5 worst media failures on public education in 2015

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by Félix Pérez

We’ve all read, heard or seen news stories about public education that made us cringe and want to shout at how uninformed or biased they were. With the ascendance of social media and citizen journalists, this trend has become all too prevalent.

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Following are the five picks Media Matters, a news media fact-checker and analysis organization, says were the worst media failures on public education in 2015.

5. Campbell Brown Hired Anti-Teacher, Anti-Student Writer To “Fact-Check” Education Policy Reporting. 

Teachers union opponent and former journalist Campbell Brown launched a “non-profit, non-partisan news site about education” called The Seventy Four. In spite of the site’s stated mission to combat “misinformation and political spin” with “investigation, expertise, and experience,” Brown hired Eric Owens, who has a long history of attacks on students and teachers, to write for the site.

4. National Newspaper Editorials Promoted Anti-Teachers Union Myths 

The Wall Street Journal continued its campaign of misinformation on teachers unions, pushing harmful, union-opposed policies such as a Louisiana voucher program that was found to violate desegregation requirements and a Washington, D.C., voucher program reported to waste federal dollars on “unsuitable learning environments.” In an October editorial, for example, the board wrote that being “unpopular with unions … ought to be a requirement for any education leadership position.”

As the Every Student Succeeds Act moved through Congress in late November, the editorial board advocated for the continuation of unpopular high-stakes testing and voucher policies in the states.

The Washington Post editorial board similarly advocated for continuing the extensive testing requirements of No Child Left Behind and villianized teachers unions in the process. In its February editorial on the issue, the Post claimed that teachers unions “give lip service to accountability as long as their members aren’t the ones held to account.”

3. Fox News Continued Its Assault On Public Schools, Educators, And Teacher Unions

Fox News featured offensive and often inaccurate commentary on public education and the teaching profession throughout the year.

In February, Outnumbered co-host Lisa Kennedy kicked off the teacher-bashing by arguing that “there really shouldn’t be public schools.” In April, Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy slurred prospective bilingual educators, referring to immigrants with legal permission to work in the United States as “illegals” during a segment highlighting an initiative to boost language learning in schools.

In August, Fox & Friends included a segment where Fox News regular Frank Luntz conducted a live focus group segment about public education. Questions for the focus group included “Who here has issue with teachers unions?” and “Doesn’t it make you angry that you’re putting all this money into public schools?” Luntz followed up his leading question about teachers unions by singling out a teacher from the group and asking him to “defend” himself.

In an October discussion about New York City schools on Fox’s The Five, the co-hosts implored the city’s public school teachers to “become a better teacher” and “don’t suck at your job.”

2. Moderators and Candidates Overlooked K-12 Education Issues Throughout The Debate Season

While candidates outlined their positions time and again on national security issues, women’s health care, and taxes, the five Republican and three Democratic debates had only nine mentions of any variation of the term “teach.” In fact, according to this review, no candidate or moderator uttered the phrases “No Child Left Behind,” “Race To The Top,” or “Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)” throughout the 2015 debate season.

Moderators did discuss schools and teachers a handful of times throughout the debate season, mostly in relation to national security. In the August 6 Republican debate on Fox News, moderator Bret Baier questioned former Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio on their disagreement on the Common Core state standards. The moderators of the October 28 CNBC Republican debate also mentioned teachers once, when moderator Carlos Quintanilla asked Donald Trump about his comments that educators ought to be armed. And on CNN’s December 15 Republican debate, moderator Wolf Blitzer asked candidates about the closure of the Los Angeles Unified school district following an email threat.

The other five debates did not feature questions regarding K-12 education policy.

1. Newspapers Attacked Teachers Unions Across The Country

Public school educators and their unions in major cities made national headlines in 2015 following strikes, contentious contract negotiations, school board elections, and school funding battles. While research shows that teachers unions not only protect the rights of educators but also benefit students and their communities, state newspapers editorializing on union activities framed unions and educators as selfishly seeking higher pay at the expense of others.

Amidst a victory year for teachers unions on several fronts, Media Matters found that state newspapers in New York, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, California, and Washington published editorials distorting the facts to question the motives of teachers and attack their right to organize.

In Buffalo, New York, The Buffalo News repeatedly claimed that teachers unions supporting a parent-led movement against standardized testing want to maintain “the wretched, costly, dysfunctional status quo” and require children to “pay the price.” In Scranton, Pennsylvania, The Scranton Times-Tribune lamented that teachers unions had the ability to strike and dismissed teachers’ calls to be treated with respect and dignity.

In Albuquerque, NM, The Albuquerque Journal mocked teachers’ concerns over an unfair evaluation method that was subsequently struck down by a district court. The Los Angeles Times dismissed unions’ worries that a charter expansion plan created by one of the paper’s education reporting funders would financially jeopardize local public schools, telling those who opposed the plan to “quit whining.” And The Seattle Times repeatedly attacked the local union for “using their students as pawns,” as they advocated for fair pay, guaranteed recess time, more funding for schools, and greater equity in school discipline policies.

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