ROUNDING ‘THE GLOBE’: A Teacher’s Perspective on Ed Reform
The attack on public education-and on the meaning of education itself-though the promotion of for-profit charters and the mandating of excessive testing was facilitated by two phenomena: silence and silencing.
The deafening silence was produced by the inaudible chorus of principals and superintendents who placed career ahead of educational principle. They knew better, and had only a few chosen to speak out about so-called reforms they privately disparaged, their words would have given emboldened others. When it came time to lead, the leaders didn’t.
The silencing came gratis at the hands of the Boston Globe, allegedly the main communications institution in New England. Its story follows.
Ever since the Education Reform Act of 1993, the Globe has been a zealous advocate of a version of education reform heavily tied to standardized testing, charter schools, and, more recently, merit pay. If these policies are what the Globe is for, then what it is against are the “teacher unions,” which the paper holds largely responsible for shortcomings in our schools. Actually, it doesn’t much like teachers either.
There is a larger context of course: the Boston Globe dislikes most unions and pretty much all grassroots movements. In the progressive tradition, Globe editors feel most comfortable if major decisions are made by well-placed elites, such as the Mass. Business Alliance, the Hi Tech Council, and the Boston Foundation-and, of course, the Globe. These are the institutions-much like the old Vault-that wishes to decide, for our own good, how we should live. After all, by their own admission they are staffed are smart and serious people. (Let me add that most are smart enough not to send their own kids to the test-prep school they advocate for other people’s children.)
I will be devoting space on this page to a continuing consideration of how our region’s largest newspaper is covering (or failing to cover) one of our most important local and national policy issues: education.
I best begin with a disclosure: I worked for 35-years as a history teacher at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School. I was a public school teacher and a union member. I was proud to be both. I still am. Another disclosure: I have subscribed to the Globe since I moved to the area 30 years ago, am a daily reader, and used the paper in my classes as well.
Of course, I am angered by the daily bludgeoning of teachers and public schools in the Globe, but there are a few longstanding patterns worthy of note:
The Globe is proud of its consistent, unflinching editorial advocacy of education reform.” Good. No journalistic standard requires their editorials to be balanced. Fire away!
But then there’s the matter of the Globe op ed page, which is supposed to serve as a public forum. Let’s be honest: during a decade in which education has been a front burner issue, the Globe has used the op ed page as another platform to push their policy preferences. Those who disagree have been largely excluded. (They are permitted to vent in the sub-basement of the comments section on the web site.) Those who support testing and charters have practically grown roots on the page. These include Globe favorites and partners like the Pioneer Institute, the High Tech Council, and the Mass. Business Alliance.
In this way, the Globe has used its editorial power to set the parameters of reasonable discussion so narrowly as to exclude even nationally-respected educators with thoughtful dissenting views. A fair, confident, and courageous paper encourages public discussion about major issues. The Globe’s thinking appears to be: what’s the point of debate when we know best?
Saddest of all, Globe news coverage has been tainted over the years. The paper’s certitude about what changes schools require has leached into scared ground-the news columns.
Certainly coverage has greatly improved with the reportage of James Vaznis, though there is still room for improvement. Fairness, objectivity, and thoroughness have a ways to go. Before Vaznis, though, the coverage wasn’t just problematic but shameful. Re-read those stories during the first ten years of reform and see if you can find a teacher or reform critic quoted? Very rarely. Most of the time, the stories read like press releases from the public relations dept. of the state Board of Education
The Globe’s bias is not only reflected in what facts are reported and who has been interviewed, but what is omitted and what stories are not assigned. To take one example: If some charters appear to be “doing better,” we need to know whether that is a statistical illusion created by a more selective
or a shrinkingstudent body. Despite millions of words in print, Globe readers won’t find these answers.
Do Globe editors order reporters to toe the line? It probably isn’t necessary. They hire people with the same mind-set or those who are bright enough to figure out what perspective is considered rational by their employers. It isn’t very hard to scope that one out.
Because the Globe considers its intentions noble and its cause just, everything is permitted where biased journalism is concerned. I am still waiting to read the eye-opening Globe spotlight team discovery of the plethora of excellent public schools that exist in Massachusetts.
All this is why I hope to “Round the Globe” with occasional critiques of the paper’s coverage and to provide a space for views unwelcome on Morrissey Avenue.