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Archive for the ‘Media’ Category

Those who live in glass houses…

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

In a recent post by Kevin Welner, titled Et Tu, Mr. Boasberg, the author came under some heavy fire for his connections to the NEA.  The implication was, of course, that because of these connections his work should be vaiewed as being pro union.

Let’s apply some of that same scrutiny towards the backers of Waiting for Superman. Barabara Miner has written a well researched and documented piece for Rethinking Schools, titled  Ultimate Superpower: Supersized Dollars Drive ‘Waiting for Superman’ Agenda.

The intro to the article says:

This article, written expressly for NOTwaitingforsuperman.org, explores the money behind the movie, its promoters, and those who will benefit from the movie. As author Barbara Miner writes, “In education, as in so many other aspects of society, money is being used to squeeze out democracy.” After examining the role of hedge funds, foundations and other players, she asks, “Should the American people put their faith in a white billionaires boys’ club to lead the revolution on behalf of poor people of color?”

Provocative question indeed!

Popularity: 4% [?]

Super crowd sees Superman

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

Separated at birth: "Superman" director Davis Guggenheim and Ed Reform Now's Van Schoales

Last night’s screening of “Waiting for Superman” in downtown Denver was an “A-list” event, with politicos, foundation executives, sports columnist Woody Paige and assorted wealthy people mingling over heavy hors d’oeuvres  and an open bar. Popcorn was available at the usual jacked-up movie theater prices, but I’m not complaining.

“Superman” director Davis Guggenheim was in attendance, and gave a brief talk before the screening in the big theater at the Denver Pavilions.

He said Denver was his last stop on a 25-city tour (he was in the Oval Office Monday, introducing the kids featured in “Superman” to President Obama). “Every city has its own character, its own relationship to education,” Guggenheim said. “Some are dormant, or quiet, or asleep. I can tell you that Denver and Colorado definitely are not.”

Guggenheim heaped praise on state Sen. Mike Johnston and his Senate Bill 191, also known as the educator effectiveness bill. That bill, now state law, sparked a conflagration in the state legislature, creating a mini civil war between Democrats who favor major changes to the state’s education system and those wishing to move more slowly, wary of upsetting the status quo.

But Guggenheim’s view of the law had the same black/white quality as his movie’s portrayal of education reform. He called it one of the “most inspiring things I have heard.” He said the law busted through firewalls that previously “you could not penetrate. Other states are gaining courage because of Colorado breaking the firewall.”

Phil Anschutz, whose Walden Media had a hand in producing “Superman,” told the crowd that while people of different political persuasions can’t agree on much, they do agree about “the importance of and crying need for education reform in this country.”

“If we are successful, and I think we will be, this movie can be a catalyst for change.”

I’ve seen “Superman” twice now. I watched it last night with an ear cocked for the anti-teacher, blindly pro-charter bias for which reform skeptics have lambasted the film. Without a doubt, Guggenheim focuses on successful charters as the agents of change in public education. KIPP, Harlem Success Academy, Seed, and Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone are held up as paragons of educational virtue, while many traditional public schools are presented as dismal failures.

But Guggenheim does point out emphatically that only about one in five charters “produce amazing results.” Of course that’s an overstatement, but he does not give charters a free pass. And he goes out of his way to praise teachers and pay homage to their commitment and sacrifices. It’s not completely black and white.

“Superman” does not pretend to be an objective work of journalism. It is a polemic, aimed at sparking outrage and spurring action. And it’s effective. I still prefer “The Lottery,” which focuses more intimately on families. But “Superman” has its moving and insightful moments.

Whether “Superman” proves to be the game-changer its acolytes wish for remains to be seen. Go see it and let me know what you think.

Popularity: 5% [?]

Teachers, on Superman let’s debate, not regurgitate

Monday, September 27th, 2010

The CEA has published a “Talking Points” memo to local association members regarding the release of Waiting for Superman.  While I agree with most of the points that CEA makes (which are actually from NEA) I urge teachers to actually see the movie.  It was very frustrating during the debate over SB 191 to have teachers regurgitating talking points and not reading the actual bill. 

