Richly schooled: Bruni speaks!


Everyone knows about schools: Frank Bruni doesn’t seem to know a whole lot about public schools.

In fairness, Bruni has never covered schools. There’s no reason why he should know much about that important topic.

Bruni doesn’t seem to know much about schools, but when has that ever stopped anyone? In today’s New York Times, he evaluates, or pretends to evaluate, a ballot measure in Colorado which would increase the state’s education funding while raising the state income tax.

Is the ballot measure a good plan? We don’t know, and there’s little sign that Bruni knows either:
BRUNI (10/29/13): The state is on the precipice of something big. On Election Day next Tuesday, Coloradans will decide whether to ratify an ambitious statewide education overhaul that the Legislature already passed and that Gov. John Hickenlooper signed but that voters must now approve, because Colorado law gives them that right in regard to tax increases, which the overhaul entails. Arne Duncan, the nation’s education secretary, has said that the success of Amendment 66, which is what voters will weigh in on, would make Colorado “the educational model for every other state to follow.”

It’s significant in many regards, especially in its creation of utterly surprising political bedfellows. Amendment 66 has the support of many fervent advocates of charter schools, which the overhaul would fund at nearly the same level as other schools for the first time...

[The proposal involves an] infusion of an extra $950 million annually into public education through the 12th grade, a portion of which could go to rehiring teachers who lost jobs during the recession and to hiring new ones for broadly expanded preschool and kindergarten programs. That’s an increase of more than 15 percent over current funding levels, which put Colorado well behind most other states in per-pupil spending...
The proposed “overhaul” would increase the state’s funding of charter schools. It would permit some teachers to be rehired. It would expand preschool and kindergarten programs in unspecified ways and to an unspecified degree.

According to Bruni, Colorado spends much less money per pupil than most other states. This overhaul would raise per-pupil spending by 15 percent.

Would that create parity with other states? Bruni doesn’t say. Later, Bruni says the overhaul would “direct more money proportionally to poor schools and at-risk students.”

Is this proposal some sort of big deal? We have no idea. Almost surely, neither does Bruni, who wrote an extremely vague column.

Can we talk? There’s no sign that Bruni has any idea what he’s talking about in this column. That said, it’s fairly clear that he knows a few talking points:

At one point, Bruni says there’s “no magic bullet for student improvement;” Wendy Kopp recites that bromide in her sleep. As the column proceeds, Bruni shows facility with another mandated pundit point. We refer to the places where he discusses the role of those infernal teachers union.

Bruni plays this familiar card throughout his column. Snarking nicely, he mentions the unions in five successive paragraphs.

It never seems to occur to Bruni that many teachers in Colorado may know more about these proposals than he does. Judging from the column itself, we will venture a guess: it’s possible that everyone in Colorado knows more about this proposed overhaul than Bruni.

Bruni doesn’t seem to know much about this “overhaul,” but he managed to kill a column this way. Last Wednesday, Tom Friedman did a similar paint-by-the-numbers column about the Shanghai public schools.

Friedman didn’t say there’s no magic bullet. He said there’s no “secret.”

Can we talk? In our post-journalistic culture, everyone is an expert on schools! Everyone except the people who get assigned to be education reporters.

Last week, Motoko Rich did a news report in the Times about a somewhat recent set of international test scores. In the early 1990s, Rich graduated summa cum laude from Yale. That fact seems a bit surprising to us, because 1) she seems to know little about public schools, and 2) she seems to have a hard time composing coherent reports about even the most basic topics.

Her editor is part of this too! For our previous post on the topic, click here.

Last week’s news report struck us as especially incompetent. That said, you live in a post-journalistic world. In the next few days, we’ll look at the way this New York Times education reporter covered a very basic topic, the kind of topic which is being discussed pretty much all the time.

Columnists sometimes like to pretend that they know about public schools, though it rarely seems that they do. More horribly, education reporters often seem caught in the grip of the same affliction.

We thought Rich’s report was especially weak. Tomorrow: Back to the future!


  1. The New York Times once had an skilled education reporter who did his job. He no longer works for the New York Times. He now works for the last honest man -- Bill Moyers. --E.

  2. When our society is becoming more complex and technological, why are reporters becoming less specialized? Why are there no longer journalists with expertise in the areas they report on? Are newspapers assuming that anyone who really cares about education will read about it in specialty magazines or journals? How is the general public then going to find out about a wide variety of topics relevant to their lives, described in ways that do not require a lot of technical expertise? I think we need this to be good voters, but I also don't think we are qualified to tell when we are not getting good info. That's why Bob's blog here is such a service.

    1. Because, since you haven't noticed, newspapers are dying in the Information Age. They are not only hemorrhaging circulation, but precious advertising -- the thing that pays the bills -- and they have made draconian cuts in staff, particularly reporters.

      I will allow Bob's loyal tribe to praise him for the "service" of pointing to what a NYT columnist writes or an MSNBC host says, usually days later.

      But as John Oliver said this summer on The Daily Show, quite often the Internet is where you go to read opinions you already hold.

  3. After being NYT bureau chief in Rome, Frank Bruni was for years the restaurant critic at the NY Times and also created a well-regarded exercise plan for Men's Vogue.

    The field of education, like diet and exercise, is notoriously susceptible to the whims of fads and fashion. Perhaps Bruni and Cathie Black could collaborate on a book on the subject.

  4. Following becoming NYT agency main within Ancient rome, Honest Bruni had been for a long time the actual cafe critic in the NEW YORK Occasions as well as produced the well-regarded fitness program with regard to Mens Style.

    The actual area associated with training, such as diet plan as well as physical exercise, is actually infamously vunerable to the actual vagaries associated with trends as well as style. Possibly Bruni as well as Cathie Dark might work with others on the guide about them.

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