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Education Nation: Not Even Close

Valerie Strauss, the Washington Post’s other education writer*, takes a look at Education Nation and says it’s not the “fair, serious look at public education today” NBC claimed it would be.

It wasn’t even close.

The events, panels and discussions were sharply tilted toward Obama’s school reform agenda — focused in part on closing failing schools, expanding charter schools and using standardized test scores to evaluate teachers. It gave short shrift to the enormous backlash against the plan from educators and parents around the country who say that Obama’s education priorities won’t improve schools but will narrow curriculum and drive good teachers out of the profession.

NBC seemed to take for granted that Obama’s education policies are sound and will be effective. Seasoned journalists failed to ask hard questions and fell all over their subjects to be sympathetic. It was a forum for people to repeatedly misstate the positions of their opponents.

Exactly! Outside of the Teacher Town Hall from last Sunday, it’s nearly impossible to find any voices at Education Nation advocating for anything other than that which solidifies the status quo. Re-creating schools straight out of Leave it to Beaver.

The rest of her assessment of what passes for reform these days is also excellent.

In fact, Strauss only misses on two minor points.

First, there’s really nothing new here. Obama’s education policies are pretty much a carbon copy of those imposed by the previous administration.

Second, she comes to this incorrect conclusion.

There will come a time when this current wave of “reform” proves as unsuccessful as past fads — and journalists may look back on their fawning coverage and be very, very sorry that they gave their objectivity on this subject.

This wave of reform will certainly fail but don’t look for journalists, least of all the ones at NBC, to be sorry about any part of their crappy coverage of the topic.

By that time they will be creating a whole new narrative, likely also divorced from objectivity.

*and Jay Mathews’ heir apparent?

Observations at the Town Hall

Yesterday afternoon I watched the Teacher Town Hall* that was the kick-off event for Education Nation, NBC’s self-congratulatory, week-long look at education on their news shows, quasi-news shows (ie. Dateline), and talking heads cable channels.

This is not a summary of the two hours (minus an odd assortment of ads), just a short collection of observations.  If you saw the program and came away with something different, please leave a comment.

Although Brian Williams, the moderator, claimed several times that Education Nation was all about “the future of American education”, this town hall was very much about the status quo.  Any changes being advocated, by either the people interviewed on-stage or those who got a few seconds on mic from the audience, were minimal at best.

I didn’t hear much about student learning, which is supposed to be the core purpose of school.  And on those few occasions when the subject of learning did come up, it was always in terms of standardized tests.  Unfortunately, even many teachers are associating genuine learning with test scores.

On the other hand, almost all the teachers who spoke from the audience seemed very proud of their work and of their particular schools and students. Almost defensive.

Maybe not almost.  Many speakers talked about the profession being “under attack”, “under siege”, and about their work “in the trenches”. It’s rather depressing to hear people discussing teaching in terms of war.

And Williams seemed to take great pleasure in keeping the waters churning.  It quickly became clear that he and the producers were far more interested in the conflict that is the staple of what passes for news reporting these days than they were in a serious discussion of education issues.

Lots of talk about unions and tenure, although those who blame either for not being able to fire bad teachers don’t understand the system.  In the super large districts, it’s the general bureaucracy that is the biggest impediment to making corrections – of any kind.

The online discussion, using CoverIt Live, was worthless.  Besides being too many people contributing comments, some of them short essays, making it very hard to follow, it was also clear that the posts were being filtered. The criteria for which were allowed through wasn’t so clear.

Finally, did you know the event was taking place on the skating rink at Rockefeller Plaza in New York? It was impossible to miss that fact since Williams told the audience about it after Every. Single. Commercial. Break.

So, with the obigitory airing of teacher opinion out of the way – on a football Sunday afternoon – the rest of Education Nation can begin in prime time.

Bring on the expert panel!

*Don’t look for a transcript, recording, or other accounting of the two hours at that link. But you can still enter the sweepstakes! They’ve posted the video, but a searchable transcript would also be nice. And you can still enter the sweepstakes. :-)

Sort of an Educational “Where’s Waldo?”

Read through this list and be prepared for a quiz on the other side.

