Eric Westervelt

Eric Westervelt is a San Francisco-based correspondent for NPR's National Desk. He has reported on major events for the network from wars and revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa to historic wildfires and terrorist attacks in the U.S.

For a decade as a foreign correspondent, Westervelt served as NPR reporter and bureau chief in Baghdad, Jerusalem, and Berlin. He's covered the Pentagon, the war in Afghanistan, and the U.S. invasion and troubled occupation of Iraq, including the insurgency, sectarian violence, and the resulting social and political tumult.

He has reported on the ground from North Africa during revolutions there, including from Tahrir Square during fall of Egypt's Mubarak, the front lines during the civil war and NATO intervention in Libya, and the popular uprising in Tunisia. He's also reported from Yemen, the Arabian Gulf states, and the Horn of Africa, including Ethiopia, Djibouti, and the Somalia border region.

Westervelt was among the first western reporters to reach Baghdad during the 2003 U.S-led overthrow of Saddam Hussein embedded with the lead elements of the army's Third Infantry Division. He was also among the first western reporters to enter the Gaza Strip via Egypt during the 2008-2009 Israeli ground offensive in the coastal Palestinian enclave known as the Gaza War.

Westervelt has reported extensively across the U.S. on big stories and breaking news, from mass shootings to natural disasters and police use of force. He helped launch NPR's innovative, award-winning education platform NPR Ed, and serves as a guest host for NPR news shows.

Westervelt is currently helping to launch a collaborative team that covers America's criminal justice system, including issues and reform efforts surrounding prisons, policing, juvenile justice, and the courts.

He's been honored with broadcast journalism's highest honors, including the 2002 George Foster Peabody Award for coverage of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the aftermath; the 2003 Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia University Award for coverage of Sept. 11 and the subsequent war in Afghanistan; and 2004 and 2007 DuPont-Columbia Awards for NPR's in-depth coverage of the war in Iraq and its effect on Iraqi society. Westervelt's 2009 multimedia series with the late NPR photojournalist David Gilkey won an Overseas Press Club Award. He also recently shared in an Edward R. Murrow RTNDA Award with NPR Ed for innovative education coverage.

In 2013, Westervelt returned to the U.S. from overseas as a visiting journalism fellow at Stanford University with the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowship

As Jerusalem bureau chief, Westervelt covered the failed diplomatic efforts to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and the social, political, and cultural news across Israel and the occupied West Bank. He reported from the front lines of the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah known as the Second Lebanon War. He was on the ground for multiple Israeli-Hamas battles in the Gaza Strip and the Fatah-Hamas civil war and battle of Gaza City that led to the current political split within the Palestinian Authority.

While based in Berlin, Westervelt covered a broad range of news across the region, including the Euro debt crisis, the rise of far right nationalists, national elections, and more.

Prior to his Middle East assignments, Westervelt covered military affairs and the Pentagon out of Washington, DC, reporting on the major defense, national security, and foreign policy issues of the day. He began his work at NPR on the network's national desk where his coverage spanned the mass shooting at Columbine High School, the presidential vote recount following the 2000 election, and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks reporting from the Ground Zero recovery in New York City, among many other stories.

On the lighter side, Westervelt also produces occasional features for NPR's Arts Desk, including for the series American Anthem, as well as Rock Hall Award profiles of blues great Freddie King and an exploration of roots rock pioneer Roy Orbison for NPR's 50 Great Voices series. His feature on the making of John Coltrane's jazz classic "A Love Supreme" was part of NPR's project on the most influential American musical works of the 20th century, which was recognized with a Peabody Award.

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

Westervelt grew up in upstate New York. He's a graduate of the Putney School and received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Reed College. He was a recipient in 2013 of a J.S. Knight Fellowship at Stanford University.

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 Americans 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.

Recent government sanctions against predatory for-profit colleges that preyed on veterans by using inflated job promises have opened the window on the wider challenges of helping veterans transition from service to higher education.

In his State of the Union address this week, President Obama talked about the progress he's made on big issues, including education. And he laid out a new goal: expanding computer science in America's schools.

"In the coming years," the president said, "we should build on that progress, by providing pre-K for all, offering every student the hands-on computer science and math classes that make them job-ready on day one."

In 2015, Khan Academy, which pioneered free, online video tutorials and lectures that have reached millions of students around the world, sought new ways of reaching new people.

It had already partnered with everyone from NASA to the Museum of Modern Art, and this past year Khan joined forces with the SAT's overlord, the College Board. The goal, in the parlance of our times, is to disrupt the billion-dollar test prep industry.

Jordan Shapiro drew a lot of attention this year with his four misconceptions about the future of education. As with much of his work, he tries to take a cattle prod to the conventional education narrative.

Even some of those seeking the nation's highest office have weighed in on college debt with payment plans and relief proposals. Voters and the media ask for details on the campaign trail. And that highlights a remarkable shift: Policymakers and politicians are paying attention to this issue like never before.

And it's not as simple or cynical as trying to woo the important student vote. The fact is, the student loan burden in America is second only to mortgages in consumer debt. The government estimates that some 41 million students together owe more than $1.2 trillion.

Eric Westervelt of the NPR Ed team is guest-hosting for the next few weeks on Here & Now, the midday news program from NPR and WBUR.

For our Tools of the Trade series, we're exploring the iconic, seminal tools that some of us remember using in our early schooling. Things like the slide rule and protractor, the Bunsen burner and the planetarium.

This week's viral videos of a Columbia, S.C., deputy's push-the-chair-over-and-drag-the-student arrest of a 16-year-old high school girl in her classroom has refocused attention on the expanding role of police in schools, "zero tolerance" discipline policies and the disproportionate punishment of minorities.

For the first time in 25 years, America's fourth- and eighth-graders are doing worse in math, at least according to The National Assessment of Educational Progress.

NAEP, also known as the Nation's Report Card, tests students in both grades every two years on math and reading ability. This year, math scores reversed a long, upward trend with both grades testing lower than they did in 2013.

Leaders in business, education and politics love to talk up how important Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education is for America's future.

Innovations! Jobs! Progress! are all at stake, they often argue.

Just last week, President Obama hosted scores of mostly young people for an evening of stargazing and fun space talk at the second-ever White House Astronomy Night.

Our Ideas series is exploring innovation in education.

It's 20-year-old Randall Lofton's third shot at college. He's already wiped out twice. Too much partying and basketball, he says, and not enough studying. "I didn't apply myself."

Lofton is now trying to balance a full-time job with three classes at community college. He's taking a mix of online and in-class work at Valencia College in Orlando, Fla.

Our Ideas series is exploring innovation in education.

Some version of this criticism has likely echoed since the rise of compulsory schooling during the Progressive era: Teachers tend to teach to the middle, leaving struggling students feeling lost and more advanced students bored.

Everyone too often gets the same books, material, homework. The same level of difficulty.

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