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

Monday, November 02, 2009

Jay's Intro

A few days ago, Jay Mathews over at the WaPo asked, "Are Post authors biased?" Jay, is the Pope Catholic? In the same column, readers are invited to submit disclaimers Jay could insert at the top of his blog posts. Submit your own - either here or at WaPo. Below is my suggestion, which is sure to be DENIED:

“Class Struggle” is dedicated to sweeping all dialogue about poverty, economic injustice, and social inequity under the rug in favor of discussing test scores, the saintliness of KIPP, corporate missionaries from TFA, and a litany of other quick-fix education programs and test-happy pedagogical approaches. Show me a test and I’ll pump it; heck, the newspaper I write for pulls in the majority of its profits from Kaplan (do you really think I’d bite the hand that feeds me?). Visit “Class Struggle” any time you want a puff piece on DC Chancellor Michelle Rhee, a sanitized version of charter chaingangs, or just a little bit of reassurance about the legitimacy of the testing regime known as No Child Left Behind. Happy testing, kids!


  1. "Are Post authors biased?" isn't strictly the way I'd put the question, so here's my rewording: "Is here an appearance of ethical conflict in Post education reporting?" The answer is a resounding, thundering-from-the-heavens YES.

    Journalistic ethics call for avoiding THE APPEARANCE OF CONFLICT OF INTEREST. The Post's education reporting presents the appearance of conflict of interest, and thus violates journalistic ethics. Here are some specifics. (Sorry, Jay, but you asked.)

    I eagerly invite specific responses by Jay and other Post education reporters. If anything I'm writing is inaccurate, I will absolutely retract and apologize.

    1. Jay Mathews has written one book about KIPP and I believe is working on a second. These books are clearly more likely to sell if there's widespread favorable opinion of KIPP; if it's viewed as a success. If KIPP's image begins to tarnish and public admiration becomes less widespread, the books are less likely to sell.

    Jay's coverage in the Post and his commentaries vigorously promote KIPP as a success.

    That presents the appearance that Jay's coverage is likely to boost the success of his books. Even if Jay couldn't actually care less if his books make money, that presents the APPEARANCE of conflict of interest. That's a violation of journalistic ethics.



    2. Post management is involved in a D.C. civic organization called the Federal City Council, an elite group of top business leaders that fervently supports Mayor Adrian Fenty's takeover of D.C. schools and Michelle Rhee's push for privatization and charterization.

    D.C. contacts tell me that Fenty never once mentioned taking over the schools when he was running for mayor, but that as soon as he was elected, he was closeted in a long meeting with Federal City Council leaders, from which he emerged and immediately announced the mayoral takeover of the schools.

    Now, Post management surely views this involvement as good work for the betterment of the community. However. Due to its involvement in the Federal City Council and the Federal City Council's backing of the mayoral takeover, privatization and charterization, Post management openly supports the push to privatize and charterize D.C. schools. That clearly raises the question of whether Post reporters are given a free hand in their coverage of the Fenty/Rhee leadership of D.C. schools.

    This question becomes more pressing when we consider that the newspaper business is near collapse and the job security of every newspaper journalist in the country is tenuous. It appears quite likely that Post management's support for Fenty/Rhee's leadership will compromise Post journalists' coverage of D.C. schools. That poses the appearance of conflict of interest -- a violation of journalistic ethics.

    3. In a slightly different area of education coverage, the Post owns Newsweek, and Jay Mathews reports for both. Let's turn to that popular high school rankings project.

    Newsweek bases its annual national high school rankings on one single criterion, which is highly controversial among those who pay attention. That criterion is the number of students (percentagewise) in a school who take the AP or International Baccalaureate tests. This is controversial because it's so narrow; it's easily artificially manipulated by a school or district that has the resources; and it favors wealthy schools and districts (for just one thing, AP test fees are $86 each except for students who fall below a near-starvation-level income threshold -- no sliding scale). (The RESULTS of those tests are not part of the calculation -- just the number of students who take the tests.) Here comes the ethical conflict part.

    The Washington Post Co. owns Kaplan, the powerhouse test prep company. Business news coverage tells us that Kaplan is the company's cash cow, while the Post and Newsweek are struggling.

    The criterion used to judge high schools in the annual Newsweek ranking obviously, inherently promotes far more students taking the AP and IB tests. More students taking tests would clearly correlate with more business for Kaplan. That's a very clear ethical conflict of interest as Newsweek creates a rather eccentric,counterintuitive way of judging high schools that promotes its own Kaplan business. This one is so clear-cut that I really can't believe Newsweek isn't regularly called out by Columbia Journalism Review, American Journalism Review and other press watchdogs. So that's another ongoing violation of journalistic ethics in Post/Newsweek education coverage.