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90.3 WBHM Birmingham, Ala. -- Public Media began in education, so you might say it's in our DNA. So who better than a team of public media reporters to explore the challenges and opportunities confronting education in the southern United States in the 21st century?

WBHM is a leader in an innovative collaboration between public media stations called the Southern Education Desk.

Former teacher, teacher-trainer, and educational publishing editor WBHM's Dan Carsen is one of a team of reporters around the region providing in-depth feature stories on a broad range of education issues, from K-12 to secondary to adult learning. Below are his feature-length stories and interviews.

HEROIN IN ALABAMA: Fighting Its Spread In Schools. In Part Two of WBHM's five-part series on the rise of heroin in Alabama, Dan takes a look at some creative prevention efforts in area schools. The story starts with a surprising confession.

INTERVIEW: U.S. Secretary Of Education Arne Duncan. According to the U.S. Department of Education, Alabama's high school graduation rate jumped eight percent between the years 2011 and 2013. That may not sound like a lot, but it was the second-largest increase in the country, which also saw its rate increase while racial gaps decreased. WBHM's education reporter Dan Carsen caught up with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to talk about the numbers. (And a little basketball, in the extended version.)

INTERVIEW: Recovering Heroin And Painkiller Addict Brad Blount. Heroin use is on the rise in Alabama. And contrary to old stereotypes, it doesn't respect race, class, or neighborhood boundaries. Brad Blount of Vestavia Hills is proof. He's from a solid family in that well-heeled suburb, but the 24-year-old tells WBHM's Dan Carsen that despite it all, his life took a dark turn.

INTERVIEW: Education Analyst Trisha Powell Crain On State Supreme Court Upholding Alabama Accountability Act. The Alabama Accountability Act has been controversial since the night it passed the state legislature in 2013. What started as a school flexibility bill morphed into a way to give tax credits and scholarships to students to attend "nonfailing" public schools and private schools. But the state Supreme Court recently upheld the law. WBHM's Dan Carsen caught up with Trisha Powell Crain of Alabama School Connection to talk it over. Crain starts with a brief overview of the Act, and some concerns.

INTERVIEW: State Senator Del Marsh On His New Charter School Bill. Charter schools are public schools exempt from many of the curriculum and staffing rules that apply to standard schools. But to stay open, charters are supposed to meet achievement goals spelled out in their charter contract. Alabama is one of eight states that does not allow charter schools, but that could change soon. After failing to pass a charter bill in 2012, Republican lawmakers are trying again in the 2015 session. WBHM's education reporter Dan Carsen caught up with Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, the charter bill's sponsor. He says, among other things, that being late to the game is actually an advantage.

WBHM's Carsen & Lindley Talk Test Scores In Alabama And Beyond. School test results have been in the news across Alabama lately, often next to words like "sobering" and "not on track." So what's going on? WBHM's News Director Rachel Osier Lindley sits down with education reporter Dan Carsen to shed light on a complex and heated issue. Carsen just returned from a conference put on by NPR's Ed Team, and part of that conference dealt with testing. So while the iron is hot, which it likely will be for some time, their conversation.

BPD Promises Vigorous Defense In Trial Over Pepper-Spraying Students. Late on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a police attorney released a statement regarding yet another Birmingham trial with civil rights implications. Barring a last-minute settlement, the Southern Poverty Law Center's suit against the BPD over officers using mace on city students will go forward, and lawyers representing the city and police are promising a vigorous defense.

Pre-Trial Refresher: SPLC Suit Over BPD Pepper-Spraying Students. Filed in December 2010, the class-action complaint alleges police violated students' Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights by "brutalizing [eight unnamed plaintiffs] with chemical weapons and other excessive force." It also notes the collateral damage that spray weapons do to innocent bystanders, particularly those with asthma. Police, who wouldn't comment on the trial specifically, have argued that non-lethal weapons are often the safest means of protecting people and ending violent situations, including fights involving two or more people.

UAB Faculty Senate Takes Up Issues Of Athletic Cuts, Ray Watts' Leadership. A week after UAB announced the end of its football, bowling, and rifle teams, at least two-thirds of the Faculty Senate approved drafting two resolutions: a declaration supporting the school's athletic programs, including a financial reassessment of all of them; and, a "no confidence" resolution regarding university president Ray Watts. The resolutions will be circulated among faculty to get input before voting during a special called meeting sometime in January. WBHM's Dan Carsen and Rachel Osier Lindley break down the day's events.

UAB Researcher Develops Video Game To Combat HIV In Alabama's Black Belt And Beyond. HIV was once considered an urban disease. Now, parts of the rural South -- including Alabama' "Black Belt" region, have some of the highest rates in the nation. But a UAB nursing professor from Cameroon is hoping to change that with a video game. Dan has this national story.

INTERVIEW: Big-Picture Perspective From National Expert On Shuttering College Football Prorgams. On December 2, the University of Alabama at Birmingham announced the end of its football, bowling, and rifle teams after the 2014-2015 season. As the costs of maintaining athletics programs grow, some experts think this could be the beginning of a trend. Malcolm Moran, director of the National Sports Journalism Center, explains why to WBHM's Dan Carsen.

Protesters Rally, Demand Continuation of UAB Football Program. UAB supporters dressed in green and gold school colors chanted in the sun for their football team while members of the marching band played. But it wasn't a football game. It was on Birmingham's 20th Street South, in front of the university's administration building. They were responding to reports that the football program may be discontinued, and they're angry about that possibility. Students, alumni, football players and other community members marched from the campus recreation center to the administration building. The rally was mainly organized through social media with the hashtag #FreeUAB. This post includes photos by our education reporter Dan Carsen, and an interview with Carsen and WBHM News Director Rachel Osier Lindley.

