New Magazine Seeks to Bring 'Civil Discourse' to Education Debate

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Former Los Angeles superintendent John E. Deasy is heading up a new magazine for school district leaders aimed at promoting civil discourse in education.

The magazine, called The Line, promises to examine some of the most vexing education issues—from school funding and school choice to the impacts of immigration and accountability—but to do so in a way that will cultivate consensus and learning rather than calcify differences, according to Deasy. Frontline Education, a technology company that markets its software to school administrators, helped found the magazine and is providing financial backing for the publication, which will be free to educators.

The magazine is neither left, right, nor center, Deasy said, and, in an increasingly polarized political environment, will endeavor to be a venue where educators can present ideas and learn from each other—particularly from those who may hold ideologically different views.

"It's an incredibly challenging point in the country, and I really think that without both using and modeling civil discourse in education, common ground is really going to erode under our feet," said Deasy, who is The Line's editor-in-chief. "And that's going to have a profoundly detrimental effect on the … young people in our public schools."

Deasy resigned from his post as schools chief in Los Angeles in 2014 after an at-times tumultuous tenure there.

The magazine made its debut in print and online last week. Some of its inaugural articles offer a glimpse into how the magazine intends to try to bridge divides.

Differing Viewpoints

One article, based on email correspondence between Deasy and Chester E. Finn Jr., a senior fellow and president emeritus at the conservative, Washington-based Thomas B. Fordham Institute, shows the two men discussing whether lawmakers and everyday Americans fully understand the economic impacts of a "failing education system," the ways in which schools need to change, and how people from different regions—urban and rural, black and white—can come together to think about K-12 schooling.

The Line magazine, whose debut print issue is seen above, will present an array of viewpoints on pressing K-12 issues.
The Line magazine, whose debut print issue is seen above, will present an array of viewpoints on pressing K-12 issues.

Deasy said he was surprised at how much they agreed.

Another article looks at a perennial K-12 concern—school funding—and approaches districts and states have taken to maximize their resources. And the issue includes discussions of the Every Student Succeeds Act implementation by Arne Duncan, the former education secretary; Michael Mcgee, the CEO of Chiefs for Change; and Hanna Skandera, the education secretary in New Mexico.

It also featured a "leader spotlight," with Kaya Henderson, the former District of Columbia schools chancellor.

Members of the magazine's editorial advisory board reflect its effort to represent political and geographic diversity, as well as the perspectives of individuals who serve in different education roles. Advisory board members include Frederick Hess, resident scholar and director of education policy studies at the conservative American Enterprise Institute; Tom Boasberg, the Denver superintendent; Paul Toner, the executive director of Teach Plus Massachusetts and the former president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association; Vicki Phillips, the former head of K-12 grants at The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; and Allen Grossman, a senior fellow at the Harvard Business School.

Toner, a longtime union leader, said the magazine's approach to finding common ground was similar to the path that has guided his career.

"I have found throughout my career that the unions that claim all the education reformers are ill-intentioned are misinformed, and all the ed-reformers who claim that all union leaders want to put up roadblocks and prevent good things from happening and are only focused on self-interest, are also incorrect," he said. "I really think in a perfect world we would bring these people together and have a serious dialogue about how we work together."

William Hite, the Philadelphia superintendent, is a member of the editorial advisory board. He said the publication could be an essential resource.

"This inability ... to be respectful when there is difference in our country right now is concerning," he said. "I do think here is an opportunity for everyone to learn from those differences."

Less Yelling

Hess agreed that there should be less yelling and more listening in education debates.

But, he said later, actions are ultimately more important than words.

"It's hard to create policies, routines, and systems that support teaching and learning when we are engaged in bitter fights and calling each other nasty names," he said. "I think if we can talk about things, disagree about these questions in a more responsible, serious fashion, that lets us tackle things like accountability and choice and virtual learning and teacher-quality in a way that doesn't let us get stuck in some of the potholes that we have been stuck in in recent years."

Related Blog

The Line emerged from several discussions between Deasy and Tim Clifford, the CEO of Frontline Education, after the two met at a conference in Boston last year. Frontline had recently launched a research arm, Frontline Research & Learning Institute, and was looking to expand its role in districts beyond being a vendor to share insights from data it had amassed over the years from working with districts.

The magazine will be published twice in print this year, but will be updated more regularly online. Online users will be able to annotate articles as they read them and participate in discussions in what Clifford calls an online "town green." The magazine will be available online at TheLineK12.com.

Vol. 36, Issue 24, Page 11

Published in Print: March 8, 2017, as New Magazine Seeks 'Civil Discourse' on K-12
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