Listen

Anya Kamenetz

Anya Kamenetz is an education correspondent at NPR. She joined NPR in 2014, working as part of a new initiative to coordinate on-air and online coverage of learning. Since then the NPR Ed team has won a 2017 Edward R. Murrow Award for Innovation, and a 2015 National Award for Education Reporting for the multimedia national collaboration, the Grad Rates project.

Kamenetz is the author of several books. Her latest is The Art of Screen Time: How Your Family Can Balance Digital Media and Real Life (PublicAffairs, 2018). Her previous books touched on student loans, innovations to address cost, quality, and access in higher education, and issues of assessment and excellence: Generation Debt; DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education, and The Test.

Kamenetz covered technology, innovation, sustainability, and social entrepreneurship for five years as a staff writer for Fast Company magazine. She's contributed to The New York Times, The Washington Post, New York Magazine and Slate, and appeared in documentaries shown on PBS and CNN.

Just over half of children in the United States — 53 percent — now own a smartphone by the age of 11. And 84 percent of teenagers now have their own phones, immersing themselves in a rich and complex world of experiences that adults sometimes need a lot of decoding to understand.

These stats come from a new, nationally representative survey of media use among children ages 8-18, by Common Sense Media, which has been tracking this since 2003.

If you want to get students fired up about climate change, poop is a good place to start.

A federal judge has fined U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for contempt of court for failing to stop collecting loans from former students of a now-defunct chain of for-profit colleges.

The court ruling orders the Education Department to pay a $100,000 fine. The judge said Devos had violated an order to stop collecting loans owed by students who had been defrauded by Corinthian Colleges.

In a photo taken last March, a teenage boy is sitting at his desk with a plastic pellet gun that looks a lot like an AR-15. The airsoft rifle is propped up on the arm of a chair, pointing at the ceiling, and the boy, Eric, is looking at the camera. We're not using his last name to protect his privacy.

Eric's friend took the picture. At the time, Eric says, he didn't realize his friend had captioned the photo "Don't come to school Monday" and had sent it to others on Snapchat.

More teens and young adults — particularly girls and young women — are reporting being depressed and anxious, compared with comparable numbers from the mid-2000s. Suicides are up too in that time period, most noticeably among girls ages 10 to 14.

These trends are the basis of a scientific controversy.

One hypothesis that has gotten a lot of traction is that with nearly every teen using a smartphone these days, digital media must take some of the blame for worsening mental health.

On a summer afternoon, Ciara Whelan, a teacher at a New York City elementary school, knocks on the apartment door of one of her students in the Bronx.

Melissa, the student's mother, welcomes her guest with a huge platter of snacks — shrimp rolls and dill dip. Melissa explains that this past school year — third grade — her daughter, Sapphira, fell behind in her reading because she got a phone and spent too much time messaging her friends on apps like TikTok. (We're not using their last names to protect the student's privacy.)

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Are humans born kind?

We both assumed, as parents of young children, that kindness is just something our kids would pick up by osmosis, because we love them. It's a common assumption.

"We often just expect people to be kind without talking about it," says Jennifer Kotler, vice president of research and evaluation at Sesame Workshop. "We think, 'Oh, you're a good kid. You're gonna be kind.' "

Now, that's not entirely wrong. Humans are certainly born with a capacity to be kind — even leaning toward kindness in many situations.

Kyle Kashuv, one of the survivors of the mass school shooting in Parkland, Fla., applied and was accepted into Harvard University.

His acceptance, however, was rescinded after Harvard discovered that Kashuv, now 18, used racial slurs in texts, Skype conversations and Google documents when he was 16.

Here's why people are talking about Kashuv's case.

A Parkland survivor turned activist

NPR/Ipsos conducted a national poll recently and found that more than 8 in 10 teachers — and a similar majority of parents — support teaching kids about climate change.

But in reality, it's not always happening: Fewer than half of K-12 teachers told us that they talk about climate change with their children or students. Again, parents were about the same.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has issued another big policy proposal as part of her campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020. This one concerns higher education.

Warren proposes that the federal government write off hundreds of billions of dollars in existing student loan debt.

More than 80% of parents in the U.S. support the teaching of climate change. And that support crosses political divides, according to the results of an exclusive new NPR/Ipsos poll: Whether they have children or not, two-thirds of Republicans and 9 in 10 Democrats agree that the subject needs to be taught in school.

