On Professionalism and Good Intentions: More on Education and Journalism

While journalist Nichole Dobo has not corresponded with me since I posted Dear Journalists Covering Education, Let Me Explain, Dobo has posted a Tweet I believe deserves additional consideration:

Dobo’s insistence that her professionalism be respected (which I support fully) raises a key aspect of my concern for how journalists tend to cover education.

Like Dobo, Stephen Sawchuk, a top education journalist for Education Week, bristled at being criticized for education coverage, characterizing the challenges as “pretty offensive.”

Here, then, I am being sincere when I ask: How is the constant and unwarranted drumbeat about “bad teachers,” “failing schools,” and “education crisis” treating educators as professionals? How is the overwhelming lack of seeking teachers and educators as sources in education journalism treating educators as professionals?

Shouldn’t teachers treat journalists as professionals and journalists treat teachers as professionals? Doesn’t our democracy need the professionalism of both journalists and educators?

I taught high school English for about two decades in a rural South Carolina public school, including several years when I also had achieved my doctorate in education while remaining a high school teacher.

During those years, the best I could manage in many efforts to reach into the media were a few letters to the editor.

Once I was in higher education, however, I was given access to Op-Eds as well as frequent interviews by TV and print journalists.

What message does that send?

For both educators and journalists, demanding our professionalism be respected and having good intentions are not enough if we are not extending that same level of respect into the areas we claim to have those good intentions.

To be perfectly honest, education journalism has significantly failed to extend respect to educators—for decades.

The entire accountability era is built on the premise that schools are not effective because teachers simply do not try hard enough, that education lacks the proper incentives (usually negative) to demand the hard work needed for schools to excel.

The “bad teacher” mantra that has risen during the Obama presidency, and the increase of calls for and uses of value-added methods (VAM) to evaluate teachers both further de-professionalize and demonize teachers—and the great majority of education journalism has embraced, not refuted, these.

And as I have already noted, the favorite meme of education journalism remains (for over 150 years) that education is in crisis.

How would journalists feel if “journalism is in crisis” was the primary and initial given about their field, for a century and a half? [1] Does that honor your professionalism? Especially if you have little or no power over your field, especially if your voice is nearly muted from the discussion?

Today, in 2016, the imbalance of treating professionals as professionals tips against journalists covering education.

What does it say to teachers when mainstream education journalists are quoting one think tank leader with no experience in education (and a degree in a field that is not education) more than all the quoting of classroom teachers combined?

You may be offended by this, but I offer it because I respect the field of journalism and agree journalists should be afforded the highest respect as professionals: Journalists covering education have not treated my profession, education, as a profession.

Of all professions, however, I believe educators and journalists need each other, need both to be honored professions.

I eagerly await journalists covering education to join educators in that solidarity.

See Also

Flunking the Test, Paul Farhi

[1] Please note how many journalists respond when a lowly blogger simply challenges them based on evidence and my own expertise in both fields.

4 thoughts on “On Professionalism and Good Intentions: More on Education and Journalism”

  1. My BA is in journalism. I was also the teacher and adviser for a regional, national and international award-winning public high school journalism class in an area plagued by violent street gangs and extremely high rates of child poverty.

    You ask, “How is the constant and unwarranted drumbeat about “bad teachers,” “failing schools,” and “education crisis” treating educators as professionals?” The answer is simple. It isn’t professional at all, and I think that Dobo and Sawchuck are nothing but lazy shills and sell outs for whoever signs their paychecks.

    I have no idea what Dobo and Sawchuck learned in their media classes, but I earned my BA in 1973 and we were taught to write balanced news using as many primary sources as possible and to question everything from both sides. I taught my award winning public high school journalism students the same ethical values and professionalism and demanded due diligence in their investigations and writing.

    Here’s why I allege that Dobo and Sawchuck are not professional, ethical journalists. In the sham of the Vergara trial in Los Angeles, two so-called expert witnesses from Harvard who were there for the prosecution said it was their unscientific estimates (a guess) from observations over several years that at least 1% to 3% of public school teachers were incompetent. From that guess, the judge ruled in favor of stripping due process rights that are guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution for public employees from every public school teacher in California. That verdict has been appealed by the Governor and Attorney General of California.

    By the numbers:

    There are 295,025 public school teachers in California teaching out of 10,393 schools.
    1% = 2,950
    3% = 8,851
    Conclusion: There are a lot of public schools in California without even one incompetent teacher.

    In addition, “According to official poverty statistics, 22.7% of children in California did not have enough resources to make ends meet in 2014. … The California Poverty Measure (CPM), a joint research effort by PPIC and the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality, is a more comprehensive approach to gauging poverty in California. We find that the child poverty rate in 2013 was 23.9%, down slightly from 2011 and 2012. Without safety net resources, 38.1% of children would live in poverty. Because many safety net programs focus specifically on helping children, social safety net programs keep a larger share of children than adults from falling into poverty.”


    Stanford Report, January 15, 2013
    Poor ranking on international test misleading about U.S. student performance, Stanford researcher finds

    “There is an achievement gap between more and less disadvantaged students in every country; surprisingly, that gap is smaller in the United States than in similar post-industrial countries, and not much larger than in the very highest scoring countries.

    “Achievement of U.S. disadvantaged students has been rising rapidly over time, while achievement of disadvantaged students in countries to which the United States is frequently unfavorably compared – Canada, Finland and Korea, for example – has been falling rapidly.”

    In 2014-15, there were 6,235,520 children enrolled in California’s public schools.

    I challenge Dobo and Sawchuck to find the correct answer for this math problem. How many students in California are disadvantaged students?

    38.1% x 6.2 million students =

    Have Dobo and Sawchuck ever reported these facts and questioned what really causes the public’s community based, democratic, non-profit, transparent public schools to earn alleged failing grades and be labeled failing schools, closed, and why OUR children are being turned over to often worse autocratic, opaque, for-profit and often fraudulent cooperate charter schools?

    My final question is for Dobo, Sawchuck and other journalists who are an embarrassment to the profession. Have you sold your soul to a billionaire oligarch to keep your ego boosting byline and paychecks coming, or are you just lazy and unprofessional—the evidence is your reporting and that evidence says you are one or the other? Explain yourself with evidence from your work and not claims you are a professional, because even hired assassins are professionals.

  2. I agree journalists and teachers need each other, in times where we want to raise awareness of different aspects of education we want to adapt. Media can make the public and politicians listen to our views about how we are helping children to learn! I think journalists could help raise the professionalism of teaching if they focussed on what teachers to give, not what they aren’t doing in comparison to other speakers ideals. Journalists must also remember just because teachers are told to do something such as set more targets more tests more maths and writing doesn’t mean it is the best way to help children learn holistically. Therefore they should not criticise teachers for not working hard. They all work hard generally. One quote is that testing to help learning is like expecting to grow more by measuring your height! Journalists should consider teachers professional opinions and practice.

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