by Max Brantley
I don't know if anyone other than Jake da Snake and Luke Gordy will take the time to read this, but if you have any interest at all in the debate on education reform, charter schools, merit pay, high-stakes testing and media coverage of these issues I'd urge you to read this cover story in Columbia Journalism Review. It's a deep examination of some of the big-topic stories — the LA Times' evaluation of teachers based on test scores, for example — and the strengths and weaknesses of the coverage.
The major weakness: The coverage has come to be written from the point of view and in the language of the big money interests that are pushing their own particular flavor of education reform. Numbers are holy. A high-stakes test score is holier still. The article illustrates how that approach can sometimes have shortcomings. But it's a balanced report, I think. Concluding passage has a local angle:
The best education reporters are skilled at the invaluable art of connecting the dots for readers between policy from on high and reality in the classroom. Yet education reporters have increasingly found themselves herded toward a narrow agenda that reflects the corporate-style views of the new reformers, pulling them farther and farther away from the rich and messy heart and soul of education.
In February came a new website called the “Media Bullpen,” which, unfortunately, has the potential to help ensure that the conversation about school improvement will continue to revolve around a predictable script. This new watchdog newsroom plans to rate dozens of education stories daily using baseball metaphors—from strikeouts to homeruns.
The site is run by the Center for Education Reform, a DC-based advocacy group dedicated for the last eighteen years to promoting charter schools, and funded by the Walton family and the Bradley family, among others, including a $275,000 grant from the ubiquitous Gates Foundation. Time will tell whether the Bullpen will use its influence to expand the democratic conversation about schools, or merely bully the press by trying to call all the pitches.
Early signs are discouraging. A job posting for managing editor said its ideal candidate would be a “passionate advocate for education reform.” And we know what that means.
See the University of Arkansas. Education reform there, underwritten by the Waltons, is not a discipline that exhibits much straying from the patrons' line.