1 pound, 6 ounces. I was born addicted to methamphetamines. Parents were real bad addicts. They didn’t care. They just wanted their next high.

    PAMELA KIRKLAND: Nick tried a treatment facility, but relapsed earlier this year. This is his second attempt at Hope Academy.

    BRAD TROLSON: Most of our students, they’re not just substance users. They come with a lot of trauma. They come with a lot of mental and emotional issues that, once they get clean and sober, now those things really start to surface.

    PAMELA KIRKLAND: In many ways, 18-year-old Ian Lewis represents Hope Academy at its best. He started using drugs in middle school, moving from marijuana and alcohol to prescription opiates and cocaine.

    After two years, Ian graduated in June as co-valedictorian. He is now a freshman studying biology at Indiana-Purdue University in Indianapolis.

    IAN LEWIS, Graduate, Hope Academy: If you would’ve asked me two years ago, I probably would’ve told you I didn’t think I was going to college.

    But I turned it around after I got into this recovery process.

    PAMELA KIRKLAND: But Ian says Hope Academy can only do so much.

    IAN LEWIS: It’s not going to save you if you don’t want to be saved. Some of these kids out here, they don’t want to stop using. And that’s when Hope isn’t really effective, because they aren’t using it.

    FRANCIE WILCOX: Sometimes, you just forget. You think, well, maybe I can drink, or maybe I can smoke, or maybe, if I go to this party, I can use like a little bit of coke, if it’s, like, recreationally.

    PAMELA KIRKLAND: When we visited Francie again in August, she had relapsed for the second time in three months.

    FRANCIE WILCOX: It just reminds you that I don’t drink and use like other people do. Like, I have no limits. I have no boundaries. I just — whatever I can do, I do, and that’s just not a right way of thinking.

    PAMELA KIRKLAND: But a relapse doesn’t mean the end at Hope.

    RACHELLE GARDNER: We can’t be a no-tolerance school. We have to be accepting, because relapse is part of the disease, regardless of how old you are.

    PAMELA KIRKLAND: Francie has been assigned more focused recovery classes, where students complete their course work one-on-one with their teachers.

    Her mom, Mary Anne Wilcox, says she remains hopeful, but she admits these last few months haven’t been easy.

    MARY ANNE WILCOX: I mean, it feels devastating. You know, it’s just — you want so much for the whole thing to be over. But it’s just — it reminds you that it’s not. It’s forever. And it’s something that we will be dealing with forever and she will be dealing with forever.

    PAMELA KIRKLAND: As for Francie, she says, despite her setbacks, she can’t imagine life without this school.

    Do you worry what might happen if Hope doesn’t work for you?

    FRANCIE WILCOX: Yes. I worry a lot. If I had to be in a regular high school, I don’t think I would even be alive.

    PAMELA KIRKLAND: There’s been little research into the long-term outcomes for those who attend recovery schools, but, for the students here, they still have hope.

    From Indianapolis, I’m Pamela Kirkland for the PBS NewsHour.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: It’s powerful.

    Tune in tomorrow night: Could pain be treated without addictive drugs? Our America Addicted series continues with the latest scientific discoveries on pain and how best to treat it.

    And online, our newest PBS NewsHour/Marist new poll finds a majority of Americans feel the president has not done enough to combat the opioid crisis.

    You can find our analysis and the full results at

    The post At an innovative high school, students get support battling their addictions while they learn appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

  • Posted on 04 Oct 2017

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    Vermont’s rules on vaccines for school met with parents’ support and pushback

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: For some parents in the U.S., it’s a question in the fall: Should they vaccinate their children to send them to school?

    The American Academy of Pediatrics believes so and says that a measles outbreak that started at Disneyland a few years ago shows how fast childhood diseases can resurface if not enough children are protected.

    California and several states have since tightened their immunization requirements. But some parents are still pushing back.

    PBS special correspondent Lisa Stark of our partner Education Week reports from Vermont about the vaccine fight there.

    It’s part of our weekly series Making the Grade.

