Friday, July 25, 2014

Switching things up for a year

After 12 years covering education for the Observer, I'm embarking Monday on a new venture covering the Affordable Care Act.

The children who were in kindergarten when I started this beat in February 2002 graduated in June,  so it felt like time to try a new challenge myself.  The opportunity arose when the Observer got a one-year grant from the Kaiser Family Foundation to create a reporting job that will explore how the act is playing out in North Carolina.

Writing about health care appeals to me for the same reasons education reporting does:  It's a beat that combines intellectual complexity with emotional impact, an area where vital public policy decisions are taking shape and people are hungry for good information.

When I applied to the Observer in 1986 it was for the medical writer's job.  The editors hired Karen Garloch instead,  and I've never had cause to question their judgment.  The opportunity to work with and learn from Karen was one of the enticements to make an otherwise daunting leap.

As blog readers will suspect, the notion of a grant-funded job gave me pause.  Public education is being shaped by big-money donors with agendas,  something that's debated here on a regular basis.  But before accepting the grant,  our editors and Garloch determined that the only agenda being pushed by Kaiser Health News,  which isn't affiliated with Kaiser Permanente,  is generating high-quality coverage of a public policy issue that touches virtually every aspect of our lives and economy.

While some may suspect I've grown weary of education,  the opposite is true.  The hardest part of this switch is letting go of the long list of intriguing themes and story ideas in my mental files.  If I could clone myself,  one of me  --  make that two or three of me  --  would delve into those stories.

Absent that option,  I'm delighted that banking reporter Andrew Dunn is stepping in.  He's a skilled reporter who has excelled on a challenging beat.  He's a product of Wake County Public Schools and the father of a 4-year-old,  so his interest in education isn't just theoretical.  He's even an active blogger,  so the switch from Bank Watch to Your Schools shouldn't be too hard  (though I notice that banking readers aren't nearly as eager to comment as the education crowd).

I'd say  "So long until next summer,"  but I've noticed something when I tell sources about the switch:  Almost everyone shares a passionate observation about how the Affordable Care Act is affecting their families and/or business,  for good or for bad.

I hope to get lots of personal stories to make policy coverage come to life. So I'll just say  "Stay in touch."  And provide Andrew with the same stream of tips,  questions,  color commentary and,  ahem,  constructive criticism that I've come to count on.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for making the intricate world of politics and education easier to follow from both the educator and parent side of the issues. We look forward to your stories and explanations regarding the Affordable Healthcare Act.

Wiley Coyote said...

Thanks for all the reporting you tackled in education and I wish you well going forward in your new adventure.

Hopefully your foray into the ACA will be short lived as it needs to die a very quick death.

Then you can come back here to keep the shenanigans of CMS and the BOE in check.

Again, good luck. You definitely will be missed.

Anonymous said...

Kaiser is a shill for the ACA and needs all the media mouthpieces it can acquire.

Anonymous said...

Is the senior citizen female blogger losing her job being tricked here especially after the bad report that Charters are winning big?

Obamacare for all practical purposes officially gone with the wind once Roberts corrects his stupid mistake. The recent appeal to the high court by the lame duck will be totally irrelevant and a certain 5-4 victory for anti-govt health care junk forces coming soon. Conservatives win. Liberals lose. It was not affordable either

Deductibles go back to 500. instead of 5000. as trillions saved. Perry's Texas military forces will also end the millions of illegal bums stealing in with the lame duck blessing and promotion.
Time to clean out all illegals except for needed workers and guard the border with force 24/7/365.

Doss may finally get a real job and her teachers certificate to try to assist Publix play catch up at 30k a year.

Meanwhile NFL pretty gay boys gear up to make 30k a minute with all the cable media contracts raping and assaulting trillions off the masses with other pro sports bums. What a racket.

Anonymous said...

You were always the voice of reason and I looked forward to your analysis of education! Life is about change and I hope you enjoy your new venture.

Unknown said...


Going from unaffordable education to affordable healthcare. Is either that?

During Ann’s exile she’ll see the individual minimum penalty jump from $95 to $325(242%). If she stays on the beat in 2016, it will go to $695(114%). This would be an appropriate percentage scale for the Observer to boost her pay while on that desk…just don’t raise the price of my subscription.

Best wishes

Bolyn McClung

Pamela Grundy said...

Have a great time, Ann. It's a big story that needs a great reporter.

Jeff Wise said...

