April 7-9, 2011

National Seminar 2011

64th National Seminar – Recovery and Reform: Aiming for Excellence in Uncertain Times

EWA held its 64th National Seminar in New Orleans April 7-9. The conference featured 90 speakers and 30 sessions.We’ve rounded up stories, blog items, Power Point presentations, and podcasts on nearly all of them.

The sessions are featured chronologically. We will continue to update as we obtain more materials.

Thursday, April 7

Site Visit to Cohen High School and Sci Academy: These visits offered a contrast between a struggling school in the Louisiana Recovery School District and a more successful new charter school. Cohen, an RSD school, had very high dropout rates that school leaders are working to reduce even as they struggle to raise test scores. New Orleans Charter Science and Math Academy has the highest test scores in New Orleans outside of two selective magnet schools.

Mahalia Jackson Early Childhood and Family Learning Center helps children begin developing the foundations for reading even before they can walk and talk. The center works with city school, health and social service agencies to provide health screenings, parent education, family services, and the kinds of rich academic experiences that get children on the path to school readiness and reading proficiency. The center has close relationships with six local elementary schools to align the early childhood programs with K-3 standards, and to make sure all children hit the critical milestones to becoming proficient readers by the end of third grade.

Following the Federal Money: Stimulus and Beyond 

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and its extra dollars for education are almost at an end. So how do reporters assess how the money was spent at the local level? And if you cover school districts in a state that was awarded Race to the Top funding, how do you track that spending?Education Week’s Mark Bomster sketched the current state of federal education funding and where it is likely headed in the future. Andy Brownstein, who writes about federal education policy for Thompson Publishing and was a consultant to a recent special reporting project on stimulus spending by the Hechinger Report and EWA, provided guidance on what to look for. Kent Fischer of GMMB went over the ins and outs of how to ask for key documents from your school district. Presiding: Scott Elliott, The Indianapolis Star.

Providing Context with International Data 

The National Center for Education Statistics provides a wealth of data on international comparisons. In fact, the NCES receives more requests for information about international rankings than any other database. Dana Kelly of the NCES walked reporters through the different databases and how to use them. Presiding:  Kim Clark, Money Magazine.

New Orleans School Reform: A Laboratory for Other Districts?

After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, state officials moved to dramatically restructure New Orleans schools. The number of schools in the Louisiana Recovery School District mushroomed, and charter schools sprang up citywide. What have those experiments yielded? Are New Orleans students better off? Times-Picayune reporter Sarah Carr asked Shannon Jones, executive director of Tulane University’s Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives; New Orleans Parent Organizing Network Director Aesha Rasheed; Margaret Raymond, director of the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University; and Paul Vallas, superintendent of the Louisiana Recovery School District.Presiding: Sarah Carr, The Times-Picayune.

Higher Education Budget Cuts: Magnitude and Impact 

The recession has hit higher education systems hard. State funding of higher education is at its lowest level per student in 25 years. Enrollment is climbing as the unemployed look for training. States are raising tuition and cutting financial aid, making college less affordable for financially strapped families. Inside Higher Ed Editor Scott Jaschik offered advice on aspects of the budget picture that haven’t been covered. John Lombardi, president of the Louisiana State University System, described how his system is affected and what it means. Jon Shure, an analyst with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, offered his analysis of the landscape. Presiding: Eric Kelderman, The Chronicle of Higher Education.

  • Guest Blog: The Magnitude and Impact of Higher Education Budget Cuts, Icess Fernandes, The Shreveport Times

Is College for All the Pathway to Prosperity?  

Should all kids go to college? And what do we mean by “college”? Four years? Two years? What about other kinds of postsecondary education? Robert Schwartz, academic dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, is co-author of a new report contending that too much focus has been placed on getting students into college. More emphasis is needed on preparing young people for other forms of training, he said. Education Trust President Kati Haycock questioned those conclusions.

Friday, April 8

The State of Teachers’ Unions 

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, and Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, discussed the implications of moves by Wisconsin and other states to curtail teachers’ power to bargain collectively, initiatives to evaluate teachers using value-added measures, and other issues facing their unions. Presiding:  Claudio Sanchez, National Public Radio

What Will Replace No Child Left Behind? 

Congress is promising to take up the long-overdue reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, whose latest version is the No Child Left Behind Act. Policy experts review what needs and is likely to change in the controversial and far-reaching federal law. Rick Hess oversees the education policy program of the American Enterprise Institute. Former Bush administration education adviser Sandy Kress helped write the original NCLB legislation. Former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise now heads the Alliance for Excellent Education. Presiding: Sara Mead, Bellwether Education.

