Schools Without Schedules
At free schools, students choose the curriculum.
Educational programs in which children choose how they spend their time are growing in number, with "free schools" now open in New York, Pennsylvania, Oregon, California, and elsewhere. Most free schools base their philosophies on those of England's 90-year-old Summerhill School, where children have the freedom to make art, garden, and work on the computer in addition to attending class. Democracy plays an important part in school culture, with students voting on issues such as how to structure the school day.
Stateside, free schools have their critics, who question whether such programs can truly prepare a student for college and beyond. "I'm not impressed by the argument that traditional public schools aren't doing a good job preparing young people for the mix of self-direction and conformity that they will experience as adults," Aaron Pallas, a sociology and education professor at Columbia University, told the Philadelphia Inquirer. Still, many students are finding their place in free schools. "It's not just your education that it changes, but your approach to life," Dan Schiffrin, a graduate of Harrisburg's Circle School, said in the Inquirer.
Teen Lit Under Fire
It's so last century, yet book banning is still making news.
Last Sacrifice by Richelle Mead
This title earned the distinction of being banned before it was written. A middle school in Stephenville, Texas, axed the Vampire Academy series, including future books, in 2009. The response: No word from Stephenville ISD. Mead responds, "That they've banned the series in its entirety—before it can be reviewed—makes it hard to take seriously."
Glass by Ellen Hopkins
The superintendent of Norman (Oklahoma) Public Schools canceled a school visit by Hopkins after a parent complained about the drug abuse in Glass. The response: Readers praised Hopkins and called Glass a "cautionary tale." One librarian arranged an off-campus event so that students could meet Hopkins.
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
In an editorial in Missouri's Springfield News-Leader, Wesley Scroggins, an associate professor at Missouri State University, called Speak, which explores the aftermath of a teen's rape, "soft pornography." The response: Readers stormed the blogosphere in Halse Anderson's defense, many claiming that Speak enabled them to come to terms with their own abuse.
Curriculum RoundupCharacter Ed May Not Help at All
A new study found that character education programs may not help children in or out of the classroom. The Institute of Education Sciences analyzed six different character education programs in 84 schools, and discovered no measurable behavioral or academic gains for children. Teachers did report using the programs' strategies and feeling more support from students during the first two years of implementation.
Students Protest Tracking
Madison, Wisconsin, high schoolers are worried that a new program that offers both a preparatory and accelerated track will widen the gap between lower- and higher-performing students. After hundreds of students protested the planned change, Madison superintendent Dan Nerad agreed to meet with students.
Families to "Opt in" for Sex Ed
Parents in Wisconsin's Cedarburg School District must give children permission to learn about sex education topics such as contraception, masturbation, and homosexuality, in a move away from the "opt-out" policy held by neighboring districts. Critics say the new rule violates the state's Healthy Youth Act, which calls for medically accurate, unbiased, and age-appropriate information in health classes.