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Double Standard in Education Reportage

The Los Angeles Times prides itself on balanced coverage of education news. When it published on its front page in August the names and rankings of teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District based on their students' standardized test scores, it justified its decision by explaining that taxpayers have the right to know if students are being well taught.

Yet the Times sees nothing wrong with burying good news about the district. The latest example was its decision to place an article about the Academic Decathlon, an intense intellectual high school competition, in the lower right-hand corner of the local section where it is inconspicuous ("Los Angeles Unified is Academic Decathlon's star student," Apr. 28). According to the story, schools in the LAUSD have won the national event 11 times since 1987. This makes it the best in the country.

Why wasn't this article on page one? It is certainly worthy of the same placement that the Times gave to teacher rankings. The sub-headline makes my point: "The nation's troubled second-largest school system doesn't get a lot of respect - except when it comes to the Academic Decathlon." The LAUSD is hardly a model of excellence, but when it does excel it deserves better treatment than the Times accorded the latest news. I say this particularly because the Times in its editorials has continuously stressed the importance of academic achievement.

Which brings me to another point. Whenever I'm introduced in a social situation, the first question I'm invariably asked is about the terrible state of public schools. When I ask in return how they have come to this opinion, I'm told that their source is newspapers or television. I explain that not all public schools are failing. Those that fall into this category are almost always located in inner cities and rural communities where poverty is rampant.

If I hadn't taught for 28 years in the same high school in the LAUSD, I too would come away believing that public schools are unsalvageable. The media incessantly play up news that reinforces this theme. Let's face it, low test scores and campus violence have endless appeal to editors.

Yet this obsession with the worst news does an injustice to teachers who are doing their best. They don't always succeed, but they deserve far more support than they're getting. It also performs a disservice to taxpayers who have the right to know the facts about schools. There's more to the story than they are hearing at present. Those who want to privatize all schools are undoubtedly pleased with the way schools are depicted. But the media have a duty that they are not fulfilling.

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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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