Two jobs for education reporters.
My first job in journalism, junior year in college, was an internship with the Wall Street Journal editorial page in Brussels. I was so clueless going into my interview that for my writing sample I brought an essay criticizing Ronald Reagan. David Brooks, sitting under a portrait of Margaret Thatcher, said, “We like Reagan here.” I got the job anyway. I didn’t agree with my colleagues on everything, to say the least (and didn’t have the guts to say a word when Brooks added the term “leftist shibboleths” into my op-ed on political correctness—possibly because I didn’t know what it meant). But it was a terrific experience, and editor George Melloan
was the most helpful, kind boss I ever had. My next job was through Dow Jones, too, and I still suffer some nostalgia.
So if I didn’t already have the coolest job in the world, I would totally be all over this: The Wall Street Journal is hiring an education reporter
. You should apply!
The other job is a temporary freelance project
: visiting the finalist districts for the Broad Prize and writing profiles. It would be pretty much full-time in May and June, and then some, with lots of travel.
Always glad to see hiring and not firing of education reporters.
“We only reward success.”
In the State of the Union
last night, President Obama said about Race to the Top, “We only reward success. Instead of funding the status quo, we only invest in reform—reform that raises student achievement, inspires students to excel in math and science, and turns around failing schools that steal the future of too many young Americans...”
We only reward success.
The Race to the Top scoring rubric
rewards the adoption, future or past, of specific approaches. They include considering “student growth” in teacher evaluation, which in turn should be considered in decisions such as pay or tenure; adopting common standards; using student data to improve instruction; welcoming charters; and turning around low-scoring schools.
This is an arbitrary assortment of reforms. That is the administration’s right. While I like some of them (and am wary of others’ ability to truly improve education), I don’t like that they are passed off as proven strategies—or, as Obama said last night, “reform that raises student achievement.” While most agree the current teacher evaluation system is a joke, for example, there is little if any evidence that tying pay to test scores improves teaching and learning. Same with common standards. Charters schools—some are great, some suck; the research is all over the place.
As the National Academies of Sciences noted
, the bulk of the research in these areas is yet to come. I am uneasy about defining “success” this way. How about telling the nation instead that these are ideas you are excited about, and have great hope for?
Labels: teacher_evaluation, teacher_evaluations
More with less, redux.
President Obama wants millions more Americans to go to, and finish, college—a terrific goal. It is also fundamentally at odds with budget cuts in higher ed. Of course that fact is obvious; what makes it compelling are human stories like this one
, by Katharine Mieszkowski of the New York Times. If you see (or have written) other pieces on real-life examples of budget cuts’ possible effects on students’ ability to finish college, please link to them in the comments here. Certainly financial aid is a factor; I am also encouraging reporters to look at departments that, often by accident of timing, are suffering disproportionately in the share of teaching slots frozen or cut, and what that means, practically, for students majoring in those subjects. Is the price of college effectively increased because being unable to get the courses you need makes it longer to graduate?
Duncan: “This is about maximum transparency.”
A few states, including New York, have refused to make their Race to the Top applications public because, they say, revealing what they are proposing would hurt their competitiveness in the second round of grants. “Absolutely not,” Secretary Duncan just said in a conference call with reporters, in response to my question. “This is about maximum transparency.” Duncan said that department staff is scrubbing the applications not yet posted to make sure they don’t contain personal identification (huh? public figures, public phone numbers, but whatever), and they will put them online themselves “in the not too distant future.”
[Don’t do it.]
Though it is a staple of newspaper writing, I always go out of my way to avoid those bracketed words and clauses inside quotes. The assumption is that readers could not possibly use context clues to know what you are talking about. Unlike the editor who once wanted me to insert in a feature on middle schoolers a definition of “pom poms,” I don’t think readers are stupid. (At least not the ones who treat the comments section like a virtual Klan rally.) They can figure out which person a pronoun refers to.
While these always annoy me, I have never seen a more appalling use of this convention than on this Baltimore Sun headline
the other day: “We just couldn’t get [dying Haitian] what he needed”
Want to be my boss?
