APM Reports Documentaries

APM Reports

The documentary unit of APM Reports (formerly American RadioWorks) has produced more than 140 programs on topics such as health, history, education and justice.

All Episodes

Most scientists believe climate change is increasing the severity of the storms we experience, and how quickly they intensify. After suffering two hurricanes, a winter storm, and devastating flooding in less than a year, Lake Charles, Louisiana, offers a troubling view of the wrenching, disturbingly inequitable effects of climate change. In Deep: One City’s Year of Climate Chaos offers a rich journalistic portrait of a working-class city and its residents at a perilous moment in our planet’s existence. Read the story.

Sep 3

51 min 22 sec

Even before the pandemic, campus counselling services were reporting a marked uptick in the number of students with anxiety, clinical depression and other serious psychiatric problems. What is a college’s responsibility for helping students navigate mental health challenges, and how well are colleges rising to the task? Read more: Inside the college mental health crisis

Aug 19

51 min 32 sec

Many schools around the country are struggling to find enough teachers. Large numbers of teachers quit after a short time on the job, so schools are constantly struggling to replace them. The problem is particularly acute at rural schools and urban schools. The most common level of experience of teachers in the United States now is one year on the job. At the same time, enrollment in teacher training programs at colleges and universities is plummeting, and schools are looking to other sources to fill classrooms. In Nevada, a desperate need for teachers this year led to allowing people with just a high school diploma to fill in as substitutes. Oklahoma recently changed its law to allow people with a bachelor’s degree — in anything — to teach indefinitely on emergency teaching certificates. Schools in Texas are increasingly turning to for-profit teacher training programs. Data we obtained shows that nearly one in four of the teachers hired in Texas last year came through a single for-profit online program — one that’s now making its way into other states. We’ll look at the implications of these changes, both for children and for the teaching force. Read more: Texas company fuels rise of for-profit teacher training programs

Aug 11

52 min 29 sec

Colleges and universities in the United States attract more than a million international students a year. Higher education is one of America’s top service exports, generating $42 billion in revenue. But the money spigot is closing. The pandemic, visa restrictions, rising tuition and a perception of poor safety in America have driven new international student enrollment down by a jaw-dropping 72 percent. Read more: The U.S. may never regain its dominance as a destination for international students. Here's why that matters.

Aug 3

51 min 40 sec

Sixteen-year-old Myon Burrell was sent to prison for life after a stray bullet killed an 11-year-old girl in Minneapolis in 2002. Amy Klobuchar, who was Minneapolis’ top prosecutor, brought first-degree murder charges as part of a national crackdown on gang violence — a crackdown that engulfed young men of color.    Burrell maintained his innocence for 18 years in prison. AP reporter Robin McDowell spent a year looking into Burrell’s case and found that multiple people had lied about Burrell’s involvement in the shooting, and police didn’t talk to his alibi witnesses. In December 2020, the state commuted Burrell’s sentence, allowing him to walk free.  This end to a prison sentence is rare: Burrell’s case was the first time in at least 28 years that Minnesota commuted a sentence for a violent crime case. But the factors that put Burrell in prison are not rare at all. According to The Sentencing Project, there are 10,000 people serving life sentences in the U.S. for crimes committed when they were juveniles. Half of them are Black. Burrell’s longshot reveals just how difficult it is to right a wrong in our criminal justice system. How many other Myons are there? 

Apr 17

50 min 49 sec

More than 40 states have sent their most vulnerable kids to facilities run by a for-profit company named Sequel. Many of those kids were abused there. Read more.

Nov 2020

51 min 11 sec

Lauren Brown says college was "culture shock." Most of the students at her high school were Black, but most of the students at the University of Missouri were white. And she got to the university in the fall of 2015, when Black students led protests in response to a string of racist incidents. The protests put Mizzou in the national news. But the news stories didn't match what Lauren saw. They made it seem like racism on campus was an aberration. And they made it seem like Black student organizing was new at Mizzou. What Lauren saw was "Black Mizzou," a thriving campus-within-a-campus that Black students have built over decades to make the university a more welcoming place.

Aug 2020

52 min 47 sec

Everyone agrees that the goal of reading instruction is for children to understand what they read. The question is: how does a little kid get there? Emily Hanford explores what reading scientists have figured out about how reading comprehension works and why poverty and race can affect a child’s reading development. Read the full story.

