Author Archives: Suzanne Pekow

Featured doc: An Imperfect Revolution

An Imperfect Revolution: Voices from the Desegregation Era

(Sept. 2007)

by Kate Ellis and Catherine Winter.

Nearly everyone who experienced school desegregation has a story to tell about crossing racial lines. Together they reflect on an era marked by struggle and hope, anger and idealism.

American RadioWorks traveled to Louisville, KY and Charlotte, NC to talk with people about their memories of integration. Here are some of their stories.

Decoding the math myth

Politicians and economists say people need advanced math skills to be successful in the highly technical jobs of the 21st century. But political scientist Andrew Hacker says that’s just not true. In his new book, “The Math Myth and Other STEM Delusions,” Hacker writes that the idea that everyone needs geometry, algebra, trigonometry and even some calculus is hurting the economy by preventing people from getting college degrees. He talked to ARW senior education correspondent Emily Hanford.

Next week, a critic of “The Math Myth” will weigh in.

Writing discipline reform into law

We’re working on a documentary that explores the backlash against harsh school discipline policies across the country. In Minnesota, there’s a bill before the legislature that would change how school districts across the state approach discipline. The proposed Student Inclusion and Engagement Act comes at a moment when researchers and educators are expressing concern about the disproportionate use of suspensions and expulsions on students of color and students with disabilities.

This week on the podcast, ARW associate producer Suzanne Pekow speaks with Josh Crosson, advocacy manager for education nonprofit MinnCan. Crosson is part of a coalition that drafted the bill.

The science gap starts early

Before their very first day of kindergarten, white and affluent children already know more about science than children of other and children who are poor. And for most of those children, this gap does not get better with more schooling. A new study shows that what a child knows about science in kindergarten can strongly predict how he or she scores on an 8th grade science test.

Researchers have long been concerned about achievement gaps in math and reading, but there’s been less attention paid to children’s scientific knowledge. The U.S. Department of Education commissioned researchers from Penn State and UC-Berkeley to figure out why minorities and poor children are falling behind in the sciences.

Paul Morgan, Penn State professor and lead author, joins Stephen Smith on the podcast this week.

Minnesota’s graduation gap

Minnesota has a reputation for having good schools and strong standardized test scores. And that’s true for white children – white fourth graders ranked first on the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress or NAEP test. But if you’re Hispanic, black, Asian-American or Native American, your chances of completing high school are worse in Minnesota than in almost any other state.

A new documentary from Minnesota Public Radio News reporters Laura Yuen and Brandt Williams sheds light on these statistics and looks at how schools and legislators are working to close this gap to improve the chances for students of color in the workforce. The documentary is part of an MPR News project called “Minnesota’s Graduation Gap.”

Minnesota's overall on-time graduation rates for students of color, across racial lines, puts it directly at the bottom of all 50 states. MPR News Graphic: William Lager | Source: U.S. Dept. of Education

Minnesota’s overall on-time graduation rates for students of color, across racial lines, puts it directly at the bottom of all 50 states. MPR News Graphic: William Lager | Source: U.S. Dept. of Education

A brief history of school discipline

Research shows suspensions aren’t effective at changing kids’ behavior. And kids of color are more likely to get kicked out than white kids. Once suspended, they’re more likely to get into trouble and wind up in the criminal justice system. In 2014, the Obama administration asked schools to stop suspending and expelling so many kids.

This week, we examine the history of harsh discipline in school. ARW is working on a new documentary about discipline that will be released this fall. Lead producer Catherine Winter spoke with Judith Kafka, a professor at Baruch College who wrote about the evolution of school discipline in her book, “The History of ‘Zero Tolerance’ in American Public Schooling.”

Colleges want smart AND nice

The college application process has come under scrutiny in a new report by the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

The report, called, “Turning the Tide: Inspiring Concern for Others and the Common Good through College Admissions,” recommends that schools ask students to demonstrate that they are making a civic contribution to their local communities, even if that means taking fewer AP courses, or not taking the SAT or ACT entrance exams. The report has been endorsed by admissions offices at more than 50 American universities.

Report author Rick Weissbourd spoke with ARW associate producer Suzanne Pekow this week for the podcast.



What students in remedial english can teach us about K-12 education

Nearly two-thirds of all students who enroll in community college are not “college-ready” in math and/or English. And of these, 50 percent place two or more levels below college-ready in at least one subject area.

This week, we speak with Rob McGinley Myers, a developmental writing teacher at Hennepin Technical College near Minneapolis. McGinley Myers says teaching developmental English courses has given him insight into how students’ experiences in grades K-12 can affect their ability to learn throughout their lives.

Making sure learning sticks

Here’s some good news for students out there: if you want to memorize something, put your books down. Research shows that the traditional method of “cramming” for an exam by reading the same thing over and over again, doesn’t work. To truly learn, you’ve got to switch subject matter often, ask yourself questions about the material and give yourself time to let the subject matter sink in. These are just a few tips covered by the book “Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning,” by Peter Brown, Henry Roediger and Mark McDaniel. In 2014, ARW producer and correspondent Samara Freemark interviewed Peter Brown for documentary, “The Science of Smart.” Here are segments of that interview, which we originally released on our podcast in October 2014.

When school vouchers are not a leg up

School voucher programs allow students to use public funds to pay for private school. This concept is very controversial. Supporters say vouchers force schools to compete for students which strengthens the quality of all schools. Opponents say vouchers weaken public schools because they drive out top-performing students and leave less money for remaining students.

Until now the evidence on effectiveness has been mixed. Research has shown voucher programs having either no effect on academic outcomes or a slightly positive effect. But a new paper is one of the first to show a school voucher program actually lowering student test scores.

Economists from Duke University, M.I.T., and UC-Berkeley studied the Louisiana Scholarship Program,  which gives public funds to poor students at low-performing public schools to go to private schools of their choice.

Parag Pathak is one of the authors of the new study. He’s an economist who leads M.I.T.’s School Effectiveness and Inequality Initiative. He joins Stephen Smith on the podcast this week.