Learning Matters on PBS NewsHour: Reports By Date

These reports are made possible by the following funders:
Grade Level Reading Fund of the Tides Foundation, The Wallace FoundationThe William and Flora Hewlett Foundation , and the Tietz Family Foundation.

Common Core State Standards: Part 2 - Testing (August 14, 2013)

New tests are being developed to assess the new Common Core state standards. Will these tests be able to measure reading critically, listening carefully and working collaboratively, in addition to math and English? What happens if they don’t?Watch here.

Common Core State Standards: Part 1 - Teaching (August 13, 2013)

The “Common Core” is a national experiment that could produce a sea change in education. In Part One of this two-part series, we look at how the new standards, which emphasize skills like reading critically, listening carefully and working collaboratively, are likely to change classrooms in 45 states and the District of Columbia. Watch here.

The Language War in New Britain (July 18, 2013)

Most 3rd graders in New Britain, CT can’t read. Kelt Cooper, the district’s new superintendent, says he can fix that. He’s eliminated bilingual education classes in the majority Latino community, replacing them with an ‘English Immersion’ program that devotes much of the school day to learning English grammar. Opponents say students are being shortchanged. Watch here.

Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library (May 29, 2013)

Dolly Parton was raised in a small cabin in East Tennessee with just one book. That’s why she wants children to have books in their homes. She started giving away books 17 years ago. Today, many kids think of her as “The Book Lady” who also happens to sing. Watch here.

Problem Solvers! (May 6, 2013)

At King Middle School in Portland, ME, 8th graders spend four months studying physics, design, and much more - all in preparation for inventing alternative energy devices that improve people’s lives. Watch here.

Why Are High School Graduation Rates Up? (April 11, 2013)

For the first time in forty years, national high school graduation rates have made remarkable gains. But are they real? Watch it here.

Deeper Learning in Danville, KY (April 3, 2013)

Public schools in Danville, KY are in the process of a radical transformation. Watch it here.

Deeper Learning (January 30, 2013)

A profile of three classrooms that engage students with real-world projects. Watch it here.

The Third Grade Reading Guarantee (January 4, 2013)

You’ve heard the stats about third grade’s importance to reading. But what happens when states enact laws around it?

You can watch that piece right here.

Rocketship Schools (December 28, 2012)

Rocketship Education operates seven schools in San Jose, California that are among the top performing low income schools in the state. The dream, when founded, was replication. Although others have tried, nobody has successfully mass produced a high quality, cost effective school model. Will Rocketship be the first?

You can watch that piece right here.

School To The Rescue (November 12, 2012)

The town of Belmar was among New Jersey’s hardest hit communities in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and a fall nor’easter. With schools still closed, John Tulenko tells the story of the teachers coming to the rescue of families by turning their efforts from education to storm relief.

You can watch that piece right here.

Reach Out And Read (November 8, 2012)

Where is the one place most children go before they enter 1st grade?
a. Pre-K
b. Kindergarten
c. The doctor’s office

The answer is (c), the doctor’s office. Twenty-three years ago, a group of doctors and early childhood educators realized this and started a program called Reach Out and Read. Working with parents and medical facilities, the program has grown to distribute 6.5 million books a year to over 4 million (mostly low-income) children, nationwide.

Correspondent John Merrow brings you inside a clinic at Bellevue Hospital in New York City to see Reach Out and Read in action.

You can watch that piece right here.

Walla Walla Wine School (September 10, 2012)

This is a story, at one level, about wine — which, admittedly, isn’t our beat.

The two-year degree program in Enology and Viticulture at Walla Walla Community College has been around for about 12 years. 80 percent of program graduates are working in the wine industry, in roles ranging from vineyard managers to wine sellers.

As much as this is a story about wine, though, it’s also a story about Walla Walla — a small town like many others that was hit hard by economic reality, and what happened when the community college decided to play a part in turning things around.

You can watch that piece right here.

