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Marriage Proposal From Trapped Miner; Hurricanes on the Horizon; Education Reform Road Trip; School Challenges in California; What's Hot

Aired August 30, 2010 - 12:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: And hello again, everyone. I'm Tony Harris. Top of the hour in the CNN NEWSROOM where anything can happen. Here are some of the people behind today's top stories.

Fixing our schools, one school district's answer. Firing all the teachers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So to have my name called out for doing something that was wrong was, like, surreal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: We will show you why the teachers fired back and are now back on the job.

Rekindling love a half-mile under the earth. A marriage proposal and a rescue attempt under way. We are live from the Chilean mine.

You're online, right now, and we are, too. Josh is following what's hot -- Josh.

JOSH LEVS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Tony, this volcano has erupted after 400 years. It's in Indonesia. Two people have died, more than 30,000 are displaced.

We've got all the details for you right here at CNN.com.

HARRIS: OK, Josh. Appreciate it.

And President Obama is expected to make a live statement about the economy this hour. We will bring that to you when it happens.

Let's get started with our lead story.

Final preparations are under way right now to start drilling a rescue shaft for 33 Chilean miners trapped underground for three-and- a-half weeks now. The process is expected to begin today and take months. The men are surviving on food, water and other supplies funneled to them in what's called an umbilical cord, a tube about four inches in diameter.

Our Karl Penhaul is at the San Jose mine in northern Chile. He's on the phone with us.

And Karl, tell us about this operation, more details on it that begins today, and how the men are holding up.

KARL PENHAUL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we understood that today, the actual drilling operation to drill this rescue hole wide enough to pull the men out, that was due to start today in the wee small hours. But now we're told buy the mine's minister that a power plant needed to drive that drill has not yet arrived from Germany. That has been delayed.

That's going to push back the start of the drilling operation by around 12 hours, we're told. But they still expect that drill to go into operation today.

At the same time, of course, I mean, it's an operation that is going to take, we expect, between three to four months. So, meanwhile, the operation going around the clock to keep the men fit in body and in mind, meanwhile, and one of the key things there was to get some communication between the miners and their families. And that happened late yesterday.

A phone line was dropped down through one of those boreholes that have now been called the umbilical cord. And for one of the women, there was a very special proposal from one of the miners.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PENHAUL (voice-over): A procession and a prayer to St. Lorenzo, patron saint of miners.

Jessica Yanez (ph) watches and thinks about her man. Esteban Rojas trapped with 32 others, far underground.

"Imagine how happy we were to find out they were alive. We know the rescue will take a long time, but we won't lose hope," she says.

Amid the anxiety, a love story is blossoming anew.

"I think he thought about his family at that moment, and he knew he had to survive. And that gave him strength to fight on," she says.

Jessica and Esteban have been together 25 years, have three children and two grandchildren, but they never got married in church. Now in this dingy cabin -- the miners are calling it "Refuge 33" -- Esteban has had time to think.

In a letter to Jessica, he proposed they have a full Catholic wedding. "Please keep praying that we get out of this alive. And when I do get out, we will buy you a dress and get married. Good-bye, Esteban Rojas."

Jessica of course said yes. "I read what he had to say and it made me shout with happiness," she said.

On Sunday, families had the first chance to speak one-on-one to their loved ones. It was mine's minister Lawrence Goldborn (ph) himself who dropped the phone line into the ground.

(on camera): This is what rescue workers are calling the umbilical cord. This is how they're keeping the miners, trapped 700 meters or 2,300 feet underground alive.

(voice-over): A metal cylinder dubbed "The Carrier Pigeon" takes down food, water, clothes, letters, and now a phone line. Each relative had only about 20 seconds to speak.

"I was the last one to speak, so I just grabbed the phone and didn't want to let go," she said. But in those few brief seconds, Esteban and Jessica found time to make some marriage plans. "I asked Esteban if I should buy the dress and be ready waiting when he came out, or whether we should buy it together. He asked me to wait so we could organize things together," she says.

It's impossible to set a date. Experts don't know for sure how long it will take to drill a hole wide enough to rescue the 33 men. One thing Jessica does know for sure is that more than three weeks into this ordeal, her feelings for Esteban are strong.

"He always said he planned to grow old with me, and I plan to grow old with him. Our love is very deep," she says.

It's a love that's half a mile deep, that stretches from the desert above to the very bowels of the earth.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PENHAUL: Now, I think there's a number of interesting things there, Tony. It just amazes me to think that 33 men have to live their lives through three boreholes that wide. Everything that they receive -- food, water, clothes, medicine -- all that has to be delivered to them for the next weeks and next months through a hole no larger than that.