    LISA STARK: Seven-year-old Merin Blake is a second grader at Champlain Elementary in Burlington, Vermont, a school her parents picked for her back in kindergarten, not because of class size or test scores, but based on how many students had all their vaccines.

    MIA HOCKETT, Merin’s Mom: When I took a look at the immunization rates for schools in Burlington, and also, though, at the kind of private schools in the area, I was really aghast about how low they were. And that made me really, really anxious.

    LISA STARK: Mom Mia Hockett was anxious because Merin was in the midst of treatment for childhood leukemia, diagnosed just before her 4th birthday. The intensive chemotherapy compromised her immune system, making her vulnerable to diseases.

    School nurse Nancy Pruitt worked to keep Merin safe.

    NANCY PRUITT, Certified School Nurse, Champlain Elementary: In her classroom, we made sure that the kids were vaccinated. We don’t have the — we can’t always do that, but we made sure that she had a classroom with kids that had been vaccinated.

    LISA STARK: Vaccinated against preventable illnesses, such as mumps, measles, whooping cough, chicken pox, and polio, which would have been especially dangerous for Merin.

    MIA HOCKETT: I know that kind of a lot of people think that we don’t really have these diseases, so we don’t need to be afraid of them. But in that situation, when we’re kind of thinking about, you know, our child…

    LISA STARK: Hockett isn’t just a mom. She’s also a doctor. And she wanted a school with vaccination rates of at least 90 to 95 percent, which public health officials say is required to protect those who are vulnerable or can’t be vaccinated.

    Christine Finley runs the immunization program for the state of Vermont.

    CHRISTINE FINLEY, Vermont Department of Health: When children are in school, they’re in a setting where they are interacting broadly with one another.

    If you don’t have a large percentage of the children vaccinated, then, basically, your shield isn’t going to work, because you have got places where a disease can begin to spread within a school.

    LISA STARK: Finley says, by 2014, vaccine rates had dropped to alarming levels, at some public schools, as many as 20 percent of students without all the required shots, and at a dozen private school, 50 percent not fully vaccinated.

    Vermont, like every state, requires vaccines to attend school, but, like all states, allows exemptions.

    In every state, children can get waivers for medical reasons. Forty-seven states permit families to skip vaccines for religious beliefs; 18 also allow for personal or philosophical exemptions.

    Some states are moving to tighten their laws, chief among them California, which, in 2015, did away with all waivers, except for medical exemptions.

    Kindergarten vaccination rates have jumped to the highest levels in more than 15 years, nearly 96 percent.

    DANIEL SALMON, Johns Hopkins University: The problem is, in many states, it’s easier to get an exemption than it is to vaccinate your child.

    LISA STARK: Easier, says Daniel Salmon with the Institute for Vaccine Safety at Johns Hopkins University, because parents simply sign a waiver request, much less effort than getting children vaccinated.

    WOMAN: So, this one is for you, and this one is for the school.

    DANIEL SALMON: While, nationally, most people vaccinate their children, and that’s clearly the norm, we’re starting to see communities where more and more parents are refusing vaccines.

    LISA STARK: Low vaccine rates in some communities are blamed for three large measles outbreaks in the past four years, one in Ohio, one that began in Disneyland and spread to seven states, and another this year in Minnesota.

    Are your children vaccinated?

    ARIEL BREWER LOUIS, Vermont Parent: No, they are not.

    LISA STARK: Ariel Brewer Louis is a Vermont mom of three. We caught up with her during an event for those who question the safety and efficacy of vaccines.

    She told her story on board a bus that’s traveling the nation to promote an anti-vaccine documentary and record vaccine testimonials.

    ARIEL BREWER LOUIS: I have three girls.

    LISA STARK: Brewer Louis recalled that decades ago her brother may have had a serious reaction to a vaccine, according to their mother.

    ARIEL BREWER LOUIS: It must have planted a seed, because when my first was born, I just said no. I just opted out.