Aug 2020

52 min 35 sec

The coronavirus pandemic represents the greatest challenge to American higher education in decades. Some small regional colleges that were already struggling won’t survive. Other schools, large and small, are rethinking how to offer an education while keeping people safe. This program explores how institutions are handling the crisis, and how students are trying to navigate a major disruption in their college years. Colleges on the brink The long tradition of students attending small, residential liberal arts colleges around the country was already shaky before the pandemic. Students are choosing less expensive options and more practical degrees. Experts warn that 10 percent of American colleges — about 200 or more institutions — are on the verge of going under. The pandemic is accelerating that trend. A digital divide The pandemic is making getting through college harder for students on the wrong side of the digital divide. In rural Arizona, when campuses closed, some students couldn’t log on from home, because they had no access to the internet. A local sheriff flew laptops and hotspots to community college students on the Navajo Nation. Reopening in a virus hotspot Colleges and universities are under pressure to reopen, but bringing students back on campus safely means dealing with dizzying logistics. As the virus surges in Miami, a large commuter campus gets ready.

Jul 2020

53 min 2 sec

During the Vietnam War, roughly one in five GIs actively opposed the conflict. Many servicemen and women came to believe they were not liberating the country from communism but acting as agents of tyranny. In the combat zone, they rebelled against their commanders' orders. At home, they staged massive protests. Soldiers for Peace offers a first-person look at how GIs were transformed by Vietnam, and the strategies veterans and active-duty personnel used to bring the war to an end.

Nov 2019

52 min 16 sec

In the 1950s, the United States came up with a plan to solve what it called the "Indian Problem." It would assimilate Native Americans by moving them to cities and eliminating reservations. The 20-year campaign failed to erase Native Americans, but its effects on Indian Country are still felt today.

Nov 2019

52 min 49 sec

In the 1970s, the founder of the National Institute on Aging convinced a nation that senility was really Alzheimer's and could be cured. Research money flowed to one theory, leaving alternatives unexamined — today it's come up short.

Oct 2019

52 min 33 sec

For decades, schools have taught children the strategies of struggling readers, using a theory about reading that cognitive scientists have repeatedly debunked. And many teachers and parents don't know there's anything wrong with it.

Aug 2019

53 min 6 sec

A growing body of research finds that repeatedly uprooted children are more likely to struggle in school and more likely to drop out. But there are ways to help them succeed.

Aug 2019

52 min 31 sec

At Georgia State in Atlanta, more students are graduating, and the school credits its use of predictive analytics. But critics worry that the algorithms may be invading students' privacy and reinforcing racial inequities.

Aug 2019

51 min 58 sec

Tasers have become an essential tool for police, but how effective are they? An APM Reports investigation finds that officers in some big cities rated Tasers as unreliable up to 40 percent of the time, and in three large departments, newer models were less effective than older ones. In 258 cases over three years, a Taser failed to subdue someone who was then shot and killed by police.

May 2019

50 min 59 sec

Scientific research has shown how children learn to read and how they should be taught. But many educators don't know the science and, in some cases, actively resist it. As a result, millions of kids are being set up to fail.

Sep 2018

52 min 45 sec

You might think apprenticeships are a relic from an earlier era, but a growing number of Americans are using them as a way into the middle class.

Sep 2018

52 min 46 sec

They bet that college would help them move up. Did it pay off?

Aug 2018

52 min 11 sec

Colleges have long offered a pathway to success for just about anyone. But new research shows that with the country growing ever more economically divided, colleges are not doing enough to help students from poor families achieve the American Dream.

Aug 2018

52 min 36 sec

At the end of 1944, the U.S. government lifted the order barring people of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast. Many people freed from camp faced racism and poverty as they tried to rebuild their lives.

Jul 2018

52 min 59 sec

At the beginning of World War Two, Japanese Americans not already in the military were declared ineligible for service. The government said it doubted their loyalty. But as the war dragged on, the need for manpower grew urgent.

Jul 2018

52 min 59 sec

Japanese warplanes bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Hours later, the FBI began rounding up people of Japanese ancestry on the West Coast.

Jul 2018

52 min 59 sec

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is a major investor in Neurocore, a company based in Michigan that claims to help kids with various attention deficit disorders. Since taking office, she's kept her stake in the company and invested even more money in it. In the third and final installment of "Ethics Be Damned," APM Reports investigative journalist Tom Scheck joins Lizzie O'Leary of Marketplace Weekend to parse DeVos' potential conflicts of interest. Plus, what happens if watchdog groups use ethics as a political weapon? To read Tom's full investigation, visit apmreports.com/ethics.

Mar 2018

11 min 25 sec

It all started with a fur coat and an expensive rug. It ended with the resignation of President Eisenhower's chief of staff. That incident led to the government ethics system of today. In the second installment of our series, APM Reports investigative journalist Tom Scheck joins Lizzie O'Leary of Marketplace Weekend to discuss the history of U.S. ethics rules, and the complicated financial holdings of current Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. To read Tom's full investigation, visit apmreports.com/ethics.

