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Students in Appoquinimink School District in Odessa, Del., were getting gypped for years. Nine years ago, they had library media centers that were showing signs of age, full of outdated material, sometimes 20 years old, and very few library media specialists.

Have you ever had an idea so good that you know if you can just tell the right person, they'll agree and it will happen? That, more or less, was the script when the CEO of the School District of Philadelphia, Paul Vallas, met with Microsoft more than a year ago.

Margaret Spellings/FAST FACTS

Date of birth: November 30, 1957

Education: University of Austin, bachelor's degree in political science and journalism

First came the workshop. Then came a glimmer of an idea. Next came the goal, which changed everything.

It was Raymond Yeagley who set it all in motion. The Rochester (N.H.) Schools superintendent attended a Quality School Portfolio workshop a few years ago to learn about how the Web-based tool can help in collecting, analyzing and making sense of data. Using what he learned, he prepared a report on reading performance in Rochester's elementary schools.

It's a crisis. Social studies, particularly in the elementary grades, has been pushed to the back burner in schools.

Time is the biggest nemesis. Increased attention to math and language arts under the federal No Child Left Behind law is squeezing out social studies. Many states have standards in social studies so teachers are expected to cover the topic, but without being attached to a high-stakes test, the subject has lost ground.

You probably know the Simon shopping malls for its upscale chain stores, busy food courts and commercial success around the country. You may not know about the brand of public education that's available in a growing number of those malls.

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