By TIME Staff
October 24, 2014

Welcome to TIME Subscriber Q&A, with TIME political correspondent, Haley Sweetland Edwards, who has written this week’s cover story on David Welch, the tech titan who has taken on public school reform.

MrObvious asks, I don’t know if there’s a serious reflection among journalists in the current Ebola scare and other issues, but do any of you feel the slightest responsibility for fomenting this panic through wall to wall coverage of PANIC NOW? I ask because this week alone we’ve had several written articles on both how scary terrible Ebola is and how unlikely it will be to catch it. We’ve also had an article about polling likely voters and the ignorance displayed of the basic political climate. And that voters feel a deep mistrust for the government in their handling of various crisis and the events – displaying what I feel is a sense of fear and panic over events that seems to stem from the type of chaotic and hyperbolic coverage from Media. Not to mention a lack of proportionate view or rational understanding of what can possible be a government response and that of Media ratcheting up the alarm and then complaining of the lack of sirens from the government in response. Have any of you reflected on the irony of first seeing Medias panic train fly over the cliff and then dryly write about the polling showing the effect of it?

We do have long discussions in the newsroom about how to cover the panic surrounding Ebola, as well as other political potent issues that stoke unfounded fears. When politicians recently began calling for the Federal Aviation Administration to cancel all flights to and from West Africa, we tried to make sure our coverage looked unflinchingly at the politics motivating those calls, while simultaneously explaining why a ban on flights would not, in fact, make Americans any safer.

PaulDirks asks, I had a bad teacher once. She disliked me personally and encouraged other classmates to pick on me. She did NOT prevent me from learning. The number one factor for success in school is a home environment that encourages curiosity. The number two factor is a peer group that doesn’t treat learning and intelligence as a stigma. Number three is access to materials. Teacher quality IMHO comes in at number four at best.

You’re right to say that all of those factor matter. Certainly, a child’s home environment matters immensely. But there have also been at least a half dozen studies indicating that a teacher is the most important component to a child’s in-class learning experience. For example, as Nancy Gibbs writes in her editor’s note, “one Texas study found that cutting class size by 10 students was not as beneficial as even modest improvement in the teacher. A McKinsey survey of the world’s best schools…found that they consistently draw 100% of their teachers from the top third of graduates…” I think it’s safe to say that teachers matter, too!

Nflfoghorn asks, Stated as a question “What do people think qualifies as a bad teacher and what should they be doing differently?” I personally think that if we’re not addressing the problem at home then we are not addressing the problem.

That’s a great question and one that’s very, very hard to answer. How do you “rate” a teacher? What qualifies as “bad” as opposed to just “average”? And what if a teacher is really good at inspiring her students or instilling in them a lifelong love of reading, but those qualities are not reflected in those students’ test scores? I try to explore this question a little bit in this week’s cover story, but the truth is, no one has the whole answer, full stop. Many education reformers argue that we need to look at test scores – at “student outputs” – to measure how well a teacher is doing. Others advocate for a more subjective approach that includes peer-to-peer evaluations, in-class observations, student evaluations, and test scores. Still others say that the quality of a teacher cannot be measured at all.

nflfoghorn asks, Dear Haley – why can’t we progress from textbooks to laptops in order for kids to catch up in learning with the rest of the world?

A lot of school districts are trying to move toward using iPads and laptops in the classroom, but there are a lot of obstacles between here and there. I recommend reading Michael Scherer’s story from Oct. 9 (https://time.com/3483905/the-paperless-classroom-is-coming/) that addresses some of those issues.

Sue_N asks,, Haley, re: your Sept. 4 story on the FCC chairman and his statement that America’s lack of broadband competition is “intolerable,” given the crucial importance that the internet plays in American life, commerce and education today, are we anywhere near coming to regard access to the internet as another utility like water, electric and gas? Something that is basic and necessary to every American home and business? Or is it still “that thing kids do on their phones”? And is that leap in thinking something will have to happen before we get true competition in broadband access, or will we need competition to make that leap?

