Education Week - May 9, 2018 - 7

Ronald A. Wolk, Pioneer in K-12 Journalism, Dies at 86

An Intellectual Awakening
Wolk was born in 1932 in Pittsburgh, to a
steelworker father who left the family when
Wolk was about 10 years old, and a mother
who also worked in steel mills and other hardscrabble jobs.
Wolk didn't expect to attend college, but his
high school English teacher encouraged him
to apply to Westminster College, a small religious institution in New Wilmington, Pa., and

Ronald A. Wolk, who died April 28,
sought to fill what he saw as a
vacuum in national news on
precollegiate education.

Gretchen Ertl for Education Week

their education systems and has helped foster
the standards-based movement to improve
"There was no source of information like
Education Week when we started," Wolk said in
January 2018 during an interview for an oral
history. "Most of the people who were getting
any information in education were ... getting it
from their local newspapers."
Today, Education Week provides in-depth
news, analysis, and opinion on pre-K-12 policy
and practice to 1.4 million unique visitors each
month through, live and virtual
events, and its weekly print publication.
Wolk retired from Education Week and EPE
in 1997 and moved to Rhode Island, where
he remained active in efforts to improve public education nationally and in the state, such
as serving as chairman and later chairman
emeritus of Big Picture Learning, based in
Providence, an organization devoted to creating small, innovative schools.
But to merely detail Wolk's professional ré
sumé does not quite capture the forceful personality of a man with a booming, baritone
voice who rarely minced words when it came
to dealing with his reporters, policymakers, or
anyone else.
"He was a gentle bear in many ways, but we
always knew when he was in the house because
he would be barking out orders," said Virginia
B. Edwards, who succeeded Wolk as editor and
publisher of Education Week and as president of
EPE in 1997. "He really demanded intellectual
rigor from his colleagues, from his opponents,
from anyone he wanted to engage in verbal
sparring with."
"He had his foot in the education policy world,
but he was also a journalist," added Edwards,
who retired from that position in 2016.
Wolk made a deep impact among the policymakers and thought leaders of the K-12 world.
"He was a very combative type of person. A
person of strong beliefs, and he was exactly the
type to fight to establish a newspaper like EdWeek," said Jack Jennings, former long-time
aide to Democrats on the House education committee and founder of the Center on Education
Policy, a research and advocacy organization,
who worked with Wolk through the Pew Forum
on School Reform.
Christopher T. Cross, chairman of FourPoint
Education Partners, an education consulting
group, and a former assistant secretary of education under President George H.W. Bush, said
Wolk "was instrumental in changing the whole
pattern of communication in the education field
... by creating an instrument that was trusted
and relied upon ... There were other things out
there but not nearly of the depth and quality of
what EdWeek was doing at the time."
Robert B. Schwartz, professor emeritus at the
Harvard Graduate School of Education, said
"Ron was very farsighted to see education reform as a growing issue and realize that there
was a vacuum here." He said Wolk "had such a
strong identification with the most vulnerable
kids ... What really turned him on was seeing
a couple of storefront places with very minimal
funding going the extra mile for kids that everyone else had dismissed."

