Jaren Wilkey, BYU Photo

After becoming a father during his freshman year of college, Brent Denney retraced a 350-mile journey back to the Navajo Nation in southern Utah so he could start paying the bills. The famed red-rock landscape around Monument Valley welcomed him home, but life on the reservation offered few opportunities. Denney wanted to finish his college degree, but cultural ties and necessity bound him to his homeland.


That was two decades ago, and now Denney is on his way to earning the diploma that will show his college-age sons what their dad is made of. Denney's story became one of my favorites this year because it had perfect ingredients: a group of gifted teachers and a motivated student.


Like so many of today's education stories, though, Denney's also involved an inanimate ingredient: a technological innovation. He attends classes in the remote reservation town of Montezuma Creek, yet he sees and hears professors and classmates on a bustling college campus 400 miles away. They see and hear him, too, thanks to video-conferencing equipment.


Technology is changing the way we listen to music, access information and communicate with friends. It has upturned the industries connected with all of those things — and the education world is next in line. I believe passionate, knowledgeable teachers will always be education's critical component, but the best of them will incorporate new ways of sharing what they know.


This year's stories included one about innovative teachers "flipping" their math classrooms: "homework" problems are worked at school with the teacher's guidance, while class lectures are watched on computers and smartphones at home, where students can replay tricky parts.


There were also stories about helping kids get through tonight's homework, how families can get the most out of parent teacher conferences, and even ways of finishing college debt-free.


Families with children experience the education world most directly, but everyone shares the benefits of a well-educated populace and bears the burden of educational failures. Much of the news about how the U.S. is doing on the education front is distressing, but there are also many hopeful signs.


Knowing the unvarnished facts about these troubling problems is the first step to doing better, and Americans must do better. We live in a remarkable age, and promising new innovations with power to combat these problems arise nearly every day.


I expect to see college costs decrease as open classes make learning more available and less expensive. Textbook costs for school districts will decline, too, as interactive etexts are made available to all students. We're going to create clearer pathways from school to workplace. And, if we are smart, we'll make sure the brightest, most passionate teachers can stay in the teaching profession, because we can't improve student achievement if we don't.

Crushing debt: Students find solutions for avoiding, surviving loans
Jaren Wilkey, BYU Photo

Government-backed student loan debt has mushroomed in the United States, as have defaults on those loans. About 5.9 million people nationwide are at least 12 months behind on student loan payments, up by a third over the last five years, the New York Times reported on Sept. 8. One-sixth of student loans with a balance are in default, amounting to $76 billion, according to a survey of state-high education executives.

There are strategies that can help student loan debtors avoid default and its consequences, although recourse is less available than for other debt types. Avoiding over-indebtedness remains a better option than any of the cures

Read the full report here: Crushing debt: Students finding solutions to avoid or survive loans

Discovery learning emphasizes experience over instruction
Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Discovery learning is part of a growing trend stretching across the country. Its principles inform the objectives of the new Common Core State Standards Initiative, a new standards-based curriculum for students from elementary school through high school. The Common Core, which emphasizes experimentation and problem-solving skills, was implemented in 45 states across the country in August. While there is no doubt about the rising popularity of discovery learning, there is considerable debate about its effectiveness.

Read the full report here: Hot teaching trend and Common Core: Discovery learning vs. direct instruction

More adults earn college credit for life experience
Associated Press

Policymakers are on the lookout for techniques that draw more adults into higher education. Getting credit for life experience such as working in jobs, starting businesses, serving in the military and volunteering time is attractive to adults who want to go back to school but feel overwhelmed by what it entails. "To have their learning validated with college credit makes the thought of returning to school less daunting," said Pamela Tate, president of CAEL. Getting credit for things they already know saves adult students time and money, moving them through programs and into the workforce quickly.

Read the full report here: More adults earning college credit for ‘life experience’

Why boys aren't reading and how to bridge the gap
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Across the country and around the world studies show that young men lag behind their female peers in literacy skills by significant margins.

How serious is the problem? Some of the most compelling data on the topic comes from the results of the Programme for International Student Assessment, an exam given to 15-year olds in 65 countries. On the 2000 PISA exam, girls outperformed boys in reading by an average of 32 points. By 2009, the gap had increased to 39 points.

Read the full report here: Why boys' literacy skills lag behind girls' and how to bridge the reading gap

Are teachers underpaid or overpaid?
Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

 Supporters of increasing teacher pay include U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and former First Lady Laura Bush. "Higher wages are necessary to attract good teachers. We need to recognize and reward excellence," Duncan said in a recent interview with MSNBC. His philosophy resonates with many Americans: A 2011 Poll Position survey found that 56 percent of Americans believe teachers should be paid more.

But a November 2011 report turned that conventional wisdom on its head. Teachers are actually overpaid, says the report, compiled by Jason Richwine and Andrew Biggs for the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington, D.C.-based think tank. Teachers are compensated 52 percent higher than their peers in the private sector, the report found. 

Read the full report here: Teachers underpaid? Some say they are overpaid

Charter schools test boundary between church/state
Photo by Michelle Saavedra / Used with permission from Maple Village School

Walk into any Waldorf-inspired charter school, and you enter a different world of public education where students sing songs, stamp out math with their feet, carve wood, play recorders and draw maps.

The emergence of a public Waldorf movement has some critics less than charmed. Lurking behind the Waldorf method and permeating its classroom, they argue, is a mystical philosophy that amounts to a religion. They point to what they view as rituals in the classroom, the reading of verses from the program's controversial founder, and the insistence that teachers be formally trained at Waldorf colleges.

Read the full report here: Charter schools test church and state boundary

Growing generation of Latinos faces higher ed challenges
Brian Nicholson, Deseret News

Across the country, smart, capable Hispanic students face immense obstacles to fulfill their collegiate dreams. While some of the challenges are particular to undocumented students, many apply equally to legal residents and citizens.

Latinos have the lowest level of educational attainment of any racial or ethnic group in the United States, according to Alberta Gloria, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Read the full report here: Latino students face barriers to higher education

Sizing up the need to cut class sizes in public schools
Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Among parents and teachers, class size reduction is a popular approach to raising student achievement. Large-scale studies link small classes to improved teacher morale, an 18 percent higher graduation rate for low-income students and a two-thirds reduction in the black-white achievement gap. However, reducing class size from 30 to 20 means hiring 50 percent more teachers at an average cost of $39,000 — an expensive measure anytime, but especially challenging during a recession.

Read the full report here: Cash-strapped, crowded schools eye ways to help all students

Turning learning upside down - flipping classrooms
Brian Nicholson, Deseret News

Instead of listening to lectures at school and doing problems at home, students in a flipped classroom watch videotaped lectures at home (perhaps taking notes or working sample problems), then work through problems and exercises at school. There, the teacher can keep students working, supervise pairs or groups of students as they work problems, and work one-on-one with kids who lag behind.

The students absorb online lectures at their own pace each evening, repeating tricky concepts as needed. Parents can choose to watch along with their children as new learning concepts are introduced, improving their ability to help at home.

Read the full report here: Flipped classrooms: Turning learning upside down

Service learning improves scores, teaches learning
Associated Press

On nearly 12,000 U.S. college and university campuses, students can register for service-learning courses tied to almost any college major. A national coalition, Campus Compact, provides a network of support and research, but each school creates its own courses based on community needs.

Service-learning classes — sometimes called "engaged learning" — let students apply book learning to real-world situations. Bright, passionate students infuse community groups with their energy, said Maureen Curley, national president of Campus Compact. And, the students benefit from new connections formed and real-world knowledge.

Read the full report here: Service classes teach students how to give