#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.

#2 Fix It Shorts: 2016 Presidential Campaign: Lessons From History. Sean Wilentz

How many times have heard somebody say that the political campaign has reached a new low?  How much worse is the 2016 race compared to previous elections?

We asked Princeton University Professor, Sean Wilentz, to give us a history lesson. 

In his latest book, "The Politicians and the Egalitarians" Sean makes the case for pragmatism, arguing that politicians serve the country best through the art of compromise.

 On this episode, he tells us that "nasty, slimy stuff" is nothing new in Presidential campaigns, using the wild rhetoric of 1828 and 1860 as examples.  But what is new this year, Sean argues, is hyper-partisanship, "where you cannot imagine the other side even existing. You want to obliterate them. You want to wipe them off the face of the earth." 

The SOLUTIONS start with us.
 How we talk about those we disagree with.  Are you gleefully vilifying the opposition?

  • Go beyond our information silos.  Read and listen to those we disagree with. allsides.com has daily examples, looking at the news from the left, right and center. Follow journalists who cover solutions.
  • Revitalize civil discourse. If you have a strong disagreement with friends or neighbors, consider setting up a living room conversation.  

Support politicians who are pragmatic and work for common ground.
Useful articles: "What The Decline of Partisanship Would Look Like" and"How Conservatives and Progressives Will Work Together Next Year."
 

#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.