Tuesday, August 30, 2005
I grew up in Baton Rouge and New Orleans, Louisiana. My family moved to New Orleans in 1993 and I have always considered it my home. I'm getting married there next fall. I'm having trouble even imagining the devastation that has struck the city in the past two days--no power for a month! 100,000 people without homes! Please, if you are reading this, consider donating to the Red Cross.
Monday, August 29, 2005
It was an interesting experience, since I don't usually write straight-up editorials; revisions were mainly aimed at getting my voice into the story more. It was fun writing for a national paper; I got over 40 emails from people of all ages, most of which have been positive. All in all, though, it reminded me why I feel more comfortable doing reporting and relying on facts and artfully presented details. When you start writing straight advocacy journalism, it feels good to come out and say what you think (the war was a mistake). But you are inevitably standing on shaky ground when you base your arguments on things like opinion polls and the number of people who marched down Lake Shore Drive in Chicago in 1968.
I think I would like to leave that stuff to the professional opinion mongerers. Not that I don't have plenty of theories to share.
Thursday, August 25, 2005
Proliferating Private Loans Put Crushing Burden on Students
With the cost of higher education skyrocketing and federal student loans capped at 1992 levels, more students are turning to private loans to pay for trade schools and even traditional colleges. The loans are the fastest growing type of student aid, and lenders are scurrying to cash in on the highly profitable products, offering easy online access or jockeying to get on a school's list of preferred lenders.
The trend alarms financial aid advisers who fear students are unwittingly taking on too much debt. Some, like Perry, eventually fail to repay the loans on time. That trend could worsen if interest rates continue to rise.
Some trade schools have deliberately pushed private loans to expand their market to students with poor credit histories, and they're coming under increasing regulatory scrutiny about their recruiting and loan disclosure practices.
Financial aid counselors worry that students unwittingly get themselves too deep in debt with private loans and will default in coming years, particularly if they get a low-wage job or go through a protracted layoff.
Interest rates on these loans can go as high as 26.5% !!! And students (and parents) often don't know the difference between these private loans and regular federal loans.
The Ed Dept. is supposed to cut $13 billion. $11 billion of that is currently coming from programs that help kids pay for college. Only $2 billion is coming out of teachers' pensions; surely you can think of a more equitable distribution.
The House bill favors for-profit schools and includes a couple of sneaky changes that will make direct loans look more expensive vis-a-vis private loans. Who benefits from that? That's right, the lenders, higher education's biggest lobbyists.
I'll be interested to see what the Senate comes up with.
Monday, August 22, 2005
Today, here is Seth Stevenson in Slate on the new Army commercials: lame and disingenuous. And here is Bob Herbert in the Times:
The youngsters recruited most relentlessly are those from small towns, rural areas and impoverished urban neighborhoods. They are kids who are not well-to-do, and who don't have much of a plan for their future. The military, with its uniforms, its slick ads and its video games, can look very good to these unsophisticated youngsters.
With a series of television ads, the Army is also trying to win over what it calls the "influencers," the parents and other adults who have been counseling youngsters to stay away from the military. That campaign was packaged by the Leo Burnett agency, which has the following to say about itself:
"Leo Burnett USA creates ideas that inspire enduring belief for many of the world's most valuable brands and most successful marketers, including McDonald's, Disney, Procter & Gamble, Marlboro, Altoids, Heinz, Kellogg, Nintendo and the U.S. Army."
Sunday, August 21, 2005
Wednesday, August 17, 2005
Only about half of this year's high school graduates have the reading skills they need to succeed in college, and even fewer are prepared for college-level science and math courses, according to a yearly report from ACT, which produces one of the nation's leading college admissions tests.
The report, based on scores of the 2005 high school graduates who took the exam, some 1.2 million students in all, also found that fewer than one in four met the college-readiness benchmarks in all four subjects tested: reading comprehension, English, math and science.
You can see what Bill Gates means when he says America's high schools are obsolete and are ruining the lives of millions of young Americans every day.
Tuesday, August 16, 2005
The Pew Charitable Trusts announces the Partnership to Reduce the Burden
of Student Debt. The two-year, $3.5 million initiative joins the
Trusts-funded Retirement Security Project as part of the Trusts' focus
on issues related to family financial security...
Working with other funders and non-profit organizations, the
Partnership to Reduce the Burden of Student Debt will collaborate with
leading experts from across the nation to conduct nonpartisan research
and analysis and identify practical policy options and ways to pay for
them with current taxpayer dollars.
Sunday, August 14, 2005
Consumption patterns are simply an insufficient and wrongheaded explanation for the inferior economic standing of young people. People are graduating with $20,000+ in student loan debt and real income that's stagnant or declining compared with 30 years ago. I'd like to believe that solving the problems of Generation Debt was as easy as telling people to cut up their credit cards, but it just ain't so.
In a way, this story itself is the product of consumer culture brainwashing. Just as most people, when they hear the word "save," actually think of spending a (reduced) amount on some product, the Cox News Service finds itself unable to conceive of a debt problem that's not caused by spending too much discretionary income. Where did our nation's prosperity go? We charged too many Jamba Juices. Oops.
Friday, August 12, 2005
Still, i think this could be a good space to answer questions with what I do know. Someone emailed to ask me how you write a pitch.
1) You have to be very familiar with the specific publication, and what they want. Most take queries by email, but some still want a packet of material mailed in, including clips.
2) Make sure you know what editor you're pitching to. You can often derive email addresses from the businesspeople on a publication's masthead ; assume that the address format will be the same for all names listed. As a last resort, you can call and ask who handles what.
3) You need to know whether the publication, or anyone else, has covered your idea before, and if so what makes this version new. The pitch should be fleshed out. It doesn't hurt to make a phone call or two.
4) Pretend your story's already been assigned. How long will the story be? What section will it go in? Mention this in your review.
5) Things that in my opinion are almost impossible to pitch: movie reviews (the lead time is too great), anything involving a celebrity who is not your relative, and some theory you have about something. Things that are great to pitch: A new idea which you have previously overlooked evidence for. A subculture or underworld that you have unique access to. Any story with a compelling main character. Whatever the editor happens to be in the mood for right at that moment.
Other writers: let me know if you have anything to add.
Thursday, August 11, 2005
Student groups and higher education lobbyists have been disappointed that lawmakers failed to propose enough aid to keep pace with rising costs and did not take more dramatic steps to reduce government subsidies that flow to lenders.
Oregon PIRG organized the protest. From what legislators' offices tell me, the State Public Interest Research Groups are one of the only real voices for students in Washington. Student-led groups, where are you?
Wednesday, August 10, 2005
Tuesday, August 09, 2005
The point Alexandra Starr is making is a good one: that American students have no incentive to do well on international assessments, so they may not reflect their actual ability as well as ACT scores and state graduation exams do. But illustrating the story with a Mad Magazine caricature of a slouching wastoid kid and calling him "lazy" is just taking another easy knock on kids.
Tuesday, August 02, 2005
Some educators say the report paints too bleak a picture of schools' efforts to instill students with a lack of ambition.
"We are doing a terrible, terrible job," said James Dunham, the principal of HS 445 in New York. "We literally could not be doing any worse."
Dunham highlighted the fact that the hallways of his school are lined with vending machines that sell nothing but unhealthy snack products such as soda and potato chips, both of which acclimate students to the diet of a jobless lowlife.