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One morning in a OneGoal class at a Chicago high school I watched as the school’s college counselor ran through a list of increasingly obscure scholarships.

"Is anyone here Greek?" she asked. Twenty-five black and Latino faces looked back at her skeptically. "Do we have any multiracial students?" she asked hopefully.

"Yeah," replied one impeccably dressed African American boy, deadpan. "South Side black and West Side black."

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— from Paul Tough’s new book, How Children Succeed.

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Story: Software-themed school aims to replicate Stuy curriculum for all

Computers are cool now, right? This is what the venture capitalist Fred Wilson asked me this last week, when I interviewed him about his ambitious plans to recreate the rigorous Stuyvesant High School computer science curriculum in a new, software engineering-themed public school opening this fall. Unlike Stuy, which is a hyper competitive specialized school, the Academy for Software Engineering will be “limited unscreened” which is basically education jargon for “open to any student, regardless of their academic performance.”

In Room 307 of Manhattan’s Stuyvesant High School, 23 students spent a recent afternoon copying tables and number trees representing a mathematical problem-solving technique used in graphic design computer software.

The students, who all won admission to Stuyvesant by posting top scores on an entrance exam, listened raptly as their teacher, Mike Zamansky, walked them through the complex algorithm behind “seam-carving,” a process used in resizing images. Then Zamansky checked to make sure they understood.

“No problem? Seems reasonable? or ‘Huh’?” he asked, offering students the chance to signal by a show of thumbs whether they understood or needed more help. No one pointed a thumb down.

Zamansky has been teaching computer science since 1995, through a program he designed for students to follow from sophomore to senior year. Stuyvesant’s program is the only rigorous computer science sequence in the city’s public schools and one of the few in the country.

Now it is the inspiration behind a new city high school that aims to change that.

Founded by an influential venture capitalist with deep ties to the technology industry and a young principal fresh from the city’s training program, the Academy for Software Engineering will be the city’s first school to focus on software engineering. The goal is to extend the approach of Zamansky’s classes — which teach problem-solving, network communications, and programming language literacy — to any student in the city, even if they can’t make the cut for Stuyvesant or don’t even have a computer at home.

Read the rest here.

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"Later in the day, my stomach [is] talking to me, and the teacher is talking to me at the same time. I don’t know who to listen to."

— A senior at Paul Robeson High School in East New York, where I reported that students are served lunch after 2 p.m.

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Doing meaningful work

I don’t have any idea what I want to get out of this Tumblr account, and that’s a problem for it. I created it to document my journey through graduate school. But now that I’m a beat reporter for a wonderful website and permanently on-deadline, there is no point in re-posting all of my stories. Especially when I’m writing as many as six stories a week.

But I have been thinking a lot about what I want to get out of New York City, now that I’ve finally warmed to the notion that I’m here to stay, and my personal belongings have finally migrated over here from Chicago (my bike, 50-plus pounds of books, my immersion blender). The problem is, I’m usually so tired when I’m done with work that I spend most of my free time staring at the floor of my apartment trying to figure out where I’m supposed to go.

What am I supposed to be doing right now? It’s a question I always knew how to answer in college. I used to duck into the bathroom in the middle of a lecture on global warming, or Don Quijote, to take calls from my editor at the New York Times. I always had my priorities straight.

When I’m lucky, I have friends who bring me along to explore Lower East Side bars, a chef who gives me food and compliments, and an Upper West Side grandmother to visit who bears many, terrifying similarities to me and is quietly losing her mind. She still gives me the best advice, even if it’s usually, “Get your feet off the sofa!” This is how I fill my time, but there’s not much intention behind it.

I feel compelled to keep posting (barely), because I’ve been reading a lot about what young people in big cities are supposed to be doing with themselves, and most articles say that being lost is what your early 20s are really about.

So that’s a relief.

My work life is the one place where I’m starting to feel un-lost. I think that’s because I’m doing meaningful work.

I say this in part because I don’t need anyone to convince me that journalism can be a great calling in at least as many ways as it can be an echo-chamber of sniping and shallowess. And I also say this because the type of journalism I get to do means something to people in government and the teachers in the classroom—our readers. And it means something to me—how cool is that?

Here’s an example of a story I’m pretty proud to have told. A few weeks ago, GothamSchools published a series of stories about a recently-opened high school in Queens that was facing some debilitating administrative problems. My story brought more attention to the school, where the Chancellor’s daughter works, and city officials said they’d take action. 

On November 15, after my editor received some emails from people at the school, I made some phone calls and ran out to Queens to cover a PTA meeting. The next day I wrote this story:

New Queens school with high hopes battles scheduling crisis

A year-old Queens high school that expanded to meet community demand is struggling under the weight of its own ambitions.

