Education Week - February 18, 2015 - (Page 24)

COMMENTARY Don't Silence Young (Female) Journalists By Frank D. LoMonte I n Illinois, a student editor's plan to engage teens in the local school board election by hosting an online candidate forum on the website of the student newspaper is scuttled when her superintendent cancels the forum, explaining: "Too much could go wrong." In New Jersey, a student editor is forbidden from publishing a story about multiple employee grievances filed against her district's superintendent, a fact publicly aired at a school board meeting covered only by high school reporters. The principal tells the editor that "personnel issues" are categorically off-limits for student publications. In Wisconsin, a student editor is punished for a searingly candid magazine article interviewing survivors of sexual assault. It's an article hailed by experts in the field as sensitively done journalism of professional caliber, but which her superintendent considers "inappropriate" for teen readers. These students share two qualities with Gillian McGoldrick, who has suffered withering attacks-up to and including a threat of criminal charges-from a school board bent on silencing her editorial crusade against her Pennsylvania high school's racially offensive mascot. These student journalists are all victims of a pervasive mentality elevating school image control over educational quality. And they're all women. Censorship has always been with us. The Student Press Law Center was established in response to a groundbreaking study, "Captive Voices," which concluded 40 years ago that journalism students and teachers were being driven from the newsroom by administrative censorship-"the fundamental cause of the triviality, innocuousness, and uniformity that characterize the high school press." But in recent years, K-12 school administrators have become unapologetically heavy-handed in retaliating for speech that may provoke controversy or reflect unfavorably on the school's image. Disproportionately, because student journalism is increasingly a female-dominated activity, those bearing the impact are young women-women like Kylie Sposato of Pemberton Township, N.J. When Ms. Sposato tried to publish a column decrying lax enforcement of her high school's antismoking policies, her principal vetoed the article, removed a journalism teacher with 20 years of professional newspaper experience, canceled the news-writing class, and ordered the students not to write about being censored. When schools are challenged over the misuse of censorship authority, they invariably fall back on the same tired rationalization: The law allows it. With narrow exceptions, that's probably true. In a 1988 ruling, Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, the U.S. Supreme Court divested students of meaningful First Amendment protection when they use a school-subsidized outlet to convey a message. But "it's legal" is not a justification. Schools hold students and teachers to a standard of optimal behavior, not minimally legally compliant behavior. Just ask the teachers who've been fired for griping about their supervisors or sharing racy photos on Facebook. "Poor judgment" is regularly regarded as a firing offense, except when you're a principal, and the "judgment" involves your students' rights. Schools do not serve lunches with an eyedropper to make sure that no student receives one calorie more than the minimum to stave off starvation. Yet many apportion free-expression rights in exactly that way, enforcing policies cribbed straight from Justice Byron White's Hazelwood opinion, which sets the floor for the least protection the law allows. State school boards' associations even publish Hazelwood-based "model" policies, as if "barely legal" were an ideal to aspire to. The public is entitled to expect schools to aim for a standard higher than "the worst thing we can do to kids and get away with it." Federal law allows employers to pay a $7.25 per hour minimum wage, but we would not consider $290 a week to be "model" compensation for teachers. We would regard it, accurately, as "one penny away from unlawful." Debating whether censoring the discussion of controversial subjects is legal distracts from the question that really matters: whether it is educationally responsible. During 2013, the 25th anniversary of the Hazelwood ruling, the nation's largest organizations of professional journalists, college journalism educators, and high school journalism advisers adopted resolutions condemning reliance on the Hazelwood standard to suppress the discussion of issues of public concern. An August 2013 declaration from the Society of Professional Journalists explains that "it is well-documented the Hazelwood censorship clause impedes an educator's ability to adequately instruct and train students in professional journalistic values and practices, including the right to question authority and investigate performances of governance." It's tempting to say that principals and