Thursday, October 24, 2013

Oh Times, How You Make Us Smile

It's true - when I want a smile or even a guffaw about Washington state public education, I go to the Times.  I can always be assured of some odd omission of facts, brevity of context or just a nudge to the ed reform side. 

And that's just their reporting.  Better to say little to nothing about their editorial writing which is generally shallow and uninformed. 

But now comes their Education Lab Blog (remember when they were advertising jobs for this)?  They are going to have no fewer than 5 reporters on this (so that's where Linda Shaw went) and an intern(?) manning their blog "to help foster constructive dialogue online and in-person."  Sounds a lot like what LEV used to do when they had blog (now gone) so you better be on your best behavior and play nice at the Times or they won't print your thoughts.

(There's a Solutions Journalism Network they are to be affiliated with and their definitions about "reporting" are pretty funny.  So in case all you journalists missed Journalism 101, it's a handy guide.)

I look forward to meeting them all at various events but for our own district, it's usually me, Charlie and the other usual suspects.  (And, of course, when it's election season, you'll see the School Board candidates, taking notes and looking concerned.  I note that I believe Suzanne Dale Estey has made it to about five School Board meetings which is one more than she got to during her stellar service during her senior year in high school that she constantly touts.  Yup, I looked it up.)

Naturally, most of this is funded largely by...the Gates Foundation.  They say it's because it's hard to fulfill their "public service role" with advertising revenue dropping.  (And, they're even using their grant dollars for a photographer... really.)  Hilariously, they say this:

Our policies are as follows:
● We would not accept funding from a foundation that would want any kind of editorial input or control on what we report.

I'll bet that's what NBC says about its Education Nation series also funded by Gates.

Q. Will the fact that the Gates Foundation does so much work in the education arena affect how The Seattle Times covers these issues?
A. No, there will be no direct relationship between the foundation’s education advocacy and the reporting for Education Lab. It is possible the project will analyze and report on efforts that the Gates Foundation supports and those it does not. In determining the focus of the reporting in the project, the support of the Gates Foundation, or lack thereof, will play no role.

And the New York Times had a story that proved the Gates Foundation funds entities in order to get the media play they want.  Is there a grown-up in the room who truly believes the Gates Foundation just handed them this money and will never sit down and talk issues with them?  Please.

A new public education blog.  Welcome to the club.


Lynn said...

Their Question of the Week: Is Tracking Ever a Good Idea? That'll get things off to a lively start. They've been paying attention.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Yes, but they do little to explain exactly what kind of tracking they mean and ask "is it fair?" I thought their coverage was going to be about academic outcomes.

Po3 said...

I wish the Gates Foundation would perform public service by giving money directly to schools.

dw said...

The word "tracking" is laden with bias, and implies tracks that cannot change over time. A far more reasonable term (and plan) is "ability grouping", which is what virtually every teacher and school has done since the beginning of time. It's not just a good idea, it's often a necessity. The important thing is that there are no barriers preventing changes in grouping.

Also, Melissa, is this the NYT article you're referencing? Behind Grass-Roots School Advocacy, Bill Gates Or is there another one?

Melissa Westbrook said...

DW, that's the one.

Charlie Mas said...

I think I've already had comments deleted.

And now I can't log on.

Anonymous said...

But Po3, if they did that, they couldn't call all the shots, you see.

Help my community? Well, if it's on my terms!


Anonymous said...

They are not posting the comments in real-time. They will post a "selection" of comments next week.


Roy Levine said...

Well, I'm still waiting to hear from someone at the Times after they "blacked out" Diane Ravitch during her most recent visit to Seattle.

No coverage at all. Not one word about her being here. Not one mention of her new book. Nada. Zero. Rien. Gornisht!

They've never done that in the past? Could it be that they don't want Ms. Ravitch's message to get out which might adversely effect many of the candidates the Times supports?

In contrast, when Michelle Rhee was here in February, not one word about the not yet concluded legal inquiries against her, the clear whitewashing by her friends who now run the DC district, the outright lying and much worse. Nothing.

But there were no less than FOUR pieces on Michelle Rhee, one of which looked more like a profile of Jennifer Lopez I'd expect to see on the pages of Vogue.

It was embarrassing.

But the Times has still not answered the question: Why did you black out Diane Ravitch while providing Rhee "Grand Leader" coverage that reminded me of life in certain totalitarian states.

Has the Times EVER explained this?

Charlie Mas said...

Here is how Claudia Rowe introduces Education Lab:

"Well, we all know plenty about the problems in America’s public schools. And we’ve all read, for decades, about the failures of our kids. But what we have focused less on, in journalism, is success. We tend to take a very fine grained approach to failure and the reasons for failure. But we rarely take that kind of rigor to look at promising solutions. So, for the next year, myself and two other reporters, in partnership with the Solutions Journalism Network in New York, are going to be looking around the country for things that are actually working in public schools. These will be hard-edged looks at what is working and why. What is the evidence of success? Exactly how does something move the dial in student achievement? And how could that be replicated here?"

However, the stories in the Education Lab don't actually present any examination of success. There's a story about how Washington state student test scores rank internationally, but no inquiry into the source of the success. Same for the story on Washington state students ranking on the SAT. These stories are typical mass media coverage of a complicated issue reduced to the simplest conflict narrative. In these cases, a horserace.

mirmac1 said...

Great Point Roy.

You might contact the new K-12 reporter John Higgins ( and fill him in. He may actually be a "real" journalist, for once (although his recent article on the school board race could have been written off websites and old ST articles. In fact it was.