she even paid his application fee and helped arrange his room and board.
Wolk recalled a watershed moment when an
art history professor was giving an impromptu
lecture drawing parallels between the worlds of
art, literature, and the real world.
"I sat there for an hour, and I could feel the
gooseflesh, you know, the goose pimples rising
around my neck," Wolk told Bethany Rogers, an
education history professor at City University
of New York College of Staten Island for the
oral history. "For the first time in my life, I could
really see how things connected. It was like a
light went on."
Wolk said he had gone to the college thinking
that he might become a newspaperman because
he loved to write. "But when this happened, I
was really trying to figure out how the hell I
could combine being a journalist with being ... a
learner, a lifelong learner."
Wolk earned a bachelor's degree from Westminster in 1954 and a master's degree in journalism from Syracuse University in 1956. He
served in the U.S. Army, assigned to an Army
intelligence school at Fort Holabird in Baltimore, from 1955-57.
After serving as the education editor of the
Endicott Daily Bulletin, a small newspaper in
New York state, Wolk joined the alumni magazine at Johns Hopkins.
The editor was Corbin Gwaltney, himself a
Johns Hopkins alum who in 1950 had launched
his concept of a university magazine that offered not just alumni news and notes but substantive articles and crisp photography.
Wolk joined the magazine's staff in 1958, the
same year that Gwaltney and a core group of
alumni magazine editors from around the
country had launched the "Moonshooter Report," which was designed to provide a national
perspective about higher education and be included as a supplement in those magazines.
By the second year, there were orders for more
than 2 million copies of the report.
The annual reports continued, and in 1961,
Gwaltney left Johns Hopkins to become the
head of Editorial Projects for Education, which
later became Editorial Projects in Education.
Wolk, who succeeded Gwaltney as the editor
of Johns Hopkins Magazine, was the informal
board chairman of EPE in those early years.
In 1962, Wolk took a leave from Johns Hopkins, and with a $25,000 grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, visited higher

education leaders around the country for eight
months about the issues they faced and the
information they had, producing a report on
his research.
The initial newsletter that resulted from one
of his recommendations, called The 15 Minute
Report, would lead by 1966 to the debut of the
Chronicle, with Gwaltney at the helm.
Wolk, meanwhile, had returned to Johns Hopkins to become a special assistant to the institution's president, Milton S. Eisenhower, a brother
of former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Wolk had initially helped Eisenhower shape a
manuscript he had written about his eight years
as a special ambassador in Latin America during
his brother's presidency. The book, The Wine Is
Bitter, was well-received, and Eisenhower asked
Wolk to become his special assistant.
"The next seven or eight years ... I got to sit,
you know, in the councils with senators, and
governors, and kings, and queens, and princes
as a fly on the wall," Wolk said.
In 1968, Wolk went west to work for Clark
Kerr, who had recently been fired as president
of the University of California system by thenGov. Ronald Reagan, on the Carnegie Commission on the Future of Higher Education. Wolk
spent 11 months in the job before moving back
east to rejoin Milton Eisenhower as special assistant in his work on a new project, the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence, created by President Lyndon
B. Johnson after the assassinations of Martin
Luther King Jr. and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.
The commission issued extensive findings about
crime, poverty, education, and the media.

K-12 Journalism Pioneer
In 1978, after a period as a vice president at
Brown University in Providence, R.I., charged
with raising national awareness about the institution, Wolk joined EPE as its president soon after
the nonprofit organization had sold the Chronicle
of Higher Education to its editors. But with intellectual ferment growing about how to improve
precollegiate education, and with signs of interest from funders, Wolk and co-founder Martha
K. Matzke, a veteran journalist who had worked
with Wolk at Brown, set out to create a new publication focused on that subject.
As Education Week was preparing for its inaugural issue, published on Sept. 7, 1981, reporter
Eileen White obtained a 91-page Reagan admin-

istration memo that called for downgrading the
year-old Education Department to sub-Cabinet
status and shifting key federal responsibilities
to the state and local levels.
Just days before the deadline for that first
issue, White phoned Wolk and said, "I got it."
"I said, 'You got what?' " Wolk recalled. She said,
'I got the report that [then-Education Secretary
Terrel H.] Bell did for Reagan.' I said, 'Get your
ass over here right now!' I slammed the phone
down. She came over, and she had it, and we did
a front-page, copyrighted exclusive."
The scoop rated mentions for the debut of
Education Week in the news magazines and on
network TV news.

