Saturday, November 16, 2013

Seattle Times Education Lab Blog check-in

The Seattle Times started Education Lab on October 24. Education Lab is supposed to be a public conversation about what works in education.

I've just made a quick review of the most recent Education Lab stories, the ones on the front page. About half of them have no comments at all. Nearly all of the others have only one comment. Public participation on this blog appears low.

Surely they must be concerned that Education Lab isn't achieving its ambition to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest. Surely the sponsors are also concerned. Surely the Seattle Times, the Education Lab team, and the sponsors are monitoring public participation as a measure of success? On the other hand, the project is less than a month old. This may not be enough of a sample to form the basis for a judgement. Maybe it's just too early to say. On the other hand, the participation was much, much higher when the project was new. It appears that the initial novelty has worn off and the effort is languishing in neglect.

Hey, even if the current amount of participation isn't a concern for the Education Lab team, the Times,or the sponsors, they must want more public participation than they are getting now.

It's not due to a lack of interest in education issues. During the same period we here have had literally hundreds and hundreds of comments from dozens and dozens of commenters and over tens thousand page views a day.

What can the Education Lab team do to increase public participation in their conversations so that they actually are conversations?


Eric M said...

They could dissociate themselves from the Seattle Times, which is mostly a ventriloquist's dummy for the views of the Gates Foundation.

I mean, really, who takes the Times seriously when it comes to education?

Christina said...

I haven't been to this blog. Are the comments screened? Are there, as on a blog I want to like and participate in but am put off by its tone and anonymous voice, multiple reminders on its page to behave like adults?

I've been to school events for families, never saw adult members of families act up, wondering what it is about the school blog that leads its admins to expect the visiting parents to need to read twice reminders to behave.

Anonymous said...

I read the Education Lab blogs daily. Unfortunately, the reason it's not getting a ton of traffic is that it's wonky. They take on a number of critical issues in education but they're not controversial per se.

If they want more traffic, I think they'll have to do what all media eventually resorts to --- bring up controversial issues like reform math, school boundaries, the Mann takeover, etc. or do articles on divisive people like Michelle Rhea, Diane Ravitch, etc.

--- swk

Watching said...

The Seattle Times has effectively discredited themselves. Why would anyone want to visit their blog.

Sticking with Seattle Schools Community Forum. Atleast we can be assured this blog hasn't been bought and sold.

I'm hearing the Seattle Times will now be partially funded by grant dollars. Not good.

Thanks Melissa and Charlie!

Melissa Westbrook said...

Eric,very on-point and very funny.

Charlie, while I would like the widest possible discussion of public education issues, it's not going to happen at the Times and I (for one) am not going to help them out.

Peanut said...

Ummm, I never knew it existed. So better visibility would be a start.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Gotta say, boy, what we could do at the blog if we even had a quarter of that Gates money.

Anonymous said...

C'mon Charlie: It's not that hard to figure out that they are trying to manufacture consent. Take the pool of yahoos who routinely comment on times stories, compared to who comments here, and you've got lots of "vouchers now" folks just ripe to be whipped up about how bad public education is. That'll ripen people up enough for the Times to pretend they're being objective by saying "people support" this or that, like Charters, education cuts, merit pay, etc. Teachers are just another brick to be removed from what's left of the middle class's castle anyways.

What they've tried hasn't worked and is losing credibility daily. So, how can they turn things around? Start by mimicking the SSS blog, but aim to please the establishment while beating back the grassroots ground forces. Meanwhile build a little street cred with the people.

Be prepared. They are honing in on your market share and trying to replicate your success. It's a classic case of "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em."


Anonymous said...

what would you do with a quarter of the grant money? And how much is that?


Anonymous said...

If they had articles about the tragedy of the plight of the gifted 25% in Seattle, eg, APP, and how incredibly deserving they are, and how underserved they are, they'd have similar responses as here. More than half of the posts here are about that.

Go Times

Central said...

Some of their posts -- like the one on the teacher residency program -- have been interesting.

But the fact that they completely ignore crucial, urgent topics like the current boundary proposals before the school board dooms them to irrelevance. If they are going to do a "Daily Round-Up", how can it not include School Board meetings, community feedback deadlines, etc.? Maybe they don't need to go for controversial as much as timely and relevant.


Mary Griffin said...

A lot of the issues that are covered in this blog could be described as parochial. I don't mean that in an insulting way, I just mean it as issues that may affect an individual child or family in a big way, but overall-wise, have very little impact in the long term other than perhaps a collective feeling of a system that is out of touch. Overarching issues also are featured in this blog, but they don't tend to get as many comments. Additionally, good news tends to get far fewer comments on both the Times and this blog. The point of the Education Lab is to tell stories of what works. "What works" historically is not "what gets commented on." I would like to add here that I am not a fan of their funding. I come from a medical background and funding bias--a tendency of the conclusion of a scientific research study to support the interests of the study's financial sponsor--is a well recognized reason to reject a report. I recognize that the Times is strapped for cash. That doesn't mean that I need to agree with their argument that their product isn't biased.