superintendents shouldn't be second-guessed because they have demanding jobs. But it is always "easier" for government officials to ignore individual rights. It would be "easier" to solve crimes if suspects could be beaten until they confessed. Respecting constitutional values means doing things the hard way because it is also the right way. It can be tempting, too, to trivialize "high school journalism" as unworthy of adults' concern. But we wouldn't mistreat and miseducate students in geometry class and shrug it off as Why Annual State Testing Makes Cents " By Karen Hawley Miles D o we know how well school districts are using money? Do we know how well they are educating our children? We can research a district's budget in the public record, but we won't know whether that money is actually being spent wisely unless there is a consistent measure of student progress. Yet one proposal to revise a landmark federal education law might dismantle the system we have used for 14 years to track and compare how much students are learning. The proposal before the U.S. Senate's Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee would revise the current authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act-the 1965 law known in its latest version, passed by Congress in 2001, as the No Child Left Behind Act-to no longer require states to give annual statewide assessments in reading and math to all students in grades 3-8 (and once in high school). Instead, the Getting rid of useful yardsticks for measuring student learning should concern everyone who cares about making good use of taxpayer money." proposed legislation would offer states the option of testing each student only once every few years, for example, or allow districts to choose their own assessments. This kind of local control may sound appealing. But getting rid of annual statewide testing would in fact undermine the ability of educators, parents, and policymakers to identify who's excelling and who's struggling; which strategies work, and which don't; and where we should direct our limited resources to prepare all students for college and careers that require strong writing, critical-thinking, and quantitative skills. Consider the following: * States need annual assessments to compare districts and support them effectively. For example, Massachusetts, in 2011, identified the Lawrence public schools as deeply struggling, the district having ranked at the bottom for four years in a row on the statewide MCAs exam. Accordingly, Massachusetts put the school system into state receivership and provided extra resources, talented leaders, and more flexibility. Today, Lawrence is an emerging success story, with math scores that have climbed from 28 24 | EDUCATION WEEK | February 18, 2015 | percent to 41 percent proficiency. That kind of intervention couldn't have happened without a statewide benchmark that revealed the degree to which Lawrence was lagging and needed help. * Districts need annual statewide assessments to compare their own schools and support them effectively. The fast-improving Denver school system uses annual state test scores, along with other data, to determine which schools to expand, which need extra support, and which should be rewarded for performance or progress. Annual test data also helped Denver determine that its math-tutoring program had a high return on investment, compared with other improvement strategies, giving school officials the evidence needed to persuade the community to fund it. Without annual tests, a district cannot precisely track student growth, identify its causes, and make the case for why some strategies work better than others. *Schools need annual statewide assessment data to support students effectively. In Charlotte, N.C., principals and their supervisors have worked to review student-achievement data and iStockphoto

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - February 18, 2015

Schools Weighing Access To Social Media Passwords
Education Week - February 18, 2015
Measles Outbreak Cues Action On Vaccine Rules
States Shedding Power To Adopt Class Materials
Those Opposing Restraint and Seclusion Gain New Traction With State Legislatures
New Venture to Evaluate Technology
News in Brief
Report Roundup
Global Skills Study Finds U.S. Millennials Trailing
Broad Foundation Puts Urban Schools Prize On Hold Indefinitely
Blogs of the Week
FCC Plan for ‘Net Neutrality’ Addresses Schools’ Needs
Calif. Districts Seeking $1 Billion To Fund Testing Mandate
Obama, Congress Set to Clash On FY16 Budget
GOP in Driver’s Seat as Congress Tackles NCLB Rewrite
NCLB-Waiver Renewal Gears Up; Duncan Holds Weakened Hand
Blogs of the Week
State of the States
FRANK D. LoMONTE: Don’t Silence Young (Female) Journalists
KAREN HAWLEY MILES: Why Annual State Testing Makes Cents
JANE HIRSCHI: ‘Hands in the Dirt’ Learning
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
GILLIAN McGOLDRICK: When Morality and Law Trump School Tradition

Education Week - February 18, 2015