Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Execrable Richard Lee Colvin...


...Feels Urban Kids Don't Deserve to Ride in a Mercedes

Leonie Haimson on the NYC Education News listserve:

See letters below by Jane Hirschmann and David Bloomfield in response to an execrable column in EdWeek last month, in which Gina Burkhardt and Richard Lee Colvin of the Hechinger Center (which is supposed to support balanced journalism on education issues) wrote the following tripe, in sympathy with Joel Klein’s supposed difficulty to tell his side of the story in the media about his incredible successes in our schools.

Seeing Covin's name reminded me of my encounter with him. Richard Lee Colvin is an execrable something or other (there's a better word.) I knew nothing about him at the time but this confirms it. He practically bit my head off (
did I detect just a bit of arrogance and condescension?) at the AERA conference last March when he was on a panel with Rotherham, Russo, and the NY Times Jenny Medina (some balance) on journalism and education. (Medina responded to my question about why the voices of classroom teachers are rarely heard in school reform issues by saying they are afraid to talk publicly.)

I dared to suggest that kids in the cities deserved the same class size as kids in the suburbs (I believe Eduwonkette was there too for part of it) And Colvin got real hot and responded that not everyone can ride in a Mercedes – a Pontiac will still get you to your destination (maybe he should have used a different car since it will be defunct any minute.)

Not when the car for urban kids is packed to overflowing while the Mercedes is half empty.

Here's an excerpt from the March 30, '08 post on Ed Notes.

AERAPLANING - Don' Need No Stinkin' Research

...to tell me lower class sizes benefit kids.

I bit the bullet and headed for AERA for the entire day, carrying the 500 page AERA Kahlenberg's "Tough Liberal" and Podair's book on the '68 strike to entertain myself between workshops. As a quasi educator/blogger/reporter/ed commentator I was interested in this mouthful: Disseminating Education Research Through Electronic Media: Advice from E-Journalists.

I was interested in raising some issues related to the coverage of events in NYC, especially by the NY Times which is viewed by so many as biased for BloomKlein but wasn't sure how to raise it. I've actually seen a slightly more nuanced tone in Medina's reporting but there's so much the Times leaves uncovered. I was surprised when she said there were 11 education reporters at the Times.

I wanted to get a few points in regarding the absence of the classroom teacher voice and how class size is addressed in terms of research.

So I made the statement about not needing stinkin' research in the context of the argument the anti-class size reduction people make that we can't lower class size until we have a quality teacher available and that resources would be better spent in recruiting and training better teachers. That reporters repeat that all the time. Less kids = lift all teachers quality is so obvious.

I said, how come the same questions are not raised about the medical field: we don't refuse to put more doctors and nurses in hospitals because some of them will not be high quality. (Did you know how many practicing doctors have not passed their certification boards?) The legal field – do we ban the guys who can't run fast enough to catch up to the ambulance? The financial field? Judges? Politicians? The ones who have the most number of affairs are the lowest quality. Or the highest. Or better yet, take NYC education journalists. Do you see a difference in quality? If you can't keep up with Elizabeth Green, you can't write a story.

Of course this comparison was totally ignored. This is about education, not the rest of the world.

How come the focus on teacher quality to the exclusion of other areas of society? Actually, I got a lot of the answers at Lois Weiner's session on Saturday about the world-wide neo-liberal attack on teachers and their unions (see Lois at the April 15 Teachers Unite forum) but will post on that soon.

What ed journalists do is narrow-casting. Like there was a UFT/coalition rally to restore budget cuts while down the street the fed was coming up with $200 billion and no one made the ironic connection.

Or report that class size research is inconclusive and ignore the fact that parents spend $30,000 for private school and parents in rich areas like Scarsdale pay so much for small class sizes.

I got a rather heated response from Richard Colvin (did I detect a note of hostility when I ran into him in the press room later?), who said just because people in Scarsdale drive a Mercedes, it doesn't mean we all have to when cheaper alternatives are available - that the best uses of resources in resource-starved urban schools may not be to reduce class size. He didn't quite say that the better use was to recruit quality teachers, but he may have been thinking it.

I didn't get a chance to say it but I guess urban kids never get to ride in the Mercedes unless they do the drug thing. What I would have said: How about giving kids in a few places the Mercedes just to see if it works. Like, instead of closing down one high school and loading it up with multiple small schools (sure, that's certainly more cost effective), try doubling the staff for a few years and see what impact that had. Why don't class size researchers suggest that as a test? Or ed reporters? Like I said, narrow casting.


Here are the letters of objection to the outrageous claim that BloomKlein have been unfairly treated by the press.

Jane Hirschmann
To the Editor:

We are shocked that Gina Burkhardt, the president of Learning Point Associates, and Richard Lee Colvin, the director of the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media (an organization whose mission is “to promote fair, accurate, and insightful coverage of education”), would encourage a journalistic approach to education reporting that fosters one-sided, and no doubt self-congratulatory, talking points ("Telling the Story of School Reform," Commentary, Oct. 29, 2008). Yes, superintendents should be allowed to tell their stories to the press. But journalists owe the public a comprehensive and critical analysis of those stories. Unfortunately, the authors appear to have forsaken that caveat.

Furthermore, for them to support New York City Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein in his assertion that he hasn’t been able to tell his story successfully because “other people” have used “very sophisticated media machines” is shameful, not to mention an unexamined acceptance of Mr. Klein’s story. The New York City Department of Education’s public relations office is legendary both for its effectiveness and its size, which Mr. Klein has increased under his tenure. Moreover, the chancellor has attempted to employ intimidation techniques to silence his critics, who include education historian and Education Week blogger Diane Ravitch.

In this hostile atmosphere, principals and teachers will not talk to the press out of fear of reprisal, since those who have been brave enough to do so have been humiliated and threatened.

As we all know, there are at least two sides to every story. For the sake of our schools, I urge education journalists to ignore Ms. Burkhardt and Mr. Colvin’s advice and examine all of them, so that we may truly have “fair, accurate, and insightful coverage.”

Jane Hirschmann

Time Out From Testing

New York, N.Y.

David Bloomfield
To the Editor:

I laughed in disbelief at “Telling the Story of School Reform.” The description of New York City Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein bemoaning a supposedly inadequate communications strategy is ludicrous. The city’s education department has spent millions, and funneled millions more in private dollars, in a ceaseless media campaign to buy public support for its supposed reforms, backed by suspect data that many observers—including Education Week bloggers Jennifer Booher-Jennings ("eduwonkette") and Diane Ravitch—have debunked. It has successfully spun press reports, allegedly spied on opponents (including Ms. Ravitch), and recently killed a negative New York Daily News story, according to reports, by interceding with its publisher after editorial approval.

Please spare us the crocodile tears. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein have brought Orwellian tactics to public discourse over New York City’s schools. If districts are to tell stories of reform, they should be true and responsible to public, rather than political, interests.

David C. Bloomfield

Program Head, Educational Leadership

City University of New York Brooklyn College
Colvin's "Telling the Story of School Reform," is posted at Norms Notes.


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