NPR: Eric Westervelt

NPR foreign correspondent Eric Westervelt recently wrapped up a multi-year assignment in the Middle East covering Israel and the Palestinian Territories. He took up his new position as a Berlin-based European Correspondent for NPR in May 2009.

Westervelt has reported on conflicts and their repercussions across the Middle East region for NPR, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the second Lebanon war between Hezbollah and Israel, and the on going Palestinian-Israel conflict, including fighting in the Gaza Strip ranging from internal Palestinian violence to multiple Israeli offensives in the territory. He reported in-depth on issues across the occupied West Bank and Israel. He has also reported from the Horn of Africa, Yemen and the Persian Gulf region.

Westervelt reported on the war in Iraq from the initial US-led ground invasion in 2003, traveling with the lead unit of the Army's Third Infantry Division. He later helped cover the insurgency; sectarian violence; and the on-going struggle rebuild the country in the post Saddam Hussein-era.

Westervelt's coverage at home and abroad has helped NPR win broadcast journalism's highest honors, including contributions to a 2002 George Foster Peabody Award to NPR for coverage of the September 11th terrorist attacks in the US and its aftermath; a 2003 Alfred I. DuPont - Columbia University award for NPR's coverage of 9-11 and the war in Afghanistan; as well as duPont-Columbia University top honors again in 2004 and again in 2007 for NPR's coverage of the war in Iraq and affect on Iraqi society, among other awards.

Westervelt's reports are heard on NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and NPR's hourly newscasts, and appear online at npr.org

Prior to his Middle East assignment, Westervelt covered military affairs for NPR News reporting on a wide range of defense, national security and foreign policy issues. Before that Westervelt reported for NPR's National Desk, covering some of the biggest stories in recently memory, including the shootings at Columbine High School, the explosion of TWA flight 800 and the Florida presidential recount. For the National Desk Westervelt also reported on national trends in law enforcement and crime fighting, including police tactics, use of force, the drug war, racial profiling and the legal and political battles over firearms in America. Westervelt's work on the National Desk also contributed to another Peabody Award for an NPR series on the most influential American musical works of the 20th Century.

Before joining NPR, Westervelt worked as a reporter in Oregon and a news director and reporter in New Hampshire and reported for Monitor Radio, the broadcast edition of the Christian Science Monitor.

Westervelt is a graduate of the Putney School. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in American Studies from Reed College in Portland, Oregon. He and his wife Lisa currently live in Germany.

President-elect Donald Trump has picked billionaire Betsy DeVos, a Michigan Republican activist and philanthropist who is a strong supporter of school choice but has limited experience with public education, as his secretary of education.

DeVos, 58, is a former chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party and helped push a failed 2000 ballot proposal to amend the Michigan state Constitution to create a voucher system for students to attend nonpublic schools.

We've always been a hands-on, DIY kind of nation. Ben Franklin didn't just invent the lightning rod. His creations include bifocals, swim fins, the catheter, innovative stoves and more.

Franklin, who was largely self-taught, may have been a genius, but he wasn't really an outlier when it comes to American making and tinkering.

Maybe the smart phone's hegemony makes perfect evolutionary sense: Humans are tapping a deep urge to seek out information. Our ancient food-foraging survival instinct has evolved into an info-foraging obsession; one that prompts many of us today to constantly check our phones and multitask.

Monkey see. Click. Swipe. Reward.

An 8-year-old named Ben is sitting quietly by himself in a bean bag in a classroom in Mountain View, Calif. He's writing in his journal, an assignment he created himself.

"This one was, 'What I Wish We Would Have More Of,' " Ben says, reading to me from his notebook. "I hope we have more field trips." He stops and looks up. "I have more entries, but I don't want to share them."

That's cool; it's your journal, Ben.

I ask him, What is it you like about your school?

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It's time now for a Platform Check - when we examine what Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump say they would do if they become president.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDINGS)

HILLARY CLINTON: Raise the national minimum wage so people...

The National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, is called The Nation's Report Card for good reason; the tests are administered the same way year after year, using the same kind of test booklets, to students across the country.

For Ross Roberts, it was a lack of resources that drove him from the classroom. For Danielle Painton, it was too much emphasis on testing. For Sergio Gonzalez, it was a nasty political environment.

Welcome to the U.S. teaching force, where the "I'm outta here" rate is an estimated 8 percent a year — twice that of high-performing countries like Finland or Singapore. And that 8 percent is a lot higher than other professions.

