wrote over the weekend in the New York Times about the
complications of value-added scores for teachers, including
teacher-of-record issues and a confidence interval that may give
observers more pause than confidence. A commenter to my previous
post on teacher-of-record noted the confidence interval issue,
which is clearly demarcated in the Times story: A city teacher
ranked in the 63rd percentile could actually stand anywhere from
46th to 80th.
Or should we say for $184,203 (so far!), for my friend Tom
Nissley, who had his sixth win on “Jeopardy!” last night and
is already one of the top regular-season winners ever. Humanities
PhDs certainly get their share of “What are you going to
do with that degree?” and “Well, that will come in handy
at trivia night.” It comes in handy for Tom’s day job too, though in a way
that is not so instantly lucrative.
I totally do not get the appeal of
Ryan Reynolds, or for that matter the majority of People
magazine’s sexiest men alive, but I always appreciate a good pop
culture reference and applaud Ben Miller for a totally
appropriate “Van Wilder” lede. It comes in an
Education Sector brief on how little difference measuring
graduation rates over eight years makes, compared to the now-used
The same day I read
this Trip Gabriel piece on student mental health in the New
York Times, I learned that someone I am close with is taking a
semester off college because of depression. My young friends who
have been in this situation—and there is a surprising number—have
not abused Adderall, binged, cut themselves or engaged in other
sorts of behaviors that capture the attention of RAs and
for details on attending EWA’s higher ed conference in St.
Petersburg, Fla., February 4-5. It is a great program, a great
facility (the Poynter Institute), and an average February high
temperature of 71.
Did you know that 13 percent of all students in kindergarten
through eighth grade change schools four or more times? That is a
lot of kids, and a lot of moves. (And we’re not talking about
progressing from elementary to middle school.)
… since stimulus funds has allowed the governor to keep more of
them in prison. Education stimulus funds, that is. On a
per-person basis, Alabama prisoners got three times as many
education stimulus dollars than students in, say, Mobile schools.
Reva Havner Phillips at the Mobile Press-Register analyzed
the state’s stimulus disbursements with the help of the EWA
research and statistics bootcamp.
If you go into a typical fourth-grade class—especially a
high-poverty one—on test day in March, you might find a kid who
arrived at the school in January, one who arrived in February,
and one who arrived three days before. You’ll find several kids
who receive most of their reading instruction from a pullout
teacher, and others who do so in math. There will be students who
spend large part of their day in a special ed room, and some in
ESL. The class might have spent a large chunk of the fall with a
If comments to your news articles become flooded by a new,
probably articulate commenter who really, really loves charters
and vouchers, the new managing editor of the Center for Education Reform’s
“Media Bullpen” is probably doing his or her job.
I don’t know if the National School Boards Association gives an
award for awesomeness, but if they do they should
probably move Bay District Schools board member Ginger
Littleton to the top of the list. She is the woman who reentered
the meeting room to
whack the Panama City, Fla., school board shooter, Clay
Duke, with her purse. Our character is defined by what we do
in the most difficult situations. So here we have ill-thought-out
(“stupid” is her assessment) but so admirably brave!
I could not sleep last night, so I stayed up downloading apps for
my iPhone. I love the app store. It’s like Taco Bell—you order
about seven different things, and it comes to, like, $4.89.
Because, as Michael Aggers says in Slate, denying my
2-year-old access to the amusing technology of the day would be
like taking away my Simon in 1979, I am happy to let Milo play
games on my phone, and I browsed the kids section delightedly.
For a project we are working on at EWA, a colleague and I have
been digging into a lot of research on teacher effectiveness.
Tracking soundbites back to their source can be pretty easy in
some cases: Sanders 1996! Hanushek 2005! But while
collectively we think about this topic a massive amount, neither
of us know what research, specifically, birthed the assertion
that teachers are the biggest school factor in student
achievement. Obviously we could get the answer in one phone call
to the right person, but we would rather turn it into a contest.
Principals and superintendents and PR folks have been getting
more zealous in their quest to “control the message” by making
sure their employees do not talk to the press and keeping
journalists out of schools. But one reporter’s distressed query
to me recently took the cake: Her superintendent wanted to ban
the media from entering schools when children are present.
