Friday, March 30, 2012

American Journalism Review: Flunking the Test

It came as a surprise when I was reading an American Journalism Review article on the media's coverage of educational issues and came across quotes from a Joplin, Missouri, English teacher, taken from a Huffington Post article.

AJR's article, which is well worth reading, examines media coverage of educational issues and the criticism, which I have leveled from time to time, that the media has jumped on the "reform" bandwagon without any real evidence that the suggested reforms- firing "bad" teachers, opening more charter schools, approving educational vouchers, and limiting the power of teacher unions, would do anything at all to help students learn.

My quote comes in a portion talking about NBC's regular Education Nation programming:

Some teachers, on the other hand, can't help feeling that the network has stacked the deck in favor of the "reform" agenda. NBC's approach "is beneficial to those who promote privatizing schools, those who peddle tests and tests to prepare for tests, and curriculum based on tests to prepare for tests," wrote Randy Turner, an English teacher in Joplin, Missouri, on The Huffington Post last fall, as he watched the network cover its own summit. "It is also beneficial to those whose chief goal is to eliminate unions of all kinds, including those representing teachers."
This portion of the article noted some of the problems reporters face in providing an accurate picture of what is going on in our classrooms:

"School systems are crazed about controlling the message," says Linda Perlstein, author of two books about schools and, until recently, public editor of the Education Writers Association. "Access is so constricted." As a result, she says, "There's great underreporting of what happens in classroom, and it's just getting worse."
Perlstein spent three school years in classrooms to report a series about middle school for the Washington Post in 2000, and for her books, "Not Much Just Chillin'" (about middle schoolers in Columbia, Maryland) and "Tested" (about high-stakes tests). But Perlstein says other reporters were never able to gain similar access to other schools, including those in Washington, D.C., where the reform efforts of former Schools Chancellor Rhee attracted national attention.

Even with a cooperative principal or school superintendent, few reporters could make the lengthy commitment that Perlstein did in her reporting. That means journalists don't get to see the very thing they're reporting about. Imagine if sportswriters never got to see athletes play or political reporters never attended a campaign rally. Some districts even forbid teachers from speaking to the media on the record outside the classroom.

What to do? "You rely more and more on talking heads and less on what a school looks like," Perlstein says. She adds, "That matters." Ironically, superintendents and administrators "always tell me that the media gets it wrong. Well, how can we get it right when they won't talk to us?"

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