Let’s be smart in our response to the movie; let’s not let the movie frame the debate.  We cannot ignore the emotional response that many viewers will feel after seeing the movie.  In this regard the movie is well done.  The movie comes up short in its presentation of reality and because of this it limits possible solutions.  Educators need to communicate the reality of public schools, and it needs to be much more active in solutions.

Popularity: 3% [?]

What you didn’t hear on Oprah yesterday (Part I)

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

I am sincerely disappointed in the one-sided coverage presented on the Oprah show yesterday. It’s really sad when trusted media personalities like her advance a one-sided narrative on an issue as complex (and important to her core audience) as education. It appears she’s doing a follow-up show on the issue in which people can participate. Though framed in a really problematic way, perhaps the focus will shift if enough people send in better ideas, or point out why the logic is flawed.

Anyway, in the interest of offering some important information that went unmentioned yesterday…

California teacher leader Anthony Cody takes issue with some of the big arguments that went unchallenged on yesterday’s show (emphasis added):

And why are these schools so hopeless? Because they have bad teachers that are impossible to fire, that’s why. Michele Rhee describes teacher tenure as “a job for life.” Oprah says “After two years you have a job for life and you can’t be fired! Who does that?”

Davis Guggenheim, the movie’s producer, intones “Everybody gets it. It’s automatic. You show up for two years, you got tenure.”

That is a flat-out lie. In my district, which is known for a strong union, teachers do not get tenure unless their principal wants them to. Many teachers are released at the end of their first or second year. Tenure is by no means automatic. And there are indeed ways to get rid of tenured teachers, who do not have “jobs for life,” but rather have rights to due process. In fact, a few moments earlier, we were told “Michelle Rhee has fired a thousand teachers and principals,” many of whom had tenure. We do need to improve our evaluation systems, and I have written some suggestions here. But this is a lie, and it should not have been presented without a challenge.

Oprah tries to reassure those of us who might be having a reaction to this.

Everybody knows I love good teachers, and there are so many thousands of you great ones in this country, so we’re not talking about you, if you are a good teacher. Okay? So save your time gettin’ upset. And what I know is that you who are the good and great teachers out there, you also want good and great teachers, because you really care about the kids.

Here is the problem, Oprah. We do not trust the ways that are being cooked up to sort the good teachers from the bad. Especially the methods that rely primarily on test scores, which is what Ms. Rhee relied on to make her determination. As Linda Darling Hammond pointed out this week,

Unfortunately, as useful as new value-added assessments are for large-scale research, studies repeatedly show that these measures are highly unstable for individual teachers. Among teachers who rank lowest in one year, fewer than a third remain at the bottom the next year, while just as many move to the top half.

It is not that we “good teachers” want to protect supposedly “bad teachers.” It is that we fear a witchhunt based on test scores will have disastrous consequences for ourselves, our peers, and the students we care about.

Teacher Stephanie Sandifer’s open letter, “Dear Ms. Winfrey” offers a wonderfully balanced response to the one-sided nature of the discussion surrounding Waiting for Superman and Michelle Rhee’s brand of school reform.

The problem is much bigger than it was presented on your show or in the film Waiting for Superman.  The problem does not lend itself to easy solutions like just firing ineffective teachers or opening more charter schools.  In fact, many of the current solutions being put forth by our policy makers (more high-stakes testing, teacher accountability tied to single test scores, etc.) will not solve the problems.  The problem is much more systemic and involves the broader community – it is not confined only to the four walls of the classroom.

Teacher Magazine blogger Susan Graham’s post “A Star is Born – But Who Gets Burned?” points out the hypocrisy in the attempts to paint Rhee as a savior of children or public education, and highlights some particularly disturbing stories from Rhee’s short stint as a teacher. (You can listen to Rhee telling this story herself here. She actually laughs as she describes children bleeding and crying as they peel off the tape she put over their mouths to stop them from talking in the hallway.)

