In the four minutes since I saw that my book
Tested was on Education Next’s list
of contenders for best education book of the decade, my inner
Flick has bubbled up a bit. I mean, is it tacky to ask you to
vote for me? Should I bake cupcakes?
Wow—what a week to be away! I’m still sweeping up vacation
detritus, so I can’t talk long, and I know I am late on this. But
allow me to just pop in to say that it puzzles me that a state
otherwise deemed deserving of $400 million in grants
would not get it because they filled in one answer wrong.
Rules are rules, but, um, wow.
Okay, that last post REALLY felt like pre-vacation closure, but I
had to pop in and call attention to
this piece, by Melissa Ludwig of the San Antonio
Express-News. University of Texas at Austin is creating a branch
of the National College
Advising Corps, young college graduates who help high school
students move on to higher education. They help students navigate
paperwork, choose a college and the like, and have seeded
advisers in 13 states.
Tomorrow I leave with my little family for ten days in the
Pacific Northwest, to see friends
around. See you on the 30th. In the meantime, in lieu of
reading about education journalism, I invite you to waste time at
the same places I do:
A. The way to avoid pullout interventions for struggling
B. The way to enrich gifted students when they are not in special
C. The way, in the 21st century, to make sure each student is
taught at his or her level and to his or her greatest
D. All of the above.
E. None of the above.
We have known that universal preschool is often not actually
universal. Now we are finding that free isn’t free. Interesting
story by Staci Hupp of the Des Moines Register about
districts that are charging tuition for preschool even though the
state provided money for it to be offered for free. And by the
way: “Nobody tracks which districts charge tuition.” It would be
a good idea to see if the districts you cover are doing this as
I feel really bad for John Smith. Smith was the subject of an
Angeles Times article Saturday, the first piece of a big
database project that uses student test score data to rate
teacher effectiveness. Smith, according to the Times, was one of
the least effective elementary school teachers in LAUSD.
I am conflicted about all the amazed look-at-the-fried-food
travelogues that come out of the state fairs, and the
one-upmanship of the carts themselves (fried
butter! they have that!) for reasons both of both culinary
interest and public health. I do love fairs, and I do love junk
food, and I do love quite a number of fried things.
But the idea that
deep-frying can improve anything is a myth.
EWA has a bunch of great ideas in the pipeline that, eventually,
will help not just journalists but anyone interested in the
conversation about education. To move them forward, we are
looking for a multimedia
producer to join the staff—someone with writing skills,
online experience, energy and a steady stream of ideas. Are you
interested? Know anyone who might be? Encourage them to apply.
This was possibly the nicest thing ever said to me, by a reporter
whose piece I edited last month. According to a friend, being
edited by me is sort of like getting the body scrub at the Korean
spa: There will likely be moments of
what-did-I-get-myself-into discomfort, but your skin feels great
afterward. I had that body scrub recently. Just when I thought it
couldn’t get better, the lady WASHED MY HAIR! It was awesome.
James Vaznis of the Boston Globe
laid out—as much as one can at these early, speculative
stages, and in less than 500 words—how the Common Core differs
from Massachusetts standards and what might change, topic by
topic. I am glad he did, I hope he goes deeper, and I
implore all beat reporters to do the same.
I love GAO reports! I always have. I used to want to work there.
(I also, at various points, used to want to be an interior
decorator, a teacher, an actress and a designer of
confidence-building measures between the Pakistani and Indian
armies.) Anyway, the latest education release from the GAO
(which, yay, includes voicemails), details questionable practices
that for-profit college representatives used on undercover
“applicants”—among them telling a purported candidate for a
barber certificate that one could earn $250,000 in the field.
Lots of talk among ed reporters this week about cut
scores—lowering them to ensure that more students pass,
raising them and seeing more students fail. It is a nearly
impossible topic to report really well, given that
states tend to make the process, and the tests, utterly opaque.
Not to mention that “making the questions harder” is sort of
No, really! One of
my favorite pieces to write on the ed beat was about an odd
policy on the books of the Montgomery County Public Schools,
encouraging teachers to mix up alphabetical order so as to not
discriminate against the Z kids.
