I have some news: I am retiring from the PBS NewsHour and Learning Matters.

For the past 41 years I have been covering public education mostly here in the USA but also in China, Hong Kong, France and Spain. I began at NPR in 1974 (when it was still known as National Public Radio), and I’ve reported for the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour, the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer and the PBS NewsHour 1

I look forward to traveling with my wife and catching up with other areas of my life in the coming months, but retiring from Learning Matters is not a hard stop for me. I have one more report to finish for the NewsHour, and our new film, “School Sleuth: The Case of the Wired Classroom,” will be on most PBS stations in November.

My passion and desire for engagement remain strong. Rather than putting myself out to pasture, I hope to keep active as a moderator, an activity I love, and seize other opportunities and adventures that await, out of sight around the corner. I’ll be weighing in on critical issues in education in Raleigh-Durham in August; DC in September; and Chicago in October.

There’s certainly plenty to talk about:

****Will we hold charter schools, both for-profit and not-for-profit, accountable for their spending and their educational outcomes?
****If the resistance to over-testing continues to grow, how will that change what happens in schools on a daily basis?
****Will technology be used to let students soar and explore, or will educators harness it to improve management of information and fact-based learning?
****Will leadership emerge that will help develop sensible ways of assessing schools, students and teachers–and in so doing drive a stake through the heart of ‘test-based accountability’ that is playing gotcha with teachers?
****How will the new Elementary and Secondary Education Act, when it eventually replaces the much-detested No Child Left Behind, change the power dynamics between Washington, DC, and the states?

Friends have asked me what I will miss most. That’s easy: the challenges of reporting and the joys of teamwork. Television is truly a team sport, and I have been blessed with wonderful teammates. Because it’s my face and voice that have been in your faces and ears, I’ve received more credit and attention than I deserve. I hope that, at 74, I am mature enough to cope without the attention.

By now, blogging has become second nature to me, and I will continue to post at least weekly. I invite you to take a look at my new blog, The Merrow Report. (Fun fact: This was the name of my original television series back in the 1990’s.) You will find it at themerrowreport.com

Please consider subscribing.

My departure is not a hard stop (or any sort of stop at all) for Learning Matters and its reporting for the NewsHour. Within a few days, expect an announcement. I’m thrilled that my talented colleagues will continue to do the work they love, and I am extremely grateful that a number of leading foundations are supporting this enterprise.

In later posts I will weigh in on current issues and trends, while also reflecting on the past 41 years of interviewing teachers, students, Secretaries of Education and others in America’s most important venture.

As I sign off, please know that it has been a rare privilege to report for you. I appreciate your trust, and I pledge to do my best to preserve it, whenever our worlds connect.

An Italian friend once cautioned me, “Never say arrivederci to people you care about. Say addio per ora instead, because that means ‘goodbye for now.’”

Addio per ora. I look forward to hearing from you.



  1. I also worked for a few blinks of an eye for The Learning Channel in 1990. Didn’t last long. Hated all the commercial breaks and made my way back to PBS within the year. 

36 thoughts on “I AM RETIRING

  1. Thank you for all that you have done, John.

    Be sure to let those of us educators who are retirement age but never worked at unionized schools and so can never afford to retire what it’s like to have that kind of respite from something you have dearly loved. It must be difficult to let go, but wonderful to be able to enjoy the freedom to explore new ground and age peacefully in our last years.

    Truly, enjoy your retirement!


  2. John: I was not present at the beginning of your NPR work (I arrived at IEL in 1976), but close enough to know that the absence of your constant vigilance re: education will be noted. I am delighted you are not going out to pasture. Instead, I look forward to seeing your reports as you continue to “plow” fields (aka issues) that remain important to you and to our nation.