…someone has to protect children. Michelle told Oprah

The reality is that we have some ineffective teachers, some bad teachers, who are in classrooms every day who are doing a disservice to our children. The data shows if [children] have three highly effective teachers in a row versus three ineffective teachers in a row, it can literally change their life trajectory.

In a recent address to new DC teachers, Rhee related some horrific examples of the kind of criminal ineptitude that cannot be tolerated. She told of a teacher who put masking tape on the mouths of 35 children to keep them quiet on the way to the lunchroom – and how their lips bled when the tape was ripped off. This same teacher took children on a field trip without collecting parent contact information. When one of them didn’t know her address at the end of the day, this teacher eventually dropped the little girl off with someone in the neighborhood who recognized her.

It is outrageous that this teacher, who had spent only a few weeks in training to develop instructional skills, was not fired on the spot. Yet she continued to teach in a Baltimore school for three years. What is worse, the DC Public Schools hired her for an administrative position.

That incompetent teacher is Michelle Rhee. She shared these personal first-year “war stories” with her new teachers a few days before they went into the classroom for the very first time.

And do you know what they did?
They laughed.

A D.C. teacher wrote to Oprah prior to the show, also expressing his concern about the stark contrast between Rhee’s public persona and the reality in D.C.’s schools:

All this [is] a platform for educational reform – or at least the kind of reform that Rhee claims to make.  I hope you will ask Ms. Rhee a few harder questions about her “accomplishments” before you give her such a huge stage on which to tout herself.

Even better, you might come down to the district and record some observations by the people most affected by her “miracles”.  You could start with the teachers.  How about asking us what it feels like in our buildings, the level of stress, the resentment that is growing in our buildings from IMPACT and the way it is used, the lack of real support that we are not getting, the false claims that Rhee makes about scores and what she has done while she fires too many of our worthy colleagues (meanwhile leaving the very type of teacher she claimed she wanted the system rid of still in place).

Talk to the students in our various schools.  Talk to the students at Eastern and Anacostia High Schools, talk to the students at Hardy, talk to students in many of the schools where Rhee has left anger and frustration because she ignored the community of that school and did what she wanted.  Ask her why she has put educators in prominent administrative positions at Hardy Middle School who lack the proper credentials to be in our schools.  Ask her why she focused on already successful schools, removing their principals on the shallowest of reasons and ensuring the failure of those schools by her actions.

When she talks about the “tremendous gains” we have made you need to ask her where exactly those gains are since over 34 of our schools did not make AYP on the last testing cycle and many of those schools had never failed to do so in the history of those schools. Ask her how that is progress.  You should also maybe talk to Chris Bergfalk.  He is a teacher here in DC who can show you the real statistics that Rhee does not want to admit to. Statistics that show that our gains were made merely by shedding our system (either by attrition or by keeping them off the test) of our lowest performing African American students.  This is like saying you lost weight when you took off your clothes.  Ask Chris, and then ask Ms. Rhee, about the fact that the gap between white students and students of color has WIDENED under Rhee.  The very students we should be helping the most are not being helped. Exactly how is this covered under “tremendous gains”?

Other important myth-busting posts include:

  • These dissections of key Rhee-era reforms, and other critiques of her leadership by retired D.C. teacher G.F. Brandenburg
  • Did Michelle Rhee lie about her record as a teacher?” a 2008 post at D2 route asks important questions about the lack of evidence for her story about turning around her students’ low test scores in Baltimore
  • A 2008 series in the Daily Howler dissects a number of issues related to the media coverage of school reform and the framing of certain issues related to then President-elect Obama’s choice of education secretaries. They also highlight the verbal sleight of hand associated with Rhee’s teaching record, noting instances where the story has changed in different media outlets.
  • Say what? As we have repeatedly noted, Rhee has always made a much more grandiose claim about her success in the classroom. Indeed, when Rhee was tapped to head DC’s schools, the Washington Post quoted the claim from her professional resume: “Over a two-year period, moved students scoring on average at the 13th percentile on national standardized tests to 90 percent of students scoring at the 90th percentile or higher” (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/2/07).

