The Education “Press Corpse”

Well here it is.  My debut post @the chalk face media extravaganza.  As I said in my column description my main goal is to expose education “news” that really serves as propaganda.

About a month and a half ago I had taken issue with an article published in EdWeek by Stephen Sawchuk.  A few weeks passed and like most blog posts I assumed that the journalistic masterpiece I had written was now circulating amongst the powerful reformers—probably as toilet paper.

However, after the New Year and to my surprise I was asked to “approve” a comment for this essentially unnoticed journalistic game changer of a blog.  Like I normally do, I went to “approve” the comment.  However it was after I hit the approve button that I read the following:

I have to respectfully disagree with Mr. Slekar’s assertion that “corporate education reformers get to say whatever the hell they want” in the pages of Education Week. In fact, earlier in 2012, we published a series of over 13,000 words taking a critical look at advocacy organizations. You can find it here. http://www.edweek.org/ew/collections/education-advocacy/index.html

This of course led to the following exchange on the blog site.

Stephen,

A piece that takes a “critical look at advocacy organizations” is honorable. However, divorcing those organizations in the context of other articles such as the one I referenced above is the problem. You can’t be critical in vacuum. NCTQ and CCSSO as cited in the article referenced above come across as reputable school policy organizations. They are not and EdWeek should state that they are advocacy groups and not reputable research outlets.

Tim

We should probably continue this conversation in another forum without space limits, perhaps in a phone call. In essence, I think where you and I are stumbling is on the definition of “reputable school policy organizations” and “reputable research outlets.” There is clearly room for discussion and debate here. I’m always happy to hear from readers, so ring me or email me to set up a time. ssawchuk@epe.org

I thought about Stephen’s offer to continue the conversation in “another forum” but quickly read this comment to the blog.

As an interested reader, I hope you keep it here. And my views are very much like Tim’s on this. There are way too many advocacy groups in the Education Deform movement masquerading as research/policy neutrals. They’re not, not by a long shot.

So I listened to the other “reader” and posted the comment below.

I understand the differences here. For me this is really not that complicated. In the article you authored above you cite NCTQ and CCSSO as if the concerns they have are even remotely valid given the research that clearly demonstrates their concerns have no foundation. They are corporate ed reformers with an agenda and EdWeek should state that up front when citing the issues that they “advocate.” Readers assume that EdWeek is presenting unbiased reporting. Nothing can be further from the truth. Also not saying anything about these group’s connections to corporate ed reform is the same as endorsing them. AREA and NCTQ are not remotely similar organizations and when NCTQ has a problem with teacher education EdWeek should state up front that their concerns with teacher education are ideologically driven and not supported by any peer-reviewed literature. EdWeek gives them credibility when the reality is they are hacks.

Stephen responded:

I don’t agree with you that there is consensus about just who/what comprises “corporate ed reformers with an agenda,” and I think the issues about research and peer review are more complex than you make out here. Again, happy to engage in a productive dialogue, but when you start with the personal attacks about EW being biased etc., that’s when I stop listening.

I guess when he said he was going to “stop listening” I could have stopped, but I had to at least say:

There is nothing “personal” going on here and just because you “don’t agree” and you “think issues about peer review are more complex” doesn’t make it so. In fact, by you admitting that you think there is debate concerning peer evaluated research and advocacy/think tank propaganda just proves my point–EdWeek is printing stories and crediting think tank propaganda as if it were the same as peer-reviewed research. This is why EdWeek’s stories should be considered questionable when it comes to any standards of journalistic integrity. Look. It’s not really your fault. You’re trying to make a living as a writer and EdWeek hired you for your writing skills. I get it. However, when you or any form of media engages in spewing propaganda as if it were the same as or even remotely similar to peer reviewed research it is our job (those with real education credentials and experience) to point it out so that the damage you and EdWeek are causing can be minimized at the very least.

Well, there you have it.  I at least give Mr. Sawchuk credit for entering into a discussion about his article, but more importantly, about my assertion that EdWeek was misleading readers by not revealing that advocacy policy outlets and think tanks don’t produce “research.”  However after my reply above, Mr. Sawchuk obviously “stopped listening.”