And the other interesting thing that I find is as this technical and complex drilling operation gets under way, there are also the human stories being played out. This really is a story of survival against the odds, of human endurance. It's also a story, persistence and perseverance of the families, families who refused to give up.

Even when all the information suggested those miners were dead, they pressed on, they pushed the government to continue the search and rescue operation. And against all that backdrop, we have stories like this of the love of a new romance blossoming against the backdrop of all this anxiety -- Tony.

HARRIS: It is a terrific set of stories.

Karl Penhaul following it all for us.

Karl, good to see you. Thank you.

We want to turn to weather now and our severe weather expert, Chad Myers. Chad, a couple of tornadoes -- tornadoes -- a couple of hurricanes that you're tracking for us. There's Earl and then the remnants of Danielle and what it did over the weekend. My goodness.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: You know, Danielle could actually turn left and hit, like, Greenland.

HARRIS: It really could?

MYERS: Yes, just kind of a random pattern up there in the north Atlantic.

What we're watching, though, is one called Earl. This has been moving to the left the entire time it's been alive.

Now, this is a visible satellite, which goes dark because that's the morning. Then the sun rises and now you can see the eye.

Here's San Juan. This would be the British Virgin Islands here, the northern Leeward Islands, which would be, like, Barbuda and places like Antigua.

That area there really did see quite a beating overnight. And now we're even seeing here -- this is Puerto Rico, from San Juan, right on down through El Junge (ph), all the way back down even down to the south side here of the island. A lot of rain, heavy, heavy rainfall coming down, and there are even flood warnings in effect for parts of Puerto Rico.

What we care about at this point in time for the U.S. East Coast is that North Carolina, Washington, D.C., New York City, not out of the cone. OK, not in the middle of the cone, but not out of the cone, because all of the computer models are somewhere in here.

But remember, Tony, on Friday, all the computer models were somewhere in here.

HARRIS: Oh, yes. That's right.

MYERS: So what does that tell you about the computer models? They are not always correct.

They all forecasted the right turn, and I think we're still going to get a right turn. But does that right turn happen here or does it happen here? That's a huge problem on one side of the cone compared to the other.

One way or the other, there is going to be a Category 3 major hurricane making huge waves up and down the East Coast. And I'm afraid we're going to lose lives, because people are going to want to go out there and surf in this stuff, and you don't to be surfing in a Category 3 hurricane. Just don't do it.

We'll see if it makes landfall. That would be worse.

HARRIS: It would be. All right, Chad. Appreciate it. Thank you.

Live pictures now -- do we have those -- from the Gulf of Mexico. Engineers start work today on detaching the temporary cap that stopped oil from gushing out of BP's blownout well. They will install a new blowout preventer, then concrete and mud will be pumped in through an adjacent well to seal the bottom of the broken one in what's called a bottom-kill procedure. All this coming more than four months since the start of the disaster.

Fix our schools. Those three words will drive much of what you see on CNN this week as America's children return to school.

CNN has a bit of a mission going here. We have sent reporting teams across the country to document the education crisis in America. Most importantly, we will shine a light on success stories that can empower us to offer our children so much more than they're getting right now.

First, a statistic highlighting the problem.

It is estimated that 7,000 students drop out of school each day. That's one dropout every 26 seconds.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan is traveling the country on a mission to reform schools. He is also on a quest to recruit more African-American and Latino male teachers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ARNE DUNCAN, EDUCATION SECRETARY: You look across the country today, less than two percent, less than one in 50 of our teachers, is an African-American male. And that has to change.

So many of our young men grow up in single-parent families. They grow up without a strong male presence in their household. And they need to be surrounded by mentors and role models who can help them envision a positive future for themselves.

If we want to close achievement gaps, if we want to make sure many more of our African-American male and Latino male students are graduating rather than dropping out, that are going to college rather than going to jail, having those mentors, having those teachers, having those role models, having those coaches, is going to make a huge difference in their lives.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS: OK. Let's do this -- let's speak with CNN producer Graham Flanagan, who is traveling on the bus with Secretary Duncan. And Graham is on the phone with us from upstate New York.

And Graham, what's on the agenda today?

GRAHAM FLANAGAN, CNN PRODUCER: Hey, Tony.

Well, right now we're just outside of Albany, in Latham, New York where Secretary Duncan is meeting with a group of representatives from various teachers unions, addressing their concerns with the educational system. But before that, we were at the state capital in Albany, New York, where Governor Paterson and various other New York state politicians announced that New York had received a huge grant of $700 million via the Race to the Top program.