    That’s what Rhee had always claimed—and this highly implausible claim was ballyhooed by the hacks and the marks who love happy-talk about low-income schools. But in Time, Rhee’s claim has been ratcheted way, way down. As of June 2007, ninety percent of Rhee’s students had scored at the 90th percentile—or higher. Now, Ripley cites a vastly different claim. The majority of Rhee’s kids were at grade level, this new account modestly says. The down-sized claim is still taken as a sign of Rhee’s genius, of course.

More to come…

Popularity: 8% [?]

From the publisher: Even “Superman” can’t save us

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

In the next few days and weeks you are going to be hearing a lot about a film called “Waiting for Superman.” It’s directed by Davis Guggenheim, who made “An Inconvenient Truth,” and its focus is school reform. More precisely it focuses on how certain charter schools are providing new and different opportunities for low-income kids, but are being fought and bad-mouthed every step of the way by established interests content with a miserable status quo.

Sound simplistic? Well it is, but the film is an effective vehicle for its powerful message, even if it paints in black and white issues that are decidedly gray. To be fair to the movie, it does not do what some of its critics in the teachers’ unions say. It is not a “teacher-bashing” movie. Guggenheim goes out of his way to point out there are great teachers in most every school. So don’t buy the anti-movie propaganda from the usual suspects.

Across the country, advocacy groups that endorse the Obama-Duncan style of education reform are gearing up for a huge publicity and advocacy blitz to promote the film. Heck, it was featured on “Oprah” yesterday. That alone practically guarantees boffo box office.

Groups pushing the film believe that “Waiting for Superman” provides them with an unprecedented opportunity to advocate for accelerated reforms, even as a backlash builds against those reforms. Expect titanic clashes through October between proponents and critics of the film’s message.

Which side are you on? Here’s a cheat sheet. If you believe that public education in this country is in need of major change, particularly in cities, and that change has to come primarily from external forces, then you will probably like “Waiting for Superman.”

If, on the other hand, you believe that educators are better positioned than anyone else to make the needed changes, and what they need first and foremost are more resources to implement those changes, you will probably hate the movie.

Lost amid the sturm und drang surrounding “Waiting for Superman” is “The Lottery,” a movie that explores the same themes, even focuses on some of the same characters. And it may well be a better movie. It opened last spring, in extremely limited release (Denver was one of four cities where it showed, briefly).

“The Lottery,” the first film by 27-year-od Madeleine Sackler, follows four families as they try to get their kids into Harlem Success Academy charter schools in Manhattan. Like “Waiting for Superman,” Sackler’s film has a clear point of view. But “The Lottery” sparks outrage quietly, and without a hint of didacticism.

Sackler lets the four families tell their own stories. She treats them with dignity and respect. The camera tells hard truths – one little girl’s home is so devoid of sensory stimuli that it’s no surprise she cannot read – but remains non-judgmental.

If “The Lottery” doesn’t make you tear up a time or two, then you’re harder-hearted than I.

The filmmaker stays far in the background, whereas in “Superman,” Guggenheim at times makes himself a central character.

I attended a conference at The Aspen Institute last week where Sackler was one of the featured speakers. She is utterly without pretense, and makes no claims to be an education expert. But the act of making the movie sparked outrage in her, and, she says, made education her new passion.

Some critics have dinged “The Lottery” for being one-sided. There are interviews with Joel Klein and Geoffrey Canada, but no representative from any teachers’ union appears on camera. New York Public Advocate Besty Gotbaum speaks for charter skeptics in the film, but much of what she says sounds ill-informed, almost nonsensical, and she looks like the camera gives her gas.