Simon & Schuster released its first “enhanced” e-book today,
interspersed with archive footage and video interviews with the
author. Is it Stephen King? Laura Bush? Ernest Hemingway? “The
Secret”? No, silly: It is “Nixonland,” by my brother, Rick
Read more in today’s New York Times, or REALLY read more (896
buying the e-book.
Already there is
talk in Tennessee about whether the state can find enough
people experienced and savvy enough to fill the high-level jobs
created by its successful Race to the Top bid. It stands to
wonder, then, whether the talent pool can match the challenge
dozen or so more states are in the mix for major reform.
I didn’t realize how strongly news of Michelle Rhee’s firings
resonated until several people who don’t even live around here
asked this weekend what I thought of them. “Is this a big deal,
or not?” they said. I explained how in theory getting fired for
performance reasons isn’t shocking, but in teaching it is. (Less,
though, than we make it out to be. While it is rare, I know a lot
of principals who are successful at “encouraging people to
leave,” or whatever they call it.) Given that the D.C.
For a long time I was in the cheerleading-is-not-a-sport camp.
This attitude partly stemmed from my own experiences in the early
1980s as a middle school cheerleader and briefly, until I
realized the group was more about cementing popularity than about
dancing, a high school pom-pom girl. There was nothing strenuous
or rigorous about what we were doing; we were playacting, mostly,
at what we thought cheerleading was supposed to look like. I
don’t recall advisors or coaches, I don’t recall warming up or
wearing out, and we certainly never competed against anyone.
College students in America today are probably the biggest
Internet consumers on the planet, yet according to Michael
Koretzky, a Florida Atlantic University journalism advisor
in the Huffington Post, they are lousy at producing online
journalism. Have you noticed this? Koretzky says they are all
about the print product, which should comfort
California, D.C. and Indiana have language arts standards that
are stronger than the Common Core, according to a
Foundation report. They also shine in math. And yet their
students perform worse on NAEP than
about anyone else.
If my log of reporter requests means anything, a lot of you are.
Slate reporter Emily Bazelon began to dive into the world of
school bullying some time ago, and her lengthy investigation of
the Phoebe Prince case in South Hadley, Mass., that was published this
week is a worthwhile read. Some of the commenters are
excoriating Bazelon for, as they see it, excusing the bullying; I
don’t think that is what she has done.
If a state adopts the Common Core standards but is
not taking any steps to change its assessments, is it
really changing its standards? If you are a reporter in a
state that has already
adopted, find out what, if anything, is in the works for
curriculum and testing.
More than anything else about higher ed, I am interested in the
relationship between students and their studies. What could be
more important? Unfortunately, this does not get written
about much, but it happens occasionally. Like
this piece by Keith O’Brien in the Boston Globe last week, on
a finding that students study 10 hours fewer per week than they
did a half-century ago. Of course my kids-today string got
majorly plucked. Those lazy do-nothings! That stupid Internet!
As school system budgets tighten, more journalists find
themselves writing about—and misinterpreting the research
on—class size. Nearly every education writer knows about Project STAR, the only
large-scale, random-assignment experiment that has been conducted
on class size. Over four years in the late 1980s in Tennessee,
researchers assigned children in 79 schools to classrooms ranging
from 13 to 25 students.
EWA has started a blog called Ed
Beat. You’ll hear from my smart colleagues about what
education journalists might keep their eye on and what questions
they might ask, and I will chip in once in a while too. Please
read, and contribute.
I received an e-mailed
press release today that was titled “Students Aren’t
Interested in Growing Field” and led with the following: “Despite
the projected need for healthcare practitioners at all levels in
a challenging job market, nearly half of high school-age students
(45 percent of 13 to 18 year-olds) are not considering pursuing a
career in healthcare and science fields.” Doesn’t that mean that
at least half of all t
Michele McNeil at Education Week does a nice job of
summing up the i3 grant applications today. I was psyched to
see $17 million requested for something called “Free
to Be,” thinking we might see a nationwide renaissance of the
early ’70s hippy-dippy Marlo Thomas album that had such an
influence on me and my friends …
David Griffith at ASCD has an
interesting blog post about how states aren’t publicizing
their adoption of the Common Core standards. The organization
the states that have put out statements about their
adoption and linked to documentation; Catherine Gewertz’s
Education Week blog, Curriculum
Matters, counts more.
