"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Education Week's History of Cozy Establishment Advocacy

Education Week's incestuous relationship with the Washington education establishment has finally been called out in a strong letter that challenges their ideologically-driven treatment of public school issues in their annual trademark piece called Quality Counts. With the kind of unacknowledged advocacy that Ed Week engages in regularly, who needs an editorial page!

The Letter:

The editors of Education Week claim to be objective journalists, but with their Quality Counts publication, they abandon objectivity and promote the standards-and-testing industrial school paradigm of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). In this context, they are no longer reporters; they have chosen to act as advocates.

The editors of Editorial Projects in Education (EPE), the nonprofit that publishes Education Week, say that their mission is to “help raise the level of awareness and understanding among professionals and the public of important issues in American education. We cover local, state, and national news and issues from preschool through the 12th grade.” Education Week does not publish its own editorials, and it claims not to advocate for particular ideological or policy positions.

Yet for more than a decade EPE has published its Quality Counts (QC) annual volume, purporting to assess the condition of American public schooling from a neutral and fair-minded vantage. Education Week has presented Quality Counts (QC) as if it were any other piece of journalism, that is, a piece of reporting. But a quick inspection of the 2008 volume reveals the dishonesty in this presentation. Quality Counts is not reporting in any normal sense of the word. Rather it is advocacy. Its assertions and conclusions often support particular policy positions. A few examples reveal these characteristics.

  • QC embraces the position that state academic standards are a positive force in schooling (p. 45). This is an ideological position. QC offers no evidence to support this position. While most corporate and political leaders and many school leaders embrace this position, many educators and parents believe that standards constrain learning more than they enable it, that standardization of learning is an antiquated artifact of the 20th century that hinders creativity and the personalization of learning.
  • QC accepts the criteria of an unpublished review of state standards conducted by the American Federation of Teachers, dated October-November 2007 (p. 45). This review judges state standards in terms of the following attributes: “clear, specific, and grounded in content.” Here QC is embracing an advocacy position of the AFT. To employ an unpublished document that cannot be reviewed is also bizarre for a publication that calls itself journalistic.
  • QC awards positive scores to states that “assign ratings to all schools…” and “sanction low-performing schools. (p. 47). These are additional advocacy stances. There is no evidence that, for example, Florida’s crude A-F rating system does anything for children other than intensify test preparation. Nor does QC offer evidence that sanctioning “low-performing schools” does anyone any good.
  • QC advocates for the ideological position that “all high school students…(should) take a college-preparatory curriculum to earn a diploma…” (p. 48) This is yet another value-based position, not reportage. While some politicians and educators support this goal, others note that a more differentiated high school curriculum is likely to better serve the very diverse high school population, particularly since a large percentage of new jobs in the decades to come will not require a college degree.
  • QC awards points to states where “teacher evaluation is tied to student achievement” (p. 51). Such a policy is extremely controversial, given that many educators and analysts agree that efforts at this sort of simplistic cause-and-effect delineation both distort the complexity of causation in the schooling process and increase pressure for schools to become test preparation factories.

These examples and others in Quality Counts display the profound ideological bias in this document. In this volume the EPE editors— Virginia Edwards, the editor and publisher; Gregory Chronister, the executive editor; Lynn Olson, the executive project editor; Karen Diegmueller, the managing editor; and Mark W. Bomster, the assistant managing editor—are not journalists engaged in good faith, objective reporting. They are powerful advocates for a particular school ideology: state standards, the simplistic labeling of schools based on narrow indicators and the “sanctioning of low-performing schools,” “teacher evaluation tied to student achievement,” and so on—seemingly the whole industrial paradigm of schooling, from Ellwood Cubberly to George W. Bush.

If these EPE editors are not willing to publicly acknowledge their work as advocates in their yearly publication of Quality Counts, how can we trust the fairness of what they present each week in Education Week?

We call on Ms. Edwards and her colleagues to rectify this situation in which Education Week pretends to be a neutral reporter but actually engages in advocacy. Two obvious remedies come to mind.

  1. EPE could cease to act as an advocate and thus cease to publish advocacy pieces such as Quality Counts.
  2. EPE could play by the rules just as every other newspaper does and establish an identified editorial function. Then it would need to separate its reporters from its editorialists. Even the Wall Street Journal and the New Hampshire Union-Leader meet this standard.
It’s certainly long past time for Ms. Edwards and her colleagues to give up this charade of objectivity and play by the same journalistic rules as everyone else.

David Marshak
Philip Kovacs
Susan Ohanian
Jerry Bracey
William Spady
Deborah Meier

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