Sackler said she made the movie she was able to make. She wanted a more balanced film, but could not get any teachers’ union representative to appear on camera. She tried for over a year to get an interview with American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten. Ultimately, even Weingarten’s spokespeople refused to go on camera. So she proceeded to make the best movie she could with what she had.

Guggenheim’s bigger, higher-profile production succeeded in getting face time with Weingarten. But the brief clips of her interview struck me as the most disingenuous moments in “Waiting for Superman.” Weingarten was shot in unflattering light and from bad angles, making her look every bit the villain she actually isn’t. She hails from the more reasonable wing of a movement that has gone badly off the rails, so treating her shabbily strikes me as counterproductive.

During her talk at the Aspen conference, Sackler synthesized in a couple of sentences one of the ongoing school reform debates. Some people, she said, argue that you cannot fix schools until you fix poverty. After spending time in urban schools and with the families subjected to them, it became clear to her that the opposite is true. And that fact seems so simple and obvious to her that she seemed puzzled that people continue arguing over this issue.

I don’t see it quite that way. If only it were that simple. The fact of the matter is both sides are right. You can’t fix poverty without fixing schools but you can’t fix schools without fixing poverty either. And with the political system so seized up that it imperils our society, no one can muster much will to do anything on a large scale about either interlocked challenge.

And so we slide downhill. No movie alone can fix that.

Popularity: 5% [?]

Super plug for “Superman”

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

Sure, The New York Times’ Thomas Friedman can come across as a self-important  blowhard at times. But he is a smart guy, and more important, he gives a hell of a plug to “Waiting for Superman,” a documentary about public education that opens in Denver in October.

There is a lot of publicity building around this film. In Colorado, education reform groups are going to launch a major campaign to get people to see the movie, and based on their anticipated reactions, to get involved in demanding serious systemic change to education in Colorado, and across the nation.

Can a movie prompt such a movement? We’ll see. It’s directed by Davis Guggenheim, who directed “An Inconvenient Truth,” so there is some track record.

I saw the movie a month or so ago, but was told by studio media handlers I absolutely could not write about it until it opened. Well, if Tom Friedman can bust the embargo, so can I. But I’ll restrain myself and just say this: It is beautifully made and powerful. Unavoidably, it over-simplifies matters to make its points. Still, it surpasses other recent films that focus on the same topic — “The Lottery” and the overtly bombastic “The Cartel.”

So I’ll give it three stars (I’m a tough reviewer) and urge people to see it when it opens.

By the way, if you know where people stand on education issues, you can easily predict whether they’ll  love or loathe “Waiting for Superman.”

Popularity: 3% [?]

NYT wallops DPS pension deal

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

The New York Times has a major story about the Denver Public Schools pension refinance deal featured prominently on its website tonight. It will probably be on the front page of the print edition tomorrow.

Written by Gretchen Morgenson, assistant business and financial editor and a prominent columnist, the story paints a bleak picture of DPS’ financial condition and is at least implicitly critical of U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and his successor as superintendent, Tom Boasberg, who was chief operating officer when the deal went down.

This is so far outside my area of expertise that I feel unqualified to comment on its accuracy or lack thereof. The story quotes John MacPherson, former interim executive director of the Denver Public Schools Retirement System:

“Hindsight being 20-20, the pension certificates issuance is something that should never have happened.”

Well, yes. But who saw the collapse of ’08 coming? A few sagacious people who were shouted down by the multitudes. Morgenson paints Bennet, Boasberg and the school board as easy prey for bankers who touted the upside of the deal and pooh-poohed any potential downside.

The timing of the story isn’t great for Bennet, who is being pushed to the wall in a primary challenge by Andrew Romanoff. Boasberg is quoted in the story saying that critics of the deal are politically motivated. That may be true.

But given the credibility of the Times (unless you’re a Limbaugh/Fox News type), those critics have just seen their stock go way, way up.

Popularity: 5% [?]

