Articles written by: Dan Carsen

Dan Carsen is our reporter stationed at WBHM in Birmingham. He’s been a teacher, a teacher trainer, a newspaper reporter, a radio commentator, and an editor in an educational publishing house. His writing and reporting have won numerous awards. His outside interests include basketball, kayaking, sailing, mountain biking, and hoping his toddlers let him sleep.

Dr. Hank Dasinger, president of Alabama's J.F. Ingram State Technical College, the only state-run two-year college whose student body is 100 percent incarcerated. Photo by Dan Carsen.
Alabama / Audio / Multimedia / Special Coverage

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 in Alabama. Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women is one of them. It’s also been under federal investigation for sex abuse by guards. 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. Our Alabama reporter Dan Carsen has this national story, and a full-length interview with J.F. Ingram’s president.

Inmates from several prisons take a math class at J.F. Ingram State Technical College. The campus becomes a medium-security facility when students arrive. We agreed not to show full faces. Photo by Dan Carsen.
Alabama / Audio / Multimedia / Special Coverage

Interview With An Alabama Inmate & Horticulture Student

Alabama’s J.F. Ingram State may be the nation’s only state-run two-year college exclusively for inmates. Its mission is to reduce recidivism by offering “three legs of the stool”: academics, life skills (getting along with coworkers and family, managing stress, getting to work on time, and more), and vocational training. Our Alabama reporter Dan Carsen recently visited Ingram’s Deatsville campus, where he met Timothy Brown, a 53-year-old convicted robber and burglar 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: Ed Policy Expert On Her Deep-South State’s Low NAEP Rankings
Alabama / Audio

INTERVIEW: Ed Policy Expert On Her Deep-South State’s Low NAEP 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, Alabama eighth-graders ranked fiftieth out of 52 jurisdictions in mathematics (military-base schools, and those in the District of Columbia, were counted as two additional groups). As with most education topics, though, it’s not quite that simple. Our Alabama reporter Dan Carsen sat down with Alabama School Connection executive director Trisha Powell Crain to go behind the results. She says we shouldn’t put too much emphasis on one data point, or be too surprised at Alabama’s low showing.

ulia Tutwiler Prison for Women inmates get down to business in a life-skills class, part of a pilot program offered by J.F. Ingram State Technical College. Ingram State's counseling coordinator Rick Vest and reentry program case manager Amanda Pittman (both at upper right) lead the class. Photos by Dan Carsen.
Alabama / Audio / Multimedia / Special Coverage

DOCUMENTARY: Voices (And Photos) From Women’s Prison Life-Skills Classes

J.F. Ingram Technical College is a unique part of Alabama’s two-year college system because all of its students are incarcerated. Last month, as part of WBHM-Birmingham’s prison-reporting partnership with Al.com, our Dan Carsen drove down to Ingram’s campus at Julia Tutwiler Prison For Women in Wetumpka, Alabama. He was planning to do a short story on Ingram’s program there, but he came out with so many compelling conversations that he wanted to make a mini-documentary…

Students in an office information systems class at J.F. Ingram State Technical College's Tutwiler prison campus. Technically this is school property, but the building is inside the security perimeter. From the outside it's indistinguishable from the  prison, but inside, the atmosphere of what the inmates call "the trade school" is quite different. Photo by Dan Carsen.
Alabama / Audio / Multimedia / Special Coverage

INTERVIEW: Inmate In Alabama’s Tutwiler Prison On Promising New Ed Program

One barrier people released from prison face is a lack of skills. But some educators in Alabama are working to smooth that transition long 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. As part of WBHM-Birmingham and Al.com’s prison-reporting collaboration, our Dan Carsen sat in on those classes and later caught up 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.

INTERVIEW: James Willig On “Gamification” Of Medical Training
Alabama / Audio / Multimedia / science

INTERVIEW: James Willig On “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 University of Alabama at Birmingham 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 our Alabama reporter Dan Carsen to explain. Willig starts with the downside of limiting residents’ work hours.

