Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Secrecy in schools--and in the media

The authors below seems to agree with the things I said in "Free the Union-Tribune 5!"

The Educated Reporter

Commentary on education coverage, writing and a few other things
Linda Perlstein
December 7, 2009

Everything that’s wrong with us, Part Two. The biggest barrier to excellent education journalism has nothing to do with the institutional weaknesses of that clunky old mainstream media. Rather, it lies within the schoolhouse doors. And the boardroom doors. And the superintendent’s office doors.

Educators operate in a culture of fear.

Schools bar access to reporters, and that is a problem. Always has been. Worse, though, is the paranoia that prevents anyone, from the top on down, from speaking honestly about what works and doesn’t in education, what policy might look like (or does look like) in action. If I were a principal and politicians were visiting my school, I would show them the worst things in the building, so they could see our challenges. I would allow my teachers to speak with the press, without prepackaged messages to deliver. I would be starkly frank with my own bosses. But these days, there is no incentive for such honesty...

So teachers only tell their principals what they want to hear, principals tell their superintendents what they want to hear, superintendents tell their boards what they want to hear, all the way up to the national policy makers. Given that calculus, of course, the truth that makes its way to the vast majority of journalists is varnished to a glow.

Education is a secretive world. (Not convinced? Think about the fact that we have built an entire system around the results of tests that in most states nobody outside the classroom is allowed to see.) But with access and honesty comes greater understanding. For ages, the Washington Post had so little access to D.C. schools that they only covered the district as the inept bureaucracy it largely was...There was blame enough for everyone: central office, school administrators, parents, Jonathan himself.

... Superintendents tell me that because they can control their own message through electronic media, they don’t “need” journalists anymore. That scares the crap out of me, and it should scare you too.

To Write About Curriculum, Reporters Need Classroom Access

By Mary Ann Zehr
December 7, 2009

A former reporter at the Philadelphia Inquirer remarked to my colleague Lesli Maxwell that for journalists to better cover classroom issues in schools, they need to have better access to classrooms. Lesli included the views of Dale Mezzacappa in a story about a report by the Brookings Institution that documents a lack of education stories on the front pages of mainstream newspapers nationwide. The report also concludes that education gets scant attention in the top news stories produced by radio and television reporters.

Mezacappa's remarks resonated with me because I've found that the ability I have to provide examples of how a school's curriculum plays out in the classroom depends on whether I'm permitted to spend a lot of time observing in classrooms.

I sometimes find it difficult to convince school administrators that when I visit a school, I want to spend at least a whole day observing students and teachers, rather than taking a tour of the school and mostly interviewing administrators. With observation, I can identify examples to show how a curriculum is implemented. See this story I wrote about summer philosophy classes to get a sense of examples I gleaned from a day of observation. And even in this policy story about Striving Readers, a federal adolescent-literacy program, I was able to provide a classroom example at the end of the story because Chicago public schools gave me good access to classrooms during a site visit.

The Brookings Institution report decries the lack of news coverage of curriculum.

One way that school officials might be able to urge reporters to take a greater interest in curriculum is to invite them to observe in classrooms.

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