Bad enough that credit card companies target college students,
and the schools facilitate that. But did you know that many
universities have contracts with credit card companies that pay
out more to the schools if cardholders go into debt? Just … ew.
this story by Daniel Burnett of the Red & Black, a student
newspaper at the University of Georgia. Nice job.
is a really good piece by Jennifer Epstein in Inside Higher
Education about how putting one man in charge of retention—doing
whatever it takes to keep students at college—has dramatically
improved the graduation rate at Xavier University in Cincinnati.
What have the colleges you cover done, or not done, to make sure
Several times a year, a reporter contacts me and asks what to do
with the database of teacher salaries they just acquired. When a
journalist asks me whether or not to write about a piece of
research that just arrived on his desk, if I don’t think there is
a story there, I feel comfortable saying no. When the reporter
has FOIA’d his tail off and massaged the ensuing data to the nth
degree and then some, “I don’t think there is a story there” is
not a very useful response.
I suppose Canada didn’t have a $75 million budget when he started
out, either. But it is hard to imagine the Obama administration’s
20 “Promise Neighborhoods” blossoming anywhere nearly as robustly
as the Harlem Children’s Zone they are inspired by when they
get, on average, $500,000 each. The deadline for the grants is
Monday, which Larry Abramson of NPR
reports on this week. Still, any money that goes toward
tackling the effects of poverty on children is better than
I mentioned last
month that special ed identifications seem to be leveling off
or even decreasing. Mike Petrilli at Flypaper
offers some perspective; he is inclined to think that Reading
First and Response to Intervention are behind this shift.
Commenters to both our posts ask whether districts are refusing
in greater numbers to provide special ed services to students who
really need it.
When Davis Guggenheim spoke at the EWA conference in May about
his education reform documentary “Waiting for Superman,”
he said, “This really is not about ‘charters good, mainstream
bad.’” Yet anyone who has seen the film, as I did yesterday,
would say it is constructed precisely that way: A set of children
waits to find out if they get into the charter schools that we
are led to believe are the only hope for them.
We have been reading that colleges fear going beyond the
60-percent-female tipping point at which presumably a school
becomes less desirable to both sexes. So I was surprised to see
University of Phoenix advertising its extreme femaleness in the
D.C. Metro. Maybe if you go to school on the computer, you don’t
much care what gender your classmates are?
I was asked the other day if many reporters come to me about
stories on reading. My primary job at EWA is directly working
with journalists; the topics they want help on make for a pretty
reliable indicator of what’s being written about. Since the
beginning of 2010, I have fielded 210 requests for help in
coverage from preschool through college—and none of them
were about reading. Over the previous two years, four of 450
requests addressed reading.
As I mentioned months ago, I thought “The Lottery,” a film
about families trying to get into Eva Moskowitz’s charter
schools, was heartbreaking but manipulative and not very
illuminating. If you’re in D.C., you can judge for yourself. The
National Alliance of Public Charter Schools is hosting a free
screening on Friday evening—popcorn and soda gratis. Register
you see it, come back here and share your impressions in the
Can anyone explain to me the point of school system residency
requirements? Julie Deardroff of the Chicago Tribune brings us an
egregious example—though maybe it is a typical example—of
such a policy in action. A school social worker donated a kidney
to his supermarket checker, and Chicago Public Schools wants to
fire him because he doesn’t live in the city?
Take a look at
this list of black high school students honored in Montgomery
County, Md., recently for their “outstanding achievement in
academics, community service and leadership.” Notice anything
Judging from their names and some information I dug up online,
about three-fifths of them are African, in a school district
where I think immigrants are by far the minority among blacks.
This list, you know if you pay attention to this sort of thing,
is not unusual.
A think tanky pal of mine wrote me today to ask why adoption of
the Common Core standards is not getting more press. Fair
question; I think when it comes to national ed reform right now,
89 percent of the attention is going to teacher quality, 9
percent to turnarounds and 2 percent to everything else.
