No wonder Valerie Strauss never engages….

No wonder Valerie Strauss never engages….

Depositphotos_54471695_m

Reading through Alexander Russo’s new blog, “The Grade,” I happened on an interesting blog post about The Washington Post’s blog The Answer Sheet by….Valerie Strauss. He writes:

She doesn’t write very much of her own commentary, they say. She can’t be both a columnist/blogger who traffics in opinion and commentary and also take/get assigned straight news stories, they say. Her reported pieces aren’t well-reported. And most of all: What she does post is pretty much unrelentingly critical of reform ideas like charter schools and test-based accountability.

Now granted, the complaints are mostly coming from reform advocates whose views aren’t frequently found on Strauss’s staunchly critical education blog. Or they’re from education journalists who are competitors of some kind. So all this is all to be taken with a grain of salt. But the list goes on and on, and the behind-the-scenes conversations with editors and ombudsmen I’ve heard about are pretty much endless.

I just assumed she was busy, but I tweet to her every day and have written extensively about an interview she “presumably” did with Anthony Cody in these posts:

Refuting Anthony Cody Part 3

Cody denies progress to advance his agenda

Really? No Gains in NYC?

Anthony Cody, can you look a child in DC in the eyes and tell him that his progress is unrecognized

Refuting Anthony Cody Part 2

Refuting Anthony Cody Part 1

Granted it was Cody’s interview, and if anyone were to respond it would be him, and he has to an extent, but she never has made a peep, ever. And I’ve even gotten John Thompson to challenge me, I’m not a nobody! 🙂

But this blog post of Alexander’s just makes a lot of sense from my experience with the blog.

Alexander goes on:

This might not be the biggest or deepest critique of the work Strauss does and her Post editors allow. My main issue with her blog is that it doesn’t seem to offer readers an honest, somewhat balanced assessment of the big education issues that are being debated, or isn’t balanced with another blog so that readers of the Post can at least see two sides of a discussion. Oh, and it annoys me to no end that Answer Sheet blog posts overwhelm regular reported news stories on the site’s education page and on Feedly as if blog posts and reported news are the same thing. But let’s save all that for another time, shall we?

Yes, yes please write about something other than the far left leaning wing of the Democratic Party. I basically don’t read her material because I know it’s all over the edge and I’m not likely to agree.

Alexander goes on to discuss the world of bylines in the journalism world (and I have to say he did very well by me as a writer or news clipper making me a contributor and my name would be on the morning news) but my biggest pet peeve is this which he brings up later – her lack of accountability:

Issue number two related to the byline is the accountability issue. When there’s heat or pushback on what she’s posted under her byline, Strauss seems like she doesn’t want anything to do with it. In such situations she wants it known that she’s just the person who assigned or accepted the outside contribution. Then, she’s just the editor. But she still gets a byline.

The most recent example of this is a May 15 post Strauss published taking on Deepak Chopra’s work, written by Steven Newton. The headline is “Scientist: Why Deepak Chopra is driving me crazy.” The byline is, as usual, “By Valerie Strauss.” But two paragraphs in, Strauss hands it over to Newton.

The post generated nearly 50 comments and some attention on Twitter, including this hostile/polite tweet from Chopra’s account on May 18 addressed to Strauss and sent to his 2.44 million followers:

Dear @valeriestrauss – I responded to your ad hominem blog on me in the Washington Post in the comments section. Regards

— Deepak Chopra (@DeepakChopra) May 18, 2015

Strauss published a follow-up piececomplaining that Chopra’s email and Tweet were misguided: “He said it was written by me. He didn’t mention that Newton actually wrote the piece.”

To recap: Strauss published a piece under her byline. Chopra responded to her Twitter handle. But Strauss doesn’t feel like the responsibility for the post is hers.

Ah well, didn’t like her before and have zero reason to like her now. Too bad because I generally like the WashPost.

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Are education journalists making “The Grade”?

Are education journalists making “The Grade”?

The Grade

 

Alexander Russo, who Ed Week referred to as “peripatetic and highly opinionated education blogger” (I had to look up peripatetic and settled on this definition “moving or traveling from place to place” though not sure if that was the intention! I believe that Alexander moved at least once while I helped him write for his blog, This Week in Education, and he certainly has had experience in a variety of metropolitan cities in the US.), started a new blog this month, “The Grade” over at Washington Monthly.

Getting a little nostalgic over Alexander and blogging, thinking back to when he recruited me to help him collect the morning news, attend and report back on education events in DC and occasionally write a piece of my own. I went to find my earliest emails with Alexander and they were in an even more previous email account than my current oldest one. I’ve known Alexander longer than probably anyone else I know in the education sphere. I was collecting news clips for Alexander before I really knew anything about national education issues and TWIE will always be my go-to news education blog. However, I digress.

In Alexander’s introductory post, he writes:

Think of it as NPR’s “On The Media” for education news, or as a public editor or ombudsman for national K-12 news coverage.

There’s a ton of education news being pumped out every day, but what’s particularly good (or bad) about the coverage that’s being provided — and what if anything can be done to make it even better?

That’s the goal: to take a steady look at how education news gets created and see how to make it as accurate, complete, and interesting as possible.

Ed Week reports on the support for “The Grade”:

Still, besides accepting support from Washington Monthly, Russo says there are two other “starting funders”: the American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s second-largest teachers’ union, and Education Post, a Chicago-based organization run by former Arne Duncan spokesman Peter Cunningham.

“Most days it might not seem like these two organizations [AFT and Education Post] would agree on much, but their leaders have stepped up to support this effort out of a desire for smart education coverage (and agreed to give me room to write whatever seems most important on any given day),” Russo writes.

He added in his email to me that “the AFT and Education Post won’t necessarily like what I write about every day of the week, but they’ll benefit from there being a place where media quality is being discussed.”