Providence Summer Scholars (August 20, 2012)

Providence, Rhode Island is a failing school district. Less than half of middle school students are reading on grade level, and fewer than a third are meeting targets in math. For districts like Providence, summer school is a critical time to help students catch up.

Like most districts, Providence had been offering remedial classes to students over the summer — but as in many districts, it wasn’t working, and so Providence decided to try something different. Its new program is called Summer Scholars.

Students participate in hands-on, field learning experiences that feel more like camp than summer school. Students and teachers seem to like it more, but how much are students really learning?

You can watch that piece right here.

Early College HS In South Texas (July 4-5, 2012)

What would happen if most students graduated from HS with college credit under their belt? This South Texas school district — in which 99% of the students are Hispanic and over 89% are economically disadvantaged — is finding out.

You can watch that piece right here.

Rethinking Basic Skills In Community Colleges (June 21, 2012)

Remediation classes at community colleges cost the U.S. taxpayers upwards of $3 billion per year — with sketchy results. How can we improve the process? Two Maryland schools have new plans.

You can watch that piece right here.

What Are Kids Reading? (May 14, 2012)

The Common Core is arriving in 45 states and the District of Columbia. Chances are these standards will change the books our kids are reading — but how much?

You can watch that piece right here.

Solutions In Shelbyville: A Dropout Remedy (April 25, 2012)

Shelbyville, Indiana was once the forefront of America’s dropout epidemic. But years later, things have changed … so what are they doing right? And is it replicable?

You can watch that piece right here.

Does Music Education Matter? (February 24, 2012)


How do you get to perform on stage with opera superstar Placido Domingo? For 35 low-income students from NYC public schools the answer isn’t just practice, practice, practice.

You can watch that piece right here.

Cyber Schools: Virtual Innovation? (February 23, 2012)


More than 200,000 K-12 students are now receiving their education online. John Tulenko investigates the complicated picture of cyber schools, from student achievement to financial models.

You can watch that piece right here.

Shopping For Schools In Indiana (November 9, 2011)


As consumers, we’re used to choices — Mac or PC, Toyota Prius or Ford Fusion, Nike or Adidas? Competition is said to produce better products and services. Could schools use a dose of that too?

You can watch this piece right here.

Budget Cuts in Central PA (October 11, 2011)

PA Budget

Mifflin County, PA — like small rural districts across the nation — faced big budget cuts this year. A 12 percent cut in state funding, combined with a declining enrollment, drove the district to close 5 of its 13 schools, lay off 11 percent of its staff, and reduce course offerings across the district. Classes have increased by 7-10 students, teachers say they’re overwhelmed, and students are feeling under-prepared. Is this small rural district in central PA the tip of the iceberg?

You can watch this piece right here.

Atlanta Cheating Scandal: The Human Element, And The Effects (August 8, 2011)


The Atlanta cheating scandal left a black mark on the world of education — but predominantly, we spoke of the effect on teachers, principals and admins. What about the effects on students (those whose scores were falsified) and their families? This piece investigates that side of the story.

You can watch this piece right here.

Empathy 101: A Refugee Curriculum In The South Bronx (June 20, 2011)


John Tulenko produced this piece focusing on a ninth-grade English class at Banana Kelly HS in the Bronx. They went through a remarkable curriculum in the winter of 2011 — focusing on the life hardships of those in other lands (Iraq, Sudan, etc.) and, in the process, learning a great deal about themselves.

You can watch this piece right here.

Good School, Bad School (June 6, 2011)

Good Bad

John Merrow and Cat McGrath visit a public school in the south Bronx (New York City) to attempt to answer this basic question: How do you know if a school is ‘good’ or ‘bad?’

You can watch this stand-alone piece right here.

‘Last In, First Out’ Examined In Hartford, CT (May 9, 2011)

John Tulenko examines the multi-tiered effects of ‘last in, first out’ (LIFO) in Hartford, CT — a policy that has drastically altered teacher retention, state economics, and even spawned its own vocabulary (ever heard of ‘bumping?’).

