Three distinguished scholars at the Brookings Institution have been spending much time worrying about what we education writers are going to do with ourselves in the uncertain future. This week, they released their third consecutive report on this subject, and filled me with hope that I had not had before.
The three — governance studies director Darrell M. West, Brown Center on Education Policy Director Grover J. Whitehurst and governance studies senior fellow and Post political columnist E. J. Dionne Jr. — have discovered among our fellow Americans a stubborn faith in education reporting in newspapers. That’s right: The byproduct of dead trees sitting in front of your house getting soaked in the spring rain is still a useful tool.
They surveyed 1,211 adults in the continental United States and found that daily newspapers were the second-most common source for current education news among this diverse group, with 60 percent saying newspapers were a source of education news for them.
I am bothered that their most common source was family and friends (75 percent). In my experience, those people are often full of ill-considered opinions different from my own — but maybe that’s just me.
Anyway, we newspaper folk are No. 2. Woo-hoo.
We fall to No. 3 when respondents are asked which were their most highly regarded sources of education news. Family and friends were still number one at 62 percent, while school publications (45 percent) just edged out daily newspapers (44 percent). That’s okay. I expected worse.
The three authors did not try to upset me, as they did in their first report, by ignoring the power and influence of local news and fretting unnecessarily about how little national education news they saw reported anywhere. I attacked that report so violently that they invited me to appear on a panel with them. They were that excited to get some attention. I don’t blame them.
I am going to let you read the rest of the report, “Americans Want More Coverage of Teacher Performance and Student Achievement,” yourself, if you choose, and do your own analysis. There is only one part that bothered me in any significant way.
The authors said that “the lack of coverage on essential education issues is a problem for public deliberation because discussions of teacher performance, school curricula and education reform are central to improving the performance of public schools.”
I don’t believe that. I enjoy having such discussions. I think they help my understanding of the issues, and make for an interesting evening with friends and family. But I don’t think discussions of such issues “are central to improving the performance of public schools.”
Talking them over may help in some way. If it gets us to support — even with just e-mails, or better yet some money — what good schools are doing, that’s good. But our chats are not central to making schools better.
What is central to improving the performance of public schools is the hard work and creativity of educators. They may get some useful information from education news, but they will learn much more working with kids, seeing what helps them and what doesn’t.
We education writers have to maintain a sensible perspective on this. We are never going to be central to the cause of better schools, but if people continue to read us, as this latest Brookings report suggests they will, we can help. That is all we ask.
My editors are counting page views, which determine whether I will keep my job, and will probably continue to do so until they invent something that replaces the Web. The way things are going, that could happen next Tuesday.
If it does, I can’t wait to see what the bright and thankfully optimistic West, Whitehurst and Dionne have to say about it.