Bad report, gloomy conclusion: In the sixteen years we’ve been doing this site, we’ve learned one major lesson.
We expect to announce our key finding next week. Yesterday, on a visit to Vox, we were reminded of this depressing finding.
When we clicked to Vox, we found this report by Libby Nelson. It sat beneath an intriguing headline:
“US public schools are better than they've ever been”
Is that claim true? Such sweeping claims are hard to assess. But we were eager to see how Nelson supported the claim.
How did Nelson support that claim? Very poorly! In some ways, we’d have to say that Nelson’s piece is one of the worst analysis pieces we have ever read.
There’s an irony to that fact. It concerns the lofty site at which the report appears.
As readers may know, Ezra Klein started Vox as a source for the new, smarter journalism. The new site was designed to “explain the news.”
Nelson is discussing an important, widely-flogged topic—the quality of our public schools. Her report is so inept that it called our gloomiest learning to mind.
What’s wrong with Nelson’s report? We’ll answer that question tomorrow. For today, let’s describe her piece:
Nelson’s piece is in the form of an interview with Jack Schneider, an assistant professor of education at Holy Cross. Nelson poses questions to Schneider, then records his responses.
(Yesterday, Nelson listed Schneider as an assistant professor of history. The error has been corrected.)
In this, her introduction to the piece, Nelson provides an overview:
NELSON (10/13/14): Polls about education in the US quickly find a paradox: most people like their neighborhood schools, but they think education as a whole in the US is going downhill. Everyone thinks their neighborhood school is the exception, not the rule.Most people think education is going downhill. But Schneider says our public schools have never been better!
Jack Schneider, an assistant professor of education at the College of the Holy Cross, makes another argument. He says there's never been a better time to be a student in American public schools, which educate a broader swathe of the population more successfully than ever before. We talked about his argument and about the dominance of the crisis narrative in education. Our conversation has been edited slightly for clarity and length.
That would be a significant claim, if anything qualified any more. But when we read Nelson’s report, it struck us as grossly incompetent.
Please note—Schneider’s answers have been “edited slightly for clarity and length.” This means we can’t be entirely sure of what he actually said, including what he may have said that Nelson chose to leave out.
That said, the interview addresses an important, widely-debated question—and it strikes us as tremendously incompetent.
Nelson graduated from Northwestern in 2009. Presumably, she’s one of the bright young writers who were going to make Vox the place for the new, smarter journalism.
Her interview didn’t strike us that way. It called to mind the gloomy lesson we’ve drawn from the past sixteen years.
Are American public schools better than ever? Our journalism certainly isn’t!
Tomorrow, what Schneider seems to have said.