Somali Refugees in San Diego Prep for College, Break Cultural Norms

Young men and women all over California are beginning to pack up their childhood bedrooms to head off to college. But for many Somali refugee girls in the immigrant San Diego neighborhood of City Heights, they're breaking ties with more than just the comforts of home. They're breaking cultural norms. We look at a rapid cultural shift that has Somali girls outpacing their male counterparts.

GI Bill Funds Wasted on Substandard Colleges, Investigation Finds

In 2008, Congress passed a new GI Bill that, for the first time since World War II, promised to pay the full cost of a college education for veterans. But a report by the Center for Investigative Reporting finds that more than $600 million of that money has been spent on California schools that have graduation rates so low, or loan-default rates so high, that they don't meet state standards for aid. The report contends that the GI Bill is pouring money into for-profit colleges that often leave veterans with worthless degrees and few job prospects.

PBS NewsHour

Giving traumatized kids a head start in healing


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JUDY WOODRUFF: Every year, thousands of children in this country are expelled from school before they reach kindergarten. In fact, studies show that preschool children are expelled at significantly rates than those in kindergarten through 12th grade.

Special correspondent Molly Knight Raskin reports on a program in Kansas City, Missouri, that’s trying to stem this trend by looking beyond the classroom to the issues these kids face at home.

MOLLY KNIGHT RASKIN: In many ways, Desiree Kazee, is a typical 5-year-old girl. She’s bubbly, bright and affectionate. Her favorite color is pink. And she enjoys drawing and dancing.

But, two years ago, when Desiree began preschool at a Head Start program near her home in Liberty, Missouri, she didn’t seem to enjoy much of anything.

RENEE SILVER, School Therapist: She was a very angry child. She would tantrum, she would scream, she would whine, she would complain of things bothering her that might not normally bother a child.

MOLLY KNIGHT RASKIN: Renee Silver is a school therapist who worked individually with Desiree.

RENEE SILVER: She wouldn’t take no for an answer. She would want to do things when she wanted to do them. She did everything she could to try and gain control.

MOLLY KNIGHT RASKIN: In most classrooms, Desiree’s behavior would be met with harsh discipline, but in this Head Start school, the teachers don’t punish kids for acting out. That’s because all these children, including Desiree, have experienced at least one traumatic event in their short lifetimes.

JANINE HRON, CEO, Crittenton Children’s Center: This would be separation from parents. This would be incarcerated parents, substance abuse or untreated mental illness in the home, witnessing violent interactions, being abused themselves.

MOLLY KNIGHT RASKIN: Janine Hron is the CEO of Crittenton Children’s Center, a psychiatrist hospital in Kansas City. In 2008, Hron and her team developed Head Start Trauma Smart, an innovative program that evidence-based trauma therapy into Head Start classrooms.

The program was created in response to the pervasiveness of trauma in the Kansas City area. Of the 4,000 kids in Head Start, 50 percent have experienced more than three traumatic events.

JANINE HRON: This is not a one-and-done kind of a bad experience. This happens over and over and over, and it becomes rather a lifestyle of trauma.

MOLLY KNIGHT RASKIN: Studies show that one in four preschool-age children experience a traumatic event by the start of kindergarten. Because so many of these children respond to traumatic stress by acting out, they prove a challenge to teachers and caregivers, who find that traditional methods of, like scolding them or putting them in a time-out, don’t work. In fact, these methods often makes things worse, leading to suspension or expulsion.

Avis Smith, a licensed social work at Crittenton, explains why.

AVIS SMITH, Crittenton Children’s Center: Their behaviors are so extreme, that the adults don’t know how to keep everybody safe.

MOLLY KNIGHT RASKIN: In Head Start Trauma Smart, safety comes first. Molly Marx has been teaching in the program for five years.

MOLLY MARX, Teacher, Head Start: The first thing you have to do is make them feel safe. And if you’re not making them feel safe, they are not going to learn or improve. So, most of how we teach starts with complete social-emotional. I am here. I will keep you safe. Help me keep it that way.

WOMAN: This is where I would like you to sit today to make sure your body is safe.

MOLLY KNIGHT RASKIN: In training programs held year-round, Head Start Trauma Smart teachers learn to validate extreme emotions referred to as (INAUDIBLE) feelings using calm and quiet voices. They are also armed with practical and cognitive tools to help kids soothe themselves.