You can watch this stand-alone piece right here.

The Mooresville Tech Revolution (April 8, 2011)

In Mooresville, North Carolina, every student in grades 4-12 has a laptop (that’s over 5,000 laptops in all). It’s one of the only entirely digital districts in America — but ultimately, is that a good or bad thing for the students?

You can view this piece here.

Closing The Vocabulary Gap In Chicago Preschools (April 5, 2011)

Children raised in poverty typically enter kindergarten less prepared than their middle class peers and often never catch up. For these children — who struggle year after year — school can feel like a losing battle. More than one million students drop out every year. We visited Chicago this winter to see what educators are doing to stop the battle before it begins.

The PBS NewsHour piece and two companion podcasts can be found here.

Small Schools… Big Reforms? (December 23, 2010)

Starting almost a decade ago, New York City began closing factory-style high schools that enrolled upwards of 2,500 students and had graduation rates below 50%. To date, 26 such schools have been shuttered. In their place, the city created 123 small, open-admission, theme-based high schools enrolling only a few hundred students each. At these new schools, graduation rates are higher — as high as 90%.

But not everyone is cheering the changes and some have sued to stop it. What’s going on?

The PBS NewsHour piece and three companion podcasts can be found here.

Toledo, Ohio Peer Assistance And Review Program (December 8, 2010)

We went to Toledo, Ohio to investigate a system called PAR, or Peer Assistance and Review, that was developed by the local union and approved by the school board in 1981, nearly 30 years ago. Some now say that every school district should adopt this approach because it weeds out ineffective teachers. Can teachers be honest brokers when it comes to evaluating each other?

The PBS NewsHour piece and two companion podcasts can be found here.

Michelle Rhee (October 2007 - August 2010)

Michelle Rhee — a one-time Teach for America corps member — guided the Washington, D.C. school system for three years; during that time, she (in some respects) became the face of education reform. Learning Matters had unprecedented access for the entire ride and put together a 12-part series on Rhee’s three years in our nation’s capital.

You can view the entire series on one URL right here.

Minorities And Higher Education (September 28, 2010)

This was a stand-alone piece that appeared on PBS NewsHour. The premise: almost 60% of black and Latino students at four-year colleges and universities fail to earn diplomas. For black men, the figure is even worse — about 70% don’t graduate. But if it doesn’t have to be this way and a number of universities are proving it.

At the State University of New York at Stony Brook, a diverse institution with 16,000 undergraduates, 70% of black students and 65% of Latino students earn diplomas. Stony Brook uses a carefully thought out approach to help low-income, mostly minority students reach the finish line and it could be a model for the rest of the nation.

You can watch this piece right here.

Race To The Top (December 2009 - September 2010)

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has more power than any other education secretary in the nation’s history. Duncan possesses 4.35 billion dollars in discretionary funds to push the reforms his administration believes will turn around the country’s failing schools, such as more charters and higher standards. What’s more, to get a piece of the money states must compete for it.

The competition is called the “Race to the Top,” and it is unlike any education reform efforts of the past. This series of reports seeks to cover the history of education reforms in the U.S. and tracks the current competition for a piece of that multi-billion dollar fund.

There were four videos and nine podcasts in this series. Get them all right here.

Paul Vallas (October 2007 - July 2010)

This is a 12-part, three-year look at Paul Vallas’ challenges and ultimate legacy as Chancellor of the Recovery School System in New Orleans, chronicling his view of charter schools, the effect of Teach for America corps members on his area, and more.

You can view the entire Paul Vallas series on one URL right here.

Devastation In Detroit (May 4, 2010)

Among Detroit’s many problems: a public school system so deep in debt that in 2009, the state took it over. Michigan’s governor hired Robert Bobb, a former city manager, to close the $316 million deficit, but Bobb hasn’t restricted his attention to money matters.

