By Anthony Cody.
Last Saturday I shared the dramatic story of how a group of parents and teachers convinced the Democratic Party Committee of the State of Washington to vote in favor of a strong statement rejecting the Common Core standards. Perhaps there could be no better issue to compare and contrast mainstream media coverage to that of independent bloggers. Common Core, after all, has been the flagship project of the Gates Foundation, which has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into the development and promotion of the standards.
I was recently informed by the Education Writers Association that my work as a journalist does not exhibit enough “independence from what is covered” to qualify for journalist membership in their organization. Thus I cannot submit my work to their annual contest – in which I won a first prize last year.
So when this Democratic Party committee passed this resolution against the Common Core, I was very interested to see how it would be covered by the supposedly independent and objective members of the mainstream press.
To be clear, I do not claim to be entirely independent when writing about education issues. I approach my writing with the clear perspective of a former classroom teacher, and an advocate for democratically controlled public schools. Where I differ with the EWA is in their insistence that the reporters they call journalists are actually themselves independent. So let’s take a look at the mainstream coverage of this vote, and see how the issues were covered.
On Living in Dialogue, I carried two stories covering the vote. The first was a report posted just hours after the vote was taken on the evening of Jan. 24. This story included the text of the resolution the committee passed, and firsthand reports from both David Spring and teacher Susan DuFresne, who had also spoken in favor of the vote. Living in Dialogue also re-posted a detailed description of the process activists had followed to achieve this outcome.
The first story to appear on the subject in the mainstream media was on the Education Lab Blog at the Seattle Times, on Tuesday, Jan. 27. The Education Lab is a project funded by the Gates Foundation to cover education issues. This story appeared on Jan. 27, posted by Leah Todd, headlined Key Democratic Committee Condemns Common Core. The story features quotes from David Spring, one of the activists who had spoken in favor of the resolution. This story was fairly neutral in tone and did a decent job in presenting the facts, including providing a link to a press release from the Coalition for Public Schools, on of the groups that had supported the resolution. But this story is only on their blog. This did not go any farther than the Seattle Times blog.
A second mainstream story was published on Wednesday, Jan. 28, by Associated Press reporter Donna Gordon Blankinship. Since this story was filed with Associated Press, it has far wider reach than the one on the Education blog. Thus, this is the main way that the world will learn of what happened last Saturday. The headline reads: Washington Democrats oppose national standards. After three short paragraphs describing the resolution that was passed, Ms. Blankinship begins to quote Washington’s state Superintendent Randy Dorn:
“I do not believe that most people understand what this is about. It’s become a political propaganda issue,” Dorn said. “This wasn’t just done overnight. This was done over a long period of time with a lot of input from teachers and administrators, and top education researchers.”
Quotes from Superintendent Dorn make up more than a third of the article.
This story contains no quotes or comments from anyone supporting the resolution, although the content of the resolution is summarized.
When supporters of the resolution wrote to Ms. Blankinship suggesting that her report was biased, she responded, stating in part,
“I cannot write a story based solely on your point-of-view. That would be one-sided. I am required to reach out to get other viewpoints. Both your point of view and Randy Dorn’s were well represented in my story.”
So here is the challenge I put to fair-minded readers. Please take a minute or two to review the article. How well are the different perspectives represented? Is this report independent and objective? What do you think?