TEACH THE JOURNALISTS WELL: You might say he’s a dreamer!

MONDAY, MARCH 24, 2014

Part 1—De Blasio misreads the press: If the New York Times is reporting correctly, you might say the mayor’s a dreamer!

On the front page of today’s “New York Edition,” Javier Hernandez reports that Mayor de Blasio “struck a conciliatory tone” toward “advocates of charter schools” in a speech yesterday morning.

In our own hard-copy Times, a mind-reading headline says this:

“With Eye Toward Polls, de Blasio Softens Tone on Charter Schools.”

(According to the Times web site, Hernandez’s report does not appear on the front page of the “National Edition.” Nor does it appear on the front page of our hard-copy “Washington Edition.” According to Nexis, it does appear on the front page of the “Late Edition.” Whatever! And welcome to Babel!)

As a general matter, we favor conciliatory tones from public officials. But in what follows, you can see why we might say the mayor’s a dreamer:
HERNANDEZ (3/24/14): The mayor spoke before a largely friendly crowd at Riverside Church, long a forum for liberal political thought. He used the occasion to denounce the polarized state of educational discourse, and he chastised the news media for what he said was too little coverage of issues like teacher retention and engagement with parents.

“You won’t read a lot about some of these problems and some of those solutions on the front pages of our papers,” he said. “Where there’s conflict, that’s where the energy goes.”
You won’t read about these problems on the front pages of our papers? This morning’s New York Times might be a case in point!

The passage we’ve posted appears in a shortened version of Hernandez’s report. That shortened report appears on page A13 of our “Washington Edition.”

In the longer report which appears on the front page of the “New York Edition,” we find nothing resembling that passage. De Blasio’s statement about the press doesn’t appear.

Whatever! When we read that passage, we nodded along with the mayor. We agree—“the polarized state of educational discourse” is a serious problem.

We also shook our head in wonder. If Hernandez is reporting correctly, Mayor de Blasio is a dreamer, we thoughtfully said.

Did de Blasio really complain in the manner described? Did he say there was “too little (front-page) coverage of issues like teacher retention and engagement with parents?”

Good God! The problem with coverage of education hardly starts with topics like those! Down through the years, we have reported problems with the coverage which are much more basic.


Quite routinely, the mainstream press corps fails to report the actual state of domestic test scores, even as it heavily focuses on such data.

(The Washington Post doesn’t seem to know how to report NAEP scores for the D.C. school system. When she wrote a book mocking the state of Texas, Gail Collins didn’t seem to know how to compare NAEP scores for the various states. Major journalists almost never report the large growth in our NAEP scores, even as they refer to the NAEP as “the gold standard” of testing. Meanwhile, major pundits constantly say or suggest that domestic test scores are caught in a long, “embarrassing” decline.)

Quite routinely, the mainstream press corps fails to report the actual state of international test scores. For the past decade, they have also been caught in a tulip craze concerning test scores from Finland.

In the realm of test scores, the press corps’ technical incompetence is a sight to behold. Then too, there’s the press corps’ treatment of major pedagogical issues.

In this realm, the press corps’ standards (for itself) are just extremely low. The laziness of the guild can be overpowering.

Consider two pieces we read in yesterday’s Sunday newspapers.

In its high-profile Sunday Review section, the New York Times published a slothful mess about the “Common Core” by Jennifer Finney Boylan, a professor at an elite college.

Technically, Boylan’s piece was an opinion column, or perhaps an analysis piece. That said, many commenters seemed to think that they had read a thoughtful piece about this program—and the Sunday Review is a very high-profile section.

They had not read a thoughtful piece about the Common Core. Boylan didn’t display an ounce of background knowledge about the increasingly controversial program.

(In fairness, several commenters hammered Boylan for her remarkable cluelessness. That said, we can’t say that the Times has done much reporting about the Common Core that goes much beyond Boylan’s lazy dream state. Nor have we ever read a report in any newspaper which addresses a much more basic question—in a nation with an extremely wide range of achievement levels, how is any set of grade-level “standards” supposed to work?)

