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
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
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.