Shapiro takes it to the next level, though. On Twitter, she editorializes beyond what appears in her published articles, as she cherry-picks pro-reopen quotes (8/7/20), parrots executive power (8/12/20), blames pesky safety protocols on union action (9/27/20), framing unions that oppose reopening as extremist outliers (12/7/20) and frames all problems as hindrances to the ultimate goal of reopening as soon as possible (8/9/20). When Shapiro (12/2/20) appeared to apologize on behalf of the mayor for racial disparities in reopening, the anti–high-stakes testing group NYC Opt Out responded: “We desperately need journalists who will scrutinize and challenge claims made by people in power, not cling to them even when they’re proven to be utterly false.” FAIR
The NYT has generally had biased coverage of education issues with an anti-union slant and over the years we’ve tangled with the revolving doors of Ed reporters, many of whom have moved on to bigger things. Eliza Shapiro came to the NYT from Politico. Her use of sources from the fringe anti union neoliberal E4E, supported financially by the Ed deform crowd (you will not see Shapiro report that info) has grated on activists.
Ari Paul digs deep into her coverage on the school closing issue.
DECEMBER 9, 2020
NYT Cheerleads School Reopening as Covid Spikes
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s decision in late November to reopen public schools for some lower grades, even as Covid-19 cases have surged and the crisis is expected to worsen, has rankled many teachers and parents. But the mayor’s dubious plan has found the New York Times to be its best form of public relations.
The Times editorial board supports school reopening generally (7/10/20), and urged New York City specifically to bring students back to classrooms (11/11/20), even as it appeared that Covid would intensify in the city (Reuters, 11/9/20). Times columnist Michelle Goldberg (11/30/20) praised de Blasio’s school leadership in such an effusive manner—“De Blasio Has Actually Got Something Right”—that it came off as laughable to parents and teachers who are constantly keeping up with his administration’s flip-flops (New York, 9/28/20; WABC, 11/18/20), as well as individual schools trying their hardest to manage their staffing and budgets with the administration’s constant shifts.
The reasoning for reopening is familiar and understandable: Physical schooling is important for children’s education and development, and the longer they are out of school, the worse off they will be in the future. Remote teaching is no substitute for in-class learning and in-person socializing, and it is a hardship for teachers and parents alike.
Reopening school would also restore a vital form of public daycare for many hard-working people (Wall Street Journal, 6/5/20; Times, 11/19/20; Brookings Institution, 5/27/20; CBS, 12/7/20; EdWeek, 3/20/20). And there’s an obvious absurdity to keeping bars and restaurants open, while closing more vital institutions like schools (New York Times, 7/1/20).
We’re still dealing with a pandemic of biblical proportions, and the scientific community is still conflicted about how schools reopening fits into the crisis. Anthony Fauci, one of the nation’s top infectious disease experts, favors school reopening (Business Insider, 11/29/20)—as does the American Academy of Pediatrics, though it notes that “the current widespread circulation of the virus will not permit in-person learning to be safely accomplished in many jurisdictions.”
But the idea that children are not vectors, or are merely low-risk vectors, for spread of the coronavirus is in dispute (Healthline, 9/24/20; AP, 9/22/20). The Journal of the American Medical Association (7/29/20) reported “a temporal association between statewide school closure and lower Covid-19 incidence and mortality,” saying that school closures between March 9 and May 7 were associated with a 62% relative decline in Covid incidence per week and a 58% decline in deaths per week.
Nature (11/16/20) cited JAMA’s finding to bolster its comprehensive statistical review of governmental “non-pharmaceutical interventions” against Covid, which found that school closures were one of “the most effective NPIs” in curbing the spread of the disease. A report in US News and World Report (12/2/20) based on data compiled by the Covid Monitorproject on the coronavirus in K–12 schools concluded that “the data suggests schools are NOT safe and DO contribute to the spread of the virus—both within schools and within their surrounding communities.”
And that’s partially why parents and teachers are so worried about de Blasio’s plan. Individual schools in the city have to deal with budget shortfalls, deteriorating buildings and lack of supplies in the best of times, and now they suddenly must rapidly and safely implement in-person teaching. And as many New York schools advocates, like one-time gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon, have argued, reopening schools tends to benefit whiter communities, as whiter, more affluent schools tend to have more resources to adapt to the current environment.
Perceived slant against labor
The New York Times’ main city education reporter is Eliza Shapiro, who has been with the paper since 2018. (Shapiro’s mother is Susan Chira, editor-in-chief at the Marshall Project, but at the time of Shapiro’s hiring a longtime reporter and editor at the Times—3/25/19.)
