Monday, 29 August 2011

Ed Media Watch's first engagement with the press over biased educational journalism - in the Guardian!

Dear Chris Elliott,

I am writing as founder member of Education Media Watch, a new group forming to respond to the high level of misrepresentation and one-sidedness about education issues in the media. We are a group of educationists, teachers and parents who are working to challenge reports in the media which present one-sided stories about the education system. I have to admit I did not expect to have to write to you about a Guardian article so soon.

The article in question is this;

This is an article which represents exactly the kind of thing Ed Media watch is being set up to deal with; it presents 'Free' schools effectively from Michael Gove's perspective as though they are not controversial. It appears to have been 'churnalised' from AP and includes figures in support of the idea by the government but nothing from those opposed to free schools (a considerable number of people, particularly teachers).

In fact the figures quotes by the government at the end of the article referring to Charter Schools in New York, which are what 'free' schools are modelled on, are highly misleading and mask a high degree of selectivity in New York schools in relation to non-charter schools.

For example; although they tout an 86% catch-up with "schools in the wealthiest suburbs" in Maths and a 66% catchup in English these statistics appear to have been manipulated Chuchillian-style to be highly misleading. In fact although just over half (51%) produced gains in maths, only 29% produced gains in reading. In other words nearly half produced no significant improvements in maths and 71% no gains in reading. Nationally in the US, only 14% of charter schools have better results than local schools compared with 37% doing worse than local schools and 46% the same.

These phantom 'improvements' in school results in New York have come about despite huge funding imbalances which Joel Klein (now working for Rupert Murdoch) managed to engineer which has also resulted in resources being taken away from local schools and given to charters, this has resulted in smaller class sizes and other material advantages for children in charters. In addition charters take a lower percentage of children with special needs, a lower percentage of children for whom English is an additional language, and a lower percentage of hispanic and immigrant children, when compared with New York City averages. The imbalance in these figures is even higher when compared to local schools situated near the charters.

I could quote more data about charter schools in the US and in NYC in particular which provide substantial evidence that on average charter schools are failing in the US and failing despite being given huge increases in resources, money which, if it had been invested in normal local schools, would almost certainly have produced significant gains accross the board. For data supporting the figures I have presented here, and further information demonstrating that the assumptions implicit and explicit in the article are neither uncontraversial nor correct please refer to the links below;

I feel that the publication of this article (I don't know whether this was just online or in the print version) displayed a high degree of bias, largely by omission, but also presented the issue of 'free' schools as uncontroversial, when it is, in fact highly controversial. I also feel that this article represented the worst type of churnalism, which is something I have come to expect the Guardian not to indulge in.

I would like to ask that someone is given the space to respond to this article. I know it sounds odd to say 'respond' in relation to an article which is a report rather than an opinion piece but education news reports have become so one-sided and selective in their content (and here I am referring to the media as a whole, not just the Guardian) that articles like this are effectively opinion pieces in that they promote on particular view of the events to which they refer. In addition I would like to know why comments were not enabled for this article, and the contact details of the journalist or member of editorial staff who included the article. The article has no byline, merely saying it came from PA. It is Education Media Watch's policy to engage in a dialogue with journalists and editors when reports like this appear, to point out errors such as those apparent in this article and suggest how they might improve their own and their organisation's coverage of education issues in future. As such I would also like to ask for contact details of the individual responsible for the appearance of this piece such that we can ensure he/she is aware of the issues and able to make better journalistic decisions in the future.

Kind regards,

Natacha Kennedy

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