Media Coverage: Letter Questions EdWeek's Sourcing ... And Overuse of Checker Finn

I came across a sharp letter to the editor in last week's EdWeek written by an ed school professor who takes issue with the magazine's mix of sources on a story about national testing -- and it's overuse of the highly quotable Checker Finn.


The nut of the letter is this:

"...Can Education Week possibly write a story about policy without quoting Mr. Finn?" writes professor David Marshak in the letter. "This does not seem possible."

You're exactly right, professor Marshak -- it's not possible. I've tried many a time to write a policy story without Finn (or, in Chicago, the equally quotable John Ayers), all to no avail.

On a more serious note, the letter raises what I think might be useful points about how bias can creep into even the best education writing. I hope EdWeek will forgive me for presenting the letter here:

"Parroting the Party Line on Standards and Testing?

To the Editor:

The article “Nationwide Standards Eyed Anew” (Dec. 7, 2005) gives new evidence of your newspaper’s bias in favor of the standards-and-testing obsession currently defacing American schools. It cites eight sources who support standards and testing and would like to see these implemented nationally (all the usual suspects: Chester E. Finn Jr., Michael Cohen, Diane Ravitch, and James B. Hunt Jr., among others), but includes only a single comment from a source opposed to national standards.

Rather than reporting the complexity of views on this issue, Education Week far too often serves as a cheerleader for the received wisdom of the failing standards-and-testing model. The pattern is almost always the same: one, or at most two, disagreeing voices set within the words of six or eight or 10 sources who all concur in one way or another with the party line.

It’s the Pravda version of journalism, with an American twist—a dissenter or two for show. One would think that your reporters could find the phone numbers of a wider range of sources, given the Internet.

And can Education Week possibly write a story about policy without quoting Mr. Finn? This does not seem possible.

David Marshak
College of Education
Seattle University
Seattle, Wash."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I was at Education Week, people accused me of quoting Checker Finn too often. It was hard to avoid--he was a major figure, he was knowledgeable, he had opinions about everything, and he gave good quote, as they say. These days, I think he has a much lower profile than he did in the early 1990s. On the issue of national standards, though, I think it was appropriate to quote him, becuase he helped raise the issue. The story is the fact that a few prominent educators like Checker have broached the subject. Such a story doesn't require exact mathematical balance.

To me, the person who's replaced Checker as the all-purpose quote machine in Ed Week and elsewhere is Rick Hess.

11:31 AM  

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