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Got some free time this weekend? Check out these 5 education stories you may have missed this week:

1. Applying for college aid just got harder NPR

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

Who gets to volunteer at your kids’ school? Maybe it’s a question you haven’t thought about much. But when we learned that the guy who shot and killed two Berrien County courthouse officers was also a regular volunteer at his daughter’s elementary school despite his sizable criminal record, well, we thought it was time to take a closer look.

Michigan Radio

We're going to go out on a limb here and say most parents want to know how their child's school measures up in terms of standardized test scores, graduation rates, demographics and so on. 

Another big question parents ask when looking at a school: 

“How many kids are in a typical classroom?”

When you hear people talk about ineffective school systems, you’ll often hear something like, “there aren’t enough desks or books,” or “there are more than 30 kids in that classroom.”

EdBuild / US Census, 2006-2013

In the aftermath of the Great Recession the number of students living in poverty is continuing to increase. That is the key finding of seven years of data taken from every public school district in the country. This data was organized geographically by EdBuild, a new national nonprofit focusing on funding for public education.

Shifting Demographics

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

Sometimes a family needs more out of a trip to the doctor than what a physician can provide. In those instances, an attorney might be what the doctor orders. It's called a medical-legal partnership, and there are 36 states that have them including one in Michigan that’s helped hundreds of low-income families over the past decade.

Hailee Rose is seven years old, with blond hair and a shy smile who loves math and spelling bees. She has a rare genetic disorder called 22Q, which can manifest itself in many different ways. In Hailee's case, it severely impacts her speech and language development.

The school bus drivers in Hartsville, South Carolina used to do two things: pick up kids and drop them off. But now they do a whole lot more and are an integral part of the school community. In this New York Times piece, we learn about how this S.C. district utilizes school bus drivers to help identify students at risk. "As the literal transition guides between home and school life — and the first and last adults with whom children interact before and after school each day — bus drivers can help recognize how children are faring emotionally, respond to behavior problems in thoughtful ways and set a welcoming tone for the day."

user: Bart Everson / flickr

The type of education a child in Michigan gets depends in large part on where he or she lives. That's because Michigan is under no legal obligation to provide an "equitable" or "adequate" education for all its citizens. The only thing Michigan is legally required to do in terms of schools is provide a "free" education. And we all know that free does not necessarily equal quality. 

Here is what our state constitution says about education: 

Sec. 2. The Legislature shall maintain and support a system of free public elementary and secondary schools as defined by law. Every school district shall provide for the education of its pupils without discrimination as to religion, creed, race, color or national origin. 

So, we've promised our children a free education, but is it equitable and adequate? That's the question we posed in our documentary, The Education Gap. (If you haven't heard it, click on the link and take a listen. You may be surprised at how much of a difference your zip code makes in terms of educational opportunities.)

The equitable and adequate question is also at the heart of a recent lawsuit against the Highland Park school district. As my colleague, Kate Wells, reported last week, the ACLU sued the district and the state of Michigan, saying students were not taught basic literacy skills. Here's an excerpt:

user photosteve101 / flickr

If you're like me, you probably don't have a lot of spare time. So in an effort to make things easier for you, here's a roundup of some articles from the week that our State of Opportunity team found interesting. Happy reading!

How one poor inner city managed to turn things around

I've been thinking about this story from the New York Times all week. It's a story about hope and renewal. Just about everybody – politicians, police, residents – had written off Camden, N.J. In the summer of 2012, there were 21 murders in Camden, the highest homicide rate in the city's history. Fast forward two years, and the homicide rate this summer was six. 

It has been 16 months since Camden took the unusual step of eliminating its police force and replacing it with a new one run by the county. Beleaguered by crime, budget cuts and bad morale, the old force had all but given up responding to some types of crimes.

The results are encouraging. Read the full article to see how Camden is fast becoming an example of how it's not impossible to turn things around.

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

  

Last fall, I spent a ton of time in two different fifth-grade classrooms: one made up of poor kids, the other made up of kids whose families are mostly well-off. I wanted to see how the two classroom experiences differed, and boy did they ever. We're talking night-and-day differences here. 

Don't believe me? Take a listen for yourself

I decided to revisit the poor school to see what – if anything – had changed. 

At the beginning of the school year, the students at Myers Elementary in Taylor struggled with math, reading and discipline issues. Here's what the classroom sounded like back in September:  

  

And here's what the classroom sounded like when I returned to the school in May:

user alamosbasement / Flickr

I'm a little late to the game. I only just heard of Jean Anyon a week ago. She's a leading researcher and education professor, and her study, "Social Class and School Knowledge" is a staple for education majors around the country. In fact, it was a U of M School of Education professor who suggested I read Anyon's study.

A little about the study. In the late 1970s, Anyon spent a considerable amount of time in 2nd and 5th grade classrooms in five schools in New Jersey. She chose the schools based on social class: two working-class schools, one middle-class school, one affluent professional school, and one executive elite school. In each school, she documented what the students learned and how the curriculum differed among the schools. Through her research, she argues that schools teach a kind of hidden curriculum, one in which schoolwork is tailored to students' social class. 

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