College Catch-Up: Why Must So Many Take Remedial Courses? 

As much as 30 percent of college students have to take some sort of remedial course in college, especially in community colleges. Those courses don’t count toward graduation, and many students get discouraged and drop out. Michael Collins, program director at Jobs for the Future Program, described innovative approaches community colleges are trying. Roy Flores, president of Pima Community College in Arizona, discussed why he has limited enrollment in remedial courses in the face of dismal passing rates. And Bruce Vandal of the Education Commission of the States provided an overview of the developmental education landscape. Presiding: Justin Snider, Hechinger Report.

On the Edge: Are States and Districts Headed Off a Funding Cliff? 

As America Recovery and Reinvestment Act dollars dry up, schools face tight budgets in the 2012 fiscal year. How many educators will be laid off? How large will class sizes grow? Don Boyd of the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government discussed the budget scene for the coming yearKaren Hawley Miles, president of Education Resource Strategies, talked about how districts can manage budgets smartly to offset cuts. Geoffrey Nagle of Tulane University explored implications for early-childhood education. And Louis Freedberg, editor of California Watch, described that state’s situation and offered guidance on ways journalists can cover the crisis. Presiding:  Virginia Edwards, Education Week

Higher Ed Online: Fastest-Growing Kind of College Also Most Controversial 

Online education is booming, especially among for-profit colleges. Is that good or bad for students? Jeffrey Seaman of the Sloan Consortium laid out the terrain, including how fast the ranks of online students are growing. Shanna Smith Jaggers of the Community College Research Center relayed her findings on the impact of online classes on low-income students. Wade Dyke, president of Kaplan University, discussed how his company is trying to make online education good for students and investors. Presiding:  Sharona Coutts, ProPublica

The Path to Literacy: From Birth to Third Grade and Beyond 

Learning to read is perhaps the most important milestone in a child’s life, since literacy is the gateway to learning across the content areas. But learning to read is not strictly a function of schooling. Research shows that children begin building essential literacy skills in the first weeks and months of their lives and must hit many essential developmental and cognitive benchmarks if they are to read well by the end of third grade. An expert panel – Don Hernandez, professor of sociology at Hunter College; Bob Slavin, co-founder and chairman of the Success for All Foundation; and Sterling Speirn, president of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation – outlined the early markers for reading success and release new research showing those markers’ link to high school graduation. Presiding: Maureen Kelleher, Education Week.

U. S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on the Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act

Are Schools Gaming Test Results? Investigating Suspicious Patterns 

More reports are emerging about institutional cheating on high-stakes tests. Why? John Fremer, president of Caveon Security Inc., a company that audits tests, says that with high stakes comes pressure to cheat. Heather Vogell described the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s pursuit for two years of suspicions of cheating in Atlanta schools and the resulting shake-up in the district’s administration.Greg Toppo discussed how USA Today examined cheating by analyzing test scores, and found that few states investigate suspicious spikes in scores.

  • EWA Interview: John Fremer on Investigating Suspicious Test Scores

Evaluating a College Education: What Are Students Learning? 

The new book Academically Adrift contends that college students aren’t learning much, at least in their first two years. One of the authors, Richard Arum, described his conclusions and makes recommendations on how to solve the problem. Charles Blaich of the Center for Inquiry at Wabash College discussed his research on how to tell what students are learning. Joe May, president of the Louisiana Technical and Community College System and a member of the National Accountability Committee for Community Colleges, explained efforts by his college and others to provide students and parents with data on how much students learn. Presiding: Kevin Corcoran, Lumina Foundation for Education.

How Are Unions Working on Education Reform? 

Both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers have reform efforts under way. The AFT has rolled out its Innovation Fund, which funds education reform efforts across the country, and Ann Bradley, the fund’s director, described those plans. The NEA has a Priority Schools Campaign, run by Sheila Simmons, which finances professional development for teachers taking part in reform efforts funded by federal School Improvement Grants, and encourages teachers to negotiate for streamlined contracts. Alexander Russo wrote a new book about the reform efforts at Locke High School in Los Angeles undertaken by Green Dot Public Schools, a charter network that works with unions. Presiding: Alexander Russo, This Week in Education.

  • Guest Blog: How Are Unions Working on Education Reform? Matt Franck, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Getting High School Dropouts In and Out of College 

It’s hard enough to get high school dropouts to return to school. But how do you get them into college? And even more important, get them to complete college? The American Council on Education’s Nicole Chestang discussed a major overhaul of the General Educational Development program run by the GED Testing Service. Laurel Dukehart, president of the Gateway to College National Network, described her organization’s work to get dropouts successfully through college. And Diego James Navarro explained how his Academy for College Excellence is getting underprepared students in and out of college. Presiding: Richard Colvin, Education Sector.