MOLLY MARX: In our room, the safe spot is in a really quiet corner, and it’s filled with kind of pillows and blankets. And then we have a calm down box. There are several sensory things that they can play with. We have squishy balls. We have sunglasses.

MOLLY KNIGHT RASKIN: All of the methods are aimed at quieting a tidal wave of emotions that often overwhelms these kids. Neuroscientists have found that trauma causes arrested development in children’s brains. This leaves them vulnerable to triggers that adults around them often don’t see.

AVIS SMITH: It might be a smell. It might be a touch. It might be a sound that that child experienced during that traumatic event that is a reminder for that child of what happened.

MOLLY KNIGHT RASKIN: This is the case for Desiree, who suffered traumatic events, including the incarceration of her mother and the death of a close family member. Desiree was also the victim of abuse.

The incident was so traumatizing that her father, Derek Kazee, said he saw a total shift in her personality.

DEREK KAZEE: Before everything, like, she just — she was a people person. She loved being around people. After the experience happened, she tended to turn off. She didn’t really want to be around adults. She didn’t want to be around kids. She just wanted to be at home, her safe spot.

MOLLY KNIGHT RASKIN: Derek Kazee says it wasn’t until she began the trauma program that Desiree finally felt safe enough to go to school and to share her experience with the adults there. One of them was therapist Renee Silver, who works with kids individually to reinforce the self-regulating techniques of Head Start Trauma Smart.

In one activity, Silver applies lotion to Desiree’s hands.

RENEE SILVER: I’m going to get your pinkie and your ringy and your middle.

How often do kids get that nurturing, where each finger is individualized and pointed out, and they’re getting that focused attention, where nothing else matters? And so it really helps the kids. They — it’s almost like they melt.

MOLLY KNIGHT RASKIN: And it’s not just teachers and therapists who practice these techniques.

AVIS SMITH: Bus drivers, cooks, everyone who is in the life of that child.

Derek Kazee says he often works with Desiree at home, where they both use calm down stuff like counting and deep breathing.

DEREK KAZEE: Go ahead.

She tends to just walk away and calm herself down. And usually, like, before the program, she would just, you know, have a tantrum. Now she’s more in control of her feelings and her emotions. As a parent, it makes me completely happy.

MOLLY KNIGHT RASKIN: Head Start Trauma Smart is still in its early stages, but it’s already showing promising results; 100 percent of the children enrolled have moved on to kindergarten. It’s this kind of success that Hron says she hopes will boosts the program’s growth nationwide.

JANINE HRON: If we can pull this off across the country, the dividends will be phenomenal.

MOLLY KNIGHT RASKIN: Some of the Head Start Trauma Smart results are harder to measure. But to those who care for these children, they are impossible to miss.

DEREK KAZEE: All right.

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Dept. of Education encourages colleges to experiment with flexible credit systems

As a part of President Barack Obama’s push to make college more affordable, the U.S. Department of Education announced Tuesday that it will launch a new initiative to test innovative practices aimed at providing nontraditional, low-income and struggling students with better, faster and more flexible paths to academic and career success.

Nontraditional students, including those enrolled part-time, taking more than a year off from school after graduating from high school or working full-time, make up 85 percent of the country’s undergraduates, according to the American Council on Education.

By starting the Experimental Sites Initiative, federal education officials hope to open more paths for the nontraditional students to successfully complete degrees and help others pursue higher education for the first time. This will provide participating colleges with more flexibility in awarding federal financial aid to those participating in competency-based education programs.

Competency-based learning, also known as personalized learning, allows students to demonstrate mastery of academic content through a wider range of assessments at their own pace as opposed to solely measuring progress by the number of credit hours they accrue.

“At a time when a college degree matters more than ever, we have to provide a flexible, innovative experience that can meet the needs of every American,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in the announcement. “This initiative will enable institutions to try some of their best ideas and most promising practices to provide more students with the opportunity to pursue a higher education and become equipped for success in today’s workforce.”

“The House is expected to pass the bill, but it’s less likely the U.S. Senate will follow suit,” reports Inside Higher Ed, “in part because of top Senate Democrats’ desire to deal with the issue as part of the broad set of proposed legislation relating to the Higher Education Act,”which will soon be up for re-authorization since 2008.

Lawmakers are considering bills that could promote the same kind of innovation at colleges and universities, but it’s unclear whether those efforts will go anywhere, according to Inside Higher Ed.

Stay tuned for more on competency-based learning practices during our special week of higher education reports coming up in August.