I’m compiling my second annual list of my favorite
education journalism of the year. This has nothing to do with the
EWA awards, which I have no role in judging, and which you
should enter. If there’s something you want to call
to my attention, by you or others, please e-mail me a link at the
address at right, or post it in the comments.
In general, I am of the belief that we elect people to make
decisions for us, and that is democracy enough. So I find
California’s reliance on referenda pretty maddening (Hey! Which
class of citizens do we feel like discriminating against this
year?!), and the new parent-trigger law that basically allows a
community to overthrow its school strikes me as odd, even if
there are appealing aspects of the spirit behind it.
I am not quite sure how far $100,000 goes in an urban school
district, but it’s good to see somebody—in this case, the Gates
something about the chasm between charter and traditional
schools. The foundation has gotten nine districts to agree to
collaborate with their charters, and vice versa, on data, best
practices and so on.
I really don’t like to beg, people—but I will if I have to.
Again: We NEED journalists to spend time in teacher education and
show us the gaps between what teaching aspirants learn and what
they need to learn to be successful in the classroom. It seems to
me that this could fall under your beat whether you cover K-12 or
The big news out of the PISA report is not the mediocre showing
of American students—as if we didn’t know that—but the
impressive debut of the Chinese.
Here’s a useful piece by Sam Dillon of the New York Times.
And if you want a little background on what PISA is, especially
versus TIMSS, there are many explanations online;
this one is as good as any.
Michelle Rhee has created a new organization, which you can find
here and which she
describes in a Newsweek article
here. Seems they will lobby and support candidates and …
we’ll see. We continue to witness the genesis of a lot of
collaborations and organizations devoted to education reform;
it’s hard to discern what will distinguish them, and what they
will actually do, but obviously what sets this one apart
is the woman at its helm.
… when they use Facebook to
curse out the teachers union. Catherine Velasco of the
Herald-News in Joliet, Ill., covers a school board official who
seems to be giving Chris Christie a run for his money.
The typical tenure of urban superintendents continues to
increase, according to a survey
by the Council of Great City Schools. Any thoughts on why? It’s
not like 3.64 years is a lifetime, but it’s a considerable jump
from 2.33 years in 1999.
Did you do some excellent education writing in 2010? Then enter
EWA’s annual contest. Here is a little
background on the contest,
here are the categories, and
here is where you enter. Note that we now have a category for
non-journalists bloggers! Teachers, community members, wonks—have
we got a prize for you!
At least once a month I hear from a journalist whose school
district is moving toward standards-based grading—being measured
on whether students know the content and not whether they do the
work (or, for that matter, show up). Peg Tyre
summed up the issue nicely in the New York Times this
I have spent so many hours with American middle schoolers that I
think I can safely, and sadly, say that whatever schools are
doing to prevent bullying is not working. This is especially true
when it comes to homosexuality. As I wrote in
my book, “fag” is still considered the greatest insult one
12-year-old can spew at another, and while kids may tell you on a
survey that they think being gay is okay, their ugly actions (and
words) speak far louder.
this analysis by Chad Aldeman of Education Sector on why it
might be that NAEP scores have improved over the long term for
younger students but not older ones. It is likely the same trends
hold in your own districts, and if so—or if not—this would be a
great national issue to localize in a story.
I am always getting e-mails and IMs from young friends when I
know they are in class. I scold them, and at the same time, I
know I wouldn’t be able to resist the Internet on my laptop
during lectures either. Clickers to keep tabs on student learning
in colleges—and, just as important, to keep them from sleeping
and surfing—is not new.
I have great respect for my colleague and friend Jay Mathews at
the Washington Post, but I was
disturbed to read that only this week did he learn that lack
of effort had anything to do with the stagnant or worse
performance of so-so students in Montgomery County, Maryland,
and, by extension, America. Isn’t this obvious to those who spend
time with teenagers who aren’t super-strivers?
While submersed in years of middle school research, I kept
hearing how girls had gained so much power. If that was
true, why was I watching them abase themselves to impress
boys every day? Yes, they spoke up more. They were sassy.
