Michael Petrilli

Is the Media Biased in Favor of Reform? It Depends on the Reform

Paul Farhi of the Washington Post created a stir this weekend with an American Journalism Review articleripping mainstream education reporting for being uncritical of school reform. His comments were particularly pointed when it came to television coverage of the subject, especially NBC’s.

NBC has concentrated on initiatives favored by self-styled education reformers. The network has been particularly generous to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into promoting teacher merit pay proposals and privately run charter schools – an agenda strongly opposed by many public school teachers, labor unions and educators.

During its first “Education Nation” summit in 2010, for example, “NBC Nightly News” aired a profile of a Gates Foundation initiative, “Measures of Effective Teaching,” which seeks to create a database of effective teaching methods. The reporter was former NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw. During the second summit last fall, Brokaw showed up on “Today” with Melinda Gates to discuss the same Gates initiative. Turning from reporter to advocate, Brokaw told host Natalie Morales, “So what Bill and Melinda have done, and it’s a great credit to them, and it’s a great gift to this country, is that they have taken the kind of episodic values that we know about teaching and they’ve put them together in a way that everyone can learn from them. So that’s a big, big step.”

And Farhi’s not wrong; the media has indeed been obsessed with the teacher effectiveness agenda. That’s one finding of my own analysis of education reporting that I just published in Education Next. My team and I coded all of the national education stories published in 2011 in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, USA Today, and Associated Press. And sure enough, teacher-related policies were covered more than any other topic.

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