Media: Mystery Journo Defends Paul Farhi's Media Critique
Here's one veteran education journalist's nuanced defense of the Paul Farhi article I was so steamed about the other day, used with permission. Take a look and let us know who's right:
"I'll start off by pointing that Farhi's critique is of "media reports" on education, not strictly workaday education reporters. That's an important point that I think got lost in some of the earlier back and forth. Looked at that way, his piece, and his thesis, largely holds up to scrutiny.
Some of the pushback on this piece seem to be discomfort that Farhi expressed an opinion. It is a commentary after all. Farhi is clear that he thinks that teachers are unfairly scapegoated these days and tries to make a case that too many reporters and media outlets are simply going along with this. The question is whether he manages to support this argument. I think he does, but he could have gone a lot further. The caveats I would have liked to have seen, that I mention above, are more about offering more context, conceding that there is probably more quality reporting than he's giving credit for, etc. But it doesn't really change the overall validity of his argument, at least to my mind it doesn't.
I think he makes a good case for why he focuses on NBC's reporting. I would have liked to have seen him try to quantify the reach of NBC, but my guess is more people are getting their information on education from places like NBC than from your garden variety newspapers, or even in the extensive and nuanced coverage PBS's News Hour does, led up by the venerable John Merrow on here. And viewers are going to give credence to a Fareed Zakaria or an Anderson Cooper if they do something on education, and are not going to carefully assess whether they should listen to the likable Fareed because, sheesh, I don' think he's a day-in, day-out education reporter. Also, to be fair, it's possible CNN might have a veteran producer working on the story with strong education chops feeding Fareed. Dunno.
"I wish Farhi could have pointed to the frustratingly surface reporting on education that's usually found on local TV news, which again has more reach than many of us print folks have. There are also loads of small newspapers doing very surface reporting on education, for a variety of reasons, and that doesn't help either. For example, I saw a local TV station start a broadcast recently with a "shocking fact" of some high percentage of students aren't reading at grade level, as defined by the state of Louisiana, on state tests. The TV reporter didn't mention that the percentage she found shocking is actually greatly improved from where it was a decade ago. She also strongly implied that this result was all the fault of public schools. This stuff is normal and every day in my experience.
I'm also not sure why people are so critical of word searches in Nexis as an indicator. The fact that "failing schools" was almost never used 20 years ago and is now ubiquitous is interesting. (The very phrase is loaded, because it puts all the responsibility on the schools) This nugget aids Farhi's thesis that this particular "crisis" in education is a new, likely a political, phenomenon. It's a rough measure no doubt, but it is a quantitative measure that may well say more than a few pithy quotes from us edu-scribes. I would have liked him to have seen how often the word "poverty" came up in school reporting 20 years versus now and in what contexts. I bet that would be an interesting comparison too. Then the "crisis" was underfunded public schools, as expressed in Jonathan Kozol's "Savage Inequalities." That "crisis" may have been overblown a bit, but it's been replaced by a new "crisis." The idea that teachers alone can fix or greatly reduce such "savage inequalities" is a relatively new phenomenon, and one that is often asserted in the absence of strong evidence. I guess I'll wait to see what the next "crisis" will prove to be. And then Farhi can write a screed on that that we all get our dander up about.
Yes, Farhi could have talked to more and more veteran education reporters (assuming they'd talk to him). Not sure why the only practicing reporter he appears to have talked to was a younger reporter from the Star-Ledger. He could have highlighted some counter-examples of the general trend he highlighted, including the AJC and Gannett's strong work looking into test cheating. Strauss probably goes too far in her condemnation of the "mainstream media" reporting on education.
I think he also gave a bit too rosy picture of the improvements in public education over recent years. There a lot of problems out there, and they are serious ones. This stuff didn't come out of nowhere. He should have made that point forcefully. And I've said before, I'm not sure it's fair to expect that the reporters are all going to collectively rally against dominant narratives of any given time. We're not advocates. All of our reporting to some or large extent reflects the tenor of the times. If every politician out there is describing public education as in "crisis," it's hard to say otherwise. We are after all in the reality-based community, for better or for worse.
Well anyways, people I'm sure you are tired of hearing from me on this. Overall, I'd give the piece a B. "