Of Media Disclosures, Journalistic Missions, and Consumer Expectations

Earlier this week, Alexander Russo explored the always delicate issue of reporters (and by extension, bloggers) disclosing those relationships, personal or professional, that could shade their edu-coverage. In his Washington Monthly column The Grade, Russo writes of a reporter for NY Magazine who sometimes cites his wife’s role in education reform and sometimes doesn’t noting, “This is an issue for many who read and disagree with his views, or who believe that disclosure is an important aspect of credible journalism.”

It interestingly was published on the same day as a Howard Kurtz column for Fox News exploring claims that it was the news media’s job to “stop” Donald Trump and his campaign for the presidency. In his piece, Kurtz opines, “I am a journalist. And journalists who aren’t in the opinion business are supposed to be fair. They often fall short, of course, but it is not a “failure” on their part that Trump is on his way to the Republican nomination—that is, unless you’re a Trump-hater who thinks it’s our duty to knock out the candidate you so detest.”

Eduflack isn’t about to delve into the media’s “responsibility” to fight for truth, justice, and the American way and to stop those political candidates that the individuals who run the media may think stand against such beliefs. After all, what Fox or Breitbart may think is “fair” when it comes to aspiring politicians is vastly different than what MSNBC or the New York Times will think is fair.

But both Kurtz and Russo speak to the important question of what is the true role for a journalist, a professional journalist. No, I don’t mean a blogger with a laptop and access to his mother’s basement. We’ve let the era of “citizen journalism” blur the lines between actual reporting and opining. And in the process, we tend to find the latter more interesting or at least more titillating.

To Russo’s point, disclosing relationships “some of the time” does little good. It assumes, in our information society, that we religiously read specific writers and remember past disclosures. That just isn’t how most folks consumer information these days.

And as to Kurtz’ point, I’d still like to believe that we can distinguish between journalism and commentary and realize the role between the two. But as the lines continue to blur, and as we see “journalism” that doesn’t always cover both sides of a story or provide multiple on-the-record sources to provide a full view, it can become harder and harder.

For the record, I don’t consider Eduflack journalism. It may offer analysis, but it is largely an opinion site. These posts are my opinions, shaped by my own experiences, biases, and preferences. I steer away from guest posts so as to not blur the lines. I’ve rejected every request to advertise on this site so as to not muddy the water. And I suspect that many bloggers are largely in the same boat.

No, I’m not looking to go to battle with those who buy digital ink by the barrel, to paraphrase from Mark Twain. But both Russo and Kurtz ask us to explore some important questions. And I’m not looking to journalists themselves to answer them. Our hope should be that media outlets have clear guidelines of what is expected from their journalists and that the consumers of that information are able to discern what is reported fact, or fact at that time, and what is analysis or opinion of those facts.

But then, my true guilty pleasure is watching and reading TMZ reports. So what do I really know …

Envisioning a Trump Education Stump Speech

There is no question that the rhetoric (or supposed rhetoric) of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has taken on a life of its own. The perception of Trump’s campaign words seems to have generated extreme emotions on both sides of the political spectrum.

But when one takes a closer look at some of his prepared remarks, we actually see a political candidate who tries to walk the middle ground. A businessman who enjoys talking in the collective “we” and focuses largely on positive themes. Don’t believe me, take a look at some of his prepared remarks.

Yes, Trump’s education platform is a virtual blank slate. Being opposed to the Common Core, when the president really has nothing to do with its implementation, is hardly administration-leading policy. But even if we don’t know “what” education policy under Trump may look like, we have a good sense of “how” he would talk about it, particularly in the early going.

Trump’s celebratory remarks following his wins on Super Tuesday earlier this month provide the perfect template for a beginning Trump education policy speech. So let’s use it as an education speech Mad Lib, if you will. Just imagine, when the references to the economy and the campaign are substituted with education-specific content, what he’d sound like (with edu-edits to the actual Trump speech in italics). The result is surprising, and quite in line with the current edu-debates:

Thank you very much. I appreciate it. And I appreciate all that parents are doing to help make American public education great again.

I want to congratulate Ben Carson on his confirmation as my Education Secretary. He worked hard, I know how hard he worked actually, so I congratulate him and look forward to all we can now do working together.

We are going to make American education great again, folks. We’re going to make it great again.

