#60 America's Failing High Schools: Ideas That Work - Liz Willen

Improving America's high schools is an exceptionally complex and difficult task. But all across the country the most enlightened educators are working to narrow the gap between student achievement and the needs of an evolving workplace.

Our guest, Liz Willen, is editor-in-chief of the groundbreaking  Hechinger Report. Using solutions journalism, data, stories and research from classrooms and campuses, Hechinger looks at how education can be improved and why it matters.

"The best high schools, whether they're charter or public, to me have a sense of purpose: A central idea and a team working together," Liz tells us in this episode of "How Do We Fix It?"

 But there are scores of barriers to providing children with the education they need to succeed in later life.  This learning gap between where we are and where the country needs to be is one reason why so many Americans feel disillusioned about the future. 

 "Kids are coming out of the high schools not ready for the jobs that are going to be available and often not ready for college level work."

Solutions:

  • How can we improve our STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) instruction? Half of all U.S. high schools do not offer calculus. Only 63% have courses in physics. These are 2 concrete solutions:

 1. The Woodrow Wilson Foundation offers a teaching fellowship for people who have a background in STEM and would like to teach in “high-need” secondary schools.

 2. P-TECH (Pathways in Technology Early College High School) is a partnership between IBM and the City University of New York. Students are taught core subjects as well as computer science. Graduates complete 2 years of college work. After graduation, alumni have the opportunity to get a job with IBM. P-TECH will be opening another 25 high schools over the next 3 years, stay tuned

  • Why project-based learning can boost achievement and lead to greater engagement among high school students.
  • The need for more guidance counselors to help kids with psychological, social and academic issues.
  • The importance of role models in schools that struggle with violence and high drop out rates. 

We also learn a fundamental lesson: Why one-size-fits-all solutions usually don't work.

#58 Our Problem With Polls. Gary Langer: How Do We Fix It?

Are opinion polls accurate?  Did they miss the rise of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders?  Do they properly measure America's increasingly sharp political and cultural divisions?  What's the difference between a well-designed poll conducted with careful methodology and a sloppy opt-in online survey?

Our guest is Gary Langer, an internationally recognized opinion researcher and longtime director of polling at ABC News. He has overseen and analyzed more than 750 surveys on a broad range of topics.

Gary has a passion for numbers and explains what listeners should know about polls.  He tells us that surveys taken at least a year ago - when many pundits dismissed Trump as an outlier - clearly showed that his views on banning oversees Muslim visitors and building a wall along border with Mexico had substantial support among Republican voters. Trump led the  GOP field throughout the lead-up to the primary season.  

"The news media have for far too long indulged themselves in the lazy luxury of being both data hungry and math phobic," Gary tells us.  "I would suggest polls are anti-pundit. A good quality poll ... holds a pundit's feet to the fire "

In this episode we get some vital takeaways on how well researched randomized polls are conducted and what changes have been made recently to ensure that a representative sample is reached.

#3 Fix It Shorts. Should Britain Leave the European Union?: Steve Hilton

Would Britain face lasting economic and political harm if it votes to quit the European Union in June 23rd's referendum?  Our show looks at the case for Brexit.

Steve Hilton, one of David Cameron's closest friends and a former senior political advisor to the Prime Minister, is a leading member of the Vote Leave campaign.  He tells us in this episode that a bureaucratic, over-centralized EU has become far too entangled in British life and is incapable of reform.

Richard and Jim disagree on the best outcome for Britain and Europe.  They discuss some of the arguments for and against.

Note: This episode was recorded shortly before Thursday's tragic murder of British MP, Jo Cox. Several campaign events were cancelled after the attack. 

#51 The challenge of self-driving cars. Eddie Alterman: How do we fix it?

With technology in overdrive, self-driving cars are no longer a fantasy.  The first autonomous cars and trucks made by major auto manufacturers could be on the road within several years.

But "Fix It" guest Eddie Alterman, Editor-in-Chief of Car and Driver magazine says not so fast.  "It's a scary concept anyway you look at it," he tells us. 

"The autonomous car is a very inelegant, very complex and a very fraught solution to the problem of texting while driving... and of information coming into the car when people should be driving."

For Google, Apple, Microsoft and other big data companies, autonomous cars are a big opportunity. Instead of keeping their eyes on the road, motorists could use their driving time to consume more digital media. 

But Eddie Alterman says a mix of self-driving and traditional vehicles on the road would create danger. "People will deal with or accept flawed humans crashing into each other. I don't think people will accept supposedly fail-safe machines crashing into each other"

(above photo: Lokan Sardari

Solutions:

  • Understand the danger of mixing traditional cars with self-driving vehicles on the same roadway.
  • Promote the use of background technology to make driving safer. Examples: cruise control, vehicle stability, lane departure warning systems.
  • Adopt autonomous vehicles in "closed" environments such as industrial sites.
  • Encourage car-sharing and other initiatives to reduce commute times.  
  • Resist the temptation to encourage drivers to surrender control of their time behind-the-wheel.

#48 John Gable Do You Know How Biased You Are? John Gable of AllSides.com

"At the end of the day everybody is biased," says our guest, John Gable, founder CEO of AllSides. "You're biased by what you know. You're biased by what you know and you're biased by your entire human existence before then."

AllSides is unique in how it covers the news - displaying stories on its front page - from different points of view. It urges readers to "engage in civil dialog and discover a deeper understanding of the issues."

The left-hand column at AllSides has stories from liberal-leaning sites (New York Times, Huffington Post, Salon), the right column features conservative-leaning media coverage of the same event (Fox News, The Blaze). The centrist column plays things down the middle (USA Today, Christian Science Monitor).

"Part of what we do is help people understand that they are biased as well," says John.

With deep experience in technology and his former involvement in political campaigns, he understands how so many of live in a bubble - only listening to those we agree with. And why that's a threat to our democracy.

Solutions:

#47 A Better Way To Report The News: David Bornstein

In this episode, we interview David Bornstein, who writes for the Fixes blog of The New York Times and is co-founder of SolutionsJournalismNetwork.org.

"The news tends to focus far more on what's wrong than on the credible efforts around the world of people who are trying to fix things, whether they are successful or not." David tells us. 

"I think the main thing is that the problems scream and the solutions whisper. The problems are always clamoring for attention. Solutions, you really do have to be proactive and go look for them."

David says that solutions journalism focuses not just on what may be working, but how and why it appears to be working, or alternatively, why it may be stumbling. Using the best available evidence, it delves deep into the how-to’s of problem solving, often structuring stories as puzzles or mysteries that investigate questions like: What models are having success reducing the dropout rate in public schools? How do they actually work? What are they doing differently than others that’s resulting in a better outcome?

Solutions Journalism network goes into newsrooms around the country, and trains editors and reporters on the imperatives of the "now what" aspect of reporting.  Solutions journalism helps news organizations play a stronger role in the communities they serve.