Blog: The Educated Reporter
I want to elaborate on how I think journalists can better cover district reform before it is a messy, teary, semi-done deal. When board members search for a superintendent, they tend toward blind optimism. Fine. But journalists need to be more circumspect. Travel budgets may preclude a trip to the supe’s previous districts. But reporters must at least get on the phone—to busybody parents, to board members, to the teachers union president. Read up on the battles in the clips. Ask board members, administrators, teachers: Why wouldn’t they happen here? Are we ready for that?
I got a letter Saturday from Henry Holt, which published my second book, Tested: “Sales of the title shown below are now very modest, and we have therefore decided to remainder our entire remaining inventory.” Which means 411 books will be assaulted with a Sharpie, smacked with a “REDUCED! $3!” sticker and hidden away on that awful shelf with the crockpot guides and off-brand pop-up books that don’t really work.
People want to see test scores rise, fast. Well, guess what? The kind of change required for that to happen causes pain. Lots. ALWAYS. Superintendents are brought in with the hope and expectation they’ll wipe away problems, and then, invariably, the community freaks out at the collateral damage.
If you were an eighth-grader in an unnamed southeastern state taking a writing assessment in 1997 that described “someone or something who is important in your life,” you’d better hope your test was graded after lunch. Before lunch, a certain answer would have given you a failing score of 2. After lunch, once a state official deemed she was seeing too many 2’s, and the scorers complied by inflating grades—rubric be damned—that same essay would have gotten a 3.
This excellent AP story by Libby Quaid and Donna Blankinship about the Gates Foundation’s huge influence on education policy made me even more concerned that many (though not all) reporters tell me how hard it is to get foundation staff to call them back. Today I spoke with Chris Williams, the Gates media officer handling K-12 education. (He returned my call the day I placed it.)
Some of Lamar Alexander’s article in the October 20 issue of Newsweek didn’t work for me (primarily, his attempt to scare people by insisting health care reform will drive up college costs), but he raises a good point when he suggests colleges run a full program year-round. I got a lot done on my summers off from college—performed surgery on lab rats, did PR for a children’s theater, served Fribbles at Friendly’s, wrote mediocre metro stories for the Middletown Press.
In responses to our survey of people who have used the public editor resource, several mentioned they would like a clearer explanation of what I can help with.
Secretary Duncan came down on teachers colleges yesterday. This isn’t a new concern. Yet I don’t think I have EVER read a piece in the media about what exactly people learn, and don’t learn, at schools of education. Can we fix that?
Okay, so I admit I’m always a little taken aback when I am visiting a school and see Latina kindergartners wearing frilly dresses and high heels. I’ve heard more than one teacher snicker at this; it makes it hard to sit criss-cross applesauce and participate in P.E. But after EWA’s meeting on Latino youth issues with the Pew Hispanic Center earlier this month, I get it.
Hours after starting my blog, I heard from Jerry Bracey. If you are an education reporter at any sizable media outlet and never heard from Jerry Bracey, I am surprised. He dedicated himself to correcting, not always politely, what he saw as misinformation in education research and journalism. As a frequent recipient of his long analyses, let me tell you, he found misinformation everywhere.
In his education speech to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in March, President Obama said, “From the moment students enter a school, the most important factor in their success is not the color of their skin or the income of their parents. It’s the person standing at the front of the classroom.”
To put it bluntly: “He’s wrong.”