A heartfelt thanks and kudos for all the toil and effort you've put into the education beat Ann. Thanks for putting up with everyone and thanks for the solid reporting!

Indeed the ACA will keep you busy and as someone who works for an architecture/engineering firm specializing solely in healthcare there is definitely no shortage of stories.

Anonymous said...

Good luck.. Thanks for creating a place for me to vent.

Anonymous said...

As a parting gift for my biggest "fan," who has been trying so hard to inform you all of my age and gender along with his other views on politics and sports, I'm finally posting one of his comments. I'd say I won't miss this ... but I suspect "Obamacare" may attract even more of this type of commentary.

As for the rest of you, thanks for the kind words. It really has been fun ... and will continue to be.

Garth Vader said...

Mr. Kaiser gave $53,500 to the Obama presidential campaign. He was also the key figure in getting $535 million in loan guarantees for Solyndra.

How much independence can we expect from a reporting position created by this man?

Wiley Coyote said...

Let me be the first to give you a taste of the new menu:

“But we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it – away from the fog of the controversy.”

The fog still hasn't lifted. Democrats are just as clueless now as they were then as to the consequences of this abomination.

The vote on Obamacare in the House was 219-212, with 34 Democrats joining all Republicans in opposition.

..see you on the other side.

Anonymous said...

Best wishes. It's been fun.


Levester Flowers said...

Thanks, for all that you have done to make sure that education issues were covered very professionally!. I know you will bring the same type of passion and
expertise to your new endeavor.

All the best,
Levester Flowers

Adrian DeVore said...

I didn't always agree with you, Ann but your reporting on Education were always spot on. Best of luck on the Healthcare beat.

Shamash said...


Out of the frying pan and into the fire, eh?

Well, thanks for the opportunity to speak relatively uncensored (unlike the rest of the CO).

ACA is yet ANOTHER reason I'm glad we're splitting the scene for a while ourselves.

Maybe I'll tune in to see when it's safe to come back from the "other side"...

Anonymous said...

Ann, You've made complex issues seem more comprehensible and have delivered educational news that is not always so positive in the best light possible. You exemplify diplomacy! I hope this change is what you want and that you enjoy every minute of it!

Anonymous said...

On a side note Rep Cotham has gotten her panties all in a wad over the Charter School bill "for profit"? Please ...

My on my ... It only means that taxes will be paid on profit or losses taken if money lost. IRS and NCDOI involvement.

Paying taxes? What a novel idea. Somebody needs to get a life in Raleigh.

What if all public schools tried to make a profit and paid taxes and helped pay for their own education?

What about commercial advertisements on all school buses or all schools? Thats great education on business.

What about Bank Of America High School? Duke Energy Middle School?
Lance Crackers Elementary School?

What about Wells Fargo CMS ?

What about ads on the NC State Legislature to help defer costs to pay for basics or Cothams salary?

Anonymous said...

Ouch! Judging from your picture you are a baby boomer and should be slowing things down now. How do you have any energy to put into something as complex as Obamacare?

Oh well, I guess one year isn't a lifetime. It'll take you that long to read the bill and all the waivers, changes, extensions, and whatever else Obama illegally does to it.

I'm glad it's you and not me.

Anonymous said...

All the best to you Ann, I will miss your writing/reporting on such an important issue. While the young man who will be taking your place is probably a capable writer, he won't be able to replace you.

Mark in K-Twown.

Anonymous said...

12:37, you might be joking, but when the board approved the name of Charlotte Engineering Early College High the staff said it was a generic name that allows for the addition of a corporate partner.

Shamash said...

Anonymous July 25, 2014 at 12:37 PM

"What about Wells Fargo CMS?"

Better than Chiquita Banana Academy.

Maybe this IS a good time to put a banking reporter on the "education" beat.

Garth Vader said...

Ms Helms,

While your 1:50PM comment shows that you are following this thread, your failure to address my question posed earlier is troubling.


Mr. Kaiser gave $53,500 to the Obama presidential campaign. He was also the key figure in getting $535 million in loan guarantees for Solyndra.

How much independence can we expect from a reporting position created by this man?

Anonymous said...

Garth, it seemed more like a comment than a real question. I can't imagine any answer I would give that would satisfy you, short of "Well, now that I've read that comment I'm resigning" or "You got me, I won't be independent at all!"

What I can tell you is that no one at the Observer, especially me, wants to be or seem to be serving the interests of the insurance industry, the administration or anyone else involved. Other reputable newsrooms have had these arrangements and report no attempt to control the news. I didn't find anything indicating that their coverage has been compromised or questioned.