Birmingham City Schools Parent And Union Leader Files Complaint With U.S. Department Of Education Alleging Misuse Of Federal Funds. Submitted by fax Friday, Richard Franklin's complaint alleges four examples of misappropriation of federal Title One money, which is meant for schools with at least 40 percent of their student populations defined as low-income by the U.S. Census.

Birmingham City Schools Superintendent Craig Witherspoon Announces His Resignation: Reaction And Context. Birmingham City Schools Superintendent Craig Witherspoon recently announced he would resign at the end of 2014. Neither he nor board members had much to say immediately after the announcement, but late that night WBHM's Dan Carsen caught up with some key players for reaction. We've put together links to some key moments in Witherspoon's tenure, too.

Cutting-Edge Forensics Research At ASU Yields New Word, New Potential Way To Solve Murders. Believe it or not, in a healthy human body, microbial cells outnumber human cells by about ten to one. Scientists, doctors, and health-conscious people are learning more and more about our "personal ecosystems." But what happens to this individualized community of life after we die? Some Alabama State University forensics researchers are looking at patterns, which could -- among other things -- help investigators solve murder cases.

Golden Parachute in Vestavia Hills? Contract Controversy Roils A Good, Normally Sleepy Suburban School District. If you could keep your six-figure salary but work only "as needed," mainly from home, advising the person doing your old job, would you take that deal? After 14 years as Vestavia Hills schools superintendent, that's exactly what Dr. Jamie Blair is doing now. And that's raised some questions in this highly regarded school district. Some support the school board's decision, but others -- including the creator of a recent popular video -- say it's just wrong.

The Struggles and Triumphs Of A Unique College For Inmates, And An Interview With Its President. The United States locks up people at a higher rate than anywhere else in the world. Some of the most overcrowded prisons are right here in Alabama. Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women is one of them. But some inmates there have access to a unique state-funded program that offers academics and "life skills" they'll need after release. The problem is, this J.F. Ingram State Technical College program, which could ease overcrowding, is struggling for funds. WBHM's Dan Carsen has the national story and a new full-length interview with J.F. Ingram's president.

INTERVIEW: Alabama Inmate And Horticulture Student Timothy Brown. Alabama's J.F. Ingram State may be the nation's only state-run two-year college exclusively for inmates. WBHM's Dan Carsen recently visited Ingram's Deatsville campus, where he met Timothy Brown, a 53-year-old convicted robber serving a life sentence but hoping for parole. Brown had walked over from the Frank Lee minimum-security facility next door. He'd been proudly passing around organic cantaloupe and filling in for his horticulture teacher. Dan starts the interview by asking Brown if doing the latter makes him nervous.

INTERVIEW: Trisha Powell Crain On Alabama Students' Low NAEP Test Rankings. Alabama recently got some unflattering news about its students' proficiency, especially in eighth-grade math. The National Assessment of Educational Progress or NAEP is a standardized test sometimes called "the nation's report card." On the 2013 test, our state's eighth-graders ranked fiftieth out of 52 jurisdictions in mathematics (schools on military bases and the District of Columbia were counted separately). But as with most education topics, it's not quite that simple. WBHM's Dan Carsen sat down with Alabama School Connection executive director Trisha Powell Crain to go behind those results. She says we shouldn't put too much emphasis on one data point, or be too surprised at Alabama's low showing.

INTERVIEW: Education Insider And New Jefferson County Schools Superintendent Craig Pouncey. Jefferson County Schools just hired away the Alabama State Department of Education's veteran Chief of Staff as its superintendent, for the highest salary of any superintendent in the state. WBHM's Dan Carsen caught up with Craig Pouncey, the new leader of Alabama's second-largest school district, on his first full day on the job. The former teacher and assistant principal says one reason for his move was to get away from politics and back to his roots.

DOCUMENTARY: Voices (And Pictures) From Life-Skills Classes At Julia Tutwiler Prison For Women. J.F. Ingram Technical College is a unique part of Alabama's two-year college system because all of its students are incarcerated. WBHM's Dan Carsen recently went to Ingram's campus at Tutwiler Prison. He was planning to do a story on Ingram's new life skills program there, but sometimes, plans change. He decided the best way to convey those classes was basically to let the tape roll ... which also gives normally voiceless people a chance to be heard. You can hear them right now.

INTERVIEW: Life-Skills Student And Tutwiler Prison Inmate "Robin." WBHM recently aired a week-long series exploring the challenges people face after being released from Alabama's prisons. One barrier is a lack of skills. But some educators are working to smooth that transition even before the inmates get out: J.F. Ingram State Technical College has a new program at Tutwiler Prison that teaches vocations and life skills, including getting along with others, with the goal of reducing recidivism. WBHM's Dan Carsen sat in on those classes then spoke with a student -- an inmate named Robin. We agreed not to use last names, but Dan asked her about her plans once she's out ... and about why she's in.

Bioptic Telescopes: Helping Visually Impaired People Drive (And Live) In Car-Dependent Places. Imagine growing up in rural Alabama, and your mom can't drive. Now imagine you've just become old enough to drive, but you can't either, and neither can your brother, all because of the same genetic condition, one that affects long-distance vision. Well, thanks to technology and a UAB program that teaches people to use it, Dustin Jones is one example of someone who's able to lead a normal life. In this national story, WBHM's Dan Carsen has much more.

INTERVIEW: UAB's Dr. James Willig On The "Gamification" Of Medical Training. Medical education is always evolving. One way it's changed in recent years is that residents are not allowed to work the long, judgment-impairing shifts they used to. Most agree that's good. But how do you make up for all that lost teaching time? Some UAB researchers think they have an answer: video games. They created a competitive educational game called "Kaizen-Internal Medicine," or just "Kaizen-IM," and a small but promising study showed that busy young doctors learned from it in their off hours. UAB's James Willig sat down with WBHM's education reporter Dan Carsen to explain. Willig starts with the downside of limiting residents' work hours.

