Education Stories We’ll Be Watching in 2010

BY John Merrow  December 21, 2009 at 4:22 PM EDT

All this week the PBS NewsHour is broadcasting chapters of our coverage of the troubled public schools in Washington DC: call it a Michelle Rhee Film Festival.

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We’ve been following the efforts of this dynamic young leader since she took office in June 2007. When I read about her appointment that spring, I called her up, introduced myself, and invited her out to dinner. Our senior producer, Murrey Jacobson, joined us, and I made a pitch: “We’d like to chronicle your efforts on the NewsHour. What do you say?”

Her immediate reaction was notable for its candor: “I have to figure out whether it will help me do what I have to do, which is make things better for kids,” is what she said in roughly those words. If it would help, she’d be on board. If not, forget it.


I don’t know if our coverage–[11 segments and counting](http://www.pbs.org/newshour/video/module.html?mod=1&pkg=education&seg=1)–has helped her, but I do know that the NewsHour audience has benefited from a rare inside look at how a big urban school district works–and how it resists change. We’ve watched Michelle Rhee change as well.
And our coverage will continue beyond the segments already aired- in special podcasts on our [Learning Matters website ](http://learningmatters.tv/blog/podcasts/michelle-rhee-dc-teachers-union-negotiating-a-contract-in-washington-dc/2573/)and on the new PBS NewsHour.
But Michelle Rhee is not the only education story in our sights. [Superintendent Paul Vallas ](http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/education/jan-june09/nolacharter_05-06.html)in New Orleans is getting the same treatment and we’re now busy investigating what the federal government is calling the ["Race to the Top," ](http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/education/july-dec09/racetotop_12-03.html)an unprecedented competition among states for a total of $5B, in three separate pots of money. Education watchers know that George Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” brought the locus of education power to Washington. Well, the Obama Administration, in its efforts to overcome the great recession, has upped the ante.
And there are other stories we’ll be watching in 2010: As the U.S. seems to be moving inexorably toward common education standards, is national testing far behind? Is the administration’s push for more charter schools, performance-based pay, and other ideas backed by experience and data?
We don’t know the answers, but Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, we will be reporting the developments in the coming year(s).