Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Obvious Conflicts of Interest

The Washington Post's Jay Mathews is the nation's highest-profile education reporter, and is a cheerful unabashed enthusiast of charter schools, especially KIPP, about which he has written one book ("Work Hard, Be Nice") and is working on a second. Mathews made his name by writing a book that brought Jaime Escalante, the onetime miracle-working higher-math teacher at disadvantaged students at East L.A.'s Garfield High School, to national attention.

Mathews also works for
Newsweek, which is owned by the Washington Post Co. His regular project for Newsweek is the high-profile annual ranking of U.S. high schools.

The friendly Mathews also does the "Class Struggle" blog on washingtonpost.com. He recently posted a question on his blog: "Are Post authors biased?" He invited readers to submit disclaimers for Post coverage that would address possible bias.

The subsequent discussion on the blog is about reporters' personal biases. But I believe that's not the issue. The
heart of the matter is whether there are conflicts of interest involving potential financial and/or other personal gain. So I've written some disclaimers for the Post and Newsweek:

1. Jay Mathews
is the author of one published book and one upcoming book about KIPP, which are likely to sell better if KIPP is widely admired as a success. The books are likely to be less successful if aggressive coverage causes KIPP to begin to lose its luster and the public loses interest. Thus his news coverage and commentaries promoting KIPP as successful present the appearance of conflict of interest.

2. (For the annual
Newsweek high school rankings) These high school rankings are based on one single, highly debated criterion -- how many students at each school, percentagewise, take Advanced Placement and/or International Baccalaureate tests. This measure is easy for a school or a school district to manipulate if it has the resources, and so it inherently promotes expanded AP and IB testing. Newsweek's parent company also owns the Kaplan test-preparation company, and promoting increased AP and IB testing is inherently likely to create more business for Kaplan. This means that the high school rankings pose the appearance of conflict of interest for Newsweek.

3. (For all Washington Post coverage
of the Rhee administration and its reforms) Washington Post management is deeply involved in the Federal City Council. This powerful organization of top business leaders is widely believed to have persuaded Mayor Adrian Fenty to take over the school district and bring in a leader, MIchelle Rhee, to implement major changes, including expanding charter schools and privatization and taking on teachers and their unions over job security and other issues. Thus, Washington Post reporters have reason for concern that aggressive coverage of Rhee's reforms might displease their employer. This concern is increased because the newspaper industry is struggling and all newspaper journalists' job security is tenuous. This situation creates the likelihood of compromising Post reporters' ability to provide honest, fair and aggressive education coverage.

I eagerly invite specific responses by Jay and other Post education reporters. If anything I'm writing is inaccurate, I will immediately retract and apologize.

Guest post by Caroline Grannan


lodesterre said...

The compromised ethics of both Matthews and the Post is beyond question. Last Saturday the Post had a ringing endorsement of Michelle Rhee and nothing but scorn for the City Council hearings, calling the hearings a political game. This despite the fact that the city discovered that Rhee had continued hiring 900 new workers even after her CFO had warned her of a looming 12 million dollar deficit. No mention of that in the Post's editorial. Two pages before the editorial the Post had reported their earnings and losses. The newspaper is down this year by 28%, Kaplan and related educational services that they own are up 68%. Matthews' disingenuous reporting - in the Post, Newsweek and his blog - are galling to say the least. I ended my subscription to the Post on Saturday (I wrote about this in my educational blog www.conductingtheinnerlight.edublogs.org).

Being a teacher in DCPS right now is not easy. The environment is downright toxic. It isn't just the teachers feeling this stress - almost anyone you talk to in my building talks about the stress level. Rhee and her deputies and her paid consultants come in and berate and castigate and complain. Nothing is ever good enough. I simply cannot imagine what her classroom must have been like if this is her management style. Yet none of this gets paper time in the Post. Michelle Rhee and Adrian Fenty are a scandal waiting for the right, aggressive kind of reporter the Post no longer employees - or wants to employ.

nikto said...

At my Los Angeles area HS, our test results (poor, immigrant childen-you know the situation), have put us under the "guidance" of SAIT--A state inspection-organization, I suspect, loaded with Charter-school supporters).

This is our 2nd year under SAIT, and we were told we could possibly be taken over at the end of this school year (next June), if SAIT still disapproves of our efforts.

The entire school would be fired & "turned over" at that point.

Right now, I have one class that is about 3/4 recalcitrant students & gangmembers--A real "dump" class (place where administrators send a big bunch of the "baddies").

If SAIT comes in here on a typical day, it's going to look very very bad.

I feel like I am a target waiting to be fired at, or better yet, a bug onthe sidewalk waiting to be stepped-on.

Complete helplessness at this point.

Waiting for the blade to fall.

The one piece of good news is that I have a badly-swollen and "leaking" cornea--I am gradually losing vision in 1 eye and the Doctor said it was absolutely stress-related.

Perhaps going blind in 1 eye will get me a medical leave/disability.

Absolutely worth it, at this point.

But I know I am not exactly in a "normal"state of being.

But what is happening at my school and others is not "normal" either.