Concerned Citizens Talk Hoover School Bus Fees At WBHM, AL.com Event. AL.com and WBHM hosted a lunch discussion on the controversy over the Hoover school system's plan to impose fees on student bus riders. AL.com reporter Jon Anderson and WBHM's education reporter Dan Carsen were on hand to facilitate the sometimes heated discussion and answer questions. Afterward, Carsen spoke with WBHM's News Director Rachel Osier Lindley. To start, Carsen recaps how the situation got to where it is today.

INTERVIEW: Rick Vest, Counseling Coordinator Of College For The Incarcerated. J.F. Ingram State is a unique part of Alabama's two-year college system because one hundred percent of its students are incarcerated. Its new pilot program at Julia Tutwiler Prison focuses on life skills, not just vocational training. As part of our prison-reporting partnership with Alabama Media Group's Investigative Journalism Lab, WBHM's Dan Carsen speaks with Ingram State counseling coordinator Rick Vest outside Ingram's Tutwiler campus. Vest says learning job skills isn't enough...

Birmingham City Schools Taken Off Accreditation Probation. The international accreditation agency AdvancEd has released a report based on their team's March visit to Birmingham City Schools. Although the report noted many areas still in need of improvement, the agency upgraded the school system from "probation" to "accredited, warned." In response, school leaders called a press conference. Our education reporter Dan Carsen recorded it and broke it down for listeners. The page also includes background, and a previously broadcast interview with AdvancEd CEO Mark Elgart.

INTERVIEW: Co-Author Of National Report On The Effects Of School Boards On Academics. Across the country, school boards have been losing power to state and federal authorities, and some experts see local boards as increasingly ineffective. But last month the Fordham Institute, an education policy think tank, released a national report on the influence of school board leadership. According to the report, local boards actually do impact student achievement. Given recent events in Birmingham City Schools and other area systems, WBHM's education reporter Dan Carsen caught up with co-author Arnold Shober, who says the overall vision of a school board is key, as is the way members are elected.

SUSTAINABILITY SERIES: A Chat With Grant Brigham, Jones Valley Teaching Farm's Executive Director. In the middle of urban Birmingham, there's a farm. Jones Valley Teaching Farm is an education center offering local students and families gardening, nutrition courses, fresh food, and much more. As part of our sustainability series, WBHM's education reporter Dan Carsen sat down with its Executive Director, Grant Brigham. Dan starts off by asking him if he sees the farm playing a part in Birmingham's long-term sustainability.

3-D Printing Prosthetics: Changes For A Little Girl, And Much More. In Huntsville there's a little girl who was born without fingers on one hand, but she now has an affordable prosthetic. Three-dimensional printing made it possible. That technology is spreading, which means her story is just one example of life-altering changes on the horizon. In this national story, with previously unpublished photos, WBHM's Dan Carsen has much more.

INTERVIEW: Head of AdvancED, School Accrediting Firm. AdvancED is a private accrediting firm working with more than thirty thousand schools worldwide. A team from its Southern Association of Colleges and Schools division visited Birmingham recently to check whether Birmingham City Schools are fixing problems that led the agency to put the system on accreditation probation last summer. It got WBHM's education reporter Dan Carsen thinking about what these firms actually do, and whether they have as much power as it seems. So he caught up with AdvancED president Mark Elgart and asked him how his agencies decide which districts get accredited ... and which don't.

INTERVIEW: Controversial Comedian (And More) Bill Maher. For his decades-long career, comedian and commentator Bill Maher has skewered cherished customs and beliefs. Whether on his HBO show "Real Time with Bill Maher," in his documentary film "Religulous," or doing stand-up, he doesn't shy away from controversy. Politics, drugs, faith -- nothing is sacred. Maher performed in Birmingham recently, but WBHM's Dan Carsen caught up with him first. It's a serious conversation, but it starts out on a light note, and ranges far and wide from there.

INTERVIEW: Alabama Teacher Of The Year Alison Grizzle. Alison Grizzle isn't your typical teacher, or even your typical Alabama Teacher of the Year. The Birmingham City Schools math instructor is known for being very outspoken, even on third-rail issues like standardized testing and the Common Core State Standards. We thought we'd share her thoughts on those issues and more as staff and students return to school routines. WBHM's Southern Education Desk reporter Dan Carsen caught up with Grizzle at an education conference where she was giving talks. But it turns out this award-winning teacher almost didn't become a teacher at all.

Birmingham Schools, Takeover To Today, Part 3 -- Turning A Corner? Looking Ahead: The Alabama State Department of Education's intervention team has left Birmingham City Schools. ALSDE staff are approving local board agendas and monitoring finances from Montgomery. A year and a half after the state first took the reins, the local board is quietly going about its business. As 2014 approaches, there's a new optimism from the Superintendent's office down to the trenches. But is it realistic? In this third and final installment, WBHM's Dan Carsen reports on the reality on the ground, and on where informed stakeholders think it's all headed.

Birmingham Schools, Takeover To Today, Part 2 -- A View From The Classroom Level: In any big institution, good things are usually happening even when problems get the attention. This week WBHM is airing a three-part "status update" on Birmingham City Schools, from the state takeover to today. Yesterday, Part One explored some of the reasons why the state intervened and the district could lose accreditation. Today in Part Two, our Southern Education Desk reporter Dan Carsen talks with teachers, parents, and students to get a different view -- a view from the ground level.

Birmingham Schools, Takeover To Today, Part 1 -- The Run-Up To State Intervention: The state education department's intervention team is now monitoring Birmingham City Schools from afar, a year and a half after it first took control of the school system. The district had been facing major challenges, including a board so dysfunctional it made national news. But that's only part of the picture. In this first of a three-part series, WBHM's Southern Education Desk reporter Dan Carsen delves into the complex and often painful situation leading to state intervention.