Mar 2018

11 min 36 sec

More than half of Trump's 20-person Cabinet has engaged in questionable or unethical conduct since taking office. The nation's top ethics official says "these are perilous times." In the first installment of "Ethics Be Damned," APM Reports investigative journalist Tom Scheck joins Lizzie O'Leary of Marketplace Weekend to discuss whether the federal ethics system is broken. To read Tom's full investigation, visit apmreports.com/ethics.

Mar 2018

12 min 15 sec

President Trump is ending DACA, which allowed some 800,000 undocumented young people to stay and work in the United States. For some, that may mean the end of a dream of going to college. This program profiles DACA students and their opponents and examines a key court case and political forces that led to this moment.

Sep 2017

52 min 24 sec

Public schools are denying children with dyslexia proper treatment and often failing to identify them in the first place.

Sep 2017

51 min 51 sec

Profits from slavery and related industries helped build some of the most prestigious schools in New England. This documentary focuses on three universities -- Harvard, Georgetown and the University of Virginia -- as they grapple with a deeply troubling chapter in their vaunted histories.

Sep 2017

51 min 39 sec

There may be nothing more important in the educational life of a child than having effective teachers. But the United States is struggling to attract and keep teachers.

Aug 2017

51 min 47 sec

The Question of Black Identity, Black Love Stories

Feb 2017

51 min 59 sec

Tracking Down a Slave's Bill of Sale, The Path to Founding an HBCU, The Fiddler who Charmed Missouri

Feb 2017

51 min 59 sec

NASA's Human Computers, Harlem Through James Van Der Zee's Lens, The Spirit of the Million Man March

Feb 2017

52 min

After an abrupt reversal 20 years ago, some prisons and colleges try to maintain college education for prisoners.

Sep 2016

52 min 16 sec

The nation's high school graduation rate is at an all-time high, but high-poverty schools face a stubborn challenge. Schools in Miami and Pasadena are trying to do things differently.

Sep 2016

52 min 8 sec

A get-tough attitude prevailed among educators in the 1980s and 1990s, but research shows that zero-tolerance policies don't make schools safer and lead to disproportionate discipline for students of color.

Aug 2016

52 min 15 sec

A system meant to give college students a better shot at succeeding is actually getting in the way of many, costing them time and money and taking a particular toll on students of color.

Aug 2016

51 min 53 sec

Advocates for kids are pushing for a new approach to combating underage prostitution: treating young people caught up in sex trafficking as victims, not delinquents.

May 2016

52 min 59 sec

Scientists say most people on Earth will first experience climate change in terms of water — either too much or too little.

May 2016

53 min

This documentary explores the "Expeditionary Learning" approach, traces the history of ideas that led to its inception, and investigates what American schools could learn from its success.

Sep 2015

52 min 57 sec

The longest war in American history is drawing to a close. Now, the men and women who served are coming home, and many hope to use higher education to build new, better lives.

Sep 2015

52 min 59 sec

Research shows good teaching makes a big difference in how much kids learn. But the United States lacks an effective system for training new teachers or helping them get better once they're on the job.

Aug 2015

52 min 58 sec

Before the civil rights movement, African Americans were largely barred from white-dominated institutions of higher education. And so black Americans, and their white supporters, founded their own schools, which came to be known as Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

Aug 2015

52 min 58 sec

When Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected president in 1932, he and first lady Eleanor Roosevelt both used the new medium of radio to reach into American homes like never before.

Nov 2014

53 min

Vocational education was once a staple of American schooling, preparing some kids for blue-collar futures while others were put on a path to college. Many experts say it's time to bring back career and technical education.

Sep 2014

53 min

Just 20 percent of college-goers fit the stereotype of being young, single, full-time students who finish a degree in four years. College students today are more likely to be older, part-time, working, and low-income than they were three decades ago.

Sep 2014

52 min 59 sec

The United States is in the midst of a huge education reform. The Common Core State Standards are a new set of expectations for what students should learn each year in school.

Aug 2014

53 min 1 sec

Researchers have long been searching for better ways to learn. In recent decades, experts working in cognitive science, psychology, and neuroscience have opened new windows into how the brain works, and how we can learn to learn better.

Aug 2014

53 min

Most test-takers hope the GED will lead to a better job or more education. But critics say the GED encourages some students to drop out of school. And research shows the credential is of little value to most people who get one.

Sep 2013

53 min

Learning with a personal tutor is one of the oldest and best ways to learn. Hiring a tutor for every student was never a realistic option. Now, new computer programs can customize education for each child.

Aug 2013

52 min 59 sec