It's 8:30 a.m. and the sun is already heating up the artificial turf at Banning High School's football field. Some 70 ninth- and 10th-graders line up on their stomachs for push-ups.

For some of these kids, the "push-up ready" pose looks like a cross between an aborted yoga position and a nap.

"Come on! Butts down, hips off the ground, shoulders over your hand!" barks Los Angeles Fire Capt. Eddie Marez.

"Down!"

"One, sir!" the sleepy students shout.

"Didn't say 'up' yet. Start all over!" Marez yells.

The good news: There's an uptick in the hiring of new teachers since the pink-slip frenzy in the wake of the Great Recession.

The bad news: The new hiring hasn't made up for the teacher shortfall. Attrition is high, and enrollment in teacher preparation programs has fallen some 35 percent over the past five years — a decrease of nearly 240,000 teachers in all.

Parts of most every state in America face troubling teacher shortages: the most frequent shortage areas are math, science, bilingual education and special education.

Recent studies and government reports continue to highlight what many American's know by their wallets: Rising income differences, debt and stagnant real wages are among the biggest problems besetting the nation.

That economic inequality is reflected in America's schools, right? Absolutely.

Take a look this summer inside some of America's garages, museums and libraries and you'll see that the "maker movement" is thriving.

This hands-on, DIY culture of inventors, tinkerers and hackers is inspiring adults and children alike to design and build everything from sailboats and apps to solar cars.

And this fall, more of these chaotic workspaces, stocked with glue guns, drills and hammers, will be popping up in schools, too.

But the maker movement faces some big hurdles as it pushes into classrooms.

Here's the first big one:

Most everyone knows someone adversely affected by student debt: More than 40 million Americans are shouldering a crippling $1.3 trillion in loans.

That burden is obstructing careers, families, dreams, employment and even retirement.

Uncle Sam and Wall Street have made lots of money off the crisis.

After some 10,000 online tutorials in 10 years, Sal Khan still starts most days at his office desk in Silicon Valley, recording himself solving math problems for his Khan Academy YouTube channel.

"OK, let F of X equal A times X to the N plus," he says cheerfully as he begins his latest.

Khan Academy has helped millions of people around the world — perhaps hundreds of millions — learn math, science and other subjects for free.

Some college lectures aren't just dull, they're ineffective. Discuss, people.

You did. Our recent stories on the Nobel Prize winning Stanford physicist who's pushing for big changes in how large universities teach science to undergraduates generated lots of interest, comments, questions, shares and listens — online and on NPR One.

Bloodletting to keep the "humors" in balance was a leading medical treatment from ancient Greece to the late 19th century. That's hard to believe now, in the age of robot-assisted surgery, but "doctors" trusted lancets and leeches for centuries.

To Nobel laureate Carl Wieman, the college lecture is the educational equivalent of bloodletting, one long overdue for revision.

John B. King Jr was recently confirmed by the Senate as the new U.S. Secretary of Education for the remainder of President Obama's term, succeeding Arne Duncan.

With a slew of pressing issues from pre-K to college debt, I wanted to find out what King thinks he can get done in such a short window of time. Here's our conversation.

Kelly Henderson loves her job, teaching at Newton South High School in a suburb west of Boston. But she's frustrated she can't afford to live in the community where she teaches: It's part of the 10th most expensive housing market in the nation.

"For people in the private sector, they're probably saying 'Oh poor you, you can't live in the community where you work, what's the big deal?' " says Henderson, 35. "And I guess part of the nature of public education and why it's a different kind of job, is that it's all-consuming — as it should be."

Has American education research mostly languished in an echo chamber for much of the last half century?

Harvard's Thomas Kane thinks so.

Why have the medical and pharmaceutical industries and Silicon Valley all created clear paths to turn top research into game-changing innovations, he asks, while education research mostly remains trapped in glossy journals?

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The Fillmore District of San Francisco was once known as the "Harlem of the West" for its rich African-American culture and jazz roots. This week, the neighborhood's beloved Saint John Coltrane African Orthodox Church may be forced to find a new home.

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A group of 10- and 11-year-olds giggle as professional cellist Frederic Rosselet flexes his wrist as if he's made of rubber. "Really flexible in your wrist," he tells the students. "It's your arm basically that does the work."

The cello students at Downer Elementary School in San Pablo, Calif., drag their bows across their cello's strings, following Rosselet's wrist-shaking lead.

Screeeech. It needs work.

"Guys, wanna try that again? 'Forte' means?"

"Loud!" the students reply.

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