school closures

Educational (Coverage) Reform

Saturday's print version of the Oregonian featured a front page article on improving low-performing schools. The article is about average for educational writing; as such, it provides a useful opportunity to examine some of the flaws in educational coverage as practiced by the main stream media.


Oregonian Home Page, Sat, February 27th, 2010. Image from the Newseum: http://www.newseum.org

The Oregonian article stays on the familiar ground of mediocre education coverage by hewing closely to the narrative that Change = Good and No Change = Bad. It's a stretch to call this kind of writing an intentional lie of omission, but the article certainly oversimplifies a complex topic by omitting many details that could be relevant. For example, any of the following details could have created a more complete picture:

It's not like every article needs to include in depth coverage around every detail, but it would be nice if an article even included something that resembled nuance. For example, the Oregonian article reads:

Districts can avoid making the changes if they don't apply for the money. But if they decide not to seek the turnaround funds, they must explain in detail why they lack the capacity to do so.

A couple issues here:

First, calling the money "turnaround funds" misrepresents what is happening. In some cases, the schools will not be turned around, they will be closed, and handed over to charter companies. Journalists should do more than parrot the language of government press releases.

Second, the above quotation says school districts "must must explain in detail why they lack the capacity" to apply for funding. This would have been an excellent place to point out that the changes being advocated here haven't been proven to work, and, as noted above, in Chicago they didn't work. So, district time could be chewed up explaining why they don't want to spend time doing something that hasn't been proven to work. This has nothing to do with a lack of capacity, and more to do with not wanting to waste time on something that might not actually fix anything.

I'm not disputing - at all - that schools and districts can become more effective. The issues around educational reform are complex and nuanced. Unfortunately, the discussions of them are not.

The press could perform a useful function by presenting a more complete picture. For education coverage, this could start by acknowledging that the problems within schools do not have a single solution, and that the best solution to improving schools will likely vary based on the conditions within and around the school. Moreover, improvements will be incremental, and strategies for these improvements will incorporate ideas from a variety of sources.

This is a more difficult story to write, as it doesn't fit into any pre-made narrative. But, it has one tangible benefit: it's a lot closer to the truth.


Credits: Home Page photo from The Newseum.
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