"Hurricane Reporting" in Education?

This week's revelations that some of the most vivid and disturbing news reports from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina were unverified -- and probably untrue -- makes me think that maybe the education press needs to check itself for some of the same problems.

Every day, credulous reporters pass on what they hear from teachers, administrators, parents, and community organizers -- often without any real verification or even healthy skepticism.

But is what's passed on accurate? A mom says her kid was kicked out of school. A kid says that the teacher told him he had to pass the test. A teacher says that she barely has any time to teach social studies. An administrator says that it takes days and days out of the calendar to administer tests.

I'm guessing most reporters don't know either way. It fits the story. They need a quote. It's totally uncomfortable asking someone to prove what they say is true (though one reporter in New Orleans apparently tried to track down the reports of rape to no avail). It's hard work verifying it yourself. There's no time. Who am I to question what someone says is true?

That's what seems to have happened in New Orleans -- reporters passing along hearsay (second- and third-hand information), failing to push for more specifics and corroboration, falling prey to their own predispositions and expectations, and lacking skepticism.

My vote -- not that I really have one -- is that all of us who cover education take a moment to think about what happened to the reporting in New Orleans and try really hard this year to keep our skepticism intact and our expectations tightly bottled.

Hurricane Katrina Coverage PBS NewsHour (transcript)
Lawlessness: Fear Exceeded Crime's Reality in New Orleans NYT


Blogger Mike Antonucci said...

"By doubting we come at truth." - Cicero.

I've got this posted on my wall.

4:43 PM  

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