INTERVIEW: Trisha Powell Crain On Hoover School's Reversal Of Bus-Cut Plan. There's been a victory of sorts for parents whose children ride school buses in Hoover. In July, the school board got national attention and angered many residents by voting to scrap the sprawling district's busing program starting next school year. But after intense community pressure and "guidance" from the Justice Department, the board unanimously reversed itself Monday night. Shortly after, WBHM's Southern Education Desk reporter Dan Carsen caught up with Trisha Powell Crain, a Hoover parent and longtime education policy writer. Though she has some misgivings, she calls last night's school-board reversal a good example of what persistent community organizing can accomplish.

State Education Department Seeks To Dismiss Birmingham Takeover Lawsuit: Lawyers representing the Alabama State Department of Education file a brief asking a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit against the state's 2012 intervention in Birmingham City Schools. Dan broke the story.

INTERVIEW: The Bigger Picture Of Terrorism With Birmingham-Southern College's Randall Law. Recently we aired a story on a new type of bomb-sniffing dog. The story included a short comment from Birmingham-Southern College's Randall Law, an author, historian, and terrorism expert. We're now bringing you the whole wide-ranging interview with our education reporter Dan Carsen. Their conversation covered profiling, politics, the psychology of terrorism, and more. It starts with Dr. Law's thoughts on new super-sensitive dogs that can track bombs as they're being transported. Check the six-minute on-air interview or the extended 18-minute interview.

Carsen Talks ASU, Student Poverty And More On APTV's "Capitol Journal": Our Southern Education Desk reporter Dan Carsen recently appeared as a guest journalist on Alabama Public Television's "Capitol Journal," a highly regarded program analyzing the week's significant stories. Dan, host Don Daily, and frequent WBHM commentator John Archibald discuss HeadStart, troubling economic trends in American public education, the controversy at Alabama State University, and other hot button issues.

Auburn University Pioneers New 'Biological Technology' To Fight Terrorism: 'VaporWake Dogs': Three years ago, after spending almost nineteen billion dollars on hi-tech research, the Pentagon found the best bomb-detection devices in existence are dogs' noses. But researchers at Auburn University are trying to make them even better. They've developed a new type of bomb-sniffing K-9 called a "VaporWake" dog. WBHM's Southern Education Desk reporter Dan Carsen has more on this new tool in the anti-terrorism arsenal.

Money Tight, Scientists Turn To "Crowdfunding": In the past decade, it's gotten much harder for scientists to get the federal grants that fund the vast majority of American research. This year's sequester has made it even more difficult, and the government shutdown is likely to slow things down even further. So scientists are looking for new ways to pay for their work, including "crowdfunding." But going online and asking the public for money has real drawbacks. Even so, as WBHM's Southern Education Desk reporter Dan Carsen tells us, some think it could open up the field in a good way.

INTERVIEW: State Schools Chief On Drastic Drops In Per-Pupil Spending. Over the past six years, the number of dollars Alabama spends per student has dropped more than it has in any other state. Percentage-wise, Alabama's decrease (20.1%) was second only to Oklahoma's (22.8%). That's all according to a recent report from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. The report says Alabama, Oklahoma, and 32 other states are spending less than they were before the recession that ended in 2009. WBHM's Southern Education Desk reporter Dan Carsen caught up with Alabama schools Chief of Staff Craig Pouncey to find out why, and what it all means.

INTERVIEW: Tanner Colby, "Some of My Best Friends are Black." Sometimes world events make people look inward. As Barack Obama campaigned his way to the presidency, self-described lily-white writer Tanner Colby began pondering -- and then tenaciously researching -- exactly why he and other white people didn't have black friends. The reasons are complex, ranging from school policy to real estate practices to media image-making to church politics. But the former Vestavia Hills resident dives right in from the springboard of his own life, recognizing his ignorance the whole way. The result: "Some of My Best Friends are Black: The Strange Story of Integration in America." Our Southern Education Desk reporter Dan Carsen caught up with Colby not long after the author appeared on MSNBC to discuss America's persistent racial separation.

U.S. Army & Huntsville Schools Grooming Tomorrow's Cyberwarriors. Eric Snowden. NSA code-cracking. Chinese government hackers. It's hard to avoid cybersecurity issues in the news. And many experts think the United States is simply not up to the threats. That's mainly because there aren't enough good guys with the skills to do battle in this expanding arena. But there's a unique partnership in an Alabama school district that's working to change the scenario. WBHM's Southern Education desk reporter Dan Carsen has more in this recent national story.

VET GLUT: Too Many Veterinarians Force Vet Schools Into Balancing Act. Lots of young people who love animals want to be veterinarians. But vet school is selective, challenging, and expensive. Even so, as WBHM's Dan Carsen explains in a recent national story, there are more veterinarians in the U.S. than there is work for them to do.

Hoover Cuts Buses For Almost 7,000 Students, Ignites Controversy: Hoover's school board recently voted to end its bus service, effective in August 2014. District leaders say they have to cut costs as enrollments rise and revenues fall. But as WBHM's Dan Carsen points out in a recent national report, many in the hilly, sprawling Birmingham suburb don't believe that's the whole story.

Carsen Talks "AAA" and Hoover Buses On APTV's "Capitol Journal": Our Southern Education Desk reporter Dan Carsen recently appeared as a guest journalist on Alabama Public Television's "Capitol Journal," a highly regarded program analyzing the week's significant stories. Among other things, Dan discusses the controversial Alabama Accountability Act, which establishes tax credits for families sending students to private schools, and the Hoover busing controversy, which later became a national story (see above). *Guest journalists start 41 minutes into the hour. Dan's part starts at 46:50.