Lisa Walker, EWA’s executive director, is leaving in a few months and our board is looking for a replacement. The posting is here
. Lisa has been really great to me and I prefer to keep things that way, so only spread the word to really nice people.
“We worked very hard for that D.”
Really nice piece
today by Sharon Otterman of the New York Times on the seemingly inevitable downfall of some of the city’s large high schools. Shocker that a school’s narrative ended poorly when it started with special-needs students the new small schools didn’t want, unimaginable mobility rates and a freshman class in which 6 percent of students read at grade level.
School turnarounds and closings are a big story and only getting bigger.
The accidental preschooler.
It’s funny that I have read just about everything there is to read
about early childhood education these past few years, yet I couldn’t have been more unprepared when the time came for me to look for a preschool. Straight off, my choices were narrowed when I missed deadlines I didn’t know existed. I had no idea that in D.C., January is nearly too late to start thinking about where a 1-year-old might go in the fall. Narrowed, again, by the 2.5-year-old cutoff at a few schools, and by the mandatory five-day (and $13,000) commitments at others. We took a few tours, ranging from the earthy church basement free-for-all where yoga and Brazilian martial arts are taught weekly and playground toys are banned because they might stifle the imagination, to the elite, solemn Montessori where the tour guide said, “We don’t believe in make-believe here.” Play kitchens are not for playing kitchen but for squeezing real oranges and washing hands from a real water pitcher.
Actually, I could see Milo at any of these places. At the first school his creativity would surely blossom; at the second he would learn to complete tasks and explain the functions of rivers. Do you pick a preschool that will highlight your child’s strengths, or work on his weaknesses? At age 1, do you even know what his strengths and weaknesses are?
In the end, we chose a preschool not so much because it felt warm and familiar but because of its schedule and location and because our friends were sending their son there—the almost-haphazard, logistically centered way many of us make important life choices. In my privileged case that works fine because my choices are typically among perfectly good options. And hooray, we just got our acceptance letter. (Didn’t think I would have to use that phrase for 16 years.) Milo will just have to learn his capoeira
College-bound and research-free.
I am glad the national debate on higher education has finally found its way to college completion. College readiness is, of course, a cousin of completion, so let’s talk—again—about the massive disconnect between state standards for high schoolers and what college professors expect. Speaking of cousins, I have a very smart and hard-working one who graduated from one of the top high schools in one of the top school systems in the country (by any quantifiable measure), with Advanced Placement courses to boot. She never was asked to write a research paper of more than six to eight pages.
Well, they were sort of research papers. “It wasn’t till I took my first history class in college when I realized what a research paper was
,” she told me. She felt ill-prepared for the writing she faced.
Not to get all “Kids today!” on you (and it isn’t their fault), but I still remember, junior year in high school, hunting down books on the Bay of Pigs and abolition, writing out notes, sorting my notecards this way and that until I had come up with real-live, 15-page arguments. I felt like such a grown-up. And when I got to college, the papers may have been a bit longer and more intense, but at least I had worked those muscles before.
The editor of the Concord Review of high school history blogged last week
on Washington Post’s Answer Sheet on the value of term papers. It is one small piece of a bigger conversation we really need to have. The first step, for reporters, might be showing your high school exit exams and standards to some local college professors, to see what they think.
PLCs: Fake trend alert?
I’ve sat through consultants’ presentations, I’ve read the books
, I have visited schools trying to achieve this, but no matter how hard I try I still don’t understand what “professional learning community” actually means
, besides a commitment for a school’s staff to collaborate in figuring out how to help students. Shouldn’t that happen as a matter of course? Yes, I know it often doesn’t, but do we need a nebulous phrase, expensive materials, a movement
Please, reporters, don’t repeat that phrase until you can find a jargon-free and meaningful way to explain to readers what it means and how it differs from what was going on before.
If he can’t manage his own finances...