A lot of schools crow that [insert number above 90 here] percent
of their students were accepted at a four-year college. Getting
accepted to college is definitely one step better than just
graduating high school, unless we are talking about open
admissions schools, in which case an acceptance letter is no
greater signifier than a diploma (unless it is paired with a
completed FAFSA and registration for the fall semester).
Oh, my life has changed, for the better. Not because my son, who
turned two this weekend, has started using the potty and making
me sing “Happy Birthday to Sunscreen” and asking “why” questions,
all of which are awesome … but because I learned about Readability.
I hate clicking through endless pages of a long article, and I
hate the ugly and awkward single-page “print” option too.
Or blame parents? Or blame The Culture? I think it is interesting
and not surprising that a survey would find a decline in empathy
among college students, and other generations as well, as
reported by Stephanie Steinberg in USA Today. This is
depressing, as empathy is the most important thing we can teach
our children. This piece just reminds me how much more journalism
I would like to see about the inner lives of kids.
On New York’s state test for fourth-graders, it is. The New York
writes about scoring guidelines for students, given to them
by “an outraged Brooklyn teacher,” that allow partial credit for
wrong or no answers. Shocker, right?
If you are a Chicago reporter and free on Friday, June 11, you
should head to Marquette Park to see a group of students from
Gage Park High School—a
place that is typically in the news either for murdered students
or horrid test scores—launch a
different kind of memorial, a high-tech kiosk commemorating
the housing rights marches of 1966. Civil rights leaders,
including Jesse Jackson Sr., will be on hand for the dedication.
… or purposely hyperbolic? He wrote in today’s
column on education reform, “In every other job in this
country, people are measured by whether they produce results.”
Why does he need to say that? Whether or not you think it should
be the case, it is just not true. Also, among smart reformers,
there is not consensus that once “mediocrity infects a school
culture, it’s nearly always best to simply replace the existing
school with another,” as he wrote.
When I was at Wesleyan, the college did not give me credit for my
jobs as a record store clerk, pizza slinger and Friendly’s
waitress. So maybe the reason
this story, about Wal-Mart employees getting college credit
for ringing up customers, rubs me wrong is because I am jealous?
I am frequently asked what the U.S. dropout rate is. That’s like
asking how you make chocolate ice cream; there are so many
possible methods and outcomes. It is easy for me to make
recommendations when it comes to ice cream:
Alton Brown if you have a lot of time or
David Lebovitz if you don’t. Graduation rates, however,
are more complicated.
I wish someone would write a story about teachers like my
sister-in-law. Since getting her master’s about six years ago,
she has had to teach a new grade level every year and switched
schools nearly as often. No matter that she has ELL
certification, no matter that she is great at her job—last hired,
first fired, rinse and repeat, every single year. Even before
budget cuts spread throughout the country, northeastern Illinois
schools, whose taxpayers fought every levy, had pared back, then
back some more.
If I were to ever write another book, it would be about college.
I won’t get any more specific than that—idea poachers and
all—except to say it would be a far fuller picture of the entire
student experience than a “year in the life of a sorority” book.
Teaching and learning and all that important stuff.
Now that we are starting to see more staff churn in the name of
turnaround—such as was explained by Toni Konz in this
Louisville Courier-Journal piece this week—I imagine (I hope)
reporters will pursue comprehensive stories about what reforms
look like from that point. How are the new teachers selected? How
do you go about changing culture? How are all the educators in
the building trained for the new challenge?
report in California shows a significant drop in the number
of people entering teacher preparation programs in that state.
You can’t blame someone for bypassing teaching these days, as it
is far from a sure bet at employment. I am curious if this trend
is reflected elsewhere, and what it means for improving teacher
quality at the beginning of the pipeline. Are universities able
to be as selective as before, which, some would argue, was not
that selective to begin with?
Last night I finished reading
Columbine, Dave Cullen’s play-by-play of the 1999 school
shooting. It was the most compelling nonfiction book I have read
since Andre Agassi’s memoir,
Open. (Which was, flat-out, one of my favorite books
ever. Props to ghostwriter J.R.
The Supreme Court is going to address whether Arizona tuition tax
credits—a more politically palatable alternative to school
religion. I am more interested in whether the program
has been a scam that promised to open private school doors to
poor children but really just made them cheaper for the
middle-class and affluent families already attending (as the East
Valley Tribune explored in-depth last year, a project I sadly
cannot find on their website at the moment).