HARRIS: And Graham, I know you're going to get an opportunity to spend some time with the secretary today. What's on your mind? What do you want to ask him? What do you want to know?

GRAHAM: Well, look, you know, you mentioned the dropout rate.

HARRIS: Oh, yes.

GRAHAM: And one every 26 seconds. I mean, that's crazy. And that's been -- already today, the two events that he has attended, Secretary Duncan has said that this dropout rate is "economically unsustainable," that if this continues, that it's really going to have a major negative impact on our economy years down the road. So with this Race to the Top program, they are putting money back into the system, trying to drive that number down, so that one day we can be back on track.

HARRIS: OK, Graham. Can't wait for your reporting. Appreciate it. Thank you.

Rhode Island teachers back in the classroom after being rounded up and fired. Can they turn the page and help fix the problems in our schools? It is part of our focus on education.

First, though, our "Random Moment" in 90 seconds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: Where do we find this stuff?

OK. Turnout is fair play, and your "Random Moment" for a Monday.

Church-goers have protested a Ohio strip club for a year now. So, ladies who bare their souls at the foxhole are protesting the church.

The strippers park themselves out the New Beginnings Ministry every Sunday. Their signs are biblically inspired. The attire is not. It's as skimpy as the turnout.

The pastor says Christians cannot coexist with the devil, even though the devil is nine miles away.

There you have it, your "Random Moment of the Day."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: Just another reminder for you. In just a couple of minutes, President Obama expected to talk live about the economy, a statement from the president. We will bring that to you live when it happens from the White House Rose Garden.

Returning now to our focus on fixing our schools.

Is humiliating teachers really the way forward? That's something to consider as teachers unions across the country criticize the "Los Angeles Times." The paper published a database base that ranks about 6,000 teachers based on their effectiveness in raising student test scores. Third to fifth grade teachers affected.

In Rhode Island, all teachers and administrators were fired from one high school due to student performance.

Our Stephanie Elam takes us back to Central Falls High.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They can't do it. It's disgraceful and disgusting.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Carl Apico (ph), Danielle Amadio (ph), Stephen O'Claire (ph) --

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A demoralizing moment earlier this year for the teachers of Central Falls High School in Rhode Island. Wearing red to show their unity, one by one their names were called and they were fired.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tina Janson (ph), Claire Johnson (ph) --

ELAM: The Board of Education had decided that to fix the persistently low-achieving school, all of the teachers needed to go.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Our teachers should have a voice in the transformation of the high school.

ELAM: For the last 11 years, language teacher Joann Boss has educated the students in this diverse working class neighborhood. As a graduate herself of Central Falls High, she deeply understands the community.

JOANN BOSS, CENTRAL FALLS HIGH SCHOOL TEACHER: I think that people in CF know that the school is there but it's not a priority, number one. Number one is survival.

ELAM: In 2009, the graduation rate was just 47 percent. The dropout rate was 37 percent. And only seven percent of 11th graders were proficient in math.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If a school continues to fail its students year after year, if it doesn't show any sigh of improvement, then there's got to be a sense of accountability. And that's what happened in Rhode Island.

ELAM: Dale Dearnley, also a Rhode Island native, has taught science at the high school for four years.

(on camera): How did that go over here? I can only imagine.

DALE DEARNLEY, CENTRAL FALLS HIGH SCHOOL TEACHER: Not very well. It was just a reactionary statement. I don't believe that the teachers needed to be fired, period.

ELAM (voice-over): But now the teachers are back. Over the summer, the teachers union and the school district quietly negotiated the rehiring of the teachers who still have concerns about their role in revamping Central Falls, as well as aptitude testing mandated by No Child Left Behind. Opponents argue it forces teachers to teach to the test rather than educate.

BOSS: You don't make the test the curriculum. The problem is that when it falls apart it falls on the kids and it falls on the teachers.

DEARNLEY: Most jobs don't give a multiple choice yearly to test the progress of their employees.

ELAM: For Dale and Joann, returning to the classroom without any resentment isn't a given but it is the a goal.

DEARNLEY: We want to be there for the students. Resentful? I'm going to put it out there, yes. Nervous? I'm very nervous. I'm very anxious.

ELAM (on camera): How do you go from how you felt then to the school year now?

BOSS: Well, first off, the first time I ever got my name called out in that auditorium was when I graduated from there. So to have my name called out for doing something that was wrong --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Joann Boss.

BOSS -- it was, like, surreal.