...why let him manage your school system’s? Kudos to Erin Richards of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel for her digging
on the city’s superintendent finalists. My hometown has never been known for spectacular educational leadership, and reading this you can’t help but think that picking one of these guys will ensure the record continues. But school boards seem pretty intent on ignoring past, shall we say, sloppiness when they have their heart set on someone.
Individually, superintendent searches are so boring to write and read about. But I feel this little itch that as an entire enterprise, there is much worth looking into.
Any education reporter knows that the best place to talk to kids freely is the lunchroom. Especially during the two years I immersed myself in schools for a book project, I have eaten a lot of school lunches. At home I buy sides of beef from a farmer I know, who during her cows’ short lives cares for them to the point of practically singing them nursery rhymes, and I pay the Whole Foods or farmers market premium for produce that actually tastes like produce. But when I am reporting I have no problem eating meals in which every item is some form of yellow or beige. According to USA Today
, I would be better off at KFC. No doubt. I never feel good after eating school food.
So I wonder what will happen, medically and otherwise, to Mrs. Q, the anonymous teacher who is eating her school’s lunches every day for a year and blogging about it
. First off, I hope that if school administrators find out who she is, they don’t give her crap (well, aside from the crap they give her in the cafeteria), because this is a terrific idea. It is more important than Morgan Spurlock’s experiment
, because eating at McDonald’s is a choice and for most children eating school lunch is not. Second, I don’t have a death wish for this brave woman, but I would love to see her highlight breakfast too. Just because you fortify a honey bun with enough vitamins to qualify it for the free breakfast program does not make it a remotely good way to start the day. Hungry kids are a captive audience. They don’t need organic kale, but how about Cheerios?
Sayonara, auf wiedersehn, dasvidania.
I studied history in school even though I didn’t know it: In college twenty years ago, I focused on NATO just as it became irrelevant, then for my masters in international political economy specialized in East-West paradigms that were crumbling at that very moment. I learned French because I loved it, Spanish because it was the obvious next choice, and German to impress a guy I wanted to date. (It worked.)
I don’t feel ripped off by having focused on western Europe rather than the countries we started paying attention to moments later, and I was never unemployable, but I do very much appreciate that educational offerings should adapt to the world around us. So the finding of this survey
by the Center for Applied Linguistics that German, Russian and Japanese classes are being cut while Arabic and Chinese are being added doesn’t bother me too much (though ideally we would find room for them all). I am not sure what I think of the bigger finding, that elementary and middle schools are becoming much less likely to offer foreign languages. (In high school, the share remains steady.) On one hand, I would guess that if you don’t start learning a foreign language before adulthood, you probably never will—and there many benefits, personal and societal, to having a world where we speak other people’s languages. On the other hand, I have sat through many elementary and middle school foreign language classes that were so lame that students emerged barely able to utter one sentence.
On balance, though, whether it is because of narrowing the curriculum under testing pressures, budget cuts, teacher shortages or something else, I am going to conclude that this is bad news.
Sam Dillon addressed the burgeoning Chinese class angle in a New York Times piece
yesterday. When I was at the Washington Post covering Montgomery County, Md., schools, which includes some of the most educated and involved parents in the country, parents (including some at the paper) pressured me to write about the injustice of only one
elementary school offering Chinese immersion in kindergarten. As if that were an inalienable right. Interesting then, interesting now.
What is your state promising?
It is imperative that reporters request their states’ Race to the Top applications, even if they aren’t releasing them willingly. Not just the highlights, the whole thousand-page shebang. Because I am sure there are an awful lot of promises in there, massive change even, and journalists should be scrutinizing and questioning and analyzing. All this is, and will be, moving fast, and we need to stay on top of everything before the mess of implementation is upon us.
My colleagues at EWA have launched a new website, EdMoney.org
, devoted to tracking stimulus spending on education and helping journalists and the public make sense of the issue. Eventually the site will offer lots of searchable data on spending in individual schools and districts. Until then you will find helpful links and posts on the latest in how the money is being used.