  • EWA Podcast: Getting High School Dropouts in and out of College

Covering Cases of Sexual Misconduct by School Employees 

Stories about sexual abuse by school employees continue to make headlines in districts around the country. How do you get beyond the “he-said, she-said” allegations and understand the dynamics behind such cases? Patterns and trends on abuse have been reported for years, but policies have changed relatively little, and educators who engage in misconduct can still move on to harm more kids. Kansas State University Professor Robert Shoop, a national expert on the topic, explained the legal loopholes and the ways administrators try to sweep the issue under the rug. Associated Press reporter Dorie Turner described how her wire service connected the dots in a national package on the topic, and discusses how reporters might follow the AP’s example. Presiding: Caroline Hendrie, Education Writers Association.

  • Guest Blog: Story Ideas for Reporting on Sexual Misconduct in Schools. Erica Green, Baltimore Sun

English-Language Learners and Federal Policy

Race to the Top and other federal reform efforts don’t always seem to focus much on English-language learners. Diane August of the Center for Applied Linguistics described streamlining reporting requirements under the No Child Left Behind Act and on incorporating multilingualism into federal policy. Bruce Fuller of the University of California, Berkeley, conveyed the results of a national review of demand for and access to early-childhood education among English-language learners and what it means for the future. Presiding: Claudio Sanchez, National Public Radio.

Saturday, April 9

Where Do We Stand? America’s Ranking in the World 

Reporters have heard a lot about where America stacks up with the rest of the world on test scores and other indicators, but what do those rankings really mean? Andreas Schleicher, head of Indicators Division in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Directorate for Education, offered context, highlighting socioeconomic comparisons, among others. Gary Phillips, vice president and chief scientist at the American Institutes for Research, offered a response. Presiding: Dale Mezzacappa, Philadelphia Public School Notebook.

Story Lab: What Do Grades Mean? High School Grades and College Success 

Reporters learned step-by-step how two reporters approached database projects that raise questions about how much – or little – high school grades tell us. Charlie Boss at the Columbus Dispatch compared average grades at every high school with college remediation rates of graduates, and Emily Alpert of voiceofsandiego.org found high grades at one school at odds with low test scores. Thomas Bailey of Teachers College talked about the value of covering college readiness and the disconnect between high school and college expectations, and Elizabeth Laird of the Data Quality Campaign clarified what types of data are available for others to pursue such projects. Presiding: Diane Rado, Chicago Tribune.

  • Guest Blog: High School Grades and College Completion. Christine Armario, The Associated Press
  • EWA Interview: Thomas Bailey on College Success

Teaching Teachers to Teach Reading 

Are teachers of the youngest students receiving the proper training to teach reading? Laura Bornfreund, a researcher at New America Foundation, says not. Too many teachers of kindergartners and first-graders are provided training that is a better match for later grades, her report concluded. Susan Burns, an associate professor at George Mason University, provided the perspective of a researcher who worked on the National Panel on Reading. Elanna Yalow, president of Knowledge Universe, described the kind of training her early education organization requires. Presiding: Dale Mezzacappa, Philadelphia Public School Notebook.

  • Guest Blog: Story Ideas on Early Reading. Jane Stancill, Raleigh News & Observer
  • Report: Getting in Sync. Laura Bornfreund, New America Foundation

Awards Luncheon

The winners of the National Awards for Education Reporting were honored and the Fred M. Hechinger Grand Prize for Distinguished Education Reporting winner is announced. Alex Kotlowitz, author of the bestselling book There are No Children Here, provided his perspective on writing a narrative about the lives of urban youth. He also discussed his new documentary, “The Interrupters,” about ex-gang members who try to stop a pandemic of violence in their neighborhood. Introduction: Stephanie Banchero, The Wall Street Journal.

EWA Podcast: Author Alex Kotlowitz

EWA thanks the sponsors for its 2011 National Seminar. They are listed below.

Platinum Plus Sponsors

Platinum Sponsors

Gold Level

Silver Level

  • American Council on Education
  • First Five Years Fund
  • The Hatcher Group
  • Knowledge Universe

Bronze Level

  • K12, Inc.


  • Jobs for the Future
  • MDRC
  • National Board for Professional Teaching Standards
  • Southern Regional Education Board
  • Weber Shandwick Worldwide
  • WestEd
  • Widmeyer Communications
  • American Federation of School Administrators
  • Ron Dietel