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Media Coverage of Education

It may be a small point in the larger scheme of things, but the way the media treat education news is worthwhile looking at more closely. The Los Angeles Times serves as an instructive case study.

On Mar. 15, the Times published a story about Granada Hills Charter High School, which won the state Academic Decathlon ("Granada Hills Charter High School wins California Academic Decathlon"). After a year of hard work and two days of fierce competition, the school took the title and advanced to the national level.

The Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation's second largest, took the top three places, with Marshall High and El Camino High, last year's national winner, in second and third place, respectively. In fact, the LAUSD took six of the top 10 spots.

What grabbed my attention was the placement of the story. It wound up in the lower right hand corner on p. 3 of the California section. Why wasn't it featured more prominently in the main section? After all, the Times has been all too quick to publish bad news about the district on the front page. For example, it was last August that the Times ran a series about teacher evaluations on the front page under the headline of "Grading the Teachers" ("Who's teaching L.A.'s kids? Aug. 14). The Times congratulated itself in an editorial ("Teachers, by the numbers," Aug. 17).

The Times is not alone in this regard. The media take great pains to play up the bad and ignore the good about public schools. It's almost as if editors take perverse pride in doing this. At a time when teacher morale is at an all-time low, the policy is deplorable. I don't personally know any of the teachers who coached their students, but what I do know is the amount of time and energy it takes to achieve such outstanding results.

When I began teaching English, I was also given the speech program. This required taking students to various speech tournaments throughout the school year on several Saturdays each semester. I spent countless hours on rehearsals before and after school, and during lunch. The payoff was that my students went on to the state finals at Stanford and at the University of California, Santa Barbara, bringing home several awards. It takes enormous dedication. That's why I was appalled at the minor attention given to teachers for their achievements at the academic decathlon. They deserve the equivalent of an Oscar.

The media do not understand how much teachers appreciate support for their efforts. They have been subjected to unprecedented criticism because of their alleged high salaries, lavish benefits, and gold-plated retirement plans. But the truth is they need to hear that the public is in their corner. They're not getting help from the media in that regard.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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