DEARNLEY: The people that agreed that I needed to be fired has never been in my classroom, never spoken to me. As a matter of fact, my name was pronounced wrong.

It was just so devastating to hear all these teachers that have been dedicated and working there for 30 years that I know and love, and their names aren't even pronounced right. It was devastating.

ELAM (voice-over): Painful lessons these teachers hope they never have to learn again.

Stephanie Elam, CNN, Central Falls, Rhode Island.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HARRIS: And of course we want to hear from you. Tell us how you would fix our schools. If you would, send us a comment by Twitter, iReport, or at our blog page, CNN.com/Tony. We will have some of your comments in about 25 minutes. In just a couple of minutes, President Obama is expected to talk live about economy. We will bring you the president's remarks from the White House Rose Garden.

We're back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: Let's get you caught up on top stories now.

A major shakeup in Mexico's federal police force. About 3,200 federal officers have been fired for failing to do their jobs or being linked to crimes. That's about 10 percent of the force. Another 1,000 officers face disciplinary action.

Retired pitching great Roger Clemens has arrived at a federal court in Washington more than three hours before his scheduled arraignment. Clemens is accused of lying to Congress about never using performance-enhancing drugs.

And the latest government report shows both personal income and spending rose slightly last month. Spending was up 4.4 percent, a bit better than economists expected. Income levels rose .2 percent.

Billions of dollars spent and thousands of lives lost. Iraq prepares for midnight tomorrow, when U.S. combat operations officially end.

Here is CNN's Arwa Damon.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The first Iraqi tank units are putting on a show of force for the media. With the U.S. military closely watching, the display is a success.

(on camera): Possessing fire power and armor like this most certainly is impressive. But when it comes to equipping and training the Iraqi security forces, the clock is ticking as we head towards that 2011 deadline that is supposed to see all U.S. troops leave the country.

(voice-over): The U.S. military is investing a lot in terms of time, money and resources in the Iraqi forces. And they insist the Iraqis are capable of taking the lead in securing their country.

(on camera): We're headed back to Baghdad from that tank demonstration. It's about an hour's drive, and it's the second time that we're taking the same route in around four hours. Not once at any of the multiple checkpoints that we've gone through were we searched or asked for our IDs. The soldiers did not seem to be on alert at all. And even more disturbing, their weapons were not even within arm's reach.

(voice-over): And it's that sort of scene that is sparking fears that without their American trainers with them on the street, standards of professionalism may slip.

A few days after one of the main detention facilities was handed over to the Iraqis in July, four members of al Qaeda escaped. We met the top Iraqi in charge, Warden Omar (ph), a year ago, when he told us he was ready to take over the jail.

Now the Iraqi government has an arrest warrant out for him. He is still nowhere to be found. An embarrassment for the Americans, who a year ago said they had faith in the abilities of the Iraqis to keep this jail secure.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have every bit of confidence that Warden Omar (ph), who is the joint commander of this particular facility, along with the 519th, Lieutenant Colonel Brown (ph), will be a smooth transition, and there won't be any change as far as the detainees are concerned.

DAMON: Today, as the U.S. military waits for the results of the Iraqi investigation, a spokesman says they don't know if Warden Omar's (ph) alleged involvement in the breakout was voluntary or coerced, and that the key is ensuring the right lessons are learned, and perhaps more importantly, implemented.

Arwa Damon, CNN, Baghdad.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HARRIS: Tomorrow night, President Obama delivers a major address on Iraq from the Oval Office. CNN will carry the president's speech live, followed by a breakdown of his remarks with Wolf Blitzer in Washington; Anderson Cooper in New York; and Dr. Sanjay Gupta in Pakistan. That's tomorrow night, beginning at 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time.

The president will also be speaking this hour in about five minutes or so, give or take. He is expected to make remarks on the economy.

We will bring you those comments when they happen, live, right here in the CNN NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: Checking top stories right now.

A major shakeup in Mexico's federal police force. About 3,200 federal officers have been fired for failing to do their jobs or being linked to crimes. That's about 10 percent of the force. Another thousand officers face disciplinary action.

Retired pitching great Roger Clemens has arrived in a federal court in Washington more than three hours before his scheduled arraignment. Clemens is accused of lying to Congress about never using performance-enhancing drugs.

And the latest government report shows both personal income and spending rose slightly last month. Spending was up .4 percent, a bit better than economists expected, and income levels rose .2 percent.

What is working and what's not in school systems across the country? I will talk with two superintendents about the successes and challenges facing their districts. It is a part of our weeklong focus on education.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: All right. Once again, we are expecting to hear from the president shortly. From the Rose Garden of the White House. The president is expected to make a statement on the economy, and -there's the location. There's the Rose Garden.

