Sixteen Years of Writing

By Watson Scott Swail, President & Senior Research Scholar, Educational Policy Institute

I was doing a little math today. Since 2006, EPI has published over 300 commentaries through the former Education This Week and The Swail Letter. Not all were written by me. Former EPIer Alex Usher wrote a bunch, and other guest columnists, like Steve Trachtenberg, Don Heller, Peter Smith, and Roseanne Runte, made contributions over the years. Still, I personally have written over 260 commentary blogs since 2006. That is a lot of writing, I’m thinking. Many of these were re-posted in the EPI books Commentary 2006, Commentary 2007, Educated Thoughts, and this year’s Stop Making Sense. Others are difficult to find in the cobwebs of, well, the web.

And we didn’t just write commentaries, either. Since July 15, 2014, we have published 86 EPIGraphs, our graphic illustrations of data points related to critical education issues. For what it is worth, I produce every one of those EPIGraphs personally. It is one of the things I love to do on an almost weekly basis. To do this, I rely heavily on data collected by the US Government, most of which is through the US Department of Education via the National Center for Education Statistics. At one time I sat on the Technical Review Panel for several of the NCES longitudinal and cross-section studies, including NPSAS and its offspring, B&B and BPS. They are wonderful children. I remain an avid user and nerd-fan of PowerStats, QuickStats, and the IPEDS databases. I enjoy my technical chats with the professionals at the department and the Beltway Bandits who support these projects. You know who you are and I have the utmost respect for all of you! I also rely on US Bureau of Labor Statistics, which we loving call “BLS,” and the US Census Bureau data, too. Other pieces come from various sources, including several of our excellent professional associations. But 90 percent of my data comes from taxpayer-supported federal government projects and employees, who do an outstanding job of describing “what is” in this world. For everyone who wants less government, we don’t want less of this. Very quickly: if you are from Canada, Britain, or Australia, to make a point, you have to pay for government data. What do I mean? I mean, I literally have to pull out a credit card and pay for a data dump. Statistics Canada, AKA StatsCan, requires payment for key data. Many things are publically accessible, but if you want the real stuff you have to pay for it. The US federal government? Free. All of it. That is why there are so many studies on the US: the data are available, and that was and continues to be the fundamental idea of doing business this way: if the government produces the data and makes it available, others will research and study it. Truly wonderful and exceptional.

EPI sends our information to over 3,500 people on our email list, many of whom, I assume, do not actually receive it or bother to read it (Changed emails? Nonresponsive? Dead? Still Watching GOT?). Others receive through LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.

We (and me) have never been paid to put out this information. EPI has never received any funding to support this work, including the other publications we do. Not a dime. Only a fraction of our publications came from funded studies, mostly because the work we do is proprietary: that is, the client doesn’t want the information we produce to be publically available. Much of this is evaluation work, and, in the end, it is their discretion whether to release it or not. Thus, almost everything you see on our website was produced by us, with no core funding, because we thought it was the right thing to do. In the end, that’s why I started EPI back in 2002. For public good.

I hope you have enjoyed reading our stuff and will continue to do so in the future. We are currently working on a monograph series focused on student retention and success, my pet area of study. We enjoy producing this work, but it has become harder to do while also chasing new contracts and work, which are seemingly more difficult to attract. EPI receives no philanthropic support. None. All of work comes from RFPs and proposals for funding.

So, with this note I ask you to do one thing: ff you enjoy The Swail Letter and EPIGraph, among other EPI publications, please forward notifications to your colleagues and get them to sign up for our emails. We want more people to read our work. We do it to be read; not simply for some sick personal satisfaction (I do get some satisfaction, I do not lie!). The letters and graphs take considerable effort. Each EPIGraph takes between 1 and 4 hours to produce. Most take around three hours, is my estimate. That is a solid chunk of time. The Swail Letters vary greatly, as you might expect. Some, like a song, come quickly and I can write and edit in an hour. But 80 percent of them, especially when I am pulling data and checking sources, take somewhere between four hours and even a day or more to write. This is real time.

And I do appreciate the emails from colleagues with their point of view and even the grammar police out there (I am one of them!) who tell me when I get something wrong. I appreciate being corrected, although some people can be amazingly rude about it, almost as if they paid for this or something! Funny. Still, I am comforted by the fact that the Oxford Comma still rules the day, so I am okay. It is one thing we have over the New York Times is that we have it right (write?) and they have it wrong. The Oxford comma rules!

Please get the word out. Get your colleagues to sign up for our emails on our mainpage and/or “like” us on Facebook, twitter (@wswail), and LinkedIn. That would help us out enormously.

Thank you for reading. Now get back to work.


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