Sunday, August 24, 2008

Eduwonkette Revealed - Phew, Now I Can Talk

Just a few weeks less than the first anniversary of the Eduwonkette blog, Diana Schemo in this week's NY magazine reveals Eduwonkette's real identity - Jennifer Jennings, a grad student at Columbia in the sociology department. Jennifer explains why she came out on her blog. Read her post and wonderful cartoon here.

And yes, I knew all along and am notoriously bad at keeping secrets, but she really scared the crap out of me - like if I squealed she would never work and I would have to send her money. Trying to keep a secret for almost a year for a yenta like me was torture.

She was a tough task master, making sure I didn't write anything too revealing. When we both attended an AERA event in March where Rotherham and Russo (and the Times' Jennifer Medina) were on a panel, we didn't sit together. She had to leave early and used some of my notes for her report. She was attacked by Rotherham for being connected to a crazy like me.

So let me say right here that though I've known Jennifer for 4 years that does not indicate agreement on her part with the stuff put out on Ed Notes.

Recently I spent an extended afternoon with Jennifer. Let me say this: there's no one in the education world where 4 hours of ed talk can be so enlightening - and mind wrenching - and thought provoking. One of the sad parts of our conversation was that her anonymity was interferring with her meeting too many people. It was clear she was planning an exit strategy from anonymity. The time frame seems to have been speeded up a bit.

There's a lot of areas where we agree and many where we don't. But don't be surprised if the crazies at the DOE who disparage Jennifer's exposure of their stats as biased go even further in attacking her for knowing the "wrong" people.

I personally pooh pooh research with an attitude of "Don' need no stinkin' research" to tell me what I instinctively know as a teacher. Like forget the class size research, even though the Tennessee study validates low class sizes. All teachers will point to class size as a major issue. But without research, what would all the researchers in education do? And all the pundits?

From the day I met Jennifer 4 years ago at a Walton HS (in the Bronx) press conference where the addition of small schools to an overcrowded building was an issue, I was impressed by the depth of knowledge of just about every ed issue out there. And the way she approached issues from the dual perspective of a researcher and a teacher.

She doesn't like to talk much about it but she did have some teaching experience in an urban setting and though brief, it was enough to inform her with a "teacher" mentality and that is how she approaches many issues. Thus, at no point will you find any hint of the teacher bashing that goes on amongst so many pundits. Maybe that is what upsets the DOE about her.

I remember telling people who bash the younger generation that with people like Jennifer there was a lot of hope. When I told her about ICE, she expressed interest in observing meetings as part of her research to see what it was all about. At that time ICE spent a lot of time debating education issues which many of us found more interesting than UFT electoral and caucus politics. She also recorded a special well-attended event we held at the old Stuyvesant building on small schools a few years ago.

Last September I had lunch with Jennifer on the day the Broad prize was announced as being given to Bloomberg/Klein at a "Pain Quotidienne" in the Village. She had been sending me some of the wonderful research she was into and it seemed a shame it didn't have a wider audience. (I had even spoken at PEP meetings using some of her research which I fuzzed up enough to keep her anonymous.) The Ed notes blog was about a year old at the time and I offered to publish some of her work.

She raised the idea of doing her own blog but also her reservations about it as she expresses in the reveal announcement on her blog. We talked about the idea of going anonymous as many bloggers do. We also spent a lot of time discussing the teacher effectiveness/quality issue that day. (We disagree in some areas.)

A few days later she sent me the prototype of her blog and and I was impressed. She went public a few days after that with a week long series on teacher effectiveness (worth reading again) that was very powerful.

I'm proud that Ed Notes was the first blog to announce her debut on her first day. Some major blogs plugged in the first day also. She got 300 hits that day.

By December, Education Week came calling with an offer to reach an even wider audience (she would not accept money.) There was never an expectation she would come under the kinds of attack she did for being anonymous." But the immediate impact she had was also unexpected.

Class Size Matters' Leonie Haimson is a good friend of Jennifer's and one afternoon after an event at Teachers College, I had the privilege of spending time with these two amazing ladies. Talk about brain power. Mine felt like a shriveling pea. When people ask why I am still doing this stuff 6 years after retiring, my answer is getting to know people like Leonie and Jennifer.

Leonie commented on her listserve soon after Jennifer's announcement:

Jennifer is beautiful and brilliant and it’s a relief not to have to keep her identity secret any more….She also did the seminal study of the “bubble kids” in Texas; see her study here and her WaPost oped here.

There will undoubtedly be many more pathbreaking studies to come – that is, if Bloomberg/Klein do not put out a hit against her.

Let’s hope her unmasking does not negatively affect her academic future!

Amen! Jennifer's real concerns about her notoriety affecting her ability to work in the academic areas will be tested. My sense without knowing anything about that world is that she may find it helps. Plus, she has garnered enormous respect. (Jeez, the very idea that Leo Casey and I agree on anything is frightening.)

Eduwonkette is not all about dry research. Her cleverness, charm, and fabulous wit came along with it.

Leonie unwittingly played a role in introducing Jennifer to someone who became a good friend.

"Class size really DOES matter," Jennifer commented.


Anonymous said...

could it be norm that the theme song for this post is

Anonymous said...


You may be calling yourself yenta but you are probably more like Obi-Wan (Kenobi)! Eduwonkette could not have done her remarkable expose without your help. There is still hope for our institutions of higher education in that a smart and brave grad student could pull it off. Not to be too cynical, I hope Bloomberg does not buy her off like he did with the the Times.

That is the sad part. We had stared looking up to the mainstream press for keeping tabs on politicians (after Watergate) which went AWOL in this case. Especially the Times. They have a lot to answer for. Reading eduwonkette's disclosure, I was even secretly hoping that the Times was somehow indirectly involved (assisting eduwonkette in some secret way). Nope. Sad indeed.


ed notes online said...

Eduwonkette will not sell out because she has the highest level of integrity. The Times acted like she didn't exist. As for my role, all I did was answer a few basic questions she had about the mechanics of blogging and I also pointed her towards the Carnival of Education as a way of getting the word out.

It was her great idea to channel Eduwonk right away with some humorous photoshopping and that set the tone - he picked it up within an few hours and put up a link to her that first day- so though I am reluctant to praise him, give him some due. It didn't take long for him to turn on her when she critiqued his favorite issues.

People will never know the depths to which some people went out to track her down.