Sunday, March 6, 2011

Smart student journalism

Normally I'm not keen on admitting that another journalist has gotten ahead of me, but I'll make an exception when the reporter is a high-school student.

For several months, I've been chipping away at making sense of CMS' moves toward teacher performance pay. A blog reader suggested I find out how much the district is spending to create new tests that will be used to gauge teacher effectiveness. I put in that query, along with a lot of others, and awaited an answer.

In the meantime, Myers Park High journalism teacher James Scott called to raise some questions about the cost of performance pay, including the new tests. Feeling smug, I told him I was expecting that information any day.

"One of my students has already gotten it," he said.

Susanna Booth
Back in mid-January, Susanna Booth, a junior in Myers Park's International Baccalaureate program, had gotten wind that new end-of-course tests were coming for electives such as journalism. She e-mailed a series of smart questions to Chief Academic Officer Ann Clark, who forwarded them to Chris Cobitz in the testing office. Among her questions: Are these tests coming from CMS or the state? Why? How much will they cost? How will they affect teaching?

I love that a young reporter is running hard at such significant news. She's definitely onto something: CMS folks told me they're spending just over $1.9 million to design tests for every course that doesn't have a state End of Grade or End of Course exam (see the story in today's paper).

I am impressed that Cobitz gave Susanna prompt and detailed answers. She e-mailed nine questions on a Thursday; he answered her on Sunday night and urged her to contact him with any follow-ups.

And I positively beamed to see that Susanna responded just the way I would have: "Thank you so much! And yes, I actually do have a couple more questions ..."

She sent him 10 more.

I'm honored to count Susanna as a colleague. Her reporting helped me get better answers faster.

Here at the Observer, we've talked about how to make better connections with student journalists. If you have any thoughts, pass them along. I suspect the best of our high-school reporters could keep us all better informed.


David Oates said...

To buy a subscription to the Hoofprint, email me at - top notch reporting cover to cover, 7 issues a year!

Anonymous said...

You might want to inform the student journalist what beginning journalists make in the marketplace. I'd be curious to know myself--let's say she wants to work for the Observer. What type of job would be available for her? Or, would she have to work at a smaller paper before she would be considered for a job at the Observer? How much does a job at a small-town newspaper pay? Are there any jobs available at all, since newspapers have been cutting staff?

Ann Doss Helms said...

David, Hoofprints is MPHS, right? I'll e-mail on Monday.

Anon, starting at small papers has always been the norm. Newspaper reporting has never been a big-bucks business, but yes, it's very hard right now to find jobs. I have no idea if Susanna sees newspapers as a career, but I think it's great that young journalists are emerging. I deeply believe that news reporting will survive in some shape or form, and young people will probably be smarter than my generation at shaping the future.

David Oates said...

@Anne, yes! Last year, the American Scholastic Press Association placed the The Hoofprint in the top twenty school publications in the nation. Subscriptions start at just $25. We are proud to have Susanna on our staff!

therestofthestory said...

Kudos to Susanna Booth. We the public had always counted on the "free press" to throw "sunshine" on those conditions and actions most often by government officals to undermine the societal health of our community. As we have seen in the last 12 to 15 years form the CO, they have been either the lead horse or a cheerleader of agendas that divide this community and a mouthpiece to those who wish to disrupt a forward looking society by demanding "revenge" for things over 150 years ago.

I wish Susanna luck in finding a useful way to channel her curiousity and her writing skills to help this community get going forward again. We seem destined to become the Detroit of the South.

Wiley Coyote said...

Based on current events, are we to assume the new EOG tests for IB journalism will either be free for FRL students and cost $86.00 for those who don't have that designation?

Or will these test not count towards anything other than evaluating teachers?

Ann Doss Helms said...

They'll be used for evaluating teacher effectiveness and student performance. And I'm pretty sure no students will pay fees -- it'll be up to the taxpayers to cover the cost.

Anonymous said...

