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ERS spent a couple days with education journalists and other education organizations last week in New Orleans, Louisiana, at the Education Writers Association’s 2011 National Seminar. It was an inspiring couple days, with journalists from all over the country wrestling with the complexities of covering education from the school level to the reauthorization of ESEA. In addition, we got to tour two high schools, Sci Academy and the Academy of Health Sciences Walter L. Cohen High School, showing us both the kinds of challenges and opportunities that came to post-Katrina New Orleans schools.

Karen Hawley Miles had the opportunity to present on the “funding cliff” panel moderated by Education Week’s Ginny Edwards with Don Boyd of the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government, Geoffrey Nagle of Tulane University on budget implications for early childhood education and Louis Freedberg, a senior reporter from California Watch. Karen’s presentation (see below) stressed the necessity of using the “hurricane” this budget situation presents to make the transformational changes essential for educating all children in the next generation. She reviewed the seven structures that keep systems from creating great schools at scale and gave six action steps towards transformation that should be priorities. Action steps include:

  1. Restructure compensation spending by managing teaching workforce mix and differentiating instructional roles.
  2. Strategically raise class sizes and rethink one-size fits all class size models for providing individual attention.
  3. Redirect special education spending to early intervention and targeted individual attention for all students.
  4. Use existing time better to meet student learning needs and extend where needed.
  5. Close sub-scale school buildings.
  6. Leverage outside partners & technology when higher quality and lower cost.

Any one of these action steps can become fodder for headlines that highlight the drama and conflict that result from big change. While we yearn to see the answer reduced to a simple approach, a catchy phrase, the good versus the bad, we do students and schools a disservice by reducing educational reform to controversial headlines and sound bites. Miles urged reporters to look go beyond the eye-catching headlines that emphasize controversy and focus on single issues – Unions Oppose Teacher Merit Pay…Florida Tries to Raise Class Sizes…Boston closes a dozen neighborhood schools - and report on the tough decisions and underlying restructuring that are driving these actions.

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