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Friday, February 13, 2015

One More Near Fatality of School "Reform"

I have a copy of our school newspaper, dated January 2010.  It's probably one of the last issues in print.  The paper is 24 pages long.  It includes many articles and many opinions.  It also has the faces of many students who have since graduated and colleagues who have since retired.  There are articles on school-based issues as well as a recent mayoral election, state politics as well as national affairs.  There's news about Sing, Play Pro and sports.  There is student poetry, artwork and photography.  There are some very strong opinion pieces.  In turn, there are letters to the editor.  There are cartoons and a crossword.  There is a list of important dates, a tutoring schedule and advertisements to fund the printing.  It's pretty amazing.

Until last week, I hadn't seen a copy of our school newspaper in years.  Part of the problem is that the funding has dried up.  Limited school funds are diverted toward programs that might better help the school meet its metrics.  In a system of high-stakes, test-based accountability, the school newspaper must count for little to nothing.

This year, I learned that the school newspaper is online.  The faculty adviser, I believe, teaches journalism, but, doubtless, contributes loads of free time and energy.  During the daily announcements, students and teachers were alerted to the paper's availability.  It was not news to me.  I had kept up with its progress on a personal level through the adviser.

When the paper became available online, I asked my students how many had read it or taken a look.  In a class of high-achieving, motivated kids, I think maybe I saw one or two hands.  The kids said what I suspected.  If the paper was given to them in print, they would have looked at it.  It was too much trouble to go online and read it from a glowing screen.  

I printed myself my own copy.  The paper is twelve pages long.  The print is a little fine for standard typing paper.  I managed, however, to read the printed version.  I doubt I could have stared at a glowing screen of fine print for that long.  

I enjoyed reading the paper.  I informed a colleague that there was a nice piece about him.  He heard the news for the first time from me.  He borrowed my copy and made some more copies for the kids in his program.  Another teacher saw me reading the paper and asked to make a copy.  Her connection with the school goes back to her days as a student in the building fifty years back.  Outside of myself, nobody seemed to know about the paper.

The paper is not so different from earlier, printed versions.  It is just shorter, half the size.  (It might be that the print is half the size though.)  There is news about school programs.  I found out about a new one.  I met some new colleagues on its pages.  Without the paper, I don't think I would have recognized them in the hallway.  Our paths hardly cross.  

I wish our newspaper could be printed.  I was informed that it would cost, perhaps, six hundred dollars.  I was told by the adviser that she could find some advertisers, but the school had no funds to match.  This is entirely sad.  

Although no one measures a newspaper, high-stakes style, it is one of the more important ways in which students learn.  I would say, if anything, the paper should be bigger and include a larger staff.  Kids on the staff gain a lot of experience and self-esteem.  They build it by researching and writing articles, conducting interviews and expressing their opinions.  It is also an outlet for creativity.  It allows students to share their diverse talents with the school.  Newspapers, done right, foster school spirit as well as broader sense of community.  They also keep kids and teachers informed of important news which might otherwise prove elusive.

The fact that our school newspaper no longer appears in print is just one more near fatality, I believe, in a severely misguided era of educational "reform."  I wish our paper was in print.  I wish it was properly funded.  I wish it was a priority.  "Build it and they will come."  Print it and they will read.  More will volunteer to write.  It will grow.  The bonds of community will strengthen.  Alas, the "reformers" have other goals for us.  

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