The president due any minute now, scheduled for 12:30, but we're getting an indication that it will probably slide about five, ten minutes or so. But, again, the president will make a statement on the economy any moment now, right here in the CNN NEWSROOM.

Let's get you back to Chad Myers now. You were talking about Earl, and that really is the story right now, isn't it?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It's a big storm. It's a major hurricane. That means Category 3 or higher. Basically, now we're up to 120 miles per hour. So, this is a pretty significant storm.

Just north of the British Virgin Islands. And that would be like -- if you want to go look at a map and find a place -- actually, I have been to when I turned 40 --

HARRIS: Tortola, maybe?

MYERS: It's called the Bitter End Yacht Club.

HARRIS: Yes.

MYERS: These guys really getting it, the North sound Suites really would be getting it now here. San Juan, the Leeward Islands, they go down here. Then you got all the rest of the islands down here, and you eventually get Venezuela.

But let me get you to a special little thing I have, because I actually have the radar, dialed up out of San Juan, Puerto Rico. Here is Puerto Rico, very heavy rainfall through Puerto Rico. Very heavy rain coming down with flooding there. You don't see the islands, but you do get a couple islands here. Here we get Virgin (INAUDIBLE), Vic, Tortola, and then the U.S. Virgin Islands and then the Spanish Virgin Islands, which you see here. There, right there, like Vieques.

And then this here is 120 miles per hour in the eye. Not so much in the middle, because that's where the calm would be. But if you get along the outside, that eyewall, that's where the very heavy winds are, and is I just assume, I hope that all the mariners are out of there, because they do literally - they move all the boats out of the way, and you have to get well south of there, because this is hurricane alley.

There is such a thing, this is Hurricane Alley. And so -- not like Ali Velshi.

(LAUGHTER)

HARRIS: Like that Cat 5?

MYERS: A-l-l-e-y. So, as they send all the boats and all the vessels that you wanted to rent and all those things, like the moorings, they send them to the south or get them out of the water altogether. But this will be a Category 4 headed up towards the East Coast.

I want to say toward the East Coast, because not out of the cone, but certainly not in the middle. We don't focus on the middle, we focus on what's possible, and the East Coast in the U.S. is still possible.

HARRIS: Yes. I'm sending a quick text to a friend who I know is vacationing on Tortola right now.

MYERS: Is that right?

HARRIS: Yes, yes, yes. Just to find out if everyone is okay. Alright, just hit send --

MYERS: Get a web cam. There was one from Saint John. It was rocking and rolling pretty good at the ferry dock.

HARRIS: There it is, sent. Thank you, Chad.

The president is speaking this hour. And probably just in a couple minutes or so. He is expected to make remarks on the economy.

Oh, we've got a new time. 12:50 p.m. May even slide into Ali's hour at the top of the hour, 1:00 p.m. Eastern time. But the president scheduled to speak about the economy.

Let's do this. I think we will talk to Ali in just a couple minutes, get a bit of a preview of what the president might say in just a couple minutes. Let's take a break. You're in the CNN NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: Look, it's time to "Ask Ali." That's all. That's all the TM you need. Our chief business correspondent, Ali Velshi and the host of CNN NEWSROOM at the top of the hour, 1:00 p.m. Eastern time.

What is the president likely to say today? What are you thinking?

ALI VELSHI, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: I think - I don't know, I have no information on it --

HARRIS: You're not in the room with the economic team?

VELSHI: I'm not in the room, but I have to tell you, we've been talking about the fact they've got to come out and say something, they've got to look like they're connected to the feelings --

HARRIS: Why? Tell me why. Is there a sense that the president is not connected?

VELSHI: There seems to be a disconnect here. The president is talking about isolated successes all over the place when we are all looking at one major number, and that is unemployment, which continues to be very stubborn. Never mind the GDP, never mind all these other things. Unemployment is the important one. That's the thing that they said they're going to try to -

HARRIS: Absolutely.

VELSHI: And that's what they have to do. So, I think there is some sense they're disconnected from the conversation that most Americans are having, and I think there is a reason for that. Because somebody has got to spend money in this economy. It's either got to be the government, which is what's been happening with stimulus, or it's got to be companies. And you and I have discussed the fact that companies are accumulating cash and not spending it, not hiring people.

Or it's got to be consumers and individuals, who as we've also discussed, are accumulating cash. The savings rate is up to six percent right now from close to 0 in 2005, 2006. Nobody is spending money.

