The Wall Street Journal published an editorial defending the latest report by StudentsFirst, an education reform group run by former Washington, D.C., schools superintendent Michelle Rhee, and failed to disclose the education interests of its parent company, News Corp., and its reported financial link to the advocacy organization.
In an editorial titled, "Where Failure Is a Virtue," the Journal is critical of Richard Zeiger, California's chief deputy superintendent, for making light of his state's "F" grade on the StudentsFirst report and calling it a "badge of honor." StudentsFirst ranked and graded each state's education policy on categories such as "value effective teachers" and "empower parents with information." California was one of 11 states to receive an "F." From the editorial:
Mr. Zeiger claimed to be elated by the failure. He called StudentsFirst "an organization that frankly makes its living by asserting that schools are failing," adding to the New York Times that "I would have been surprised if we had got anything else."
Mr. Zeiger is a factotum of the teachers unions that dominate California politics, so he naturally dislikes StudentsFirst because it advocates evaluating teachers based in part on student performance on standardized tests. Ms. Rhee and her reform group also want teacher evaluations to be made available to parents, among other policies to improve accountability. Unions don't like accountability.
In coming to Rhee's defense, the Journal failed to disclose links between News Corp. and the education reform industry. CEO Rupert Murdoch, who has expanded his media empire to include a digital education company, has reportedly donated to StudentsFirst. According to journalist Steve Brill's book Class Warfare: Inside the Fight to Fix America's Schools, Rhee "had gathered more than $100 million in donations or pledges from heavy hitters such as ... Rupert Murdoch." Fox News' Neil Cavuto has similarly reported that Murdoch is a StudentsFirst donor. Murdoch has also publicly supported Rhee in her advocacy efforts, reportedly calling her "a bona fide reformer."
Last year, Washington Post education reporter Bill Turque made clear what he thought of how his paper's editorial board covered then-Washington, D.C., schools chancellor Michelle Rhee.
In a blog post, Turque wrote that the Post's editorial support for Rhee had been "steadfast, protective and, at times, adoring."
The item was quickly removed from the Post's website, but Turque is hardly alone in his views.
Two of the Post's journalists covering education recently shared with Media Matters their own concerns about the way the paper's editorial page has covered Rhee.
Jay Mathews, a 40-year Post scribe who writes the Class Struggle blog and a weekly column, pointed to editorial writer Jo-Ann Armao's coverage of recent allegations of potential cheating on standardized tests. Mathews noted that Armao is his former boss and praised her work on education in general, but he said that on the testing issue, he could not "understand why her reporting instincts have failed her." Mathews criticized what he called Armao's "failure to address seriously what seems to me are problems that cannot be overlooked," later adding, "Her failure to see that, I find troubling and puzzling given my great respect for her as a person and a journalist."
Valerie Strauss, who pens the Post's Answer Sheet blog, told Media Matters:
"I didn't agree with very much of the editorial stance when it came to the Rhee era. But certainly, as an editorial board, it had a right to take a stand and stick to it. That's what editorial boards do." She added, "There were times when they could have been more critical, they could have looked harder and been more even-handed about how they presented information."
Rhee's tenure at the helm of D.C.'s schools -- from 2007 to 2010 -- was contentious. She implemented a controversial reform program designed to improve achievement. She angered some parents and education officials and fired hundreds of teachers. (Rhee reportedly once invited a PBS camera crew to film her firing a principal.)
Rhee had something to show for her work -- gains in student achievement. The Post editorial page -- along with other Rhee supporters -- has pointed to rising test scores as evidence of her success.