Continued Influence
Education Week came along two years before
the release of "A Nation at Risk," the federal report that helped spur the school improvement
movement. It chronicled the many developments
in that movement while keeping its news pages
free of opinion and publishing vibrant opinion
essays in its Commentary section.
In 1989, EPE launched Teacher Magazine, a
monthly focused on the field's frontline educators. The magazine eventually transitioned to a
web-only presence.
And in 1997, Education Week launched Quality
Counts, an annual report on the progress of the
states toward improving their school systems.
In September 1997, Wolk retired from fulltime work with EPE and moved to Warwick, R.I.
He remained as board chair of EPE until 2011,
when he was named chair emeritus.
Michele J. Givens, the president and CEO of
EPE, said Wolk was a "larger than life man" who
"held certain values that we have continued to
carry through," such as a dedication to journalism and those who carry out the craft, as well
as a commitment to presenting "both the panoramic as well as the straight-arrow view" of developments in the field of education.
Wolk is survived by Mimi McConnell, of
Cotuit, Mass.; their three children, Suzanne
Wolk of Roslindale, Mass.; Lauren Wolk and
her husband, Richard Hall, of Centerville,
Mass.; Cally Wolk and wife Denise of Attleboro, Mass.; grandchildren Ryland and Cameron Hall and Ashley Wolk; a sister, Carol
Westphal, of Ft. Smith, Ark., and numerous nieces and nephews. Another grandson,
Dylan Wolk, died in 2010.

EDUCATION WEEK | May 9, 2018 | | 7

Education Week - May 9, 2018

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - May 9, 2018

Education Week - May 9, 2018
Schools Play Catch Up to Rise in Student Vaping
Teacher Strikes Show Power in Numbers
Educators Battling Class Distractions Of ‘Fortnite Game’
Ronald A. Wolk, Dies at 86; Launched Education Week
Report Roundup
News in Brief
Study: Language-Learning Ability Is Strong Until Late Teens
Tenn. Struggles to Clean Up Huge Online Testing Mess
Legalities and Politics Collide in Teacher Work Stoppages
Improvement Mode Woven Into ESSA Plans
Wide Swings Reported in Desegregation Data
Derek W. Black: Don’t Call the Teacher Pay Hikes a ‘Raise’
Sarah M. Stitzlein: Does School Choice Put Freedom Above Equity?
H. Richard Milner IV: The Emotional Drain of Teaching
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Lorena Garcia: The Case for Sex Sexuality Education
Education Week - May 9, 2018 - Ronald A. Wolk, Dies at 86; Launched Education Week
Education Week - May 9, 2018 - 2
Education Week - May 9, 2018 - Contents
Education Week - May 9, 2018 - News in Brief
Education Week - May 9, 2018 - 5
Education Week - May 9, 2018 - Study: Language-Learning Ability Is Strong Until Late Teens
Education Week - May 9, 2018 - 7
Education Week - May 9, 2018 - Tenn. Struggles to Clean Up Huge Online Testing Mess
Education Week - May 9, 2018 - 9
Education Week - May 9, 2018 - Legalities and Politics Collide in Teacher Work Stoppages
Education Week - May 9, 2018 - 11
Education Week - May 9, 2018 - 12
Education Week - May 9, 2018 - 13
Education Week - May 9, 2018 - 14
Education Week - May 9, 2018 - 15
Education Week - May 9, 2018 - Improvement Mode Woven Into ESSA Plans
Education Week - May 9, 2018 - Wide Swings Reported in Desegregation Data
Education Week - May 9, 2018 - 18
Education Week - May 9, 2018 - 19
Education Week - May 9, 2018 - Sarah M. Stitzlein: Does School Choice Put Freedom Above Equity?
Education Week - May 9, 2018 - H. Richard Milner IV: The Emotional Drain of Teaching
Education Week - May 9, 2018 - Letters
Education Week - May 9, 2018 - TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Education Week - May 9, 2018 - Lorena Garcia: The Case for Sex Sexuality Education
Education Week - May 9, 2018 - CW1
Education Week - May 9, 2018 - CW2
Education Week - May 9, 2018 - CW3
Education Week - May 9, 2018 - CW4