Looking inside the GAO reports, one can see that part of the contracting to the PR firm, Ketchum, was to monitor and grade media stories on coverage of NCLB. Here are the points that Ketchum was looking for in local, regional, and national news stories.
In order to determine whether an article had a positive or negative message, Ketchum looked for the presence of 23 different themes within an article. The positive messages that Ketchum looked for in news articles were:
· NCLB supports learning in the early years, helping to prevent learning difficulties that arise later;
· NCLB provides more information for parents about their child’s progress;
· NCLB alerts parents to important information on the performance of their child’s school;
· NCLB is working to close the achievement gap between “haves” and “have nots”;
· NCLB improves teaching and learning by providing better information to teachers and principals/fairer standards for testing;
· NCLB ensures teacher quality is a high priority;
· NCLB gives more resources to schools, such as tutoring services;
· NCLB allows parents more choice (transfer option);
· NCLB makes schools accountable for students’ success;
· The Bush Administration/the GOP is committed to education; and
· NCLB is based on scientific methods/proven research to achieve results.
The negative messages that Ketchum looked for were:
· NCLB is not sufficiently funded;
· NCLB law is too vague and confusing and too difficult for states to implement;
· Federal testing requirements contradict existing state requirements; states will have to spend a lot to develop new tests;
· There are wide discrepancies between state criteria for evaluating under performing schools;
· Teacher training programs do not have enough money to train teachers to meet new requirements;
· Better schools will become too crowded/burdened as the school transfer option progresses;
· In some districts, there are no better schools to which students may transfer, or the better schools are already crowded;
· Spending money on transporting students to better schools means taking money away from schools; parents have to spend extra time/money for transportation;
· States do not have enough flexibility; federal government/Bush administration is interfering;
· Increased testing is not a substitute for education reform; “teaching to the test”;
· The new law may cause a teacher shortage, as qualification requirements are too rigid; teachers are set up to fail; and
· States are lowering their standards to avoid negative labels/unfairly stigmatizing schools.After scoring each article, Ketchum provided the Department with a list of the highest and lowest scoring articles, an analysis of the most prevalent positive and negative messages—both nationally and on an individual state basis—and a summary of articles written by the most prevalent reporters.
Wonder what the White House was going to do with the list of news outlets and reporters that did not toe the official line? Not in a free country, you say?