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Both sides take Louisiana’s Common Core political fight to court


Dueling lawsuits in Louisiana amplify the on-going debate over the Common Core.

Louisiana courts could decide whether the state’s schools use the Common Core standards to guide teaching in their classrooms.

Last month Gov. Bobby Jindal issued an executive order withdrawing the state from an agreement to use standardized tests based on the Common Core, a set of guidelines for teaching math and English at each grade level.

Along with that order, Jindal said state legislators and education leaders should develop a unique set of standards for Louisiana’s schools.

Members of the state’s board of education and schools superintendent have pushed back, saying they plan to stick with the standards, which were developed in 2009 and adopted in Louisiana — along with 44 other states and Washington D.C. — the following year. The governor’s order can make the state find a new test provider, but Jindal cannot single-handedly end the use of the Common Core.

On Monday, 17 state legislators who oppose the standards filed a lawsuit in the Louisiana 19th Judicial District Court, saying that 2010 adoption was invalid, according to Education Week. Those filing the lawsuit led a failed legislative effort to repeal the standards this past spring. If they had succeeded, they would have joined the Oklahoma and South Carolina legislatures in dropping the standards. Missouri and North Carolina have passed laws that require a review and possible revision of the standards.

On Tuesday, supporters of the Common Core, including parents, teachers and a charter school group, filed their own lawsuit in the same court. They claimed Jindal has overstepped his constitutional powers and his actions “have sown chaos in the education system of this state,” according to The suit’s aim is to reinstate Louisiana’s contract for Common Core-aligned tests.

Students go back to school on Aug. 11 across Louisiana. A spokesman for the state’s department of education told the NewsHour their teachers will follows the Common Core standards, but no one knows what year-end tests they’ll be preparing for.

The NewsHour went to Louisiana in June to cover the growing battle over the Common Core. We learned about parents who pulled their kids out of school in objection to the standards and others who believe that the standards are prepping their children for college.

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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In Houston, traditional public school shares ideas and a roof with charter schools


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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now a U.S. education story with a twist.

Relations between charter schools and traditional public schools have often been hostile, and that’s become a more intense problem in recent years. About 4 percent of U.S. students attend about 5,000 charter schools.

Special correspondent for education John Merrow reports on one school district that is swimming against that tide.

PROTESTERS: I say charters, you say work. Charters!


PROTESTER: Charters!


PROTESTER: Charters!


PROTESTER: Charters!



JOHN MERROW: It would be difficult to overstate the battle royal going on between traditional public schools and charter schools.

PROTESTERS: Save our schools!  Save our schools!

JOHN MERROW: Charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately run, were conceived of as testing grounds for traditional schools.

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER, R, Tenn.: To me, charter schools are schools that free teachers to do what teachers know best to do.

JOHN MERROW: Charter schools are free to hire uncertified teachers, set their own pay scales, and fire teachers they feel aren’t measuring up. From the beginning, many in education saw charter schools as a threat, robbing traditional schools of students and scarce education dollars.

DIANE RAVITCH, Education Historian and Blogger: We have seen constant promotion of charter, charter, charter. And what’s happening is that, in many cities today, we are on the verge of losing public education altogether.

JOHN MERROW: Charter school supporters promised academic success, but the results have been mixed. Take math, for example. According to a 2013 study, 29 percent of charters do better than traditional schools, 31 percent do worse, and 40 percent score about the same.

Some operators have used their charter schools as a license to steal. Today, the chasm between charter and traditional schools is greater than ever.

But here in Houston, Texas, in the Spring Branch School District, something astounding, even revolutionary, is taking place.

DUNCAN KLUSSMANN, Superintendent, Spring Branch Texas Schools: I don’t see charters as a threat to traditional schools. I see charter schools, particularly high-performing charter schools, as kind of incubators of innovation.

JOHN MERROW: Rather than go to battle, superintendent Duncan Klussmann stuck his neck out and invited two successful charter school networks into two of his schools, both of them facing declining enrollment.

The charter students are selected by a lottery. Eric Schmidt is the principal of KIPP Courage, one of 141 KIPP charter schools nationwide.

ERIC SCHMIDT, Principal, KIPP Courage: We have got 200 students in fifth and sixth grade right now. We will grow out to have 400 students in five through eight. And like all of our schools, we do our work in underserved communities where a majority of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch.

JOHN MERROW: Two years ago, KIPP Courage began sharing space with Landrum Middle School, a traditional public school.