Way to go Susanna!! MP...You know!!

Wiley Coyote said...

So it appears the tests for IB electives will still cost the students who wish to take them and those who take the course but choose not to take the exam won't have to pay.

The new teacher evaluation tests I'm assuming will replace the EOC tests for AP/IB students who must take that test as 25% of their grade, which doesn't cost anything.

Anonymous said...

How many IB Journalism students roam the halls at West Meck? What do you surmise is the FRL ratio out on Tuckaseegee Rd? At least your son is graduating before all the good teachers at WM are fired or quit. Should be interesting out there next year.

Wiley Coyote said...

Anon 8:47...

Two of my son's AP teachers have been fired in the past 45 days. One two weeks ago. Fortunately, one of the courses was last semester.

I called the "zone area" over the school to complain about the fact my son was told they would not be getting a replacement for the rest of the year. It'll be interesting to see how they spin this.

Some kids had this teacher for two courses this semester.

Right now, he has a substitute that watches videos while they do homework for other classes or if they're lucky enough to get lab time, they do course work on the computer.

Last year, his math teacher announced she was resigning in November. They knew a couple of months in advance this teacher was leaving yet it took them almost a month into the second semester to finally get a teacher, who they moved from another class.

My son may be graduating, but it won't stop my involvement in the system.

Anonymous said...

School system is way too big! It appears that "little" issues, like lack of a teacher for a class, get lost in all the bureaucracy. This is not necessarily the fault of one person (like Dr. Gorman). I contend that trying to make it all work for such a big system, with so many different issues and so many government mandates (not to mention the financial crisis), is almost impossible. Can anyone name a large metropolitan school system that is working smoothly and efficiently? (Wake County is not an acceptable answer--look at test score disparities)
And no, things were not better back in the day of busing (except that the system was smaller)--there was still a large achievement gap and plenty of community dissension (if low income students were being educated properly under busing, why is it that so many who were students in the busing era not able to support themselves and raise their children today?).
I have strongly supported CMS for many years and understand why it was necessary to have one large system. But, again, I think it has finally gotten too big and unwieldy. And unfortunately those who would like to return to busing have been more than willing to demonize those who seek other solutions, thus helping to create a divided community.

therestofthestory said...

Well said 7:51 AM.

Wiley Coyote said...

CMS is not too big.

Too many big-headed educrats that have no business acumen.

I'll say it for the umpteenth time, if Wal Mart can run the largest retail operation in the world from Bentonville Arkansas, CMS should be able to run a school district from one central office.

The system was split into zones to "make things more accessible to parents" but that has not happened.

Too much politics, too much "we're going to build the greatest education system ever" mentality, but the reality is, CMS doesn't have the capacity to tie their own shoes.

Anonymous said...

We'll have to agree to disagree, Wiley. I think students, parents, and teachers need a more personal touch. I was disappointed that the area plan did not work out as the task force envisioned--you're right, they were supposed to function as individual school systems for most things to make it all more manageable, but apparently the centralized idea is too firmly ingrained here, as are the politics. Certain groups were all over this idea, demanding that every area have exactly the same demographics. Dr. Gorman did not give in to that demand, but he also did not, in my opinion, use the areas to help cut bureaucracy.

Anonymous said...

Long live Martha!

Wiley Coyote said...


There is no "personal touch" within CMS.

Frankly, I don't need a personal touch, only for the teachers, principals and admin to do their jobs and not try to sell me a bill of goods when there are issues to be addressed - that is, when I can reach someone to start the process.

Wiley Coyote said...


Also, take a look at this story.

A resourceful student scoops the education beat from the Observer by obtaining information they had not yet received.

Now think about that and what the topic of the discussion is; Teacher Performance Pay.

This isn't some obscure issue a student was trying to do a story on. This is bigtime, yet Susanna was able to get the info Ann couldn't or at least got it first.