If I ever come to feel I'm at risk of being compromised, I believe and hope I'd have the backbone to change course, and I believe my editors would, too. But earning your approval isn't one of my conditions for taking this on.

Shamash said...

Anon July 25, 2014 at 12:37 PM

"Lance Crackers Elementary School?"

I like that one.

Their nickname could be the White Knights.

I already have a logo in mind.

Of course, it would be an "all-white" charter school...

Just as the Chiquita Banana Academy would be all-Asian.

I'll let y'all figure that one out.

P.S. Why is a robot asking me to "Please prove you're not a robot" every time I post to this blog?

I'm really getting annoyed about all the identity politics in the media today.

Wiley Coyote said...


Based on criteria from comments in the last story on Charter Schools versus Public Schools funded by the Walton Foundation - ZERO.

The Kaiser Foundation and Kaiser himself is just a big of a partisan troll as Soros, Koch, Walton and others, right?

From 2012:

Several newspapers have recently announced that far left leaning, non-profit foundations such as The Ford Foundation have given them hundreds of thousands of dollars to cover "the news." Many wonder if this "coverage" is being programmed by these left-wing moneymen. Others note that the tax-exempt, left-wing foundations are essentially lending U.S. government subsidies once removed to both newspapers and NPR. Is this all merely a way to "save" the news gathering industry, or are left-wing organizations just buying the news and pushing their far left narrative through stealth?

NPR's On The Media recently talked to several members of the Old Media about the huge grants that The Ford Foundation and others have given traditional media outlets such as the Washington Post, the L.A. Times and NPR and positing the questions above. Naturally the Old Media representatives denied any thought that the left-wing organizations are buying news coverage and claimed that newsrooms and editorial boards are insulated from any influence by their funders.

This grant-making to news agencies is nothing new, of course. As far back as 1993 the Henry J. Kaiser Foundation had been granting large amounts to fund "journalism." In 2009 the Knight Foundation awarded $5 million to 21 "civic organizations" to report the news. More recently, this sort of grant giving has continued with a $1.8 million grant to National Public Radio from left-wing, anti-American philanthropist George Soros and the Ford Foundation gave $500,000 to the Post and a whopping $1 million to the L.A. Times.

There is no doubt that journalism has fallen on tough times in this electronic era. Newspapers have been shutting down by the dozens and those that are left are shedding jobs, cutting salaries, eliminating benefits, and, consequently, covering fewer and fewer news worthy events. With advertising drying up and newspapers and other news gathering organizations losing money something certainly has to give.

Anonymous said...

Congrats on the new gig and jumping from the Looney tunes crowd to the seriously criminally insane on both sides of the ACA. The constant obfuscation of CMS will be petty incompetence compared to the usual suspect professionals of NC and Uncle Sam. On another note, Charlotte take a look at Vancouver,BC and Stanley Park when you decide to go to the big leagues on a Greenway and a vibrant downtown.

Anonymous said...

Charter schools are open to all qualified ones regardless of race, religion, creed, ethnicity, you moron.

Understandably the smarter ones usually get accepted depending on the school but then again you probably would want the smarter heart surgeon doing your heart or brain surgery or smarter airline pilot flying your 777 not just any joe blow.

Sports fans likewise demand only the best players on the field not just any joe blow. Same principle.
Same for teachers, politicians, presidents, mechanics, engineers, home builders, plumbers, electricians, dentists, business leaders, media reporters, etc

Its called skill and diversity.

Diff strokes ...

Anonymous said...

240 multi-family units planned for the corner of Bryant Farms and Community House? Is that a joke? Aren't our schools crowded enough in 28277? Please get involved and help stop this. Write to Ray at to tell him NO.
Need another reason for the NO-drive by that 3 way stop on a school day and wait for your turn.
Help stop this horrible plan.

FormerCMSteacher said...

@ Anonymous 7:52am "Understandably the smarter ones usually get accepted depending on the school..." ??? This is the problem with charter schools. They can also ease out kids who aren't making the charter look good. Public schools can't pick and choose which kids they get (except for a few magnets) and they are held to the same standards of all the schools in the state. Why should charter schools be treated differently? They get public money, they should have to abide by the laws that public schools are required to follow. Charters are just private schools with public funding.

Anonymous said...