When finalists were announced for the 2010 Broad Prize for Urban Education,
I did not give much thought to the inclusion of Montgomery
County, Md. I did not give much thought to any of the finalists,
really. But today I saw the video on the Montgomery County Public
Schools website—I covered MCPS
for the Post years ago and check in there from time to time—that
highlighted the Broad visit and couldn’t help but laugh when I
saw the officials at Julius West Middle School.
Emily Gersema of the Arizona Republic has given
some welcome context to the discussion about ethnic studies
classes in Tucson. We learn why the classes were created in the
first place, and a history of concerns about them. Emily gives a
little sense of what actually is and is not studied, and I hope
she or someone else follows up on this, exploring curriculum
materials, assignments, class discussion and the makeup of the
I have always told reporters that if they just look at the
dropout problem through the prism of high school, they are
missing out. Same goes for educators. Dropouts are made long
before teenagers actually stop showing up at school. So I was
glad to see Greg Toppo of USA Today
write about a Philadelphia middle school that sees dropout
prevention as its mission.
At the EWA conference last week I told someone I would send them
the link to my favorite piece of journalism ever. Of course I
have forgotten who. So, whoever you were—and even if you are not
this piece, “The Peekaboo Paradox,” by Gene Weingarten of the
Washington Post. It is about a children’s birthday party
entertainer. Here is where one is tempted to say, “Yet it is
about so much more.” Except that it’s not.
… by shooting education reporters some story ideas and other
food for thought. I have been really interested in the degree to
which teachers unions are or are not realistic proxies for the
actual views of actual teachers, so #3 and #8 resonate
especially. And given that reading yet another story about KIPP
or Green Dot might make my eyeballs burst, #2 intrigues me as
Many education reporters who are hunting for jobs come to me for
counsel. Would this be a good fit for me? Do you know what kind
of person they want to hire? Would you take a look at my resume?
Of course, given the numbers, most of them do not get the job
they apply for. What they also do not get, from at least six
different employers in the last month:
Sorry (if you cared) that I was silent this last week, but in
reality I was not quiet at all; I was taking part in EWA’s annual
conference in San Francisco. I have many thoughts from there to
share with you, but first let me tell you about a great new EWA
resource we announced at the meeting: a searchable database of
more than 1,000 sources on children and education, with full
contact information, links to their websites and information
about their areas of expertise.
My colleague David Hunn, a terrific data-driven reporter at the
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and I have been putting together some
materials for new education reporters for the upcoming EWA
conference, and David came upon something interesting in federal
numbers he crunched from the Data Accountability
A commenter on this blog pointed me to Secretary Duncan telling
the New York Times that he “encounters no public opposition”
to his education agenda. SO WEIRD. Whatever you think of his
priorities, you have to acknowledge that there has been plenty of
opposition to them, some of it written about by the very reporter
who was interviewing him. Either Duncan was lying (and if so,
Frank LoMonte at the Student Press
Law Center is basically a hero to journalists. Lawyers in the
D.C. area could really rake it in, but instead Frank spends his
time making sure students are allowed to hold institutions
accountable. And not as a fancy lawyer in a big firm who
does First Amendment pro bono on the side—he works
full-time at an underfunded nonprofit where student journalists
can get all sorts of help for free.
My internships during college and graduate school were a diverse
lot. I was paid generous market wages for some (Newsday,
Washington Post) and got credit as part of my academic program
for others (Foreign Affairs, World Policy Journal, Wall Street
Journal Europe). Still others—a theater company, an anatomy lab,
a small-town newspaper—were simply ways to explore random
interests or keep busy or make a tiny bit of money or none at
I am so swamped getting materials together for EWA’s annual
meeting, where I will be running a seminar for new beat
reporters, leading a roundtable on the polarization of the
education debate, meeting one-on-one with journalists and
launching a top-secret, totally awesome resource for education
writers. So I have not had the time to read the Hechinger Report, which
launched today. But I would be remiss if I didn’t call your
attention to this new venture in education reporting. It
certainly looks smart, and all the people involved are
this story. You just have to. Tissues, maybe, at the ready.
