August 23, 2006

The Schemo Agenda

Hack NY Times education activist journalist, Diana Jean Schemo, once again fails to accurately report the news by shading the DoE's report on charter schools. Here's paragraph one:
Fourth graders in traditional public schools did significantly better in reading and math than comparable children attending charter schools, according to a report released on Tuesday by the Federal Education Department.
The findings of the study are uncritically accepted as fact and reported as such without qualification. And notice how it's a "report" not merely a study--an interpretation of data. Now let's see how Schemo tries to bring balance to the story in the next paragraph:
The report, based on 2003 test scores, thrust the Education Department into the center of the heated national debate over school choice. It also drew a barrage of criticism from supporters of charter schools, the fastest-growing sector in public education, who sent out press statements casting doubt on the reportÂ’s methodology and findings even before they were announced.
She discloses that the study is based on old data, but fails to mention its significance. Error by omission. She also lets us know that the study drew a "barrage of criticism," but it came from "supporters of charter schools," thus discrediting the criticisms as coming from biased sources. The motives of the sources are further impugned as Schemo characterizes the means through which the criticisms were disseminated. These are borderline ad hominem attacks.

Now let's take a closer look at the criticisms.Tthe most significant criticism reported is buried deep down in paragraph 13:
Jeanne Allen, president of the Center for Education Reform, a Washington group that advocates for charter schools, said the study used a flawed measure of poverty to find comparable students and failed to capture the variety of children attending charter schools and the many types of charters that exist.
Schemo again downplays the criticisms by placing them in the mouth of an advocacy group. This is rather odd. The criticisms are both indisputed, unrebutted and easily verifiable. As such, they are at least as factual as the findings of the study.

Is it that Schemo doesn't know how to analyze research (a real possibility) or does she have an agenda she's trying to hawk? You decide but bear in mind this is the NT Times.

Now lets catalogue the deficiencies, both reported and unreported by Schemo:
  • using old data (paragraph 2)
  • using a flawed measure of poverty (paragraph 13)
  • failure to account for student's prior academic achievement (paragraph 19)
  • oversampling of charters (implied in paragraph 19)
  • merely a correlation study, not a true experiment proving causation (not reported)
  • charters are still new and it takes at least 5-6 years for achievement to stabilize (not reported)
  • using NAEP scores which merely test a sampling of students (not reported)
These criticisms remain unrebutted. They are not presently in dispute. Not only that, but they represent serious methodological shortcomings of the study. As such, they deserve to be placed right up in paragraph one along with the study's conclusions as they seriously undercut the findings of the study. They shouldn't be buried deep in the story and attributed to criticisms by advocacy groups.

Any serious journalist should be able to evaluate the criticisms and rebuttals of any research study before reporting the findings of the study as unqualified fact. Failing to do this means you are either incompetent or a partisan hack. I'm betting Schemo is both.

This is all too typical of journalism today. By and large, journalists do not meet the minimum standards needed to be a professionals. A deadly combination of incompetence, substandard training and preparation at their preparatory colleges, and ideological infection results in their failure to adhere to minimum professional standards. In this respect journalists are like educators and it is not surprising that both groups largely fail in their primary duties. You can't rely on journalists to report the news straight and you can't rely on educators to reliably educate.


Anonymous said...

"You can't rely on journalists to report the news straight and you can't rely on educators to reliably educate."

This is a depressing, yet concise and likely accurate statement. So let me ask you this:

If educators are by and large dead set on using ineffective teaching methodologies, most research is agenda-fueled crap, and the press and the schools work together to misinform the public (wittingly or not) - what chance do we have at achieving any sort of substantive reform? And if there is a chance, what's the path - how do we make it happen?

KDeRosa said...

These are the remnants of the dead hand of statism (and its support structure) that dominated our institutions through much of the 20th century. They are still very much in power in certain segments of society -- the unproductive segments. Unfortunately, I don't have an answer because there is not the political support jettisoning theswe rembnants persently. Though, certainly we are making inroads. I suggest erading Hayek's road to serfdom for insights.

Anonymous said...

"ideological infection"

Nice term. I've encountered this myself when I very nicely emailed the "education beat" reporter of our state paper about assumptions and biases in an article she wrote.
I suggested that she talk to some of the the high percentage of parents who put their kids into other schools, like charter schools, private schools, and home schooling. She would get a much more balanced idea of the problems of education. I got an interesting response. She didn't come out and say it, but it was clear that she (they? her bosses?) was not going to write about low expectations and affluent parents who put their kids into private schools. She also seemed to have a bias against charter schools. She seemed "infected" by public school teachers.

Most articles in the paper are about the conflict between the state public education hierarchy and the unions (unions and NCLB scores are constant themes). Any article about charter schools is like the Schemo article; simplistic and biased. These are articles where they don't present basic journalistic facts of who, what, when, where, and why. They also confuse facts, opinions, and assumptions. It makes me wonder if journalism schools are even a step above education schools. Many articles seem to be written to meet a deadline. Research is tough, so they substitute it with collecting quotes from one side and/or the other and mixing it together into an article.

Charter school comparisons are meaningless in our state because there is a moratorium on charter schools and the only charter schools that do exist have very strange charters. Charter school students bear absolutely no resemblance to average public school students. There is also the problem of teaching methods. Most of the teachers in public, charter, and private schools come from a background of ed school ideology. In many private schools, the most you can hope for are higher expectations, not necessarily better curricula or teaching methods.

What these charter school articles are really trying to do is to compare choice with no choice. A good journalist would want a very good explanation why no choice would end up being better than choice. Why would parents who care enough to go to the effort to put their kids into charter schools not seem to care enough to compare results? Why should choice fail?

"Any serious journalist should be able to evaluate the criticisms and rebuttals of any research study before reporting the findings of the study as unqualified fact."

Most articles end up as totally unqualified dueling quotes, with the reporter's and editor's biases thrown in.

KDeRosa said...

Most articles end up as totally unqualified dueling quotes, with the reporter's and editor's biases thrown in.

I can tolerate that more than this. Though far from a fair fight, it's not so bad as what Schemo is perpetrating.

Anonymous said...

A statistically literate education blog! Wonderful!