Skeptical said...

Based on what I've seen in the Times in general, I just don't trust them anymore. (And my politics are eclectic and not along any party lines so I'm not saying this because I always agree/disagree with them). They blew their credibility in recent election coverage and I infrequently go even to their home page as I don't think they deserve the page views.

I 100% agree with WSDWG about a goal of "manufacturing consent" it has been their MO. They are not honest in their intentions or open ended curiosity about educational policy issues, or politics in general. It saddens me but I think that the voting patterns here in Seattle show that many, not all, read through it. I will not cry for them if they suffer economically as they will have been the source of their own undoing.

Melissa Westbrook said...

ZB, the bulk of their funding for this effort comes from the Gates Foundation and it's about $450k. So what would I do with some of that?

I'd probably hire a researcher for some big-picture stories.

I'd might hire a consultant for marketing to reach more parents and community members.

That's off the top of my head.

Ebenezer said...

Our family doesn't subscribe to the Times anymore because they constantly are campaigning for the very wealthy and against the 99.9% of the public. Paying for the Seattle Times is like paying someone to beat up you and your family, or at least to actively lobby against you. We cancelled our Times subscription in January - I'm a big believer in supporting local journalism, but I can't support the Times, and am willing to live without Web access.

Also, Mary Griffin's point about Gates and conflict-of-interest is dead on. It's a Journalism 101 example of what not to do, taking funding from an active, highly opinionated player in education policy and pretending it doesn't influence what you write. It lessens their credibility even more, though at least it's consistent with providing free ads to Rob McKenna for Governor, etc.

Charlie Mas said...

We have a broader mandate than the Education Lab. Their narrow mandate is to do a deep dive and critically explore what works in Education. They have yet to do that.

Our mandate is to provide news and a forum for discussion. So we report on the committee meetings, community meetings, task force meetings, work sessions, and Board meetings, which provides us with frequent and timely subjects for discussion and information.

Also, we only edit comments for content on rare occasions. For them it is part of their structure to do so. They deleted a couple of my comments that were unflattering to the Seattle Times editorial board.

Even on the area that is supposed to be their strength, in depth coverage of the big issues, has yet to be as in depth as ours. They had a story this week about a columnist telling educators about how to do their jobs.

Lori said...

Mary wrote, "I come from a medical background and funding bias--a tendency of the conclusion of a scientific research study to support the interests of the study's financial sponsor--is a well recognized reason to reject a report."

I do too and, in fact, I teach medical literature evaluation skills to doctoral degree candidates at a local university, so I have a slight quibble with this statement. I don't think a study's funding per se is sufficient reason to reject its results. And when my students tell me that the latest headline article from the New England Journal of Medicine is "poorly done" because it has industry funding, they don't get points for the answer because it's too simplistic. The *potential* for bias is not evidence of bias.

I view the funding source as an alarm or red flag that alerts the reader to proceed with caution and conduct a critical review. Don't reject out of hand, but look for ways that the funding source might have influenced the study design and/or results. In my field, what did they compare their drug to? Did they chose a placebo when there is a standard of care treatment available? If an active control, did they chose an optimal dose? A dose too low won't be effective; a dose too high may lead to toxicity that could bias the results toward the sponsor's drug. What statistical tests did they use? How did they determine their sample size? And on and on...

Sorry for going tangential, but we live in a society where we make too many decisions based on headlines and press releases. It takes time and is hard work to critically analyze every claim laid out before us, but I'm strongly biased (ha!) to say that that's what opinion leaders and decision makers really need to do.

(and whether there's anything of value in the Times Education Blog, I don't know because I don't read it!)

Mary Griffin said...

I'd like to be able to agree with your quibble, but I guess I am going to quibble back. When research is funded by a firm with a financial interest in the outcome, the likelihood that the result of that study will be favorable to that firm is dramatically increased. As an example, David Michaels, an epidemiologist at George Washington University, cites cigarette manufacturers who initiated a special program to fund, publish and promote studies that found secondhand smoke harmless.

"When researchers at the University of California examined 106 review articles on this topic in the scientific literature, they found more than a third concluded that secondhand smoke was not harmful. Three-quarters of these dissenting reviews had authors who were affiliated with the tobacco industry.

It has become clear to medical editors that the problem is in the funding itself. As long as sponsors of a study have a stake in the conclusions, these conclusions are inevitably suspect, no matter how distinguished the scientist."

As the largest private funder of education policy in the nation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funds think tanks, policy development, "grassroots organizations," research, guidelines, publications, speakers, governmental organizations, and media outlets. They have a large stake in education. As an example of the investment that they have in Common Core, I did a simple search on their website and came up with 152 grants that I estimated totaled in excess of $183 million. That is a low estimate. That is in addition to their educational database initiative now known as inBloom which totaled in excess of $100 million to develop. Do I think that an organization that is funded by Gates could report objectively on Common Core State Standards? Absolutely not.

