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Tag: opinion

Bad Commentary

Freedom of Blabber

Returning to the topic of reporting on COVID-19, coverage in The Washington Post has been actually pretty good over the past eight months. Not perfect (leaning too much on the political angle), but certainly a whole lot better than the information provided by television.

One area in which they have fallen short is in writing about the impact of the pandemic on education. Their reporters jump all over a story when the conflict is pretty easy to explain, but rarely go deeper into how the crisis could affect kids, families, teachers, and the community.

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That Word Does Not Mean What You Think It Means

In a recent column, the Public Editor for the New York Times asks “Are Blogs Outdated?”

There’s just one big problem with both her question and the explanation offered by the managing editor.

“We are rethinking blogs — actually, we’re always rethinking them,” he said.

He suggested that the golden age of blogs at The Times may be over: “Blogs proliferated early on because they were seen as a way for desks and subjects to get into the Web game. They taught us a different way of writing and thinking, created a way to move fast on coverage. But I’d argue that as we’ve matured, the sections themselves now act like blogs.”

I’d argue that the Times doesn’t understand the concept of blogs.

Newspaper “blogs” were never really blogs in the first place. The posts may be published in the same reverse chronological format, have the same appearance, and are frequently updated. But they are not blogs.

What news media sites call blogging is nothing different from standard, editor-approved newspaper articles and columns that are published in pixels rather than on paper.

Ok, so that’s just my opinion. But that’s the point. I get to write about what I want, offer my own views, act as my own editor (and censor), and don’t have to worry about whether the material will drive traffic to advertisers.

That’s what I mean when I use the term “blog”.

Vision Doesn’t Come Cheap

For as long as I can remember, we’ve heard the statistics about the high turnover rate among new teachers.  The numbers vary depending on the study but reports say that anywhere from 30 to 50% of teachers leave the profession in their first five years.

A churn rate like that in the professional ranks of most corporations would be cause for concern, with a battery of VPs and consultants looking for ways to fix a situation that wastes a lot of money for things like recruitment and training. In education, it’s just one more problem to ignore.

As with most issues in education, the reasons for this high turnover are complicated. But for anyone interested in a solution, this might be a good place to start.

The perceived low status of teaching is also a serious obstacle to keeping teachers in classrooms. So, of course, are compensation issues and questions of how teachers’ effectiveness is evaluated, the subject of frequent and corrosive headlines that often reduce teaching to test scores.

Not surprisingly, many new teachers reported a phase where they felt disillusioned, defeated, and a deep sense of having failed. Teachers who have been academic high-achievers often cannot deal with this sense of failure; they have been hard-working, motivated, and successful in virtually everything they have done. They blame themselves for not better overcoming the shortcomings of the system and soon begin to believe they are not good teachers.

It doesn’t help when politicians and pundits also blame teachers for everything wrong with schools (as well as the economy), while at the same time cutting support wherever possible.

The writer of this piece concludes that we need to renew a “broad vision” for the teaching profession based on the ideas of former Harvard president Derek Bok: “Education institutions [must] assume the responsibility to cultivate interests and supply the knowledge that will help young people make more enlightened choices about how to live their lives.”.

That’s very inspirational. But is our society prepared to pay for that vision?

A Few Mildly Heretical Thoughts

Writing in Salon, a columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette offers three “mildly heretical thoughts about American education”, telling us Don’t believe the education “reformers”.

First, given the impossible assignment we’ve given them–an egalitarian mission in a nation rapidly growing more stratified by income and class–American public schools are probably doing a better job than they ought to be. One big reason is greater professionalism among teachers.

Second heretical thought: Very little good can come from treating teachers like part-time cashiers at an underperforming Wal-Mart outlet. I was moved to this observation by a sad, mordantly funny account by New York Times education columnist Michael Winerip about Tennessee’s brilliant new, Obama-approved scheme for teacher evaluation.

Third heretical thought: All educational Miracle Cures and panaceas are wrong, and many who push them are charlatans–starting with the ubiquitous Michelle Rhee. Schools get better when communities get richer, rarely the other way around. Remember when charter schools and vouchers were going to save the world? There’s no evidence they’ve out-performed public schools.

Read the whole thing. It would be nice if more of the people trying to lead American education would as well.

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