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Wildfires burn through Colorado causing thousands to evacuate, and protests in Turkey are in 13th day. Tune in at 7am ET.
December 10th, 2012
10:46 AM ET

Poppy Harlow survey New York school damaged by Sandy; Harlow says its students are 'resilient'

Scholars Academy is one of 56 schools in New York still closed because of damage from Hurricane Sandy. Poppy Harlow surveys the school and comes to “Starting Point” to describe how people can help the school and its students like eighth-grader Ryan Panetta rebuild after the storm.

“You can still smell the destruction Sandy wrought at Scholar's Academy,” Harlow says. When Sandy hit, the water gushed into the school that is wedged between the Atlantic ocean, Jamaica Bay and a sewage treatment plant. “Surveillance cameras captured the ocean pouring into the basement and climbing the stairs of Principal Brian O’Connell's beloved school.” But he and the students are dedicted to rebuild.

“We keep saying scholar strong and Rockaway resilient,” O’Connell says. “They sound cliché, we are using them so much, but it’s just reality.”

If you want to make a donation, you can go directly to the Scholars website here, or go to for ways to help those affected by Superstorm Sandy.

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Filed under: Education • Sandy
December 6th, 2012
12:41 PM ET

CNN's Poppy Harlow speaks to a brave honors student who lost his home and school due to Sandy

CNN's Poppy Harlow speaks with 13-year-old Ryan Panetta who leapt into the rising waters of Hurricane Sandy to save his family, but he couldn’t save his home or school. Now he is one of hundreds of NY kids attending a temporary school and living in a temporary apartment.

Panetta, an honor student is one of 76,000 New York students whose displacement has wreaked havoc on their school and home life, separating them from communities and familiar faces.

For more information about how you can help those affected by Sandy, check out

Filed under: Education • Hurricane Sandy • Sandy
December 5th, 2012
12:38 PM ET

AFT President Randi Weingarten on the proposed 'bar' exam for new teachers

In order to become a lawyer you have to pass the bar and in order to become a doctor you have to take a medical licensing exam – but what about teachers? A new report, released by the American Federation of Teachers, is recommending that new teachers should have to pass their own equivalent of a bar exam before stepping into a classroom. This morning, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten joins “Starting Point” to discuss the reasons behind the suggestion that teachers be required to take a standardized test.

Weingarten says, “When you look at the countries that out-compete us they spend a lot of time preparing teachers.” The AFT president adds that, “Finland prepares teachers like we prepare doctors.” When it comes to teaching Weingarten says, “experience matters a need to have a body of knowledge and some clinical experience to do what we consider the most important job in America.”

Weingarten explains the report recommends that standards be governed by educators because there is currently “too much control in education by testing companies and by testing as opposed to what the profession thinks is important.” She adds educators should be able to control their own profession just like people in the fields of medicine, law and engineering are, “controlled by the profession.”

Filed under: Education
December 4th, 2012
09:43 AM ET

Students overcome by carbon monoxide at an Atlanta school; one parent and the Public School Deputy Superintendent offer their take

Students at an Atlanta elementary started feeling sick just after the school day began this Monday morning, prompting all 500 children and their teachers to be evacuated. Seven-year-old Adrianne Whitener was one of 44 children and several adults hospitalized when the gas leak at Finch Elementary School suddenly made them ill. She and her mother Josephine Benjamin join us live from Atlanta with their story. Benjamin says the first-grader passed out shortly after classes started.

The Atlanta Fire Department measured a carbon monoxide level of 1,700 parts per million near the school's furnace, one of the highest levels the city's fire department has ever seen. Deputy Superintendent of Atlanta’s Public Schools Steve Smith also joins “Starting Point” live from Atlanta.

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Filed under: Education
October 26th, 2012
02:41 PM ET

AFT's Weingarten: 'President Obama believes in public schools'

American Federation of Teachers's Randi Weingarten on the union's bus tour to get out the vote for President Obama.

Filed under: Education
October 24th, 2012
11:09 AM ET

Documentary showcases program that transforms underprivileged kids into chess champs

“Brooklyn Castle” follows five members of a chess team at a below-the-poverty-line, inner-city junior high school that has won more national championships than any other in the country. The I.S. 318 team has won 26 national chess titles and is known around the country as the “Yankees of chess”. The team’s story in “Brooklyn Castle” earned the Audience Award for Best Documentary at SXSW earlier this year and additional top awards at other festivals.

Katie Dellamaggiore is the producer and director of “Brooklyn Castle” and Alexis Paredes is a student featured in the documentary. Both Dellamaggiore and Paredes join Soledad O’Brien on “Starting Point” today to talk discuss their story.

Dellamaggiore, who is from Brooklyn, said she was surprised to learn that I.S. 318 had the best junior high chess team in the nation as school with a high percentage of students from families in poverty.

“I just thought this a story a lot of people probably don’t know about,” Dellamaggiore says. She mentions that I.S. 318 offers a host of other after school beyond the chess program to help the student body. “It just seemed like this was like a little gem of a school,” she says, “and doing unexpected positive things. And I thought this is a positive example of public education that people might wanna hear about.”