HARRIS: So, who spends when no one spends?

VELSHI: The government. And I think in this economy, at this time, heading into midterm elections, it would be a remarkably unpalatable thing for the government to come out and say we're preparing another stimulus.

HARRIS: Oooh.

VELSHI: And I think the reality is, they're hoping somebody else steps up to the plate, that consumers go out there and spend and create demand, so people, you know, hire.

HARRIS: Does that -- that line of thinking feed into any of the comments you heard from the Fed chief on Friday?

VELSHI: Yes.

HARRIS: This idea that perhaps it is in your hands. It's in your hands, it's my hands. If we are going to get this recovery, you have got to start spending, I've got to start spending, corporations have to start spending. There are only so many tools in the toolbox.

VELSHI: Right. You can bring -- interest rates are at four and change for a house and we're the not buying it, because we're scared of what's going to happen. So, we're saving money so that if there is another recession, we have some money.

So, now we're up to six percent that we're saving. What's enough? At what point do you say "I've got to buy that toaster or car, I'm going to go out, I'm going take a trip." When do you do that? That's what we're waiting for right now.

HARRIS: I've got a proposal. We'll get to it in a second.

I went to the Marketplace -- because they do great work, we do great work on our Money Team. A couple of blog questions I have for you. And a thought from this one commentator, this -- from Pasadena, who says, "There is one way to put spending money no into people's pockets. Reduce their monthly mortgage payments to manageable levels to avoid -- " what we're seeing a lot of, right? "short sales, foreclosures," right? "And help the economy make all closing costs on a refinance or new mortgage immediately deductible." What do you think about that as an idea?

VELSHI: I think it's interesting. The issue is it's still public money, right? So, either you're spending money on you're closing costs or getting a deduction, which means we're all sharing the costs of that. It's all the same thing. Is government going to be stimulating or are you going to do it all on your own?

It would be interesting, though. We did see with the $8,000 first time homebuyers' tax credit, it was like a giant coupon to buy a house, and clearly people did.

HARRIS: Yes. So here's the thing. Here's my proposal. We need people spending.

VELSHI: Yep.

HARRIS: All right. And corporations are going to do what corporations are going to do.

VELSHI: Not irresponsibly.

HARRIS: Right. But -- not irresponsible spending, right? We're not talking about going out and running up your credit cards.

VELSHI: Don't go in the hole for it, but yes. We've got some money.

HARRIS: Let's bring back this concept. Let's bring back the date night.

VELSHI: Love it!

HARRIS: Let's bring back the date night, right? And talk to us about Friday night, Saturday night, whatever it is. And what would happen?

VELSHI: Well, that's interesting. Because going out socially is, in fact, one of those things that puts the most direct money into the economy.

HARRIS: Yes. VELSHI: Because you don't have to worry about where it was made and it's all. It's all made here, you're paying a salary, you're giving tips to somebody, you're keeping a local business employed. It's actually not a bad idea. Date night.

(LAUGHTER)

VELSHI: And the president has another ten minutes before he comes to speak. So, if his people are listening to this, you may see the president saying, "bring back date night." If he does that -- look at that.

HARRIS: Date night --

VELSHI: You've got this worked out.

HARRIS: C'mon, baby. C'mon, c'mon. We do this -- we're professionals here. Date night in America, right?

VELSHI: The solution to the economic crisis is date night in America.

HARRIS: Come on!

VELSHI: No, but if you think about it, you're on to something.

HARRIS: Think about the ripple effect!

VELSHI: Very direct - exactly. Very direct. If you go out and you spend money at a restaurant, go to a movie, do things like that, you are, in fact, keeping money directly in this economy. Having some fun. You're paying for it one way or the other, right? If you're paying for it in taxes, you don't get whatever the outcome of date night. Whereas if you go on a date --

HARRIS: There is an outcome possible for you.

VELSHI: There is an outcome.

HARRIS: What happened to music? All right. Anyway -- we don't have the budget for it.

Join the conversation at "Ask Ali." There it is. Couple of ways you can do it. Send your questions, your comments to our CNN blog page at CNN.com/tony. And, of course, you can find me, you can find Ali on Facebook and Twitter.

We've got to get to break. We're so long in this segment. Got to go.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: "Fix Our Schools." CNN is taking a week-long look at the nation's education crisis. We're also shining a spotlight on the success stories and highlighting the things that working. Nancy Grasmick is Maryland state superintendent of schools, and she is joining me from Baltimore. And if you watch this program with this anchor right here, you know that I'm a big fan of this lady. Nancy, it is great to see you again. Thanks for your time today.