    • Thanks, Betty. It’s been a great ride, and I hope it’s not over, at least not for a while. Joan and I have plans for some serious beach time, however. She retired on June 30th after 22 years of leading schools, and that’s a REAL job, not like what I have been enjoying for 41 years


  3. John,
    I think you’re going to enjoy the next phase of your life very much. God knows, you’ve earned a break. Thank you for all you’ve done to make the NewsHour THE place to turn for intelligent coverage of important trends and developments in the field of education. And thanks, too, for all the years of friendship. I’m hoping that never “retires” . Linda Winslow


    • You have been such a rock and an inspiration for me and my colleagues at Learning Matters. Don’t tell anyone, but I’m only retiring because you left!!
      Seriously, let’s plan on drinking some wine together somewhere. France, New York City, Martha’s Vineyard, (whichever place produces the best wine)


  4. Oh my. When I first saw the subject line in you’e email, I thought it was a joke, like the one you sent about joining the board of Pearson. But I see it’s true. I’ve been one of your biggest fans since we met at the start of the Annenberg Challenge. You were a kindred spirit then and have remained so all these years. You’re reporting and blogs over these recent years have been spot on and invariably provocative. I’ve also appreciated your honest, your thoughtfulness, your willingness to change your mind and share share your ambivalences. All the best.


  5. Thank you for all of your excellent work over the years. Your regular contributions will be missed. I hope you enjoy this new phase of life!


  6. John,

    Between New York and Martha’s Vineyard (and on the way to France) is beautiful Marion where hoards of your admirers (and a few relatives) would love to sit in the Adirondacks at the BYC overlooking the harbor (glass in hand) and chat (off the record) about mutual education passions. No deadlines. Just shared wisdom and a few doable solutions for the future of public education in the US.

    Congrats on a stellar career! Please take the invitation seriously. We await your leisure presence.

    Sandria Parsons


  7. John, you are in a very small group of really thoughtful, empathetic great communicators about what you refer to as America’s most important venture. I love it that you rarely, if ever, allow your observations to be cynical. You are decisive in your opinions (although ready to reconsider when appropriate); almost never falling into the ambivalence of “on the one hand or on the other”, but I never think of you as personally judgmental. You are solution oriented. You come from a place of hope rather than despair. It is always clear that the well-being of children and the democracy frame much of your perspective. Your voice on the scene has been an encouraging one. It will be missed.

    I said to you once when you mentioned that you were considering what I think you called “the off ramp” that I had wrestled with the definition of retirement and concluded it was when you got to do exactly what you want to do, professionally and personally, without regard to constantly fundraising or conforming to someone else’s demands of the day…and no one will pay you for it. I think (hope) you will love retirement. The additional travel is super. The time and freedom to think about things and write about them in new ways is energizing. The time with family is precious.

    I covet for you every joy and sustained good health.

    David Hornbeck


    • Bless you, David. Joan and I have some beach time planned, plus a trip to Africa in November, but the rest of the adventures haven’t taken shape yet. You should know that you are the star of my all-time favorite film, “Toughest Job in America.” And in that experience you set a standard for access. I remember your saying to me, when I introduced myself and asked if we could follow you from Day One in Philadelphia: “Yes. Even if this doesn’t work out, it’s important to have a public record.” (or words to that effect). Would that other leaders were so forthcoming and thoughtful….


  8. John — Like another commenter, I thought that headline was a prank. And I wish it were! You have richly earned the chance to travel and enjoy your family and do all those other things but I’m sure glad you’ll keep weighing in on the events of the day. Yours is such an important voice. Education gets “pop” treatment in much of the mainstream media, and most of the blogosphere is promoting one sector or one ideology. You’ve been calling it as you see it for decades. So please keep posting (I have subscribed, which I almost NEVER do!), and may your happiness and contentment only increase.



    • A subscriber! You may have just doubled circulation! But thank you, Nelson, for your kind words and for all you have done to push the inside of the envelope. Joan and I are looking forward to the next chapters, which will include some serious beach time, I promise.


  9. John,

    Congratulations and a hearty “thank you” for your work over these many years. You have brought sanity and perspective to education in a way that most journalists have failed to do. You have earned respect and affection from your many readers and viewers, I among them.

    I hope and expect to see you along the way!


    Steve Nelson


  10. Dear John: (There’s a song in there somewhere!) Thanks for all you’ve done for American schools with your superb reporting over the years. I still recall the first time I met you. You arrived at the National Institute of Education while you were at National Public Radio around 1977 carrying a reel-to-reel recorder to interview my boss, the director of the Institute, Pat Graham.

    Of all the things you’ve done over the years, I think one of my favorites is “The Toughest Job in America?” — a documentary on the challenges of the superintendency in big-city schools, based on six years of following David Hornbeck around Philadelphia.

    Best wishes as you “retire”!