    LISA STARK: Parents say they forgo some or all vaccines for their children for a variety of reasons. They’re worried about the number of doses, the crowded vaccine schedule, and past claims of a link to autism, which have been discredited.

    Jennifer Stella runs the Vermont Coalition for Vaccine Choice.

    Are you anti-vaccine?

    JENNIFER STELLA, Co-Director, Vermont Coalition for Vaccine Choice: I think I have been called anti-vaccine a lot, haven’t I? You know, I’m pro-choice. I think that everybody should have a choice.

    LISA STARK: Stella says her two children reacted badly after receiving several immunizations. Her son cried incessantly, stopped nursing and seized in her arms, and her daughter had head-to-toe rashes.

    JENNIFER STELLA: I don’t think that vaccines are safe enough for my children.

    LISA STARK: Pediatrician Jill Rinehart says vaccines are extremely safe and effective.

    DR. JILL RINEHART, Pediatrician: I mean, there’s not much that I do every day for children that saves lives. Immunizations are something that I do every day that I know makes a huge difference.

    LISA STARK: Rinehart and other doctors helped push the state to tighten Vermont’s vaccine laws. So did Hockett, with Mia in tow.

    In 2015, lawmakers eliminated the state’s philosophical exemption. Parents can still opt out for religious or medical reasons.

    Partly because of the change in law, Brewer Louis is homeschooling her 8-year-old. But she is relying on the religious exemption to send another daughter to preschool.

    What is your religious objections to vaccines?

    ARIEL BREWER LOUIS: I don’t have a religious objection to vaccines, but that’s my only option. And the way I see it, I have done my research, and there’s no way I am going to vaccinate my children to send them to school.

    LISA STARK: What do you say to people who say to you, I should have the right not to vaccinate my child?

    MIA HOCKETT: I absolutely agree with that, but none of this legislation actually forces someone to get immunized. What is says is that, if you’re opting out of your right and responsibility to vaccine, then you also have to bear the burden of opting out of the benefits of organized education.

    LISA STARK: Here in Vermont, parents have at most six months from the start of school to either make sure their child has all the required vaccinations or to claim an exemption. If they don’t, that child is no longer welcome at school.

    School nurse Pruitt says no student has been excluded from her school yet, but some have come close. She believes the new law has had an impact.

    NANCY PRUITT: So we had a 2.3 percent increase on our student body being fully vaccinated.

    LISA STARK: And do you think that’s because of the change in the law?


    LISA STARK: As for Hockett, she’s focused on a return to normalcy. Merin is considered cured of leukemia, and, in August, was deemed healthy enough to resume her vaccines.

    So, this school year, Merin’s parents hope she can count on her own immunity, not just others, to stay healthy.

    For the PBS NewsHour and Education Week, I’m Lisa Stark in Burlington, Vermont.

    The post Vermont’s rules on vaccines for school met with parents’ support and pushback appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

  • Posted on 27 Sep 2017

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    How ‘personalized learning’ can put college in reach for nontraditional students

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Next, we conclude our special education series Rethinking College.

    Tonight, how one university offers customized learning to fit the busy lives of nontraditional students.

    Hari Sreenivasan has our report, part of our weekly segment Making the Grade.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Terence Burley lives on the Navajo reservation in Northern Arizona, a place where college often seems beyond the horizon.

    TERENCE BURLEY, Personalized Learning Student, Northern Arizona University: I wanted to go to college, and it didn’t work out.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Only 7 percent of residents on the reservation get college degrees.

    TERENCE BURLEY: It was a money issue. My parents weren’t really making a lot of money.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Now a 42-year-old father, Terence is pursuing his bachelor’s degree, hoping to advance his career in computer technology.

    TERENCE BURLEY: I want to make myself more marketable.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Burley is using federal grants to pay tuition at Northern Arizona University, a campus that is 160 miles away.

    He’s enrolled in an unusual online program called personalized learning.

    Rita Cheng is the president of Northern Arizona University.