Located in a suburban section of Queens, Queens Metropolitan High School promised rich course offerings and a rigorous academic program to its 650 ninth- and 10th-grade students. But the ambitious plans left little room for error, and because of staff changes, space issues, and poor planning, Queens Metropolitan students have gotten new schedules as many as 10 times since September.

On Monday, up to three periods of classes were canceled for many 10th-grade students, who sat in the auditorium and cafeteria as administrators feverishly worked to hash out new schedules, according to accounts from parents, students, and staff… (Click the headline to read more.)

On November 17, Department of Education officials discussed the story at their monthly Panel for Education Policy meeting (this is why I love covering local government):

Scheduling crises dominate debate at low-key PEP meeting

The agenda for tonight’s Panel for Educational Policy meeting, held in Queens, contained just two topics: School locations and the Department of Education’s financial contracts.

But it was scheduling crises at two Queens high schools that dominated most of the meeting at Astoria’s Frank Sinatra High School of the Arts, drew just a few dozen parents.

We reported this week that Queens Metropolitan High School had revised students’ schedules as many as 10 times this year amid an organizational crisis. Last month, NY1 reported that thousands of students at Long Island City High School were enraged after the school changed their schedules midyear.

Tonight, Department of Education officials vowed to repair the damages. Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky, who stepped in at Queens Metropolitan on Wednesday, called the debacles “rare” and vowed that they “will not be repeated.”

After the meeting, the schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said his role in the school was “limited” because his daughter works there as a gym instructor. Gym was one of the subjects affected by the school’s problems.

The following week, I wrote a final story based on a follow-up with the parents who originally shared the issues their son encountered at the school: DOE officials promise swift changes for Queens high school.

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jayrosen:

Could we please see this sentence in the New York Times more often?
It’s the one that goes, “This is false.” 
Somebody on Twitter sent the link to me. They knew I would appreciate it.
Here it is in context, in an article on Ray’s Pizza (the real one) closing down in Soho. Some guy who opened another, fake Ray’s says (well, actually he said it in 1991…) that no one ever heard of the founder of the original Ray’s, Ralph Cuomo.
That’s when it happened. The New York Times reporter, Michael Wilson, actually typed into the Times system, “This is false.” And the editors? Why, they let it stand! Fit to print! Then the Internets lit up…
Don’t you wish you saw those three little words a little more often?  Some suit on the TV goes, “Every time we’ve cut taxes, revenues have gone up!” and the next day the New York Times calmly reports it, followed by the three little words… This is false.
Don’t be cynical. Don’t say never. It just happened with a random quote by a pizza guy from twenty years ago. 

jayrosen:

Could we please see this sentence in the New York Times more often?

It’s the one that goes, “This is false.”

Somebody on Twitter sent the link to me. They knew I would appreciate it.

Here it is in context, in an article on Ray’s Pizza (the real one) closing down in Soho. Some guy who opened another, fake Ray’s says (well, actually he said it in 1991…) that no one ever heard of the founder of the original Ray’s, Ralph Cuomo.

That’s when it happened. The New York Times reporter, Michael Wilson, actually typed into the Times system, “This is false.” And the editors? Why, they let it stand! Fit to print! Then the Internets lit up…

Don’t you wish you saw those three little words a little more often?  Some suit on the TV goes, “Every time we’ve cut taxes, revenues have gone up!” and the next day the New York Times calmly reports it, followed by the three little words… This is false.

Don’t be cynical. Don’t say never. It just happened with a random quote by a pizza guy from twenty years ago. 

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This is the story that took me to Annondale-on-Hudson a couple weeks ago. You can see it in print if you live in the NY region, or read it (and the 90-some comments it’s generated so far) online.

I am telling you, seeing my name in print like this is never anything less than the most exciting feeling there is.

I also took a screen grab yesterday afternoon when the story first appeared online in the homepage center-photo slot:

Funny, I really didn’t take to math in middle school, but I love writing stories about math education. Last April I wrote one for the CNC about a program for Pre-K and Kindergarten teachers to hone their math-teaching skills.

Today’s story begins:

" ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, N.Y. — As camps go, the Summer Program in Mathematical Problem Solving might sound like a recipe for misery: six hours of head-scratching math instruction each day and nights in a college dorm far from home.

But Mattie Williams, 13, who attends Middle School 343 in the Bronx, was happy to attend, giving up summer barbecues with her parents and afternoons in the park with her Chihuahua, Pepsi. She and 16 other adolescents are spending three weeks at Bard College here in a free, new camp for low-income students gifted in mathematics …” Read more at NYTimes.com!

