The release of this year's NCTQ teacher prep school ratings is another opportunity for news organizations to practice press release journalism. The good news is that as of noon-time on June 17, most outfits aren't even bothering to do that.
Foxnews.com is headlining a list of twelve terrible teachers who are being protected by tenure. A search on USAToday.com for "nctq" produces only a press release from February of 2013. On cnn.com, a similar search turns up nothing at all. Even MSNBC, whose love for reformy things is deep and abiding, is more excited about the Starbucks college (sort of) plan.
That's understandable. The NCTQ report is proprietary USNews stuff, and rival organizations aren't going to do someone else's PR work for them. That reality, it should be noted, underscores the degree to which the report is not news.
Even a google of the report turns up mostly various folks debunking the whole ridiculous mess. (There's some good debunkery here and here.) So it's possible that this story may get the kind of attention it actually deserves, which is to say none except those deflating the self-inflated bubble of importance.
However, if we want to see the template for how some news outlets will inevitably be elevated to a level of importance and legitimacy that it does not deserve, we can stroll over to see what Joy Resmovits is covering it at HuffPost.
We're going to skip over the inflammatory headline-- in the world of journalism, writers generally do not write their own headlines, so it's no fair holding journalists responsible for the clickbait banners that fly above their work.
We hit our first bit of trouble in graf two: "The National Council on Teacher Quality, a Washington group that advocates tougher teacher evaluations..."
Resmovits gets a point for the verb "advocates," because NCTQ is nothing more than that. But to say that they advocate for tougher teacher evaluations is to echo their own press releases. I might as easily say that NCTQ advocates for their own ideas about what teacher evaluations should look like, or advocates for evaluations that reflect their own narrow interests. By characterizing them as "tough" Resmovits gives them a badge of legitimacy and positive focus that they do not deserve, and which incorporates a judgment about their agenda that is not really reportage.
Resmovits then summarizes their big findings, unchallenged, and lets NCTQ honcho Kate Walsh have the floor for some lengthy quotage-- again, unchallenged.
Then we throw in a graph. With "raw scores," because, you know, data. Resmovits does not address the question of where the raw scores come from. Not entirely surprising, because any positive reporting of NCTQ ratings has to pussy-foot around the question of where the numbers come from. Number of times that Common Core and Phonics are mentioned in the course catelog? Quality of department stationary? Evaluator's mood on the afternoon they were throwing numbers around? We don't know.
Resmovits does report that there is Broad and Arnold money behind the report, but again characterizes the report as aiming "to improve teacher training, modeling itself after broad reforms to medical schools a century ago." And boy, there's a sentence that just begs further explanation. I'm going to guess it doesn't mean "more teachers should train with cadavers" but beyond that, who knows. Whatever it is, we're once again going to characterize it as "improving" education rather than any number of other verbs such as "alter" or "twist" or even "take over."
Resmovits says HuffPo tried getting quotes from the bottom three schools; I could have told her that was unlikely, given that these schools are just today finding out that they (apparently) suck and have had no real chance to figure out why they got the ax. That might have been something worth noting, though one school did indicate that they had declined to cooperate with NCTQ. That's doing better than some, since NCTQ doesn't always bother to even speak to the school. A teacher school up the road from me was taken aback last year when they found themselves rated failing for a program that they don't even have. "Had anyone talked to us," the university president told me, shrugging.
But Resmovits lets Walsh bat clean-up as well, and Walsh assures us that even if it seems like everyone in public is ignoring their bogus bulk of bulbous baloney (I'm paraphrasing), behind closed doors, policymakers are getting ready to use this important information in the upcoming federal takeover of teacher prep programs.
The AACTE, teacher prep school lobby group, offers a politely worded raspberry about the report and its origins. That's in the very last paragraph.
Resmovits frustrates me. She clearly has the skill and brains to do better reportage, but invariably she fails to challenge the reformster narrative, or even offer enough details to let it be seen in all its awesome glory.
For instance, there's my favorite fun fact from the report. The top teacher prep school for secondary teachers is an on-line school. Wouldn't that be a fun lead. Wouldn't America's parents just be delighted a few years down the road to find out that their kid's teacher was certified at a cyber school.
At any rate, that's how things look just a few hours after the release of the report. Arne Duncan has kept quiet so far, as have many major media outlets. Let's see what happens as the week goes on.