When I co-taught a graduate seminar in educational policy, my colleague and I would often use examples from the news media. We would discuss with our students the frequency with which educational issues are discussed in the news, and why. Education is a topic that is often at the forefront of discussion among the general public as well as policymakers, and because of this, it merits attention from the media.
Even with all this focus I am still struck, however, by the high volume of stories about education you will find in the press. I often start my day at work by looking online at some key media for stories about education. This may include the websites of The New York Times, the Washington Post, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and Education Week. On rare occasions, I actually get to read the hard copy of these publications, and yesterday was one of those occasions. I was flying to Boston, so I grabbed The New York Times to take with me on the plane.
I was struck by how many stories about education were featured in yesterday’s Times. On the front page was a story about Tennessee’s decision to create a statewide school district to takeover failing schools, very similar to what Michigan did last year with the creation of the Education Achievement Authority (a topic I discussed on Michigan Radio last fall).
On the first national news page, a story described the 35 educators who were arrested in the wake of the test cheating scandal in Atlanta (I wrote last fall about a similar cheating scandal in Philadelphia). This is an incredibly sad story about teachers and administrators – including the superintendent at the time, Beverly Hall – who are alleged to have erased and changed student answers on test sheets to increase scores. The Atlanta story included a companion piece that described how cheating scandals have affected the standardized testing movement across the country.
Further along in the national section was a story about alleged sexual abuse at Deerfield Academy, an elite boarding preparatory school in Western Massachusetts. This has followed similar stories of abuse at other elite private schools, including the Horace Mann School in New York City and Buckingham Browne & Nichols outside of Boston.
Last in the national section was coverage of a press conference in Washington on Tuesday at which a National Rifle Association-sponsored task force released a report that called for “armed police officers, security guards or staff members in every American school, and urged states to loosen gun restrictions to allow trained teachers and administrators to carry weapons.” Last fall, in the wake of the Newtown school shootings, I asked these questions:
- Will we have to begin training teachers on how to hide students in closets and cupboards to protect them?
- Will we need to educate them on the ethics of sacrificing their own lives to save those of their students, as at least one teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary reportedly did?
- As I looked out on the young men and women completing their bachelor’s degrees in our college [at the fall semester commencement ceremony], and ready to embark on their student teaching internships, I wondered how many of them were doing so in fear for their own safety?
I referenced in that blog post some words my daughter wrote on Facebook that day. I had dinner with Rosie and her roommate last night – both in their first year of studies to be teachers – and I can assure you that neither of them wants to be required to learn how to safely carry and fire a weapon as part of their education training. I am sure that many prospective teachers agree with them.
Moving on to the New York metro section in yesterday’s Times, there was a story about the changing nature of the test prep industry in New York City, which used to focus largely on Asian and Russian students, but is now branching out to more students and families. As tests become more important for getting into everything in the city from high-demand kindergarten programs to gifted and talented programs, more families are seeking out and paying for this kind of assistance for their children.
Lastly, the Business section had on the front page a column about how the United States may be underinvesting in early childhood education relative to elementary, secondary, and postsecondary education. Comparative data across a number of countries show that the U.S. spends a smaller proportion of its overall educational spending on the early childhood years, and Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman (among others) has called for larger investments in the early years, as these investments result in a larger return than spending later in students’ lives.
Yesterday was a good example, from just this one publication, of how important education is in the minds of the media, the public, and policymakers.