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Monday, April 7, 2008

Favorite Education Blogs of 2008
By Jay Mathews
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 7, 2008; 6:12 AM

Early last year, as an experiment, I published a list of what I and commentator Walt Gardner considered our favorite education blogs. Neither Gardner nor I had much experience with this most modern form of expression. We are WAY older than the Web surfing generation. But the list proved popular with readers, and I promised in that column to make this an annual event.

My promise was actually more specific: "Next year, through bribery or trickery, I hope to persuade Ken Bernstein, teacher and blogger par excellence, to select his favorite blogs and then let me dump on his choices, or something like that." As I learned long ago, begging works even better than bribery or trickery, and Bernstein succumbed. Below are his choices, with some comments from me, and a few of my favorites.

They are in no particular order of quality or interest. Choosing blogs is a personal matter. Tastes differ widely and often are not in sync with personal views on how schools should be improved. I agree with all of Bernstein's choices, even though we disagree on many of the big issues.

Bernstein is a splendid classroom teacher and a fine writer, with a gift for making astute connections between ill-considered policies and what actually happens to kids in school. He is a social studies teacher at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Prince George's County and has been certified by the prestigious National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. He is also a book reviewer and peer reviewer for professional publications and ran panels on education at YearlyKos conventions. He blogs on education, among other topics, at too many sites to list. He describes his choices here as a few blogs he thinks "are worthwhile to visit."

· Bridging Differences.
Bernstein: Deborah Meier and Diane Ravitch in the past have had their differences on educational issues. They both serve at the Steinhardt School of Education at New York University, and this shared blog is as valuable as anything on the Web for the insights the two offer, and for the quality of their dialog.

Mathews: I have a personal bias about this blog. I know Meier and Ravitch well, consider them the best writers among education pundits today and frequently bounce ideas off them.

· Eduwonk.
Bernstein: I often disagree with Andrew J. Rotherham, but his has been an influential voice on education policy for some years, and even now, along with all else he does, he serves on the Virginia Board of Education.

Mathews: I often agree with Rotherham, and my editors sometimes complain that I quote him too much. But the guy is only 37 and is going to be an important influence on public school policy for the rest of my life and long after.

· Eduwonkette.
Bernstein: The name is obviously a takeoff on the foregoing. The author of this one occasionally posts elsewhere as well. This site often provides some incisive and clear explanations of the key aspects of educational policy.

Mathews: I agree, but have a bias here, too. This is an Education Week blog, and I am on the board of trustees of the nonprofit that publishes Ed Week.

· Edwize.
Bernstein: The site is maintained by the United Federation of Teachers, the New York affiliate of American Federation of Teachers. They have a number of authors, many active in New York schools, but they occasionally have posts from others. Full disclosure: I have been invited to cross-post things I have written elsewhere.

Mathews: A nice mix of both comment on policy and inside-the-classroom stuff from teachers.
· Education Policy Blog.
Bernstein: The site describes itself as "a multiblog about the ways that educational foundations can inform educational policy and practice! The blog will be written by a group of people who are interested in the state of education today, and who bring to this interest a set of perspectives and tools developed in the disciplines known as the 'foundations' of education: philosophy, history, curriculum theory, sociology, economics and psychology." Most of the participants are university professors. I am a participant from time to time in this blog.

Mathews: These professors and experts dive deep into the murky waters of technical education debates and often emerge with fresh discoveries. Many of them write as well as Bernstein, and they include my favorite heckler, Jim Horn, about whom we say more below.

· School Matters.
Bernstein: Jim Horn, who runs this site, teaches at Monmouth University and is one of the most consistently incisive commentators on education anywhere.

Mathews: Horn is a talented, acerbic writer and a well-informed analyst. I cherish his blog because he is, by far, my most persistent critic. There is no better way for me to get my heart started in the morning than to read Horn on the latest inanities of that tool of the testing industry, Jay Mathews. I hope he is staying healthy and eating right, since as the years roll by I am going to need more such stimulation. I plan to beg him to do next year's blog picks for this column.