    RITA CHENG, President, Northern Arizona University: Personalized learning is a perfect approach to students who may have competency they have gained from their work experience. It is a demonstration of mastery.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: The program allows Terence to quickly move through college courses because it’s based on a subscription, like Netflix. Students pay one flat fee every six months, and take as many courses as they have time for.

    RITA CHENG: If they can master something very quickly, they can speed through segments of the curriculum.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Terence is studying information technology, and as a software administrator, he’s been able to use what he’s learned on the job to advance.

    TERENCE BURLEY: The courses reemphasizes what you know already. I’m tested for my competency. If I pass my test, I’m able to pass my courses.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: He must still take the core curriculum required of all on-campus university students.

    Cori Gordon is the coordinator for NAU’s personalized learning program.

    CORI GORDON, Personalized Learning Coordinator, Northern Arizona University: Everything is online, and it was all curated by a professor. We will use online textbooks. We use videos. We use case studies. We use simulations, interactive software.

    What’s different about us, though, is that the students really have the keys. So, everything is available when the student starts, and they determine when they’re ready to move on to the next concept. They determine when they’re ready to take the test.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: But there are challenges with Terence Burley’s remote learning. He lives in his mother’s house, which currently has no electricity or Internet.

    TERENCE BURLEY: I use my cell phone to get connected. And on a good day, I usually get two bars.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: When his laptop runs out of power, Burley recharges it by plugging into his truck. And his day is long.

    TERENCE BURLEY: Usually, I wake up at 4:00 in the morning, be on the road by 4:30 a.m. I get home. By 6:00 p.m., I start my class again from 8:00 p.m. up to 10:00 p.m.

    RITA CHENG: There are so many working adults. This allows students to go at their own pace, balance their family, work and stay on the job, demonstrate what they have learned in their career, and complete the degree.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Northern Arizona University was the first public college to receive accreditation and federal aid for four-year degree students who can move through courses by proving competencies.

    But the program is still very small. So far, only 172 students have graduated.

    Selina Larson is one of them. Selina graduated on the same day as her 22-year-old daughter, Raven. Larson decided on personalized learning after her daughter began classes at NAU’s Flagstaff campus.

    SELINA LARSON, Graduate, Northern Arizona University: I said, you know what, I’m going back to school, and I’m going to finish before you.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Larson did graduate before Raven, by five hours.

    RAVEN LARSON, Graduate, Northern Arizona University: Here’s my hero graduating from college.

    SELINA LARSON: Five hours before you.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Larson did all the course work for a liberal arts bachelor’s degree at their family home in Phoenix. It took her three years.

    SELINA LARSON: I did appreciate having my own timeline. I think that gives you a lot of control, but you have to be very motivated.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: The university points to anecdotal success stories, but there’s been little research to show if this new way of learning benefits students. And, for Larson, the process wasn’t always easy. There were technical glitches.

    SELINA LARSON: There could be a struggle with software, where something just went wrong. It doesn’t open. And you can’t get in, and their I.T. can’t help you. So you’re going around in circles sometimes. There’s no office to go to, to talk to somebody.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: President Cheng acknowledges early problems with the software, but says technology has been improving.

    RITA CHENG: Every year, we’re getting better with the technology. And NAU has always been known to adapt to the latest in technology, and we will continue.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: President Cheng herself was a nontraditional student, relying on the U.S. post office and correspondence courses for much of her college work.

    RITA CHENG: I spent seven years and five universities getting a bachelor’s degree. Affordability and access were always important to me.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: For Selina Larson, the bachelor’s degree has given her new confidence.

    SELINA LARSON: We’re just this huge, prideful family right now.

    She was super, super proud. I don’t know that it changed how she saw me, but I know that she has, like, this huge sense of pride that I have in her, now she has in me.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And while Terence Burley estimates he still has two years to go, he believes a bachelor’s degree is finally within reach.

    TERENCE BURLEY: I will just take it course by course, and, eventually, I will get there.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Hari Sreenivasan.

    The post How ‘personalized learning’ can put college in reach for nontraditional students appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

  • Posted on 20 Sep 2017


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