It seems to me that we still tend to think of the internet, ubiquitous as it is, as something that’s nice to have, rather than as something that we need (and I speak as a parent whose daughters, one college and one high school, would be utterly unable to complete classwork or homework without it, and whose job pretty much depends on it). And I’m constantly amazed that the very politicians whose job it is to legislate and regulate the ‘net seem to have so little understanding of it.

Where do you see, especially our politics, in terms of making that mental shift?

There’s a robust discussion raging in Washington, DC right now about the pros and cons of regulating the internet “like a utility.” I won’t get into all that here, but the truth is that regulating the Internet like a utility is politically unfeasible, at least right now. I think you’re right to say that the Internet is becoming an increasingly vital tool in all of our lives. Many of us—including your daughters, you, and me—could not do our jobs (or our school work) without it, and in the next decade, I think most Americans will begin using the Internet as their primary means of watching TV, talking on the phone, communicating with their health care providers, and even attending school/college. Asking how we, as a nation, can ensure that all Americans have access to those digital “pipes” in the future is one of the most important questions facing Congress and the FCC today.

sacredh asks, it’s not even to the midterms yet, but can you see any GOP candidate having coat tails in 2016? Assume that Hillary would be the democrats nominee.

This is the big “cocktail party question,” so to speak, in Washington, DC right now, but I don’t think anyone—and that includes the Republican leadership!—is sure who the nominee will be quite yet. I think I’ll save my rampant speculation for 2015.

deconstructive asks, Haley, thanks for your 9/9 post about regulating Big Banks. Two issues here –

  1. After your research into banking issues for your report, what do YOU think should be done to keep another banking collapse from happening? I think restoring the Glass-Steagall separation of traditional banking and investment / gambling should be part of the solution.
  2. Do you agree with the proposals’ idea to exempt small local banks from new regulations over the Big Banks? I disagree – all banks need equal scrutiny. But size matters, no? How can a small local bank inflict much damage? Look back to the savings and loan crisis during the Reagan 80’s. Some of the guiltiest players that caused massive damage were tiny savings and loans like Vernon Savings from Vernon, TX. and others (like Keating’s). They grew too fast making sloppy loans, engaged in back-scratching deals that made money off themselves, and eventually collapsed the whole system …all with minimal Fed oversight and overwhelmed Fed resources. Thoughts, Haley? Thanks.

 

  1. I don’t think there’s any political appetite at the moment for reinstating Glass-Steagall, but that said, I do firmly believe that we need safeguards to ensure that American taxpayers are not and cannot be held responsible for risky bets made by institutions that are not behaving like a traditional bank. (It says something about the current financial landscape that the word “bank” no longer means what it used to!)
  2. I have not reported on this particular issue – how to regulate big banks vs. small banks – so I can’t give you a thoughtful answer either way, although I do think we ought to regulate certain banking activities differently. The truth is, most small, community banks simply aren’t engaging in the kind of risky, speculative investments that got us into trouble in 2007 and 2008. That doesn’t mean they should go without oversight entirely, but I’m not convinced that family-owned community outfits should be required to jump through the same hoops as the JPMorganChases of the world.

deconstructive asks, Haley, thanks for writing about net neutrality, including polls showing people don’t like the idea of fast lanes, and also mentioning in one of your posts that Big Cable is “poised to benefit from Americans’ increasing demand for online streaming, a service that requires super-fast Internet connections.” (9/16, about HBO streaming proposal) Why have the cable companies fought net neutrality? Is it simple greed from trying to grab the high speed streaming trade? Do they see Netflix as an enemy or an ally in the streaming game? Do they fear the Netflix model? Or is it simple laziness and inertia of NOT wanting to change the status quo (and having to spend money on technical upgrades for high-speed streaming, let alone competitng with Netflix for customers)?

