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Media: Why's Politico Making Ravitch Case Against Reform?

Media bias bias colin dunn flickrSo I have a couple of issues with Stephanie Simon's recent Politico story attempting to connect the NYC Democratic race for mayor with school reform nationwide (New York City Democrats embrace full speed reverse on education reforms).

To be sure, some reform critics like Diane Ravitch and Leonie Haimson (featured prominently in the piece) may be happy that de Blasio prevailed over Quinn and others.

But does that mean, as Simon relays, that "the reform movement has also triggered a backlash from parents and teachers who see it as a threat to their schools, their jobs and the traditional concept of public education as a public trust" and that de Blasio's victory is "a sign the tide might slowly be turning" nationally?

Or is that simply Ravitch and Haimsen's view?

To my eyes, it's not clear enough whether Simon is herself making the case that the tide is turning or simply passing it along as a case being made by others (that happens to omit contradictory examples where the tide isn't turning).  See below for more details.

First and foremost, the Politico story omits contradictory evidence against the "turning tide" argument, including for example recent research showing that charters -- particularly NYC charters -- are strong performers, the 50,000 applicants to TFA, the relatively smooth start to a longer school year and day in Chicago under a new contract, or the continuing implementation of the Common Core in most parts of the country.

The story includes a couple of quotes from reform supporters but only at the very end, without giving them equal space to challenge the Ravitch/Haimsen thesis.  (We don't know if they were even asked the question.)

Last but not least, the story neglects to mention until very late in the piece that the local teachers union -- behind whom reform critics most often fall into line -- endorsed Bill Thompson, who lost to de Blasio and has so far followed Thompson in calling for a recount of some kind.

For comparative purposes, check out GothamSchools's day after story (Education advocates pivot and spin after de Blasio’s ascent), which prominently details the tensions within the anti-Bloomberg coalition and addresses head-on various efforts to spin the story by reform critics and reformers alike. Most of all, there's no attempt to make a national case.

Of course, reform advocates have spun "national" stories out of anecdotal progress in the past, sometimes with the help of mainstream news outlets.  I have made frequent fun of these over-reaches in the past, and will continue to do so as long as necessary.

But that's no excuse for doing the same thing in reverse, and with a new education page and big paywall coming up soon, Politico is under particular pressure to provide strong, well-considered journalism that passes the smell test for education insiders and savvy advocates.

Image via Colin Dunn Flickr CC

Previous posts:  Politico Launching "Pro" Education Site MondayReuters' Simon Wins National Education Coverage AwardReuters Story On Data Sharing May Overstate Problem TFA Questions Reuters ArticleHow'd They Do Covering The [2012] Election?.; Two Great Education Writers You May Not Know AboutReuters Reporter Rebuts Critics Of Charter Story.


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The phrase "passes the smell test" indicates a suspicion that Simon is somehow corrupt. How would that be, especially since it's the "reform" sector that hires a vast army of well-paid outreach/advocacy voices to promote its positions, with no parallel army existing in the world of "reform" critics?

If "passes the smell test" means "I don't agree with it," it's a misuse of the phrase.

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