I am a firm believer that a school is generally a reflection of the community in which it serves, and this includes charters. If you take a closer look at the successful charter schools and successful traditional public schools, you will see many similarities. The most obvious similarity being that they don't have many poor black kids when compared to struggling schools. Schools cannot succeed without the support of parents, and sadly, poor black kids typically don't have supportive parents, many only have one adult in the home and usually a very ignorant one at that. This is a cultural problem that shows up in the school systems.

Anonymous said...

Job Well Done on the education topic. Good Luck with your ACA assignment and Welcome Back when the time comes. Meanwhile, please encourage Andrew Dunn to keep an eye on the Charter Schools movement, especially in the Charlotte area. Their fun and games have just begun.

Shamash said...

Anon 12:17am

"The most obvious similarity being that they don't have many poor black kids when compared to struggling schools."

You can leave out the PC mandated "poor" and just leave it at black kids.

Check those NAEP test results that help fuel the "achievement gap" crisis call.

In those, ALL black kids have average scores lower than POOR whites, no matter what their SES.

Yes, even the non-poor blacks have a problem.

Even those NOT in the FRL program score worse than the white kids who get either a Free or Reduced lunch.

So being "poor" is just incidental for that group.

Anonymous said...


How much $ in public education waste have you uncovered in all these years on the beat ?

I hope you do a better job at uncovering the waste in your next government reporting job position.

Anonymous said...

Drum roll please...

After weighing my options, I have officially accepted a teaching position at a K-12 NC public charter school outside of Charlotte. My duties will include teaching 5th grade social studies and Singapore math with the ability to develop a dance and theatre arts program.

TOP 10

My top 10 reasons for choosing a public charter school over a traditional public school:

10. Location.

9. Small class sizes.

8. Parental support.

7. The ability to be an integral part of building something new and exciting.

6. Team camaraderie with a clear goals.

5. The ability to occasionally deviate from "the script" in an autonomous way that values and utilizes individual strengths, gifts and talents.

4. A commitment to treating teachers as competent professionals.

3. Automatic master's degree pay incentives despite what our boneheaded state legislators think.

2. A college-prep and vocational school mission statement that unapologetically deemphasis excessive standardized testing in favor of creating an educational environment that is personally relevant, fulfilling and meaningful.

1. "Core Knowledge" curriculum (not to be confused with Common Core curriculum).

The Courage to Achieve
I am
A North Carolina Public School Teacher

Alicia Durand

Wiley Coyote said...

3. Automatic master's degree pay incentives despite what our boneheaded state legislators think.

Arne Duncan doesn't think much of your Master's Degree either.

Good luck.

Take back our schools said...

3. Automatic master's degree pay incentives despite what our boneheaded state legislators think.

Add Dr. Gorman to that list. And it goes far further back (Broad foundation, et al.) than when the Republicans took back control of the legislature.

Anonymous said...

I'm at a loss to understand why there is concern about slanted reporting because of the origin of grant money.

Look at all the foundations/think tanks, like the Heritage Foundation, constantly spewing position papers on any & every topic their donors endorse.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Wiley.

Wasn't Arne a basketball player?

My master's degree salary is $2,800 more than I made in 1988 as a lateral entry dance teacher in Maryland. Yep. Teacher pay in NC is really that bad which is why I chose not to settle for just any position. On nice days, I'll be able to take my class of 16 students to eat lunch, perform Renaissance dances and study Singapore math along the shores of the lake which isn't named Wobbengon but is still lovely and above average anyway. No kidding. I feel blessed.


Shamash said...


Best of luck. Enjoy teaching Singapore Math to all those above average children by the lake.

Sounds like fun.

Except for the dancing part, of course.

Wiley Coyote said...


I have no idea if Duncan played ball or not.

My point was that many people, both Democrats and Republicans, believe that having a Master's degree in education (math and science excepted) doesn't translate into whether a child will learn anymore than from a teacher without one.

Personally, I feel the added degree should be worth more in salary, but the legislature needs to step up and fix the system and base pay first so we can focus on the real problems in education.

Wiley Coyote said...


I have no idea if Duncan played ball or not.

My point was that many people, both Democrats and Republicans, believe that having a Master's degree in education (math and science excepted) doesn't translate into whether a child will learn anymore than from a teacher without one.

Personally, I feel the added degree should be worth more in salary, but the legislature needs to step up and fix the system and base pay first so we can focus on the real problems in education.

Anonymous said...

Soon there will be fewer and fewer undergraduate degrees much less a Masters of Education.

JC Smith anyone?

We cant even teach US math to our students.