From the publisher: Changes draw cleaner lines

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

Some positive changes are afoot at Education News Colorado. We are growing and forging new partnerships (see below). As a result, we have done some restructuring.

I am stepping away from the editor’s seat and assuming the role of publisher. This means that while I remain ultimately responsible for the site’s content, I am removing myself from day-to-day decisions about news coverage.

I will be responsible (as I have been all along) for organizational development, partnerships and fundraising. I will remain in charge of the opinion section of EdNews, as well as oversee new projects, including our upcoming website for parents. I will also continue to write this weekly letter and produce the Tuesday enewsletter.

Editing duties will be shared by Nancy Mitchell, who is now the news editor, and Todd Engdahl, who remains the capitol editor. Nancy and Todd will make all day-to-day decisions about what stories to pursue and where on the web site to place them.

Why these changes, and why now? As I mentioned above, EdNews is growing. We started out three years ago as an online version of the old Headfirst magazine, with a sometime snarky blog attached, and a few dozen site visitors per day. When we morphed into EdNews, we became a staff of two. But that still meant both Todd and I had to do a bit of everything.

News organizations live and die on their credibility. For the past 18 months, since Nancy came on board, we have maintained a strict separation between writers of news and opinion content. But that wasn’t always readily apparent to people. My dual role as editor of the news site and the blog perhaps created a perception problem.

My becoming publisher clarifies roles and signals to our readers that opinions expressed in my newsletter pieces and on the blog do not bleed over into the news. Anyone who reads the site carefully knows this has always been the case. But perceptions have a way of becoming reality, so we’ve decided to make our lines neat and clear.

Meanwhile, EdNews has forged a couple of significant new partnerships. We are teaming up with Education Week, the preeminent source for national education news. Soon our home page will feature links to top EdWeek stories. People who go to these stories through the EdNews site will circumvent the EdWeek pay wall.

In addition, we will be publishing an occasional EdWeek story on our site. And our blog will now feature each month a few posts written by EdWeek staffers for their blogs. EdWeek will also run some EdNews stories on its website and in its weekly printed newspaper.

We’ve also launched a partnership with Rocky Mountain PBS. Some EdNews stories will appear on the newly redesigned Rocky Mountain PBS website.

And our valued existing partnerships with 9News and In Denver Times continue as well.

Stay tuned for announcements about further enhancements, including details about our unique site for parents, slated to launch some time this fall.

Popularity: 2% [?]

Hope for the future of accountability and education reporting

Sunday, June 20th, 2010

The legislator did not take this high school journalist seriously. As a result, he looks like a hypocrite who doesn’t know the meaning of votes he cast. It’s almost enough to make you feel sorry for the guy. Almost. (Thanks to Gwen Florio for posting this on her Facebook page).

Popularity: 3% [?]

From the editor: Are we all part of the problem?

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

Last week, I attended the Education Writers Association National Seminar in San Francisco. Journalists from across the country took part, representing publications large and small. Edu-bloggers and online reporters were there as well, in bigger numbers than ever before.

The networking was great, as was the company. It’s refreshing to be surrounded by grizzled skeptics. There are no sacred cows as far as this crowd is concerned.

Two themes emerged that I found especially interesting. One was a growing impatience among journalists with today’s self-styled reformers. A number of veteran education writers said this group’s certainty about the correctness of its positions borders on the arrogant and hubristic.

The other oft-repeated theme was disgust with “the polarized education conversation” (there was even a session by that name) and the media’s role in exacerbating that polarization.

First, the journalists’ view of reformers. For some conference participants, an appearance by filmmaker Davis Guggenheim epitomized the reformers’ smugness. Guggenheim, who directed “An Inconvenient Truth,” has a new documentary film coming out in October, focused on education reform. “Waiting for Superman” is being awaited with breathless anticipation by the reform crowd.

