Eric Westervelt

After nearly a decade as an award-winning Foreign Correspondent with NPR's international desk, Eric Westervelt returned in September 2013 to domestic news with a new national beat covering American education as an Education Correspondent.

In this role, he covers the news, issues, and trends in classrooms across the country, from pre-K to higher education. He has a strong interest in the multiple ways in which technology is disrupting traditional pedagogy.

Westervelt recently returned from a 2013 John S Knight Journalism Fellowship at Stanford University. The fellowship focused on journalistic innovation, leadership, entrepreneurship and the future of news.

Previously, he was a foreign correspondent based in the Middle East and then Europe. From 2009 to 2012 Westervelt was Berlin Bureau Chief and Correspondent coverage a broad range of news across Europe from the debt crisis to political challenges in Eastern Europe. In 2011 and 2012 his work included coverage of the revolutions in North Africa from the popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt to the civil war and NATO intervention in Libya.

As a foreign correspondent, Westervelt has covered numerous wars and their repercussions across the Middle East for NPR as Jerusalem Bureau Chief and as Pentagon Correspondent. Prior to his current assignment, he spent several years living in the Middle East reporting on the war in Iraq, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Afghanistan and elsewhere. As Jerusalem Bureau Chief he covered the turmoil in the Gaza Strip, and the 2006 Second Lebanon war between the Israeli military and Hezbollah. He also reported in-depth on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict across Israel and the occupied West Bank.

During the US-led invasion of Iraq, Westervelt traveled with the lead element of the U.S. Third Infantry Division, which was the first army unit to reach Baghdad. He later helped cover the Iraqi insurgency, sectarian violence and the on-going struggle to rebuild the country in the post-Saddam Hussein era. Westervelt was one of the few western reporters on the ground in Gaza during the Fatah-Hamas civil war and he reported on multiple Israeli offensives in the coastal territory. Additionally, he has reported from the Horn of Africa, Yemen and the Persian Gulf countries.

Prior to his Middle East assignments, Westervelt covered military affairs and the Pentagon reporting on a wide range of defense, national security as well as foreign policy issues.

Before joining NPR's Foreign Desk nearly a decade ago, Westervelt covered some of the biggest domestic stories as a reporter on NPR's National Desk. His assignments spanned from the explosion of TWA flight 800 to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. He also covered the mass shooting at Columbine High School, the presidential vote recount following the 2000 Presidential Election, among other major stories. He also covered national trends in law enforcement and crime fighting, including police tactics, use of force, the drug war, racial profiling and the legal and political battles over firearms in America.

The breadth and depth of his work has been honored with the highest awards in broadcast journalism. He contributed to NPR's 2002 George Foster Peabody Award for coverage of the 9/11 attacks and the aftermath; the 2003 Alfred I. duPont - Columbia University award also for 9/11 coverage and the war in Afghanistan; and a 2004 and a 2007 duPont-Columbia University Award for NPR's coverage of the war in Iraq and its effect on Iraqi society.

Westervelt's 2009 multi-media series with NPR photojournalist David Gilkey won the Overseas Press Club of America's Lowell Thomas Award Citation for Excellence.

In lighter news, Westervelt occasionally does features for NPR's Arts Desk. His profile of roots rock pioneer Roy Orbison was part of NPR's 50 Great Voices series. His feature on the making of John Coltrane's classic "A Love Supreme," was part of the NPR series on the most influential American musical works of the 20th century, which was recognized with a Peabody Award.

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

Westervelt is a graduate of the Putney School and received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Reed College.

The NPR Ed team is back from Austin, where we connected with hundreds of educators and people excited about education at the annual South By Southwest Edu Conference. As with many conferences, there's just as much to be gained from conversations in the hallways and chance encounters as from the official sessions. Here's what we learned from both.

1) For many teachers, the most important tech tools are free.

This is the canary in the coal mine.