A separate poll of teachers found that they are even more supportive, in theory — 86% agree that climate change should be taught.

If you're naming top colleges, you might not think of the City University of New York right away. It's not selective — it serves what one former official called "the top 100 percent." It also has a pretty low graduation rate.

But if you look deeper, at metrics like diversity and sheer number of lives changed, then CUNY can make a strong case.

You're reading NPR's weekly roundup of education news.

President Trump pivots to higher education this week

On Thursday, President Trump signed an executive order that could affect a few areas of higher education: from data collection to free speech.

It's no secret that wealth brings advantages when it comes to sending your kids to college. Rich and famous parents can donate large sums of money to schools or lean on their names and connections. Some ritzy colleges explicitly prefer the children and grandchildren of alumni — at Harvard University, an investigation found last year that these "legacy" admits were over five times more likely to get in than the average Joe.

The current wave of teacher walkouts started a year ago this week, when educators across West Virginia were out of the classroom for nine days. The movement spread to five more states before the school year was over.

The overuse of technology has overtaken drugs, sex and bullying as the biggest parental worry, according to the annual Brigham Young and Deseret News American Family Survey.

But what are we actually supposed to be doing about it?

Jordan Shapiro, a Temple University professor whose background is in philosophy and psychology, has a prescription that might surprise you. In his new book, The New Childhood, his argument is that we're not spending enough screen time with our kids.

A federal commission led by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos recommends rescinding Obama-era guidance intended to reduce racial discrimination in school discipline. And, DeVos says, it urges schools to "seriously consider partnering with local law enforcement in the training and arming of school personnel."

Yassiry Gonzalez goes to bed early. But often she wakes up around 1 or 2 in the morning. And from then on, sometimes all the way through dawn, the New York City high school student is on her phone — on FaceTime with close friends, or looking through Instagram.

"Sometimes, I'm so tired that I'll just fall asleep in school." She estimates the all-nighters happen once or twice a week. And on the weekends? "There's no sleep. No sleep."

Looking back, 2018 may be the year that a critical mass of people started wondering: Am I spending too much time on my phone?

The U.S. Department of Education is sending emails to about 15,000 people across the country telling them: You've got money.

You're reading NPR's weekly roundup of education news.

New guidelines for campus sexual assault enforcement are open for public comment

Every time Bill Zima, superintendent of schools in Hallowell, Maine, sends an email, it has this sentence under his signature: "Cultivating Hope In All Learners."

This is his school district's philosophy. It means something very specific. Zima got it from a YouTube video.

"A colleague sent it to me. It was a guy in a three-piece suit standing in front of a podium that said Business Summit To Drive Education Reform. I thought, ugh, this is going to be a bashing of public education."

You're reading NPR's weekly roundup of education news.

New rules on college campus sexual assault and harassment

No one ever shows up at brunch and says, "Oh my gosh, I was so sober last night!"

Risky behavior draws attention. As a result, people tend to assume that everyone else is doing it more than they really are.

But, over the last two decades, research on college campuses has shown that giving students the real facts about their peers reduces unsafe drinking. This approach is called positive social norms. It works because of a basic truth of human nature: People want to do what others are doing.

John, a father of two in Colorado, had no idea what his 15-year-old son had gotten into, until one night last year when John walked into his home office. We're not using his last name to protect his son's privacy.

You're reading NPR's weekly roundup of education news.

Education is a top issue in the midterms

From the 36 gubernatorial races to some key state congressional races, education will be a major issue on Election Day. We've reported previously on a record number of educators who are themselves running. There were teacher walkouts in six states this year. That issue alone has gotten people mobilized.

There's something else that's bringing education to the midterms: Betsy DeVos, the polarizing education secretary.

You're reading NPR's weekly roundup of education news.

Report: Most schools now have high-speed internet access

40.7 million students have gained access to high-speed Internet over the last five years. That's according to EducationSuperHighway, a nonprofit dedicated to closing the digital divide in American classrooms. There are still 2.3 million students unconnected, according to the group's most recent annual report.

You're reading NPR's weekly roundup of education news.

A new education budget awaits approval

A new spending bill could add $581 million to the Department of Education's budget. The legislation would bolster career and technical training and programs that serve low-income students.

When the Access Hollywood tape of Donald Trump, along with sexual assault stories involving Brock Turner and Bill Cosby, hit the news back in 2016, a middle school student in Maryland named Maeve Sanford-Kelly was listening.

Pages