Just three percent of Detroit’s fourth graders scored proficient in math on a national test in 2009, and Bobb says he intends to do something about it. He hired a curriculum expert, and planned for school mergers and redesigns, even a school that would house pre-kindergarten through community college students. But he has a problem - Detroit still has an elected school board, and they say they control academics, not Bobb.

You can watch this piece and its one companion podcast right here.

Schools In The Recession (December 17, 2009)

Rising unemployment, home foreclosures and more people on food stamps are only the most obvious signs that the recession rages on. In these tough times, public schools are feeling the pinch too. To find how they’re coping we visited two elementary schools in hard-hit Arizona, which ranks 50th in the nation in per pupil spending. What we found was inspiring & surprising. But with more cuts coming, will that be enough?

You can access the program, a bonus video and a podcast right here.

Holding The Line In Rochester, New York (October 26, 2009)

Rochester, New York received about $30 million in stimulus money in 2009; we wanted to see the results once large sums of money reached the schools, so we headed to upstate NY.

You can view this program and related podcast right here.

Harlem RBI (August 31, 2009)

Harlem RBI is a free summer day camp (and year-long after school program) that combines baseball and academics and serves hundreds of disadvantaged youth in New York City.

The program uses tournaments and teams to motivate kids in the classroom and its 18 year record is impressive: 99% of Harlem RBI’s teenagers graduate high school, compared to 50% of teenagers city wide. Some of the things they do to achieve that will leave you scratching your head, thinking, “can it really be so simple?” Yes, it can.

You can check out the program and a related podcast right here.

Stop, Think And Act (July 21, 2009)

For many K-12 educators, the goal of school is to prepare students for college. Once there, however, many young people face a situation full of consequence, a situation that all their years of schooling never once addressed: how to get along with a roommate?

Academics matter, but success in life (happiness included) depends as much on the quality of our relationships; with a college roommate, co-workers, a boss, friends and family.

A small but growing number of schools recognizes this and, starting from a young age, teach what’s called Social and Emotional learning.

In this program, we visit a school where learning to recognize feelings (one’s own and others’) and how to handle them before they get in the way are just as important as traditional academics.

You can watch the two videos in this series right here.

The Stimulus Gap In Hartford, CT (July 18, 2009)

When Hartford (CT) Public High School opened last September, the 1,600-student school — where for years just one in three students graduated — was nearly unrecognizable. HPHS is now divided into four small, career-themed academies, each with its own principal and wing of the building.

It’s part of a fledgling effort, just two years old, to turn around Hartford’s public schools, and it seems to be working. So far, test scores are inching upwards, parents are becoming more involved, and, as HPHS principal Adam Johnson says, “I see kids who are changing their aspirations, and we’re getting them to be more hopeful in the world.”

So why, with over half a billion dollars in federal education stimulus money flowing to Connecticut — money intended to promote reform and protect jobs — is Hartford Public High School laying off teachers? Here’s why: even after receiving a share of the stimulus money, Hartford Public Schools faces a $21 million deficit, because Connecticut’s governor, M. Jodi Rell, proposes to drop state education spending by the same amount Connecticut gets from Washington. And Connecticut isn’t the only state playing this game.

This program gets an on-the-ground look at how the stimulus is affecting some of the nation’s most challenged schools.

You can view this program — two videos and assorted podcasts — right here.

When School Is Home (April 8, 2009)

President Obama was asked in 2009 about the growing number of families and children who’ve become homeless. He didn’t talk about the roles that schools are being asked to play. But he could have.

Schools seem to be stepping in to fill the role of home. We traveled to Green Bay, Wisconsin where the number of homeless students — 504 — is at an all-time high.

Can schools do it all: provide basic needs; help for parents find work and homes; and raise academic achievement?

You can watch this program and two companion podcasts right here.

A Profile Of Arne Duncan (March 25, 2009)

Thanks to the federal stimulus package, Obama’s then-new Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has a $160 billion budget — and of that, he can spend $5 billion any way he pleases. With over 200 special interest groups and countless superintendents clamoring for his attention, Duncan has a lot of options.