I’ve watched the leaders of our teachers’ unions talking about how teacher pay is poor and teacher working conditions are poor and everything’s poor and everyone is doing badly, but that they are going to fix it. The NEA and AFT have been saying the same thing for so long long. If they haven’t straightened it out by now, they aren’t going to straighten it out in the next four years. Our schools are just going to become worse and worse.

The unions say they want to make American public education whole again, and I’m trying to figure out what that is all about. Make American public education great again is going to be much better than making American public education whole again.

This is going to be a tough four years for Randi and Lily. They had a tough election in November, but worked hard. They spent a lot of money. But we won the election, despite them. I know that a lot of groups, a lot of the special interests and a lot of the lobbyists and the people that want to have their little elected officials do exactly as they want. They’re going to continue to put millions into efforts to try and stop my policies. I think that’s fine. As far as I’m concerned, it’s fine. Had Hillary won, the unions and their lobbyists would have had total control. But we saw what happened.

Our win was just a great win because America is a place that is just spectacular. America is an amazing place to go to school. It’s been amazing to see so many focused on improving our schools. It’s been just so beautiful to watch this administration grow and to watch it grow so strongly, so quickly.

Throughout the campaign, some questioned how great this administration would be. They questioned the great company we built, and whether we would be able to put that same ability into doing something for our nation. Our nation is in serious trouble. We’re being chilled on student performance, absolutely destroyed. China is just taking advantage of us. I have nothing against China. I have great respect for China, but their teachers are too smart for our teachers. Our teachers don’t have a clue, and the student performance gaps just continue to grow. The learning gaps seen on TIMSS and PISA are just too much. It won’t be that way for much longer. We have the greatest education leaders in the world in my administration and, believe me, we’re going to redo how we teach our kids and it’s going to be a thing of beauty.

You look at countries like China, Finland, Canada, where they’re killing us on international benchmarks, absolutely destroying us on these tests. They are destroying us in terms of student performance in subjects like science and math. Even Poland is killing us on these tests. Poland. We have to stop it, folks. I know how to stop it. We are going to create schools for the 21st century economy. We are going to create schools like you’ve never seen. We are going to improve student test scores. I have a plan that parents and teachers and so many others think is the best plan they’ve seen. We’re going to improve learning for the middle class. Kids of middle class parents have been forgotten in our education debates. These kids were the predominant factor in making our country into a country that we all love so much and we’re all so proud of, but we’ve forgotten the middle class. So we are going to improve their schools and get more of them to college. Get more of them into good jobs.

We’re going to improve our schools. You look at all of those families that are moving out of their neighborhoods. When you see the Andersons moving from Detroit and you see so many other families now constantly moving. They used to move because the parents got better-paying jobs. Now they are moving to get away from failing schools. Doesn’t matter what part of the country they live in, even here in fabulous New York City. Ben understands the problem, fully understands. Families are leaving from places where they and their parents used to go to school into other communities looking for better. We shouldn’t let that happen.

We’ve lost high-quality schools. We’ve lost our good schools. Millions and millions of students, thousands and thousands of schools. We are losing so much. We can’t let that happen.

I tell the story often about a friend of mine with three children. He always intended to send them to the same community school that he and his wife attended in New York City. And recently, he and his wife decided to send their kids to a charter school. Charter schools value education so much that it is virtually impossible for the local public school to compete. I don’t want that to happen. That’s not going to happen. Every school should be like a charter school.

As parents, we have tremendous power over everybody because we are really the source of decisions. We have great, great power. The problem is we have politicians and teachers unions who truly, truly, truly don’t know what they’re doing. So we’re going to work very, very hard.

I’m so honored to be here today. It takes tremendous courage for parents to commit to changing their schools. Many of us have never done this before. We’ve focused on our own jobs and our own families. This is something we’ve never done, but we all felt we have to do it. When you look at the incompetence of the public schools and the state tests, where are spending billions of dollars and we get absolutely nothing. When you look at all of the problems our schools have and you look at our pool of good, committed teachers, which is really being depleted, rapidly depleted. We’re going to make our schools better and stronger than every before, and nobody, nobody, nobody is going to mess with us, folks, nobody.

Together, we are going to make American public education great again.

