Need to Know, March 18, 2011: Crisis in Japan, stories of academic transformation

The devastating earthquake in Japan has prompted fears of a nuclear crisis as the country desperately tries to curb the damage. This week, Need to Know provides an update on Japan’s unfolding tragedy.

Also, we reprise some of the best segments from our hour-long special on education, which aired earlier this year. We feature three dramatic stories of academic transformation – focusing on literacy, physical education and science education.Watch the individual segments:

Essay: Japan’s ‘third atomic bomb’

Need to Know correspondent Abby Leonard reports from Japan, where she spoke with a survivor of the Hiroshima nuclear attack about Japan’s most recent nuclear crisis.

What happens after Japan’s nuclear crisis?

Michael Levi, a nuclear expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, discusses the future of nuclear power here and around the world after Japan’s earthquake.

School of thought in Brockton, Mass.

In 1998, when Massachusetts implemented new standardized testing, administrators at Brockton High School, the largest public school in the state, learned that more than 75 percent of their 4,000 students would fail to graduate. But thanks to a small group of dedicated teachers who implemented a schoolwide program to bring reading and writing lessons into every classroom, even gym, Brockton is now one of the highest performing schools in the state.

A physical education in Naperville

While physical education has been drastically cut back across the country — in response to budget concerns and test score pressures — Naperville Central High School, in the Chicago suburbs, has embraced a culture of fitness: PE is a daily, graded requirement. And for one group of struggling students, there’s an innovative program to schedule PE right before their most challenging classes. In the six years since that program started, students who signed up for PE directly before English read on average a half year ahead of those who didn’t, and students who took PE before math showed dramatic improvement in their standardized tests.

Good chemistry

Most people agree that for the U.S. to remain competitive in the global economy, we need more people in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). But today, two-thirds of college students who start out majoring in the sciences end up switching concentrations. One university in Maryland is bucking that trend. Under the leadership of Dr. Freeman Hrabowski, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, is transforming the way science is taught, emphasizing lab settings and small group problem solving. The results: more students majoring in subjects like chemistry and more students passing the class. The university has also been a leader in minority achievement in STEM fields. In the school’s Meyerhoff Scholars Program, which focuses on high-achieving minority students, nearly 90 percent graduate with degrees in science or engineering.

Web-Exclusive Segments

Education roundtable

Alison Stewart leads a lively discussion with education reformers about practical solutions that work. Panelists include: Dr. Susan Szachowicz, principal of Brockton High School in Massachusetts and one of the reform leaders; Zakiyah Ansari, parent leader with the Coalition for Educational Justice in New York; and Dr. Pedro Noguera, professor of education at New York University and author of “The Trouble with Black Boys…And Other Reflections on Race, Equity and the Future of Public Education.”

Jon Meacham: In perspective

Why access to a good public education is the civil rights issue of our time. An essay by Jon Meacham.

Girl mathletes run the numbers

While opportunities for women in the sciences have grown, women remain a minority in co-ed math competitions. But at this prestigious high school-level math contest, the winner is guaranteed to be a girl.

Brockton’s retired teachers devise a script for success

Brockton High School’s principal and three retired teachers brainstorm to come up with a “script” for those looking to replicate the school’s success.

Getting kids out of their seats

At Naperville Central High, a suburban school outside of Chicago, educators are committed to combining movement with learning. In many classrooms here, teachers are getting their kids up using “brain breaks.” The idea is that splitting up a lesson with exercises will help kids stay more focused and attentive. And educators here say it doesn’t cost a penny.

Share your education ideas!

If you’re an educator and you have one practical idea that can be implemented in a classroom to help students, then take part in our Education Ideas project. Upload a video that discusses your idea to our YouTube channel, and we’ll pick some of the best ones to showcase on our website, and possibly our national broadcast.
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Comments

  • Tony Coccia

    I have had complaints about NTK in the past, but tonight’s segments on education were terrific. Even though a number of political issues were glossed over, one had to delight in the determination and commitment these educators had to improving our schools. Instead of pointing fingers at this party or that, these folks sat down to analyze and remedy problems.

    For many years I have been disturbed by the lack of required and meaningful physical ed programs for all students so it was really rewarding to hear about the many benefits such programs have. I hope the day will come when the ridiculously large amounts of taxpayer money spent by high schools to field winning athletic teams [and all they require-stadiums, uniforms, liability insurance] will be spent instead on exercise programs and equipment that will benefit all. Let the few glory-driven parents and children who want to play interscholastic sports fund those themselves [in our school district they are called "club sports"].

    So good and even-handed a program I may even donate this year.

  • Citizen

    Bravo for the segment on Education! Doing what works is the message that needs to get thru to all educational institutions. Your segment highlighted what every school needs to be doing: gathering together and finding solutions to helping students learn. When teachers and administrators are engaged in the process, and there is demonstrated progress, the system changes for the best. Learning is at the core to so many challenges we face. The more we all know about HOW we learn, and HOW to support learning, and to share our process with others, the more we all grow. Thank you for a wonderful segment, and I will enjoy exploring more about the program in the future.

  • Citizen

    Bravo for the segment on Education! Doing what works is the message that needs to get thru to all educational institutions. Your segment highlighted what every school needs to be doing: gathering together and finding solutions to helping students learn. When teachers and administrators are engaged in the process, and there is demonstrated progress, the system changes for the best. Learning is at the core to so many challenges we face. The more we all know about HOW we learn, and HOW to support learning, and to share our process with others, the more we all grow. Thank you for a wonderful segment, and I will enjoy exploring more about the program in the future.

  • Anonymous

    I believe we may be being misled about the need for STEM, and wish to see further discussion about so-called “scientist shortage.” Early in her article, “Does the U.S. Produce Too Many Scientists?” (Scientific American, 2/2010), Beryl Leiff Benderly (a scientific labor force issue writer) quotes Bill Gates’ 2008 testimony to Congress. He said, “We face a critical shortfall of skilled scientists and engineers who can develop new breakthrough technologies.”

    Then Benderly writes: “But many less publicized Americans, including prominent labor economists, disagree. ‘There is no scientist shortage,’ says Harvard University economist Richard Freeman, a leading expert on the academic labor force…” Read the whole piece @ http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=does-the-us-produce-too-m

    While there are certainly STEM labor needs, they are much, much narrower than Gates and others are ever willing to say.

    My daughter, who will soon be entering a PhD program in chemistry at a top university, has told me how shocked she and her peers are to find that, after dedicating so many years of their lives to being excellent students in high level math and science courses and being told their futures are guaranteed because of the high need, their current job prospects are actually quite grim. What they were not told is that many of the science jobs in which they had imagined themselves have been outsourced. The fact of the matter is that there are a lot of discouraged new chemistry, and probably other science, PhDs who are deciding to next go to law or business school, or to resign themselves to years of low pay and long hours in some lesser academic setting, because of the dreary situation.

    In other words, there may well good reason to doubt the STEM ed reform theme.

  • Disappointed

    For the past 2 weeks, nothing but replays

  • Ilektra

    In the opening segment, they forgot to mention the floods in Pakistan… But then, no one in the US really wants to remember or acknowledge the horrific conditions there, they may have to confront their own evil doing when it comes to bombing the country themselves…