Herald publishes five-part education series!

Even in its heydays, the Boston Herald was hard-pressed to match the Boston Globe in substantive beat reporting, especially on issues such as education, but it wasn’t for lack of effort.

While the Globe had multiple reporters covering the different stages of education – a reporter for Boston schools, another for statewide elementary and secondary education, a higher ed reporter and still another for state education policy coverage – the joke in the Herald newsroom was the education beat covered “K through death.”

A smaller staff, a need to feed the daily beast, and just the vagaries of the tabloid format, which restricts space and requires more picture displays and less long-form pieces, all worked to make sweeping, big-idea stories the exception rather than the rule. And with newsroom reductions affecting everyone, there is no longer a reporter assigned exclusively to education coverage at the Herald, while the Globe, like other outlets, has thinned its education beat reporting ranks as well.

Which made it all the more surprising on Monday when the Herald unveiled the first of a five-part series on Boston public schools, with the focus on four schools that have made strides in improving and changing the educational approach. Tomorrow, the series concludes with a promised lengthy interview with Superintendent Carol Johnson.

The series, titled “Head of the Class” and written and reported by columnist Jessica Heslam, in many ways is pure Herald, focusing on aspects of the approach taken by the four schools that are throwbacks to basics that are near and dear to Herald readers’ hearts: School uniforms, longer school days, teaching courtesies, and discipline.

Don’t expect mutli-page takeouts or nuances about MCAS scores and incremental improvements. The stories still carry the Herald approach – short, to the point, and with lots of bullet points. Each story has a main piece giving the overview of the school, a short side-bar about someone who is making a difference at the school, and an accompanying “facts” box about the school and its revamped approach.

But in other ways, the series is contrary to the direction the Herald has been going and, to the paper’s credit, required dedicating a reporter, photographer, and design person, all valuable resources in this day and age of tightening budgets.

The series has looked at TechBoston Academy; UP Academy, formerly known as Gavin Middle School; Orchard Gardens School; and the Joseph Lee Elementary School. All four schools have been targeted by the federal government as part of its “turnaround” program.

The series doesn’t quite carry the heft of the recent “Building Better Schools” special report in the Standard-Times that sent a reporter around the country looking at urban districts to find approaches that could help turn around New Bedford schools. But don’t blame that on Heslam, who has covered local government, general news, and education throughout her tenure at the Herald and the Patriot Ledger. The series shows she spent considerable time in the classrooms and talking to teachers, parents, and administrators.

It also shows the Herald still takes its responsibility seriously to report on issues that affect its readership. The series won’t likely win awards or become a go-to repository to gauge progress in the Boston schools, but it should win some appreciation from readers that the tabloid has not abandoned its core constituency. What it can also do is trigger interest and discussion among the Herald’s bread and butter, Boston’s blue-collar readers who make up the majority of public school parents in the city. As they say, you learn something new every day.

                                                                                                                                         –JACK SULLIVAN

BEACON HILL

Casino foes have begun the process of repealing the law, filing a petition for a referendum earlier this week with the secretary of state’s office. But because the law includes appropriations, which cannot be subject to a ballot question, the future of the move looks dim.

Senate President Therese Murray declines to back a moratorium on wind turbine construction.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley talks with Greater Boston about her top of the ticket victory in last month’s election and her plans for the future.

Lawrence starts charging $1 an hour for parking along five downtown streets, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

The New Bedford City Council shelved the proposal by outgoing Mayor Scott Lang to expand Buttonwood Park Zoo, deferring the matter to the incoming administration of Jon Mitchell, a former member of the Buttonwood Park Zoological Society.

The longtime city planner fired by Fall River Mayor Will Flanagan declined to stay on for 45 days to ease the transition and instead will remain on the payroll until the end of the year with vacation and unused sick time.

Rhode Island stinks all the way to Attleboro.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

Time examines the changing nature of the American Dream.

Polls find the Tea Party losing steam, even in Tea Party districts.

ELECTION 2012

The National Review has an analysis of Mitt Romney’s stumbling Fox interview. The Washington Post finds that Team Romney had a plan for everyone and everything except a rising Newt Gingrich. Which means his “inevitability” is looking less so. Public Policy Polling finds Gingrich up 30 points on Romney in Florida; Gingrich’s support among GOP primary voters has surged by 37 points since September, while Romney’s has dropped by 13 points. So maybe Romney’s whole strategy of cooling his heels while everybody else imploded hasn’t worked after all? David Bernstein notes that Romney is either a wicked slow reader, or he’s scripted the list of books he’s reading now (and forgotten to update it).

Hell Hath No Fury Department: Herman Cain says that he has yet to sit down and talk to his wife about the reports of his alleged affair.

A surge by Michele Bachmann or Rick Santorum cannot be ruled out, says Talking Points Memo. But if Bachmann continues to deliver zingers like announcing she would close the US embassy in Iran, which has been closed since the 1980 Iranian hostage crisis, she probably should forget about it.

If Barney Frank wasn’t up for the task of introducing himself to a new swath of voters in a reconfigured Fourth Congressional District, it really was time for him to go, says Joan Vennochi. New York Times political editor Carolyn Ryan offers a piece of her encounters with Frank from her time as a fledgling reporter at the Patriot Ledger.

Belmont businessman Robert Maginn, who ran for state treasurer in 1998, was tapped last night to be the new chairman of the state Republican Party.

Karl Rove says President Obama is going to the FDR-Truman well for reelection rhetoric, but doubts what worked in 1936 and 1948 can still work in 2012.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

A mixed report on the New England economy from the Federal Reserve Bank, which says business revenue is up but hiring remains shaky.

Gov. Deval Patrick and nearly 50 leaders from business, academia, and government are on their way to Brazil on a trade mission.

A man bites dog headline these days: Stocks soar.

The Economist takes an in-depth look at women in the workplace and concludes that women continue to be paid less for doing the same job as a man and still get passed over for top jobs.

EDUCATION

Boston University is probing an instructor’s ad seeking help in grading student papers, CommonWealth reports.

If the receiver appointed to run the Lawrence schools wants to lengthen the school day and year, the teachers union says it won’t object, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

Two Andover High School students were expelled and five others kicked off the basketball team for their roles in a hazing incident at a basketball camp last summer at Stonehill College in Easton. The Bristol County District Attorney’s office and the attorney general are also investigating, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

Arlington High School ends school dances until officials can get a handle on underage drinking and “dirty dancing.”

TRANSPORTATION

MBTA officials say they have taken a number of steps to prepare for snow this winter on commuter lines coming into Boston, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette reports. The Pioneer Institute’s Steve Poftak calls the proposal to bring commuter rail operations in-house “a bad idea.”

Motorcycle riders are lobbying once again for an end to the helmet law. Supporters of the law say a brain injury caused by riding with out a helmet costs about $9 million.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

CommonWealth columns offer differing perspectives on the costs and benefits of the state’s green initiatives. Read columns by state official Lisa Capone, AIM executive Robert Rio, Attorney General Martha Coakley, and CommonWealth’s Bruce Mohl.

RELIGION

The Boston archdiocese plans to reconfigure the organization of Catholic churches into clusters, which will share administrative and clergy services.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

A Hull father was arraigned on burglary charges after police say he left his 1-year-old and 3-year-old home alone at 3 a.m. to allegedly break into a nearby restaurant, where he was arrested.

HOLIDAYS

Jon Keller says it’s a “Christmas tree,” not a holiday tree, so get over it.