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Meeting Archive: Ethan Bronner - New York Times Education Editor (May 9, 2000)

Kathleen - Teachers.Net is very pleased to present Ethan Bronner, education editor for the New York Times. Ethan oversees a staff of nine reporters and a columnist who cover education in New York and across the country. Before taking up his post in September, 1999, Bronner was national education correspondent for the Times for two years, reporting on trends in both higher education and grades K-12. He was with The Boston Globe for 12 years where he served as Middle East correspondent, based in Jerusalem, and legal affairs and Supreme Court correspondent in Washington. He began his career at Reuters and worked in London, Madrid and Brussels.
Kathleen - Ethan Bronner is author of "Battle for Justice: How the Bork Nomination Shook America" which was chosen by The New York Public Library as one of the 25 best books of 1989. A graduate of Wesleyan University and Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism, Bronner is married and has two sons.

Kathleen - Ethan, from your perspective, what issues related to k-12 education are the ones you want your reporters to be covering in June-July 2000? In other words, what are the issues the public should be reading about?
Ethan Bronner - Kathleen, if you are talking about the summer, we will be spending a lot of time on summer school, social promotion, high-stakes testing and standards. Those are the issues that are really preoccupying us and our readers

Tony B/CA - Ethan, on the issue of high stakes standards, is there public consensus on the issue of connecting student performance to teacher assessment? Do you have a take on the issue as well?
Ethan Bronner - I think it is too early to speak of public consensus. Many people are attracted to the idea that teachers should be held responsible for their "products" the way many members of the private sector are. But once they start to understand what that means, I don't think a direct link between tests and teacher pay will emerge. There has to be a more complex set of judgments entered into teacher merit pay.

Evelyn/Alabama - Our legislature is addressing bringing teacher salaries up to national standards. How much of an issue is this in other states?
Ethan Bronner - This is a huge issue. Now much of the attention is lip service. That means that they like the idea of increased pay but are not necessarily going to make it happen. I would guess that most states, however, especially those with teacher shortages, will spend some money on teacher pay in the coming year or two, either through signing bonuses or outright pay increases.

Tony B/CA - I see. Do teacher unions or support associations in your state address the issue efficiently and publicly? Do you work in concert to educate the public?
Ethan Bronner - Well that is something of a complex question. We are a newspaper, not a union and so we do not work in concert with anyone. We do try to present facts and arguments fairly and dispassionately so that the best arguments make the most sense. But we also see our responsibility as presenting all dissenting even slightly odd arguments as palatably as possible.

Evelyn/Alabama - How much is reading attached to accountability in the classroom teacher's role?
Ethan Bronner - Reading is fundamental. I would say there is probably no more symbolic issue for every politician and concerned citizen than whether kids are taught to read at "grade level."

Kathleen - Ethan, how much interest is there among the newspaper-buying general population for education related news? Does the New York Times include education news every day or is it of interest to too small a segment of the population to have that much space devoted to it daily?
Ethan Bronner - That is an interesting question and it has gone up and down over the years. Right now, it is at an up, a very high up. The Times has beefed up its education coverage quite substantially. I would say there is an education item nearly every day and often more than one a day. Much of the education news is local, of course, but we have several national education correspondents and many of our correspondents in the field are now focused on education part of the time. This is also true of our political reporters since Gore and Bush spend a lot of time on the topic.
Kathleen - Interest is higher in a pres. election year?
Ethan Bronner - In THIS presidential election year, yes, since in a society that is prosperous and stable and not at war and not suffering unduly from crime or drugs, education has emerged as the top domestic and voter priority

ECSU prof - I am visiting this conference instead of watching Dick Clark's Smartest Kid in America contest. Isn't Education being trivialized in this nation? Education is viewed as the sum of trivial facts instead as a transformative activity for communities. Does the NY Times see itself as an Educational institution?
Kathleen - ECSU Prof is here from Eastern Conn. State University
Kathleen - Ethan Bronner is a Connecticut native.
Ethan Bronner - It is certainly true that education is not widely viewed as transformative in the way you are using it. I think Americans, in general, have a pragmatic view of education. Will it get me or my child a better job? What can I do with the information I am learning? As to the Times, we do, yes, view ourselves broadly speaking as educational in nature. We even now have something called the learning network that offers teachers lesson plans. And we think of the paper as providing a great deal of education on a good day.
Kathleen - The New York Times Learning Network http://www.nytimes.com/learning/
Tony B/CA - For more on NIE at the NY Times, check this out - http://partners.nytimes.com/learning/teachers/NIE/index.html

Evelyn/Alabama - Our state has taken over several systems for financial reasons. Is this a national trend?
Ethan Bronner - Now as to the takeover of schools for financial reasons, yes, this is a national trend. Many courts have determined that schools are not fairly financed and are demanding that situation be rectified. Also many states are taking over school districts that are failing and that is often for financial reasons.

