Op-Ed: Irresponsible Journalism in Reporting Teacher Data


Below is the text of an op-ed piece I sent to the New York Times in response to the way they reported the release of New York City teacher data reports.

Many, if not most, of the teachers employed in New York City’s public schools are on the frontlines of what often feel like unwinnable battles. Daily, we wage wars against poverty and its menacing effects, including hunger and malnutrition, homelessness, abuse, and truancy. Most of us love our students (can you believe it?) and are greatly pained by the often tragic circumstances of their lives that they are powerless to escape.

So, when a world-renowned newspaper like the New York Times irresponsibly publishes flawed data without giving space to exploring the factors that significantly impact a student’s ability to achieve, we teachers bristle a bit (Teacher Quality Widely Diffused, Ratings Indicate, 2/25/12). Inherent in your release of teacher data reports is an overly simplified position that some teachers are good and some teachers are bad. No one argues that there are varying abilities among teachers, but to allow your readers to think those distinctions can be decided without acknowledging sophisticated intertwined factors is irresponsible.

It was easy enough to simply name teachers and brand them with numbers. Were the Times truly interested in objective journalism, it would have held the data until after it properly collected information to enable its readers to understand the conditions that may have impacted scores. It would have been respectable and noble to use basic journalism skills to compile demographic data so the public could understand the unique makeup of each teacher’s classes and schools. How many students with disabilities were tested? How many English Language Learners? How many students were eligible for free lunch?

The release of teacher data reports to the media was an opportunity for the Times to launch an objective investigation of the realities that adversely affect students’ abilities to perform  and that New York City’s teachers face every day. Instead, the Times made the unwise, unfortunate decision of publishing numbers and drawing erroneous, damaging conclusions.

The Times did a major disservice to the parents, teachers, and students in this city. In your coverage of the release of teacher data reports, you ignored the most important maxim of journalistic integrity: There are two sides to every story.

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One response to “Op-Ed: Irresponsible Journalism in Reporting Teacher Data

  1. Bravo, Matt! An excellent and eloquent piece.

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