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Willow Tufano became a homeowner earlier this year. This was newsworthy because Willow was 14 years old. She raised money to buy the house by selling stuff on Craigslist.

I spoke to Willow again last week and got an update. She's 15 now, and her life over the past few months was sort of surreal. She got caught up in two dramas: America's housing market and America's media circus.

A life well-worth noting has caught the attention of obituary writers:

-- "Andrew F. Brimmer, a Louisiana sharecropper's son who was the first black member of the Federal Reserve Board and who led efforts to to reverse the country's balance-of-payments deficit, died on Sunday in Washington. He was 86." (The New York Times)

More states and cities are turning to casinos to generate revenue and plug budget holes.

The latest to try its luck is Maryland, where groups are waging an expensive campaign over a ballot question that will be put to voters next month. Proponents promise jackpots of jobs and funding for public schools, but analysts say the gamble doesn't always pay off at the levels promised for public coffers.

"U.S. consumer sentiment unexpectedly rose to its highest in five years in October as consumers became more optimistic about the economy in a possible boost to President Obama's reelection hopes," Reuters reports.

A new kind of crop is being planted in the United States, and it doesn't require any land or fertilizer. Farming it improves the environment, and it can be used in a number of ways. So what is this miracle cash crop of the future?

It's seaweed.

Charlie Yarish, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Connecticut, loves seaweed. In nature, he says, when seaweed turns a rich chocolate color, that means the plant is picking up nitrogen, a process called nutrient bioextraction.

Anheuser-Busch, Pabst and MillerCoors are among the big beer makers the Oglala Sioux tribe has accused of illegally selling millions of cans of beer each year in Whiteclay, Neb. The town borders Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, which is located across the state line in South Dakota and is dry.

The Oglala Sioux's federal case was thrown out, and the tribe is considering what to do next — legalize alcohol or go to state court.

The names Columbine and Virginia Tech have both become tragic shorthand for school shootings in America. In the wake of those shootings, schools have developed a fairly typical lockdown procedure when there's a threat: sound the alarm, call police, lock doors and stay put.

The standard school-lockdown plan is intended to minimize chaos so police arriving on the scene don't shoot the wrong people. Students practice following directions, getting into classrooms and essentially, waiting.

Here's an astonishing fact: Half of America's mushrooms are grown in one tiny corner of southeastern Pennsylvania, near the town of Kennett Square.

But why? It's not as though this place has some special advantage of climate or soil, the kind of thing that led to strawberry fields in Watsonville, Calif., or peach orchards in Georgia. Mushrooms can grow indoors. They could come from anywhere.

Students pay much more for a college education in the U.S. than they do in most other countries. But they also get a bigger return on their investment.

Here's a graphical breakdown comparing the cost and the payoff for a college education.

A few notes:

The data come from a recently published OECD report looking at educational data around the world. The cost of education includes tuition fees and living costs paid by the student, as well as earnings that students forgo by not working while they're in school.

RealtyTrac, an online industry group that follows the foreclosure market, says the number of foreclosed properties nationally dropped dramatically in September, down by seven percent from August. And the firm says since September 2011, foreclosures are down 16 percent — that's the lowest total since July 2007.

There were 339,000 first-time claims for unemployment benefits last week, a decrease from last week's revised figure of 369,000, the Employment and Training Administration says.

Reuters reports it's the lowest number in more than four years. Reuters adds:

"The prior week's figure was revised up to show 2,000 more applications than previously reported.

Unless Congress acts, the Defense Department faces some $55 billion in cuts after the first of the year. The cuts are part of what's known as sequestration — automatic across the board spending cuts to both defense and nondefense government spending set in motion by last year's debt-ceiling fight.

Salaries for uniformed personnel are the one major thing that's protected. Otherwise, it's about a 10 percent cut to everything from Pentagon civilian staff to the acquisition of multimillion-dollar aircraft, like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Affirmative action in higher education appeared to take a potentially lethal hit on Wednesday, as the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments testing the constitutionality of a race-conscious admission program at the University of Texas, Austin.



I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Today we want to bring you into one of the most important conversations we are having in this country. It's about our schools. Welcome to our Twitter Education Forum. Today we are broadcasting from member station WLRN in Miami, but the conversation has actually already started.

For the past month on Twitter, using the hashtag npredchat, we've already been hearing from our radio audience and from our digital audience.