Joseph Walter, Doing Much More Than Surviving: Pompe disease is a rare and often fatal illness that attacks the heart and skeletal muscles. Many people with the early onset form don't survive past childhood. But just north of Birmingham there's an eighteen-year-old who's not only surviving, but thriving. He recently graduated from high school, and as WBHM's Southern Education Desk reporter Dan Carsen tells us, that's just part of the story.

From Foster Care Through College: A Little Help Improving The Odds: Campus life can be a big adjustment, for some more than others. College students coming from foster care face extra hurdles: 70 percent want to get a degree, but roughly three percent graduate by age 25. For the third and final part of a Southern Education Desk series, WBHM's Dan Carsen goes to the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa to learn about a new program that's supporting foster-care kids in ways that might not have occurred to you.

INTERVIEW: Birmingham schools chief Craig Witherspoon Reacts To State's "Failing" List. Today (June 18, 2013), the Alabama State Department of Education released its list of 78 schools considered failing under the controversial Alabama Accountability Act. The law will provide tax credits for students zoned for failing schools to offset the costs of attending a non-failing public school or private school. Most of the so-called failing schools listed today are middle schools -- that's partly because at that level in Alabama, all those grades take standardized tests. Most of the schools were also in urban areas or the Black Belt. State Superintendent Tommy Bice and Birmingham Superintendent Craig Witherspoon say the standards mandated by the law do not adequately take into account recent improvements schools have made. Eleven schools on the list are Birmingham City Schools. Our Southern Education Desk reporter Dan Carsen caught up with Birmingham Superintendent Witherspoon today (June 18, 2013) to get his reaction.

Carsen Talks "AAA" And More On APTV's "Capitol Journal": Our Southern Education Desk reporter Dan Carsen recently appeared as a guest journalist on Alabama Public Television's "Capitol Journal," a highly regarded program analyzing the week's significant stories. Among other things, Dan discusses the controversial Alabama Accountability Act, which establishes tax credits for families sending students to private schools.

Black School, White School: Teaching The Civil Rights Movement: Most people know Birmingham was a Civil Rights Movement battleground. But how is that complicated history taught in schools today? And are there differences between white and black districts? As part of our special Civil Rights anniversary coverage, Southern Education Desk reporter Dan Carsen went to class in urban Birmingham and suburban Mountain Brook to find out.

Common Core: Is The Hype Really Just Hype? There's been a revolution in American K-12 education: the "Common Core State Standards." Released in 2010, they're math and language arts standards meant to raise rigor and establish consistency across the nation. They've been adopted in 45 states. But in the first of a three-part series, the Southern Education Desk's Dan Carsen tells us that even in those places, all is not quiet on the Common Core front.

Pre-K In The Deep South, Part 3: Access Is Everything: Most education researchers and even many economists think high-quality Pre-K benefits children and the communities where they live. But the effects are limited when programs just don't reach many kids. In Part Three of the Southern Education Desk series on Pre-K in the Deep South, Dan Carsen has more from right here in Alabama, which has a highly regarded program that reaches a just a fraction of the state's four-year-olds.

Carsen Talks Takeovers, Federal Lawsuits & More On APTV's "Capitol Journal": Our Southern Education Desk reporter Dan Carsen recently appeared as a guest journalist on Alabama Public Television's "Capitol Journal," a highly regarded program analyzing the week's significant stories. Dan discusses controversial "school flexibility" legislation, school takeovers, the federal lawsuit against the state takeover of Birmingham Schools, and the Southern Education Desk series on re-segregating schools.

So-Called "Segregation Academies": Past and Still Present: Ever since the Supreme Court declared segregated schools unconstitutional in Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954, the racial makeup of our schools has been in flux. Forced integration made the South's public schools some of the most integrated in the country, but now -- here and across the nation -- our schools are re-segregating. The Southern Education Desk is taking a deep look at the issue with a multi-part series exploring this complex trend. In the second installment, WBHM's Dan Carsen goes back in time to examine a strategy whites once used to sidestep public school integration, one that still shapes communities today: private so-called "segregation academies."

INTERVIEW: UAB Historian Dr. Robert Corley on Our Real Civil Rights History: In this Birmingham's historic Kelly Ingram Park, there's a statue of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. One of the names on the stone pedestal is Robert Corley. Among other things, Dr. Corley teaches history at UAB. He was a founding member of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute board and has served on the city school board. Southern Education Desk reporter Dan Carsen recently sat down with him while researching stories for our special Civil Rights anniversary coverage. Corley says today's students are missing some of that vital history.

Carsen Talks School Security, Hunger & More On APTV's "Capitol Journal": Our Southern Education Desk reporter Dan Carsen recently appeared as a guest journalist on Alabama Public Television’s "Capitol Journal," a highly regarded program analyzing the week's significant stories. Dan discusses the controversy at Alabama State University, Birmingham City Schools, security in light of the Sandy Hook shootings, and the holiday struggles of students who depend on school for food. The interview includes a positive note — Dan’s recent stories touching on an approach that makes a dent in student hunger.

"Backpack Buddies": Making a Dent In Student Hunger: As we reported in Part One, about 17 million kids in the U.S. are in danger of malnutrition, which can trigger behavior problems and stunt brain development. Given the scope of the problem, the importance of subsidized school meals becomes clear ... but what happens to needy kids from Friday night through Monday morning? In this second story on student hunger, Dan looks at one solution in Shelby County.

Student Hunger Harder To Address On Holidays: Roughly 30 million students in the United States rely on federally subsidized school meals. Even so, more than half that number are in real danger of malnutrition. So many kids depending on school for food may seem troubling enough ... but what happens when school's closed? Dan has more on that deceptively simple question as districts across our area prepare for the holidays.

Mobile's George Hall Elementary's Remarkable Turnaround, Part Two: This school went from one of the nation's worst to one of its best. But how exactly did they do it, and how are they still doing it? The conclusion of a two-part report.

