Last month, Alexander Russo wrote in his newsletter, The Grade:
Good news. A new study, Keeping up with the ed beat, shows that parents love and value information about schools. The bad news? They say that news coverage is too negative and it doesn’t include enough of the kinds of information that they really want. Those parents who are able to do so are bypassing newsroom-produced coverage to get school information elsewhere…. Changing journalistic practice towards more useful education news for parents requires confronting entrenched habits and newsroom traditions. So far, these changes have proven elusive. Education news is not the way it is by accident. It won’t change just because it should.
When Russo asked me what New York City parents would like to see more – and less – of in their education coverage, I told him I would get his answers straight from the source. Here’s what you had to say:
IG: I think impartiality is missing in educational reporting. In most cases journalists start with their narrative and try to find facts that prove their point and discard the ones that don’t. They practically never start with facts, analysis of these facts and then draw conclusions.They start with conclusions and try to only use facts that will support this conclusion. There is a severe lack of data analysis and data reporting. There is a severe lack of investigative journalism. No one wants to uncover anything. There is a severe lack of reporting on just education as opposed to everything around education (such as reporting on outcomes of various literacy methods and curricula, on various math curricula, on lack of physical science education in American schools, on the disappearance of teaching formal logic at schools, on the differences in learning between various groups of students, etc). I would also like someone to report on how schools of education at American universities expelled subject matter experts from the process of curriculum building and how this created a disconnect between what is being taught at schools and what is required by universities and for real life employment.
AM: Most journalists are not holding the Department of Education accountable. NYC education journalists from NYT and Chalkbeat seem to act as Press office for the DOE, parroting official statements without fact checking or critical analysis. For instance, last year they were all citing the DOE “fact” that only 3% of HS applicants were unmatched. Parents knew this didn’t match with their experience. It took one parent who FOILed the data to have the correct figures (7% citywide, 18% in D2). This should have been done by journalists.
AR: I would really like to see evidence-based journalism about tracking, etc. I’m a single white mom, living in a diverse neighborhood with a school that has a passing rate of state tests in the low 30s. I chose not to send my son there because I couldn’t find information on if he would actually do OK. I hear that I should just send him there because of equity, and I do want to support our whole city and not just my kid, but I couldn’t find actual evidence that made me comfortable. (People tell me ‘he’ll do fine; he’s white’ but studies show boys of single moms don’t do that well and I personally have seen enough white men who have failed out of high school or barely passed that this argument just doesn’t seem true to me.) I would like journalism on what parents can actually do to improve schools. I’d like more on phonics, does differentiation actually work, and how can we support the schools to make them better for everyone?
YY: I’d love to see more of the teacher’s perspective. Their perspective is not widely shared with parents. Also, we as parents would like to understand school funding. How much from federal, state and city and what that money dictates? College Board. How much money they make SELLING standardized testing, government sanctioned testing that costs taxpayers millions of dollars on something that is arguably a tool for keeping systemic racism as the status quo.
CW: In NYC we talk a lot about “public versus private schools” and less about “traditional versus progressive models” – and what those mean. A lot of the public school parents I know chose public school for economic or social reasons and don’t even know what a progressive model is. They think that private school is just an expensive version of their free excellent public school. Private progressive is totally seen as a socio-economic choice for the family whereas my experience is that progressive private school parents are more diverse from all over the city and people who have really, really thought about what they want their child’s education to look like. What about a piece highlighting Steiner, the Vries School, Montessori, Pratt and the lady who founded Dalton, one which contextualizes the movement and explains the ideas and maybe tries to say how well which school seems to be doing 100 years later? What about a piece that gets into that tension where public school parents double down in defense of public school as a social message?
NL: What I don’t understand is why there isn’t more coverage from the perspective of the black and hispanic families and students. It’s a bunch of progressive parents on all the listservs and twitter and Community Education Council (CEC) but rarely anything from the voices of those who these progressive want to help. Why are all the articles about culture wars, equity etc…? They should be about why education in NYC sucks so badly except for about a dozen schools. Start an article saying what does our society need and how can we educate our kids to fill those needs?