How will he disburse the money? We sat down with Duncan to find out.

You can view this program and four companion podcasts right here.

The Economic Recession And Schools In Peekskill, New York (February 9, 2009)

Like much of the nation, our public schools are in dire financial straits. In this recession, nearly every state has less to spend on education.

President Obama’s stimulus package had offered hope to schools. But the Senate’s version made $40 billion in cuts.

Just how much is at stake for public schools?

To find out, we visit Peekskill, NY — one of many small cities across the country where the recession is having a devastating impact on education.

You can watch this program and its companion podcast right here.

Higher Education, Higher Costs (December 2008)

Since the early 80s, college tuition and fees have grown 375%. That’s almost 3 times the median family income. How is everyone involved handling the rising economic pressures of paying for college?

This two-part series examines how the nation’s public universities and its students are faring amid the economic downturn rising costs of higher education.

You can view this two-part program right here.

Paying For Grades In Ohio (August 2008)

Is paying students for grades a good idea? More and more cities are launching “pay for grades” pilot programs in an effort to increase student motivation and improve performance. But is it working?

We visited Coshocton, Ohio—a factory town that’s been paying students for years and keeping track of the results—to find out.

You can view this piece and a special bonus program right here.

Separate Classrooms (May 2003)

Should boys and girls be taught differently? Some say separating children by gender allows both boys and girls to learn more and that it’s no different than separating children by age. Others, however, say it’s the equivalent of racial segregation and is therefore unconstitutional.

Meet some of the kids, boys and girls at Bailey Bridge Middle School in Midlothian, Virginia. Find out what happened when a computer glitch in the fall led to single sex classes. The school year’s almost over, and the results are coming in.

You can view this feature right here.

Shortchanging Our Veterans (February 2008)

How do we reward our veterans for putting their lives on the line? Most soldiers say they want an education, and plan to pay for it using benefits provided under the GI Bill—the same GI Bill that allowed veterans of WWII to attend any college or university that accepted them, even Harvard, for free. But times have changed.

Today’s benefits wouldn’t even cover the costs of a single year at a prestigious private university. For more than 400,000 servicemen and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s a rude awakening.

According to Virginia Senator Jim Webb, a former marine and Vietnam vet, it’s also wrong. “If we’re going to spend a trillion dollars on this war, the least we can do is to provide the people who have had to go and fight it the right kind of thanks.”

You can watch this program and listen to its companion podcast right here.

America’s Nursing Shortage (November 2007)

Across the country, hospitals face a critical nursing shortage, threatening care for millions of Americans. But there’s no shortage of qualified applicants at community college nursing programs, which have traditionally trained most of the nurses in this country. The problem is many of those aspiring nurses are stuck on waiting lists for years and it’s only getting worse.

This program explores the reasons for the bottleneck—from the high cost of nurse training, to the difficulty finding faculty, to state funding formulas that don’t distinguish between the cost of classroom lectures and significantly more expensive lab courses.

As baby boomers grow older, the demand for nurses will only increase, yet thousands of would-be nurses are still waiting.

You can watch this program and check out a commentary from John Merrow right here.

A Deeper Look At No Child Left Behind (August 2007)

The federal law known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB) has forever changed the American education system. Enacted by President Bush in 2001, its aim was to standardize accountability. But it seems to have done so much more.

This three-part series premiered in 2007 and takes a closer look at the law. The series is accompanied by twelve podcasts featuring interviews with teachers, policy makers, then-Education Secretary Margaret Spellings and more.

You can watch the series right here.

Lessons Of War (April 2007)

What is life like in a school where half of the children have a parent in a combat zone? What can a teacher do to comfort a child whose mother or father has just deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan and at the same time stay focused on the “letter of the week” or the writing lesson of the day?

And then there is the toughest question: When a 7 year old asks, ‘Will my Daddy die?’ or ‘Will my Mommy come home safe?’, how should a teacher respond?

