Robert Niles is the author of How to Make Money Publishing Community News Online and Stories from a Theme Park Insider.
Robert is a native of Los Angeles, and today lives in nearby Pasadena, California. He graduated from Northwestern University, where he majored in the school's program in Mathematical Methods in the Social Sciences as well as in Political Science. He also holds a master's degree in journalism from another university.
Along the way, Robert has worked as a Pirate of the Caribbean (at Walt Disney World) as well as a reporter, editor and/or columnist for the (Bloomington, Indiana) Herald-Times, the Omaha World-Herald, the Rocky Mountain News, the Los Angeles Times and the University of Southern California.
May 20, 2013
As some of you might know, both of our children went through appendectomies this school year. At the beginning of the fall semester, appendicitis struck our 15-year-old daughter, who ended up missing more than two weeks of school following her operation and a post-surgery infection. Less than five months later, at the beginning of the spring semester, our 12-year-old son fell sick. The local urgent care misdiagnosed him with rotovirus, so his appendix had been burst for more than four days before the local emergency room correctly diagnosed him and admitted him for surgery. Thanks to a brilliant surgeon, he came through, but not after having to spend an extra week in the hospital on antibiotics following the operation. As a result, he also missed more than two weeks of school.
Even though our children missed so much class time, they weren't excused from their work. They still were required to complete their missed homework assignments, quizzes, projects and tests. And their teachers still had to grade them.
Yet, because we live in California and attend California public schools, their schools weren't paid by the state for any of that work.
April 17, 2013
Some parents around the country are pulling their kids out of federally-mandated standardized tests this spring. They're hoping that by taking an individual stand against high-stakes testing, they can help change the system.
But opting out of testing is the wrong choice. By taking individual stands against testing, parents are reinforcing the corrosive belief that education is a consumer product. And they're making it easier for opponents to turn more citizens against their local schools.
March 11, 2013
My post last week on the 'myth of the excellent teacher' elicited an intriguing comment from a reader that it should be easier to get rid of the worst of the worst teachers in a school system.
While I agree that abusive or bigoted teachers should find no place in our public education system, I think people who support public education need to think about how we frame our discussion of this issue. If we're willing to frame education reform as a question of "how to lay off bad teachers," then we've already lost. Why? That statement implicitly delivers suggestions that a) teachers are bad and b) schools spend too much and c) cuts are a given. By agreeing to address the "how to get rid of teachers" question, then we've conceded those important points about teacher quality and inevitability of education cuts.
Let's instead reframe the discussion as "how do we increase the number of good teachers available to help our students?" Or, how do we increase the chances that a student will be paired with a teacher who can forge an instructive relationship with that student?
March 7, 2013
Sure, I've had several teachers over my life whom I considered excellent. But just because a specific teacher was excellent for me doesn't guarantee that same teacher was excellent for every other student he or she taught.
I remember one high school teacher who drove me and a handful of other students to improve our writing, and her lessons remain inspiring and instructive to me, even today. But many other students couldn't stand her abrasive style, refused to work and failed to develop in her classes. Was she an excellent teacher?
My daughter has a great year with one of her elementary school teachers, exploring music, writing and science at a deeper level than she'd done before. But my son endured a very different experience with the same teacher three years later. For my son, this previously patient, wonderful teacher was almost bullying, and my son hated the class. Was that teacher excellent?
That different people have different experiences with the same teacher shouldn't surprise anyone. Education is a deeply personal experience. A teacher can put forth all the lessons he or she can deliver, but education doesn't happen until a student learns. And when that happens depends as much on what ability, motivation and context the student brings to the class as what a teacher offers there.
February 14, 2013
One of the annoyances of publishing original content online is when Google chooses to return a copy of your work from another website before your original in its search results pages. Google's traffic is money for website publishers, as more readers can mean more money from ad revenue. But it's frustrating to see Google choose instead to deliver that potentially valuable traffic to another website that's
I'm not talking about sites that reference your work, summarizing it and providing a link back to the original. That's fair use, and I welcome the traffic from those sources, too. Heck, if people want to quote an entire article from me, then supplement it with their own original reporting and/or commentary, I probably wouldn't mind. It's the automated copying and reposting of content that really bothers me. So a while back, I decided to do something: I programmed the script that generates the RSS feed of my articles on ThemeParkInsider.com to append a line to end of each RSS feed article entry.
February 13, 2013
Do you like to highlight passages in a book when you read?
If you've not used eBooks before, you might think that you'd lose that ability. After all, you can't exactly take a highlighter to a screen. But major eBook readers have a highlighting function built in (along with search, bookmarking, a dictionary for word look-up, and more.) One of the neat things that Amazon does is to aggregate that information for publishers, allowing people to see what the most-highlighted passages are in a particular book.
I've enjoyed discovering what readers have highlighted in my guidebook for website publishers, How to Make Money Publishing Community News Online. Most of these top quotes focus on the questions of defining the needs your website will fulfill and finding customers who'll pay you to fulfill those needs. Here are the top five quotes from my book, via Amazon:
February 4, 2013
I hate hearing former colleagues and other journalists tell me that they could never do what I do -- that they never could make a living publishing their own websites. Why does this frustrate me so much? Because, having worked as both a newsroom reporter and a publishing entrepreneur, I can see how very similar those jobs have turned out to be. IMHO, journalists are the ideal entrepreneurs. Few other professions better prepare people to meet all the various challenges of launching and running a business.
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