NANCY GRASMICK, MARYLAND SUPERINTENDENT OF SCHOOLS: It's wonderful to be with you, Tony.

HARRIS: Well, Nancy, look, Maryland has had a lot of success with the performance of its public schools. A lot of number-one rankings. So, let's start here. What are some of the keys to achieving that success? What's working for you?

GRASMICK: I think what's working for us is the fact that we have really worked hard to recruit great principals and great teachers. We have had an enormous amount of money created by our general assembly and various governors to support our initiatives in education in Maryland. It continues to rank as a number-one priority in the state of Maryland. And because we have 24 local school systems, we have a cohesiveness that I don't think many states have.

HARRIS: Yes. Your state was a winner - congratulations -- in the president's Race to the Top initiative. What problems are you going to target with your portion of those dollars?

GRASMICK: Well, the first problem we're going to target will have to do with turning around chronically underperforming schools. We just have a basic philosophy that no child should have to attend a failing school by accident or where that child might live. So, that is our number one priority.

Beyond that is to ratchet up the academic material for all of our students, because we think we're a nationally ranked school system, number one. But we want to be world-class. And in order to do that, we have to begin to integrate international benchmarks in our work. So, that's another challenge.

And finally, we need to do much more in a deep way with the use of technology. You know, our students are wired in many ways, different from the way we were wired when we were growing up. And technology can be incredible in terms of its ability for students to learn how to do research, for teachers to be able to use tool kits to improve their skills. So we're using technology in a very deep way.

HARRIS: Hey, and, Nancy, I know the answer to the question of whether or not you want more parental involvement is yes, but what can be done to get more parents involved in the educational life of their kids?

GRASMICK: Well, I think, first of all, we sometimes structure our interactions with parents as though we were back in the '50s. Parents are working today, or we have single-parent families.

HARRIS: Yes.

GRASMICK: And we have to accommodate a different school schedule for these parents to be engaged. They can't jeopardize losing their job because we're telling them to come in at 12:00 in the afternoon. And so I think that's an important consideration. Most of our parents are sophisticated in terms of the use of the Internet and we have to do much more in terms of that kind of communication.

HARRIS: Hey, Nancy, one more for you.

GRASMICK: So I think it's a changing dynamic.

HARRIS: Yes. One more quick one for you.

GRASMICK: Yes.

HARRIS: And I need an answer to this. Look to a future for me here where we've close the achievement gap in this country, where black and Latino and white kids are all achieving more evening than they are right now. What would that mean for our country?

GRASMICK: It would mean everything for our country, because we are becoming more diverse every single day. And that is the lens through which we wrote our Race to the Top application, to eliminate the achievement gap while accelerating the performance of every single group. It would be huge for this country.

HARRIS: Nancy, great to see you. I'm heading home soon --

GRASMICK: Great to see you, Tony.

HARRIS: And I'm going to find you when I get home. Nancy Grasmick, superintendent of schools in Maryland.

GRASMICK: Thank you.

HARRIS: And still to come, can you imagine keeping track of almost 6 million students from kindergarten age through 12th grade? This man, right here, he does it every day. He is superintendent of California's public school system. We will get his take on the state of schools in just a minute. You're in the CNN NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: OK. Once again this week we are tackling the issue of fixing our schools. In Los Angeles now, Jack O'Connell. He is the head of the entire school system in our most populous state of California.

Good to see you, sir.

I've got to tell you, we have heard about the budget challenges in California. If you would, take a moment and talk about some of the successes you point to in the California school system.

JACK O'CONNELL, CALIFORNIA SUPERINTENDENT OF SCHOOLS: Well, Tony, thank you for having me again.

The successes are really on the faces of our children. And we are seeing, for the last eight years, test scores go up really across the board. English, language arts, math. We have 50 percent or more of our students proficient or advanced. We have very high standards here. We have more students reading at grade level than we've ever had before. We're seeing a narrowing of the achievement gap and we need to accelerate that, much like Nancy's doing in Maryland.

HARRIS: Uh-huh.

O'CONNELL: We have more students eligible for college/university. So we're seeing our hard work paying off here. More students proficient or advanced than we've ever had before. And really it's due to the hard-working teachers, our classified personnel, our administrators, school board members, each and every day. One thousand school districts, 10,000 schools. As you pointed out, over 6 million students.

HARRIS: Yes. Hey, Jack, what are the continuing challenges you face in your system?

