Over an eight year period at the Dallas Morning News, Kent Fischer and his fellow reporters assembled a pool of information about the finances of the Dallas Independent School District that eventually lead to the discovery that the system was shouldering a $144 million debt burden.
The fallout from the story was extensive, with hundreds of layoffs, a brutal state audit and at least one felony conviction.
Fischer, who’s now a vice president at communications firm GMMB and a board member of EWA, joined our own Emily Richmond (no stranger to shining a light on malfeasance
herself) for an EWA webinar this week to talk about the work that went into collecting, sorting and scrutinizing millions of data points.
His first message was to “tell your editor the budget doesn’t matter.” Fischer explained “those stories tend to not be enlightening for the reader” and that they “don’t give folks a real good sense of the district’s financial health.” (PowerPoint) Continue reading
As policy makers rush to set up systems to evaluate teacher performance, they often overlook input from those who actually spend the most time watching the educators: students.
That oversight might start to change as more studies suggest students’ evaluations of their teachers can be strong indicators of how much the pupils will learn—and, by extent perhaps, also offer a reasonable gauge of how well those teachers are performing their jobs.
This week, researchers at a think tank in Washington, D.C.—the Center for American Progress—released a study that showed many students across the country are not feeling challenged at school. The data are particularly revealing because so many students in the United States score poorly on national tests designed to judge their skill level in core subjects:
•37 percent of fourth-graders say their math work is “often” or “always” too easy;
• Just over half of 12th graders say their history work is often or always too easy;
•A third of middle-school students write lengthy responses on reading tests less than twice a year.
From Gershwin to The Zombies to Will Smith, summertime has been portrayed as a rhapsodic good time.
But when the sunny season fades, are kids less ready to learn?
A trove of studies going back a century paints summer vacation as a time when insufficient access to learning opportunities can lead to significant gaps in student performance, most dramatically along socioeconomic lines.
But the quick fix — according to some experts — isn’t any summer school: Too often, these programs offer only remedial classes as a service to students who are behind in course credits after the regular academic year. So what are the possible solutions? EWA hosted a webinar this week on the problems surrounding the summer slide and possible story ideas that journalists can pursue while school is out.
“We want to set higher, more meaningful targets for all of our kids, expressed through the Common Core standards,” said Gary Huggins, CEO of the National Summer Learning Association. “We’ve got a long way to go to hit those targets.”
Some of the more sobering statistics regarding the summer learning slide according to Huggins:
- Most children are losing two to three months of instructional learning in mathematics during the summer;
- Low-income students in particular lose two to three months’ worth of instructional while middle-income peers are gaining knowledge;
- The summer learning slide can account for up to two-thirds of the reading gap between poor and middle-class students by the time they hit the ninth grade;
- A recent long-term study found that low-income and wealthier students learn at the same rate during the school year;
- Only one-seventh of kids who are eligible for free breakfast and lunch during the school year take advantage of those meals during the summer. That is a “significant issue of food insecurity,” Huggins said.
If federal courts are the officiating crew, then one in Washington, D.C., just gave for-profit colleges a big assist in their efforts overturn the “gainful employment” regulations established by the U.S. Department of Education. The ruling puts on hold enforcement of much of the regulatory framework surrounding higher education accountability measures the government body rolled out last year.
But these privately-held colleges shouldn’t celebrate yet: Judge Rudolph Contreras’ ruling established the federal education body can hold schools accountable for falling short on gainful employment rules. The policy kink that put implementation of gainful employment on hold—and now becomes the Department of Education’s conundrum to solve—is the requirement that at least 35 percent of a program’s former students pay back their federal student loans. Continue reading
A new report released yesterday by the financial scorekeeper for Congress, the Congressional Budget Office, indicates the federal government profits off of the Department of Education’s Direct Loan Program. Paired with news Congress came to an agreement on keeping the interest rate of one of those loans at 3.4 percent, there are some unanswered questions. Continue reading
The health of the newspaper industry is increasingly at the mercy of online revenue and money made off of paywalls. So how is the largest U.S. publisher faring?
Gannett, with a combined weekday circulation of 4.9 million, announced recently that their circulation revenue is expected to increase by 25 percent at the end of next year despite a circulation volume drop of 7 percent. All told, the publishing giant’s paywalls—up and running at 49 of the companies 80 newspaper markets—are on pace to earn Gannett $100 million in operating profit by the end of 2013. Continue reading