Friday, March 20, 2009

Putting some straight talk into Obama's education speech

Putting some straight talk into Obama's education speech

*Please click on the link above. It is hyperlinked to the original news story.

Changing hands in the presidency is never a fluid transition. Former policymakers rise and fall. However, issues such as war, health care and poverty never go away—neither does dealing with a messy issue such as education reform. President Barack Obama must confront the hot issue of improving student achievement in “failing” schools. By failing schools, the general definition is a school that fails to meet the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) or meet state standards on the state-administered standard achievement exams. Many U.S. schools are left in the dust tracks as nations around the globe race to be #1 under the sphere of academia.

This article starts out with an assertive, powerful speech Obama delivered to address the reality of crumbling schools and the lack of teacher quality in the 21st century. This lack of tools and resources hurt the students’ opportunities to become educated for the future and well-adapted to the market economy. That’s what gages readers’ interest—stories about lost hope for our generation. It’s interesting how our generation is stuck in between an economic recession and lack of administrative decisions to stick to a curriculum that works and pick out the cream of the crop teachers to educate the youth. Students can easily call themselves the victims of an innocent battle among the nations to raise the standards of an excellent public education, but that’s not to say students shouldn’t be held responsible for their own growth. The article puts the government and school officials in the position of victimizers. They are the target of blame in this case. This story does make school districts sound as though they aren’t doing much, even though as a whole they’ve come a long way to equip students with the tools they need to raise the students’ level of achievement—not only on to perform better on tests but to reach personal milestones as well.

Something about the lead stands out. Not many news stories begin with a quote. I understand why the writer would use the quotes earlier in the story since the writer is trying to use Obama’s vision as a check list. For instance, Obama said increasing the school day just like in South Korea does nothing for the U.S. students because more hours spent after school doesn’t necessarily ensure improvements. That’s his insight about what doesn’t work in improving a child’s education. The reality is that schools have already tried to expand their school hours, but some students don’t use that time wisely.

The story uses mini titles in each section to describe the multi-dimensional issue of education reform. Each section is clearly labeled and begins with a quote from Obama. If this story could be broken up into a series of news briefs, more like president’s briefs, the readers would have an easy time sifting through the subcategories. It’s convenient for the readers who only have time to quickly scan through the article and read what the president thinks.

This story is too quote heavy. Sure quotes give the readers a synopsis or gist of what the prominent figure said. However, there needs to be a fair balance of transitions to break up the monotony of each quoted phrase or sentence. Even though the writer purposely designed the story so that Obama’s stance would be the pivotal point about which the individual issues in educational reform revolve, it’s not enough reason to beat the readers over the head with just his quotes. I wouldn’t say there was a loss of reader’s interest because the story was structured quote after quote. In fact, this is a more unconventional or layman's style of news writing. I believe this story could’ve used better transitions to tie into each new paragraph.

In order for this story to be objective, the voices of the youth and educators cannot be muffled. That is, there needs to be a balance of sources. There are several key ideas that Obama touched upon, with each section beginning with a quote from his speech, but where are the sources to defend their position? From reading this article, no public school teachers are represented and certainly no students had a say about the changing face of education. This piece would’ve read with more credibility and objectivity if the writer sought out the party most directly affected through changes in the curriculum. For instance, why isn’t it realistic to lift the caps on charter schools since Obama is asking states to lift the caps on the designated number of charter schools? State officials who oversee the funding for charter schools can answer that question. What else can the money for Early Education programs be used for? This requires a response from an educator with an idea on the fiscal spending plan of the government and a little bit of financial background. Even someone who supports works closely with educating young adults, such as a college professor or chancellor, could answer this question and contribute to the objectivity of the story. Why not invest in the education of students in high school and college, who are closer to gaining jobs in the real world, as opposed to toddlers?

There are many unanswered questions in this article, partly because the writer doesn't give the other side a chance to speak. As a news story, the point of posing a question is to get the readers’ attention and provide immediate feedback through the knowledge of expert sources by the end of it all. Gathering information requires rubbing shoulders with multiple sources to create that sphere of objectivity in any news piece.

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