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A congeries of information-gathering techniques, including breaking and entering, stealing, and phone-hacking, are unpardonable and can never be undertaken directly by news organizations, but if others give news organizations the fruits of such labors it’s fine to publish them. Bradley Manning is a traitor, but Nick Davies, of the Guardian (who received Manning’s “war logs” from WikiLeaks), is a patriot, and Julian Assange occupies some nebulous in-between zone. Prosecutors who use search warrants to pry into politicians’ personal lives and then leak their findings before filing any charges are sleazy. Journalists who publish transcripts of Eliot Spitzer’s text messages to a prostitution service are models of professionalism. …

This is a little facile. The phone-hacking affair ought to inspire more than glee over seeing Rupert Murdoch and his entourage of lieutenants and relatives get in trouble; the questions it raises aren’t limited to tabloid journalists.

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Nicholas Lemann, “Bad Press,” The New Yorker, Aug. 1, 2011

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Since moving to NYC I’ve been freelance-writing off and on. Recently I wrote this article for Gotham Schools.

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Now this is how to do a four-part series: characters, the richest details (“Sifting through trash was always a filthy chore, especially so in this case. Cuevas was the father of a newborn. The agents were elbow-deep in dirty diapers.”), and a kick-ass video Q&A with the author (all reason enough to check back each day to read the rest of the story).

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Every month, it seems, some reporter drops by my office to request a leave of absence to write a book. I patiently explain that book-writing is agony — slow, lonely, frustrating work that, unless you are a very rare exception, gets a lukewarm review (if any), reaches a few thousand people and lands on a remaindered shelf at Barnes & Noble. I recount my own experience as a book failure — two incompletes, and I’m still paying back a sizable advance with a yearly check to Simon & Schuster that I think of not as a burden but as bail.

I’ve learned interesting things from the books of my staffers. I learned that I employed a financial writer who got himself so deep in debt he couldn’t make his mortgage payments, a media columnist who had been a crack addict and a restaurant critic with a history of eating disorders. (To those who found these cases problematic, I replied that there is no better qualification for writing about life in all its complexity than having lived it.)

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Bill Keller: Let’s Ban Books, Or at Least Stop Writing Them

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A former colleague and amazing writer, Meribah Knight, talks to Chicago’s NPR station, WBEZ about the Joffrey Ballet’s labor struggle.

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I select journalism courses for fall semester at Columbia

This weekend I chose courses for my first semester at Columbia’s Journalism School. Here is a link to the descriptions of the fall masters of science curriculum. Like other students, I will be enrolled in Reporting and Writing I, a Masters Thesis seminar, and the Essentials of Journalism sequence, which covers, history, law, ethics and business in four mini-courses. I don’t get much if any say over which sections of those courses I will take but I am bidding for an elective and 1-3 “skills” courses.

Being the application-whore I am, I want to take Personal and Professional style because it is selective, requiring students to submit a writing sample and a 350-word note on why we want to take the class.

Read More

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"You went to School for Journalism at Columbia… and you’re running around nightclubs?"

Click the audio sidebar to hear it.

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I love checking out ProPublica’s data applications. It just announced this one on public education opportunities. Here’s what it says for the 60637, my [former] zipcode. Look up data for neighborhoods and schools.

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I read to the fourth page of the 4,000-word lead story in today’s Village Voice before I got an answer to that question.

It is tricky to judge the merit of investigative stories like this one, which is fact-checking the work of advocacy groups and professors who claim that 100,000-300,000 under-aged children are trafficked for sex in the U.S.—who wants to argue against organizations that try to keep children out of prostitution? But the story read to me as equal parts a snark-ridden takedown of celebrity charity culture (particularly Ashton Kutcher’s “Real Men Don’t Buy Girls” campaign) and a researched indictment of number-crunchers and journalists who think they need inflated numbers to make a cause news-worthy.

The Voice concluded after viewing crime data from police departments in major U.S. cities and other sources that the number should be closer to 1,000, if even. I was surprised the story didn’t mention that many (if not most) sex-crimes go unreported, and so an estimate based on police data could be significantly lower than the actual number.

So besides taking the wind out of Ashton Kutcher’s “real-man” sailboat, what is the point of disproving a widely-quoted study on child prostitution that is used be advocates to raise resources for children in need?

The article states:

Despite the tidal wave of cash going to nonprofits purporting to raise awareness and task forces hoping to prosecute (with little track record of success), someone’s been left out: the victims.

Whether the number is the 800-plus per year (as indicated by police records) or a higher, not yet documented, number, there is no question that teenagers who exchange cash for sex present a special challenge. …

The lack of shelter and counseling for underage prostitutes—while prohibitionists take in millions in government funding—is only one indication of the worldwide campaign of hostility directed at working women.

I think this should have been much higher-up in the story, and fleshed out more. The data the Voice collected reveals that the number of people actually being served doesn’t square with the amount of dollars raised or places where those dollars are going to stop child prostitution.

Did anyone else have a similar or different reaction?