My last post on TER; where to find me next.
Today is my last day at EWA. It has been a very rewarding three years, especially working with reporters, as I have mentioned
. Please stay in touch. Perhaps you could still send me your drafts to edit, and just deposit a few bucks in my PayPal account. Eventually I will have enough to buy a pillow on Etsy.
No, just kidding. EWA will hire a new public editor soon, and he or she will be able to help you just as I did. But I wasn’t kidding about staying in touch.
My phone number remains the same. You can e-mail me at linda at lindaperlstein dot com. If you are a public relations professional, you know I love you—but do not send press releases to this address. Don’t put me on your distribution list. Don’t send me pitches for the blog. I will miss many things about this job, but a steady stream of e-mails about robotics challenge winners and statements by association presidents reacting to statements by federal officials is not one of them. I probably know about your organization, and pay attention to it in my own way. However, if you want to contact me personally, that’s great.
I will be doing freelance editing and writing. If you want to hire me for a project, that’s great too.
My blog will be migrating to lindaperlstein.blogspot.com
. I am calling it “Continuing Education,” because as hard as I tried to avoid education puns, I couldn’t help myself. To the friend who said it’s a bad name, “Meeting the Turnaround Challenge” isn’t so awesome either. Don’t be a hater.
I will still comment about education journalism, more freely since the journalists won’t be my clients anymore. I will comment about education too—again, more freely. But I will also write about other things on occasion: pop culture, food, life. And of course pop culture about education. Nothing get hits like a Tony Danza blog item
The blog may get a little more personal from time to time, but nothing Dooce-ish
, and I don’t plan to photograph my dinner. If you’re going to keep reading, come on over! And if not, it’s been great. Thanks for reading. Stay tuned to this space to see what comes next.
Are teachers the most important factor?
I spent all day yesterday editing a summary of the research on teacher effectiveness, the first point of which was that this is not true:
“The idea, aggressively embraced by the Obama administration, is as straightforward as it is controversial: that teachers are the main factor in student growth—more than poverty, parents, curriculum, principals or other circumstances.”
This is a graf in the Washington Post piece I recommended
yesterday on D.C.’s teacher evaluation system, and I am not sure how I missed the error, but I wanted to point it out now. Researchers concur that the bulk of student achievement differences can
actually be attributed to factors outside school, such as poverty and parents. People writing articles and speeches have recently picked up on this and made sure to qualify the assertion with something like “in-school.”
But of the factors inside school that have been studied, are teachers the main factor? Sorting through the evidence on this is not easy. Many are comfortable saying that of the in-school factors studied, teachers are the main one. Others are not comfortable with that assessment because some research shows that teacher effectiveness only accounts for a small share of student differences, while other factors have not been studied with as much rigor.
Soon we will be putting out a paper that helps you put the research, and the rhetoric, in context.
Labels: teacher_evaluation, teacher_evaluations
I am so glad Stephanie McCrummen of the Washington Post was able to give an up-close-and-personal look
at an evaluation conference under D.C.’s IMPACT teacher evaluation system. It is just one meeting, for just one teacher, but it is illustrative of some of the allure of and opposition to that system: that the evaluator considers how a teacher challenges and connects with students, that he knocks a teacher’s score down for deflating a lesson on the fly for students who need to review basic skills.
Policy meets practice: my favorite kind of journalism.
Labels: teacher_evaluation, teacher_evaluations
An African girl, and education journalism at its best.
Tomorrow, this blog migrates to my own web site. Before it does, while I have as many eyeballs as possible, I want to show you the highest example of what can be accomplished on the education beat.
My friend Amy Argetsinger was covering higher ed for the Washington Post when she learned about an young Masai woman from Kenya who was attending a small women’s college in Virginia. Amy could have written a simple fish-out-of-water piece; the material just for that was terrific. But the story that unfolded as she got to know Kakenya Ntaiya was far more complex and compelling—involving genital mutilation, arranged marriage, college readiness, more.
Amy and a photographer visited Kakenya at college many times over the course of two years, and traveled to the remote African village where her family remained. The four-part series, from December 2003, is here
. Several months later, Amy and the photographer returned to Kenya to document Kakenya’s mother’s journey to her daughter’s college graduation, and that piece is here
Fortunately, this was a paper and a time where that kind of investment of resources was possible. Would this happen now, anywhere? Ha. I get that as a journalistic endeavor it is far removed from what nearly all of you do, day to day. But as evidence of the power of the written word and the medium, it is entirely relevant. Did you cry? I do, every time I read this. Did the journalism make a difference?
For Kakenya, an amazing woman then and still, yes. For the girls getting educated at the school she has since founded
in Kenya, yes.
A new way for school districts to mess with journalists.
So in Springfield, Missouri, according to the News-Leader, school district folks are taping interviews by local reporters
and putting out their own reports on those interviews, before the journalists’ stories appear. I am not sure that is how Springfield parents really want their school dollars to be spent, and I am certain that won’t help them understand what is happening with their children’s education. Also, it is obnoxious. Transparency is an ongoing problem with the district, journalists there say, and the primacy officials place on ensuring a “consistent message” creeps me out, though it doesn’t surprise me.
