Blog: The Educated Reporter
There’s something that keeps popping into my brain lately. (Besides how many moving boxes I need. Have you ever tried to pack up a house with a job, a toddler and a husband whose commute eats nearly four hours a day? Grrr.) Anyway. I was listening to Emily Hanford’s terrific American Radio Works documentary on Latinos and college, “Rising by Degrees,”and I thought back to the EWA/Pew Latino meeting last month.
While I’m not in the business of advocating policy positions, I’m on record as supporting some form of merit pay for teachers. But I would never, ever promote it using one justification you hear often from proponents of primarily test-score-based performance pay: that in the real world, workers are paid based on measurable outcomes. Really? Sure, salesmen get commissions. But lawyers, doctors, accountants, consultants, journalists, politicians, policy makers?
For many years toward the end of their lives, my beloved grandparents were taken care of by a very kind and able Filipino couple. Many things made me uncomfortable about the arrangement—that the couple hadn’t seen their young children in years; that they worked basically all the time; that my grandparents were difficult, to put it mildly. But what appalled me the most were that the workers were basically owned by the agency that brought them to the States.
Turns out they are remaindering just the Tested hardcover; the paperback will contintue in print. (We THINK. You try getting through Macmillan voice jail to a real person.) I can live with that. And when my friend Hank’s publisher finally noticed all the great ink his new book is getting, they reversed their decision.
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.