NBC's Education Nation and the 'In-Depth Education Discussion'

As a teacher with 30 years experience teaching in both private and public schools I really want to commend NBC News, Brian Williams and all the reporters that worked on their stellar Education Nation broadcast. They billed it as an "...in-depth conversation about improving education in America," and truly it was just one informative segment after another.

NBC News's staff obviously spent some time researching the real issues effecting America's schools and then went about assembling panels of experts on all sides of each issue so that the public could become well informed about the complexities involved. This allowed viewers to benefit from the best minds and thinking about how to deal with these issues to improve education for all children. They made sure to include teachers, some award winning, that actually work with children and have firsthand experience with the subjects being discussed in almost every panel. Administrators, parents and students rounded out most of the panels that also included politicians, billionaires, business leaders, and others that had actual expertise in education.

For example, they astutely identified teacher tenure as an issue that has been bandied around for decades. So NBC brought in experts on the issue to speak about the history of tenure, how and why it was originally included in teacher contracts, is it really the problem it is purported to be, why it still exists, its downsides and upsides. Next the experts debated about ending tenure, or modifying it, or leaving it alone. I thought one of the panelists I usually don't agree with made a great point about ending tenure I had never considered.

Another well rounded panel of experts explained and then discussed, "in depth," the subject of charter schools. We again were regaled with a sometimes raucous, spirited dialogue about the benefits, shortcomings and statistics around charters (I forget who the NBC moderator was, but a couple of times I thought they might have to separate two of the panelists when they became rather heated during the "debate").

If you didn't catch any or much of Education Nation you should note that you missed similar "in depth" discussions about poverty, healthcare, teacher quality, pedagogy, testing and more.

Um... OK... I stretched the truth some here. What I described above is what America deserved to have NBC News deliver, but is absolutely NOT what actually happened. We did not actually get any depth at all. What we mainly got was apparently what the sponsors paid for. We got the "Teacher Townhall" or "Let's-throw-teachers-a-bone-so-they-will-think-we-really-included-them-and-honored-their-expertise-and-knowledge-about-education." As opposed to the "in-depth" treatment we were promised. The Teacher Townhall was just what many feared, a much less than in-depth circus. To be fair, it had some good points too.
Teachers and other actual educators were almost completely absent from nearly every "In-depth" discussion -- as were parents and students. And note the townhall was broadcast at noon on a Sunday during football season and the end of the baseball season when teams are vying for playoff spots! I wonder if NBC News really honors teachers like they said, that maybe a primetime slot could have been worked out on NBC... and a different more in-depth format?

Additionally Brian Williams and staff cherry picked comments that supported their narrative for the week from the Townhall and reported them during the network news (I'm not an expert on education -- but I tried to serve as questioner and host to the best of my ability," Brian stated on his blog later.)

Note too that many concerned educators, parents and students contacted NBC for weeks in advance of the summit, after noting the line up of "experts," and made it clear that no teachers, parents or students were included, and that almost all the "experts" had well established and similar opinions and attitudes about education - not a group that would produce an "In depth" discussion. Most had little to no actual experience teaching or working in schools - but did have money and / or power, or a movie to promote.

Assuming that NBC News was just naïve, many sent suggestions of other guests and topics that might lead to something closer to what I first described above. Those that made suggestions were repeatedly told that they were being listened to, changes were being made, and that teachers, parents and students would truly have an equal or strong voice. That somehow never came to be.

NBC News purported that they were sponsoring a meaningful debate -- they did not succeed in any way. I get the sense from Brian Williams' quote above that NBC bought a, "pig-in-a-poke" from well financed corporations, and politicians and really didn't realize that the education debate is not as simple as the Billionaire Boys Club would have them believe. Mr. Williams' ended his blog post saying, "Let's do it again next year." Please don't if you are not going to learn from the narrow, almost insulting approach you took this year. Education is too important an issue to not do right by. Let's have the quality discussion. Let's help make a real difference in our children's lives.