  • Maria Bartiromo: Anchor of CNBC’s “Closing Bell with Maria Bartiromo” and Anchor and Managing Editor of “Wall Street Journal Report with Maria Bartiromo”
  • Michael Bloomberg: Mayor, City of New York
  • Cory Booker: Mayor, City of Newark, New Jersey
  • Phil Bredesen: Governor, State of Tennessee
  • Steven Brill: Co-founder of Journalism Online
  • Tom Brokaw: NBC News Special Correspondent
  • Geoffrey Canada: CEO & President of Harlem Children’s Zone Project
  • David Coleman: Founder & CEO, Student Achievement Partners; Contributing Author of the Common Core Standards
  • Ann Curry: News Anchor, “Today” and Anchor, “Dateline NBC”
  • Arne Duncan: US Secretary of Education
  • Byron Garrett: CEO of the National Parent Teacher Association (PTA)
  • Allan Golston, President, US Program, The Gates Foundation
  • Jennifer M. Granholm: Governor, State of Michigan
  • David Gregory: Moderator, “Meet the Press”
  • Reed Hastings: Founder & CEO of Netflix
  • Lester Holt: Anchor, “NBC Nightly News,” Weekend Edition and Co-Host, “Today” Weekend Edition
  • Walter Isaacson: President & CEO of the Aspen Institute
  • Joel Klein: Chancellor of New York City Schools
  • Wendy Kopp: CEO and Founder of Teach for America
  • John Legend: Musician; Founder of the Show Me Campaign
  • Jack Markell: Governor, State of Delaware
  • Gregory McGinity: Managing Director of Policy, The Broad Education Foundation
  • Andrea Mitchell: NBC News Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent and Host, “Andrea Mitchell Reports”
  • Janet Murguia: President & CEO of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR)
  • Michael Nutter: Mayor, City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Bill Pepicello, Ph.D.: President of University of Phoenix
  • Sally Ride: First Female Astronaut; Vice-chair of Change the Equation
  • Michelle Rhee: Chancellor, District of Columbia Public School System of Washington, D.C.
  • Edward Rust: Chairman & CEO of State Farm Insurance Companies
  • Gwen Samuel, CT delegate to Mom Congress
  • Barry Schuler: Former CEO of AOL
  • Sterling Speirn: CEO, Kellogg Foundation
  • Margaret Spellings: Former US Secretary of Education
  • Antonio Villaraigosa: Mayor, City of Los Angeles, California
  • Randi Weingarten: President of American Federation of Teachers (AFT-CLO)
  • Brian Williams: Anchor and Managing Editor “NBC Nightly News”

From a press release for NBC/Universal’s Education Nation summit taking place later this month, these people are the “experts” they’ve gathered who will “highlight some of the biggest challenges and opportunities in education in this country, jumpstarting a national conversation about one of the most pressing issues of our time”.

Your assignment is to find any current K12 students on that list.

Can you spot any current K12 teachers in there? Principals? Librarians?

How about any non-celebrity parents of K12 students (other than the “CT delegate to Mom Congress”)?

Is there someone with ideas NOT rooted in the traditional, 20th century, pre-internet, teacher-directed, information-delivery, standardized-testing-heavy, college-focused model of public education?

Anyone? Bueller?

Update (later that same day): Brian at Learning is Messy posts an open letter to NBC also asking where are the people actually involved in day-to-day education. I hope he posts the non-response he gets in return.

Education Nation… Twice

Something to look forward to in late September.  Media giant NBC Universal* is planning a one-week event, including segments to be featured in news programming on all their networks, called “Education Nation

According to the press release that landed in my mailbox (and, I suspect, that of many other edubloggers), things will kick off with a two-day education summit that will be a “call to action, shining a spotlight on the most pressing national issue of our time: Education in America”.

Call to action? Who’s coming? Well, pretty much the usual suspects.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Delaware Governor Jack Markell, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, Harlem Children Zone’s CEO Geoffrey Canada, President of MIT Susan Hockfield, National Superintendent of the Year Elizabeth Morgan, Civil Rights Activist Al Sharpton, and President of University of Phoenix Bill Pepicello, Ph.D., join a host of top leaders in education to open a national dialogue and address the gap between how we perceive education and the actual results we are producing today.

And don’t forget Bill Gates, whose foundation is one of the sponsoring “partners”.

Interesting. All but one of those big names lives and works less than a days drive (in traffic) from New York City, the location of this summit. Just an observation.

Anyway, later on the NBC press people mention that the overall project will include input from “more than 300 big thinkers in government, politics, business and technology – as well as school administrators, teachers, parents and students from across the country”.

Again, notice that the people most directly affected by the education process – parents and students – are thrown in almost as an afterthought.

Later the same day, by coincidence (I think), I also received a promotion for a new book from Milton Chen, former executive director of the George Lucas Educational Foundation (of which I’m a member), carrying the same title: “Education Nation“.

A snippet from the introduction to that book, posted on the promotional site, certainly sounds like a good starting point.

Imagine an ‘Education Nation,’ a learning society where the education of children and adults is the highest national priority, on par with a strong economy, high employment, and national security. Where resources from public and private sources fund a ‘ladder of learning’ for learners of all ages, from pre-K through ‘gray.’ Where learners take courses through the formal institutions of high-quality schools and universities and also take advantage of informal experiences offered through museums, libraries, churches, youth groups, and parks as well as via the media.

Ok, I need to dial back the skepticism a little and reserve judgement on both variations on Education Nation until after I get the chance to evaluate the ideas presented.

However, it will be very interesting to see if the nations presented by NBC and Chen have anything in common, and especially if either has any connection to reality.

*No more GE microwave programming I guess. :-)

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