Objectivity, Bias, & The Education Press

During his question and answer session in New Orleans (see below), the USDE's Tom Luce said that the press has continued to under-report progress schools and districts have been making -- directly or indirectly due to NCLB -- in favor of stories about how schools are "just missing" AYP.

The notion that the press tends towards hyperbolic exception-finding over NCLB is not so new to readers of this site, who've read my complaints about the man-bites-dog/sky-is-falling coverage for a long time now.

But Luce also said he doesn't sense any over-arching bias in the press, which surprised me since -- to my eye at least -- it was being displayed right there in front of him. Or, maybe I just can't tell where deep but healthy journalistic objectivity crosses over into something else.
According to Luce, 70-80 percent of schools not making AYP are not making it in every subgroup rather than just missing by a single subgroup. Luce also claims that the number of schools not making AYP is the same as were on similar warning lists under IASA in the 1990s.

But it doesn't get reported that way. “Exceptions to the rule are always the easier story to report,” he said. "I understand that."

Even more notable, Luce said he didn't sense any over all media bias in the reporting -- which is more than I can say. At this particular encounter there seemed to be a pretty obvious cumulative predisposition from interviewer John Merrow and those reporters who asked Luce questions towards being critical of NCLB and what the USDE has done with it -- without giving nearly as much critical attention to the role of states, districts, and education groups in mucking up NCLB or creating dysfunctional public education systems in the first place.

Now, Merrow is a masterful interviewer and I enjoy tough questioning as much as the next person. I don't think it's reasonable or effective to ask reporters to appear to remain objective in the strict journalistic sense, much as they try. In immediate terms, Luce could obviously take care of himself, and it's certainly understandable for reporters to focus on the federal stuff given that there were no state and local officials there to be asked hard questions.

But still I found the questions over all to be surprisingly narrow, uncomfortably belabored, and a little bit exaggerated or out of touch -- esp. around the notion that states were rumbling about the law and that having lots of schools in restructuring was going to make things worse.


Blogger Michele at AFT said...

Of those schools that are not making AYP because of multiple subgroups, did Luce say what the urban/suburban breakdown looked like?

7:26 AM  

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