If you are a journalist, research or policy analyst who has looked into the effects of stimulus money in education, please use the site to link to your stories and posts. If you are an educator or student who has experienced change in your schools because of stimulus spending, please tell us about it. If you are a concerned citizen with doubts or questions about how the money is being spent—or not—in your local school district, please weigh in.
The TFA of journalism.
One day not long ago, I met up, separately, with reporters from two very different publications that cover the same city school system. One is a big, traditional newspaper, and the other is a small, young website. Competition is something all journalists are familiar with and to some extent thrive on, but talking to these two types of reporters, new issues revealed themselves.
Let’s call the paper Brand X and the website Brand Y. Brand X and Brand Y both run blogs and longer pieces, but items that may be deemed newsworthy for Y often don’t make the cut for X. The education reporters at X are choosier about what they publish and write at greater length, while Y demands a faster, constant stream of news. Ideally, both models can flourish. But here’s the tricky thing: If you have a news tip, would you go to X, which might address it more deeply, or Y, which is far likelier to address it at all? If you are operating in a school news environment that is localized, balkanized and all about spreading your word quickly to a targeted, hyper-interested audience, my guess is that you will go to Y.
For Brand X to compete for that level of connection, in addition to modifying its mission it would have to speed the hell up and produce constantly. What does that look like at Brand Y? Its four staffers work pretty much all the time
. I don’t think any of them have children, they are young, and I cannot imagine they will be able to do this forever.
Sound familiar? Now, I am not a Teach for America hater. If I knew about it when I graduated college, I definitely would have applied (even though my parents once told me they didn’t pay for a Wesleyan education so I could be a teacher
). But I disagree with those who say it wouldn’t matter if schools were entirely staffed by young teachers who turned over every two years, as long as they were smart and good. Because while it may not matter for the students—and that is still an open question—I don’t think the profession of teaching should be the sole domain of people who are willing to work 70 hours a week. Journalism either.
It’s going to be interesting to see how this one plays out.
How the other tenth lives.
Private schools almost never get covered in any significant way, even in markets where they attract huge numbers of students. They are private institutions and can keep their doors closed, and they don’t have to play by the kind of rules that give us test scores and enrollment numbers and all the other data journalists love. So we write about them even less than we write about special ed or preschool—usually only when there is some sort of gossipy cheating scandal.
The New York Times is changing that, by creating a private school beat
. Looks from this memo like they are going to treat it as yet another aren’t-rich-people-amusing beat. I hope whoever gets the job manages to write from time to time about actual teaching and learning in between covering the frenzy of preschool admissions tutoring and limousine carpools, because there may be something to learn there.
Sneaking up to the third rail.
If a ratio were calculated of how much something is griped about in private to how little in public, nothing in the education world would score higher than the 100 percent proficiency provision of No Child Left Behind. So many people think the goal is impossible, yet nobody in elected office says that publicly. Which poor child do you want to not achieve?
States are supposed to increase their proficiency targets over time until 2014, when schools and districts must hit 100 percent in order to make adequate yearly progress. It is no secret that states have tried to backload improvement targets so that they increase as little as possible, as late as possible. But trying to ditch the 100 percent altogether? That takes a whole other level of moxie.
Which was on display in Virginia this week, as the state board decided to attempt to freeze its proficiency targets (at 79 percent in math and 81 percent in reading), promising in later years to hit ... TBD
. Officials don’t quite admit to it in this piece by Lauren Roth of the Virginian-Pilot
, but I can only imagine it is a conscious gamble that by the time 2014 arrives, we will have a reauthorized law without the 100 percent rules. (Though at the rate reauthorization is going...?)
Ask around your state: Are they trying to ditch the 100 percent target too?
A Ten Best oversight. UGH.
Arizona annoys me for many reasons. One is that everything is monochromatic. My parents’ homeowners association allows 14 house colors, but each is indistinguishable from the other (Sandy Beige! Beigey Sand!). Another is that it is so hard to find a gas station in the desert that my husband and I almost left my son an orphan on the way to Vegas. There is also a lunatic sheriff
. Worst of all is that the state pretends to help poor children while really just making it easier for those who can afford private school to continue to do so. (A voucher by any other name smells just as sweet.)