But an awfully large number let boys grind into them at dances
even when it made them uncomfortable and cared more than anything
what boys thought of them. To me, that wasn’t power at all.
Latino children in Illinois are far less likely to go to
preschool than their peers are, according to a new report by
Bruce Fuller that’s being discussed today at a meeting EWA is
cosponsoring in Chicago. Rosalind Rossi
wrote about the research in today’s Sun-Times.
I have finally consumed every word of this massive
Education Week package on professional development, most of
it by Stephen Sawchuk, along with Bess Keller and Mary Ann Zehr
(and others I have probably missed). Thank goodness for it. The
topic is all but ignored in the policy conversation and
journalism, yet so important, as PD swallows so much money and
The Chronicle of Higher Ed has published a doozy of a first-person
account from a guy who writes students’ papers for him. I
dare you to read it without feeling a little ill. I am surprised
he makes only $66,000, frankly. Less surprised that education
students are among his most frequent clients, unfortunately.
Linda Lutton of WBEZ and Sarah Karp of Catalyst Chicago
collaborated on a project about the student attrition rate
at the city’s charter schools, which is higher than at
traditional schools. It is a worthwhile
read, given how often people talk about charters “pushing
out” or “counseling out” students but rarely have substantive
reporting behind those comments.
Given that the Race to the Top grants were doled out according to
such a specific rubric, and states sometimes won or lost by a
hair, it is quite a story that in states with new leaders, we
really have no idea which pieces of the promises will endure, and
what the Department of Education will do about that.
While everyone debates what
Joel Klein’s resignation means for education, I’d love to
talk about what it means for journalism: The leader of the
country’s most prominent school system quits and A REPLACEMENT IS
PICKED and nobody heard a word?!
While everyone debates what
Joel Klein’s resignation means for education, I’d love to
talk about what it means for journalism: The leader of the
country’s most prominent school system quits and A REPLACEMENT IS
PICKED and nobody heard a word?!
I really wanted one of the kids’ entries to rise to the level of
finalist in the Slate Hive project I have been leading to design
a better classroom for the 21st century. Alas, that didn’t
happen. I was rooting for the
school-bus classroom too. Still, there are very cool finalists at the
top. Most of them took the classroom outdoors, in full or in
part, and/or divided classrooms into a variety of learning
Amanda Ripley, who has
embarked on interesting work on international education as a New
America Foundation fellow, has a
new piece out in the Atlantic. She discusses research by Eric
Hanushek, Paul Peterson and Ludger Woessmann that slices PISA
results compellingly, and disturbingly, thinly: state-by-state,
the smartest white kids in America still don’t fare well compared
to peers in other countries.
Whenever I’ve spent a significant amount of time observing a
school, the teachers seem to be figuring out a new curriculum in
some subject or another.
This post, by teacher blogger Jennifer Scoggin, reminded
me of that. This is a great, simple story idea as far as I’m
concerned: go into any school and find out how long the
curriculum in each subject has been around, and what came before
that, and what came before that.
Helping a reporter on a foreign language story reminded me of a
piece I’d always wanted to do, which I will now suggest
you do. Look at how many years of foreign language
instruction students in your districts received in elementary and
middle school, and whether they wound up placed in Spanish I in
high school anyway. This is nothing against studying
langauges—pienso que es muy importante—but I know way too
many kids who were in this boat.
Eric Hoover of the Chronicle
of Higher Education did a terrific job in the
New York Times this weekend—as part of a new collaboration
between the two publications—exploring the aggressive recruiting
top colleges conduct even among students they don’t have any
intention of admitting.
A follow to my post yesterday on budgets: No matter what your
superintendent says, a no-growth budget may be a bummer, but it
is not a “cut.” Trimming to his or her proposed increases is not
a cut either, if the total budget is not reduced from what it was
the year before. Just because the politicians and PR folk play
with semantics doesn’t mean you should too.
