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What Should Education Reporters Do?

Reporters should get into classrooms more often and cover what's going on there, say the good folks from the Hechinger Institute in a recent report Ist2_1372978_reporter_s_notebook and an EdWeek commentary (What to Look for in Classrooms, Know the Game and Cover the Action). And, ideally, they're right.  Nuanced, in-depth reporting from the classroom can be amazing.  The current situation, in which many reporters only step into class momentarily to find a colorful anecdote that fits their story angle, is pathetic.  I should know.

Realistically, however, most reporters don't have time, patience, or knowledge to sit in a classroom day after day and figure out what's really going on.  It's just not going to happen.   But that's no excuse.  Even the most time-strapped and education-oblivious reporter can find some knowledgeable and engaged folks to give context and balance to whatever the principal, teacher, or superintendent has to say.  That means parents (not just the ones picked by the principal), community leaders (not just the ones who reliably oppose everything), local officials, and organizations that work with the school.

Where do you think reporters should spend their time to get the inside scoop and convey the real issues?

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Having a few more real polymaths in the business would help, too.

Alexander,

I have no doubt that reporters speak to teachers and other adults, as well as read their statements and research (or at least the executive summaries) but that misses the main point. Spending enough time in classrooms is essential for the opportunity to interact and listen to the kids.

At least they should visit schools at predictably important times. For instance, they need to watch teenagers’ body language as they take standardized tests and then ask whether NCLB's testing is a soul-killing enterprise. Or they should attend the first days of school. (With freshmen, for instance, you can often tell who the troubled kids will be by watching the eyes of the nondisruptive students. They know who will test the teacher and then they watch for the adult’s response.) When reporters read about a gang war, an assignment to the effected schools should be a no-brainer. And above all, they should listen. The kids won’t be shy. (How can an adult ask whether “the drama” in the hall is because one girl called another “a fatty, fatty” or because one suspects that her brother killed another’s cousin? You ask them.)

Then, and only then, can reporters learn from teachers. Anyone can talk a good game. But reporters need to listen to the people who demand high standards and still get the high fives, the handshakes, the chest butts.

Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.

And that’s a good transition to your Obama reference. My wife is for Hillary but Obama combines the wisdom of a community activist with a forward thinking intellect. The people who drafted NCLB understood the importance of early education, cognitive science, and social systems, as well as politics. But they didn’t seem to have the real world understanding of why NCLB (which effected a world where they had little direct knowledge) was inherently at odds with social dynamics that everyone sees in their own world.

Obama’s plan reminds me of James Traub’s New York Times Magazine article “Obama Gets Personal About Foreign Policy.” The majority of Clinton foreign policy advisors, according to Traub, and the majority of the 200 or so Democrats who think seriously about emerging global issues support Obama. Its not that they disrespect their old boss, but they believe that Obama looks to the future.

And that reminds me of your reference to the Democratic congressman that told Diane Ravitch that NCLB won’t be radically changed in the next two years. When NCLB was first implemented, I had never seen a cell phone in a classroom! The first time I saw a student text messaging I didn’t have a clue what could be happening. In so many ways, 2001 seems to be ancient history.

And that is just one more reason for reporters to visit today’s classrooms and not just listen to educators from “back in the day.”

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in This Week In Education are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.