I have spent a large chunk of my life either in school or thinking about school. When your mother is a lifelong teacher (fourth grade) the issue is hard to avoid. My first paid writing was about school – while a high-school senior, I wrote a weekly news-about-campus column in the local Westport, Conn., Town Crier, for which I earned three dollars a week. Not as much as I had pocketed from my first media-related job, delivering the Bridgeport (Conn.) Post, at age 11, but it was a start. I began my current writing gig shortly before graduating Northwestern University. A professor of mine whose second job was music editor of the Chicago Tribune encouraged me to freelance for his paper. I reported on drag racing, the Jackson Five and the art of panhandling, among other topics, and then found my niche after taking over as manager of a local Little League team, a position I would hold for 20 years. Youth issues. It was the best beat I ever had. Children – if they trust you – have no self-editing mechanism. They have the refreshing habit of telling you exactly what they think. I began by writing on sports matters – a 12-year-old baseball star faced with pressure from fellow players to carry the ball club; the loneliness of a Korean child eager to assimilate at his school, who had to beg his father to let him try out for the middle-school basketball team. That led to a weekly, general interest youth-issues column in the Tribune – a job that returned me to school. I spent two or three days a week chasing stories in Chicago-area classrooms. Eventually I moved to New York and became a senior editor at React, a teen newsweekly published by Parade. Later I served as editor in chief at NBA Inside Stuff, a pro basketball magazine for tweens published by Sports Illustrated For Kids. Along the way I wrote one children’s book (The Super Book of Baseball) and edited another (Rising Stars: The 10 Best Young Players in the NBA). My work also appeared in the New York Times Magazine, the New York Times Sunday Review, Wired, Men’s Journal, Sports Illustrated and Outside, among other publications. Then, nine years ago I married a Norwalk, Conn., elementary-school speech pathologist and began mentoring troubled boys in her building. It led to the idea for my latest book, Raising the Curve: A Year Inside One of America’s 45,000* Failing Public Schools. Once again, I was back in school.