Annie Tan, a special education teacher in Brooklyn, told FAIR that in Shapiro’s reporting teacher voices tend to give an anti-union slant, and that Shapiro “is consistently calling out the United Federation of Teachers for things it may or may not be responsible for.”
That perceived slant against labor is seen in Shapiro’s elevation of fringe anti-union teachers as some sort of mainstream counterpart to the school workers unions. For instance, one of her articles (11/24/20) quoted someone from Educators for Excellence–New York, saying the group “represents thousands of city teachers,” as if it were a member-driven organization. In fact, it’s supported by donors, including the anti-union Walton family and the Gates Foundation, whose educational agenda many teachers find troubling (WCNY, 5/11/20). Education expert Diane Ravitch (11/18/17) called Educators for Excellence a “reactionary” organization that “favors merit pay based on test scores, teacher evaluation based on test scores, and opposes seniority.”
Two other Times reporters (10/19/20) quoted the group, framing testing results that could return children back to school sooner rather than later as “good news” for the mayor, without noting its anti-union backing.
Critics also say Times reporting on schools often lacks necessary context. For example, Shapiro was one of several authors of a piece (9/18/20) about the administration’s problems with reopening at the beginning of the school year. Unmentioned was what many said was the root of the problem: not enough funding for city schools. As the co-founders of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity wrote in the New York Daily News (8/22/20), the state’s high court in 2003
declared that every student in New York State has a constitutional right to a meaningful opportunity to obtain the knowledge and skills they need to be capable civic participants and to compete for decent jobs. The court ordered the state to determine the actual cost of providing such educational opportunities and to implement an equitable, needs-based funding formula to provide all students a sound basic education. Over the course of the past 15 years, the state has failed to comply with this ruling. As a result, the public has come to view the underfunding of schools and districts that predominantly serve low-income and Black and Brown students as normal and inevitable. It is not.
The Times does report on inequalities in schools; Shapiro (9/14/20) recently covered how the pandemic is affecting homeless students, for example, and covered the principals union’s conflict with the mayor (9/27/20). But her article (12/8/20) on racial disparities in in-person education was criticized by longtime advocate and mayoral candidate Dianne Morales (Twitter, 12/9/20) as a late realization of structural racism, saying “journalists and leaders” should have “listened to people of color,” because “we have been saying this.”
And some critics believe Times coverage of the latest school reopening plan favors City Hall, anchored as it is in mayoral declarations (e.g., 11/29/20). This isn’t terribly uncommon in spur-of-the-moment reporting. But one giveaway of the paper’s bias was its reference (11/18/20) to the November schools shutdown as a “setback.” Why would a preventative measure that protects people during a pandemic be framed as a setback rather than a rational response?
Outspoken parent activist Rachel Posnertold FAIR that the Times “overall just accepted [the mayor’s] premise” that reopening schools was the ultimate goal, without questioning “who it would harm and who would benefit,” or “what the nuances are in a school system that comprises so many different communities that contain so many disparate contexts.” She said this often ignored how
many low-income parents, including Black and Brown parents, as well as poor immigrant parents in general, had been working the entire time, and did not have schedules flexible enough that attending school 1-3 days a week on a varying rotation would be of any help
—that being “actually a structure that would disproportionately work for more professional, flexible, better-off parents.”
Communities hardest hit by Covid hospitalizations and deaths, Posner pointed out,
would have obvious trauma and would be less likely to send their children into school buildings without adequate safety measures, because they had already experienced the lack of care given to their children’s physical and emotional safety for decades if not centuries in our schools.
And she slammed frank omissions in Times coverage:
There was basically no investigative reporting of what was missing from the pronouncements that buildings had passed safety inspections—this was infuriating because it made teachers especially feel like we were living in the book 1984—anything that was said in words was simply reported as true, even though it was proven to be untrue easily and without much effort. There were no actual ventilation experts or industrial hygienists verifying anything the mayor was saying.
The amount of time, energy, money and stress created by the attempt to make in-building school happen siphoned all the needed resources from the kind of learning 100% of students were going to be doing all the time. We were told we would be trained in trauma-informed practices, but we were not. No one made sure that there was a city-wide initiative to train or support teachers, students or families in how to make remote teaching and learning work—and yet this just went by unreported and unremarked.
Contending that “repeating and reporting flawed data about numbers of infections is directly contributing to the current reckless reopening,” Posner concluded that
if teachers, children, family members and community members get Covid, it will be partially because the Times, the paper of record, did such a negligent job of talking to a broader set of people, questioning the mayor’s premises and talking points, gathering external health and safety information from experts, or generally holding the people in power accountable in any way.