Mobile's George Hall Elementary's Remarkable Turnaround, Part One: This school went from one of the nation's worst to one of its best. How bad was it, and just how good is it now? You might be surprised. Part One of a two-part report.

Alabama's First And Only High-School "Freethinkers' Club: A recent national poll shows a vast increase in the number of non-religious Americans. Roughly a fifth are now atheist, agnostic, or "nothing in particular." But polls also show non-believers are the least-trusted group in the country. So the trend is a prescription for some tension, tension that sometimes plays out in the nation's schools, including those in the Bible Belt. Here's the story behind Alabama's first and only public high-school "freethinkers" club.

Should Students Learn to "Counter" An Armed Intruder? Jonesboro. Columbine. Virginia Tech. Those names and others have become tragic shorthand for school shootings. Today, when there's a threat, the typical lockdown plan that most schools follow is sound the alarm, call police, lock doors, and stay put. But a growing number of schools are adopting controversial training that includes how to fight back against a gunman.

Two-Dozen Families "Reverse-Integrating" A Birmingham City School: Birmingham was at the heart of the Civil Rights Movement, a major front in the battles that ended legal segregation. When the schools were integrated, white people fled the city, taking resources and other advantages with them. That continues today, but about two dozen families are bucking the trend and trying to reverse the process.

NEWSFLASH: Birmingham School Board Holds Congenial, Productive Meeting: Surprising to many, the Birmingham School Board conducted a civil and efficient meeting Tuesday night, perhaps tempered by a judge's ruling that the state does have authority over the district and that Superintendent Craig Witherspoon will keep his job during the takeover. State Superintendent Tommy Bice presided and was clearly in control, setting the tone from the beginning.

Judge Extends Orders Against Birmingham School Board: After two sometimes arcane, sometimes fiery days of testimony, Jefferson County Circuit Judge Houston Brown extended two temporary injunctions against the Birmingham Board of Education by 10 days or until further notice. One of the orders protects local superintendent Craig Witherspoon's job by rescinding his recent firing by the board; the other directs the board not to interfere with the state takeover of the school system or disobey direct orders from state education officials.

Birmingham School Board Votes to Fire Witherspoon but State Legally Rescinds Action; Employees Confused: People who've been saying they could no longer be surprised by the Birmingham school board were surprised Tuesday night, for several reasons. The most important was the fact that, though expressly forbidden by the state team currently administering the district, the board voted five to three to terminate the contract of Superintendent Craig Witherspoon. After filing a national Newscast spot with NPR, Dan turned in this web-exclusive story.

Little River Canyon: Tranquil Resource, Contentious Beginnings: About seven miles from Fort Payne is the northern gateway to a vision, a vision of a nearly hundred-mile "central park" between Birmingham, Atlanta and Chattanooga. Decades in the making, the conservation, tourism, and education opportunities are gelling in this huge green corridor. In Part Two of his series, WBHM's Southern Education Desk reporter Dan Carsen has the intriguing story behind this growing resource.

Lessons Learned At The Little River Canyon Center: On a high plateau in rural northeast Alabama, there's a multimillion-dollar state-of-the-art education complex. Campus, museum, community center, and event spot, Jacksonville State University's Little River Canyon Center is becoming a destination for students, tourists, and regular local people. How this unlikely place came to be is a twenty-year story of politics, money, celebrity, and inspiration. But for this first of two reports, WBHM's Southern Education Desk reporter Dan Carsen focuses on what people are learning there now.

INTERVIEW: UAB Researcher On The Brain, Education, and Cognitive Decline: Education affects how the brain ages, and when older people take cognitive tests, the results are compared to those of others the same age and with the same amount of schooling. But new UAB research shows that because of racial and economic disparities in education quality, that approach could be leading to disadvantaged people being diagnosed as impaired when they really aren't. Our Southern Education Desk reporter Dan Carsen sat down with Dr. Michael Crowe, who says the disparities in our schools are obvious.

What Makes Good Teaching Series: A Play-By-Play: In some ways, teaching is like sports: there’s a lot that’s unseen by the untrained eye. That’s one reason post-game analysis is popular. So why not do that for something vital to our future? Southern Education Desk reporter Dan Carsen used to be a teacher and a teacher-trainer. As part of our series What Makes Good Teaching, he offers a play-by-play from right here in Birmingham.

Birmingham Schools Meet First Part of State Deadline; Local System Submits a Detailed Cost-Reduction Plan: The Birmingham School System has met the first part of a state-mandated deadline by submitting a detailed cost-cutting plan. But the state still could take over the local system's fiances soon. Southern Education Desk reporter Dan Carsen had this late-breaking web exclusive.

State BOE Votes to Step Up Involvement in B'ham Schools; Total Takeover of Finances Could Be Around The Corner: The Alabama State Board of Education today voted 6-0 to have the state oversee the Birmingham School Board's day-to-day financial operations, specifically its implementation of the cost-cutting plan the local board approved Tuesday evening. And according to the resolution passed today, if the local board hasn't pushed ahead with the financial recovery plan to the state's satisfaction by June 22, or doesn't approve those cuts at its meeting scheduled for June 26, the state will take total control of the district's purse strings.

In Risky Move, B'ham School Board Rejects State Cost-Cutting Plan: In a 5-4 vote along increasingly familiar lines, the Birmingham Board of Education rejected a cost-cutting plan proposed by the state team investigating the local board. Ironically, the defiant move could result in a loss of autonomy if the state education department decides to take over the district. Our Southern Education Desk reporter Dan Carsen has this web-exclusive report.

Expanding Horizons and Futures: Six Birmingham Students Headed For China: Lack of exposure to other kinds of people, languages, and ideas is a disadvantage for poor rural and urban students across the country. Inner-city Birmingham is no exception, but six local high school students are hoping to become exceptional ... in more ways than one. Thanks to their hard work and the efforts of a first-year teacher, they're planning to study in China this summer. Our Southern Education Desk reporter Dan Carsen has the story.

