Sunday, May 3, 2009

Education Writers Association Conference

For a new education writer like me the conference was definitely a “Reality Check.” From the new media sessions at the Washington Post to opening remarks by Secretary Arne Duncan, to the incredible workshops, the exhibits and the wealth of information from the speakers and attendees it was well worth the time.

There’s a saying that the more you know, the more you know you don’t know. Well, I second that emotion. While I learned how much I didn’t know about the field of education (reality check) here’s some highlights of what I did learn.

Blogs allow readers to get involved with the story. “Let them in the reporting process,” said Emily Alpert of the Voice of San Diego, “Have a personal relationship with readers.”

Non-profit news outlets are successfully making their mark in the industry. Elizabeth Green of explained that the site was developed by a philanthropist and it’s innovating new models on how to pay for journalism.

Facebook can be used for reporting. Pat Thornton, chief editor of said, “The easier you make it for people to reach you, the more they will.” Twitter is also a good place for research. Lots of news is broken on Twitter. “

“It’s a great way to start a conversation, ask questions and get quotes,” said Mr. Thorton. “Put your blog entry on Twitter and Facebook. Use a tiny URL. Twitter and Facebook can be connected.”

Facebook is a news source he explained. It’s great for education writers because it was started for students. Be social. People get news from Facebook and they give news. Journalism is now a two-way conversation. People are willing to ask questions. Organize a weekly chat. The biggest thing is the interaction between people.

The research about high school dropouts goes all the way back to the 1870’s. Today 1.2 million youth drop out each year. Near 50 percent of Black, Latino and Native American students drop out. It’s called the “Million Dollar Mistake”.

Two thousand schools account for 66 percent of dropouts. By the third grade a student’s attendance, behavior and academic performance can predict whether or not they will drop out.

Denise Levano, 23, an immigrant who came to this country in 2006, spoke about why she dropped out of school and returned. She will graduate next month. “I left to work. I came back because I don’t want
 to be a waitress all my life. I want to do something different. I don’t have my dad encouraging me. It’s just me and my sister.” She’s going to college in the fall.

John Bridgeland, CEO of Civic Enterprises spoke of the power of a caring adult in the life of a child. Ms. Levano’s counselor was instrumental in getting her back to school.

One size education doesn’t fit all. Some students need early morning classes, night school, and web based. Real life events can cause dropouts. So can boredom in the classroom. Young people start dropping out a year or two before they actually drop out.

The war of words between Marty Nemko, a college consultant and Kati Haycock, president of the Education Trust about alternative education versus college readiness programs was an eye opener. Is college for everyone? Ninety seven percent of Black parents think so. But too many Black students are dropping out. Give them another option before they give up, drop out or get pregnant explained Mr. Nemko.

Options are what education writing is all about, so many stories, so little time. That’s my reality check. Tell me yours. Email me at, tweet me @nisaislam or hit me up on Facebook. I’m being social.

Denise Levano speaks at the workshop Dropping Out: Why Kids Leave and What Brings Them Back. The workshop panel included Theresa Vargas, Washington Post, John Bridgeland, CEO of Civic Enterprises, and Danielle Mezer from the Mayor’s office in Nashville.