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Associated Press
Many studies show that children who get started right do better throughout their school years.


The awkward cashier: How federal disability policy mangles its mission

The Wal-Mart cashier holds his body stiff, bending when he walks, the strained look on his thinly bearded face suggesting continuing discomfort, if not outright pain.

Dal Schrader is more than just tired. He is partially paralyzed, with one leg longer than the other. He can't hold a fork or a pen with his left hand, and the medicines that control his seizures leave his right side shaking.

Social Security Disability Insurance was built for people like Schrader, but to qualify, he must first drop to part-time work and earn less than $1,010 a month while his claim is processed, which can take one to three years.

Many with less severe difficulties do qualify. Over the past 20 years, the disability rolls have burgeoned. In 1990, Social Security spent $20 billion a year on disability. Today, it spends more than $128 billion.

And much of this growth went to often hazy claims that are hard to prove, including mental disorders and back pain. Like most federal entitlements, the disability program faces an existential crisis, as limited resources stand in the way of expectations.


Teens turn to plastic surgery; experts tackle the when and why

The baseball that hit Darlene in the face changed more than her appearance. It made her the butt of classmates' jokes. More importantly, she had trouble breathing. By 16, she wanted it fixed. Tony was also 16 when he reached the same conclusion about his oversize jaw.

They are part of a small but significant trend: teenagers turning to plastic surgery to solve physical deformities, correct congenital defects, or make them look and thus feel better about themselves.

Determining whether to do a procedure requires good communication between doctor, patient and parent, and plenty of parental support. Impetus to go forward must belong to the teen, warned Dr. Catherine Begovic, a plastic surgeon in Beverly Hills. "The responsibility of the doctor is to be sure the teenager is the one initiating it. I usually meet with them and their parents on multiple occasions before proceeding to get a good understanding of motivations and expectations," she said.

Teens tend to ask for plastic surgery to fit in. Adults seek it more to stand out, Begovic said.

Modern family: moms, dads balance work, children, chores differently

Hollie Curtis has already left for work by the time her husband, Aaron, has baby Abigail ready to drop off at the sitter on the way to his own job. In the late afternoon, they do it in reverse, Hollie picking up the 5-month-old baby because her shift ends first.

That also means Hollie is responsible for dinner most nights, while Aaron handles the baby's late-night fussiness. He'll help with cooking on the weekend.

They are one modern American family, juggling work and family time with an evolving set of challenges. A new report by the Pew Research Center says moms and dads who both work — and that's 60 percent of them — spend roughly the same number of combined hours on paid jobs, housework and child care, though the breakdown is not the same.

"Moms are spending more time outside the home and dads are doing more housework," said Kim Parker, associate director for the Pew Social & Demographic Trends Project and one of the report's authors. "There are still gender gaps. Moms are still spending more time with the kid than dads, but dads are there three times more than they were 50 years ago."


Know before you go: uncovering the payoffs of higher education

A graduating Virginia high school senior enjoys a host of college choices. Four years later, with a degree from the University of Virginia in Charlottesville in either art or anthropology, she may enter the workforce and eighteen months after that, according to a new database from the state of Virginia, she will be earning roughly $28,000 a year.

Her best friend at Danville Community College, with a diploma in electrical or communications technology, would likely be earning more than $34,000 within 18 months of graduation.

Virginia has been online for nearly a year now with its job performance data, Colorado went up this week and other states will follow soon.

In Virginia, graduates of community college occupational and technical programs earn almost $2,500 more per year, on average, than those who earn four-year baccalaureates — at least 18 months out.

Among four year degrees, the gulf is wide from one major to the next and, within majors, from one school to the next. A painting major at the Virginia Commonwealth University scrapes bottom with $23,000, while a human resources management major from the University of Richmond pulls in $69,000 after 18 months.

President Obama's State of the Union speech touches off renewed debate about pre-K programs

"On the first day of school, you can tell that there is a huge academic gap," teacher Amanda Jones said of her kindergarten class in Preston, Idaho. "We've got kids that can actually read, and some that know maybe two letters of the alphabet. We're expected to get every one of those kids on the same level."

Despite contention over various pre-school proposals, areas of possible bipartisan agreement exist. The area of greatest controversy is the role of the federal government in early education. The sticking point, as usual, is money.

Four decades of empirical evidence shows it is possible to improve a wide range of outcomes for vulnerable children well into adult years, and generate benefits to society far in excess of program costs, according to Harvard University's Center on the Developing Child. However, the Harvard researchers note that success is dependent on the quality of the program used.