PBS Schools Report: Documentary, or Infomercial?

Judy Miller's resignation from the NYT isn't the only cautionary tale for journalists that's out there this week:

Over at the Daily Howler, there's a lengthy piece about the recent PBS documentary on school reform that makes two worthwhile points for education journalists to consider: (a) that educators' (and reporters') esteem for what happened in New York City's District 2 under Tony Alvarado may be exaggerated, and (b) that the recent PBS documentary, produced by Hedrick Smith, might have failed not only to provide balanced coverage of the NYC reforms but also to identify some of its proponents properly.

I'll leave it to others to debate whether District 2 is all that it has been cracked up to be. (There's a reference to District 2 in today's NYT education column on the math wars.)

And others probably know about the Howler and the NY Sun's Andrew Wolf, whose column ($) (The Schools and Public Television) started it all. An earlier column -- this one free -- can be found here. Another one, posted on EducationNews (also free), can be found here.

However, the allegations that the PBS show was more of an "infomercial" than a balanced piece of reporting, and that it may have done a poor job of balancing views and identifying sources, are worth considered. The show doesn't identify Lauren Resnick, a UofPitt professor, as being closely linked to District 2, according to the Howler, or identify Elaine Fink as being Mrs. Alvarado.

Lazy freelancer that I am, I haven't re-viewed the documentary, but upon recollection I agree that the show had a clear point of view that school reform could work, and that poor and minority kids could learn. So enthused about someone -- anyone -- taking on the issue in a high-profile way, I don't think I really considered the issue of objectivity or balance in my original post about it: PBS and the Denver Post Do Race, Class, and Closing Achievement Gaps. You'll see in the comments that at least some smart folks, like PEN's Howie Shaffer, had a more immediate sense that this was a "feel-good" exercise.


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