*CORRECTION: The original version of this column stated that David Hoff launched Campaign K-12. Hoff was the lead reporter on a previous blog, NCLB Act II, which debuted in July 2007 and was shuttered in June 2009.
Long ago and far away, the nonprofit education journalism empire everyone calls EdWeek licensed my original blog, This Week In Education, which was then (as now) obsessed with the stories behind the usual story — especially if they had a political angle. Shortly thereafter, EdWeek’s Campaign K-12 debuted in September 2007 and was renamed Politics K-12 in January 2009, reported by Michele McNeil and Alyson Klein.
Since then, I’ve had a love-hate relationship with PK12, praising and complaining about the page in roughly equal measures (though perhaps there’s been less praise of late). The page has been great at finding and passing along the political stories that are an important part of education dynamics, especially federal policy stories. It was Politico’s Morning Education before Politico’s Morning Education. PK12 still has lots of fans. And they even get in on some interesting stuff now and then, like not too long ago when they dug out some DNC-AFT emails in the Putin/Trump/Wikileaks dump.
But most of PK12’s success came before Morning Education existed, and the sad reality is that PK12 as it currently exists doesn’t push very hard to break news or push sources for information that they’re not eager to share, doesn’t cover campaigns particularly well, and — particularly problematic these days — focuses so narrowly on what’s going on in DC (the White House, Congress, and the USDE) rather than larger, broader education politics issues, or state and local education politics stories (like the big Massachusetts ballot initiative proposing a charter expansion there).
If you’re going to have a blog called Politics K-12, then you should focus on politics K-12. Right?
This isn’t any fault of PK12 reporters Klein and Ujifusa (pictured above). They’re just doing what they’re told to do — and by all accounts doing it well. Klein has been on the beat for a while now. Ujifusa came to fame covering state education issues.
But the focus on federal process stories and on DC-centric institutions rather than political coverage writ large is a big problem for me — increasingly so these days, when federal education politics is pretty much dead and state and local political stories (many with national implications) are everywhere. These may not be federal stories, but they’re national. And they’re not on PK12 nearly as much as I’d like them to be.
In addition to the Massachusetts charter school ballot question, which is as big a political story as education gets in 2016, here are some other topics that seem like they’re getting short shrift at PK12:
⁉️ What if any concern is it to the campaigns and candidates that the nation’s third-largest school district is on the verge of experiencing another big strike on the even of a Presidential election?
⁉️ What do the NEA, AFT, Obama Administration, & Presidential candidates think about the Connecticut school funding court decision that’s now being appealed?
⁉️ What position have the candidates, Obama administration, and major advocacy groups taken on Dignity In School’s recent call to remove police from schools?
⁉️ How did education reform groups like DFER get outflanked by their opponents on the DNC platform, the NAACP resolution, and the Movement For Black Lives agenda?
Surprisingly enough, there’s been no big change in how the site is conceived. Politics K-12 has always been focused on federal education issues, said EdWeek honcho Kathleen Manzo in a recent phone interview. “Almost since its inception, Politics K-12 was envisioned covering federal policy and politics,” she said. Translation: Not state and local or national.
Manzo also noted that EdWeek’s primary lens is policy, not necessarily politics, and that politics-obsessed readers like me may be missing out by not checking the homepage (homepage!) or signing up for the daily EdWeek Update newsletter (which currently serves upwards of 200,000 readers, she says).
The PK12 team also says that the other blogs — District Dossier and State EdWatch — cover the stories that I think are falling through the cracks. To some extent, that’s true. But even then, those pages often cover political stories as district or state stories, often missing connections to national dynamics. (“Here’s what happened in Detroit.” “Here’s what California just did.”) And, frankly, PK12 is so much more widely-read than the other two. Politics-obsessed education folks shouldn’t have to go over hill and dale to get their news. We’re way too important for that.
What to do? There are lots of possible solutions. Some ways to address the current situation, according to nobody but me:
? Rename the page “@FederalK12” so that it’s clear that the USDE, White House, and Congress are the site’s main points of focus.
? Create a new, separate page specifically focused on political stories, federal and otherwise. (Call it “@NationalK12” or “@K12USA” or something along those lines.)
? Add another person to the PK12 team to cover big non-federal stories (like Chicago, MA, #BlackLivesMatter, etc.)
? Start an EdWeek Politics newsletter with everything from EdWeek that’s political!
Asked about the appeal of an education politics newsletter — something that would compete directly with Politico’s Morning Education — Manzo said that the organization was “in the midst of some committee work to think through all of our various newsletters” but didn’t sound particularly enthusiastic. Much more likely, according to Manzo, would be a new ESSA implementation newsletter, like the Common Core one EdWeek created not too long ago.
See an exit interview with McNeil about the blog’s accomplishments from 2014, when she left for the College Board: Advice From Departing PK-12 Blogger.