Education

Imagine having to build a bridge — a strong bridge — out of nothing but epoxy and spaghetti.

Yeah, hard. Just ask one of the 160 high schoolers who recently finished Engineering Innovation, a rigorous, monthlong summer camp run by Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and a handful of other cities. They didn't just have to imagine it; they had to do it.

Many high schoolers hoping to attend George Washington University in Washington, D.C., one of the top private universities in the country, breathed a sigh of relief this week.

GWU announced it will no longer require applicants to take the SAT or ACT.

The move comes after the school formed a task force to study the pros and cons of going "test-optional." GWU attracts lots of high-achieving students who do well on both exams, but the task force concluded that the school's reliance on these tests was excluding some high-achieving students who simply don't test well.

Virginia Savage lives in a part of north St. Louis, Mo., that's filled with vacant buildings, including Marshall Elementary. It has been closed for years now, and vines crawl into the building's smashed-out windows. The playground is littered with empty liquor bottles.

Savage went to school at Marshall as a young girl, and now she sees bigger problems beyond all those blemishes: "Drug dealers, drug users, eyesore. That's what I see."

In St. Louis, the student enrollment is one-fourth the size it was in the 1960s. That drop has led the district to close 30 or so schools.

If you looked at the children at the edge of Conrad Cooper's pool, you'd think you were watching an ad for something. Jell-O, maybe. Or a breakfast cereal kids like. They're that cute.

They're lined up on the steps in the shallow end, 10 little ones, ranging from age 2 to 5. The boys are in board trunks, many wearing rash-guard shirts like the weekend surfers they might become years from now. The girls wear bright one-piece suits and two-pieces that show their childish potbellies.

It's been a theory of mine that the assistant principal has the toughest job in education.

I got that idea a long time ago, when I was a student teacher at a middle school.

It seemed the assistant principal's job goes something like this:

New York state recently announced an increase in the minimum wage for fast food workers, to $15 an hour. It's the fruit of a three-year labor campaign.

I can remember the weeks before starting school at Skidmore College, furiously trying to finish Gregory Howard Williams' memoir, Life on the Color Line. The book had been assigned as our freshman reading assignment — part of the First-Year Experience at the liberal arts school in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

Four years later, Williams spoke at our graduation.

Both houses of Congress have now passed versions of the bill that would update the largest federal education law, known as No Child Left Behind, for the first time since 2001. They are big, meaty and complicated, and now they have to be reconciled into one messy Dagwood sandwich of a bill to go to the president.

If this isn't an honest-to-goodness crystal ball, it's close.

Neurobiologist Nina Kraus believes she and her team at Northwestern University have found a way — a half-hour test — to predict kids' literacy skill long before they're old enough to begin reading.

When I first read the study in the journal PLOS Biology, two words came to mind: science fiction.

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