Wednesday, April 09, 2014

NRU, education edition

Lots of news on how schools spend money will be heading our way given the *new* funding formula set to hit in California.  Unfortunately, the first few of these reports have either eschewed the notion of analysis or just brushed up against, ever so lightly.

Jill Tucker at the San Francisco Chronicle has been covering education and education funding for too long to justifiably put forth this gem without bothering to at least ask some interesting questions.  Perhaps she asked them but somehow didn't include them?  The story seems to provide fodder for the you can throw as much money as you want at poor kids -- it won't change their test scores.  She dutifully describes the posh quarters, and hints at the fact that spending tons on three administrators for one school might not be the most effective use of money.  She does not discuss how education is implemented -- what steps the district has taken to allocate funds to the actual education needs of the students -- or even if the "district" has taken steps to understand what those needs might be.  That would be a start ... I think.  The problem with draw your own conclusion reporting is that readers are actually being led down a very specific road -- the one the reporter is unwilling to name aloud.

In other education news:
It is disgusting how this man is feeding hate -- all that money and this is all he can think to do? Seriously fucked up shit.  Once again, money is talking with an inappropriate amount of force.  What about putting up a site that asks people about not getting an appropriate education or being counseled out of applying for college?  There are many stories out there not even being considered while this man continues to stir up racial hatred in the hopes of cutting off as many educational opportunities as possible.  There ought to be a law...but then, of course, the Supreme Court would rule against it.

So, a teacher and a student got into a physical altercation last week and it was caught on tape.  The teacher was immediately suspended, the principal sent a note to the community expressing shock, the community lashed out at the principal and the child in the altercation in support of the teacher.  It is true that the video only provides one view of the altercation.  While I support the community expressing their admiration for the teacher, their judgement is also one sided.  Of course, an investigation must ensue in order to uncover as much information as possible.  Should the teacher and the student both be kept from school while investigating?  That seems to be the question the community should be posing. This piece, I am not sure if it is an opinion and letter from a community member, does not seem to be up to the journalistic standard I expect from the Los Angeles Times.  It is beyond one sided. Check out this quote:
"Still, as a parent, I have to admit I got a little shiver of satisfaction knowing that a teacher who just happens to be a wrestler was able to physically subdue a student who may have been flagrantly violating the rules.  ... 
We don’t know yet exactly what happened in that Santa Monica High School classroom on Friday.
But I have a feeling when it’s all over, Coach Black is going to be considered a hero to exasperated teachers everywhere."
Umm... yeah... your opinion for sure, but news, not so much.

This one is labelled as an opinion, and knowing the writer, it definitely comes with its own bias.  But it also comes with many years of covering education news.  You can see this experience because he goes below the issue of the court case to expose those who are financing the suit and others like it.
The bias shows in that it gives Ali (my former boss) quotes; in Ali's words, of being too cozy with unions.  In fact, there is coziness to go around on all sides here ... much of the reform that we see is backed by someone bankrolling with an agenda.  It might be a great agenda, it might be an awful agenda, but it is an agenda ... these monied folks Ali cozies up with go on retreats to fancy spas to talk about poor black and brown kids.  They decide what to do, how to get unwitting parents and community groups to move the agenda, and they police that involvement with money.  If you don't go along, no money.  See anything wrong with that?

To me, this is why it is important to spend more time writing (and talking) about actual solutions to the problems rather than just how to exclude one group or another.  Unfortunately, there are no groups willing to bank roll a charge for reforms that would actually change the way education is delivered -- or evaluated. There are no easy fixes, as Shrag points out.  Merely pulling the rug out from under the union doesn't mean better statutes will be put into place.  More importantly, as he also points out, the law suit is not a direct line to better teaching for those who need it most.  
I applaud Shrag for going beyond the bias Ali would have had him bring to this story.  This is certainly much more information and analysis than we have seen in the Times coverage of the suit to date. 

In fact, I think that writing about education, education laws and the ways those laws are implemented is as complex as writing about the economy.  Here is another valiant attempt to report on *violence* in the schools.  The author rightly points out that reading the numbers is complicated by the way schools are allowed to categorize and report violence school by school.  But then she goes on to cite those unreliable statistics.  What I appreciated most about the piece, however, was the reporter's use of stories about the ways schools are dealing with violence/trouble on campus.  This gives the reader a sense for what the issues are and how the schools are dealing with them.  Obviously this reporter, this is part of a series, has spent considerable time learning about the issues and actually spending time on campuses.  Given the space available and the attention spans of readers, it is yeoman's work. 

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