Bob R/CA - How do you see the Internet affecting teachers solidarity? Do you see the Net more informing teachers and helping them mobilize for change, or do you think they feel more embattled and scrutinized by the information age?
Ethan Bronner - That is well-phrased. I would guess some of the former and less of the latter. i think teachers, like anyone who deals in knowledge and information, feel a sense of awe and wonder about the possibilities offered by the internet. but also like anyone else, a bit spooked by the scrutiny.

Kathleen - Ethan, do you sense a great deal of interest among the public in the quality of teacher-prep institutions or are most discussions about that topic happening only among the insiders, the educators themselves?
Ethan Bronner - Lots of interest among the public, yes. There is a sense, some of it justified and some not, that teacher preparation is not good in this country. So people want to know why and what ought to be taught. Part of the problem, of course, is that the quality varies so much from place to place. A second problem is that there are different needs for teachers of young kids versus high school, or so it seems to me.

Doremi/CO - Are you familiar with an educational reform program called FIRST THINGS FIRST? It's leader is James Connolly. He implemented his program in 3 New York schools....I believe one is Central Park West. He also sold his idea to the Kansas City, KS school district who is implementing it district wide? I am wondering if you know anything about it and its effectiveness? I am concerned because of its affect upon the Arts program in the district - cutting programs, putting Art, Music, PE teachers in the classroom to team teach Math and Reading with the classroom teacher although they are not certified in those areas among other concerns.
Ethan Bronner - Doremi, I am sorry to say that I know nothing about it although from your description it sounds like part of the national movement toward basic training in reading and math with the idea that these should come first before other subjects. This is happening in many states because of testing. Education is becoming more focused on passing those tests. I see this as good and bad.

Evelyn/Alabama - In Birmingham, AL we have a Newspapers in Education program for teachers to use papers in the classroom purchased at a reduced rate, do you provide this service and how do you help teachers get the paper in the children's hands? I teach in an inner city school and this is a great opportunity for the child to take print home to the parents as well.
Ethan Bronner - Yes, Evelyn, the Times has such a program although not directed at elementary school students since the Times tends to be more difficult to read. We are spending more time in colleges and in high schools. Years ago, The Times did something like what you are describing for younger kids in NY and there is talk of reviving that.

Kathleen - Ethan, is the NY Times online education column part of your responsibility? Are you associated with the Learning Network ?
Ethan Bronner - Kathleen, I am not responsible for the online education column and I am not associated with the Learning Network

Evelyn/Alabama - Higher Education has got to catch up with teacher certification in technology. Have you researched this issued?
Ethan Bronner - I have not researched it per se, no. Are you saying that there needs to be specific certification for technology teaching?
Evelyn/Alabama - In Alabama at present there is no certification available for the classroom or higher education level for teaching technology. The closest state that offers this is Mississippi.
Linda/2/CA - a comment--yes teachers need some type of training in technology--many are getting computers and don't know how to even use them and/or integrate them into the curriculum, especially at the lower grade levels.
Ethan Bronner - Yes Linda, you are right. We do need to integrate technology into teacher training.
Evelyn/Alabama - Comment: Technology needs to be integrated into teacher training for research in teaching and presenting materials to the students and teaching them how to do it themselves.

Mary/PA - What are some of the positive aspects about public education in the US as viewed by your readers?
Ethan Bronner - Mary, I can't speak for my readers but I can reflect what public opinion polls show and that is that they think education in the country is in trouble but they think the school their kid goes it is good. This is like the view that all politicians are crooks except for your congressman. It is quite common. But more broadly, I would say that people have an abiding and deep, even romantic respect for public education. The vast majority of Americans went through it and see it as the essential melting pot of a very diverse nation. So the feelings are quite strong and positive. Even when they criticize, it is because they think it is so important that it should be better.

ECSU prof - State Departments of Education determine certification. ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) has set standards for teacher certification in educational technology. Mr. Bronner, how progressive have you found State Departments of Education to be?
Ethan Bronner - ECSU prof, I am afraid that is a difficult question. The answer, essentially, is not that progressive but I must acknowledge that I have limited experience with such departments.