I cannot believe that when I created my Ten Best
list, I totally forgot the East Valley Tribune series
on Arizona’s tuition tax credit. Ryan Gabrielson and Michelle Reese produced a thorough, powerful investigation that we can only hope has real, lasting impact
. It should have been high up on my list—let’s call it #2a. If the tax credit scam doesn’t depress you enough, how about the fact that this newspaper is on life support?
I had already been a little obsessed with this topic, ever since I had a lovely lunch with Emily Gersema and Ray Parker of the Arizona Republic education team
a year ago. They told me about the private school tax credit and a similar tax credit to support activities at public schools—which, by the way, smells bad too. Can’t wait to read more about that.
As a policy lever, I am very interested in Race to the Top; as a horse race, less so. Still, I am finding it intriguing to watch how many districts are not signing on to state attempts for the funds. I understand their apprehension but don’t get it on a practical level; state education policies and laws are going to change whether or not they formally buy in.
This week, my colleagues on the EWA K-12 listserve have provided each other invaluable information about where their states’s districts stand, context, questions (a great reason to join
). I would like to get a better sense of why. Is it simply lack of teacher union support (some districts are going ahead without that anyway), the hurried timeframe for such major reforms, wounds still open from NCLB or something else—a certain sense of Texasness
In states like Pennsylvania and Ohio
, where so many districts are opting out, I wonder to what degree their chances will be hurt, and whether it matters that a big district thumbs its nose if there are plenty of other students who might be served in the rest of the state. (Here’s looking at you, San Diego
Now you know I watch “The Bachelor.”
I can’t remember if I promised in my introductory post never to write about reality TV, but after imploring college journalists
this weekend to be picky about quotes—half the ones most new writers (and some old ones) include should be paraphrased or cut—I could not resist the opportunity to highlight a truly outstanding use of a quote.
An editor on a reality dating show is basically a full-time quote plucker. Usually they do an appalling job, though in their defense they are dealing with people who say “Everything happens for a reason” about 72 times a day. In writing, good quotes further the momentum, say something better than the writer can, truly give you an idea what a person is like. They serve a purpose. On tonight’s episode of “The Bachelor,” WHICH IS A SHOW ABOUT THE MOST PERSONAL THING POSSIBLE, a woman
given the boot for an “inappropriate relationship” with a show producer tells the host, “I don’t think my personal life is any of your business.”
Lady, that quote serves so many purposes I don’t even know where to start.
The magazine rack: teachers, gardens and bloat.
This month’s Atlantic has a lot for education reporters, though given that I usually read it online, I was shocked that the actual magazine costs seven bucks! Given that I was captive in an airport, the money was well spent. Caitlin Flanagan rips on classroom gardens
, which I found pretty compelling even though normally I can’t stand Flanagan’s work, and if the word were not so obnoxious I would describe myself something of a locavore. Amanda Ripley reveals
some interesting things about how Teach for America evaluates its teachers. (Though she clearly did not read my post
on overstating the teacher quality research.)
By far my favorite piece was Michael Kinsley attacking
the kind of bloated news writing that makes me crazy, particularly in politics stories. Seventeen years ago, when I was a novice copy editing intern, I was reprimanded for trying to edit out “sweeping” from a lede of a national politics piece; that was the start of my utter mystification about Why We Write That Way. Then again, I’m not sure what would even be left in a Kinsleyan piece on health care legislation, or what a paper following his admonitions would look like. A giant briefs column?
Real journalism costs money.
When I moved back to D.C. this fall, I subscribed to the Washington Post. It had been a while since I subscribed to a paper, since I never fully integrated into Baltimore and before that worked at the Post and read the paper in the office. I was happy to subscribe, to do my part to support the product and my friends. But by the time I get the paper in the morning, I have usually read everything I want to read online.