Yesterday, we also encountered this:

In the Washington Post, two local figures offered an opinion/analysis piece about D.C.’s charter schools. At the key point in their piece, they praised a collaboration between “a charter operation” and a local elementary school.

Does the Washington Post employ any editors? We don’t have the slightest idea how this collaboration has actually worked:
ALPERT AND WEXLER (3/23/14): Stanton Elementary in Anacostia, which was one of the lowest-performing elementary schools in the District, has been operated by a charter organization, Scholar Academies, for the past three years...In that time, while Stanton has remained a DCPS school subject to the same union and other requirements as all DCPS schools, math scores increased from 8 percent proficient to 42 percent, and reading from 13 percent to 20 percent. Those who knew the school in its “before” phase say it’s now almost unrecognizable. Could that happen at other schools as well?


[Mayoral candidate Tommy Wells] said he would like to give this a shot. Rather than closing neighborhood schools, or waiting years for DCPS to try to turn them around, he advocates recruiting charter operators with proven track records to do the job. The schools would remain part of DCPS and might at some point become traditional public schools again.
We’d love to know more about what has happened at this school, which is full of deserving kids. Beyond that, we’d be open to any sensible attempt at collaboration.

That said, can we talk?

That three-year growth in reading scores is hard to distinguish from D.C.’s overall citywide pattern. More significantly, we’d have to say we have no idea, from this garbled presentation, how this arrangement has worked.

Is Stanton Elementary a “traditional public school” at this point, or is it a charter? More specifically, how do Stanton’s admission procedures now work?

Does Stanton still work as a neighborhood school serving all neighbor children? Or are its admission procedures now “selective” in some way?

Absent that information, you can’t even begin to evaluate the reported progress. But so what? The Post was willing to put this in print despite the lack of clarity about this essential question.

For now, let’s return to Gotham’s struggling mayor:

Did de Blasio really imagine front-page coverage of “issues like teacher retention and engagement with parents?” If so, you might say he’s a dreamer—and, at least around here, he’d be the only one!

The truth of the matter is very basic. When it comes to the public discourse about public schools, our upper-end press corps strongly resembles a primitive, preliterate people.

They lack the most basic numerical skills. Analytical skills are hard to find. In truth, they display few skills beyond the skill of repeating tribal narrative, which typically feature states of decline which can’t be found in the data they recommend.

If we want to teach the journalists well, we’ll have to start at a basic level. Mayor, please! You can’t go straight to Algebra II with a group like this.

Tomorrow: Where to begin?

For what it’s worth: In the passage we quoted from the Post, we omitted this for the sake of simplification:

“(Disclosure: One of us, Natalie, serves on the board of a charter school, DC Scholars, that is also operated by Scholar Academies.)”

Whatever! With or without this disclosure, the portrait of that collaboration didn’t make journalistic sense.


  1. Can we talk? Consider your final point. The two you criticize for not making jounalistic sense are not jounalists. They are bloggers.

    1. What is "journalistic sense" anyway?

      That phrase makes no sense.

    2. As soon as Somerby identifies an article which makes journalistic sense we just don't know.

      Just because it makes no sense to you doesn't mean it has been journalistically disproven to make no sense.
      Or to not be nonsense. Or journalistically nonsensual.

  2. Left out some "r's. Whatev!

    1. Good God! But so what. You don't employ any editors.

  3. OMB (Help for BOB is Available Nearby)

    Re: Natalie Wexler

    "“(Disclosure: One of us, Natalie, serves on the board of a charter school, DC Scholars, that is also operated by Scholar Academies.)”

    She can help, BOB. She is just down the road. And she obviously cares about low income kids.



  4. http://www.nytimes.com/2005/05/17/education/17expel.html

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