About this blog Subscribe to this blog

Update: Mixed (Predictable) Reactions To My CJR Common Core Reporting Piece

image from scholasticadministrator.typepad.com
Thanks to everyone who passed along my recent CJR piece on the challenges of reporting the Common Core testing rollout this spring. Much appreciated! The story was a top read for CJR all week.

By and large, those of you who are pro-Common Core liked the piece, and those of you who are critical thought it was less likable. Pretty predictable. (Your positions are reversed when I'm criticizing Rhee or Kopp or Cunningham, though.)

Far as I know, nobody was willing to admit publicly any major change of mind on the tests or the coverage -- such is rigidly orthodox world of education debate these days (and also of course the limits of my writing). 

Most of you who work as education reporters didn't say anything one way or the other -- at least not publicly. (A few of you were kind enough to write privately that it was a useful piece, or that it was helping you to rethink your coverage tendencies, which I appreciated tremendously.)

Alas, the only journalists I could find to talk about the issue on the record were John Merrow (one of its subjects) and Linda Perlstein (a former Washington Post reporter and EWA's founding Public Editor). I hope that won't always be the case, as I think constructive conversation about media coverage is a positive and healthy thing and shows confidence in the work.

Turned by back CJR from commenting on their site, Merrow finally posted his own response on his blog this afternoon (Reporting About Reporting).  He makes some good points, as you'll see, but he also makes some weaker ones, according to me at least, and unfortunately resorts to (gentle) criticisms of character.

Read on for more about Merrow, a handful of less predictable responses, some errors and omissions on my part, and a few sentences that were left on the cutting room floor.


One exception to the predictability rule: Andrew "Eduwonk" Rotherham noted that it was perhaps too soon to say that the Common Core testing rollout has been going well.

Too soon to say Common Core tests going surprisingly well but reporting on it unsurprisingly bad http://t.co/24PRJYc44o via @alexanderrusso

— Andrew Rotherham (@arotherham) March 19, 2015

Another exception: Bill "Funnymonkey" Fitzgerald suggested that overly negative coverage of the education crisis was just as much a problem as overly negative coverage of the Common Core testing rollout:

The same can be said for the "education is broken" narrative: http://t.co/2Lfhewk012 cc @alexanderrusso pic.twitter.com/4fnsYTxGEY

— Bill Fitzgerald (@funnymonkey) March 18, 2015


In his rebuttal, Merrow claims to have addressed my concerns about his segment and posts our email exchange to defend that view.  (I have mixed feelings about posting email exchanges like this, but will save them for another time.)

What Merrow's cut-and-paste of emails doesn't include, however, is that Merrow is quoted and paraphrased in the CJR piece explaining himself -- unsatisfactorily, to my view -- or that additional quotes were included in an earlier version but cut out by the editor of the piece.

Some other notes about Merrow's response:
*The numbers I was suggesting Merrow could have included in his report were provided by district, not state or testing officials, to local news outlets during and before his piece came out. The notion that the only opt-out numbers available were from Pearson or biased bloggers is inaccurate, from what I can tell.
*Linda Perlstein would not, I don't imagine, agree that she works for the Gates Foundation any more than Merrow works for his funders. In fact, she wrote a book about some school's over-focus on testing and test preparation that Merrow might admire. These and other criticisms of motive or character seem unfortunate to me.
*While it may seem to Merrow that I was only talking about his segment, I did, in fact, analyze others' coverage in the CJR piece, calling out AP, the Washington Post, and the New York Times - and making suggestions for coverage that apply broadly.


An earlier version included some praise for a WSJ version of the story which I'll post here for the record:
A March 2nd WSJ story might have done best to indicate the mix of patterns, noting that state officials said that opting out was strong in “a few affluent communities” but less so in urban districts and other parts of the state (just 15 out of 16,000 students opted out in Patterson). The story notes that technical issues were limited to a few incidents, & makes clear the role of the state teachers union.

Another quote left out of the final version came from Diane Ravitch's blog:

Testing critic Diane Ravitch praised the PBS piece in comparison with other media coverage that “misportrayed” the opt-out movement as union-led “when in fact the unions have sat on the sidelines.”

An Anthony Cody quote about reporters doing their jobs the way they were supposed to was also cut. (However, I did manage to Bob Schaeffer's quote into the piece (about fear-mongering district and state officials).


It's worth pointing out that folks from the NYT responded to my request for an interview but declined to participate, which is better than not responding at all (right?).

It was included in the original draft disclosure statement and should be noted that John Merrow has given me extremely helpful professional advice and support, lent me a spare desk at his nonprofit production company Learning Matters for a couple of years, and even hired me to do some freelance research once or twice in the past. 

I should have stated more clearly that I'm not particularly enthusiastic about the Common Core or the tests. They're not a particular area of interest for me, and if they were going poorly and the media was missing that story I would have pointed that out just as forcefully. 


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

The comments to this entry are closed.

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.