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Media: Why Journos Overstate Federal Influence Over Education

1_ebert-thumb-175x131-5659Blogger Matthew Yglesias notes that people overestimate the influence of the federal government when it comes to education issues and thinks that the media plays a role in this (Systematic Misinformation About Responsibility).  "People don’t realize how small a role the federal government plays in education policy," writes Yglesias. I'm inclined to agree, though I don't think it's just national political reporters who struggle on this account.  Anytime someone sneezes "education" in Washington -- yesterday's Duncan press call is a great example -- education reporters dutifully cover it and their papers dutifully publish it.  But why?  Duncan doesn't have any real influence over how state and local governments respond to their budget crises.  He wasn't announcing the discovery of a new, unspent pot of money or a heretofore secret machine that allowed one teacher to do the work of two.  It was a press call and some materials, an attempt to influence the debate but without any real substance to it.  Ditto for most proposals, reports, speeches, announcements, etc.  The reason why it gets covered is that it's easy -- Duncan and everyone else have fullblown press operations to get the word out about their latest and provide reporters with help -- and the reason why it gets hyped is simple human behavor: reporters want their beat to seem more important and get on the front page (or in the paper, as the case may be).  My excuse, or defense, for covering education trivia here is that this is a part-time blog not a newsgathering site or real newsroom, and that I spend a lot of time reminding readers that proposals aren't policy and that announcements and intentions (ie, reauthorizing NCLB) aren't news.  Image via Roger Ebert.

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