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Radical Eyes for Equity: Public Education Deserves Better Journalism in 2024: Reading Edition

There is an incredibly powerful and frustrating dynamic about mainstream media in the US: While common knowledge claims mainstream media is liberal media, actual mainstream journalism in the US perpetuates as fact conservative ideology.

And the topic that suffers the most from that contradiction is education.

We are but 8 days into 2024, and the self-proclaimed Queen of US journalism, the New York Times, has offered up what may prove to be one of the classic examples of that liberal/conservative contradiction (see, for example, the NYT covering poverty at the level of The Onion).

Currently, media has renewed interest in college admissions, specifically using standardized tests such as the SAT or ACT for admissions. Progressive/liberal advocates call for not using SAT/ACT for admissions ; conservatives support maintaining standardized tests in admissions.

And right on cue, the NYT: The Misguided War on the SAT.

The article is a lazy argument, but also careless in its cherry picking of evidence:

The Leonhardt article uses the California faculty senate article as a proof point (the one that mentions College Board over 50 times) but fails to cite the rebuttal by the person who has researched the topic more than anyone, and who found serious problems with the research study.

Aw Jeez, not this shit again

This college admissions/SAT example parallels the NYT piece on grocery shopping by people in poverty; the claims of the articles are driven by normative conservative ideology (poor people buy junk food and standardized tests measure merit) not empirical evidence.

Mainstream media misrepresenting education and educational research, then, is normal in the US. In fact, far more coverage of education is misleading or outright false than is credible.

One of the best examples of this problem is coverage of reading proficiency and the current reading crisis, specifically the “science of reading” movement.

Along with many others, I have documented that media coverage of reading is both “holy text” and significantly misleading.

Key elements of that misguided coverage include the following:

  • Misrepresenting “reading proficiency” based on misunderstanding NAEP achievement levels. Media makes the claim 1/3 of students are not proficient readers when, in fact, NAEP shows 2/3 of students read at grade level or above.
  • Misrepresenting balanced literacy, three cueing, guessing, and popular reading programs. Essentially, no evidence exists showing balanced literacy has created a reading crisis or that any sort of uniform approach to reading exists across the US since many programs and interpretations of reading co-exist now and throughout the history of the US.
  • Misrepresenting teacher knowledge and practice related to reading as well as broadly discrediting teacher education, primarily based on a think-tank (NCTQ) agenda and not empirical evidence.
  • Misrepresenting reading science by distorting conclusions from NRP and ignoring or cherry-picking from the two decades of research since NRP.
  • Claiming reading science is settled and asserting that brain research is also settled. Both reading and brain science are evolving, each ripe with debate and room for greater understanding.
  • Simultaneously narrowing the reading science to only experimental/quasi-experimental research while using as evidence anecdotes and endorsing practices (grade retention, systematic phonics instruction for all students) and programs (LETRS, Orton-Gillingham) lacking scientific support.
  • Aligning SOR with social justice agendas although a growing body of research shows SOR contradicts equity goals.

In short, reading proficiency and reading instruction deserve better than mainstream media is providing.

Education journalists need in 2024 to step back from the “holy text” template, re-engage with the full story and body of evidence, and then provide the sort of critical coverage students, teachers, and our democracy deserve.

To that end, consider the following:

Critiques of Media Story about SOR

Recent Research Challenging SOR Policy/Legislation

See Also

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P.L. Thomas

P. L. Thomas, Professor of Education (Furman University, Greenville SC), taught high school English in rural South Carolina before moving to teacher education. He...