Yes, I recognize that we have started a new year. But Eduflack is also mindful of the words of Winston Churchill that “those who fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.” So I can’t start the new year without looking over those lovely Year in Review editions put out by Time and Newsweek last week.
Those of us who have been hip deep in the education improvement movement often operate with blinders on, believing that the topics and issues that we are focused on are what the entire world are most concerned with. About a month ago, Brookings came out with a study calculating that only 1.4 percent of the national news coverage in 2009 was education-related. (Personally, as painful as the statistic was, I’d hate to see that number if we excluded coverage of Teach for America and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation). Despite all of our focus on teacher quality, test scores, Race to the Top, i3, and everything in between, we are only hearing about education 1 percent of the time. It is no wonder that education is slipping on the list of important issues for likely voters.
And how do Time and Newsweek contribute to this discussion? In their yearly wrap-ups, there is no mention of education. No mention of the education implications of the stimulus bill. No discussion of arguably the most popular member of the Obama cabinet, EdSec Arne Duncan. No hat tips to TFA or charter schools. No focus on supes like NY’s Joel Klein or DC’s Michelle Rhee. No highlight of the growing attention to education coming from big city mayors from New York to Sacramento. No headline for the $4 billion race. Not even an acknowledgment to education in the tributes to U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy.
In fact, the closest thing to education making the headlines for the year was inclusion of Amazon.com’s Jeff Bezos and his efforts to revolutionize how we read. But few are expecting to see the Kindle take over for textbooks in a K-12 classroom any time in our lifetime.
So we start a new year again asking where to find the love. Are we fighting a losing battle, expecting to see education stories capturing the hearts and minds of the national media (beyond the cadre of dedicated national education media who are tilting at windmills)? Or are we looking in the wrong places?
We shouldn’t be looking to Katie Couric or the New York Times for the latest and greatest. We should be looking at local newspapers and talk radio and websites and blogs. We should recognize that, for the most part, education remains a local issue, and as such, is one best discussed in cities and towns (and maybe states).
If we’re looking for the next great solution, the magic bullets that are going to solve all that ails our public schools, those stories aren’t likely to appear on the national nightly news or in the glossy newsweeklies. Instead, they’ll appear where the majority of parents and local policymakers are focusing their attention. The legendary Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill is best known for saying all politics is local. The same is true for education reform. Most improvements are local. And they are first found on local talk radio and the pages of those newspapers with circulations in the five figures.