One of the more frustrating parts of covering the net neutrality issue is that there is no single definition of “net neutrality.” The big cable companies say that they are in favor of it, but their definition is often diametrically different than that offered by most Americans. But to answer your second question: no. I don’t think the big cable companies fear the Netflix model, at least in the short term. At this particular point in time, the biggest cable companies in the country—Comcast, Time Warner Cable, etc.—actually benefit from a growing interest in watching TV and movies online. After all, watching high-definition video online, in the form of YouTube or Skype or Netflix or Hulu or HBO Go or anything else, requires an enormous amount of bandwidth. Most Americans looking to upgrade their bandwidth only have one choice: their cable company. So, at least at this point in time, Americans’ hunger for Netflix, and therefore for more bandwidth, is actually driving cable companies’ bottom line.

deconstructive asks, Haley, why do the cable companies oppose ala carte programming? Maybe that could help fight back the wave of online streaming (Netflix, soon HBO) by making customers happy through customization and NOT put with awkward bundling packages – customers like to customize their products all the time, so why fight the tide and alienate them? Besides the cable cabal moaning, “it costs too much,” I’m guessing there are other factors at work, which are _______? (Of course, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the cable companies charge more for the ala carte privilege, thus defeating the purpose just to squeeze more money out of customers, but I digress.)

The short answer to this question is that we’re starting to see the beginning of a move toward a la carte programming. HBO Go’s promise recently to begin offering an online-only service is a major bellwether. But it’s true that the current economy undergirding the television and cable industries remains largely symbiotic. TV producers still stand to make much more money by licensing their content (charging “retrans fees”) to cable companies, rather than relying on a smaller population of loyal viewers to purchase it a la carte online. We may begin to see those economics change in the near future.

RichardAB asks, H.S.E., we keep hearing the word education, while we virtually never hear the word culture. The two should always go hand-in-hand. An educated person is not necessarily a cultured person, but we absolutely need more of the second. What would you suggest could be done to improve the situation?

I agree that an educated person is not necessarily a cultured person, but I’m afraid you’ve stumped me on we, as a society, begin to teach people to be cultured. I suppose “culture” is best taught through communities, families, friends, parents, churches and through engaging in civil service. Some folks have suggested that we ought to require every American between the ages of, say, 18 and 25, to participate in some form of service, whether that’s through their church or in the Armed Services or through a community center or a formal organization, like the Peace Corp or Teach for America. I have no idea how that would work but it’s an interesting suggestion.

yogi asks, HSE, recent studies have shown that students can lose 2 months of grade level skills due to long summer vacations. So why aren’t school reformers more focused on trying to switch districts to year around schedules? The idea that students need a long summer is based on the archaic belief that our nation still primarily an agricultural nation, but I’ve decon-gressed. Doesn’t this seem like an easier task to be able to change than tenure?

That’s a great question and one that I’ve heard asked from others as well. I don’t know what the contours of that debate are, but I imagine it’s more complicated than we think. After all, there’s a robust economy—summer camps and vacations and amusement parks and day care centers—that rely on the fact that kids are not in school during the summer. I imagine there might be some serious pushback from that crowd if it were to change. I also wonder how much more expensive year-round school would be for taxpayers. Presumably, we would have to pay more to keep our schools open for an additional 3 months every year, and we’d have to pay teachers more too. Would taxpayers be willing to shoulder that extra cost?

yogi asks, HSE, why have so many conservative state governments rejected common core when many of the standards its proposing could apply to teacher performance and the lessening of teacher’s unions clout? Is it simply because it was proposed by Obama?

The politics of education today are complicated, but in general: the fact that the Obama administration chose to support the Common Core State Standards definitely helped those who were opposed to it by giving them the ability to dismiss the whole shooting match as “Obama’s standards.” But I’m not convinced that Obama’s support for CCSS is entirely responsible for the backlash. In many states, the rollout was executed poorly, the idea behind the new standards was badly communicated to teachers and parents, and students were tested on ideas they had never learned. Even in the best of times, that’s not an environment that tends to foster trust.

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