· Sherman Dorn.
Bernstein: Dorn is a professor at the University of South Florida and the current editor of Education Policy Analysis Archive, a key online peer-reviewed journal about education policy. His site sometimes points at key issues that are bubbling in the profession. Like me, he is a participant in the Education Policy Blog.

Mathews: Dorn is among the great original thinkers of education wonkery.
· Forum for Education and Democracy.
Bernstein: The forum supports research, publicationsand action projects that promote the democratic purpose of public education. Its conveners include a number of major figures in education: Ladson-Billings, Meier, Darling-Hammond, Noguera, Valenzuela, Sizer and Glickman. The commentary posted on the blog offers in a concise fashion the insights and viewpoints of this group of very significant figures in education.

Mathews: Very highbrow stuff, worth reading.
· This Week in Education.
Bernstein: Maintained by Alexander Russo, this site is hosted now by Scholastic. Russo scans the blogosphere and the print media for interesting items related to education. Russo was a staffer on education on Capitol Hill, and has a good eye for what is important.

Mathews: Russo has an interest in mainstream education journalists and even interviews us occasionally, which we love since nobody else pays us much attention. This is the end of Bernstein's picks. The following are my additions to this year's list, but Bernstein fans -- and others -- should look for his special blogging tips at the end of this column.

· Assorted Stuff
Mathews: This blog gets extra points for being very hard on me and the Challenge Index. The blogger is Tim Stahmer, whose identification page, dated May 17, 2003, says he is "an Instructional Technology Specialist in the Office of Instructional Technology Integration for an overly-large school district on the Virginia side of Washington DC." That sounds like Fairfax County, the center of the universe for many Washington Post reporters, since it has the largest share of our readers. His astute takes on many teaching issues are worth checking out.

· D-Ed Reckoning.
Mathews: This continues to be one of the smartest blogs on teaching and other activities inside the classroom, the focus of most of my reporting. Education policy is important but often puts me to sleep. This blog has the opposite effect.

· Joanne Jacobs.
Mathews: Jacobs is a former mainstream newspaper reporter and columnist, with a tendency to confound the conventional wisdom. She is writing books now, as well as blogging. I love detailed contrarian takes on the latest debates, which are her specialty.

· A Passion for Teaching and Opinions.
Mathews: Exciting and candid inside-school stuff from a social studies teacher and basketball coach in Ukiah, Calif.
· A Shrewdness of Apes.
Mathews: The blogger, who identifies herself only as "Ms. Cornelius," confesses that she teaches high school kids somewhere in the United States. She feeds my fascination with what real teachers are thinking about their often difficult lives.

· Susan Ohanian.
Mathews: No education blog list is complete without America's most passionate education polemicist, constantly at war with what she calls standardistas, like me. We rarely agree, but her wit and energy are irresistible.

· Teaching in the 408.
Mathews: Another teacher/coach, this one apparently in the vicinity of San Jose, who tells the truth about life inside a school.

Here are Bernstein's bonus blogging tips:
"Sometimes there is important blogging about education on non-educational blogs. The most widely read community blog on the political left,,has a number of members of the community who write on education.

"The best way to see these items is to go to the site, and look on the right at the Diaries list. Under the banner RECENT DIARIES is a search capability. One can search by Tag (labels placed on diaries to help categorize them), using tags such as schools, NCLB, teaching, education, students, etc. To use this search facility you must be a registered member (registration is free) and logged in. Twenty-four hours after you are registered you can begin posting comments and one week later you can post your own entry -- on education or anything else. Some of those who post on these topics are, as am I, classroom teachers. Others are principals, retired educators, etc. Often the comments on the diaries are as rewarding as the diaries themselves. But a caution -- not everything that will be listed searching with these tags is necessarily going to be about education.

"Many blogs will have a blog roll, a list of other blogs they believe will interest their readers. For example, if you look along the right hand side of Jim Horn's blog, you will see a number of blogs that might also be of interest. And for those who would like to explore further -- and there are hundreds of good blogs, two resources worth recommending are:

"Top 100 Education Blogs, and Education Blogs in Yahoo; and

"Of course, anyone can start their own blog on education, or on many of these blogs engage in discussions by posting comments. Enjoy your time in the educational blogosphere. Peace."

The same goes for me.

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