If you have ever had to cut your household spending, you know it
makes you rethink each of your expenditures, your priorities,
your life even. When school systems and universities face big
budget cuts, likewise, it’s a chance for some soul-searching—and
for journalists, it should be a chance to ask some tough
questions. How big is the district’s work force compared to its
student enrollment, and how have those numbers been moving over
the last decade? How much do employees contribute to health care
premiums and what are their copays?
Yesterday I mentioned that if a college you cover doesn’t offer
any online coursework, that is a story in its own right. There
are a lot of potential “why not” stories floating around in the
K-12 universe too. Why do reforms with so much national momentum
pass by certain jurisdictions completely? It is an interesting
and important question to ask, regardless of what people think of
When I titled my last blog post “Hybrid U.” I was really just
aiming for a teachable moment. And I couldn’t think of anything
better. College culture has handed us two of the easiest, most
obvious headline/title cliches in the universe, “Blank U” and
“Blank 101.” (The cousins of “Blank 2.0” in technology
stories.) I sort of want us all to resolve to ban them. But then
I won’t have them to fall back on.
As I have said before, if you cover higher ed,
you have to write about online learning. If your beat
is narrowly drawn to cover only schools that don’t offer it, then
that’s a story too: why not? All the better if you show what the
actual course-taking or -teaching experience is like, which given
the nature of the endeavor is no small feat. It is difficult to
achieve a compelling and illuminating level of descriptiveness
about someone typing on a computer.
The first time I wrote a
book based on a year of observation, I moved out of D.C. and
into a bare-bones apartment a three-minute bike ride from the
school I was writing about. It was 2001. It was a miserable year
for me, personally. My father was in a motorcycle accident (he
recovered), my grandmother died, I got dumped by a guy I loved
and one I just sort of liked, and September 11 layered onto all
of that to leave me utterly disconsolate.
My last chunk of unearthed files I want to share, from a manila
folder I had titled “EXCELLENT ARTICLES.” Is it the best
journalism ever? Well, it is the stuff I decided to tear out and
hold onto for a decade or more—high praise from someone so
ruthless about culling files.
I suddenly realized that I don’t need to bring all my files with
me across the
country—that there is this wacky new way to keep track of
valuable reading material, and that the actual paper can go to
Milo so that he can draw car carriers and house-faces on the
Sorting through everything, I’ve found a lot I want to share with
you, which can be sorted into three categories: the sociology of
middle schoolers, journalism I love and teacher quality.
My friend Hank Stuever at the Washington Post offers an
engaging review of the latest batch of DIY reality
television, including NBC’s education-renovation show “School
weighed in on this program a few months ago, and I am
involved in a Slate
project on innovative classroom design too—though the “School
Pride” classrooms aren’t so much reimagine
Today Slate launched its third “Hive” crowdsourcing project.
This one aims to
build a better classroom. Think about it: Over the last century,
nearly all our institutions have changed in form to match an
evolution in function. Yet our children still learn in rectangles
filled with desks.
On November 1, The Educated Reporter is picking up stakes and
moving to Seattle. My husband—a “tech guy,” in proper English—has
taken a new job there. No need to worry—I will still be
public-editoring full-time for EWA. You can reach me in all of
the same ways, at all of the same times, except probably that
first hour you are at work on the East Coast.
If you can think of anyone in Washington state I should get to
know (or anywhere I should eat!), please let me know.
Just last week I was wondering why I have not read more about how
students who received K-12 special education services are faring
in college. Yesterday the U.S. Department of Education
announced $11 million in grants to help with this transition:
Michelle Rhee is most likely leaving now that Mayor Adrian Fenty
was voted out. Depending on whom you read, Ron Huberman
may not leave Chicago Public Schools now that Mayor Richard
Daley is stepping down.
I have been disappointed in how the charter debate—the next great
thing! the worst thing ever!—obscures what to me is the most
important question: What makes successful charter schools
successful, and how can those pieces be incorporated in regular
public schools that need to improve?
I met Macke
Raymond of Stanford at a conference last week. When the
conversation turned to Gail Collins’s exasperation over charter
school lotteries in a recent New York Times
column, Raymond said something interesting. According to the
data she has gathered, students who are not accepted into charter
schools almost never go back to the bad neighborhood school they
were seeking to leave.