We went to McNair Elementary-a Department of Defense school in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to find out.

This program was the recipient of a Telly Award, as well as a Second Place EWA award.

You can watch this piece and check out four companion podcasts right here.

Teaching Entrepreneurship (January 2007)

Can a teenage girl launch a successful soda company? She can if she’s enrolled in a program by the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) designed to empower young people from low-income communities by improving their academic, business and technological skills through entrepreneurship education.

Follow the story of Yesenia and other high school students as they attempt to secure financing critical to launching their dream of an all-natural soda company. Can they do it?

You can check out the piece and its companion podcast right here.

Change In Chattanooga (June 2006)

When a list of the worst elementary schools in Tennessee came out in 2000, Chattanooga was stunned to find that nine of its schools were in the bottom 20. These schools were plagued with problems: high teacher turnover, student behavior problems, terrible reading scores, poor teachers (many with tenure), and inefficient leadership.

Embarrassed, the community decided it had to act. Two local foundations pledged $7.5 million–after the superintendent promised to do whatever was necessary to turn these schools around.

This program follows what they did, and whether it worked.

You can watch this program and listen to its two companion podcasts right here.

School Spirit In Bay St. Louis, Mississippi (April 2006)

Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc on New Orleans and surrounding counties. It ravaged the town of Bay St. Louis, Mississippi whose infrastructure has been virtually destroyed. Currently, half of its residents are gone, and the other half live in trailers. Nevertheless, this fractured community has a new center: the school system. Trailers have replaced the original school buildings, and many teachers have returned, along with about half of the students.

With new students registering every day, no technology, disorganized libraries, mud playgrounds and students who may have been out of school for months, the system faces enormous challenges–including a multi-million dollar debt. Yet hope survives.

This program covers what life is like for students, teachers and the principal of Second Street Elementary School in Bay St. Louis.

You can watch this program right here.

Parke Land, The Turnaround Specialist Of Richmond, Virginia (November 2005)

This four-part series follows one former superintendent turned principal’s ambitious reform efforts at one urban middle school in Richmond, Virginia.

Parke Land is facing the biggest challenge of his career. After 31 years as a principal in some of Virginia’s top performing suburban public high schools, Land has moved to the inner city to try his hand at ‘turning around’ a struggling middle school.

Boushall Middle School in Richmond, Virginia, has a failure rate of nearly 50% in reading. Three out every four students live in poverty, and teachers say that discipline is their biggest problem. Boushall is exactly what Land was looking for when he signed up one year ago for Virginia’s “Turn Around Specialist Program”.

This series has received a Silver Plaque, Emmy nomination, and a Cine Golden Eagle Award.

You can watch this series and listen to its companion podcast right here.

Joel Klein And School Reform In New York City (September 2005)

New York City is the largest public school system in the U.S., by far. There are approximately 92,000 teachers, more than 1,300 schools and nearly 1.1 million students. To put it in perspective, only nine cities in the U.S. have that many people.

In 2002, Michael Bloomberg was elected Mayor of New York and he appointed former assistant US attorney general and businessman Joel Klein as the schools chancellor.

How is Klein doing in what Former President Bush once called ‘the toughest job in America’? We take a look back and a look forward in this profile of Joel Klein.

You can watch this piece and check out its two companion podcasts right here.

Academic Squeeze (June 2005)

Nearly half of all undergraduates in the US attend community colleges. These 2-year institutions, which have long been seen as higher education’s poor cousin, play several critical roles: They train much of the labor force, including more than 65% of the nation’s health care workers; they provide remedial help for students who want to go on to 4-year colleges and universities; and their no-frills, low cost approach means they provide the opportunity for many of America’s newest citizens.

While community colleges normally accept anyone who wants to go, budget cuts over the past few years have made it difficult for them to fulfill the demand. In 2004, California and Florida community colleges turned away an estimated 210,000 would-be students because they had neither the space nor the money to expand.

You can watch this program right here.

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