Class Notes: Head Start Reform, DIY Textbooks and More Education News

Each week, TIME's Kayla Webley fills you in on the goings on in the education world, everything from pre-K to higher ed.

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Obama Announces Long-Awaited, Much-Needed Plan to Reform Head Start
This week, President Obama announced a plan that will require every Head Start center nationwide meet a new set of benchmarks or risk losing its funding. Each of the some 1,600 Head Start centers will be evaluated for their effectiveness on a series of benchmarks like students’ readiness for kindergarten, teachers’ qualifications and curriculum quality by the Department of Health and Human Services over the next three years. Low-performing centers will have to compete for federal dollars; if another preschool program can demonstrate better results than the Head Start center that organization will get the funding. Read more on the plan, and what more needs to be done here.

Why the Student Protests at Penn State Were Senseless
For the Penn State scandal, I defer to Sean Gregory who wrote an excellent piece titled, “The Firing of Joe Paterno: Why the Penn State Unrest Was Senseless.” In his piece Gregory brings a critical eye to a college who ostensibly allowed a child rapist to continue his alleged egregious acts unchecked in order to win football games and the students who came out last night to protest his ouster.

(PHOTOS: Riots Rock Penn State After Firing of Paterno)

Teachers Write Their Own Textbooks to Reduce Costs
In an effort to reduce costs and provide more specialized educational material, a group of teachers in Minneapolis wrote an online textbook that is now being used by more than 3,100 sophomores in the state’s largest school district. Using free software online, three math teachers spent about 100 hours each developing the lessons, which cost the district about $175,000 less than buying new textbooks, according to the Star-Tribune. In addition to the saving, the books are also better aligned with the material being taught on the state’s math tests than mass-produced texts. The same thing is happening at the university level, according to Inside Higher Ed.

Sexual Harassment an “Epidemic” In Middle and High Schools
According to a national survey by the American Association of University Women, during the 2010-11 school year, 48% of students in grades 7-12 experienced some form of sexual harassment in person or by text, email and social media. According to the Associated Press, nearly a third of the victims said the harassment made them feel sick to their stomach, affected their study habits or fueled reluctance to go to school at all. Unsurprisingly, girls report more incidents of harassment than boys. Of the 1,002 girls and 963 boys surveyed, 56% of girls said they had experienced at least one incident of harassment during the school year, while 40% of boys said the same.

GOP Candidates Take On the Department of Education
Though he couldn’t remember the third agency, GOP 2012 presidential candidate Gov. Rick Perry of Texas took aim at the Department of Education, promising to abolish it and two other government bodies if elected. The candidates also addressed student debt, which is now record-high. According to Education Week, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, called the policy of “student loans a total failure. … I mean a trillion dollars of debt? To be dumped on the taxpayer. … There’s nothing more dramatically failing than that program. He went on to echo Perry’s thoughts on getting rid of the Department of Education. While Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said the student loan program is an “absurdity.” He said it expands the ability of students to stay in college longer because “they don’t see the cost.”

PHOTOS: The Evolution of the College Dorm

Kayla Webley is a Writer-Reporter at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @kaylawebley or on Facebook at You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.