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Media: 12 Problems With Politico's TFA Story (+1 With TFA)

image from images.politico.comWriting about TFA is fun.  I do it all the time.  They're the most iconic school reform organization out there.  People love them or hate them (or like me, it depends on the day).  There's always something new to talk about!

However, fulltime paid journalists writing for for-real mainstream media outlets ostensibly writing straight news coverage  shouldn't be throwing around half-hidden opinions and only getting two thirds of the full story.  That's what bloggers, part-time freelancers, and columnists are for!

Plus which, writing about pro-reform endeavors all the time is predictable and boring, especially when there's lots of other big education action going on out there that might warrant some careful examination, too (ie, the watered-down teacher dismissal bill in CA, or the funding equity fight in IL, or the  new LAUSD board president who apparently has a temper and appropriate behavior problem).

Which brings us to today's Politico education story bylined by Stephanie Simon -- and yet another set of problems and issues with the journalism being provided. Plus one obvious issue related to TFA's new Congressional fellows program.

Some obvious examples where Politico's TFA story goes wrong:

1 - The hyperbolic headline ("Teach for America rises as political powerhouse"): TFA now has some narrow political power in Congress but is by no means yet a "powerhouse" with much demonstrated power outside its immediate programmatic and financial concerns.

2 - The rehashed criticisms:  They don't stay in the classroom long enough, and move up to school leadership too quickly. They're in a rush. They're not trained beforehand. We get it. Enough. Or if necessary, rehash all the "best and brightest" praise at equal length.

3 - The skewed and/or overheated language: "Flush with cash and ambition" "huge victory" "Vast administration" "astounding number of alumni" This is barely-concealed code language telling readers what to feel (and/or conveying what the reporter and/or editors feel). Gak.

4 - The internal contradictions:  TFA's an unstoppable powerhouse, but it's also in danger? make up your mind.  (That's like me saying that the California teachers, who have easily blocked much-needed teacher dismissal reforms for two years now, are in big trouble because Gov. Brown vetoed a watered-down bill earlier this month.)

5 - The faux "backlash" against TFA: Actions in three states and a district don't constitute a real backlash -- not yet at least. Again, they can't reasonably be an unstoppable powerhouse and a fragile bird at the same time.

6 - The obvious holes in the story:  It's not a handful of short-term Congressional fellows who are going to make a big difference on the Hill, but rather the permanent TFA alumni staffers who are in Members' offices working on education (a list of whom TFA has in the past declined to provide to me). 

7 - The obvious holes in the story:  The HOUSSE loophole for veteran teachers who don't otherwise make it as HQT is at least as big a loophole in NCLB as TFA's alt cert exemption, and is pretty directly comparable but left unmentioned.

8 - The lack of context: Congressional fellowships are a dime a dozen -- as Politico points out only at the very end of the piece. For a full list see here

9 - The lack of context: TFA and other alt cert programs are better at recruiting high-GPA minority teacher trainees in Illinois, for example.  But again, it's all concerns and criticism, all the time in this piece.

10 - The lack of context: TFA's leadership development and political advocacy efforts are growing but still extremely small compared to established players.Where is the description of the size and influence of other education players, so that readers can grasp how big (or small) TFA really is?

11 - The pattern: She's very good at digging up (being sent?) new information but stories written by Simon have a fairly consistent and obvious bentwhen you look at them over time as I have --  as well as repeated issues with context and quantification (ie, how big is the problem and how does it compare to other similar situations)? This isn't the first time Simon has written critically about TFA, either.  

12 - The hypocrisy: For-profit Politico recently had Wendy Kopp come talk about her accomplishments at a live event (sponsored by Google), interviewed by a member of the Politico education team. Who, exactly, is "flush with cash and ambition" here?

All that being said, I'd prefer that the funding for the new fellowships went through TFA rather than directly into the program -- and ideally went through some sort of national coalition of education groups rather than through TFA alone. Can someone make that happen? I've written about other  concerns and criticisms re TFA numerous times (see here).

PPS: I'm generally a big admirer of Politico, am glad its education page exists and hope it's generating lots of pageviews and subscribers, and I have (and will continue to) pitch them story ideas, tweet out their stuff, etc.

Image via Politico

Previous posts: Why's Politico Making Ravitch Case Against Reform?Reuters' Simon Wins National Education Coverage AwardReuters Story On Data Sharing May Overstate ProblemTFA Questions Reuters Article

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Whoa! It's another round in the This Week in Education war on Stephanie Simon. Is Scholastic on board with this ongoing one-way conflict?

there's no war going on here, caroline -- i'm criticizing the journalism and giving my reasons -- you obviously disagree but don't say why.

media criticism is a regular feature of this blog, and the criticism goes wherever it needs to go (including criticism of TFA and journalism that cheerleads for it).

anyway, feel free to tell us where i'm wrong on the facts, or why you disagree. that's what this is here for.

or if you'd like i am happy to point you to instances where i've criticized TFA, journalism overstating TFA's positive influence, etc.

Alexander mad that someone is one-sided? Hahahaha.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in This Week In Education are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.