Several big states have seen alarming drops in enrollment at teacher training programs. The numbers are grim among some of the nation's largest producers of new teachers: In California, enrollment is down 53 percent over the past five years. It's down sharply in New York and Texas as well.

In North Carolina, enrollment is down nearly 20 percent in three years.

For this series, we've been thinking a lot about the iconic tools that some of us remember using — if only for a short time — in our early schooling. Things like the slide rule and protractor, Presidential Fitness Test and Bunsen burner.

Writer and philosopher Hannah Arendt once wrote that, with the German genocide of European Jews, human history "has known no story more difficult to tell."

Listen up, cub reporters. Lesson 1: Never miss an opportunity to catch a good story. I was doing important hop research at my local craft beer emporium, aka my bar.

"This red IPA is great. What is this again?" I asked the bartender.

"That's Line 51. From Oakland. The owner, P.T., does it part time. He has a day job." What's he do? I asked. "He's a schoolteacher."

Bingo! Secret teachers, you can't hide from this NPR Ed sleuth, no sir.

Our "Tools of the Trade" series is taking a look at some of the iconic objects that form a vital part of our educational lives. For an upcoming piece, I'm reporting on how young children learn through that most basic of preschool education tools: simple wooden blocks.

One by one, in a room just off the gym floor at Edna Brewer Middle School in Oakland, Calif., seventh-graders go on the interview hot seat.

Some 80 students have applied to be "peer leaders" in the school's new, alternative discipline program called "restorative justice."

Kyle McClerkins, the program's director, grills them on aspects of adolescent life: "What is the biggest challenge for middle school girls? What has changed about you from sixth grade to now?"

This story was reported for the radio by Eric Westervelt and for online by Anya Kamenetz.

"We, the Committee of Public Safety, find Jean Valjean guilty. The sentence is death by guillotine!"

Molly McPherson, a redhead with glasses, is dressed in a blue bathrobe — in costume as Robespierre. Her seventh-graders are re-enacting the French Revolution's Reign of Terror, with a little assist from Les Miserables.

The spiral of destruction.

We're not talking about instability in the Middle East or Ebola.

We're talking textbooks.

This story is part of the "Men In America" series on All Things Considered.

Is America's dominant "man up" ethos a hypermasculine cultural construct, a tenet rooted in biological gender difference or something in between?

Educator Ashanti Branch doesn't much care or, more accurately, doesn't have time to care.

He's too busy trying to make a difference in boys' lives.

Speakers bow out amid protests. Colleges continue their obsession with celebrity speakers. As this year's graduation season churns on, is it time to rethink this once noble tradition that many schools now see as a marketing opportunity?

Graduation Season? More like Disinvitation Season.

As students across the country prepare for pomp and circumstance, college and university administrators are grappling with a series of commencement speech boondoggles.

This year alone, nearly a dozen big-name commencement speakers — including the head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice — have been invited to speak at graduation ceremonies, only to withdraw or have their invitations rescinded in the wake of campus protests.

In reporting on students navigating the maze of college costs and financial aid, I kept running into misconceptions about paying for a degree. Here are some of the most common ones:

Low-income students get most of their college financial aid needs met and rich kids don't have to worry, so it's mainly the middle class that gets squeezed.

In the past 20 years, the average burden for a four-year college graduate in the U.S. has gone from about $9,000 to nearly $30,000 today. The percentage of students carrying debt has shot up from less than half to nearly 70 percent these days.

At a large public high school in Freemont, Calif., southeast of San Francisco, Alyssa Tucker and Thao Le sit on a metal table. Both come from families with modest incomes.

With spring fast approaching, many American high school seniors are now waiting anxiously to hear whether they got into the college or university of their choice. For many students, their scores on the SAT or the ACT will play a big role in where they get in.

That's because those standardized tests remain a central part in determining which students get accepted at many schools. But a first-of-its-kind study obtained by NPR raises questions about whether those tests are becoming obsolete.

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