PATRICIA THOMAS, Principal, Landrum Middle School: Good morning.

JOHN MERROW: Patricia Thomas is principal of Landrum Middle School.

PATRICIA THOMAS: Our school is a grade six through eight campus. We have about 750 students.

JOHN MERROW: How did Thomas feel about having a newcomer, a competitor, setting up shop in her building?

PATRICIA THOMAS: A little bit leery of the program and what was going to go on. Didn’t really know what the program was about, how it was going to work as a partnership.

JOHN MERROW: Knowing that bringing in charter schools would be controversial, Klussmann did his best to reassure teachers.

DUNCAN KLUSSMANN: When I met with the faculties early on, I guaranteed them that no one in Spring Branch would lose their job over this partnership.

JOHN MERROW: The president of the local union, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, objected.

CRAIG ADAMS, President, Spring Branch American Federation of Teachers: Why is it, with the amount of leadership that we have and the amount of innovation that we have within the district, did we call in an outside source?

JOHN MERROW: But teacher unions in Texas have limited power, and so Klussmann’s experiment continued.

At Landrum, the union of charter and traditional means that KIPP math teacher Ryan Hambley has access to classroom technology he wouldn’t have at KIPP.

RYAN HAMBLEY, Teacher, KIPP Courage: because we’re at Landrum, we get provided for iPads. We get provided for netbooks and beautiful technology such as Promethean boards and pens.

JOHN MERROW: KIPP and Landrum hire their own teachers for core courses like math and reading. It’s here in the elective courses, band orchestra, choir, art, theater, and phys-ed, that the charter and traditional schools come together. On its own, KIPP could not afford to offer so many choices.

RYAN HAMBLEY: We are an envy of the town among the KIPP world because we offer so many electives.

JOHN MERROW: KIPP gets the additional courses and Landrum gets to send its teachers to KIPP’s training program.

ERIC SCHMIDT: All of the elective teachers came and participated in our summer professional development that we had at KIPP. And then we also opened it up to other teachers in Landrum, core-content teachers. And there was a team that came and said, we want to specifically learn about the character strengths.

JOHN MERROW: Building character is uppermost in KIPP’s list of educational goals.

ERIC SCHMIDT: KIPP is defined by the fact that we’re 51 percent character, 49 percent academics.

JOHN MERROW: KIPP’s impact on Landrum seems far greater than the reverse.

PATRICIA THOMAS: Spring Branch had a program called development assets, you know, character education. And so we kind of morphed ours to be more aligned with KIPP.

JOHN MERROW: In the cafeteria, the Landrum and KIPP students may choose to eat separately, but they all spend the first few moments quietly reading or doing homework.

PATRICIA THOMAS: This was a KIPP practice where they sit down first before the mass runs into the lunchroom and goes to the line.

JOHN MERROW: Two years into the partnership, Landrum and KIPP are still working out the kinks. One problem, finding time when KIPP teachers, who have a longer school day, can work together with Landrum teachers.

ERIC SCHMIDT: We’re working on aligning our schedules for our seventh grade team of teachers next year. So, we will be adding seventh grade and have that for the first time. And so allowing teachers to have similar off time during the day, so that math teachers can get together and collaborate on ideas.

JOHN MERROW: Teacher turnover is also a problem. YES Prep, the second charter school Klussmann invited in, replaced five of its eight teachers after the first year. Two were promoted. Three left, according to YES Prep’s principal, because it wasn’t the right fit.

So how is the two-year old partnership working out? The leaders seem pleased.

PATRICIA THOMAS: I like to bounce ideas off of Eric, him being the young guy, me being the old girl. You know, he might have a different idea and vice versa.


JOHN MERROW: Teachers are also generally happy with this new arrangement, according to a survey. Academically, however, the results are mixed. Reading and math scores at Landrum are flat. Those at Northbrook have improved slightly. At both schools, the charter students are generally outperforming the traditional students.

And that actually benefits the traditional schools, because Klussmann combines the test scores when he reports them to the state.

DUNCAN KLUSSMANN: When we report scores from the campuses we report, the school overall, for accountability reasons, all the scores are Landrum Middle School, Northbrook Middle School, Spring Branch ISD scores. They just may be in a KIPP or YES-taught class.

JOHN MERROW: Could partnerships like this one in Spring Branch catch on?  Perhaps. So far, 19 school districts, including Milwaukee, Tulsa, and Denver, have come to take a look.

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