I believe there is a place for standardized testing, and I
believe there is a need to reform the way teachers are evaluated
and compensated. But I couldn’t read this story without puzzling
over how a teacher like Mrs. Hendrix might have fared in an
environment where states are racing to make sure that student
test scores count for at least half of a teacher’s measured
My favorite charity in the last few years has been Donors Choose. It has the
shopping-mall allure of those microcredit charities where you get
to choose whom you fund—the Congolese tilapia seller? the
Ecuadorian photographer?—plus how can you not love the idea of
sending money directly to cool classroom projects?
Reporters come to me from time to time looking for resources on
school district mergers. School Administrator magazine has come
out with an issue devoted to consolidation, which you can read
It is not a clear-cut cost-saver.
In all the coverage about teacher quality and tenure, and lengthy
due process for teachers who read porn in the classroom while
they are not assaulting or underserving children, I never read
anything about how teachers’ union protections compare to those
in other unions (especially in the public sector). Are there
lessons to be learned from other unions? Reforms that have or
have not made a difference?
I really like student-made videos, especially the whole
lip sync smackdown out of Seattle back in December.
Those videos were awesome, but neither of them made a gal get
kinda teary-eyed the way Kalamazoo Central’s
entry into the high school Race to the Top contest did. The
school won a commencement speech by President Obama.
I spent the last few days at the AERA conference in Denver,
meeting with researchers to talk over a project we are thinking
of doing at EWA. I had never met most of these people before, so
I spent a lot of time walking from lobby to lobby for prearranged
meetings, saying “Are you Dick?” or “Are you Bob?”
For my final meeting, with David Plank of PACE, I went to the
lobby of the Marriott.
After I blogged on the topic,
several reporters wrote me personally about how policy makers in
their states decided that student test scores should count toward
at least 50 percent of teacher evaluations. In some places
consultants insisted that would be a do-or-die threshold for Race
to the Top money, though it is not clear that is the the case.
I am very excited that Caroline
Hendrie is going to be the new executive director of EWA. My
condolences to Education Week, where Caroline has worked for 15
years and is reportedly invaluable. Their loss is not just my
organization’s gain, but a great gain for education journalists
everywhere. Caroline has big shoes to fill—Lisa Walker has,
over the last 24 years, admirably built EWA into what it is
today—and will begin to try to do so on June 1.
I didn’t love Newsweek’s “fire bad teachers” cover image back in
March, and the article itself had
a critical flaw, I felt: It conflated mediocre teachers and the
truly depraved into one big category of “bad.” Firing the latter
should be a no-brainer; firing the former is a whole different
story. (Practical? Desirable?
seems to be in some circles that counting student test
scores for anything less than 50 percent in teacher evaluation
won’t get a state Race to the Top money. Does anybody know where
the 50 percent figure originated? Is it just because it is
powerful to say that at least half a teacher’s value be tied to
Glad to see the Cincinnati Enquirer and Gannett
successfully fought (so far) an open meetings violation
by the city school board. Let us not forget that journalism costs
money—often a lot of money, in the form of legal bills.
When I went back to Wesleyan for a reunion a few years ago, I
came across flyers urging students to stop using cocaine. Not
because cocaine is, you know, dangerous and illegal … but
because it makes its way to American noses by way of oppressive
labor practices in the third world. If you knew much about
Wesleyan—it was the model for the movie “PCU” and its genius
scene with the marchers shouting, “No more protests! No more
protests!”—you wouldn’t be surprised.
Mostly I like Las Vegas because I like to play cards, immerse
myself in tourist kitsch and eat awesome if overpriced food. But
you know what else I really like? Emily Richmond’s coverage of
the area’s schools. She is a top-notch beat reporter who does a
great job putting local stories in national context.
Chronicle of Higher Education pointed me to UMagazinology, a new blog out
of Johns Hopkins about alumni magazines. I don’t love the name,
but I am intrigued by the topic. Alumni mags do a pretty good job
with something traditional media does not: letting readers know
what is happening in the classrooms and lives of university
professors. And they seem to be once of the last groups on earth
that pays freelancers decently.