Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Wall Street Journal on Education: Lies, Myths, and Yellow Journalism

See earlier post, "The Edsel of Education Reform," to see what this is a response to. Tipler sets the record straight here in the Huffington Post.


The Wall Street Journal on Education: Lies, Myths, and Yellow Journalism
by Eric Tipler / Nov. 20, 2009

Earlier this month the Ford Foundation made an exciting announcement: they're giving away $100 million to improve secondary education in urban schools.

This is fantastic news to anyone who cares about education, the American Dream, and the future of America's economy. Which is why I was so shocked by an editorial in Tuesday's Wall Street Journal. In the misleading, erroneous, and inaccurate "The Edsel of Education Reform," the Journal's editors lambaste the Ford Foundation for giving money away to a "failed liberal establishment" institution: teachers' unions. Specifically, the Journal 1) strongly implies that Ford is giving $100 million to teachers' unions and 2) accuses Ford of ignoring the best paths to reform.

In fact, both claims are false. So why are the editors of our nation's most prestigious financial journal misleading their readers?

First, let's look at what's really going on. Ford's press release (cited by the Journal) clearly explains that the $100 million is going to multiple grantees, including six "Early Grant" recipients, one of which is an innovation fund at a teacher's union. None of the other grant recipients are mentioned in the editorial; instead, the Journal implies that unions are getting all the money (read it yourself and you'll see exactly what I mean).

As if this wasn't bad enough, the rest of the piece is filled with misinformation. The Journal criticizes Ford for not supporting Teach for America or KIPP, but leaves out the fact that some of its grantees apply TFA and KIPP strategies like better teacher recruitment and training and longer school days to schools that KIPP and TFA don't yet reach. It compares Ford unfavorably to the Gates Foundation, but ignores the fact that Gates supports many of the same initiatives as Ford--including, oddly enough, the very teacher's union fund the Journal criticizes! Even more bizarre, the editors take Ford to task for not supporting some specific initiatives--more accountability, charter schools--that its grantees actually support. At the very least, some fact-checking is in order here.

Because this editorial is based on deception (or, more charitably, bad journalism), it's not surprising that harmful myths about education reform are also woven in. The myth that spending more money on poor and minority kids is a waste ("some of the worst school districts in the country spend the most money on students"), the myth that vouchers help kids from low-income communities (they haven't worked, which is why they're off the table), the myth that strict accountability will close the achievement gap (it won't, although accountability with clear standards, and with more capacity to meet those standards will), and the myth that teachers' unions are the enemy (they have problems, but reformers need to work with, not against them).

After all, even if Ford was giving away $100 million to a union innovation fund, would that be the end of the world? Especially when the fund in question supports innovations like charters. It's certainly not how I would spend $100 million, but the Ford Foundation is a charitable institution, not a government agency. In this country, they can do with their money what they please.

I'm usually a fan of the Journal. When they're good, they're good, cf. a recent piece on health care reform by the dean of Harvard Medical School. But this editorial misleads its readers on points of fact, and trades in bigoted and inaccurate myths that hamper reform efforts.

Shame on you, editors of the Wall Street Journal. Shame on you for taking cheap shots at teachers' unions and charitable foundations supporting much-needed reform. What is the nation's financial paper of record scared of? Do they hate the Ford Foundation's "liberal" priorities (which have included, among other things, ending apartheid in South Africa) so much that they're willing to mislead their readers and misrepresent facts to oppose them? Hasn't this decade seen enough dissembling on issues of national substance? Shouldn't kids come before agendas?

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