Evelyn/Alabama - How effective have you found the E-rate federal grant that provides internet to schools to assist in education?
Ethan Bronner - I don't have a view on how well it has functioned. I know that it has helped wire classrooms. That seems a good thing.

Kathleen - Ethan, do you have memories of a teacher who had an extraordinary impact upon you as a k-12 student?
Ethan Bronner - Extraordinary is asking a lot but I certainly do remember a few teachers who had a strong and positive impact. yes.
Kathleen - Ethan, can you elaborate on one?
Ethan Bronner - Well in Storrs, Conn, where I went to high school, Mr. Hayden taught me both chemistry and physics. He was an amazing teacher and what I took away from his classes was less the specifics of quantum physics (although I did take that away) than an approach to learning and thirst for understanding.
Kathleen - Mr. Hayden was my homeroom teacher! he was a special man.

ECSU prof - What do you think will be some issues that schools will be asked to deal with in the next few years?
Ethan Bronner - Schools are being asked to deal with a great deal, probably more than ever in American history. We want to educate a very broad range of youngsters on a very broad array of topics. We want schools to integrate our society, to help absorb immigrants, to train kids for a global economy while teaching them manners and coexistence. This is because many families have two working parents. I think the clash between standards and equal access will become the political issue of the next decade.

Evelyn/Alabama - What do you recommend for a student coming out of college that is interested in reporting, what should be their background for reporting?
Ethan Bronner - Evelyn: If you mean, how should that student go about getting a job as a reporter, I have no unusual wisdom on that score. I would recommend reading as much good journalism as possible and to start at a small paper. You could also try submitting an op-ed piece on something personal or close to your heart to a bigger paper. That gives a chance to show your voice.

Tony B/CA - Thank you for your insightful comments, Ethan. I see and appreciate a great deal of wisdom in your comments.
Ethan Bronner - Tony, thanks for your kind words.

Linda/2/CA - Do you think that some of the new standards are too harsh? Children being taught before they are ready?
Ethan Bronner - Linda: It does appear, yes, that some of the standards are being imposed before students have been prepared for them. We are impatient for improvement and do not take the time and preparation to make sure we are ready.

Evelyn/Alabama - Thank you Ethan for your comments and thoughts this evening. I have enjoyed the discussion Kathleen and all present.
Ethan Bronner - Evelyn, my pleasure.

Tony B/CA - Ethan, do you see education content these days as a national issue, or more of a state-by-state emphasis on several different issues?
Tony B/CA - to clarify, is the nation focusing on education issues as a whole, or differently by geographic domain?
Ethan Bronner - Tony, this is one of the great divides in education today. Should we seek a national curriculum or allow states to make those decisions. I think it would make more sense, given the global nature of our society, to take a more national approach

ECSU prof - Mr. Bronner, have you been following the student newspaper controversy at E.O. Smith? Thanks for all of your comments this evening. This is not an easy way to communicate.
Ethan Bronner - ECSU, no i know nothing about the student paper controversy. interesting?
Kathleen - Ethan, there is an "underground" student newspaper, Supt of schools ruled on the side of freedom of speech
Ethan Bronner - nice to hear

WorthS/SC - What about school choice? What's working and what's not working?
Ethan Bronner - School choice is too vast a topic to answer simply. Charter schools seem to be doing some good, forcing some innovation and rethinking. Vouchers are still pretty limited and new.

Kathleen - Ethan, as the father of two sons, what are you most concerned about related to education in the U.S.? You have the ears (eyes) of tens of thousands of educators through Teachers.Net, what would you like to say to those teachers and school administrators as you entrust your sons to them?
Ethan Bronner - As powerful a question as that is, Kathleen, I can't answer it in an equally powerful way. My two boys are quite different one from the other and they are together quite different from many others. I guess if I had to send a message it would be, seek and respect the individuality of each, try not to fit everyone into cookie cutter shapes, try not to get too obsessed with raising the standards ante, make sure fun and whimsy are part of the curriculum but also don't let them get away without knowing their multiplication tables.
Kathleen - :-) Ethan, very well said!

Kathleen - Ethan, thank you very much for spending this hour with Teachers.Net. This has been a very interesting discussion. Will you consider returning for another chat sometime in the not distant future?
Ethan Bronner - I will be happy to return. Thanks to you all for the stimulating questions and answers. Best regards. Ethan
Ethan Bronner - Good night
Tony B/CA - Thank you Ethan. It been both a pleasure and quite informative to chat with you this evening.
Kathleen - Goodnight, Ethan. Thanks very much :-)
Ethan Bronner - I'm delighted. Signing off ...

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