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

Monday, February 14, 2011

Brauny Attack

I have been very hard on the Star Ledger lately, and they've deserved it. But Bob Braun deserves a lot of praise for doing what journalists are supposed to do: not blindly accepting what the powerful say as truth.
This newspaper asked repeatedly for a more detailed comparison of charter and traditional schools. The deadline under the Open Public Records Act passed last week but the state granted itself an extension. Maybe the response will come this week. Or maybe not.
It will come eventually and, let’s hope, the response will not be spin.
What available data does show confirms studies throughout the nation: Some conventional schools are better than some charters, and vice-versa. Differences are insignificant.
"In the long run, we are going to find charter schools will do about the same as traditional publics, and that we have yet to find the silver bullet — if, indeed, we ever will," says Joseph DePierro, dean of Seton Hall’s College of Education and Human Services.
"There’s a marginal difference between charters and other poor schools, and it’s hard to know what to attribute that difference to, if it is a difference," says Bruce Baker, a Rutgers scholar. He says some of the difference could be attributable to the "selective" nature of student admissions at charters and attitudes of parents who bother to go through the admissions process.
And, yes, it is the job of a journalist to challenge the positions of both sides. But, in many debates, both sides are not even; sometimes there are clear winners and clear losers of an argument. The 'formers who are touting charter schools are the losers here; there's no getting around it.

Braun deserves praise for pointing this out, but we have to remember that his point of view here is objective; it's based on the facts and on reason, facilitated by real experts (Bruce Baker, who's a good as it gets on this stuff).

I think this is a central flaw in American journalism today, and it's a flaw that isn't confined to education reporting. Journalists shouldn't just put out "he said/she said" stories; they should objectively evaluate arguments, and rely on real experts to help them with those evaluations (but not just blindly accept those experts' pronouncements, either).

In other words: if Chris Christie wants to push some nonsense about charter schools, go ahead and report that. But don't just call up Derrell Bradford or Bruno Tedeschi for a quote, followed by someone from NJEA with another, and essentially let the reader flip a coin to figure out who's right.

Dig in. Figure it out. It's not subjective to point out one side has a better argument. Not all opinions are equal.

And never automatically trust the propositions of the powerful. In fact, as a default position: do EXACTLY the opposite.

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