Translate that into a parent trying to get data or information. I know, I've tried. It seems to be more difficult to get information from the school and zone office than it is from downtown. It's as if they're scared to say anything.

LaTarzja Henry replied to my 9 requests for information awhile back fairly quickly. She had to get info from other department heads so that took a little time but I was pleased overall with her handling of my request.

It was my elected school board member who saw fit to chastise me for using the data in talking points here. I copied this person on my requests to show one of his/her constituents had questions and concerns.

This person will not be getting my vote in the next election.

Anonymous said...

Although I strongly support a level of uniformed and universal standards in the classroom - that in some subject areas may include standardized testing measures - the day I'm not able to instill a level of "personal touch" and freedom of autonomy in the classroom is the day I move on to a different teaching environment. Period.


Anonymous said...

I wonder whether these standardized tests would consider the abilities this journalism student has shown.

I doubt it.

The new standardized tests do include one for journalism, as I recall.

Someone could probably score well on the journalism tests and still be a lousy journalist.

Or be a great journalist and score lousy on the standardized tests.

Most standardized tests are aimed toward the lowest common denominator.

It's too bad they are becoming the "gold standard" for education, when there is so much more to consider.

Anonymous said...


What completely befuddles me are prestigious universities that have de-emphasized standardized testing (Wake Forest being a school that now makes submitting ACT's and SAT's optional) while K-12 systems ramp up this practice. What gives?

I think Bowdoin College was one of the first colleges to consider applicants more holistically dating back several decades. Bowdoin was my brother's first college choice before he was accepted into Yale. He really didn't want to go to Yale but his science teacher talked him into it because he was the first student from my average, mostly blue-collar public high school to be accepted here. Of course, my mother and I don't hold back on the humble aspects of being biologically related to a person who attended the best Ivy League University in America (with apologies to Taylor Batten). Be assured, there was no chance in H-E -Double-Hockey-Sticks I would have ever been accepted here. But, doesn't the word "YALE" just flow so nicely off of one's tongue? Love ya' Pamela.

Harvard University, which still takes standardized testing into critical consideration in their admissions process, has acknowledged the best predictor of a student's future success is a student's past success based on the "rigor" of coursework they've taken and grades earned in high school. (This news coming from a university one can only hope has collected substantial and reliable data to back up this claim).

Suddenly feeling a longing for New England... On the other hand, who would I want to be in Maine right now? Seriously, yuck.

Ann Doss Helms said...

On the journalism exam: I suggested to Robert Avossa that he send the best high-school reporters to help me file from the May budget vote. The timing is right ...

Anonymous said...

OK, I want the BEST high school journalism, theater, art, music and dance students to realize my ultimate dream: "CMS, the Musical".

The system is designing a standardized test for this!

Dear God,
May I die complete.

Anonymous said...

Example of a large school system that runs things well, staffs adequately, makes gains, and caters to every child, not just a few (and yes, it's very large too). Best district I ever worked for and from the looks of things, ever will.

Anonymous said...

I checked out the PCS website. Yes, it is a large district, although about 35,000 fewer students than Charlotte. Also demographics are different (62% white for starters), although I could not find info on FRL students, nor were test scores available. I did notice links to "new" plans for the district and also saw comments about frequent reassignments--don't know if that's true. It also appeared that the board had taxing authority (through the community voting on the school taxes, as is done in many places--school board can't summarily raise taxes). Thanks for the link.

Anonymous said...

Do you have any idea when CMS is planning on posting the results of the first round magnet lottery? They've been posted by now for the last two years. CMS is supposed to be opening the 2nd round lottery on Monday but as of now parents still do not have any idea which schools still have openings or how long the wait list may be for some programs after the 1st round lottery.

Ann Doss Helms said...

Interesting -- PIO LaTarzja Henry was just saying they have the lottery results and everyone's so focused on the budget (in CMS and the media) that it has slipped to the back burner. I have to admit, I'd completely forgotten about it. Should be out soon.