3 Stories an Education Journalist Should Write About, from an Educator

Jose VilsonEducation, Resources8 Comments

Last Friday, I had the pleasure of meeting journalists, policy makers, and fellow edu-bloggers at the Education Writers’ Association conference at the Carnegie Corporation in Midtown Manhattan. I do have to thank Linda Perlstein, lead editor for the EWA and the person who personally invited me, and the folks at Carnegie. I rarely miss opportunities to learn and discuss others’ points of view, especially from those who shape current education policy and the people primarily in charge of disseminating this information to the nation. As someone who has a stake in both of those groups’ functions, and someone who has his public voice in a few domains of his own, I thought this meeting would help all interested members do their part to move the message in a positive direction.

Much of the underlying drama prior to the meeting stemmed from the utter lack of teacher representation in the panels. As usual, whether it be Education Nation, Oprah, or another institution meaning to discuss education, we saw just another meeting where the teacher voice would get restricted to that of object and not subject. We would get to ask questions but not provide answers. Disheartening as that was, teacher bloggers found a way to ask just the right questions that might draw attention to the profession with a voice, not for the voiceless. Many of the people in the room who weren’t teacher bloggers were under the assumption that a) the bloggers in the room weren’t actual in-class teachers and b) teacher bloggers weren’t well researched as they were.


What I found throughout the day was a way for teacher bloggers to demonstrate the power of their voices by speaking in terms that the journalists themselves could write about. It was less about the struggles in the classroom and more about the factors that lead to the difficulty we’re facing with pinpointing the discussion around the classroom. We brought the discussions of race and class to the points made about recruiting and hiring teachers. We brought the idea of teacher leadership and teacherpreneurism to the fore of professionalizing and sustaining teacher quality. We even had a few opportunities to tell people whose only experience came from working with chancellors and district offices that we simply couldn’t agree with them.

And that’s fine. Because that’s how it should be. Journalists should seek to get the most nuanced and multi-dimensional voice possible, because education isn’t black and white (well … that’s for another post). Sure, we can disagree on the effectiveness of unions, or whether teachers are overpaid or underpaid, but we can’t disagree that the majority of the mainstream coverage on education today has a neoconservative / neoliberal bias. Meeting some of the journalists, I got inklings of information about them that, as a blogger, I couldn’t understand.

So, here are some stories I’d like to hear more of:

3) Teachers do more than teach …

Question to ask: how do you find the time? Focus on: community activists, volunteers, policy advocates / makers.

2) The complexities of becoming a school principal …

Question to ask: why would anyone become a principal? Focus on: negotiating, how they became principals, teaching teachers.

1) When teachers are considered “bad” …

Question to ask: what makes them bad? Focus on: origins of the use of the term “bad,” how school environment affects teaching.

I know I have my own answers, but I honestly would like to hear what others have to say about it. I just find that whenever people write articles about education, it becomes more like an op-ed piece instead of a piece with wide gradations, where all sides and all voices have a balanced part of the narrative the journalist is providing.

And if the journalist has any doubts, they can do what many of the writers did at the meeting I just attended: ask.

Jose, who has a ton of writing to do in his own right …

p.s. – Ken Bernstein also did a good write-up about the events. More forthcoming.

Comments 8

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  3. Jose, one thing that the structure of the event seemed to presume is that we, the teacher/bloggers, were unaware of the research. In fact in most cases we were more aware of the research than many of the journalists. They seem to think that we just write about our feelings and do not know our facts. Perhaps had they read the book of which you are a co-author (and in fairness, it was on the list of readings that Linda Perlstein distributed), they might have understood how deeply versed we are in the research on things about which we write.

    I agree with you that there was, however you wish to phrase it, a neo- something – liberal or conservative – to much of what came from the panels and too much of the framing of the questions from the journalists, who have been hearing one side of an argument. This was true at Education Nation. This was true of the roll-out of Waiting for Superman.

    We will have to see what if any impact our presence has on future coverage. Remember, reporters are still under the oversight of editors. Audrey Lee from San Antonio was there as an editor of 4 who write about education. She took lots of notes on suggestions, and sought out the ideas of the teachers she encountered. That gives me some hope.

    We shall see.

    Peace, brother.

  4. Jose, the “bad” teacher issue is especially critical, and one I’ve been addressing for years. Unfortunately, too often the discussion centers on identifying and getting rid of such teachers. I say unfortunately because we know from W. Edwards Deming’s work in business—which he applied to education in the final years of his life– that upwards of 90% of what’s wrong in an organization relates to its systems rather than its people. And indeed one of those systems in schools is the teacher selection process. Fortunately, there’s a research-based tool for identifying with uncanny accuracy whether a candidate is cut out for teaching at-risk students: Martin Haberman’s Star Teacher Selection Interview, which I touted at the EWA Conference (http://www.habermanfoundation.org/).

    At the same time, even school leaders who’ve been trained on Haberman’s interview will, for various reasons, have teachers in their buildings who are not ideal candidates for working with at-risk youth. Cleaning house, however, is rarely an option, which leads to system #2: professional development. And here too, we should be looking at the research (going back to Bruce Joyce’s and Beverly Showers’ study in the 80s and corroborated by other studies since then) that tells us we should be supporting teachers through classroom coaching rather than cookie-cutter workshops.

    Do this and, based on my experience training and coaching hundreds of teachers , most teachers who are, as you wrote, “considered bad” (operative word being “considered”) can at least become effective. You can read about some of those teachers in my article, The Coach Approach: http://www.ginsburgcoaching.com/uploads/David_Ginsburg-The_Coach_Approach.pdf

  5. Great job, Jose. Your observations are timely and your questions perfectly calibrated to bring the civil discourse back after the over heated polemics of the last eighteen months. An education dilettante, myself, I’m long since retired, and all my kids are grown, I came to this fight by an entirely different path. I was blogging about unsolved murders in California when I joined in UTLA’s continuing boycott of the L.A. Times over the posting of value-added test data. It has slowed my research considerably, but the “journalists” of the Times, couldn’t be bothered, it seems. More focus on this issue is surely welcome, and particularly gratifying were Diane Ravitch’s comments to CNN over the week-end.

  6. Post

    Thanks for dropping by, all.

    Ken, what seemed different from the EduNation / WfS was that the people in the panel were more balanced as panelists. It didn’t feel like an onslaught of right-wing thinking the way those panels came across. How is it that Randi Weingarten was the only one who even represented a bit of “our” side versus putting Canada / Rhee / Bloomberg / Duncan and the like? Total outnumbering. The EWA panels? More balance.

    David, I think I read that study as well. If not that one, at least a few others. Anyone who’s ever been in education knows that it’s not as much the people within education that make our system ineffective: it’s the system. If we continue to be complicit in how the current system works (and exacerbate the problems within it), we’ll continue to see the same results for the most disadvantaged. P.S. – I appreciate the way your comment wasn’t too explicit in having me check our your blog. :-)

    Matt, Ravitch is good in my book. As Ken pointed out, some writers have editors, too, some who press for more attention-grabbing and visceral articles that belie their editors’ own biases. Journalistic integrity is a story in and of itself.

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