At The Egg And I in Hoover, Alabama. From bottom left: Allinda Brown, Justin Barkley, Arnold Singer, Robyn Hyden (obscured), Sabrina Lewis, Rachel Osier Lindley, and Dan Carsen. Photo by Audrey Atkins.
Alabama / Audio / Multimedia

Carsen Helps Lead Talk On Controversial Hoover, Ala. School Bus Fee Plan

Recently AL.com and WBHM-Birmingham 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 our Alabama 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.

A view from outside Julia Tutwiler Prison in Wetumpka, Alabama. Photo by Dan Carsen.
Alabama / Audio / Multimedia / Special Coverage

INTERVIEW: Counseling Coordinator Of A 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 WBHM-Birmingham’s prison-reporting partnership with Alabama Media Group’s Investigative Journalism Lab, our Dan Carsen spoke with Ingram State counseling coordinator Rick Vest outside Ingram’s Tutwiler campus. Vest says learning job skills isn’t enough.

Birmingham City Schools Superintendent Craig Witherspoon makes a point during Friday's press conference. Behind him are, left to right, school board Vice President Sherman Collins Jr., board President Randall Woodfin, board member Sandra Brown, and board member Lyord Watson. Photo by Dan Carsen.
Alabama / Audio / Multimedia

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 Alabama reporter Dan Carsen recorded it and broke it down for listeners. The story also includes links to background information and a previously broadcast interview with AdvancEd CEO Mark Elgart.

INTERVIEW: Co-Author Of National Report On Boards’ Effects On Academics
Alabama / Audio / Special Coverage

INTERVIEW: Co-Author Of National Report On Boards’ Effects 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 systems across the Southeast, our Alabama 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.

A typical day at Jones Valley Teaching Farm in Birmingham. Contributed photo.
Alabama / Audio / Special Coverage / Uncategorized

INTERVIEW: Head Of Urban Teaching Farm On “Sustainability” Education

In the middle of urban Birmingham, there’s a farm. Jones Valley Teaching Farm is an education center offering students and families gardening, nutrition courses, fresh food, and much more. With Earth Day and Arbor Day coming up, our Alabama reporter Dan Carsen sat down with its Executive Director, Grant Brigham. Dan starts off by asking Brigham if he sees the farm playing a part in Birmingham’s long-term sustainability.

Birmingham and Alabama Teacher of the Year Alison Grizzle. Alabama State Department of Education photo.
Alabama / Audio

INTERVIEW: Alabama’s Outspoken Teacher Of The Year

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. Our Alabama reporter Dan Carsen recently 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.

Challenging work brings out a range of emotions in a technology class at Phillips Academy in downtown Birmingham. Photo by Dan Carsen.
Alabama / Audio / Poverty / Race / Special Coverage

Birmingham Schools, Takeover To Today, Part 3: Turning A Corner? Looking Ahead

Birmingham, Ala.– 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, [...]

"I get it" lightbulbs are lit in this technology class at Phillips Academy in downtown Birmingham. Photo by Dan Carsen.
Alabama / Audio / Poverty / Race / Special Coverage

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 we’re airing and publishing 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 Alabama reporter Dan Carsen talks with teachers, parents, and students to get a different view — a view from the ground level.

State schools chief Tommy Bice (center right), Birmingham Mayor William Bell (lower left) and other area leaders look on with concern at a contentious April 2012 board meeting that helped trigger state intervention. Photo by Dan Carsen.
Alabama / Audio / Poverty / Race / Special Coverage

Birmingham Schools, Takeover To Today, Part 1: The Run-Up To State Intervention

The Alabama State Department of Education’s intervention team is now monitoring Birmingham City Schools from afar, a year and a half after it first took control of the city 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, our Alabama reporter Dan Carsen delves into the complex and often painful situation leading to state intervention.