It is my last week as the public editor at EWA, and it is safe to say that the one thing I regret above all is that I have not done enough to bring light to the ways school systems attempt to keep journalists and, more important, citizens in the dark. They are shutting down access to classrooms, saying visits are disruptive. (Teachers and children are used to all sorts of observers coming in and out of schools, and good journalists are not disruptive anyway.) They are banning employees from speaking to the media in any way, shape or form, and prefer they not talk to anyone else, either.
Obviously journalists care about this. Does it bug anyone else?
TER in print: I review Kopp and Kirp.
In the American Prospect this month, I review new books
by Wendy Kopp and David Kirp. Anyone who reads me regularly or knows me personally is well aware that I think the polarization of the conversation on education reform is not just annoying—it is not especially reflective of many thinkers.
Sorry if that stance bores you. But at least I am consistent: My first published piece, on the Wall Street Journal Europe op-ed page when I interned there in 1991, reflected a similar resistance to false dichotomies, in that case about college campus reaction to the first Gulf War. (Nope, not Googlable.)
Both of these books stand on their own as good ideas. They do not contradict each other, or cancel each other out. Let’s not act as if they do.
Remembering David Broder.
David Broder died today
. I know there is a lot of disagreement about his work, but I can’t imagine anyone challenging this: He was one of the kindest colleagues I ever had. I began working at the national desk of the Washington Post as a 22-year-old intern and came on as a staffer a year later. It was, surprisingly, a place full of kind veterans. On my first day, Bob Woodward introduced himself and offered help anytime; Don Graham knew my name within months.
He knew everyone’s name. And maybe David Broder called everyone “Slugger.” But I took it as a reference to my softball skills and was glad that he often stopped to say hi on his way to his office, steps away. He offered guidance on the political graphics I was creating, and was always very encouraging.
I thought my two-hour dentist appointment would be the worst thing about today, but not anymore.
Cheating kids, without cheating?
The third-grade teacher I followed for my book Tested
had a good sense of what was going to be on the Maryland School Assessment. The exam, and the benchmark tests designed in its image, didn’t change a whole lot from year to year—there were certain constructs that showed up again and again, and certain questions too. One question she’d come to expect was, “How do you know such-and-such is a poem?” The standard tested was identifying the elements of a poem. We all know that the best way to ingrain an enduring understanding of poetry is to have students not just read poems but to engage with them—especially, to write them. These kids didn’t do that. More than 30 times the teacher had the kids copy some form of this paragraph from the overhead projector: I know this is a poem because it has rhyme, stanzas and rhythm. It has rhyme because sea and free rhyme. It has stanzas because the paragraphs don’t indent. It has rhythm because...
They wrote two poems that year, after testing—acrostics, which, by the way, don’t have rhyme or stanzas or rhythm. This is how all their instruction went that year: A teacher who had years of experience with the state test focused sharply (and effectively!) on exactly what was likely to be on it, used the most direct instruction possible to get them to answer correctly, and didn’t address anything else.
Despite lousy scores every year in the past, despite being at a high-poverty school, 90 percent of her kids passed the state test in reading.
She did not cheat.
USA Today, along with several other Gannett papers, has done a huge investigation
identifying test score anomalies in six states and D.C.: big leaps for a group of students that are followed by big drops.
The main point of “Testing the System,” which has more stories coming, is that in many cases anomalies were never investigated. This is important and powerful. It is a good bet there was cheating going on. But not a sure bet.
Mike Feinberg from KIPP said in the first piece that single-year gains might be attributed to “great teaching.” That is true! Or they can be attributed to questionable teaching, as the poetry example shows (and as the teacher herself would tell you; she hated what she was doing, and by the way after she left the gains were not sustained at the same level).
This isn’t to take away from the good journalism done at USA Today. It’s only to point out that there are actions in between cheating and great teaching that can yield fast, big gains, and it’s important that the players involved—district administrators, investigators, journalists—identify them and include them in the conversation.
Voting and college.
A few months after I left Milwaukee to go to college in Connecticut, I turned 18 and immediately registered to vote. When local elections approached the next fall, I took them very seriously. I read the voters’ guide in the local paper and chose candidates—from dogcatcher to mayor—one by one. Some were Democrats, some Republicans.
Every single one of them lost. It was a bummer, but I got to vote! I lived in Connecticut, so I voted in Connecticut. I went to the doctor in Connecticut; I spent my money in Connecticut; when I got a car, I registered it in Connecticut. I never again went back to Milwaukee for more than a few days at a time.
So why would I vote in Wisconsin?
The new bills
preventing young Americans from voting where they live
don’t make sense to me. Reporters who cover colleges in these states should attempt to figure out whether they make sense to the students either. Certainly college students remain more entwined with life back home, and their parents, than we were two decades ago. Maybe the bulk of them vote absentee anyway, or do not vote at all. But that isn’t what this is about, is it?
I am moving on.