Guggenheim showed about 20 minutes worth of clips from the film. It’s beautifully made, and delivers a powerful message about how the latest generation of change agents (Geoffrey Canada, KIPP’s Dave Levin and Mike Feinberg, Harlem Success Academy founder Eva Moskowitz) are transforming education despite stiff resistance from entrenched interests.

I believe in much of that message, up to a point. But “Waiting for Superman” is the third new or soon-to-be-released movie focused on this theme I’ve been exposed to in the past few weeks. The other two are “The Lottery,” centered on Moskowitz’s Harlem campuses, and “The Cartel,” a film that cheerleads for charters and vouchers and paints an annoyingly shallow, black-and-white portrait of “reformers” versus unions and recalcitrant bureaucrats.

Taken in the aggregate, these films are effective propaganda. But even though I agree with much of their advocacy, they leave me feeling used and manipulated rather than informed. They present a simplistic view of challenges facing public education. They may effectively advocate for the “reformer” position, but in the end they fail to elevate or advance the debate.

During the Q&A session, I asked Guggenheim why he thinks so many school reform documentaries are being made now. He replied that more people are recognizing this is a “break the sound barrier” moment. In “Waiting for Superman,” there’s a scene about uber-pilot Chuck Yeager breaking the sound barrier when most people thought it could not be done. Cutting-edge reformers like Canada and the KIPPsters are playing a similar role in transforming public education against seemingly hopeless odds, the film asserts.

Guggenheim said that when his film comes out this fall, a campaign to push for large-scale reform will accompany it. This campaign will build on lessons learned from the reaction to “An Inconvenient Truth.” Film can prompt effective, broad-based campaigns for change, he said.

Guggenheim is an engaging guy. I enjoyed listening to him. Afterwards, though, chatting with other journalists over beer, I heard a lot of grumbling—and I found myself agreeing with much of it.

“He’s so sure he’s right.” “He’s like all these foundation types and hedge fund guys who think they’ve found the answer and anyone who doesn’t see it their way is an idiot and a Neanderthal.” “Nice message, but when will these people admit that the jury is still out on the sustainability and replicability of the KIPPs and the Harlem Children’s Zones of the world?” “It’s just not that black-and-white.”

This wasn’t an expression of hostility toward the reform camp, but rather journalists’ frustration over the intractable and increasingly ugly nature of current disputes – for which they blamed both sides – and themselves.

I heard these views amplified during the jam-packed session on the polarized school reform debate the following day. Reporters in the room agreed that entrenched interests fighting change – most notably unions and district bureaucracies –  are a big part of the problem. But so, they said, are the reformers.

New York-based reporters, for example, said that Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein have created such a “climate of fear” in New York schools that it is hard to get educators who view the reforms skeptically to talk to journalists even off the record. And one reporter said that Moskowitz in particular brings the debate down to a personal level that breeds acrimony.

“Maybe we just need to declare a moratorium on quoting these people,” the reporter suggested.

One idea that won favor was that reporters should seek out more people on the ground, living the school experience every day. Stop quoting the “usual suspects” – the Randi Weingartens and Eva Moskowitzes – and find some teachers and principals in the trenches. To keep going back to the same sources with their predictable sound-bites is to feed the anger and bitterness that’s fueling the increasing nasty debate over changing public education.

The debate in Colorado is at least as polarized as it is elsewhere. Some of the healthiest give and take in recent months has taken place in comments on the Education News Colorado blog, where educators like Mark Sass, Jeff Buck and J.J. Miller have put admirably nuanced thinking and ox-goring on display for all to read and appreciate.

My pledge to readers is that we will keep pushing this kind of debate to the forefront. If we can’t always avoid the “usual suspects,” we will augment their views with those of people closer to the ground.

Even if this kind of dialogue seems frustratingly inconclusive at times, that ambiguity accurately reflects the reality of school reform in 2010.

Popularity: 5% [?]

Colorado Health Foundation Walton Family Foundation Daniels fund Pitton Foundations Donnell-Kay Foundation