Craig Witherspoon Controversy: Birmingham School Superintendent Craig Witherspoon could very suddenly lose his job just after 5 p.m. today. In this web-exclusive report, Southern Education Desk reporter Dan Carsen explains how this surprising situation came about.

Citizens Rally for Craig Witherspoon: About 150 people gathered in Birmingham's Linn Park today to show their support for embattled schools chief Craig Witherspoon. The superintendent's job security has been in doubt over the last two days especially, after the Board of Education on Thursday suddenly called a special meeting for the very next day on the topic of his contract, knowing two staunch Witherspoon supporters would be out of town. Dan Carsen has this web-exclusive follow-up story.

Wilkerson Middle Defies the Odds: It's easy to focus on what's wrong with education. And it's no secret that Birmingham Schools, like other urban districts around the nation, face serious problems. But there are schools here that are achieving success regardless. From the Southern Education Desk at WBHM, Dan Carsen has much more.

Carsen & Ott Talk Guns on Campus, Awards, Benefit Cuts, and Corporate Tax Incentives: This week's chat covers the positive, the negative, and the in-between, or at least the "in the eye of the beholder": politics makes an appearance once again.

Carsen & Ott Talk Storm Damage, Budgets, and Public Servant Salaries: Severe thunderstorms, hail, and multiple tornadoes raked Alabama last week. Were any schools hit? And are there figurative storms on the horizon for the state's Education Trust Fund? In this fifth installment of a weekly series, WBHM's Tanya Ott starts the interview by asking about storm damage and an incredible recovery. The education budget may not be so lucky.

Carsen & Ott Talk Syringes, Pistols, and Space Archaeology: Alabama legislators have their hands full with a variety of education bills, including ones that would authorize charter schools and offer credit for creationism classes for public high schoolers. But for this week’s chat with Southern Education Desk reporter Dan Carsen, we move outside of Montgomery for some interesting education news. He tells WBHM’s Tanya Ott that some of it is positive, some of it not – beginning right here in Birmingham.

Dan Carsen Speaks with Education Icon Diane Ravitch: Diane Ravitch has been a key figure in American education for decades. The prolific author and outspoken advocate was Assistant Secretary of Education and Counselor to the Secretary of Education under the first President Bush. She was a pioneer in the accountability movement, but has since made friends and enemies by changing some of her views. She spoke with Southern Education Desk reporter Dan Carsen, who asked her about issues hot in Alabama right now, including charter schools, charter advocate Michelle Rhee, and much more.

Carsen & Ott Talk Charters, Creationism, Pepper Spray: When it comes to education in Alabama, it's safe to say there's enough going on to keep a journalist busy. In our third installment of a new weekly series, Southern Education Desk reporter Dan Carsen sits down with WBHM News Director Tanya Ott to break down some of it.

A Constitutional Law Scholar on Alabama's Bill to Allow Public School Credit for Religious Electives: A bill in the Alabama House would allow public school students to get elective credit for religious instruction. Southern Education Desk reporter Dan Carsen recently interviewed Blaine Galliher, the bill’s sponsor and a proponent of such “release time” programs. The programs would have to be approved by local school boards and would not cost the schools any money. And, Galliher said, students would not be coerced in any way. But a day later, Dan discussed the bill with legal scholar and religious liberty advocate Douglas Laycock...

Interview with Ala. Rep. Blaine Galliher, Sponsor of Bill to Allow "Release Time" Religious Instruction in Public High Schools: The First Amendment says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” But does that mean public schools can give credit to students for creationism classes? What if they’re off campus and privately funded? A bill in the state Legislature would authorize school boards to set up such “release time” programs. Dan Carsen speaks with its sponsor, House Rules Committee Chairman Blaine Galliher.

Dan Carsen and Tanya Ott Talk School Budgets, Caffeine, Controversy: It’s week two of the 2012 legislative session in Alabama and job creation and budget shortfalls continue to take center stage. Officials predict a budget gap in the many hundreds of millions of dollars – meaning cutbacks, possible layoffs, and other belt-tightening measures. WBHM’s Dan Carsen of the Southern Education Desk tells Tanya Ott that the budget crisis in non-education departments could pit the Education Trust Fund against everything else.

Interview with Michelle Rhee, controversial education reformer. After closing schools and firing staff in Washington D.C., she was featured on the cover of Time magazine holding a broom. Emily Schultz, Governor Robert Bentley's new education policy advisor, who also favors charter schools and other reforms, worked for Rhee in D.C.

Rhee's advocacy group is now in Alabama pushing for charter schools and new ways to evaluate teachers, among other things.

Legislative Preview: Carsen Interviewed on Potentially Game-Changing Session

When lawmakers returned to Montgomery for the beginning of the 2012 legislative session, they had a lot of meaty issues to deal with, from tweaks to the state's immigration law to a potential $400 million budget shortfall. They're also tackling several education reform initiatives, and as the Southern Education Desk's Dan Carsen told WBHM's Tanya Ott, this year looks to be a lot like last year, with plenty of controversial issues on the table.

Charter Schools: None in Ala., but May Change Soon: In a national ranking on charter schools, Alabama did not even come in last. That's because the state is one of only nine that doesn't have charter schools, but that could change, and soon.


Bards of Birmingham: When schools cut their budgets, arts and theater programs are often the first to go. But in Birmingham, a youth acting group is still teaching lessons to any kid with the chops to get on stage. It's also pushing boundaries in a way that might make some theater traditionalists and parents uncomfortable.

Officers Pepper-Spraying Birmingham Students: Depending on the details, recent images of police pepper-spraying protesters have triggered varying levels of outrage. But here in Birmingham, police are regularly pepper-spraying students while they're in school.