    Jim Harvey


    • Jim
      That’s at the top of my list too, along with ADD: A Dubious Diagnosis, Declining By Degrees and a couple of others.

      Regarding Pat Graham, her name became part of NPR’s blooper reel that Christmas because I just couldn’t get her middle (family) name right. Albjerg….kept tripping me up, and in the media universe someone is always listening/looking for material for the highlight reel. As I recall, my mispronunciation became a running gag throughout the reel, and it was funnier with each repeated screwup. Pat was a great leader who later became a good friend. Talk about role models for women (for anyone in a leadership position), Pat’s the one.

      Fun fact: my reel-to-reel recorder was the same model that Mr. Nixon used….


  11. Have always been so proud to have known you on a tricycle and watched and listened and learned from you all these years. 4 of our 6 children are in education and so far 2 of the 15 grandchildren.If you come through Old Lyme let us know.you can enjoy semi retirement because you have given back so much so well. With love, Mrs. Robinson


    • Ellen,
      That is so nice of you. I am not surprised, knowing the kind of parents you were/are, that so many of your kids are giving back. You must be proud.
      But we careful what you wish for, because Joan and I go by Old Lyme on our way to MV….


  12. Many years ago when I was editor of Education USA, we started a humorous awards issue at the beginning of each year, and you were the first recipient of the “Best Dressed Education Reporter” award. This was when I would see you rushing through airports with your radio equipment hanging from your belt and backpack, wearing your signature lumberjack shirt and hiking boots. A lot has changed, but I recently told a colleague that through the turbulence of education reporting you have remained a constant. You search out the good story and put it into context: What does this mean for the rest of us? Does it change things? Is it fair? Only someone with great curiosity and incitef could do this, year after year. You have left a very high standard for reporting. Thank you. And, knowing that you have done well, you deserve to sit and raise high the glass with friends and family. Enjoy! Affectionately, Anne


    • My good buddy Annie, thank you very much for reminding me of my country bumpkin image (reality!). When I first came to DC to do research for my doctoral thesis, I went to meet the Minority Counsel and was surprised to find that he was white! Not sure I’m all that more aware now, but going through life liking (just about) everybody has worked for me.
      I haven’t gotten tired of the reporting or our crowd of education reporters; it’s the constant fundraising that wore me out, particularly because so many foundations nowadays want their dogma preached, instead of independent journalism. It’s their money, so they have that right, of course, but it creates problems for us reporters.
      As for my departure, there are dozens of really fine reporters covering our beat, so I don’t have the slightest concern about that. I’m preparing myself mentally for “John Who?”

      Joan and I have a few plans, but mostly we are excited to see what’s around the corner.


      • I have been living in Spanish land too long. I accused you of “inciting,” which I am sure you could do for a cause, but I think you are insightful, too. Come this way as you look for something to do.

        Liked by 1 person

  13. I’ve appreciated your thoughtful commentaries over the years. I look forward to The Merrow Report and hope you consider moderating discussion in Los Angeles where outside reformer funding has corrupted our local school board races. Best wishes in your future endeavors.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. John, hope you and Joan will have many more healthy, happy years together. Good health is such a blessing (often one we fail to fully appreciate).

    Hope you continue to challenge educators, whether in district or chartered schools, to show what they and their students are accomplishing – using multiple measures – including whether young people are learning how to be active, involved, constructive citizens.

    Hope you’ll also push educators to be accountable for how public funds are being spent, again, whether in district or chartered public schools.

    Hope you’ll continue to celebrate the successes that have wide-spread applicability. They give us hope about what can and should be done to help young people find ways to express themselves via the arts & other media, to find what they are best at, and love – so they can live positive, happy, contributing lives.

    You’ve done wonderfully with fundraising. Having worked on “soft money” since 1979, I appreciate, at least a little, some challenges you’ve faced, and the enormous success you’ve had.

    On behalf of families, educators, the broader community, and most important, STUDENTS, thanks for your integrity, commitment and skill.

    “For all that is to come, YES!”


  15. Great to know you are not leaving entirely–that like Dicken’s spirits you’ll be out there swirling about, kicking up trouble and stimulating thought. You’ve had a proud career and made major contributions to the field. Your puckish sense of humor is unparalleled. You are very lucky to head towards more fun with Joan. All the best.

    Dottie Engler


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