Next up on this special broadcast of our Twitter education forum, we'll remind you that we've already had conversations with policymakers, teachers and parents. So now we want to give the final words to those who I think we all agree, have the most at stake, the students. And we'd love to hear from the millions of students American students who are part of America's public education system. But we can't, so we're hearing from two.



I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up, we will speak with a former education official who has had a change of heart about some of the school reforms she once championed. Diane Ravitch will be with us in just a few minutes.



I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We are continuing TELL ME MORE's first Twitter Education Forum. Join in on Twitter at hash tag NPREdChat. Coming up, we'll hear the voices of people you could argue have the most invested in America's schools, the students, but first, we turn to online education. If you or your child have ever been stumped by homework, then you probably already know about the Kahn Academy.



Our next guest spent years allied with key conservatives on education reform. Diane Ravitch is the former assistant secretary of education under George H.W. Bush. During her time in that administration and afterwards, she advocated standardized testing and expanding school choice through charter schools. Those would later become key elements of No Child Left Behind under President George W. Bush, but she eventually became a critic of these approaches.



Now we turn to the former Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings. She served under President George W. Bush. She's now the founder and leader of Margaret Spellings and Company. That's a consulting firm in the Washington D.C. area. Madam Secretary, welcome to you. Thank you so much for joining us.

MARGARET SPELLINGS: Glad to be here, Michel. I'm sorry I'm not seeing you face to face. Hurry back.

MARTIN: I know. We'll have to rectify that.


The Montgomery County Commission is planning a class-action lawsuit against two financial institutions over what the county says are several years of unpaid recording fees.

Authorities say a new federal grant will open doors for disadvantaged students to become part of the nursing program at the University of North Alabama.

Officials say the $2.1 million grant goes to UNA's College of Nursing and Allied Health.

The Florence TimesDaily reports ( that the grant will provide access to the university's Opportunities for Entry into Nursing program for what officials describe as "under-represented minorities."

The Montgomery County Board of Education is hiring a private investigator to look in allegations of grade changing.

The board voted unanimously Tuesday to pursue the investigation after the Montgomery Advertiser reported last week that teachers at the three high schools admitted to participating in or observing hundreds of improper grade changes. County Superintendent Barbara Thompson said the school system does not condone grade changing without documentation.

(Journalist Lauren Frayer is a frequent contributor to NPR. She files this report from Madrid.)

For decades, the Red Cross has asked Spaniards to donate money to starving children in the Third World. But with Europe's debt crisis, the needy are now right here at home.



The U.S. Supreme Court returns on Wednesday to the emotional issue of affirmative action in higher education. The court will once again hear oral arguments on the issue, this time in a case from the University of Texas.

Over the past 35 years, the court has twice ruled that race may be one of many factors in determining college admissions, as long as there are no racial quotas. Now, just nine years after its last decision, the justices seem poised to outright reverse or cut back on the previous rulings.

longislandwins / Flickr

A lawsuit has been filed accusing the Alabama Department of Education of refusing to release school data showing the impact of Alabama's law cracking down on illegal immigrants has had on Hispanic students. The Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery filed the lawsuit, which contends education officials have declined to release data on student enrollment before and after the immigration law was enacted. The lawsuit says the SPLC has requested a copy of information that education officials have sent to the U.S. Justice Department.

Changes to federal eligibility rules for Pell Grants have some Alabama students returning to college looking for new ways to pay for classes.

The Anniston Star reports ( that the Alabama Commission on Higher Education has commissioned the University of Alabama Education Policy Center to do a study on the topic this fall.

Ben Baker, director of student financial services at the University of North Alabama, said that students could get less Pell Grant money under the changes.

Unemployment Numbers Are Kept Under Guard

Oct 6, 2012



And undoubtedly, the president and Governor Romney were up early Friday morning reading and eagerly awaiting the unemployment numbers. Almost immediately after they were announced, theories began to circulate that maybe, just maybe, the Bureau of Labor Statistics was cooking the books to help the president's re-election.

Back in August, Caitlin Kenney of NPR's Planet Money team went to investigate just why those numbers are such a closely held secret.

Major defense companies said this week they will not send out layoff notices to warn of big job cuts in January, taking away the prospect of embarrassing layoff notices right before the November elections.

That's led to charges that the White House overstepped when it told the industry the notices are not needed.

Why Companies Use Software To Scan Resumes

Oct 6, 2012

The Labor Department announced on Friday the lowest unemployment rate since January 2009. Most big companies use software to screen resumes and ultimately move that unemployment number. These programs can be a big help for hiring departments, but a hindrance for job searches everywhere.