Anonymous said...

I find it ironic that Seattle is a highly educated and highly "funded" city and yet we also want to be the "i raise my own chickens and feed my family organic food and drive my electric Nordstroms" people. There's just so much handwaving about corporate being evil and yet it pays alot of people's salaries here in Seattle. Given the poor job that our state has done from a funding perspective, and given the poor job our Seattle Public Schools has done managing education here in educated Seattle, maybe instead of constantly looking at organizations like The Gates Foundation as the enemy, you might consider opening your mind and working with those groups who are willing to put some dollars and ideas into education. Clearly what SPS is doing hasn't been exactly impressive and I for one would like to see some critical thinking in terms of how our tax dollars are put to use--since that doesn't seem to be coming any time soon with SPS. Seriously folks, stop and get a grip. And as for funding studies, who exactly would be funding studies besides those folks who...have an interest in an outcome, such as it were? Everyone has an agenda-including this blog-so how about working with organizations and people and reaching across the aisle to influence others instead of all the handwaving and paranioa.

All of this griping and drawing of lines and name calling takes the focus off of SPS who are SIMPLY NOT DOING THEIR JOBS FOR OUR KIDS.
--Working Together

Melissa Westbrook said...

Working Together, so what is the agenda of our blog? Because Charlie and I have never discussed one, ever.

Our "agenda" is a well-managed, organized and coherent district that works to satisfy parents, staff and deliver great academic outcomes to ALL students. So if that's an agenda, that's mine.

The Gates Foundation is not some innocent yet smart philanthropic group. I have never said they are the enemy. But they are not a friend and not even a critical friend to public education.

Our focus is always SPS but I'm not going to forget to look out of the corner of my eye or behind me to see who is coming.

Mary Griffin said...

@Working together--

Your comment is fairly ironic, especially since you blame Seattlites, and you blame SPS, and you blame the state and you accuse of paranoia and "handwaving"--whatever that is, and then you say we're name calling and griping and then in capital letters say SPS is simply not doing their jobs. And then you sign it "Working together?" Who are you working together with?

My comment regarding Gates has to do with the bias I see in the way it formulates educational policy. My comment talks about facts and numbers and quotes the Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA. How is that "handwaving" or paranoia or name calling?

Reach across the aisle yourself, please, and read something enlightening about education that isn't funded by the Gates Foundation. Pluralities of view points is often a good thing.

Anonymous said...

Word on the street is that Gates has more or less written off Seattle Public Schools as 'hopeless'. Most will see this as either 'great!' or 'awful!' depending on viewpoint.

I think it's more nuanced. I don't agree with a lot of Gates' agendas, so no loss to me on their particular funding...

But... the Gates perspective does also seem to speak to the District's ability to cohesively function, as viewed from an outside grant funder. To see that the District continues to be viewed as 'dysfunctional' is at minimum unhelpful and at most devastating to the families in the system and to our city as a whole.


Anonymous said...

As Sue Peters said many times on the campaign trail: "Business and Corporations should have a seat at the table, but they shouldn't own the table."

@WorkingTogether: I think you miss the point of many criticisms of Gates & others involvements in education policy. Those groups want to replace what they see as a broken system with their own, unproven systems, often saying things like "30% of kids don't graduate" and declaring the entire system to be a failure or "in crisis," which is simply false. Were they sincere and honest, they'd instead apply real critical thinking and work toward helping the remaining 30% do well also, which could start be engaging and partnering with teachers. But they don't do that. They want it all. And that's the problem.

If they were looking for ways to truly improve the system, instead of taking it over entirely, we could talk. But thus far, they've largely scapegoated teachers and unions, which demonstrates their collective bias and ignorance, about what actually matters in the classroom.

Partner means "partner," not owner, dictator, or master. Thus far, Ed Reformers haven't been willing to engage with teachers, unions, and other front-line soldiers. Instead, they attack them with "friendly-fire." Who would partner with groups who operate that way?

If they really want to help, start by respecting the people who bust their collective butts every day, step outside their echo-chamber silos once in awhile, and abandon their class-based arrogance and paternalism for once.


seattle citizen said...

@Workingtogether - "given the poor job our Seattle Public Schools has done managing education...clearly what SPS has been doing isn't exactly impressive..."
So you, too, buy the Gates/Duncan/reform kool-aid: "Ooh, our schools are generally failing! We simply must give them to non-public entities!"
Not buyin' it. SPS does plenty right, has for years, and is constantly improving, if you believe graduation rates and test scores. And this improvement comes while our schools have to address more and more issues AND change course every few years to meet the manufactured demand ginned up by the likes of Gates, Inc.
Those who are ACTUALLY working together acknowledge succeses, something you failed to do, so those don't get swept away in "reforms."
Why on earth would I want to work together with an entity that is intent on denigrating public schools and public school educators?
As you write, they are OUR schools, not products of the astroturf Gates puppet "Our Schools"....

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