I guess I should have taken this conversation out of the public view.  I guess I should have been a little less aggressive.  I guess I should have given in a little bit and entertained the idea that the work of advocacy policy outlets and peer-reviewed research outlets is sometimes debatable.  Right?

Hell no! There is a difference between advocacy and research.  Advocacy serves up propaganda designed to confuse or mislead.  Research is designed to help us understand and goes through a process of blind review.  Therefore EdWeek or any “news” media must specifically state when shilling for the corporate education reformers and their propaganda machines. And if they don’t I will. Why?

Because someone has to say it!

Follow Timothy D. Slekar on Twitter: www.twitter.com/slekar

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Comments

  1. Stephen Sawchuk says:

    Don’t know why this comment disappeared – I’ll repost. — SS

    Tim, this is an honest attempt to respond to your post. I may regret it, given the way you seemed to twist my words around before, but I really hope you’ll give it consideration.

    My point, which I should have fleshed out, is merely that scholarly peer review is not itself a sign of research quality or applicability: witness the number of descriptive, theoretical, or anecdotal studies that are published in peer-reviewed teacher education journals. While interesting, thought-provoking, and often suggestive, the design of some of them limits their applicability.

    I agree that reporters need to be cognizant of, and disclose to the extent possible, biases/connections of think tanks. Frankly, any source of information should be considered and tested this way. My point here is that NCTQ puts out some non-ideological work (in addition to its ratings and such) that can be useful, such as its databases of state certification requirements and collective-bargaining contracts. In my story, Sandi Jacobs was quoted on a factual matter: that there are a variety of state authorities regulating teacher preparation.

    Whether you agree with the CCSSO’s report and its conclusions, policymakers are likely to act on it, and it it does readers no favors to pretend it doesn’t exist. You’re correct on the thin research base, but consider also what the 2005 AERA volume or the 2010 National Research Council have concluded: There is little empirical evidence supporting ANY particular, specific teacher training approach, other than broad agreement that 1) candidate selection, 2) content knowledge/coursework 3) clinical experiences all probably matter. That is a big obstacle for writing about teacher preparation, and I imagine for practicing it as well.

  2. It’s a shame that advocacy needs to be categorized (to separate school/student support-type advocacy and corporate driven teacher-undermining-type “reform” advocacy). I think most of the people reading EdWeek know the difference, regardless of which way they lean-but I have to admit I was snowed for the first couple e-newsletters. I subscribed as the common core APPR snowball approached, and still receive it. But the “helping teachers deliver CCLS” started to feel like “cheering for the folks that will make your job hell”. No questioning the lack of foundation in truth, validity, common sense…just another fun-filled manual of compliance with a smile. Keep the conversation public, because it will be more likely to help fully inform the public at large.

  3. Love this, Tim. Though “Advocacy serves up propaganda designed to confuse or mislead” does not always have to be true, right? After all, a great deal of what you are doing in the grassroots movement is ADVOCACY for public education based on research and evidence. I think that has been absolutely crucial for our movement — it is not blind propaganda. And often we are helping people to see the complexity of research findings and the application to what is really happening in our schools. So keep up both the ADVOCACY and the RESEARCH based work.

    • I should be more specific and say advocacy “research” produced by ed reformer groups and think tanks. Maybe calling it advocacy is the real problem. It gives the message they are putting out there legitimacy because they are “advocates.” Let me be clear that those of us that are ADVOCATES–our message and our demands are supported on the foundation of research. This is quite different from conducting “studies” to prove a specific point.

  4. Tim,
    Thank you for exposing the false ideology that education reporters frequently accept as something akin to “education research.” When I recently attended the Association for Middle Level Education Annual Conference, many professors in attendance noted the absenteeism of AERA from public debate on how accurate research should continue to inform what we do with children and adolescents. A significant example is how reporters frequently write about the question of how to evaluate teachers–as if the current system is flawed. It isn’t. Educators across the country have continued to use valid education research to ensure that genuine teaching and learning are occurring in the method that administrators use to evaluate teachers—a method that does NOT involve student test scores. Keep exposing the ignorance, Tim.
    Dave F. Brown, Ed. D. Author of Why America’s Public Schools Are the Best Place for KIds (2012) available in all formats at http://www.rowman.com

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