Despite Successful Fundraising, Imagination Library Still On Hold: Though the United Way of Central Alabama surpassed its 2011 fundraising goal, a popular early literacy program is still on hold in Jefferson County.

The Private Eye Program: What's common to all academic subjects? Well...thinking. "Critical thinking" is a buzzword for a reason, regardless of whether educators think today's students do it well enough: it's basic to what students are meant to do in school. But can you actually teach thinking?

Plaintiffs to Appeal Lynch vs. Alabama Ruling: The plaintiffs in the landmark Lynch vs. Alabama property tax case are appealing a federal judge's recent ruling that seemed sympathetic but ultimately went against them.

Dan Carsen Interviewed Re Immigration Law on "The Takeaway": Education reporter Dan Carsen is interviewed by PRI's "The Takeaway"about the latest immigration-law dust-up between the U.S. Department of Justice and Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange.

Strange Rebuffs DOJ Again: In the latest chapter of a blunt back-and-forth over Alabama's immigration law, state Attorney General Luther Strange on Friday again rebuffed the U.S. Department of Justice over access to student information.

IMMIGRATION LAW: State AG Balks at DOJ Request: The U.S. Department of Justice, concerned about the new immigration law, has requested enrollment data from district superintendents across Alabama. But it's unclear when or whether that information will be provided, as state Attorney General Luther Strange balked at the request.

Lynch v. Alabama Ruling: A federal judge recently ruled on a case that has implications for how schools are funded and taxes are assessed across Alabama.

Religious Exemptions to School Vaccine Requirements on Rise: Today's students and most of their parents are too young to remember a time when epidemics crippled and killed millions. And there's a reason we've forgotten: vaccines. Even so, a small but growing number of Alabama students are getting religious exemptions to school immunization requirements. The reasons are sometimes religious, sometimes philosophical, and sometimes health-based.

Immigration Law and Schools: Trying to Calm Fears: Across Alabama, people have been marching to spotlight children affected by the state's strict new immigration law. The measure requires schools to record the immigration status of newly enrolled students. After more than 2,000 Hispanic students were absent from Alabama schools early last week, activists and educators are reaching out to families worried about what the law will mean for them.

Immigration Law and Schools: Students, parents, and school officials are reacting to Alabama's new immigration law, the toughest in the nation. The law went into effect last week after a federal judge upheld many of its most controversial provisions, including a requirement that schools check the immigration status of newly enrolled students. And that extra layer of administrative responsibility may pale in comparison with the fear it's engendered.

School Transportation Safety - Part Three: Walking School Bus: What has bright colors, traffic signs, dozens of feet, and provides exercise, companionship, and a safe way to school? It's a new community-oriented health and safety strategy called a walking school bus.

School Transportation Safety - Part Two: Rural Challenges: Safe transportation to and from school is a challenge across the country. Roughly 800 children die making that trip each year, and the dangers vary by location. The rural south has its own challenges, some preventable, some not.

School Transportation Safety - Part One: Urban Trains: It's no secret that kids trying to succeed in school face hurdles. But for students in many of Birmingham's urban neighborhoods, serious safety challenges start before they even get to school.

Jones Valley Tutorial: Birmingham City Schools kitchen staff get a tutorial on nutrition and locally grown, sustainable food at Jones Valley Urban Farm. They picked herbs and vegetables and helped bury stereotypes in the process.

Defibrillators: All Alabama public high, junior high, and middle schools now have defibrillators. So, in a state with tightening education budgets, how did this come about?

A.P. Exam Update: At Alabama public high schools that first implemented the A+ College Ready Program in 2010-2011, A.P. exam pass rates increased by 111 percent. The pass rate for minority students increased even more. But how did that happen?

Teach for America in Alabama: Everyone knows that schools report on student progress at regular intervals. The national service program Teach For America has now been in Alabama for one full school year. And as it gears up to send our state more than 50 new teachers, it makes sense to ask, how are they doing?

Polluted Schools: The Walter Coke plant in North Birmingham makes high-grade coke used in blast furnaces and foundries. But according to a class-action lawsuit, that's not all it makes: property owners allege carcinogens from the plant have drastically lowered their property values. But for people living and going to school in this industrial area, that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Alabama's New Immigration Law Worrying School Staff, Parents: Supporters and opponents of Alabama's new immigration law generally agree it's the most severe and far-reaching in the nation. Some educators are concerned because the law makes schools determine students' immigration status, and in some cases, their parents' immigration status.

Driver's Education on the Decline: If you're over 40 and you grew up in the United States, there's a good chance you took driver's education classes in your high school. But you can't say the same for today's young drivers.

Boman interview: Alabama state representative Daniel Boman has done something rare: he has left the Republican Party to become a Democrat. The reasons, he says, are Republican stances on educational and other issues.

Closing Corporate Tax Loopholes: In Alabama and other states, education budgets are being squeezed. Teachers and support staff are facing layoffs and cuts in benefits and supply money. Seen against that background, it's not surprising that states are looking harder at a tricky but increasingly attractive source of funding.

Lynch versus Alabama: Most court cases focus on a given event - an act, a crime, an accident. But a tax-policy trial in federal court recently put more than a century of Alabama history on the stand. As WBHM's Dan Carsen reports, in Lynch vs. Alabama, the plaintiffs allege the state's property tax system and its effect on schools are direct outgrowths of the overt racism of the past.

Greg Mortenson Interview: Bestselling author and internationally recognized education advocate Greg Mortenson spoke with Dan Carsen, WBHM's education reporter, at Birmingham's Samford University shortly before media reports questioned Mortenson's financial dealings and his experiences in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In the interview, Mortenson shares his thoughts on issues facing education in the South, including teacher pay and teacher tenure. Mortenson tells Carsen that education is at a real turning point in the South and across the U.S.

Main/top photo by B. Brown, courtesy of Flickr