Parades is still playing now in high school on arguably the best high school team in NYC and he is also coaching at I.S. 318. He is one of the best chess players in the nation. Parades says chess has helped him do much better at school, but that he sees other kids at his school benefit from activities like art and music just as well. “Just these extra-curricular activities help these kids progress,” Paredes says.

He says chess doesn’t make him a nerd, it makes him cool. The culture at I.S. 318 celebrates chess almost as a sport, and he's proud to be a part of it. CNN Political Analyst Roland Martin puts it best, calling Paredes “a big man on campus.”

“It’s just an amazing feeling to know that you do something that will eventually help you in the future and benefit you,” Paredes says.

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Filed under: Education
October 9th, 2012
01:11 PM ET

Fmr. Astronaut Mark Kelly 'optimistic' on Baumgartner's record free-fall attempt, says Giffords continues to improve

An attempt by the Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner to free fall 23 miles is back on after a brief hold for weather conditions this morning.

It's a little scary and a little risky. Somebody who might know something about that is retired NASA astronaut Mark Kelly. He is also the husband of Arizona Democratic Congresswoman Gabby Giffords.

He talks with Soledad on "Starting Point" this morning to talk Baumgartner's attempt and also his new children's book "Mousetronaut," based on his very first trip to space in the space shuttle.

Kelly says though Baumgartner's stunt carries a lot of risk, he thinks the Austrian skydiver can pull off the jump.

"If he's got a good engineering team and his suit works and, you know, as he hits the atmosphere, if he can withstand those forces and then finally the chute opens he should be OK. I'm optimistic. I think he can do this," he says.

"We send guys out to do space walks, I mean, routinely and that's a very similar thing to what you're looking at there with the exception of he's his own re-entry vehicle. So that's pretty hazardous," Kelly adds.

Kelly says his inspiration for his children's book "Mousetronaut" came from his first shuttle flight on Endeavour in 2001.

"We had 18 mice on board. Of those 18 mice, 17 of them stayed kind of latched on to the inside of their cages. They were very nervous about being in space. But one little guy seemed to get it, enjoyed weightlessness, would go over and get his water and his food. We enjoyed watching him a little bit and that was impetuous to this story," Kelly says.

He found the inspiration to write the book to inspire kids to learn. "I think it's important to have material for young kids to be interested in, and my experience has been that kids are interested in astronauts and space and they are also interested in animals. So I put the two there together and hopefully, they will be interested in this book," Kelly says.

Kelly says his wife Gabby is doing well and is continuing her recovery.

"She continues to work on that physical therapy and her right arm doesn't work at all, it's paralyzed," Kelly says. "Speaking is still something that she works on every single day with speech - almost every day with speech therapy. We recently moved back to Tucson and that's great for her to get home. She's continuing to improve."

"If she continues to get better, she will have the opportunity to go back to work," Kelly adds.

Filed under: Education • Gabrielle Giffords • Space
October 9th, 2012
11:08 AM ET

ACLU sues Mich. school for reading rates – Poppy Harlow reports

Highland Park, Michigan, is a small town near Detroit. It's just three square miles, and once was a vibrant community and former home of Chrysler. Now they have 27% unemployment and more than 40% of the population is living below the poverty line.

Highland Park schools are performing even worse than neighboring Detroit public schools. It's so bad that they're being sued the ACLU.

This morning on "Starting Point," CNN's Poppy Harlow looks at why some say the school district is failing to teach kids to read at their grade level.

Filed under: ACLU • Education
October 5th, 2012
10:40 AM ET

Khan Academy founder shares vision in new book

Just a few years ago, Salman Khan's online education tutorials were only known to a handful of students. Now, his unique brand of video lectures draw more than five million users every month and are used by teachers in more than 15,000 classroms around the world.

In this new book, "The One World School House," Khan lays out his vision for the future of education, writing "the eschool I envision would be a place where mistakes are allowed, tangents are encouraged, and big thinking is celebrated as a process – whatever the outcome might turn out to be."

Khan sits down with the Starting Point team on the show today to discuss his philosophy and to explain the problems he sees in the current system of education.

Filed under: Education
October 5th, 2012
10:38 AM ET

Levar Burton: Romney's PBS remark was 'an attack on children from disenfranchised backgrounds'

President Obama and Mitt Romney may be back on the campaign trail today, but people are still talking about the moment in the debate when the Republican candidate says that he would eliminate funding for PBS if he wins the presidency.

Romney's remark prompted a huge response on social media, with mentions of Big Bird going up %800,000 on Facebook right afterward.

PBS lovers, including actor Levar Burton, who hosted "Reading Rainbow" on PBS for 21 seasons, are outraged that the network is being targeted.

Burton sits down with Soledad on Starting Point this morning to explain how he reacted to Romney's remark and to explain why he thinks that the network should continue to receive funding.

"I couldn't believe that the man actually fixed his mouth to say that. I interpreted it as an attack on children Soledad, it’s an attack on children who come from disenfranchised backgrounds," Burton says. "PBS is the nation's largest classroom. It guarantees equal access to the wonderfulness that PBS has provided for 50 years and to callously, blatantly say that it’s on the agenda to be cut, it’s not okay."

Filed under: 2012 Race • Education • Mitt Romney
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