I found this to still be a little confusing so I asked Alexander over email myself if he would still be willing to challenge AFT or Education Post if the need arose?

He responded, “I would, and have in the past, criticized them both, and will do so again, though the focus of the new blog is mostly taking a hard look at what education journalists are doing as opposed to what advocates are doing.”

Then I asked if he’d be doing any work to decipher think tank research, which nowadays seems like it is often leaning in a subjective direction vs. remaining objective to it’s funding sources. Often times funders aren’t disclosed until well after the funder has touted the research as fact all day long already. Alexander replied, “yeah, i’ll get into some of that — wrote a piece last week about journos’ over-use of think tank research, for example.” He was referring to this piece which I generally agree with: Decoding Think Tank-Fueled Education Journalism. I really appreciate the tips he mentions at the end of the post:

In terms of reviewing at the research being produced by think tanks, look not only to funding sources and ideological issues but also to see if the organization has any track record of producing research whose conclusions don’t match funders’ advocacy positions. For me, demonstrated autonomy from funders’ immediate interests is the best single measure of credibility (besides doing good, methodologically sound work).

When reading education journalism, pay careful attention to how journalists use and identify think tank reports and experts in their stories, and be skeptical about claims being made that don’t seem to have been verified or vetted.   If you look closely you can sometimes find a think tank report that might have inspired a story or an expert whose views seem to go unchallenged. The think tank’s role usually isn’t presented at the top of a piece or in a straightforward way, but rather slipped into an overview/summary section or given a juicy quote or stat at the end of a piece.

For education journalists, it’s important to present caveats and opposing views and to be clear with readers about the limitations and views of the think tank/expert whose views are being expressed, and who funded the study.  Often it can be helpful to find an academic expert to look at a think tank report. Sometimes you can learn a lot by asking what if any of the report’s findings match or conflict with the funders’ views.

My personal view is that exclusives, embargoes, and other hidden arrangements between journalists and think tanks should be indicated to readers who otherwise have no idea where a story came from, but I’m in the definite minority on that front.

I’ve made attempts to work towards these perspectives and offer the public tips and advice about decoding the media including: Don’t be fooled by marketing,  Look Deeper Than the Title & Make your own choices about what to believe.

Ed Week received feedback from both AFT & Education Post about their support:

Asked by me about the support for the venture, AFT President Randi Weingarten said via email, “There are fewer and fewer reporters covering the education beat, and we need to do what we can to help those who are interested in balanced reporting find that balance. That’s why we supported Alexander’s venture at this reputable publication.”

Michael Vaughn, the communications director for Education Post, said via email: “We respect Alexander’s voice and think that education journalism and commentary deserve thoughtful scrutiny. At the end of the day, we can’t have a better conversation if we can’t agree on certain basic truths. People say a lot of unsupported things, and it can get very confusing for readers. Our hope is that it makes all of us more careful, and we fully expect to be challenged by him sometimes.”

Response to John Thompson via TWIE

©Depositphotos.com/Margaret Paynich

©Depositphotos.com/Margaret Paynich

John Thompson just used one of his weekly posting slots on Alexander Russo’s This Week in Education blog to take on my issue with teachers auto deducting dues.

Here is my response:

I think that teachers are quite capable of paying their own union dues at their own will. Other states like MI have laws allowing that and look at all the ways that the MI unions handle those situations.

Union in Taylor, MI tried to circumvent right-to-work law and lost
MEA attempts to ruin credit of 8,000 teachers

Teachers Union puts up smoke screen while they deny workers their rights

Then there is a CBA fee issue. Unions claim there is a free-rider problem. A free-rider problem? Because workers benefit from the union’s contract negotiations and don’t have to pay. Someone PLEASE enlighten me about how the “collective bargaining fee” is calculated. If you are negotiating on behalf of 100 or 10,000 teachers do you really do more work? Free-rider problem, what a bunch of absolute baloney!

Honestly, I think teacher can and should negotiate their own salaries.

John says I don’t know contract law? Yes I understand there are laws – but that does not make them right!

Notice John didn’t support the assertion that teachers should have their dues auto deducted. He didn’t make a case for why unions should have direct access to the money hose. It’s just all semantics.

The point is that unions have very easy access to money that they spend frivolously on $500,000+ union head payrolls and 600 positions paid at in the six figures. Most teachers can’t get near a 6 six figure salary. Then there is the question about how the unions use that money for political purposes of which teachers may not agree. Unions take stances that teachers paying the dues may disagree with. But there is little way out of the dues.

In these two cases in CA (one & two) teachers are suing over the payment of the dues for political reasons. The first case:

Rebecca Friedrichs, the case’s lead plaintiff, says she decided to take legal action because she felt she had no other options and was “very seriously considering” leaving teaching. A teacher for more than 25 years, Friedrichs says she has opted out of paying a politically directed portion of union dues for most of her career. She became a full member for several years to try to affect change from the inside while serving as a union representative.

“They didn’t want to hear what I had to say,” Friedrichs says. “It just came to the point where I felt totally helpless and hopeless.”

In California, teachers can opt out of paying the roughly 30 to 40 percent of dues devoted to political lobbying, but they can’t opt out of dues used for collective bargaining issues. In total, California teachers pay as much as $1,000 annually in union dues, the plaintiffs say. They also argue it’s particularly difficult to opt out of paying the politically directed dues because they must first pay the dues and then apply for a refund each year. Many teachers, they say, contribute hundreds of dollars to political activities they disagree with because the opt-out process is too complex.

John T. knows this is about teachers union money and NOT about what teacher care about. I wonder what payroll John T. is on.

©Depositphotos.com/Margaret Paynich

©Depositphotos.com/Margaret Paynich