All the Bad News That’s Fit to Print

Say you’re the Boston Globe and you’ve spent the better part of the last decade railing against the city’s overpaid teachers and their 9,000 25,000 page union contract. Backed by a mini-squadron of corporate shills, your warnings against the state of the city’s public schools have grown increasingly shrill. Now say some really good news arrives in the form of national test scores showing that Boston students have made jaw-dropping gains in math and reading since 2003. What do you do? You give this great news story the real estate it deserves bury it.

Here’s a little context. Boston is one of 21 public school districts across the country that volunteer to take something called the National Assessment of Educational Progress or NAEP test (If you’re a Diane Ravitch fanatic you’re starting to feel tingly about now.) So how well did Boston students do? Between 2003 and 2011, 4th and 8th graders in the Boston Public Schools posted gains that were three times larger than improvements nationwide and about two times greater than gains in the average city. Same again in reading. But here’s the truly jaw dropping part: the math gains in Boston were among the largest seen by any jurisdiction, state or local, in NAEP’s 30-year history.

Now, that’s a pretty big deal, right? So if you’re an editor at the Boston Globe, where public education is a central preoccupation, you’re probably thinking front page, below the fold, right? OK, no room on the cover with all of the breaking “news” from the campaign trail–so how about Metro, page 1, instead? Really? No room there either? Well, I guess we’ll just  have to go with an excerpt from the Globe’s ‘Voices of New England’ blog. Never heard of it? Me either… The story, all 250 words of it, was classified as an opinion piece and ran alongside two other excerpts: “Innovate in Transportation” and “Post Health Code Grades.” (Edu-nerds will want to check out writer Michael Casserly’s analysis of why Boston schools showed such gains).

In other words, the huge leap by Boston students merited the newspaper equivalent of a folding table set up between the restaurant kitchen and the bathroom. To be fair, the Globe education staff hasn’t been exactly idle lately. In recent weeks the paper has run at least five almost cartoonishly content-less stories about the back and forth between the Boston Public Schools and the Boston Teachers Union over a proposed new evaluation system. And big money hack expert source Sam Tyler of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau doesn’t just get himself on the phone.

Globe bashing aside, the serious point here is that there is now a whole ecosystem devoted to playing up the failings of the public school system, complete with “nonprofit” groups, think tanks, even faux coalitions and student groups, all marching to the same set of apocalyptic talking points. The only good news that this big-money-backed view cares about just happens to confirm the “solutions” that reformers push tirelessly. That’s why in the next few weeks, we’re sure to see multiple stories in the Globe about charters that rocked the MCAS.

The Globe ignored this story because it entirely contradicts the paper’s official editorial position: that Boston Public Schools suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck. That’s their line and they’re sticking to it…

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