Claudio Sanchez

The nation's colleges and universities have been on pins and needles waiting for the U.S. Supreme Court to decide whether race can be a factor in their admissions policies.

And so today's 4-3 ruling upholding the affirmative-action program at the University of Texas at Austin brought a sigh of relief to much of the higher education world.

Gilbert Sargent is a jolly, loquacious 74-year-old. For nearly everybody in the small suburb of Versailles, Ky., he goes by "Sarge."

For 25 years, Sarge has been working on and off as a school bus driver. Today he drives for Woodford County Public Schools, a district just outside Lexington. Sarge was meant to drive a school bus, he says, because of his love for children.

He drives bus No. 7.

2:35 p.m. Sarge heads out for his first afternoon pickup at Simmons Elementary School.

Career and technical education in high schools has gotten lots of attention and lip service in recent years. Business and industry see it as a long overdue focus on preparing students for the world of work. Educators say CTE — once called vocational education — is an alternative path for high school graduates who don't plan to go to college, at least not right away.

It has also come under scrutiny from researchers who say it's just not working as well as it should. It's poorly funded and often viewed as a "second rate" education.

The way Daphne Patton remembers it, it was more money than she'd ever seen.

It was 1990, and the Kentucky Supreme Court had declared the state's school funding system unconstitutional. Within a year, a lot more money started flowing to the poorest school districts, a 50 to 60 percent increase in their budgets.

Patton, an elementary school teacher from Wolfe County in eastern Kentucky, says schools had an abundance of resources, "everything we needed."

Three million school children in the U.S. are identified as gifted. That's roughly the top 10 percent of the nation's highest achieving students.

But Rene Islas, head of the National Association for Gifted Children, says tens of thousands of gifted English language learners are never identified. We sat down with Islas and asked him why.

Imagine you're back in school, bored to death, with limited academic options. Because you're learning English, everybody assumes you're not ready for more challenging work. What they don't realize is that you're gifted.

Researchers say this happens to lots of gifted children who arrive at school speaking little or no English. These students go unnoticed, until someone taps into their remarkable talent and potential. Vanessa Minero Leon was lucky. She was one of those students who got noticed.

Of the 3 million students identified as gifted in the U.S., English Language Learners are by far the most underrepresented. And nobody knows that better than 17-year-old Alejandra Galindo.

"It's just kind of hard to not see people who look like me in my classes," she says. "I'm a minority in the gifted world."

Teachers unions are breathing easier after the U.S. Supreme Court, in a deadlocked vote, rejected an effort to restrict public sector unions from collecting fees from nonunion members.

Before I became a reporter, I was a teacher. After 27 years on the education beat, I've met a few fantastic teachers and a few bad ones. So I've wondered, where would I have fit in? Was I a good teacher?

Recently I went back to the site of the school where I taught so many years ago, just outside Tucson, Ariz. Treehaven was both a day school and a boarding school for so-called "troubled kids."

In the Navajo culture, teachers are revered as "wisdom keepers," entrusted with the young to help them grow and learn. This is how Tia Tsosie Begay approaches her work as a fourth-grade teacher at a small public school on the outskirts of Tucson, Ariz.

For Navajos, says Begay, your identity is not just a name; it ties you to your ancestors, which in turn defines you as a person.

"My maternal clan is 'water's edge'; my paternal clan is 'water flows together,' " she explains. "Our healing power is through humor and laughter, and I try to bring that to my classroom."

Pages