I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Thursday, November 11, 2010

What A Tangled Web We Weave

There are times, gentle reader, where I just don't even know where to begin. Maybe with a recap:

Bruce Baker, Rutgers professor, runs a blog where he analyzes education policy. Baker has posted data that questions the idea that charter schools are the answer to all of our woes.

A columnist for the Star-Ledger, Bob Braun, quoted Bruce in a article about charter schools doubters. To get the other side, Braun asked for a rebuttal from the NJ Charter School Association.

What he received back was a screed that called into question Baker's integrity as an academic:
New Jersey Charter School Association, responded to requests for comment by questioning the reliability of Baker’s work. He said he "seriously questions the credibility" of "biased data" provided by Baker. He charged Baker is "closely aligned with teachers unions, which have been vocal opponents of charter schools and have a vested financial interest in their ultimate failure."
He linked Baker to the Think Tank Review Panel operated out of the University of Colorado’s National Educational Policy Center. Tedeschi says the panel is "bankrolled" by teacher unions. Baker is, in fact, a fellow at the center, which receives funding from a variety of sources, including the Ford Foundation and the National Education Association. The panel, which includes professors from throughout the country — including Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Columbia and Berkeley — writes reviews of reports published by political think tanks.
Click through to read Bruce's very funny response. But OK, fine, another hack who can't deal with reality - big deal.

Well actually, yeah, it is a big deal, considering who the hack is: Bruno Tedeschi. Let's do the Google, shall we? Start with a Facebook resume:
The North Ward Center is the parent organization of the Robert Treat Academy Charter School. You know, the school Chris Christie visited the day after his election.
Gee, I wonder if Tedeschi kept any of his old contacts with the Star-Ledger? Must be, since they've given him his own blog at the nj.com Newark Live site.

Here's where we enter the Twilight Zone. Tedeschi doesn't work for the S-L per se; he just blogs for them. These are unpaid positions, but they are under the nj.com banner, and they use the imprimatur of the Star-Ledger to give the bloggers a certain credibility.

So, what does Tedeschi blog about? Surprise - charter schools!

Robert Treat Academy Students Spend Summer on College Campuses 

Lady Liberty Academy Charter School Shines in Newark  

The North Ward Center Celebrates Halloween

And so on. All under the aegis of the Star-Ledger and nj.com.

And then there's this:
Every year, Jaffe Communications accepts a small number of political candidates as clients who share our vision if creating a better America. We will direct an aggressive, high-profile PR campaign for political candidates and will work closely with you to develop the critical messages your team needs to win.
And who just opened the Newark office of Jaffe Communications? Why, none other than Bruno Tedeschi! Care to tell us who your clients are, Bruno?

I could go on with this - peeling back each layer of the onion - but I think you get the point: Bruno is a "player" in the media and political scene, he is speaking on behalf of charter schools, he is impugning an academic who comes to a conclusion counter to the interests of his clients, and he's doing so through a news organization where he has extensive personal contacts.

What are we to make of all this?

Well, let's start with Braun. Is it not reasonable to ask that he disclose Tedeschi as a former editor at the S-L? That he publishes articles regularly extolling the virtues of charter schools on the same website where Braun publishes? Especially since Tedeschi is impugning Baker by pointing out his alleged "connections"? Sauce for the goose, right?

Next: does anyone else have a problem with Tedeschi having a blog under the S-L and nj.com brand? I am nearly certain that the fine folks at Advance Publications would tell me I'm being naive: that news companies are looking for new revenue streams, and that there is a clear way for the reader to distinguish between the "news" from the S-L and the "content" from parties with their own vested interests.

But if that's the case, why doesn't the NJEA have their own blog at nj.com? Would that fly? Would the S-L still feel they were an objective news source if the union were blogging a message that casts doubts about charters under the Advance web umbrella?

In addition: tax money goes to charter schools. Do they use that money to pay their dues to the NJCSA? It costs a school $10 per student to join the organization; is that fee paid out of tax funds? And, if so, is it at all appropriate that those funds be used to hire a media mercenary like Tedeschi to attack a sitting professor at the state's premier public university for publishing objective analyses of government data?

And, a larger question: should your tax money be used to promote charters at all?

Finally: even if tax money is not being used, Tedeschi's attack was personal. Charter schools deserve better representation that this.

This is yet another example of how the media fails us when it come to informing our citizens about policy. Again, I have no problems with charters; I started my teaching career at a charter. But the public deserves a clear, focused, and truly unbiased discussion of these schools if they are to make informed judgements about their role in our school system.


James Horn said...

Great work.

Too bad The Star-Ledger does not have a reporter or three like you. If it did, the bloom would have snapped off the charter plastic rose a long time ago.

Jim Horn

Anonymous said...

Great investigative journalism. Thanks for this.