Parent empowerment. Stronger performance on international benchmarks. Standing up the the unions and those who lobby for the unions. It’s like many a speech we have heard before. And no mentions of walls at all …

Celebrating #NJSTEMWeek By Celebrating #STEM Teacher Ed

This week is NJ STEM Week. Across the Garden State, educators, policymakers, and the business community have been celebrating STEM (science-technology-engineering-math) and its importance in building a strong economy, stronger society, and stronger citizenry.

Over at Medium, I reflect on some of my own STEM experiences over the years, while highlighting some of the great work the Woodrow Wilson Foundation is doing to recruit, prepare, and support STEM teachers for high-need schools in New Jersey. As I write:

Whether one wants to become a rocket scientist or a poet, there is no denying that children today benefit from a background in the STEM disciplines. The big question is where and how do we find the teachers, particularly in our high schools, to deliver that benefit?

Programs like the Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowship are seeking to answer that important question, leading work in five states to help construct a strong pipeline of excellent STEM educators for our nation’s high-need schools. In Georgia, Indiana, Michigan, New Jersey, and Ohio, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation partners with 28 universities to deliver STEM-focused teacher education. In each state, prospective teachers receive the strong academic preparation, valuable K–12 classroom-based clinical experiences, and meaningful mentoring to become the STEM teachers our states, districts, and communities seek.

I hope you’ll give it a read.


Trump U and the “Educated” Higher Ed Consumer

For those following the 2016 Republican presidential primaries (and let’s face it, who isn’t?) one of the hot topics is the now-defunct Trump University and its promises to make all Trump U students successful captains of the real estate industry simply by taking a series of self-guided courses and ballroom seminars.

Over at Politico, Kimberly Hefling and Maggie Severns have a great article on Trump U and the allegations made against it. It notes pressure tactics to get students to buy more and more expensive courses. It even details the story of one individual who tapped $60,000 in money she didn’t have to take course after course at Trump U.

Eduflack recognizes that the tale of Trump U makes for wonderful campaign commercial fodder and zingers at debates. I’ll acknowledge it was disingenuous to use the name “university” for something that was MOOC at best or late-night infomercial at worst. And I’ll grant that all of this happened well before MOOCs truly took hold and before concerns at places like Corinthian Colleges came to light.

But is what Trump University tried to tap into much different than what we see generally in higher education, or in for-profit higher ed in particular? The promises of a better life with more courses.  The “admissions” counselors pushing hard to get potential students to enroll in more and more courses. Students enrolling in programs well beyond their financial means and the institutions knowing it. Degrees and courses that will have no impact on the ability to get a job or increase future earnings.

No, I’m not defending Trump U and its tactics. But we shouldn’t be shocked by its approach. We have many for-profit colleges that offer “higher education” to students who never otherwise would be able to enroll at a college or university, all with the promise of bettering their lives and their families futures.

We have traditional universities where fewer than six in 10 students earn their bachelor’s degrees in six years. That leaves more than 40 percent of students with thousands in student loan debts and no degree with which to secure future employment.

So why should we be surprised with a higher education business venture offering to teach those seeking a better life the potential path to success, one that begins with a single course and continues to larger, more grandiose packages for those truly committed?

Ultimately, these institutions, whether the a for-profit storefront or the traditional state college, are providing consumers (the students) with what they are asking for. And most do so within the rules set by both the licensing body (usually the state) and the regional accreditors.

If we want to find fault, we need to direct it toward the students themselves. As our society has shifted to a belief that all individuals need college to be successful in life, we have failed to emphasize the need to be an “educated” consumer when it comes to higher education. We believe college is college, that any postsecondary ed is better than none.

Whether one is enrolling in Harvard or Trump U, we need to get better about asking real questions about our pursuit of higher education. What is the actual graduation/completion rate? What is the actual cost of degree? What is the job placement rate in careers related to major? How long does a graduate stay in the field of choice? What are the job prospects and earning potential in that field? Would successful graduates in that field do it over again, given the choice?

Until we ask those questions and take the answers to determine the greatest benefit to us as individuals, we shouldn’t be surprised that a Saturday afternoon course and a photo with a cardboard cutout is seen as a viable path for “postsecondary education.”

Sure, $60K is an awful lot of money for some pre-MOOC MOOCs in real estate. But is it that different than taking out $50K in loans to have four majors in three years, while securing just three semesters of actual college credit? At least Trump U students got a hat with their tuition.