Thompson: To Each His Own Evidence
Claus von Zastrow, recoiling from educational know-nothingism of recent opinion pieces in the Washington Post and the New York Times, suggested "pay newspaper pundits for their performance. Pay them only for what they get right, or for judgments based on strong evidence"
What would such a grand bargain look like? Merit evaluations would lead to a quick exit of Jonathan Alter’s opinions. Richard Whitmire might avoid burnout and only seeing the worst in educators as a mentor refreshed his memory about journalism's best practices. Also with a little mentoring, Jay Mathews could assess the unhappy sides of stories as well as the uplifting, and I suspect he would rise into the top quintile. But if we evaluate on cold hard accuracy, the top bonuses would go to Gerald Bracey, and think of how blunt Bracey would be after receiving the full recognition he deserves.
We would need to evaluate the accuracy of headlines. For instance, Nicholas Kristof’s book report on education and poverty would not have been as misleading were it not the absurd title, "Best Antidote to Poverty? Good Teachers." But would Value Added Models result in the mass firings of headline writers over transgressions for which they may have little control?
Pay for performance would be most promising in "exiting" editors who accept lower standards for education writers than the foreign affairs beat. I have read Kristof for years, so does that qualify me to prescribe policies for Darfur or catching alleged spies in New Mexico? The New Yorker's editors, seeking colorful stories about legal absurdities, found their man in Steven Brill whose experience in law is matched by his ignorance of educational research. If they have no accurate information on the dry and complex issue of growth model validity, editors must be held accountable for googling some basic social science. - John Thompson