EJ: I would love to hear about schools after the first year of the lottery. Hearing Lab middle school incoming math levels all over the place and school surprised. Hearing kids at Mark Twain don’t know how to read music and teachers and other students are frustrated. Hearing high performing ELro kids are on their phones because teachers are working with underperforming in class to catch up. Are they true? Who knows! But would like for someone to find out.
LG: I don’t see a lot of coverage about the negative impacts of grade inflation.
SF: I see a lack of reporting on how the DOE handled reopening last year — specifically, reporting that middle and high schools had reopened when in actuality most in-person students were unable to attend or zooming in a room, or going in once per week at most.
MP: Two words: Eliza Shapiro. Her articles in the New York Times and tweets are consistently divorced from our reality in this way whether it is specialized high schools, academic screens or Covid policies with regards to children. She interviews the same small set of one sided teachers (MORE caucus) and parents to support her narrative (or the NYT narrative, I guess).
LN: Shapiro only presents one side – the dangerously naive and propaganda-like, ultra-woke side that has its own accepted/acceptable language. Or you’re racist. Not constructive in trying to foster dialogue to bring about real change.
DK: I second the bias. This is exacerbated by the fact that biased journalists end up always quoting the same five people, who often provide misleading titles to create some legitimacy as “parent leaders.” Chalkbeat quoted Francine Almash twice on high school admissions. Francine is on Citywide Council on High Schools but A) Not elected (appointed) and B) CCHS passed resolutions supporting screens and Specialized High Schools in general. Francine is clearly in the minority and not representative of CCHS. Journalists should better research the people they quote as these are often people with an agenda. Also if they quote them, double-check who they are. Vary sources. And hear the other side too
SS: Have both sides. I feel like every article I read is about equity but only one side, as if that is the only objective vs actually educating our kids.
SK: I’m increasingly noticing very subtle yet unsettling references to Asian Americans that I can’t help but compare to the “yellow peril” hysteria (the historical scapegoating of East Asian immigrants in the U.S.).
Take, for instance, this statement in a recent Chalkbeat article about gifted and talented program admissions: “The greatest share of students in gifted classes are Asian American, at 43%. White students are also overrepresented at 36% of enrollment.” I don’t think the writer intended any harm per se, and at first glance I found nothing wrong with this language. But after some readers pointed out in Twitter, there are a number of things that could be subconsciously or consciously problematic about it:
1. The most important thing I would want to emphasize is that Asian Americans are not monolithic, and any article or discussion about race coupled with economics should include facts about poverty rates among Asian American communities in NYC.
2. The term “overrepresented” could have the benign statistical meaning as being a disproportionate large percentage. But when referring to race, period, I would argue that journalists should steer clear of this term, due to the troubling inference that there are “too many” of a particular race. The much clearer, accurate alternative would be to refer to another group, (in this case Black and Latino students) being “underrepresented” in these programs.
3. The language seems to equate “Asian Americans” and “whites” as both being equally “overrepresented,” which indirectly or directly seems to invoke the harmful model minority myth. By raising these concerns, I’m not arguing the city should not revamp public education or G&T admissions in particular. Considering Nancy Chan’s study of AAPI media representation, I do think these very small references in news articles can cumulatively cause harm. And my underlying concerns is that these subtle statements are tied to the increasing, documented instances of hate and bias against Asian Americans.
4. Anti-accelerated/gifted ed bias: I read this op-ed piece that middle school principals wrote and first thought it was a valid, interesting viewpoint. But what concerns me is that the op-ed doesn’t state anywhere (even a description of the schools at the bottom) that the two principals are from schools that actually teach grade 6 through 12. In other words, their schools are competing with Specialized High Schools, so there is a potential conflict of interest in their view, and the headline is misleading. I thought it was a pretty compelling piece until someone informed me that these are 6-12 schools. Without clarifying somewhere clearly that these are not just middle school principals, readers don’t get an accurate picture.
What would you like to see from your NYC education reporters? Tell us in the Comments!