Four hundred seems to be the magic number. It’s how many posts I have written on the Educated Reporter blog since I started it a year and a half ago, and how many journalists have come to me for one-on-one help in the three years I have been EWA’s public editor. (Many of them several times!)
The idea of having a coach-at-large to work with reporters for free—the idea of being
that coach—is very cool. I don’t know of an analogue in any other beat. It was the brainchild of our board president at the time, Richard Whitmire. The idea was that journalists covering education, veterans and novices, could benefit from more help than they were getting at work. Maybe they needed national context for local issues, maybe they found the research around education impossible to sift through, maybe their editors didn’t have time to improve their copy, maybe they needed advice on dealing with a secretive school board. The board and our director at the time, Lisa Walker, hired me for the job, and I started in February 2008.
It was a slow beginning. I was five months pregnant, I was commuting from Baltimore to New York one day a week to teach at Columbia’s journalism school, and I had to make people beyond the EWA community aware of the service we offered. There is no truly thorough, up-to-date list of journalists on the K-12 and higher education beats, much less a list of people who dip into the topic occasionally and therefore might be even more eager for advice.
Eventually, word spread. The amount of requests I got for help each month doubled, and then doubled again.
Each time, I was honored that a journalist I respected—and education journalists are great group, deserving of your respect too—thought he or she could benefit from what I had to offer. I love helping colleagues get to the nub of a particular issue. I loved looking through their data and offering what I thought was the best story therein. I loved listening to them bitch about their editors, and I loved to come up with approaches that I thought might keep everyone happy and sane. I loved helping them see the bigger picture, and the smaller picture.
Here is where I tritely offer that the people I was helping were really helping me, too. But it’s true! I learned so much from hearing about my colleagues’ challenges, their great ideas, their unique ways of looking at well-trod topics. For three years I have been in on what hundreds of journalists were thinking about and working on, and I hold that privilege dear.
I am leaving to pursue my own editing and writing opportunities; they are exciting, but I am afraid I will have to remain vague for now. I’ll be blogging here for two more weeks, with plenty of last-minute thoughts both formative and summative, and then I will let you know where to find my musings, which I will continue to share. (Try shoving that
genie back into the bottle.) Twitter
me if you want to stay posted.
“The Educated Reporter” itself conveys to my successor; if you know someone who would be right for the role, point them here
Of course, we’ll stay in touch, won’t we?
“Top Chef,” Tiffany, and gainful employment.
Because I don’t have a TV at the moment (crazy,
if you know me!), I don’t get to watch “Top Chef” the night it airs. And because I fell asleep before my two-year-old last night (apparently and fortunately, he took my lead at some point and put aside the books and closed his eyes), I didn’t get to watch it on Amazon last night as I had planned. So when I write what I am about to write, I’m not inviting SPOILERS. I don’t want to hear, “Oh, Tiffany—I am so sad she got cut.” Or, “Oh, Tiffany—I am so sad she didn’t get cut.”
But, Tiffany. She isn’t my favorite on the show; obviously it is hard for viewers to judge the contestants’ food, but I never get a superjones to taste her dishes the way I do with some of her competitors. When I read her commentary
in The Hill against the gainful employment rule, I was concerned that she wasn’t really giving the full context, including of her own alma mater, the Art Institute of Houston. Julie Margetta Morgan of the Center for American Progress, blogging at Think Progress
, fills in some of what Tiffany omitted.
Taking the pulse of college presidents.
Or should I say “Taking the temperature of”? “Reading the mind of”? I am sort of metaphor-poor this morning.
Anyway, Inside Higher Ed just released “Presidential Perspectives,”
a big survey of nearly 1,000 college leaders. No surprise that the presidents are concerned about money issues above all. Drilling down, it might be useful—if you cover higher ed—to see if the cost-cutting strategies of your universities are common elsewhere. A third of presidents said they’re launching or expanding online learning programs to save money, and 30 percent (and half of community college leaders) said they are relying more on part-time faculty. Relatively few are cutting varsity sports to save money (shocker!) or allying with corporate partners.
In the woulda-coulda department, presidents say that absent political ramifications, they would outsource more services—not sure which—and mandate the retirement of older faculty. (Not totally parallel to the K-12 teacher seniority issue, but not completely unrelated either.)
Take a look. You might get some valuable context about your own institutions’ priorities.
Get specific on pensions.
Given the current debate about public-employee benefits, I think it’s important for journalists to traffic in facts, not just rhetoric. If you are writing a piece that includes arguments about teacher pensions, for example, give some numbers to show what those pensions look like. A friend of mine worked for 19 years in a school system in one of the nation’s most affluent counties; his monthly pension is $907. Is that low? Is that high?
What about other benefits for educators? What do their health plans look like exactly? What do they get to negotiate for in collective bargaining besides wages and benefits? What exactly does “summers off” mean?
Readers can judge for themselves, if we give them the tools with which to do so. With all of this stuff being hotly contested, it is important to provide as many specifics as you can.
This website could kill you.
Facebook but not Foursquare. YouTube but not Pandora. Wikipedia
! What websites do your school districts block, how do they choose, and how successful are students (and teachers!) at using proxy sites to get around the barriers?