Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Mark Towner's Spyglass Spots: EIA on Covering Teachers Unions: Close But Not a Full Cigar

A Very interesting article and was released by the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media. Titled From Contracts to Classrooms: Covering Teachers Unions, the 40-page study is a primer for education journalists on the ins and outs of reporting about teachers' unions. Well, not exactly, but we'll get to that in a minute.

Largely written by Joe Williams of The Chalkboard, with enlightening contributions from others in the field, the report is filled with excellent tips, quotes, anecdotes and shortcuts – just the right kind of approach to interest a new journalist a bit overwhelmed by the prospect of digging through collective bargaining agreements and contract negotiations. But there are tidbits for the rest of us, too:

Read the full story:

Voucher debate gives taste of both sides

Voucher debate gives taste of both sides
Doug Radunich

BOUNTIFUL — Davis County residents became well informed on both sides of the voucher issue at the Bountiful City Library last Thursday, as Leah Barker and Joel Briscoe battled head-to-head against one another over the school voucher program awaiting voter approval on Nov. 6.The “Debate on Referendum 1” was presented by the United Women’s Forum and featured a two-hour-long debate between Barker, a pro-voucher spokeswoman for Parents for Choice in Education, and Briscoe, a Bountiful High School Teacher siding against vouchers.

United Women’s Forum member Debra Poulsen gave the welcome and introduction, and Lauralee Christensen served as the moderator. By way of a coin toss, Briscoe began the debate by mentioning he wanted to stress three things in his debate, which were the affordability, accountability and advisability of the voucher bill. “For a voucher, people would receive $500-$3,000, but the average price of a private school education is $8,000, so how will some families cover the cost?” Briscoe said. “There are very little accountability measures in HB 148.”Barker said vouchers would help public schools, put parents in the “driver’s seat” and be able to choose what’s best for their children, and turn parents into customers, meaning they could give their children a good education even if they lived in a low-income neighborhood with poor-performing schools. “I’m convinced that vouchers will serve as a lifeline for an equal playing field, where not just the rich will have access to a good education,” she said. “If you can’t afford a good education and you’re stuck in a low performing school because of your zip code, the voucher bill can be the solution. Utah also has the highest class sizes and the lowest per pupil funding in the nation, but Referendum 1, the voucher bill, will actually increase per-pupil funding.” Barker, who now lives in Sandy, also mentioned how she lived in Rose Park (part of Salt Lake City’s west side) for a long time and saw how many students there, mostly low-income or minority, were not making it to college or graduating from high school. She said vouchers would give kids from that area, as well as others from elsewhere in Salt Lake County, the opportunity to go to a school that could help them more effectively in receiving a good education and getting on their way to college.“There are parents out there who will sell their car, work an extra job or will do whatever it takes to make sure their kids have a good education because they know they’re not going to make it in life without one, so this program is for those parents feeling trapped, desperate and like they’re randomly assigned by zip code to a low-performing school,” she said. “Every child has to have good access to a good education, and with $3,000, vouchers can go a long way and provide so many options. Parents need to be in the driver’s seat, and there are research studies out there to show that this program is great.”Briscoe pointed out that some private schools may not say yes to accepting all students with vouchers, or that some may not even accept vouchers.“Some may discriminate against students based on religion, ability to pay, English proficiency and other things like that,” he said. “The money to pay for vouchers also comes from your taxes, and the high and middle class families are the ones who benefit the most. The stakeholders in all this are the children involved, parents and families, schools, both public and private, and the taxpayers and society in general.”After the debaters had said what they wanted, a number of questions were asked toward them and answered appropriately; to close the debate, both Barker and Briscoe contributed final summations on where they stood and why. “Vouchers are really all about parent choice, and no amount of money that the NEA (National Education Association) brings into Utah will be enough money to convince Utah parents that they’re not smart enough to choose a good education for their kids,” Barker said. “This is what this is all about, and to me it’s pretty critical. The attendance tonight was amazing, with us running out of seats and making people have to stand in the back, and I think that right there was a testament of just how much parents care deeply about education, regardless of which side they stand on.”Briscoe was also pleased with the amount of people who came, and was also thankful for the United Women’s Forum for putting on the debate.“We don’t do enough of these kinds of things as citizens, and I think it’s a more constructive way to get a point across than using radio or TV ads,” he said. “The face to face contact is much better, and I’d say these public meetings are also better than using the Internet to find information. I’d be happy to talk about this more in future meetings because it’s something I believe so strongly in.”