October 15 is the deadline to apply for EWA’s
Education Research and Statistics Bootcamp, which will be
held December 2-5 at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.
You bring the numbers, and the assembled gurus will help you
crunch them. Journalists always come away from this seminar with
great energy and—even better—tangible, project-ready work.
Applicants are encouraged, though not required, to propose work
related to stimulus spending.
For this month, editors at the Harvard Education
Letter have kindly removed the paywall on this interview
with me. In it, I give advice to school and district
administrators about dealing with the press. Not surprisingly, I
advocate for openness, but I think I make a good case—so pass
this along to the people you cover, and maybe it will give them
pause about shutting you out.
Time for another round of MacArthur Foundation grants, and
another round of envy from unanointed intelligentsia. (I have at
least one friend in media who wonders each year if he will be so
font designers and
jellyfishologists do this too?)
Perhaps the most famous Strunkian edict is “Omit needless words.”
Yes! Nathan Heller of Slate, who is dedicated to
“copy-editing the culture,” wishes—as do I—that more people
also lived by this one: “Omit needless quote marks.”
Heller wants to know
why there are quotation marks around “Superman” in the movie
title “Waiting for ‘Superman.’” I can’t say I know why (something
copyrightish? how can that be?), but I can say that omitting them
is a mistake many writers are making, myself included. So let’s
Just a reminder that Monday is the deadline for applications to
the Campus Coverage
Project, in Phoenix in early January. It’s free, and it’s
fascinating, so please tell the college journalists that you
know/mentor/edit/are to apply.
I am looking for an outgoing, creative, articulate fifth-grade
teacher to participate in a very exciting project in October. No,
s/he will not be written about. It will not take up school time
and requires only virtual and perhaps telephonic involvement, so
any U.S. location is fine. Interest in classroom innovation is a
plus. If you or someone you know might be interested, e-mail me
at the address at right.
“It does no one any good to promote a student who is unprepared
for the next grade,” a New York schools spokesman said
in a piece by Sharon Otterman of the Times about the huge
increase in the city’s student retention rate this year. True
enough. It also does no one any good to have students repeat a
grade if they are going to be doing the same old ineffective
thing all over again.
Jason Amos of the Alliance for Excellent Education,
writing about my long-ago newsletter
article on the disproportionate amount of media attention
paid to high schools, revealed some surprising information about
the tiny amount of federal money that goes to secondary
education, compared to preschool, elementary and higher ed.
I hate name changes. Why change the name to “media specialist”
instead of just acknowledging that the definition of “librarian”
has expanded? The always-insightful Steve Burd at New America
points out the irony of the Career Colleges Association
changing their name to the Association of Private Sector Colleges
and Universities—given that they get nearly all their revenue
from the government.
More thoughts from the Vanderbilt conference on teacher
—Presenters brought up the difficulty, in value-added systems, in
determining the teacher of record for a given student; they did
not, however, offer much comfort in the way of solutions. This is
a fine point always worth
—Nearly all the districts you hear about that have experimented
with merit pay are relatively large. Reporters should not ignore
what is (and is not) being done for and by small districts in the
implementation of Race to the Top and other reforms.
USA Today has published a
strong investigation of how universities quietly dun students
for an athletics fee that can exceed $1,000 a year. I get that
activities fees go toward many things a student may not
participate in, but $1,000? That’s a lot. USA Today, by the way,
gets a lot of ribbing from smartypants types, but they have
consistently been out there doing real investigative journalism
Today, Vanderbilt University’s National Center on Performance
a report from a three-year controlled experiment on merit pay
in the Nashville schools. Teachers in the treatment group, from
fifth through eighth grades, stood to earn an extra $15,000 a
year if their students improved enough on math tests. Teachers in
the control group could not earn bonuses.
We are learning a lot these days about schools in turnaround
cleaning house of principals and teachers and janitors and even
ladies, but what about security guards? It is safe (ha!) to
say that the people patrolling the hallways have more of an
impact on school culture than those doling out the pizza.
Bringing order to a chaotic building is nearly always the first
piece of the turnaround puzzle.
