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Media: Can Education Coverage Find Its Balance, Please?

Conspirator-FlickrMaybe it's just the weather, but a lot of the news coverage of education recently has been bothering me lately.  

You, too?  Glad to hear it. However, our aggravations may not all be the same.

My main complaint is that coverage that was for a long time perhaps overly credulous about reformers' ideas and efforts has now gotten stuck for a long time over on the other side of the spectrum, where it's overly critical about reformers' ideas and efforts and generally portraying teacher and parent (and union) complaints and concerns out of context.

For example, the Chicago Board of Education yesterday considered several charter proposals.  Eleven went unapproved, and seven got the green light.  But if you read the headlines coming out today -- and let's be honest that's what most of us do (and that headline writers work off of the stories reporters give them) -- you'd have no idea that any of the proposals had been rejected.

Here are the headlines: Board of Ed. approves 7 new Chicago charter schools Sun Times, Chicago Public Schools approves seven new charter schools WBEZ, 7 charters get OK, daily PE approved Catalyst.  (Only newcomer DNA Info got it right, IMO: CPS Recommends Board OK Seven New Charter Schools, Deny 11 Others.)

While we're on the topic of Chicago education coverage, this recent Chicago Tribune article about field testing the Common Core tests in Illinois (More tests on the way: Illinois launches massive field test of new exam in more than 2,000 schools) is long and complicated and generally makes it seem like kids are going to be tested to death this year.  

The language gives it all away: "Tens of thousands of students" are involved in a new "testing blitz." Testing is going to be "piled on" to existing tests, and has created "a labyrinth of testing scenarios."  

What gets minimized or left out is context -- that the field testing only involves about half of the schools in the state -- and not all kids in these schools -- and that the field test will add between two and six hours of testing this spring. 

There are more examples -- even better ones, to be sure -- but you get the drift.  I'm not saying that things didn't go the other way for a long time. I'm just saying that things have swung pretty far and that readers aren't getting the context and evenly-distributed skepticism that they deserve. 

Image via Flickr.

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Speaking of headlines, why would a meta-analysis by a cognitive researcher make the Atlantic magazine? It said little or nothing about school realities and only addressed included pre-1989 info on nine high schools, and said little to support standardized testing, as opposed to the assessments that have been driven out by "reform," and was reduced to saying that a college prof he knows has had success with testing, so why was it published?

Maybe the whole purpose was giving a pro-testing headline.

Similarly, when Surprise! the CAP once again endorses "reform" they spin the headlines of their poll. Their previous polls show that the problems are worse in high-poverty schools, but where was that caveat? Why didn't they report the actual poll questions in the body of the report and the subsequent appropriation of it? When they ask about control over teaching material IN YOUR OWN CLASSROOM (caps in their question), doesn't that change the answers? And, where were the headlines saying that nearly half of teachers answer that question saying they only have no or minor control?

Here's why the working press is going to report more on the failure of reform and the testing mania. Its because newpaper reporters report on reality. The reality is that reform failed, and testing is out of control. Not that reality will stop reformers from lobbying for better headlines and spin in their venues.

So your real complaint is with headline writers, not really "news coverage of education" in this exampe, right? Because in every one of those stories the reporter explains that other applications were rejected (one of them does it in the second graph!)

I think you're being a little unfair to headline writers. Headlines are supposed to be short and succinct and newspaper online heds are usually taken directly from the space-limited print version.

If you've got a space limitation, "7 schools approved" is a more sensible hed than "11 schools denied." I can hear my first editor's voice in my head right now: "Tell me what did happen, not what didn't happen!"

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