In most things I am flush with nostalgia. I am trying to recreate my Playskool puzzle
collection for my son (if you have any you want to get rid of, let me know), and I cook with my grandmother’s orange enamel saucepan, using her cookbook
. But about this pile of paper that lands on—or at least near—my doorstep each morning I am simply indifferent. If I could, I would pay the Post, tell them to refrain from printing my paper and continue reading it online.
When people ask me about the future of journalism, I tell them what a lot of other people are saying too: it doesn’t matter what format the news takes, as long as the journalism
persists. I am worried, though, about whether that can happen, when publications expect people to write for free or very close to it, and plenty of people are willing to answer that call. People who will give away their labor over the long term are not usually the kind of expert journalists we need to be doing the work. Today’s downer comes from James Rainey of the Los Angeles Times, who writes about the race to the bottom
in the freelancing industry.
For years I have been asked to write online for free and always, always say no; sorry, Huffington Post, “a platform for ideas,” as you once offered me, won’t pay for reporting trips, long-distance bills, document fees, gas to get to interviews or potatoes for that orange saucepan.
Snowflakes: small, white, cold
Time magazine interviews Kevin Carey
on college accountability—a subject I’m swimming in at the moment as I help run a very cool (well, fortunately we’re in Phoenix, so it is not too
for student journalists. Anyway, Kevin has a great line, when asked if colleges think they cannot be compared because each believes it is a beautiful, unique snowflake: “The thing about snowflakes is that they’re all small, they’re all white, and they’re all cold. They’re not actually all that different from one another.”
Are soldiers getting useless degrees?
Daniel Golden at Bloomberg News did a good job
, in Business Week, digging into the money online for-profit universities are making off of military students. He focuses especially on the aggressive recruiting practices; I wish he would have shown more, though, about why and how the education the soldiers are receiving falls short, since that is the underlying theme. I wanted to know more about the Marine mentioned in the lede and end grafs; another guy completed a program with a 4.0 after spending about 10 hours, total, on each course. Tip of the iceberg!
Don't you dare let him turn down Harvard!
I sooo thought this story
was going to end badly and I was going to have to write a blog post about the ultimate instance of undermatching
. This is a huge issue among high achievers in the Hispanic community: pressure to put immediate family needs over education. (Yes, the choice is often that stark.) Latino parents say
it is important for their children to get a good education. But they telegraph something very different when they put them on their cleaning and gardening crews. In this piece the parents are clearly, powerfully torn. The long view is hard to take, but your child will be a much greater help to the family over time if you let go of them long enough to finish high school and get through Harvard.
Kudos to Katherine Leal Unmuth of the Dallas Morning News for a straightforward, compelling story. Though while I was fine with keeping the experts out of the picture, I wish she would have added a sentence or two (and a few statistics) of national context.
Do you even remember what you majored in?
I liked this piece
by Kate Zernike in the New York Times last week, about that whole “What are you going to do
with your degree?” issue. I liked it just as much eight months ago when Joan Garrett, at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, took on the slow death of liberal arts
at a more micro level, in the University of Tennessee system.
Maybe it is because my friends are Italian and philosophy professors, or maybe it is because I have a masters in international affairs that I never, ever “used” (except to name the fifteen former Soviet republics in under twenty seconds, a party trick I turn to after tying the cherry stem in a knot with my tongue fails to impress). Maybe it is because I went to college with religion majors who became doctors and film majors who became CEOs. Maybe it is because I can’t stand it when parents of 20-year-olds tell me, with a chuckle, that their child had wanted to major in journalism until they managed, using common sense and control of the checkbook, to turn them into business or speech pathology majors. (Not that I recommend a journalism major, or ever did even when there was such a thing as a journalism job, but that’s a post for another day.)
You can blame this attitude on my privileged, sort-of Ivy background. But I worry where we are headed. Do we really want to live in a world where there is nobody who knows a [boat]load about Yiddish poetry or Moorish architecture or Hannibal Hamlin?