If you have ever wanted to hear an ’80s-era sitcom star
utter the phrase“professional development
workshops,” then A&E sure has a show for you. “Teach: Tony
Danza” debuts October 1, with the first of seven one-hour
episodes about the actor teaching—for real—tenth-grade English in
a Philadelphia public school.
If you know college journalists—from any medium—please encourage
them to apply for the Campus Coverage Project
annual seminar. It’s a three-day conference, cosponsored by EWA,
Investigative Reporters and Editors and the Student Press Law
Center, where college students can bone up on the investigative
skills and issue knowledge that will help them cover their
campuses more incisively.
Phoenix in January! All expenses paid! (Thanks, Lumina
I know a lot of teachers who are dissatisfied with the amount and
quality of information they get from their school districts’ data
systems. This week, Anna Phillips of Gotham Schools
writes about one who took matters into his own hands,
developing a database for his Bronx high school that meshed the
information the city tracks with further details—including
personal anecdotes about children—that teachers felt they needed.
piece by Nikita Stewart and Paul Schwartzman about
how the arrogance of Washington, D.C., Mayor-for-Now Adrian Fenty
pretty much cost him yesterday’s election. Ouch. Michelle Rhee’s
fate is pretty clearly entwined with Fenty’s, and her own
situation is analogous: It doesn’t matter how much you accomplish
if you don’t play the politics.
You are interested in teacher quality, right? Check out
the agenda for this conference at the Vanderbilt Center for
Performance Incentives, called Evaluating and Rewarding Educator
Effectiveness. I am going next week. Let’s make a deal: I’ll take
copious notes for you on any of the sessions you tell me you are
interested in, and I’ll eat your share of barbecue.
As if the answer to that question isn’t obvious. My ambivalence
has been documented; I won’t reiterate it. But no matter how
much of a sports fan you are, you have to admit there is a story
in the inflated salaries of many college coaches. The Boston
Corey Jones of the Topeka Capital-Journal reports on Kansas
eliminating funds for high school journalism class because it’s
not a growth field. The funding has been provided through
vocational streams, which is why it is at risk. But why isn’t it
funded as an English class? As a profession, journalism cannot be
any more endangered than humanities scholar, but students still
I should add that while many stories about the upcoming
generation of assessments talk about supplanting
fill-in-the-bubble multiple-choice tests, nothing in the
applications indicated that would be the case. Well, yes, insofar
as you do not fill in a bubble when you take a test online; you
click on the right answer, or whatever.
PolitiFact takes on the strong union state/strong student
performance claim, repeated by Randi Weingarten in her
ABC’s This Week appearance. They declare it half-true: Yes,
strongly unionized states tend to rank above non-unionized ones
in test scores, but the data suggests mere correlation rather
I met with a young woman recently who had left the education beat
at a small-city newspaper to go work for AOL’s Patch.com. She got a pay increase and a
pretty open-ended mandate: to cover her community in whatever way
she sees fit.
Not everyone thinks being a Patch local editor is a great
job—there can be long hours, and you spend a good chunk of your
time getting people to amass restaurant listings.
Before I started this blog, I wrote a column for the EWA
of which suggested that you have to visit elementary schools
to see how high schools got so bad—but that in the earlier
grades, the dysfunction is harder to discern. Here is how I
described the high school:
If you are a journalist with burning—or even smoldering—questions
about the Los Angeles Times’ value-added
project, join EWA for an audioconference tomorrow (Thursday,
Sept. 2) at 1 p.m. eastern with reporters Jason Song and Jason
Felch and editor Beth Shuster. We will be talking process, ethics
and whatever else you want to ask about. If you want to
participate, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for dial-in
instructions. Working journalists only, please.
It turns out I wound up at a good college for me, but there was
nothing about my so-called “search” 23 years ago that would have
ensured that. I applied early to and was rejected from a school I
chose mainly because my boyfriend went there. Later, in the midst
of a lengthy stretch of college visits, I was struck by how the
tour guide at one school, which I knew of only because my best
friend’s dad had gone there, received a never-ending stream of