O'CONNELL: Well, certainly our diversity is both a challenge and also a great strength, Tony. And we need to be even smarter to take advantage of that diversity. But keep in mind, over half of our students here qualify for free and reduced lunch. Almost 40 percent of our kids go home from school every day and speak a language other than English. That's perhaps best represented by the fact that 39 percent of our kindergarten kids came to school today to learn the English language. In K-12, it's one out of four. And 11 percent of our kids are special education. And over 100 different languages spoken in several of our larger urban school districts.

HARRIS: Wow. Wow.

O'CONNELL: So we have a multitude of challenges. But we also have the students with the greatest potential on the planet. And we're putting in place a system, a new culture, high standards, high expectations for all of our students.

HARRIS: Wow, Jack, that sounds good.

California did not win any federal funds in the Race to the Top initiative. Now critics say a major reason is the failure of the teachers' union to cooperate on the issue of teacher evaluations. What's your take on that?

O'CONNELL: I think that's part right. I was also disappointed, we applied for a technology grant about six months ago and we were not successful in that. And then when our Race to the Top grant was analyzed, you know, we're criticized for not being a little bit, you know, farther along in terms of technology.

But we need to do a better job to get all of our stakeholders to buy in. We need to get, like Nancy talked about, even greater parental involvement. I really hope that the -- you know, home front can become an extension of the school front. We want our teachers to be technology-proficient. Each teacher needs to have his or her own web page so that our parents can link up and actually see what that homework assignment is, know when the test paper is -- know when the test is. Know when the homework assignment is due. And when we can do that, then we really have that connectivity that will make a difference.

O'CONNELL: Well, that's good, Jack. And I'll ask you the same parting question I asked of Nancy a moment ago. Look to a future for me where we've closed the achievement gap in this country where black and Latino and white kids are all achieving more evenly. What would that mean for our country?

O'CONNELL: What that really means for us, Tony, is, it's no longer simply a moral imperative, it's no longer a social imperative, it really is an economic imperative. I know many of your -- many, many viewers and listeners are familiar with the Mckinzy (ph) Report that came out recently that talked about literally trillions of dollars in economic productivity could be, you know, contributed to this great country if we could eliminate that achievement gap.

I mean, I believe if we can eliminate the achievement gap, every state budget would be balanced and indeed the national budget would be balanced as well. So, you know, closing the achievement gap is no longer just a moral imperative today, it really is an economic imperative and must be part of our overall strategy for economic recovery.

HARRIS: Jack, we want you to have, we need you to have a terrific school year. And thanks for your time today.

HARRIS: Thank you for having me again, Tony. It's always nice to be with you.

HARRIS: It's our pleasure.

How do you get girls more interested in science and math? Ali Velshi continues our education theme, and he will talk with singer Mary J. Blige -- wow -- about her partnership with NASA to peak their interest. You won't want to miss that. We're back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: Right, right, right. So, the man has like 25 jobs. So --

ALI VELSHI, CNN ANCHOR: Though I'm never on "What's Hot."

HARRIS: So take "What's Hot." There you go.

JOSH LEVS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: (INAUDIBLE).

HARRIS: There you go.

VELSHI: All right, what's -- time now with Josh Levs joining me with a look at "What's Hot."

LEVS: But this (INAUDIBLE) because the first story is about dictionary and how they might not be publishing it anymore. It might go online.

VELSHI: You make me sad.

LEVS: Well, the only dictionary in this building is the one you like to stand on when you're doing live shots next to me.

VELSHI: That's why I'm sad the dictionary's going away.

LEVS: Take it away.

VELSHI: Because really, when I take it out, this is how tall I actually am.

LEVS: Oh, man.

VELSHI: Go ahead. You have 30 seconds.

LEVS: Ucworld.com (ph).

And, finally, the other really cool story you should check out from cnn.com, right now there are dying dogs in China. This is like a new craze.

VELSHI: They're putting color on them.

LEVS: They're putting color on them.

VELSHI: OK.

LEVS: Not the dogs are dying. No, no, they're -- and they're not only painting them, but they paint them specifically to look like mascots and other animals. We've got one that looks like a panda bear. We've got one that looks like some mascots that we're not familiar with in this country.

Apparently, it's the new craze. Look, this is a dog. Come back to the screen. This is a dog. I'm not kidding. And this is one of the hottest stories on cnn.com today.

And that, sir, is "What's Hot."

VELSHI: What do I do now? Tony.

LEVS: We go to break.

VELSHI: Oh, we're going to a break. We'll be right back.

LEVS: I got you before (ph).

HARRIS: Nice. Nice.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: Good times today. Let's get you to the man, Ali Velshi. And CNN NEWSROOM continues right now.