‘Safeguarding other institutions’
Times top editors “see themselves as safeguarding other institutions in the city,” said Theodore Hamm, chair of journalism and new media studies at Brooklyn’s St. Joseph’s College. He told FAIR that the paper attempts to help “steer the ship” and “control the function of the greater organism of the city.”
Hamm, a former editor at the Brooklyn Rail and a contributor at the Indypendent, added of the Times, “In the case of the schools, they along with city leaders want schools to open.”
Shapiro takes it to the next level, though. On Twitter, she editorializes beyond what appears in her published articles, as she cherry-picks pro-reopen quotes (8/7/20), parrots executive power (8/12/20), blames pesky safety protocols on union action (9/27/20), framing unions that oppose reopening as extremist outliers (12/7/20) and frames all problems as hindrances to the ultimate goal of reopening as soon as possible (8/9/20). When Shapiro (12/2/20) appeared to apologize on behalf of the mayor for racial disparities in reopening, the anti–high-stakes testing group NYC Opt Out responded: “We desperately need journalists who will scrutinize and challenge claims made by people in power, not cling to them even when they’re proven to be utterly false.”
Shapiro (7/23/20) retweeted a rebuke of teachers using the “I am not a childcare provider” argument, commenting, “Notable that those lower-paid workers represented by a much less powerful union have also already returned to work in some places, including NYC.” The implication is not that childcare workers need a more powerful union, but that teachers’ unions are too strong. It also paints the false impression that the UFT is exclusively a union for the higher-paid, when it also represents lower-paid titles like paraprofessionals—and nearly 30,000 childcare workers, who joined more than a decade ago (New York Times,10/24/07).
Few teachers, parents or students like the remote situation, but the Covid risks associated with reopening schools are out there: students and workers in crowded buses, subways and hallways; snotty children sharing lunches; the fact that many students are coming home to adult family members in high-risk categories. As FAIR (5/28/20, 10/8/20) has reported, 75 New York City school workers died in the first Covid spike in the spring. Principals are expected to take on this gargantuan reorganization task, and much lower-paid workers like paras, cafeteria workers and bus drivers are expected to carry it out.
And while spreading out, washing hands and using outdoor space are great plans for smaller, well-funded school systems, these are less effective plans for the largest school system in the country, in the most densely populated city in the country, in a system notoriously short on space and supplies. “Hold class outside!” is not a real suggestion for many urban schools in the middle of winter.
The New York Times should not be expected to be a mouthpiece for any one group; the K–12 city education beat is a vast, complicated and fascinating world, with many different players. The New York Daily News doesn’t have the resources the Times does (FAIR.org, 7/26/18) to fully capture the chaotic moment the school system is enduring, and the New York Post (11/17/20, 11/28/20), bless its punny headlines, has reduced itself to full-time anti-union hysteria. Such an important topic facing the city at such a critical time, the Times should be playing a much more balanced and compassionate role.
This comment was sent to me by Jonathan re: Rachel Cohen
Shapiro also went after Rachel Cohen on twitter after Cohen wrote a piece, that among other things, exposed Emily Oster, for the American Prospect.
I have followed Rachel's work - it's fine, sometimes interesting. And two months ago she wrote this: https://prospect.org/coronavirus/why-reopening-schools-has-become-the-most-fraught-debate-of-the-pandemic/
pretty interesting, where she takes down the New York Times and Eliza Shapiro's favorite fake "expert" Emily Oster.
Rachel posts her articles, when they get published, on her twitter feed. That's where I see them, since I don't usually see The American Prospect. And, surprise surprise, this time who shows up? Shapiro, attacking the piece. As if an attack on Oster were a personal attack on her. Perhaps the line has disappeared for Shapiro, as she's become so personally invested in pushing the school-openings-are-perfectly-safe false narrative.
I found the link to the tweet. I also, in running backwards through Cohen's feed, realized I should pay her more attention. Lot's of good stuff.
Oct 28, 2020
Shapiro tweet to @rmc031
Hey! Why isn't Emily Oster quoted responding to anything in this piece, since it is largely a critique of her work? Also happy to be owned for any and all tweets but would have been happy to respond to your analysis of what I said if you'd asked!
Nov 21, 2020
how often do you reach out directly to get the perspective of teachers re: widespread concerns, experiences & observations of lack enforcement & inconsistency of testing & tracing protocols, safety measures & reliability of data & quote them in your pieces?
Why Reopening Schools Has Become the Most Fraught Debate of the Pandemic
Popular writers and academics have dismissed words of caution from epidemiologists about coronavirus transmission among children.
by Rachel M. Cohen
October 28, 2020 https://prospect.org/coronavirus/why-reopening-schools-has-become-the-most-fraught-debate-of-the-pandemic/
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